Off The Shelf - September

The 8-Minute Writing Habit
Monica Leonelle

I must admit I was skeptical about this book, but a few people whose advice I value recommended it, so I was curious to read it. The author had me at “butt-in-chair” is a myth, because I concur wholeheartedly. Though I acknowledge that there comes a time in every project when you need to do this anyway, and though I believe that you can train your mind to create on demand (for lack of a better phrase), I also believe that sitting down to write does not always work. Simple as that.

Leonelle’s system has three basic steps:

1. Break through the blocks that are holding you back.
2. Use her nine strategies.
3. Create a plan to write faster and more consistently.

The five blocks she lists will sound familiar. I’ll mention just a couple of them here. One is that writing may not pay off. Leonelle notes that writing is sometimes easier when you take away the expectation of outcome. I love that! Don’t write while giving yourself pressure about book sales, or number of readers for a blog post, or any other self-imposed expectations. Just write. (Trust me: There will be plenty of time later for expectations!) The next block Leonelle addresses is anxiety — the idea that we get too far ahead of ourselves is true. Think about writing only. Then think about editing. Then think about publishing. Taking the process one step at a time can help reduce anxiety and overwhelm. This is especially important if you are not a writer by profession, because the process is already (likely) overwhelming for you due to its unfamiliarity. Another block is distraction. It’s so important, Leonelle argues, to get buy-in from what she terms “your most important people.” Whether that is a spouse or partner, a roommate, or an accountability partner, the support and buy-in from a support system goes a long way, Writing is a lonely profession, after all.

Leonelle’s strategies are next. She notes that eight minutes is a short enough time for anyone but it’s also enough time to produce something. She encourages readers to incorporate the eight minutes into your already-established routine rather than trying to add something new, since we’re already so busy. In addition to writing for eight minutes, the strategies include writing in the morning to get it “out of the way” to collaborate with a fellow writer, to set public deadlines (this has been a game-changer for me), and to take your writing mobile (AKA to go somewhere new to write).

The third part of the book is Leonelle’s 8x8 Challenge: eight days of writing eight minutes per day. She gives an assignment for each day. Day 2, for example, involves switching up something: stand to write if you usually sit, or dictate your words if you normally type. Day 7 is to make a plan. How many eight-minute sessions do you need to finished a first draft?

The 8-Minute Writing Habit contains many useful takeaways for writers whether beginning or established. I loved the 8x8 Challenge and have done it several times. If you’re feeling intimidated by the idea of incorporating writing into your already-too-busy life, check out this method.

Blog in Bloom
Rosie Morley

Blog in Bloom is a dream. This workbook contains examples and exercises (with answers!) throughout to help you work through the logistics of blogging. There are checklists, tips to avoid burnout, and a working blog post before and after. Hedera begins by noting the Golden Rule: Write for your reader. All bloggers want to do this, but sometimes that’s easier said than done. To that end, Morley walks readers through how to figure out who your reader is. Blog in Bloom then walks readers through all the areas where we can get stuck and make mistakes.

The first part of the book, Foundations, covers structure and cohesion. Structure discusses the topics planning, subheads, and body. Cohesion includes signposting, using repetition, analogies, and conjunctions.

The next section is Polishing, which includes grammar and mechanics as well as proofreading. (Don’t worry: This is more fun than it was in seventh-grade English class!) The grammar and mechanics section includes discussions of sentence structure, punctuation (dashes, hyphens, colons, semi-colons, apostrophes), capitalization, comma splices, fragments, and subject-verb agreement. The proofreading section covers how to proofread, often-confused words, and consistency. (I feel like the list of often-confused words grows by the day.)

And finally, there’s You, which tackles style and voice. Style includes person, voice, construction, “weasel words” (words used intentionally to dilute meaning, such as basically or virtually), jargon, sentence length, boring verbs, and plain language. Voice covers contractions, casual writing, and breaking the rules.

Each chapter includes a section Hedera titles “So What?” to explain the why behind the lesson. The tone of the book is casual and fun, rather than stuffy and “there’s only one right way to write.” Each topic Morley includes is done so thoughtfully to show readers how to strengthen their writing while still keeping in mind — always — the Golden Rule. Blog in Bloom is a great writing refresher for your blog and any other writing you do.

The Husband’s Secret
Liane Moriarty

My book club read this book and, though a few of us assumed the secret couldn’t be an affair because that’s too obvious, what makes me sad was that that was the first thought every single one of us had. Yikes. (Surely that says something about our society today, though I am not sure what!) Liane Moriarty writes rich and complex characters, and this book was no exception. In this twist on Pandora’s box, protagonist Cecilia finds a letter in her husband, John-Paul’s, desk to be opened in the event of his death. He is on a business trip, and Cecilia wrestles with the idea of opening the letter or not. (I wouldn’t have wrestled at all; I know me: I would  have ripped that envelope open the second I laid eyes on it! My husband knows this about me, so this would never happen in our house.) The secret was not an affair. Instead, John-Paul confesses to the murder of a teenage girl when he was a teen himself.

Cecilia’s story becomes intertwined with that of Rachel, the mother of the murder victim. Rachel bears the loss of her daughter daily and is facing loneliness as her son announces that he and his wife — and therefore Rachel’s grandson, one of the few things to bring her joy — are moving out of the country. Rachel believes a man named Connor murdered her daughter. The police said that there was not enough evidence against Connor. One day as Connor was crossing the street, Rachel was driving took matters into her own hands. She accelerated in an attempt to hit Connor but instead hit a little girl who had ridden her bike into the street: Polly, Cecilia and John-Paul’s daughter. Polly’s leg is amputated, and John-Paul must deal with the guilt of his crime and of keeping the secret. If he had confessed years earlier, Rachel would never have tried to hit Connor with her car, and his daughter would not have lost her leg. Cecilia struggles with guilt, too. Should she tell Rachel? (Spoiler alert: She does.) She also wrestles with the idea that the man she has loved for so many years, with whom she has built a family, committed a crime — and lied about it.

The intersection of the characters’ stories is handled with ease, as is generally the case in Moriarty’s books. If you’re a fan of this author, The Husband’s Secret won’t disappoint.

P.S. Rumor has it there’s a movie on the way based on this book.

What have you been reading lately?