3 Great Writing Books You Need to Read

As a writer, I love reading books about writing. I find it helpful, inspiring, and the kick in the butt. One of the best things about writing is that I’m always learning. There’s never a time when I write a piece and think, yup, I figured it all out! It’s a process. These three writing books have helped me tremendously in figuring out the process.

1. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

I read this book a few times a year to get re-energized. Pressfield writes pithy lessons he’s learned as a screenwriter and novelist. Every time I read it, I reconnect with my passion and determination. I highly encourage any writer, artist, or business owner to read this book.

2. Making a Literary Life by Carolyn See

This book is hilarious. Carolyn See writes with such a honest, funny voice that she actually makes terrible things like rejection or a bad book review a laugh-out loud anecdote. Her practical advice for dealing with the publishing world and revision are invaluable. Her chapters and writing characters and geography are must-reads.

3. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

This is one of the first books that got me through writing self-doubts and blocks. It’s a 12-week course that challenges you to connect with your true creative self. I must admit that you just have to go with it. If you stop and think about the things that you’re doing like writing three morning pages a day, you might talk yourself out of it. Let go and try it. I’ve done the 12 weeks twice and each time I learned something new about myself as a writer. I highly recommend this book if you’re feeling stuck.

What are some of your favorite books about writing?

Write a Letter to Yourself

lettertomyself

I was inspired to write a letter to myself after my friend Leanne—the brilliant fashion designer of the vegan, eco-friendly company Vaute Couture—posted a letter on Facebook she wrote to herself to read when she felt like quitting.

I must confess that the past few weeks, it’s been hard to be a writer. A few big projects I’ve been writing didn’t go through. I hit some major disappointment. I think from the outside, it’s easy to see my writing clips and think I’m successful, but truth be told, there are days when the rejection letters pile up and I question why I decided to become a writer. I’ve been rejected multiple times by magazine editors, book editors, theaters, and jobs. I’ve pitched some of my favorite magazines for years before getting any where. I’ve written a YA book that was rejected by every editor who read it. A play I wrote was rejected by 12 theaters (one rejection letter I got a year later! Really!).

If you ever feel this way about your passion, I suggest writing an encouraging letter to yourself. I keep mine by my desk and look at it every day. It helps me to deal with the not-so-great days because I’ve made a pact with myself to keep writing no matter what.

YOU GOT THIS.

 

Why I’m Vegan: A Photo Tour of The Gentle Barn

Whenever people find out I’m vegan, I get a few common questions and comments.

Gosh, it must be so hard to be vegan.”
“I could never give up cheese.”
“Do you do it for your health?”

I get it. A vegan (no meat, eggs, and dairy) diet might seem intimidating. I love eating. I spend most of my time reading cookbooks and planning meals. Ask my friends. I love inviting people over for dinner and making them a kick-ass meal so they understand that I don’t just eat grass.

But I eat vegan because I love animals. I just love their kind spirits, gentle eyes, and general goofiness. If I’m ever having a bad day, I can count on my adopted dogs, Buddy and Bessie, to cheer me up.

Whenever I want to remember why I’m vegan, I love to go to a farm sanctuary and pet cows and pigs to reconnect with what I love about all animals—not just the ones who live with me. Brendan and I drove to The Gentle Barn, a beautiful sanctuary about an hour north of Los Angeles.

I had never been to The Gentle Barn before. It was great! When you arrive, co-founder Jay Weiner gives a brief history of the sanctuary. You’re invited to spend time with the cows and horses, join a talk with co-founder Ellie Laks, then head off to pet pigs, goats, chickens, and turkeys. The sanctuary has a lovely picnic area. When we were there, the vegan hot dog stand Frankenstand was on hand and all-natural beauty company Nature’s Gate was handing out samples.

But most importantly, you need to meet the animals!

There’s Buttercup.

The sweetest, softest cow I’ve ever met. She loves attention and being brushed. I gave her a hug and she reminded me of my Buddy.

Buttercup’s story (taken from GentleBarn.org): Buttercup was rescued from extreme abuse and neglect. She was 8 months pregnant when we saved her and because she had no proper nutrition or clean water and lived with so much stress, her baby was born thin and weak with underdeveloped lungs and did not survive. 
buttercup

Brendan and I hanging out with Buttercup.

Ciao, Bella!

This sweet goat became instant best friends with Brendan. She loved a good chin scratch. She stretched her leg over Brendan’s feet to ask him to stay.

Bella’s story (taken from GentleBarn.org): Bella was attacked by a dog, left for days with no medical attention and then brought to the pound by her owner. The pound didn’t have resources to care for goats and were going to put her down. We took her to the hospital for emergency treatment and after months of hard work we succeeded in saving her life and her leg. She has permanent tendon damage and walks with a limp, but she is happy and loved here at The Gentle Barn!
bella

Brendan + Bella = BFFs

Show Me Your Peacock

When we were there, Jewel the peacock, decided to show off his beautiful feathers and strut around. I’ve never seen a peacock before and his coloring is stunning. Make me a nail polish color that matches his luminous deep blue coloring!

Jewel’s rescue story (taken from GentleBarn.org): Jewel was found wandering around the neighborhood, homeless. He roosted in our neighbor’s trees at night, but when he found out we fed breakfast at 7 and dinner at 5 he started showing up on time for meals. One day we opened the door and invited him in and he has been here ever since.
peacock

Jewel shows off his plumage.

We met a bunch more super cute animals. I loved every minute at The Gentle Barn, and can’t wait to go back.

For more info on The Gentle Barn, check out their website.

TV Writing & Playwriting Tips with Bekah Brunstetter

I love TV teen dramas. It all started with My So-Called Life and 90210 (the old school one, duh). My fave teen drama is Friday Night Lights fan (clear eyes, full hearts can’t lose!), but I have a special place for Switched at Birth. It’s about two teen girls who are switched at birth, and one of them, Daphne, is deaf. It’s just the best. I’ll stop gushing now and introduce the lovely and talented Bekah Brunstetter. She’s an accomplished playwright and story editor on Switched at Birth. I met her through our mutual friend and fellow lovely lady, Elizabeth Castoria. Bekah has THE BEST ADVICE on writing, so read on, learn, and get writing!

1. As you know I’m a big fan of the ABC Family TV show Switched at Birth where you are the story editor. How did the offer come about to interview and write for the show?

Aw, thanks friend! I love that you love it. It’s been a fantastic job. Let’s see. One of my agents at WME heard that they were looking for a new young writer (this was after their first season) and they passed along one of my plays for the producers to read. I have this play, Mine, that I wrote while stuck in an airport over Thanksgiving about five years ago, that was just about some longing and heartache I’d been feeling my relationship, and that play has subsequently gotten me all of my TV work. I guess the take away, when you are really feeling something, write about it, even if it feels small. Anywhoo, they liked the play, and I happened to be in LA for meetings, so I met the producers for breakfast, we chatted. I immediately felt connected to the show, I felt like I understood the characters (the conservative father, the daughter who always felt Other, etc.). I really liked the producers, as people and potential bosses, and thankfully, they really liked me. And so! I was hired! And then had about five minutes to move back to LA from NYC.

2. You’re a playwright and you’ve given me great advice to me about theater. What would you share with fellow playwrights to do to break in?

Write. WRITE! Surround yourself with people who think you’re brilliant. Convince yourself you’re the only person in the world writing plays. Of course that is delusional, but I just mean, too often young writers cripple themselves with self-doubt and I will Never Get there and I am not Good Enough before they even write. Pull a blanket of friends and admiration around yourself and write from that place. And then, DO. Submit your plays. Everywhere. Put them up with your friends. Read them aloud in your house. Send them to theaters. Go see plays and if you like the plays, email your plays to whoever’s in charge. Write and Do!

3. You got into the Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference after applying seven times. Any advice for fellow writers who are trying to get into that super hard program/conference/fellowship/artist residence?

If at first you don’t succeed, apply apply again! The nice thing about applying for these things is that if you don’t get in, they don’t come to your house and punch you in the face / tell you you’re worthless or anything. It’s usually just a short and friendly email. Point being: it really doesn’t hurt to apply. Applying for these things is a great way to give yourself deadlines to write and rewrite your plays. Send them off and forget about it. Worse thing that’s gonna happen: a short and friendly rejection email, that you can be ruffled by for a minute and then forget about. Also, when it comes to those really annoying personal statements you have to write: be as honest and specific as possible.

4. There are several playwrights in LA who are writing for television. Any tips for making the transition into getting a TV staff writing job?

I was very fortunate to break in via my playwriting agent, but I won’t speak to that, because that’s an annoying answer to your valid question. It seems like so many writers are getting work today based on work they’ve made themselves. Webseries are getting turned into shows. Twitter feeds are getting turned into shows, y’all! Make your own stuff. Try and make a living doing something that gives you the maximum time and brain space to work on your own stuff. That day job doesn’t even necessarily have to be writing related. I inspected corporate apartments for 3 years. I fluffed pillows and taught confused indian business men what dishwashers are and how to reboot a cable box. Do whatever. And WRITE. Also, in terms of what to write: It really does seem like spec scripts of pre-existing shows are all that valuable anymore. Get your hands on pilot scripts, read a bunch to get a hang of the story structure, then WRITE YOUR OWN.

5) Lastly, you just got back from a vacation in Costa Rica. What was your favorite moment from the trip?

Oh my Goodness. Very hard to pick. It was a transformative but also restorative trip. It’s so beautiful there. I went with my best friend from middle school, who I rarely get to see, and we totally re-connected and got even closer. That was the biggest emotional take away. I think my favorite moment was when we hiked up to the Arenal Volcano: we had impeccable weather and could see all the way to the top, which is rare. We’d packed ourselves a little thermos of mango juice and rum which definitely fueled the beauty of the moment, and subsequently led to volcano dance jump-frolicking type things. It was just a moment of pure beauty and joy. And rum.

Bekah
You can read Bekah’s blog here.

My Writing Process / Part of a Blog Tour

Hello! I’ve been tagged for a blog tour spotlighting the writing process. This is how it works: I acknowledge who asked me, answer four questions, then tag three authors to answer the questions and continue the tour on March 24. I only found one author friend who was interested in participating (thanks, E!).

Who Came Before?

My wonderful agent sister Maya Rock who is a writer, freelance book editor, and journalist. Her young adult novel, SCRIPTED, will be out in winter 2015, published by Random Penguin’s imprint, G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers. Here’s her responses to these writing process questions.

The Questions

1. What am I working on?

I’m writing a young adult novel that I’ve been wanting to write for awhile called JASE’S SCAR about how one brother’s death affects the other. I wrote a new play, TRUST & FAITH, about a fictional pray-the-gay-away organization. And I’m always writing pitches and personal essays to query magazine editors.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

In regards to JASE’S SCAR, I’ve read a lot of YA. I’ve read a lot about someone dying in YA. For me, it’s about writing this story in a way that feels exciting to me.

3. Why do I write what I do?

As a kid, I was hooked on The Baby-Sitters Club and Sweet Valley High. I wrote in my eighth grade yearbook that I wanted to be the editor-in-chief of People magazine. And I wrote my first play in high school, won an award for it, and got to see a reading of it in NYC. I am fortunate enough to pursue my childhood passions as an adult.

4. How does your writing process work?

I keep a notebook to jot down ideas and write out entire stories. If a story intrigues me enough to want to learn more about it, I’ll investigate then figure out if it’s a magazine, YA, or play idea. If the idea is best for a book or a play, I hammer out an outline and write out character histories. It really helps me to know my world before I dive into a draft. If the idea is for a magazine article, I’ll write a good pitch and hopefully sell it. For me, I start a first draft knowing that I’ll have to rewrite it again. Above all, I try to have fun with whatever I’m writing.

Who’s Next?

My dear friend and former boss Elizabeth Castoria is on deck to write about her writing process on March 24.

Elizabeth Castoria is a freelance writer and editor, and the author of How To Be Vegan. She has written for Dogster.com, IDEO.org, Daily Candy, and VegNews, where she was editorial director. In April 2013, she won a Maggie award for Best Signed Editorial for her piece “Dear Esquire.”

She blogs at elizabethcastoria.com and can be found on TwitterInstagram, and Pinterest at @ecastoria.

3 Simple DIY Projects to Do This Weekend

In honor of National Craft Month in March, I wanted to share some fun and simple DIY projects that I recently made. I haven’t crafted anything in awhile, so I was really craving to finish something quickly.

1. Recycled T-shirt Necklace

I loved this Refinery 29 DIY project for turning an old T-shirt into a nautical necklace. I had this dark gray T-shirt that I accidentally got a black Sharpie stripe on it. So instead of tossing it out, I made it into this necklace. Making the fabric necklace took about an hour or so and DONE. Love it! Find the tutorial here.

tshirtnecklace

2. Knit Bow Tie Necklace

Any time I can knit something and be done in a day, I love. This great blog, A Common Thread, features cute craft projects. And if you’re not the crafty type, you can just buy her jewelry instead. This knit bow tie necklace was super simple to knit and then I just added the chain and clasp. It adds a hint of glittery glamour to whatever I’m wearing. Find the tutorial here.

knitbowtie

3. Striped Baby Blanket

A lot of my lady friends are either pregnant or just had a baby. Knitting or crocheting baby blankets are great because they are small and done pretty quickly. I’m a fan of the Seija Set pattern from the Stitch ‘n Bitch Crochet Happy Hooker. I made the colors red, gray, and white for my friend Danielle’s baby boy, Sammy. I like the simple braid at the top and the bottom of the blanket for some flair.

babyblanket

Make a List of What You’re Grateful For

I must admit that as a writer some times I get stuck in the waiting and frustration that can come with putting my work out there. It’s tough to put your creativity out into the world. I get stuck in the WHY ISN’T ANYTHING HAPPENING RIGHT THIS SECOND.

My dear friend Jaya shared with me that she and her husband Chris each share 10 things they are grateful for every day when they are walking their dogs. I thought it was a beautiful list to make in the morning as an antidote to the running-around-life-feels-really-crazy feelings, so my husband and I adopted the practice. And there are some mornings when I’m grumpy or tired or feel like nothing is working out for me, then after listing what I’m grateful for, I feel like there is a lot of good in my life.

Here’s just a few things I’m grateful for:

  • A supportive, talented, and sweet husband
  • The love of three adorable pets
  • Having enough food
  • My writing
  • Wonderful friends
  • Good books
  • Sunshine (thank you, LA)

What are you grateful for?