As with so many of my posts, this one is inspired by an article I read. In this case, the article shares advice on writing from famous writers. I don’t know about anyone else, but what I find most valuable about advice from other writers isn’t necessarily the advice itself (although it’s often helpful) but the chance to bond over writing, and to affirm that I’m doing something right. Whether you enjoy the advice, the bonding, or the affirmations, here are some of the best tips from other writers, as well as a couple of my own…
Get a Cat (Muriel Spark via her character Mrs. Hawkins, from A Far Cry From Kensington)
As someone with three cats, I can’t argue with this advice 🙂 Cats are a source of joy, laughter, and purrs (and my lap cat makes sure I sit and focus). If you’re not a cat person, you might want to consider bunnies or small pets (rats, mice, hamsters…) They’re equally good company and shelters always have many available for adoption.
Stop While the Going Is Good (Ernest Hemingway)
Stop while you’re on a roll and let your subconscious keep working on it until you start again. The best way to write is to not force it.
Writing Anything Is Better than Nothing (Katherine Mansfield)
Just write. The more you do it, the better you get, even if what you’re writing will never go further than the paper/screen it’s on.
Some advice of my own:
Keep the TV, music, and internet (if you can) off. Some people can work with distractions; I’m not one of them. But even if the noise doesn’t bother you, words, phrases, storylines, and even rhythms can burrow into your subconscious and end up in your work. That can happen anyway (it’s just part of the fun of having a brain!) but why increase the risk?
Take up needlepoint. Or any craft you can easily do while staring at a computer screen. Crafts that occupy your hands while your mind is free to focus elsewhere are great for writing.
Take an editing class. Not that you should edit your own work, but you should be able to polish it before submitting it anywhere. No publisher is interested in a manuscript full of errors (it’ll also help with other things, like work emails and social media posts).
Do you have writing advice to share? What tip has helped you most as a writer? Let me know in the comments…
Mara, Dominic, and their fellow vampires arrive in Marseille, France in 1909, only to find another predator already on the loose. As the city tries to cope with a killer stalking the streets, Mara struggles to separate memory from delusion. Can she find peace when the past is haunting, the present overwhelming, and the future hopeless? Inspired by real events.
As someone who’s moved enough times that I’ve lost count, I have plenty of experience in the unenviable task of moving a large book collection. It’s easy enough to move books when you have only a few– you can tuck them in with other belongings, or pack a box or two. But what if you have hundreds or thousands? Get ready for a lot of work…
Start packing your books as soon as you know you’ll be moving, because it’s a slower process than it seems. You’ll also need time to gather enough boxes and other packing materials.
Sort As You Go
Normally I would never advise getting rid of books, but when you have to move them, sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. Take a second as you pack to ask whether you really want each book. If you decide you can part with a few, try donating them, giving them to friends, or having a yard sale (a good way to get rid of other stuff you don’t need anymore too). While you’re at it, you might also want to start sorting by size and weight; this is going to come in handy.
Use the Right Boxes
Size: I’ve had movers tell me that bigger, heavier (but fewer) boxes are preferable; others have complained about the weight after the first dozen or so. Ultimately, I think it’s best to stick to smaller boxes that won’t be too heavy– everyone’s backs will thank you.
New or Recycled: Either is fine as long as they’re strong, clean, and dry.
Other options: Some people recommend using rolling suitcases instead of boxes. I disagree. Suitcases tend to have rounded interior corners, which will leave you with a lot of wasted space, while also possibly damaging covers. The wheels might not be able to handle the weight of books, either (and wheels or not, at some point you’ll have to pick the thing up, and carrying a heavy box is easier than trying to hold a heavy suitcase by the handle). Most importantly, you’d need a lot of suitcases for anything more than a few dozen books.
First, make sure the bottom of your box is taped well (use extra tape if your boxes are recycled). Line the box with packing paper (or bubble wrap if the books are fragile).
Although ideally you’ll keep books from the same shelf together, that doesn’t always work out. You get the best results when you pack the same size books together (you quickly learn how many sizes of books there are once you start packing them). Keep similar weights together too– you don’t want very heavy books crushing lighter books.
You can pack books in three positions: flat on their backs, spine down, or standing up with the spines against the box’s sides. If you’re laying them flat then put heaviest books/hardcovers on the bottom and lighter books/paperbacks as you fill the box. I like to also put a layer of hardcovers on top, if possible, to help protect the paperbacks underneath.
If your books are somewhat valuable, you might want to wrap them individually in (preferably acid free) packing paper. If they’re antiques or very valuable, wrap them individually in acid free paper, place stiff cardboard between each book, and line the box with bubble wrap and paper.
If you have extra space, fill it with packing paper or something light (like clothing).
Use a marker to write the contents on the box (at the very least mark the box as books so you can more easily find them later). Mark boxes of antique or delicate books as fragile. If you have the time and patience you can keep a separate detailed list of specific contents. Number your boxes too– it’ll help you keep track.
Leave a Few Out
I have an e-reader and a library card but I still need to keep a few books unpacked– just in case. If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably want to do the same. These “survival” books can be tucked into a bag at the last minute so you’re never without something to read.
In the Truck
Professional movers know what they’re doing, but if you’re moving yourself it might not occur to you not to stack boxes of books. Things shift inside trucks and stacked heavy boxes can cause a lot of damage if they fall on lighter or more delicate items. If possible, limit their placement to a single layer on the floor.
If you need to put your books into storage, make sure they’re kept in a clean, dry, temperature-controlled environment. You might want to seal any gaps in the boxes with extra tape to give a little more protection against dirt and bugs. If they’re going to be stored for more than a couple of months, use acid free paper to wrap them and line the boxes. And check the tape before taking them out of storage– old tape can dry out.
Tip Your Movers
Moving is hard enough work without adding in heavy boxes of books. In Canada and the US the guideline for tipping is $20 to $25 per mover for a half day, or $40 to $50 per mover for a full day– plus a bit extra for “heavy furniture” (or stacks of books). If you enlisted the help of family and friends instead of pros, don’t forget them, either. While you don’t usually thank friends with cash (although they probably wouldn’t object if you tried), make sure you at least feed them. You might want to give some gift cards too, because friends who’ll help you move are gold, and friends who’ll help you move books are priceless.
Nothing makes your new place feel more like home than getting your books onto shelves. Books should be one of the first things you unpack– not only for the homey feel, but also to get all those boxes out of the way.
Learn from My Experience
In my last move the movers taped the actual shelves from my bookcases together. I guess it was easier to move and store them that way, but after a few months in storage the glue from the tape had melded to the wood. It came off with “goo gone” and a lot of scrubbing, but I had better things to do with my time. If your movers insist on bundling shelves together, tell them to use twine instead of tape (or at least ask that they wrap them in paper or bubble wrap first).
A commenter suggests adding silica gel packets to the boxes to help keep moisture levels down. I think this is a great suggestion! You can buy them at craft stores, hardware stores and various places online.
A commenter recommends wearing soft jersey gloves when unpacking books. The gloves will protect books from sweat, skin oils, or possibly blood if you get a paper cut, as well as protecting your hands from drying out or getting cut.
Do you have any other tips to add? What’s your experience with moving books? Share in the comments…
I recently came across an article about how art can improve your writing. I was intrigued; as an art lover, I was excited to find out how one obsession could affect the other. Unfortunately, the article didn’t offer anything particularly insightful.
Some of the advice was good, if basic: “Show Don’t Tell,” “Find the Humanity,” “Copy the Old Masters…Then Find Your Distinctive Style.”
Some was puzzling: “Keep it Interesting.” Well, yes, that’s the idea–I doubt any writer is deliberately going for a boring story.
The worst advice, IMO, was this: “Make it Beautiful: This is the greatest lesson to me. Artists – first and foremost – aim for BEAUTY. As a writer, don’t forget to reach for the beautiful in your imagery, language, story, even characters… ”
No. Just no.
Some artists strive for beauty and create masterpieces. Some explore the ugliness of the world and do the same. Never mind the sheer subjectivity of a concept like beauty, if all art were “beautiful,” how dull would that be? And writing is no different. Writers who aim only for beauty not only won’t be able to “Keep it Interesting,” but will also lose most of the humanity they’re supposed to be finding. Focusing on what’s lovely is the best way to miss what’s interesting.
So, can art help your writing? I think so. Creative and artistic pursuits are complementary; the more you immerse yourself in art and creativity, the more inspired your work will ultimately be. I also believe there’s one key rule that applies universally: do it with passion, or don’t do it at all. If you have a burning desire to tell a story (compose a song, sculpt, sew, whatever), then that’s what you should be doing. If you think it would be a neat hobby to try in your free time, then great–have some fun while you pursue your real passion. But if you’re meh about what you’re doing (maybe you’re motivated by ‘should’ rather than ‘must’), the results will reflect that. The people who are great at what they do have passion for it. Find your passion and go be great.
If you’d like to read the original article, you can find it here. What do you think? Do you have any tips for how art can improve writing (or vice versa)? Share in the comments.
Don’t forget to get your free copy of my new short story “Tooth & Claw,” a dark fantasy story about memory and delusion, violence and consequences; inspired by real events in Belle Époque France. Available here and at most online booksellers.
I took part in another writing collaboration with Peter Wyn Mosey:
She saw him. She hadn’t been expecting it. He was walking along the street, hands in his coat pockets, face turned up to the bright autumn sun. He looked happy. Happier than anyone should look. Happier than anyone had a right to in this world.