Friday Reads – Pico Iyer on the Pleasures of Being Foreign, Ethan Siegel on Dark Matter

Soon there’ll be more foreigners on earth than there are Americans. Foreignness is a planetary condition, and even when you walk through your hometown—whether that’s New York or London or Sydney—half the people around you are speaking in languages and dealing in traditions different from your own.

Read the article at Lapham’s Quarterly

But there are still gravitationally bound systems, and they exist on small scales in great abundance, on medium scales in moderate abundance, and on relatively large scales in sparse but non-zero abundance. And it’s all part of the same cosmic story.

Ethan Siegel on dark energy, dark matter, and the fate of our expanding universe on Medium. Read the article.

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The Muse: Gray Cat on Gray Chair

Wherein Phoebe commits an admirable act of camouflage, while lounging. Truth be told, she is no muse. When she hears the laptop come on, or hears me settle into my desk chair, she quits whatever she is doing (which is to say she quits sitting around looking impervious) and stages an intervention. She likes to climb on the keyboard, as she clearly feels that she has a great deal more to contribute on any subject than I do.

Gray cat on gray chair on sunny day #cats

A photo posted by Michelle Richmond (@michellerichmondsf) on

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5 Great Gifts for Writers (to fit any budget)


fourcoversThe Paperclip Method: The Novel Writer’s Tool Kit

The Paperclip Method includes four innovative workbooks to help first-time novelists through every step of the process.

Why they’ll love it: For a small fraction of the price of a writing workshop, the writer in your life will get inspired, find his voice, and write the novel he’s always wanted to write. Packed with writing exercises, in-depth articles on narrative craft, and a step-by-step guide to writing, structuring, and revising your novel.

The price: $29 (25% off the regular price of $39) when you order by Dec. 3

Get The Paperclip Method


An Online Writing Class

Any aspiring writer can benefit from an online writing class. Whether they’re just starting out, or they have a few unfinished novels tucked away in a drawer,  The Book Doctor has a class that will suit them. Choose from Fundamentals of Fiction, Advanced Fiction Workshop, the After NaNoWriMo Workshop (for writers who have completed NaNoWriMo), the Publishing Workshop, and more.

Why they’ll love it: All courses include weekly lectures, assignments, and discussion groups. The courses are self-paced, so the writer can begin the course at any time, for as long as he or she likes. With the membership bundle, the recipient will have access to every course.

The price: Courses start at just $39.

Get the online class Fundamentals of Fiction for just $29 (regularly $79) when you purchase by December 3.


Livescribe3 SmartPenLivescribe3 Examples

Remember the days of pen and ink? Livescribe3 looks and feels and acts like a pen, with actual ink that you use to write on actual paper, with one huge improvement over regular pen and paper: Livescribe 3 captures what you’re writing in real time, via the Livescribe app, automatically syncing to your IOS device.

Why They’ll Love It:  Everything you write can be synced automatically to Evernote, so that your handwriting can be searched in the same way you would search typed text. Write in the Livescribe Moleskine notebooks, spiral bound notebooks, or free paper your print yourself.

The Price:  $149.  (Update: Livescribe is offering $70 off its smartpens for cyber Monday. Get the deal.)

Go here to get Livescribe 3 or check out the other Livescribe products, including the Echo set for students.


Moleskine Classic Notebook: it’s classic, it’s practical, and every writer should have at least one. Hardbound, with smooth, gorgeous pages that beg to be filled with someone’s magnum opus

Why They’ll Love It: There’s nothing more inspiring than a beautiful notebook filled with blank pages.

The price: At just $12.91, you can make someone happy, even if you’re on a tight budget

Go here to get Moleskine notebooks from Amazon.



Modern ShortsModern Shorts: 18 Short Stories From Fiction Attic Press

A diverse collection of thought-provoking, beautifully written stories by emerging and established writers. Recommended for writers of short fiction, students of contemporary fiction, and anyone who loves a good story.

Why They’ll Love It: This anthology filled with cutting-edge fiction by unknown and emerging writers doesn’t just make for a great read. It is also inspiring: many of the writers published here are just starting out. Fiction Attic Press–the small, independent press behind this book–actively seeks fiction and memoir by new and unpublished writers.

The price: $14.99 for the paperback

Get the book


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5 Things About Writing I Wish I’d Known 20 Years Ago (Part 2)

When I published my first novel eleven years ago, I thought I’d finish another one within a couple of years. That’s because I thought that, having written one novel, the next one would be easier. Which brings me to:

Writing Truth # 2: Writing a novel never gets easier.

My fourth was just as difficult, if not more so, than my first. My fifth, the one I’ve recently turned in, was just as difficult to write as the rest of them. Through long experience I’ve finally accepted the fact that writing a novel never gets easier.

As I mentioned in How to Write a Novel, there’s no magic formula for novel writing. Each novel demands its own structure, its own pace, its own way of looking at the world.

Each time I complete a novel (and by complete, I mean very specifically the moment that I receive word from my publisher that the novel in its current state is ready for publication), I tell myself that I don’t know how I’ll have the patience to do it again. But patience is beside the point. Because by then, invariably, I’ve already started another novel, a novel I cannot bear to abandon, a novel that promises to be everything the last novel wasn’t, a novel that surely, certainly, will not be as difficult to write as every one that came before it.

I know, I know, the definition of insanity and all that. Call me Homer Simpson.

Where is the hope, then, for novelists, if this thing we do never gets easier? I take comfort from the ice skaters. Yes, the ice skaters. And, if I may be so bold, the aerospace engineers. It doesn’t get easier because it shouldn’t. Who wants to go back to the salcal when you can do a triple lutz? Who wants to merely go into orbit when you can go to Mars?

This metaphor implies, of course, that each novel is more complex than the last. That isn’t necessarily true. But with each new novel, your skill set is larger—or should be. That’s because you should have learned something from the process of writing the last one. Your first novel will probably teach you a lot about timing. Hopefully, it will teach you about clarity. But what it will not teach you is what shape the next novel should take. Because the shape of the story changes.

If it never gets easier, why do we do it—again and again and again? Most of us do it because we love it, and because, though we live by imagination, our imagination fails us on one particular point: we simply cannot imagine a life without writing. While such a life might very well be worth living, it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.

I take inspiration from one of my favorite books, a novella by Lars Gustafsson, The Death of a Beekeeper.

“Kind readers,” Gustafsson begins. “Strange readers. We begin again.”

And so, strange beings that we are, we begin again. The next novel, the next story, the next essay. And while it never gets easier, for this writer at least, it never gets boring. Each time you begin a new novel, you inhabit a new world. Each time you finish—finding, as most of us do, that the book you have written falls far short of the idea of the book you had intended to write—there is the hope of the next one. Today, the salcal. Tomorrow, the triple lutz. Carry on.

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