Modify an Old Book

A Pen In Each Hand

By Beaver

In Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient, the title character is an unidentified man whose only link to his past is an old book he used as a notebook / commonplace book:

She picks up the notebook that lies on the small table beside his bed. It is the book he brought with him through the fire—a copy of The Histories by Herodotus that he has added to, cutting and gluing in pages from other books or writing in his own observations—so they are all cradled within the text of Herodotus. (p. 16)

And in his commonplace book, his 1890 edition of Herodotus’ Histories, are other fragments—maps, diary entries, writings in many languages, paragraphs cut out of other books. All that is missing is his own name. (p. 96)

This month’s exercise is to use the English patient’s book as inspiration.

Step One: Find an old book to repurpose. I suggest starting with a used book that already has some scuffs and scrapes so it doesn’t feel too precious to modify.

If you don’t want to use a book you already own, look for a suitable book at a used bookstore (check the discount bin out front) or charity book sale. Tip: library book sales often sell hardcover books for $1 or less.

While you can start with any book, a copy of a favorite novel, a nonfiction book whose subject is interesting to you, or one with aesthetic appeal (but perhaps less-than-interesting content) are good options.

Step Two: Modify your book! You can play with the existing text or treat it more like a blank journal.

Some suggestions:

  • create found poetry using the existing text
  • paste in photos, clippings, tickets, etc.
  • doodle or draw
  • add patterns or color
  • write notes in the margins
  • journal between the lines
  • fill in blank pages
  • write an alternate ending or add a “missing” chapter
  • add a character
  • modify illustrations/photographs
  • dry leaves or flowers between the pages

Step Three: Continue until your book feels finished. Use your book as a source of inspiration for your writing—both during the process of creating it and afterward.

[Page numbers from the 1992 Vintage edition.]

May 2016
Daily Writing Prompts

A Pen In Each Hand

  1. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: grunts, share, looking, clings, alter.
    2. Use the phrase “I’m not surprised it didn’t work.”
    3. Write about opposites both being true.
  2. “Tell me again why that’s wrong?”
  3. Use these 5 words: vibes, lyrics, flash, shame, tribute.
  4. Learning from someone else’s misfortune
  5. Include this line: “This song makes me want to dance!”
  6. A long time between days off work
  7. a deafening silence.
  8. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: misused, comes, haunches, unrequited, memory.
    2. Use the phrase, “Don’t go without me.”
    3. Write about fixing something that wasn’t broken.
  9. Use these 5 words: meeting, petty, hard, nominate, psychopath.
  10. “I know where to look that up.”
  11. Start with: After her release from prison…
  12. Going home to more drama
  13. what actually happens during a commercial break.
  14. “I’m using that. Get your own.”
  15. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: excerpt, moaning, public, preserve, south.
    2. Use the phrase, “Are you sure about that?”
    3. Write about a bad day at work.
  16. There’s always one more of them to do.
  17. Use these 5 words: disgusted, king, intimidate, truths, earful.
  18. Becoming aware of someone else’s pain
  19. Include this line: “This is the job I’ve dreamed of.”
  20. Doing something domestic for a friend
  21. a lawsuit over too much ice in iced coffee.
  22. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: reaches, hand, agony, appear, these.
    2. Write about a sequence of numbers.
    3. Write about making something with one’s hands.
  23. Use these 5 words: monster, rigging, victim, anger, exposed.
  24. …and you need yet another password for that.
  25. Include this line: “I fangirled over _____.”
  26. Getting old is not for the faint of heart.
  27. shenanigans at a picnic.
  28. “Put the phone away and talk to me.”
  29. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: killed, unrequited, barking, boxes, light.
    2. Write about doing something you’d never do.
    3. Use the phrase, “There’s no guarantee.”
  30. Write something completely different today.
  31. Your dog hates hugs.

Track Your Submissions

A Pen In Each Hand

By Baker

  1. If you haven’t already, set up a way to track your submissions. Duotrope’s submission tracker used to be free but when Duotrope went pay, so did the submission tracker. Membership is $5 per month, less if you sign up for a year. Writer’s Database has a submission tracker and free accounts.
  2. When you set up your submission tracker, go through your email and add everything you’ve ever submitted. It can be inspiring to remember how many times you gave it a shot.
  3. Set a goal for submitting your work over the next three months, like:
    • Send out a story every Thursday for 12 weeks.
    • Clean out your file of unfinished or abandoned work and polish one piece for submission within 90 days.
    • Submitting poetry? Max out your submission. If you only have one poem slated to send but the journal accepts three per submission, add two poems. You never know what will move an editor.
  4. Read the submission guidelines for a handful of random journals. New Pages runs a nice listing, as does Poets & Writers. Compare submission guidelines for similarities and differences. If you’re curious about why a journal has set a specific criterion, click through to read it and you might discover further explanation at the site.

April 2016
Daily Writing Prompts

  1. A Pen In Each HandThe feelings of the April Fool.
  2. Write about someone who is young but old at heart.
  3. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: fog, pestilence, through, toadstools, built.
    2. Use the phrase “Nobody was injured, but…”
    3. Write about complicated instructions.
  4. Start with: “Tonight I’m auditioning for…”
  5. “Well, that’s a proper train wreck.”
  6. Use these 5 words: mission, waiting, events, echo, time.
  7. Trying to stay awake after lunch
  8. “Stop whining and eat your dinner. Children are starving.”
  9. Everything I knew turns out to be wrong.
  10. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: secret, their, yard, misused, pianos.
    2. Use the phrase “I’m holding it in my hand.”
    3. Write about a late-night snack.
  11. Dividing up stuff after a breakup
  12. Have a character pose topless.
  13. There’s always one more thing you need.
  14. Use these 5 words: anecdotes, suspends, delicious, absolutely, ready.
  15. Unexpected last moment extension
  16. “You’re under contract.”
  17. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
  18. Give your MC some form of punishment.
  19. “I’d like to trade places with _____”
  20. Use these 5 words: text, hopes, impossible, audience, nautical.
  21. I could never get the hang of Thursdays
  22. “Another naked selfie?!”
  23. Maybe if it’s dark they won’t notice it.
  24. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: nothing, muttered, memory, factory, opened.
    2. Use the phrase “What are you going to say?”
    3. Write about a headache.
  25. Book ’em, Danno.
  26. Write about a massive disappointment.
  27. We’re oddly even.
  28. Use these 5 words: coloring, prejudices, profane, trending, blame.
  29. April showers bring May _______.
  30. Write about ‘a state of unlimited freedom’

Start a Project Blog

A Pen In Each Hand

By Beaver

One of the big appeals of writing challenges like NaNoWriMo or April’s NaPoWriMo is that they have a concrete timeframe and goal, whether it be to write a 50,000-word novel in a month or thirty poems in thirty days. Even if the task as a whole seems daunting, it can be broken down into manageable daily goals: don’t worry about writing 30 poems, focus on writing one poem a day.

Because a writing challenge is finite, it’s easier to keep going on those days when you’re uninspired, tired, or busy. You can remind yourself if you skip a day, you’ll have to make it up later. You can remind yourself you only have X days left, you can do it! You can remind yourself how good you will feel when you complete the challenge.

Writing challenges give you the satisfaction of completing a project. At that point, you can decide what you want to do next: keep writing? start editing? set it aside and move on to something new? Whatever you decide to do next, even if it’s stick your project in a drawer and never look at it again, doesn’t take away from the fact you finished (and, of course, celebrated!)

The challenge-goal reached-reward cycle is what keeps people going for years in many endeavors, but it’s often something lacking in a writer’s life. Writers tell themselves they need to write everyday—indefinitely, forever! Then they get mad at themselves when their enthusiasm for a project started a decade prior wanes. A writing life without meeting goals and taking the time to reward oneself for doing so is a recipe for burn out.

So this month’s challenge is designed to get you moving away from setting goals with no end in sight. For this challenge, you’re going to start a project “blog.” Any social media platform can be used for this project as long as it allows you to post text. Your project blog should be separate from your existing social media. In other words, don’t use an existing account for this project—start fresh! Your project should have a theme, a writing goal, and a set timeframe for completion.

Example: write 52 100-word flash stories, each based on a photograph, in a year.

Think about your daily life and your existing commitments when deciding on your project. Be realistic! The point of this project is give you the satisfaction of reaching a tough, but manageable, goal. Don’t set yourself up to fail. Do-X-every-day-for-a-year projects are popular, but keep in mind it’s hard to do anything every single day for a year. If you do attempt such a project make sure your daily goal is small.

Challenges like NaPoWriMo work well because the writing goal is for the entire length of the project. Writing one poem each day is one way to reach your monthly goal of 30 poems, but it’s not the only way. You might have days during the week when you have time for writing and days when you don’t, making it better for you to write two or three poems on the days when you have more time.

It’s good to have some flexibility built in, especially for a long project. Setting a daily goal for a year and then missing day 360 because you simply got busy and forgot would be demoralizing. If the platform you’re using for your project allows you to schedule posts, take advantage of it. Schedule time to work on your project as you would any other appointment, and set a reminder in your calendar so you don’t forget.

When you reach your goal: celebrate, then re-evaluate. Do you want to continue, take a break, or try something new? If you do decide to continue, renew your project for the same timeframe, just like renewing a library book.

March 2016
Daily Writing Prompts

A Pen In Each Hand

  1. beautifully executed
  2. When all is said and done, much more is said than done.
  3. the bad kind of mushrooms
  4. Write about glare.
  5. Use these 5 words: salvage, currencies, diversity, faith, killers.
  6. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: morning, deeds, hand, curled, bookish.
    2. Fighting to stay awake and pay attention.
    3. Write about something unexpected and brightly colored.
  7. a 90-foot-tall billboard
  8. Variations on a recipe
  9. 5% battery left
  10. Make up a smartphone app for your characters.
  11. Use these 5 words: design, copyright, monarch, economy, victories.
  12. Spreading misinformation about the daylight time change
  13. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: plum, border, women, which, world.
    2. Scooping up an armload of _______.
    3. Write about a gadget that doesn’t work.
  14. Rescheduling a stressful appointment
  15. Some good news!
  16. look around to see if they’re looking at someone else
  17. a bunch of middle school boys
  18. A place where there are no landmarks.
  19. Use these 5 words: sweetens, pollution, server, exchange, finger.
  20. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: dismantle, public, dead, plum, excerpt.
    2. Write about hearing from a long-lost friend.
    3. Write about understanding misunderstanding.
  21. a pair of tickets
  22. An awkward position
  23. “It’s taking too f—ing long.”
  24. Perhaps I should have reminded her.
  25. Use these 5 words: acclaimed, celebrate, gaffe, making, judgmental.
  26. Passive aggression with a smile.
  27. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
  28. Obsessively playing a game.
  29. one last photo from space
  30. Going out like a [not-lamb].
  31. there is definitely something fishy going on!

Who’s On Your Guest List?

A Pen In Each HandBy Harpspeed

Dear Fiction Readers and Writers,

It’s your turn. Imagine you could meet a favorite character from a work of fiction. Any character. Whom would you choose? A character from your own shelves? A character from your past? Or how about a character you haven’t met yet? Perhaps, someone who was once recommended to you? (For me it would be that astronaut from the book and the film, The Martian.) A stranger-character? How intriguing that would be!

Now imagine you could invite a dozen or more characters to your house for a party or a backyard barbecue or what-have-you? The trick is to know your characters well, to be select with your choices: Would they like each other? Would they share similar traits or politics? Would you break out the tequila or the sherry or make a grab for Chekov’s gun on the wall?

Please share this occasion with your friends at Toasted Cheese. Tell us who you plan to invite and do tell us why. Or tell us after the fact. Was it a “screaming” success or did you lose a few guests? Did any characters run off together? Any foul play? Just a sentence or two is fine. We can read between the lines. We’re pretty good at that.

Harpspeed
TC Reviews Editor

P.S. A few words to the wise: You may want to steer clear of the psychopaths and vampires. They can be so unpredictable! If you insist on inviting one or more, be sure to have a strong antagonist or protagonist with them to keep them in check. And be mindful: characters can change whether for good or for bad. Those are the best characters and the most interesting guests! They also stay with us long after their stories resolve.

February 2016
Daily Writing Prompts

  1. A Pen In Each HandChange one essential detail & rewrite
  2. “They lit a fire for us.”
  3. End of a busy project: now what?
  4. your MC driving behind a truck with a “Trump 2016” bumpersticker.
  5. “It’s just like counting by sevens…”
  6. Use these 5 words: heart, congestion, parasitic, bookish, hallucinations.
  7. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: stairs, seasons, wanted, understand, memory.
    2. Making up nicknames for other people.
    3. Write about someone your character shouldn’t admire, but does.
  8. “You assume so much about me.”
  9. If your MC could manipulate the calendar…
  10. a competitive frenzy.
  11. “Oh that. How far behind am I?”
  12. Use these 5 words: zombie, onesie, marching, neutral, destroyed.
  13. “I’m not late yet.”
  14. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: twisted, street, hid, dismantle, chair.
    2. After a very long wait, it’s finally here.
    3. Write about napping in the sun.
  15. “What do you mean, there’s no more coffee?”
  16. “Why do some people have all the luck?”
  17. “Should I worry that you just read my mind?”
  18. a message that makes your MC’s blood boil.
  19. Picking up after a flood.
  20. Use these 5 words: bakery, cocoa, sunset, inventive, screen.
  21. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: slights, windy, rest, dress, pestilence.
    2. Use the phrase, “Just last week…”
    3. Write about the fourth example of something, breaking the rule.
  22. “I haven’t woken up from the dream yet.”
  23. In the seventh week of February…
  24. deadly weather
  25. Adapting to a new disability.
  26. Use these 5 words: red carpet, performance, diversity, ensemble, couture.
  27. It’s the last weekend in Feb, and we ALL know what THAT means!
  28. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: shakes, stair, stone, alter, working.
    2. Fill in the blank: “Next year in ______[place name]”
    3. Write about that one time, at band camp.
  29. An event that happens each leap day.

Polishing Your Submissions

A Pen In Each Hand

By Baker

  1. Resolve to write good cover letters. You can use a template and personalize it as needed. Be brief. Refrain from writing more than a sentence or two about the piece you’re submitting. Include any publication credits. If this is your first submission, say so! Editors love discovering emerging writers. Read the “about the author” blurbs at journals to get ideas for a 50-word bio you can use in your cover letters. It’s fine to include your age, especially if you’re a teen or a senior, but don’t presume that your story or poem will be rejected due to your age (certainly don’t include that presumption in the content of your cover letter).
  2. Title every story and poem you send out. Include the title above the work. When discussing submissions, some editors refer to them by the name of the piece.
  3. Read a bit of the journal to which you’re submitting. Unless it’s part of your assignment or part of a journal’s guidelines, there’s no need to include your reason for selecting a journal in your cover letter. That said, including the title of a piece you enjoyed in the journal is a nice way to say you think your work is a good fit. It also shows that you’ve read what the journal publishes.
  4. Proofread your piece before you send. If possible, read it on a device other than the one you wrote it on (ex: Wrote on a laptop? Read it out of your cloud on your phone). Fresh eyes reading fresh screens can catch errors.

January 2016
Daily Writing Prompts

  1. A Pen In Each HandWrite about leaving something behind for the new year.
  2. Use these 5 words: opens, shelter, reached, sailing, holy.
  3. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: good, every, aeroplanes, women, broken.
    2. Use the phrase, “I used to know how to do this.”
    3. Write about negotiating about food.
  4. Write about an understudy.
  5. When’s the next day off work??
  6. “It takes a lot to shock me.”
  7. Make up a perfectly cromulent word and use it.
  8. Use these 5 words: secret, festive, landmark, global, midnight.
  9. “Don’t expect it to last.”
  10. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: earth’s, language, memory, battle, secret.
    2. Use the phrase, “There’s only one left.”
    3. Write about that song that’s stuck in your character’s head.
  11. Write about living in a tiny house.
  12. Your MC time travels.
  13. Write about an annoying roommate.
  14. “…dropped a bombshell.”
  15. “Well, learn how to like it!”
  16. Use these 5 words: research, excesses, wartime, yachts, music.
  17. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: broken, private, stone, moves, lunar.
    2. Use the phrase, “Come sit with me.”
    3. Write about washing glasses.
  18. The view from the top.
  19. Write about sleeping in a doorway.
  20. “I wasn’t referring to you, was I?”
  21. Hand-me-down clothing
  22. Use these 5 words: center, creepy, comfort, charge, collaboration.
  23. Obsessively reloading a website.
  24. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: every, walls, gloves. muffled, librarian.
    2. Use the phrase, “All around the area.”
    3. Write about a surprising photograph.
  25. Looking up a fact in an actual encyclopedia.
  26. A massive storm system.
  27. Use the phrase “This space intentionally left blank.”
  28. “Naked yoga?”
  29. Thinking up a strong password.
  30. Use one of the “I saw you” messages at this link to start your story.
  31. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: scribbling, rhapsody, color, hearts, bloom.
    2. Use the phrase, “By his paw, the lion is known.”
    3. Write about a peculiar hair color.