When I finish a draft of something, I feel like a mad genius. Mad, because I suddenly become aware of the sheer amount of time it took to finish that thing. Also a genius, because I finished the thing, and no matter how many times I’ve read through the earlier sections pointing out plot holes to myself, finishing a draft of something is still finishing. It feels a lot like finishing.
I think this is a timely topic for two reasons. The first: yes, in fact, I did just finish a draft of something. I drafted the first book in a series about a year and a half ago, and over the summer, I decided to start re-drafting. After several weeks of telling my suitemates I would “probably finish this week,” finally, the draft is complete. I’ve written those fateful words, End Book 1.
Which brings me to the second reason this is timely: in three days, November will close, and with it will come the flurry of people who have won (or not) NaNoWriMo. Maybe you’re one of them! Good for you! Many people around the globe are about to experience that maddening, dizzy rush of having finished a long-term project – and feeling subsequently like a mad genius. The first thing that may be tempting for mad geniuses is to proclaim their success with an all-caps tweet or a dramatic Facebook post or an artsy Instagram/Snapchat photo with a delighted caption over the The End part. Or, if you’re like me, the word count (ugh). This is a fine goal! Go for it!
What you may be tempted to do next is to share your piping hot, straight-off-the-presses draft with every single person who liked your post or commented on your tweet. To this impulse, I would recommend letting the draft cool.
The first draft of something in particular (and, in my opinion, at least the second), represents an outpouring of work that is extremely valuable, but didn’t have the full scope of the project yet. You never really know what the last sentence of the book is going to be until you write the last sentence. You didn’t know if that foreshadowing you dropped in Chapter 2 that you intended to come up in Chapter 15 actually would come up in Chapter 15 – at least not while you were writing Chapter 2. Some breathing room and another read-through may point these things out to you right away.
So, dear mad geniuses, my recommendation is to pause. Take a deep breath before rapid-fire sending your long-term project to everyone you know. Put it in a drawer for at little bit. Start a new project. A few weeks, a month maybe down the line, pull that draft back out and read it front-to-back, either making comments on it or reading it without touching it. Then decide whether it’s something you want feedback on right now, or if there are major sweeping reforms to make, to the point where you’d be receiving feedback on ideas, characters, plot points, and scenes that you’ve already changed. Getting feedback on things you already intend to scrap might help in the abstract, and your readers might be able to point out things you can include in your second draft. They might also convince you to save something doomed for the chopping block, or cut something you thought was safe. If you’re proud of your first draft, for sure, get feedback on it! But, the most valuable feedback is that comment you weren’t expecting, that you as the author - the person who is supposed to know the book best - couldn’t find on your own. So take some time to get your distance, tame your genius, and look back over your work to decide: is my next step something I can do alone, or should I get help?
Written by Erika S.
Have you ever been itching to buy a thriller, but the ones at Half Price Books just won’t do? Do you ever get tired of downloading sketchy, badly formatted PDFs of classics like Agatha Christie, or getting a Trojan instead of an ePub of the newest Harlan Coben? Do you want to buy books with fascinating titles, like Fudge and Jury and No Cats Allowed, along with cool merch like book-inspired handmade t-shirts?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then you should venture outside the hedges and stop by Murder by the Book!
This bookshop opened in 1980, making it one of the nation’s oldest and largest mystery specialty bookstores. But their selection goes beyond mere mysteries, as they sell an incredible amount of thrillers, sci-fi stories, and fantasy novels. They also have a cool selection of novelty items, magazines, and some really awesome t-shirts (this blog post writer is still hyped over her new Margaret Atwood shirt).
But beyond their book selection, what makes Murder by the Book special is its ambience. The shop is packed full of interesting things and interesting people. There are very comfortable old leather chairs and sofas just begging you to curl up on them with a nice murder mystery, and since the shop is crammed full of bookshelves in bewildering configurations, it is very easy to literally lose yourself among them. If you do, don’t worry—the employees are wonderful, and always willing to lend a hand or give out recommendations.
But assuming that all of this is not enough to convince you that Murder by the Book is worth a visit, then how about this: they host book signings. Frequently.
Almost every week they bring some author to the shop, which offers students like me the opportunity to go to book-related events without having to travel too far from campus. Just last week I went there to see Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, co-creators of the hit podcast Welcome to Night Vale, who were there for their new novel’s book tour. The event was well organized, but since the space is quite small, I’d recommend getting there early. The way Murder by the Book does their events, you first get about an hour of conversation between the author(s) and a moderator, and then a Q&A session. Afterwards, there’s the book signing. The shop’s employees are also very nice about taking pictures of you in case you came to the event alone.
A final consideration I hinted at before: if you live at or near Rice, Murder by the Book is just a half-hour walk away. Located on the outer edge of Rice Village, on 2342 Bissonnet Street, it’s surrounded by a pretty residential area and very accessible by foot or by bike.
Long story short, if you’re into mysteries or even if you’re not, Murder by the Book is worth a visit. The books, the people, the merch, the events: if you like books in any way, shape, or form, there’s definitely something for you. After all, as the store’s tagline says, this bookshop is a place where a good crime is had by all. So why not give Murder by the Book a try?
Just remember: stay sexy, read books, and don’t get murdered.
Written by Mariana N.
A poem’s beginning should be striking and compelling, urgent and invigorating. A reader should want to continue to the next line, and finish the rest of your work. The first line of any piece of poetry not only has a stake in deciding its artistic merit, but also its commercial value. If your first line isn’t interesting enough, no one will bother with the rest. No pressure.
But as a writer, more often than not, your first line simply represents the struggle of making a start, of beating the crisis of the blank Word document, the I-Don’t-Know-What-I’m-Doing stage of any new project. So here are ten great first lines of poetry I collected so that you can analyze what makes them stand out, get inspired to start writing, or simply admire some of the openers to your favorite poems.
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
-Elizabeth Barret Browning
Because I could not stop for Death
Let us go then, you and I
People disappear. And go looking for a place to be looked at.
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary
-Edgar Allen Poe
We were very tired, we were very merry
-Edna St. Vincent Millay
I would like to watch you sleeping
Drink to me only with thine eyes
I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky
Written by Sanvitti S.
In this day and age, poetic form gets a bad rap. Somewhere along the line, free verse poems became considered modern poetry, and everything else kind of fell by the literary wayside. Sonnets are for Shakespeare, rhymes are for kids, and when was the last time anyone cared about a trochee, anyway?
Free verse poems are great, but I’ve always been drawn to fixed form poetry. So today, I thought I’d share one of my favorite forms with you. (Yes, hello, it’s me: the annoying girl in your English class who raises her hand to talk about the significance of enjambment).
Here, have a villanelle done by a master. This is “Mad Girl’s Love Song” by Sylvia Plath:
"I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)
The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)
God topples from the sky, hell's fires fade:
Exit seraphim and Satan's men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
I fancied you'd return the way you said,
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)
I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)"
Haunting, right? Part of the reason this poem works so well is its form. See the way she repeats some of the lines throughout the poem? This is traditionally represented as:
A1 b A2 / a b A1 / a b A2 / a b A1 / a b A2 / a b A1 A2
A1 and A2 are those repeated lines. Lower-case a and b are for rhyme scheme. Her “a” lines rhyme on “dead, head, red” and her “b” lines on “again, in, men”. This interlocking of rhyme scheme and repetition makes a villanelle easy to spot.
Other examples of villanelles you may know include “Do not go gentle into that good night” by Dylan Thomas and “If I Could Tell You” by W. H. Auden.
Forms make you think about words in a different way. When you have limited mobility in one dimension, you have to get creative with the others. In the case of the villanelle, what’s limited is how many different lines and rhymes you have to work with. What’s not limited? Subject matter, meter, voice...the list goes on. Using forms is a great writing exercise because it forces you outside your comfort zone.
Here’s a challenge for you: try writing a villanelle. Plath wrote “Mad Girl’s Love Song” in college, after all, so why not give it a go? It doesn’t have to be your favorite thing you’ve ever written, but I guarantee you’ll be surprised by what you come up with.
Written by Megan G.
You can’t just put -tober at the end of everything during October, they said.
It’s the end of October, it’s too late to make another -tober a thing, they said.
There’s already too darn many -tobers, it’ll just be lame, they said.
But who cares what people say.
If you’re reading this, odds are you’re interested in getting and/or staying woke. And it’s a good bet you also like to read. So, dear reader, let me welcome you to… Stay-Woketober!
In honor of Stay-Woketober, the spookiest of -tobers and one I’m aware is not an original creation, I’ve compiled a list of books (and one podcast) that may get you a bit more woke—and they’ll be a nice, well-deserved break from midterms, too.
by Shailja Patel
Shailja Patel is a an internationally acclaimed performance artist and poet, and Migritude is her writing debut: a hybrid of historical narrative, intimate monologue, and powerful poetry, Migritude tells of Patel’s struggle as an Kenyan immigrant living in England who’s trying to connect to her roots while also developing her own identity. It’s a mind-bending read that breaks genres and interweaves stories about British colonialism, silk saris, and Patel’s childhood into a seamless, gorgeous narrative that offers a whole new perspective on culture and immigration.
2. A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Kite Runner
by Khaled Hosseini
Set in Afghanistan during the Taliban regime, Hosseini’s books focus on the strict gender roles and religious struggles of Afghans growing up in the war-torn streets of Kabul. The Kite Runner deals with masculinity and morality, while A Thousand Splendid Suns focuses on female empowerment and liberation in the midst of oppression. Both novels are powerfully written against the broader background of Afghan culture and history, and touch upon issues that remain relevant even today.
3. Conversations with People who Hate Me
A nonfiction podcast by Welcome to Night Vale’s queer activist and journalist extraordinaire, Dylan Marron, this show follows Marron as he contacts people who’ve posted hatefully about him online to try and get them to answer a simple question—why? From homophobes to racists, Marron takes you on his journeys to find the humans on the other side of the screen. With an equal focus on social justice and explaining the phenomenon of hate-speech, this podcast is a must-hear.
4. The Handmaid’s Tale
by Margaret Atwood
Brought back into the spotlight by the brilliant Hulu miniseries (and the election of a certain president), Atwood’s classic dystopian novel shows what happens when religious fervor, declining birth rates, and a now terrifyingly realistic authoritarian regime combine. Atwood’s sharp prose and captivating world-building keep you on the edge of your seat as you join Offred in the nightmare of having no civil, political, nor reproductive rights just for being a woman, and the silent acts of rebellion that ensue. Sound familiar?
That’s all for today, folks. Hope you enjoy, and if you do, pass it on. You never know who’s eyes you might end up opening. Happy Stay-Woketober! Read on, stay woke, and beware Gilead.
Written by Mariana N.
I first visited Rice in late February of this year for VISION. When I came back home, my twelfth grade British Literature class had just started reading Frankenstein as a part of what felt like a never-ending hellscape of Romantic literature (although in my opinion it was an improvement upon the preceding never-ending hellscape of Enlightenment literature). I had been anticipating the novel with visions of Boris Karloff in my head, but it continued to hold my interest through my sympathy for the creature. In my opinion, Frankenstein was the monster, and his creature was no more than an abandoned child. An eight foot tall child made up of cut-and-pasted corpses, but a child nonetheless. Who wouldn’t sympathize with the creature spurned by his creator who immediately recognized the abnormality in his creature; who wouldn’t want to reach out to the “poor wretch,” whose only family ran in horror when he revealed his true identity?
Well, a few people. I was told by my classmates that the creature revealing himself to the De Lacey’s as a coming-out allegory didn’t make sense, for a few reasons:
So I let it go. I finished the Romantic literature unit, I passed British Literature, I came to Rice. Frankenstein would have to be revisited at some indefinite point in the future, if at all. I chose the introductory English class taught by the same professor whose class I had visited at VISION, and eight months later, I’m reading Frankenstein again. It’s funny for a few reasons:
It’s almost unbelievable to me, considering my previous desperation to express my sympathy. I was once annoyed that my classmates didn’t agree with me, but now I’m grateful. Could you imagine, on top of the stress that comes with being a high school senior in the middle of your college applications, your classmates agreeing with you, seeing how you could sympathize with this creature, since you and this gigantic, shambling mess of rotting limbs have so much in common? Now, I’m grateful that I was made to wait to sympathize with a monster until the time of year when we all embrace the monsters inside of us.
Written by Anonymous
In high school, I stumbled across a blog article called “Slow Practice for String Players.” In it, Hilary Hahn, an American violinist who performs around the world, explains not only that slow practice is important, but also what slow practice actually means.
While stringed instruments and pen/paper/keyboard are physically quite different from each other, I’ve been thinking about how slow practice might apply to writing—especially in midterm season. First, Hahn advises starting from the beginning: “play everything in slow motion.” Slow motion is what writing a first draft feels like to me. However, unlike Hahn, I don’t choose to write it that way.
The next step is to play the notes slowly, but include shifts, note changes, and string crossings at normal speed. She calls this the ability to play slowly but “move between” at tempo. It seems like checking the gears and making sure they function. Or moving with the flow of ideas, to make sure they’re communicated clearly (or hopefully clearly enough).
She adds that body position cannot be overlooked. Posture isn’t only for dancers or finishing school pupils. I can’t help but think of this literally, but I also feel that this aspect of slow string practice can be translated in writing as balance, perspective, knowing when to go for run around the outer loop before coming back for a second foray into tangled sentences.
Her last tip, which she calls “icing on the cake” is paying attention to phrasing and musicality. She writes, “My teachers taught me that technical prowess and musicality are inextricably connected.” One of my professors recently said to honor your own fascination as a writer. In slow practice for writers, I see these two ideas as intertwined. Just as I love to play music musically, I love to write what I love to read. This might be the icing on the cake, but we all know a cake wouldn’t be much of a cake without its icing (at least for a cupcake).
Although the analogy between slow practice for writers and string players isn’t perfect, thinking about sentences and paragraphs like notes and phrases reminds me that, in many ways, academic writing is art. Maybe it’s a good thing that writing first drafts come slowly. Maybe revision, like practice, can be creative in itself.
Here’s Hilary Hahn’s original article: http://hilaryhahn.com/2004/01/slow-practice-for-string-players/
Her other articles under “favorites” also include “How to Pass Time Alone in a Hotel Room,” “Things to Watch in an Orchestra Concert,” and how to make a costume for your instrument when you’re bored.
Written by Sarah W.
Hey you. Yes, you. Person reading this blog post. You like reading-- you’re on a literary blog after all, so I think this is a fair assumption. So here is my question: when is the last time that you read a book that you chose to read? When was the last time you read because you enjoy reading, and not because you were assigned to read something for class?
I used to spend the majority of my free time reading. Even in high school, I was often found with my nose in a book. I’d read in between classes, before I went to bed, and sometimes (sorry Mom) at dinner. Reading was my primary hobby.
And then, as I’m sure many of you can relate to, I came to college and my course load increased exponentially. It’s the most grating irony of pursuing an English major: you chose the major because you enjoy reading, but then you have to do so much reading for class that you don’t enjoy reading anymore.
You always think that you’ll find time, right? You think that one weekend, maybe, you won’t have a paper deadline or a midterm to study for, and then, maybe, you’ll fall back into reading. You’ll pick up one of the novels you packed to bring to school that’s been gathering dust on your desk and you’ll read the whole thing through right then and there. But that magical weekend never comes and you’re left disappointed.
This summer I started carrying a novel in my backpack again. I set a challenge for myself, to start, just for a week: any time I wanted to reach for my phone to waste time, I’d reach for the book instead. Suddenly, I realized there were tons of moments in my day that I could read a page or two. I could squeeze a chapter in if I was 10 minutes early for work. I would read on the train on my way home. I looked forward to reading, and suddenly my “To Read” pile was shrinking in a way it hadn’t for years.
That’s not to say there isn’t good fiction to be found online-- there absolutely is! But I found that when I opened my phone, that wasn’t often where my fingers were taking me. I’d wind up mindlessly reading whatever articles happened to be on my Facebook feed and (for the most part) being sorely disappointed with their contents. I guess that’s what happens when you let an algorithm make your reading list. Choosing what I was going to read, getting to select the things that I enjoyed, that was the real difference for me. Reading stopped being work and started being an escape again.
So, if you miss reading, this is the advice I would give to you: read in the moments between. Carry a book around or bookmark your favorite poetry site. You may not have an hour to read, but you do have a minute.
Written by Megan G.
One of the things that elicits shock from people is when I inform them of my antipathy towards Ernest Hemingway. Okay. Look. I get that Hemingway is one of the kings of the literary world. That's all well and good. He’s just not my guy. I don’t like the way that Hemingway condenses. I don't like the way his writing feels or speaks at me. I respect his craft - every word is there as a direct line between the reader and the events of the text. It's a very effective strategy. Still, golly gee, do I feel like his work talks past me, or maybe so directly to me it unnerves me. One of the two - either way, he's not my cup of tea. I prefer coffee.
That being said, in two different conversations this past weekend, I've had to explain some very good writing advice that Hemingway once gave. Though it grates on my nerves when people tell me to write like Hemingway would, I do hold one piece of his advice among my little box of writing tips. It's about motivation.
While you can read the full quote (and some more good ones) from this article, the best part boils down to this:
“The main thing is to know when to stop. Don’t wait till you’ve written yourself out. When you’re still going good and you come to an interesting place and you know what’s going to happen next, that’s the time to stop.”
In other words, never finish a day of writing at the end of one section and leave your future self to deal with a blank page or chapter title. Instead, either stop writing a few paragraphs from the end, or start the next section. That way, the next day, you can come back and jump into it right where you left off. You'll be excited to write down the words that have been sitting in your head for a while, and then it'll be easy to keep going. This strategy is helpful for any type of writing. I usually use it for my longer-form fiction, but it can be true for personal essays, short stories, or even academic essays.
Other writers and writer-supporters have given great advice as to how to battle with writer’s block (see the tasteful images linked below). It's all pretty good advice. You're bound to find something in there that works for you. But I think this Hemingway axiom actually points to a longer-term solution instead of just a motivational pep talk or coping strategy. Typical Hemingway, getting the job done in fewer words, right? Nip writer’s block in the bud by giving tomorrow’s you a point to jump into. Instead of looking for ways to break down the wall that writer’s block represents, don’t let the wall grow at all.
Written by Erika S.
Ciao from Rome! I’ve been in Italy for about three months now, and seeing Kristen’s post last week about children’s literature got me thinking about how much the books I read growing up have embellished my study abroad experience.
I, too, was one of those middle schoolers who spent her summer days surrounded by piles of books at the library, devouring as many novels as I possibly could. High school summers were spent the same way - though then it was usually reading in front of the pool instead of the library - and though I no longer have time to be the voracious reader I once was, I still try to spend my winter breaks curled up with good books as much as I can. I read so much because I love it, but I never could have imagined how much those books I read for fun would contribute to my travels abroad.
I’ve found that in Europe, where the history is so prevalent and so engrained in each city, you really are at a disadvantage if you aren’t already well-versed in a city’s culture when you travel there. More and more I find myself hearkening back to books I read to help me recall the history; interestingly enough, some of the novels that have provided me with the most background when I’ve been traveling are just random historical fiction books I read as a middle schooler.
In Berlin, Escape to West Berlin, a novel I read back in 4th grade, was my first ever introduction to the tragedy surrounding the Berlin Wall, and I recounted many of the scenes in the book as we walked through Checkpoint Charlie, East Side Gallery, and the Topography of Terror on the trip. Copenhagen has me recounting Number the Stars, a book I read over and over in 3rd grade, which opened my eyes to the Nazi regime and, on a lighter note, gave me an overwhelming desire to visit the Tivoli Gardens one day. Reading The Diary of Anne Frank at a young age, also in 3rd grade, made my walk through the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam incredibly moving. The classic fantasy novel The Thief Lord has made me all the more excited to walk through the magical canals on my upcoming trip to Venice.
There are so many books I’ve read later in life - adult historical fiction or non-fiction books - that have also made a significant contribution to my understanding of the history in each new city to which I travel, but for some reason those children’s novels are so ingrained in my mind that it is those books that truly make my sightseeing all the more rewarding. Thus, I highly encourage anyone traveling or studying abroad to revisit those historical fiction books you loved as a child before you go! You can read all the guide books in the world, but I can say from experience that nothing beats the excitement of visiting a country or a tourist spot you’ve been reading about since you were a child.
Written by Bailey T.
Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it.
R2: The Rice Review
Rice University's undergraduate literary magazine. Here you can find event updates, monthly writing contest winners, and opinions by the R2 staff on what's new, interesting, or subject to discussion in the literary and arts world.