Resources for Writerly Types

Hello again! As it turns out, some of the photos I planned to use for my next post about England aren’t on my laptop yet. So I’ll post that entry next week. In the meantime, I thought I would post some of my favorite resources for writers, for those of you who are looking for some advice (or are just curious where all these writers learn their bizarre and impractical magic).

First off, I strongly recommend starting with some “big-picture” books about writing. Most books for writers that I’ve found are either general treatises on inspiration and work ethic, or they discuss specific parts of the writing process. In other words, most of them don’t teach you how to write a story so much as how to write a sentence, or create a character, or outline a plot.

While those things are great, I think most new writers need to learn about story first. You know, the basic stuff, like… What is a story? What is its structure? What do you need to write a satisfying story, from beginning to end? The most helpful book on this subject that I’ve read is Wired for Story by Lisa Cron. Other big-picture books about writing include Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass and the ever-popular Stephen King’s On Writing. (And if you like learning about story structure, The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler is an interesting read, and it will teach you about the famous Hero’s Journey motif.)

After that, I would suggest looking for specific advice on the areas of your writing you want to improve. That will vary from writer to writer, but here are some resources I’ve found especially helpful in improving my work.

Writing Excuses: By far my favorite writing-related podcast. Probably because Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler, and Dan Wells are all fans (and skilled creators!) of science fiction and fantasy. Each week, they take fifteen minutes to discuss specific topics about writing. Some of them only apply to fantasy and science fiction, but most are applicable to writing in general. (Like how to write in the first-person point of view, or how to create suspense.) Plus they’re short, so it’s easy to hunt for the specific advice you want.

(And if you like Writing Excuses? Then I highly recommend Write About Dragons, where you can watch videos of Brandon Sanderson teaching college classes about writing fantasy and science fiction. You can watch two entire semesters for free, and the advice and exercises are all excellent. Seriously.)

The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman: This is a helpful book for learning about how to refine your writing on a sentence level. It teaches you how to tighten your prose, which helps keep a reader’s interest (crucial when querying!).

Second Sight by Cheryl B. Klein: This is a great book for learning about different ways to revise a manuscript, and one of my favorite books about how to write for children and young adults.

Finally, all writers who want to be published need to learn about the publishing industry. Whether you’re planning to go the traditional route or self-publish, it helps to know the current marketplace. One way to do this is by reading lots of published books in the genre you write. It’s also helpful to sign up for the free e-mailing lists at Publishers Weekly and Publishers Marketplace. Writer’s Digest has a lot of great content on their site as well (plus you can sign up for a variety of tutorials over at their online shop, and/or subscribe to their magazine, which is a good resource in its own right).

Happy writing!


Teatime Tuesday #14

I considered doing a different post for today, just to shake things up a little, but then I thought, why mess with tradition? (Even traditions that have only existed a few months, and have little to no importance!) So with that said, on to teatime.


You may have noticed, dear reader, that I’ve been obsessed with scones lately. Well, today I’m eating scones again. But these are different scones! They are, in fact, glazed. Yes, the difference is dramatic indeed. (Or, well, not.) They’re cranberry orange scones, though, so there’s that!

I did decide they were different enough to avoid my usual addition of jam. It seemed like that combo would be too sweet, even for me. And I have to say, they were pretty darn tasty on their own.


As for my tea, I decided to pick something that would match the tart flavor of the scones. So I steeped up a cup of Ginger and Orange black tea from Lupicia. I haven’t had a gingery tea like this one in a while, so it tastes a bit like coming home. I used to drink ginger-flavored teas almost constantly in the winter. This particular blend turned out to be a great complement to my sugary scones.

Thanks for joining me for tea, once again! I hope to follow up with more about my trip to England later in the week.

England Retrospective Part Two

For part one of my trip to England, go here.

We left London on a drizzling silver morning, and drove west toward the Cotswolds. I had seen a small part of the English countryside before, on a sightseeing tour to Oxford and Stratford-Upon-Avon. But that tour had only lasted a day. Now I was about to spend the better part of two weeks visiting various landmarks in and around rural southern England.

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We first stopped at a pretty market town named Stow-On-The-Wold. It was around midmorning, and still a while before lunch, so I purchased a Chelsea bun from one of the bakeries. It was sticky and warm, and heavily spiced with cinnamon. As I left the bakery, it began to rain again. It was little more than a feathery drizzle, so I kept walking with my mother and grandmother through the town streets, and we peeked into a multitude of shops. The wares were varied—garden ornaments, used books, glittering scarves, even art supplies.

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I lingered in front of a candy shop to finish my Chelsea bun, and thought about how this town was a part of England (and the English experience as a whole) that I had never seen before. (Not in person, at least, though it certainly brought to mind scenes from movies and books I’ve loved for years!)

Then my mother stopped in at one shop to buy a jacket for my father, and I wandered off toward the church, a smallish structure I’d seen earlier during our walk. It lay beyond a tall gate, and was bordered by long stretches of grass. Tombstones jutted out at intervals, many of them worn almost blank. The door of the church stood open, despite the soft chill in the air. I shivered, not from cold or the presence of graves but a feeling of familiarity, of resonance.

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I had written about a small church in the English countryside before—a place one of the characters in my novels called home. It’s strangely rewarding, to seek out the sort of places that you once could only imagine inside your head, and experience them as real, solid beneath your feet.

It was far from the last time I would have that experience on my tour.

Teatime Tuesday #13

Welcome back to teatime! Today I was lucky enough to be able to sample my sister’s homemade buttermilk scones, which are fluffy and sweet and oh-so-delicious. (As you may have noticed, dear reader, I like scones. A lot.)


I paired the scones with some berry preserves and one of my all-time favorite teas, the Premium Taiwanese Assam from Butiki. Butiki Teas is a small company with lots of great teas, including straight blends and some really original flavors. (As you can imagine, it’s really popular on Steepster.) Sadly, it’s in the process of closing, so I stocked up on all my favorites a few months ago.

Their Premium Taiwenese Assam is a straight tea with huge dark leaves. When steeped, it smells like berries—so much so that my friends all assumed it was a flavored tea when they smelled it! It’s also a black tea, but so sweet and smooth that it has no astringency at all. There’s even a note of cocoa in it, which just adds to the deliciousness.


Thanks for joining me for tea!

Teatime Tuesday #12

Welcome back to Teatime Tuesday! This post is another short one, because my tea was on the simple side today.


For my choice of tea, I sipped a cup of Laoshan Village Chai from Verdant. This is probably my favorite chai right now (and I’ve guzzled quite a few chai blends over the years). This particular blend is heavy on the ginger, my all-time favorite spice, and it has some sweet ingredients as well—like goji berries, elderberry, and vanilla bean. Yeah, it’s just as delicious as it sounds.

This time around, I paired the tea with an English muffin (cinnamon raisin!) from Wolferman’s, once again courtesy of my grandmother in Chicago. Needless to say, the combined smell of spices in the muffin and the tea was pretty intoxicating. (And as a bonus, my empty mug smelled exactly like the gingerbread cookie dough my grandmother from Arizona makes each Christmas.)

As always, thanks for joining me for tea!