*Afterthought #73 – Diverse Reading


so_many_books_so_little_time_book_lover_mug-rbea615033e65472aa410e89e12f61101_x7j1l_8byvr_324The only downside to working at Lopez Bookshop is that at the end of each shift I feel a bit blue—and overwhelmed—about all the books I want to read and haven’t gotten to yet. And knowing that the next week, there will be another stack of New Arrivals calling out to me. There’s a reason the truism “So Many Books, So Little Time” emblazons t-shirts, tote bags, and coffee mugs.

With limited time for “pleasure” reading, I have to settle on just a few titles every month or so. I recently joined a book club for the first time, and that takes care of one selection. Recently I started following the blog Reading Diversely by Lopez Island native Emma Ewert (now transplanted to Montana). In her blog’s introduction, avid reader Emma notes that last year her reading habits started to shift, “…consciously choosing to read books written by women, or people of color, people from other non-European countries, or people from other typically marginalized groups.”

Despite the reality that male writers are published in far greater numbers than women writers, and that white authors dominate the literary world, Emma created an enormous book list of diverse authors she’s read since she began this challenge in April 2017.


It might take me the rest of my life to read all of the books on Emma’s shelf as of today, not to mention all the other fine titles she’ll undoubtedly continue to add. But I’m grateful to have her recommendations to help with the tough choice of what to read next.

tear in soulI have a suggestion for all of you, and for Emma, that meets her list of criteria for diverse reading. As soon as I finish this post, I’ll return to a book I’ve just begun (and can hardly put down)—A Tear in the Soul by Australian author Amanda Webster. The memoir relates Amanda’s personal journey to uncover her own racism, and that of generations of Australians, toward Aboriginals, and to move toward reconciliation and friendship.

What diverse reading have you done lately?


*Afterthoughts are my blog version of a practice followed in some Quaker meetings. After meeting for worship ends, people continue in silence for a few more minutes during which they’re invited to share thoughts or reflect on the morning’s worship. I’ve adopted the form here for last-day-of-the-month brief reflections on headlines, quotes, books, previous posts, maybe even bumper stickers.

Afterthought #65 – Better Than Liking

cwcYou know that feeling when you return from a conference (probably on any subject, but for me, it’s usually one focused on writing) with notes scrawled all over handouts and your program? And your mind swirling with new ideas? That happened to me earlier this month at the Chuckanut Writers Conference. This was the second time I attended this annual event, and it was every bit as good as the previous one. Knowledgeable presenters, inspiring topics, innovative approaches, and thought-provoking conversations.

eaOne session I’ll be sharing with my writing group was led by former Washington State Poet Laureate Elizabeth Austen regarding critiquing others’ writing. I’ve re-blogged her post about references to help in Getting Beyond “I Like…” As much as we writers might think we want to hear those words, I agree with Elizabeth that, if that’s all someone says, “It’s sweet but has no nutritive value. It’s like giving someone who craves protein a gumdrop.”

In addition to Elizabeth’s post, here are a few gems she spoke about that I’ll draw on to give meaningful feedback:

Praise what’s vital, vivid, alive, and evocative.
Switch from “I like” to “I notice.”
Comment on what stays with you and what you remember.
Avoid saying, “this doesn’t work for me,” or “if this were my piece I’d…”
Critiquing someone else’s work develops skills for your own revision.

And I’ll remember her advice when receiving critique:

Take the comments and allow them to metabolize before revising.
What we make is not us.
Precise critique conveys a sense of having been read deeply.

Thanks for the protein, Elizabeth!

*Afterthoughts are my blog version of a practice followed in some Quaker meetings. After meeting for worship ends, people continue in silence for a few more minutes during which they’re invited to share thoughts or reflect on the morning’s worship. I’ve adopted the form here for last-day-of-the-month brief reflections on headlines, quotes, books, previous posts, maybe even bumper stickers.

Elizabeth Austen


This morning I’ll give a talk on workshops and critique groups at the Chuckanut Writers Conference. Here are some of the resources I’ll cite and recommend, plus a few extras:

Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, David Bayles and Ted Orland

Searching for Our Mother’s Gardens, Alice Walker

Simone Weil on Attention and Grace

Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process (pdf)

Interview with William Stafford on workshops (among other things)

The Writer’s Portable Mentor, Priscilla Long

Writing Alone and With Others, Patricia Schneider

The Writer’s Companion, Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux

In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet’s Portable Workshop, Steve Kowit

“In the Workshop after I Read My Poem Aloud,” Don Colburn

Next Word, Better Word, Stephen Dobyns (esp. the chapter on revision)

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Three More Ways Blogging Helps


Writer and teacher Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew started 2017 with her blog post Six Ways Blogging Helps You Be a Better Writer – And Person. She described precisely the unexpected benefits of blogging that I’ve found since I was convinced to blog nearly seven years ago.

6Here’s Elizabeth’s top-six list, with my reflections on how it matches my own blogging experience.

  1. Blogs put a writer in conversation with real people. Not many readers comment on my posts, but it’s a medium that easily allows for an exchange between writer and audience.
  2. I have more patience for the slow work of writing. I agree with Elizabeth’s suggestion that, “This might seem like a paradox.” My three book-length projects required three to twenty years to complete, and I typically spend weeks to months crafting essays. Those are long stretches to remain in the “not-yet-finished” state; creating two or three posts monthly helps me persist with the longer works.
  3. Deadlines are great. My deadlines are soft; no one chastises me if I don’t meet my goal to post mid-month, end-of-the-month, and an Afterthought the last day of each month. But they’re strong enough to keep me thinking, reflecting, and writing, even when I resist.
  4. Regularity means major productivity! Nothing, not even my MFA program, has helped me generate as much new work in addition to my major writing projects.
  5. Frequency teaches us about listening. Again, Elizabeth speaks my mind. “The writing leads the way. Over the years I’ve come to have great faith in this process.”
  6. Blogs are a bellwether of what works. When readers convey in some way that my post has made them think, or that they agree—or disagree, that’s useful feedback about themes and topics I’m writing about.

Now, 257 posts later (258 counting this one), I can add three more ways that blogging has bettered me as a writer and a person.3

7.  My blog is a way to promote the work of other writers I admire. Re-blogs of others’ blog posts or links to authors’ writing (like Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew) can lead my readers to discovery of someone they might not have read before.

8.  wavesI can combine photos (such as this one of the wintry wind on the bay near my home) and other visuals with my writing.

9.  Blogging allows me to experiment with different writing forms— interviews, book reviews, and poetry. I still struggle with the trial-and-error nature of any creative pursuit, including writing. But I know that risking “failure” helps me challenge the notion of perfection, strengthens me to rack up the hours of practice, and usually results in the thrill of “aha” moments.


That brings me to nine ways that blogging makes me, and my writing, better. Thanks, Elizabeth, for the boost to keep me at it throughout 2017.