One very important Tip to being a good Writer is…Be a good Reader.

One very important Tip to being a good Writer is…You must also be a good reader!

be a reader, read, books, writer, bee

I used to hate reading.  I know, hate is a strong word, and a powerful word, but I despised it – almost as much as I despise running.  I received this patch from a fellow artist while I was on a retreat at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Deer Isle, Maine a few years back.  She gave it to me after noticing that I had brought a stack of books to read during the retreat.  She also gave me another patch that said Early Bird, because I’d be up at the crack of dawn photographing the fog as it rolled in off the Atlantic Ocean when most people were still sound asleep in their cabins.  I think she had a cache of old Girl Scout’s patches that she was trying to pawn off amongst the visiting artists.  The silence was so loud on this quiet little island – if that makes any sense to you.

The more that I read, the better I understand the craft of writing.  I’m not a fast reader, nor do I think I’m the greatest writer.  It all takes practice.  I’m glad to finally embrace it.


What kind of book are you writing?

“Jason, what kind of book are you writing?”
“It’s a creative non-fiction memoir made up of essays, autobiographical stories and interviews all around the topic of photography.”
“It sounds like you’re writing a memoir.”
“That’s what I think too, but…”
“But what?  What is holding you back from saying ‘memoir’?  What are you afraid of?”
“I don’t know.”
“You’re writing a memoir.  Just tell yourself that from now on and own it!”

That’s the advice that I got recently.  It’s sound advice and I felt good about it…that is, until I actually let people know I was writing a memoir.

I have had a few people tell me, “You’re too young to be writing a memoir.”  And this is one reason why I opted not to tell anyone that I was even writing for quite a while – too many people have opinions.  Constructive feedback, great – single-minded shallow opinions – keep them to yourselves.

If you don’t like the word memoir, we can call it something else then, say, a creative non-fiction book broken down into episodic tales.  This book will feel and sound like a memoir, but, shhhh, it’s not a memoir.  How’s that?

Many of the memoirs that I have read in the past two years come from authors who are in their late 30’s and early 40’s – and I fall into that demographic.  Do you think that you have to be famous to write a memoir? No!

Artistic License gives us freedom.  Freedom to do what?  Let me come up with something and I’ll put it the book that I’m writing that’s disguised as a memoir.

The Drunken Indecency of a Sculpture at the Boston Public Library

boston public library, bpl, glen scheffer, panopticon gallery

Glen Scheffer, Inside the Boston Public Library.

The oldest public library in the United States is the Boston Public Library.  The main branch is located on Boylston St. in Boston’s Copley Square section and is the length of one full city block.  Besides housing a plethora of books, John Adams personal library and early works by William Shakespeare, it also has some nice exhibition spaces throughout.

I myself am drawn to the private courtyard in the center.  It’s quiet and it has a beautiful fountain with a bronze sculpture titled Bacchante and Infant Faun in the middle.  There’s a back story to this fountain too.  The sculptor, Frederick William MacMonnies wanted to give this sculpture to the architects that built the B.P.L.  There was a public outcry about it.  The fervor was over the nude nature of the sculpture and its ‘drunken indecency’.  I’m not sure if the ‘drunken indecency’ part has to due with it being nude, or the fact that the sculpture was in honor of Bacchus, a.k.a. Dionysus, the god of wine and revelry.

The library took a pass on accepting the gift.  What we see in the B.P.L. courtyard is a copy.  The original is located at The MET in New York and a second casting of it is on display at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

On a nice, summer day when you sit in the courtyard reading a book or writing, you almost feel like you have been transported somewhere else – like Italy!

A Book of Books

If you like books as much as I do, including photography books, then Abelardo Morell’s A Book of Books is a must.  For all of my photography followers, most of you will know who Abe is.  This post is for my newer, book-loving writers and literary types.  Abe was one of my professors at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design when I was an undergrad and a mentor during my graduate studies.

abelardo morell, book

Abelardo Morell, Old Travel Scrapbook: Munich, 2000

Many people approach books for the first time in bookstores, in libraries and in schools.  Books come in all shapes and sizes.

But as Abe points out, these books have “less to do with their rarity or preciousness than with my wanting to find out the stories they have to tell. Making photographs of these imagined narratives is at the heart of my work here.

One of the big pleasures of this project has come from spending a good amount of time looking at, holding, smelling, and reading a terrific number of skinny, fat, tall, pompous, modest, funny, sad, proud, injured, and radiant books. Of course, there are many more out there to be found, by anybody!”

Many moons from now, some artist, somewhere, is going to get a wild idea for a series, quite possibly:  A Book of Kindles.

The comfort of thingy-ness – A TED talk

This TED talk with Chip Kidd is all about book design or rather, book jacket design.

“Much is to be gained by eBooks: ease, convenience, portability. But something is definitely lost: tradition, a sensual experience, the comfort of thingy-ness — a little bit of humanity.”
~ Chip Kidd

Follow him on Twitter: @chipkidd

Lost in Learning

Words play an essential part in stories, in transcribing ideas and in lyrics.  In photographer Eva Timothy’s series Lost in Learning: The Art of Discovery, she tackles history’s greatest artists and thinkers, creating “a portrait of an age where exploration was life’s supreme adventure.”

Through her photographs she magnifies and puts under inspection their very words – from book text to manuscripts, maps to sheet music.

eva timothy

I read how many books in 2012?

There aren’t a lot of books on my list, and I’m not publishing it here for bragging rights.  Fifteen was my magic number.  I have a friend who keeps a spreadsheet of books that he reads – I think for him it’s a little brotherly competition, plus he likes to make lists.  He and his brother tend to read between 40-50 books a year each.  I don’t have that much time on my hands, nor do I think I could ever read that many books in a year.  Anyhow, check out these gems!

Anthony Bourdain: Kitchen Confidential
Anthony Bourdain: The Nasty Bits
Anthony Bourdain: Medium Raw
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
Shucked: Life on a New England Oyster Farm: Erin Byers Murray
Richard Branson: Like A Virgin
Ernest Hemingway: A Moveable Feast
F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby
Malcolm Gladwell: The Tipping Point
Malcolm Gladwell: Outliers
Photographs Not Taken: edited by Will Steacy
Inbound Marketing: Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah
The Startup of You: Reid Hoffman
REWORK: Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
Stephen King: On Writing

There were probably a few others, but they are escaping me at this moment.  My goal is to read twice as many books this year.  I’m not so concerned about topics (since some were all over the map) – rather, I’m interested in how people write about their past experiences.  With that in mind, if you run into me in a bookstore, chances are I’ll be in the Memoir / Creative Non-Fiction section.  Where would you be?

There were also a few business-related books in that mix.  I was able to extract a few great ideas and put them into practice.  You can always use a few great ideas.

My introduction to Grub Street

Now, let me clarify.  There are two Grub Streets – one is a website about restaurant and dining suggestions – (a foodie’s wet dream), and the other is a literary haven for people who are interested in writing.  I am writing about the latter.

Grub Street, located on Boylston St in Boston is a non-profit organization that hosts writing and publishing workshops for people of all ages.  They make people better writers and assist writers who are set on making writing a career.

I was introduced to Grub Street by my friend Debbie Hagan, former Editor-in-Chief at Art New England Magazine.  She knew I was very serious about my writing and knew I was looking for a little guidance on my memoir.

Last week I attended my first two workshops at Grub Street.  The first: So You Want to Be a Writer in 2013 and Beyond with Ethan Gilsdorf (twitter = @ethanfreak)

The second was: Writing the Killer Nonfiction Book Proposal with Katrin Schumann (twitter = @katrinschumann).

The classes here are small (8-12 students) and run the gamut with students who were just starting out and others who have finished manuscripts and needed direction.  I fall somewhere in between.  Both classes were great and were led by published authors who had real world experience.  Since I have already gone to school and earned a B.F.A and a M.F.A. I wasn’t planning to re-enroll in another degree-seeking program.  These workshops are designed to give a lot of information in a short amount of time.  The first workshop was only three hours long, while the second was six hours long.  Listening to my classmates talk about their books got my creative juices pumpin’ and I am ready to get back to work on mine.

I dreaded writing my Master’s thesis and that was only twenty-two pages long.  I’m guessing that it had to do with the structure because the content – photography – is my passion.

I’ll be posting more on Grub Street in the future.  It was cool to see this as soon as I exited the elevator onto their floor.  I knew I was in the right place!

Grub Street