Recharging

A couple of months ago I reintroduced myself, after a long sabbatical hiatus vacation holiday break absence.  Since then I’ve been trying to work my way back into some semblance of a writing habit.  Based on the crowd I’m writing to, you all no doubt understand that this is not easy.  That’s OK, I didn’t expect it to be.  I’ve done this before–I’m sure we all have from time to time–so I expect this to be a long-haul kind of life change.

Breaking or creating habits is generally a struggle.  First there’s the struggle just to keep the change in the forefront of your mind.  It’s hard to get in shape if you don’t remember to go to the gym until you’re getting ready for bed.  On this front I’ve been making myself use a bullet journal everyday–even weekends.  And at least 3 times each week (scheduled in my bullet journal) I must do some sort of creative writing.  I make myself do it in a particular journal, even if I intend to use it online.  And this is where the next step has been rearing it’s head.

My creative battery is very nearly dead.

tattly_christoph_niemann_low_battery_web_design_01_grande

The occasional companion to Writer’s Block–at least for some of us–is Reader’s Block.  Much of the reason for my writing drought is because I let the rest of life suck up the time I used to set aside for writing.  My reading time was not immune from this same gluttonous beast.  I’m not saying I haven’t been reading over the last few years, but my intake of creative material has nearly dried up. Social media makes it easier than it used to be to keep up with science articles, and I read plenty of programming and technical articles for work, but my busy schedule has proven to be anathema to sitting down with a novel or a decent collection of shorts.

And creating something new is frightfully hard if the creative well is dry.

So while I continue to force myself to write–and so far the only way for me to keep up is to force myself–I’m going to try to focus some energy on recharging my battery.  Decades ago one of the authors that lit the fires of writing and wordplay within me was Terry Pratchett.  And in the last few months I’ve been working to complete my collection of Discworld novels.  So I’ve decided that’s where I’m going to start.

books-pratchett

I’ve recently started rereading The Colour of Magic, and when I finish that I’m moving on to the other 40 novels in the series.  I’m not structuring this too much.  I’ve no plan to read them one immediately after the other–I will mix in other books as my whims dictate.  Nor am I giving myself a deadline.  I’m trying to retrain myself to enjoy and absorb good writing and wild creativity–not hurry through a book that is a chore.

What books recharge your creative batteries?

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The Writers Circle: Favorite Books

TWC
One of our goals here at Today’s Author is to help all of the writers among us to do what we love to do: write. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by talking to each other and learning from each other.  Our Writers Circle series is designed to do just that – provide a chance for us to discuss writing, editing and publishing questions.

This week’s topic is:

Reading is a critical part of a writer’s life. Today we’d like to discuss the favorite books, stories, poetry or other works you have read. What is it about these works that you found so exciting or compelling? Did any of these books inspire you to start writing?

Let’s discuss this in the comments and see what our community thinks.

14 Websites to Read Free Digital Books

For all of us addicted readers, we know that the cost of the ereaders that curate our ebooks is minor compared to the cost of the ebooks we are reading. The books of many best-selling authors cost just as much if you purchase them digitally as print though there is no cost of paper, machinery, distribution, shelfspace–all that. Still, I am getting used to digital books and like them better for a lot of reasons–I can write on the pages without getting arrested, I can bring ten books in case I don’t like the first five, they are light-weight, the font can be enlarged (that’s a new appreciation as I get older).

But, it’s increasingly difficult to find affordable ebooks. Thankfully, the library now offers Kindles (or similar) with the digital book on it at no cost. I know over time, they’ll get a bigger selection but right now, they’re just getting into it. Here’s a list of free book sources I like:

Bookopolis

Bookopolis is a large collection of fiction and nonfiction books for ages 7-12. Here, students can read, get ideas for new books, comment on books, and earn badges and points to reflect their love of reading. Educators sign up with a Teacher account and then set up classes and accounts for students. Students can practice persuasive writing, comprehension, and typing skills by completing reviews, reports, and reading logs online. Parents can sign up home accounts to help students keep track of favorite books. Available books include Newbery Award Winners as well as many other reader collections. Kids can even watch book trailers before making a selection.

Books can be read online or on most mobile devices.

Classic Literature

A free collection of the most popular public domain pieces in classic literature (Shakespeare, Jane Austen and more)

Great Books Online

By Bartleby. An extensive collection by the preeminent internet publisher of literature, reference and verse providing students, researchers and the intellectually curious with unlimited access to books and information on the web, free of charge.

Gutenberg Project

This site provides thousands of digitized books, audio recordings, DVDs/CDs from the public domain (or out-of-copyright). This includes Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, Sherlock Holmes, A Tale of Two Cities, Heart of Darkness, and more. These are great for all ages to not only read but research topics that might have been well-covered years ago but not so much now (like primitive tribes).

You can read them online, on a mobile device, or download them.

International Children’s Digital Library

The ICDL offers over 4,600 digital children’s books in over 59 languages that exhibit tolerance and respect for diverse cultures, languages, and ideas. Books are made available from a variety of sources including the Library of Congress. Readers search by title, author, country, or category (or several other options such as ISBN). By setting up an account, readers can add tags to books and organize them according to their preference. Many ICDL books are classified as “activities” meaning they are perfect for digital story times, scavenger hunts, and creative writing exercises.

Most books are only available through the website or a link to the website.

Internet Archive

Internet Archive offers over 12,000,000 freely downloadable books and texts. There is also a collection of 550,000 modern eBooks that may be borrowed by anyone with a free archive.org account.

Librivox

Free public domain audio books that can be listened to on computers, iPods or other mobile devices, even burned onto a CD.

Loyal Books

Free public domain audiobooks and ebooks in many genres, for all ages.

Many Books

Over 33,000 ebooks that can be browsed by language, author, title.

My Books

My Books is an app that includes over 51,305 free books of various genres, even nonfiction. You can read online or download and read offline. There are also 5,199 audiobooks. 

Online Books Page

Listing over 2 million free books on the Web that can be searched by author, title, series, and keyword. They also offer news and other special features.

Open Library

Open Library is a curated list of over 20 million books (and growing) that are available worldwide to all age groups whether from the public domain or under copyright protections. Once you find a book, you access a scanned version (if available, say from Project Gutenberg) or purchase it at a linked bookstore. 

Access this catalog via the website.

Read Any Book

A wide collection of genres included, for all ages.

World Cat

World Cat is a comprehensive curation of books, CDs, articles, videos, and more available at all libraries in a geographic area or around the world, for all age groups. This includes not only public libraries but colleges and universities. Once you’ve located a resource, you check it out from that local library. You can get help from a librarian, leave comments and reviews, even factual notes (much like Wikipedia).

World Cat only includes libraries that have joined the World Cat group.

More on reading

Forget Summer Reading. The Classics are Timeless

National Poetry Day

Unconventional Research Sites for Writers

My Research at the Library of Congress 


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the upcoming Born in a Treacherous Time. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

Why I Love Goodreads

goodreadsI joined Goodreads as a digital way to keep track of the books I read. Over time, it has grown to a community where I chat with like-minded bibliophiles who love books, words, and anything related. Here are some of the activities I pursue on Goodreads:

Chat with those who read the same book

There are lots of ways to connect with like-minded readers, starting with Discussion Groups. I get a lot of feedback from Goodreads’ members on reviews I post which I always follow up on. If it sounds like we have similar interests, I reach out, say hi, comment on their reviews or book choices.

Get recommendations in my genre

Most authors I like only write a book a year so I’m always looking for new writers. Goodreads is a great place to find those.

Add and read reviews

Before I read a book, I check out what Goodreads members are saying about it. Then, when I’m finished, I share my review and always enjoy the feedback I get from others.

Connect with authors I like

Goodreads’ authors are amazingly accessible. Often, when I review one of their books, they drop in on my Goodreads’ stream or my blog to say thank you or chat. Who would think? When I become famous, I’ll do the same.

Receive free preview copies by great authors

Lots of authors offer free books on Goodreads through promotional giveaways. Truth, I have never won one of these, but lots of others have because I see their comments all the time. These are both Indie authors and NYT best sellers. So, I keep applying (and getting turned down).

Promote my books

Goodreads offers a variety of ways to promote your books such as giveaways, free sample chapters, and Ask the Author. I haven’t taken advantage of these yet. Anyone have experience with this sort of advertising? Results?

Enter competitions

Every year, I try to predict how many books I’ll read the upcoming year. Goodreads has a widget that will track my progress. I can stick it in my blog’s sidebar so visitors can check how I’m doing. Here’s an image of how I did this year:

goodreads

I can’t believe how many people participated this year and all the books they read:

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How about you–do you use Goodreads? If so, let’s link up!

More about the love of reading:

What did I write today?

Why do I Write?

I’m in Love With NetGalley


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, and the thriller, To Hunt a Sub. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. The sequel to To Hunt a Sub, Twenty-four Days, is scheduled for Summer, 2017. Click to follow its progress.

The Writers Circle: What Are You Reading Now?

TWC
One of our goals here at Today’s Author is to help all of the writers among us to do what we love to do: write. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by talking to each other and learning from each other.  Our Writers Circle series is designed to do just that – provide a chance for us to discuss writing, editing and publishing questions.

This week’s topic is:

We often hear that a critical part of writing is reading.  So today, we’d like to know what you are reading currently, what you just finished reading and what you plan to read next. Do you stick to specific authors, genres or styles when you read?  Do you prefer to read works that are similar to what you write?

Let’s discuss this in the comments and see what our community thinks.

I’m in Love With NetGalley

love readingThose who follow my WordDreams writing blog know I read constantly–far too much, but it’s not something I can control. I curl up with a good book, start on page one (or the preface), lose track of time, and suddenly I’ve finished the book and am looking for the next. As I roll through book after book, the cost has become a big issue. I used to buy them on Kindle, but these days, they’re $9-$12 each with Indies when you can find them $2.99-$3.99. That quickly became too expensive so I switched to library books. I set up an online account at my local branch allowing me to search the virtual stacks of all county libraries. When I find a book I want, I have it delivered to my local branch and pick it up for a small service charge of $.25. There’s even a section for ‘New Titles’ so within a week of publication, I can get the latest offerings of my favorite authors. I have never exceeded the 70 book checkout limit, but regularly pick up 5-10 books at a time. The problem with this is they don’t carry all books (of course they don’t) and there are times I’ve waited months for a book to become available.

Another way I defray reading costs is through Amazon Vine. As a Vine Voice, I have a personalized online queue that provides items they think interest me. I can select up to five at a time and add more as I review them. The problem with this is, there are less and less books on my list and too many items I’m barely interested in. For example, right now my queue includes nail polish, books on art, earbuds, yogurt, placemats, dish towels and baby items. Since the law now requires they charge me (albeit at a discounted rate) for items I order, I only pick what I really want, which BTW isn’t any of the ones I listed.

Over the past few months, I’ve noticed many of the bloggers I follow review books they’ve gotten for free from NetGalley. At first, I thought the choices would be limited so it took me a while to check it out. When I did, I found a long list of books from authors I have enjoyed (LG Sellers, James Patterson, Ben Coes–NYT best-selling authors like this). All you do is set up an account and request a copy.

That sounded easy enough, so I did just that. First, I had to set up my personal writerly profile, which I did, filling in as little as possible because I’m always in a hurry. Within a few days, I got a rejection of my request, suggesting I add more detail to my profile. What they wanted me to do was sell my qualifications as a reviewer, blogger, writer. OK. Any author knows how to do that, so I spent about twenty minutes fleshing out my creds. Within a few days, I started getting approvals on almost all the books I’d selected (a few had limited availability and I was too late). Now, I have four books on my NetGalley dashboard. I can read them on my Kindle, either in the native format or as a ‘doc’ that downloads to my Kindle app. There were a few geeky steps that took me way to long and now I’m  all set up. With this collection of books, I can’t imagine running out of reading anytime soon.

How do you fill your reading queue affordably?


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. 

The Writers Circle: Writing Book Reviews

TWC
One of our goals here at Today’s Author is to help all of the writers among us to do what we love to do: write. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by talking to each other and learning from each other.  Our Writers Circle series is designed to do just that – provide a chance for us to discuss writing, editing and publishing questions.

This week’s topic is:

A lot of authors rely on readers to provide an honest and (hopefully) positive review for their books on sites like Amazon, Goodreads and others.  Do you do this on a regular basis or only if asked?  Do you do it only if you really loved the book or really hated it? How many plot details do you go into during your review and how do you come up with a rating for it?  As an author, do you look for or ask for reviews?

Let’s discuss this in the comments and see what our community thinks.

The Writers Circle: What Are You Reading?

TWC
One of our goals here at Today’s Author is to help all of the writers among us to do what we love to do: write. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by talking to each other and learning from each other.  Our Writers Circle series is designed to do just that – provide a chance for us to discuss writing, editing and publishing questions.

This week’s topic is:

One thing we writers are often told is that if we want to be better writers, we need to read. A lot.  Today, we want to discuss what it is you are reading right now. Do you generally read within the genre you like to write or do you read outside of that area?  Do you find that reading more helps you write more (or better)?

Let’s discuss this in the comments and see what our community thinks.

How NOT to Write a Book Review

14450840 Man writerI read a lot, on average four books a week. I live the maxim that writers must be readers. Because I love writing, I review many of them for one of my three blogs. When Amazon asked me to be a Vine Voice for them, I was flattered and wanted to see what had caught their eye. What made my reviews different from others? I spent time reading a wide selection of reviews and came away with a framework of what all critics included:

  • a brief plot summary
  • an overview of characters
  • a discussion on the theme/plot/goal and whether it’s well-delivered
  • the reviewer’s evidence-based opinion
  • an appealing voice

Reviews I didn’t like often covered these critical areas, but got lost in the ‘personal history’ weeds.  Unless the reviewer is Michiko Kakutani or James Wood (both listed among the top ten most feared literary critics), I’m ambivalent to a reviewers’ personal opinions.

As a result, I’ve developed a template for what to avoid in my reviews. See if you agree:

Opinionated

Book reviews aren’t opinions; they’re factually-based summaries. Sure, many books include the author’s opinion. A reviewer’s job is NOT to disagree with the opinion, rather discuss how the author rolls it out. Do they provide evidence? Is their argument well-developed or gratuitous? Do readers find themselves nodding in agreement or fuming in anger? They should feel the reviewer is even-handed, neutral, and an arbiter of the discussion rather than a participant.

Narrow perspective

The author writes from their personal experience. True, the reviewer’s personal fable is as unique as the author’s, but that isn’t what’s being reviewed. Show how motivation/theme/goals connect to a vast swath of readers even as the character/plot/setting are fresh and unique.

‘This isn’t my favorite genre’

Not only do I avoid that phrase, I hate hearing it as an excuse why the critic has her/his opinion. In fact, it tells me to ignore everything they’re about to say. If this isn’t the reviewer’s genre, research it. For example, literary fiction delves into characters; thrillers focus on plot. I wouldn’t down-star Ted Bell’s Patriot for the lack of Lord Hawkes’ personal thoughts.

If the reviewer isn’t willing to understand the book’s genre, stick with traditional traits like a compelling voice, developed characters, and well-paced plot.

Takes too long to get to the point

Usually, that happens because the reviewer isn’t sure of what they’re saying and hopes to throw enough words on the page to hit the bullseye for most people. Long reviews should be stuffed full of meaty information, not fat.

Conclusions without evidence

I love hearing a conclusion I may not agree with because it means I’m about to learn something. I feel cheated when that conclusion is unsubstantiated by evidence, unless the reviewer is part of my inner circle (people whose arguments I tend to accept at face value), cites sources, cites multiple sources, and gives me linkbacks so I can verify it.

Superiority

Reviewers aren’t there to judge writers, rather evaluate. A debut novel is  different than the tenth in the series, and a young thriller writer should not be compared to Lee Child. Critics offer advice to inform the reader’s decision on whether they should read more of this author. That’s a weighty responsibility. Approach it with respect and humility.

For more on this topic, check out Adam Kirsch’s article (he’s considered one of the top ten reviewers by some). To see the review of what might be the most famous review ever (on John Keats), click here.

More on critiques:

7 Reasons For and Three Against Critique Groups

25 Take-aways from the Richard Bausch workshop

10 Tips from Toxic Feedback

Writers Tip #52: Join a Writers Groups


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

Dirty Little Reading Secret

aceRL9ggiAs bibliophiles, we’re often held to a higher standard when it comes to the novels we spend our time reading. Friends often assume that because I’m well read, and because I write, that I not only have good taste when it comes to the books I read, but also that I exercise that taste with every single book I read.

But the fact is, that like everyone else I like to unwind. Sometimes I like a book that isn’t challenging, has no deep meaning, no mysterious plot twists or characters that challenge my preconceptions.

But…I may not always carry that book quite as openly as most of the books I read.

So, tell me…what is your Dirty Little Reading Secret?

For me, I have an affinity for Star Wars novels. Specifically, the straight-to-paperback, starfighter-pilot-oriented series that have come out in recent years. The characters are one-dimensional, the plots are templates and the bad guys never quite die off. For me it’s the reading equivalent of television wrestling.

So…am I alone?