What Does Your Bookshelf Say About You?

Bedroom Bookshelf

Bedroom Bookshelf

Being a reader, a writer, and a librarian, I have a lot of bookshelves in my house. So many in fact, that you’d think I’d have plenty of room for the new book I’d recently purchased—it wasn’t even a thick book, only 249 pages. But no, when I attempted to squeeze it on the bookshelf in my room, it wouldn’t fit. Nor would it fit with the books on the top of my husband’s dresser. No room on the living room bookshelf either — and certainly not on the shelves downstairs, crowded three times deep.

As I dug through my books, wondering if there were any I could bear to get rid of, I pondered what would be gained, and what would be lost if we went to all ebooks. Obviously, on a virtual bookshelf I could have thousands of books and never run out of shelf space. But on the flip side, bookshelves instill character and personality in a room. If books aren’t a Feng Shui thing, they should be. All those stories, ideas and possibilities create good mojo—I’m sure of it.

IMG_6269When I go over to someone’s house, I love to look at two things — what they hang on their walls, and what is on their shelves. I don’t like to think I’m judgmental about bookshelves, but I probably am—just a little. Mostly if the person doesn’t have any books at all on the bookshelf. I mean really, that’s as sad as having an ice cream cone with no ice cream.

So take a look around you. What does your bookshelf (or bookshelves if you are like me) say about you?

IMG_6270Maybe it should be a new type of personality test. All Fiction on your shelf? You’re an F: a dreamer, an escape artist, and a traveler. You are empathetic and can often see multiple ways of looking at an issue.

All Non-Fiction on your shelf? You’re an NF: a realist, someone who believes in the here and now—as well as in the power of the past. You feel more comfortable with facts than with possibilities, and you believe the more you know, the better off you will be.

IMG_6266Does you bookshelf host a number of both fiction and non-fiction books, like mine? You’re an FNF. You don’t believe you can really dream, reach for the stars, or try new things until you know the facts about this life, this world we live in. You are a realistic dreamer or a dreamy realist. Start where you are and go from there.

Stay with me here, I’m just warming up.

IMG_6268How about Literary or Genre reading? An L type of bookshelf says the reader is well educated (or striving to be), likes to go beneath the surface of things. Often more reserved, this reader tends to observe and analyze things before jumping in. L readers appreciate the story and the language as a form of art. A G reader, on the other hand, likes to get what they want, and quickly. They tend to be action-oriented, and don’t believe in beating around the bush.

Office Area Bookshelf

Office Area Bookshelf

How am I doing so far? Look at those shelves. Do I know you yet?

Some people like their bookshelves arranged in a certain order. Organized—or O bookshelves—have some sort of orderly system. Books are arranged by size, color, theme, genre, author. This person is efficient, organized, and likes to have things make sense. Being a librarian, I know all about this dewey decimal (or should I call it OCD?) mentality—but my shelves at home? Not so much.

Basement Bookshelves (top shelf)

Basement Bookshelves (top shelf)

Random–or R people–accept that life can be random. Their bookshelves are a mishmash of titles, genres, sizes, knick-knacks, and treasures of all sorts. No particular order means searching for things, but the R person believes life is all about the journey.

Sparse bookshelves speak of a thoughtful person who believes the value of something lies in the quality of that item, person, or experience—not in the quantity. For S people, less is more—if that less has meaning. They easily let go of that which does not serve them (to use my yoga teacher’s words—and yes, I hear those words a lot. Maybe eventually they will even sink in.)

Basement Bookshelves (middle shelves)

Basement Bookshelves (middle shelves)

Cluttered bookshelves on the other hand, speak of an energetic person with multiple interests and curiosity. An idea person, this bookshelf displays a multitude of attempts, successes, and failures. Oddly enough, even though to an outsider there does not appear to be any sort of systematic arrangement of the books and other things on the shelf, C people will often notice if something is moved. (Not that I go moving things on someone else’s bookshelves… at least, not often.)

Basement Bookshelves (bottom shelves)

Basement Bookshelves (bottom shelves)

Then there are the Trinkets versus the No Trinkets. The NTs are purists at heart. Like the O bookshelf people, they like things to make sense, to have a clear purpose, and to do that purpose well. T bookshelf people are those who like to mix knick-knacks or trinkets in among their books. They are typically good at multi-tasking, and tend to be big-picture people rather than detail orientated.

Living Room Bookshelf (I'm not allowed to overfill it)

Living Room Bookshelf (I’m not allowed to overfill it)

Does your bookshelf contain mostly new books? Or do you love that old book smell and feel—yes, they do have a particular smell and feel about them. No doubt because of the paper used. OBs are seeped in tradition and NBs actively seek out the next great thing, the next experience.

Paperback or Hard-cover? PB people are frugal. Often they read to be entertained, and therefore want the freedom to travel far and wide, to read whatever suits their fancy. HC book lovers are the loyal, committed sort. Certain authors are like members of the family, and HC people want that relationship to stand the test of time.

Living Room Bookshelf

Living Room Bookshelf

There are the Self-Help book people (SH = independent, over-analyzers), the How-To manual sorts (HT = Detail people who like to follow the rules), the Memoir/Biography/Autobiography collectors (MBA = a people person, this individual is fascinated with how others live), the Inspirational book readers (I = those looking to deepen their spiritual experience), and the TextBook people (face it, TB people are either students who paid way too much for their books and consequently don’t want to sell it back for a fourth of the cost, or teachers who are never sure where or what they will be teaching).


And finally, any good bookshelf analysis would be incomplete without mentioning the people who collect (and even sometimes read!) Poetry books. P people are deep—or want to be anyway. They are always looking for the essence of things, of life. Emotional—though they may not show it—these are your dreamers, your artists, your never-take-anything-at-face-value sorts.

Living Room Shelves

Living Room Shelves

So what do my bookshelves say about me? That I’m a FNF, L, G, O, R, C, T, NB, OB, P,B HC, SH, I, TB (only the Shakespeare book, I swear. It cost me half a year’s worth of meals.), and yes, a P.

Although, now that I think of it, it might just be easier to say I’m a reader and a writer.

Husband's bookshelf down in the man cave.

Husband’s bookshelf down in the man cave.

Summer Reading (from 1 of my libraries) -- kept in a bag because there is no room on the bookshelves.

Summer Reading (from 1 of my libraries) — kept in a bag because there is no room on the bookshelves.


Re-visioning for PLOT

Right now I’m in the middle of trying to re-vision the plot of my 3rd novel, I Feel For You

Revision - the precision part of writing.

Revision – the precision part of writing.

(IFFY). I’m using Scrivener – and really loving the corkboard part of it for visualizing. One thing I’ve been working on is adding information based on the book The Writer’s Little Helper (by James V. Smith) to the summary (what shows up on the corkboard).

I’m adding all the information on “The Scene Card” (page 114 of the 2006 ed.) So each summary tells:

  • who is in the scene,
  • what happens,
  • where and when it takes place
  • whether it is a master, major, or minor scene (as described in The Writer’s Little Helper, 42-43),
  • what the purpose of the scene is,
  • and finally the ratings on the ACIIDS intensity scale (pg.

This is what it looks like:

Scrivener's Corkboard

Scrivener’s Corkboard


Writing outside the comfort zone — literally

The Writer’s Desk — where one creates highly important works of grandeur

Words of wisdom: Creating is not reliant on setting. One can still produce great works even when her desk is sandwiched between the cat litter pans and dirty laundry. (Even when her husband adds a box of indoor/outdoor pillows to the mess–right in the doorway at that.)

Cat litter pans

If you’ve been putting off writing or painting because you don’t have a creative workspace — be creative in the space you have. (and burn nice smelling candles when the occasion demands it.)

Just saying, don’t wait for perfect.

“It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.” -Stephen King (On Writing)

Are you cackling yet? Movies for writers.

Are you cackling yet?

In Terry Pratchett’s book, Wintersmith, it talks about how witches meet in order to keep an

Wintersmith — the importance of covens

eye on each other–to make sure they aren’t starting to cackle, as it were. That was the purpose of covens.

“‘Cackling’ to a witch didn’t just mean nasty laughter. It meant your mind drifting away from its anchor. It meant you losing your grip. It meant loneliness and hard work and responsibility and other people’s problems driving you crazy a little bit at a time, each bit so small that you’d hardly notice it, until you thought it was normal to stop working and wear a kettle on your head. It meant you thinking that the fact you knew more than anyone else in your village made you better than them. It meant thinking that right and wrong were negotiable. And, in the end, it meant you ‘going to the dark’ as the witches said. That was a bad road. At the end of the road were poisoned spinning wheels and gingerbread cottages. What stopped this was the habit of visiting. Partly because witches love gossip, especially if it’s more exciting than truthful. But mostly it was to keep an eye on one another.” (Wintersmith, pg. 19-20)

Don’t let your mind drift from its anchor

I’m thinking maybe writers should have covens too. I mean, think about it. Solitary profession that involves making stuff up–seems ripe for cackling, don’t you think? Mind drifting from its anchor, loneliness, hard work, other people’s problems — dang, that’s writers! How long does it take before your characters start telling you what to say and do? How long before you start arguing with your characters? Yup, I see some of you nodding your head. You know what I’m talking about. You need a coven–code name, writing group. Do not delay. Do not pass go. FInd yourself a writing group as soon as possible.

If you still don’t believe me (or Terry Pratchett), you should check out some movies about

Long hard trek high above the pit of despair

or with writers in them. They seem to fall pretty much into 2 categories–inspiration (as in, it will be a long hard slog so don’t give up) or warning (that’s the cackling part).

Maybe these movies should be required viewing for anyone considering becoming a writer. You know, as a sort of “look what could happen to you if you follow this path.” They can also serve in lieu of a cov–I mean, writing group. If you start to see yourself in any of these movies, maybe you need to take a break from writing, and, you know, go to the beach or grocery store or a therapy appointment or something.

Christina Katz has a list of 260 movies about writers and the writing life. Check it out here.

Here’s Geekweek’s list of the 20 greatest movies about writers.

IMDb has a list of movies about writers–I like that it gives a brief synopsis–and another list that includes writers and writing.

And then there is Wikipedia’s page with 140 films about writers. Again, I like that it gives descriptions.

So how many of these movies have you watched? Recognize yourself? Does that worry you–or should I say, should that worry you?




Endings That Promise New Beginnings

Life is Story

I’ve been thinking about endings lately, what with it being Easter and all. If all of life is a story, than maybe endings in life aren’t so different than the ending of a good story. We all are facing our end–just some of us live with it closer before us than others. Often we choose to live as if death is not waiting, but maybe we lose something when we do that. My mother, in her final year, told me that knowing she only had limited time left meant she was free to dispense with all the “chaff” in life. No hanging on to anger, regret, guilt or shame. The specter of death helped clarify life; it helped her see what was important in life.

Tying up the loose threads

In stories, good endings tie up all the loose plot threads. I suppose this is true in life as well. They call it “getting your affairs in order.” Maybe it’s mending broken relationships, saying goodbyes, or checking things off your bucket list. My mom bought a present for my nephew’s birthday that would be coming up. My friend made sure to knit a christmas stocking for the soon to be expected baby. Those important things in life. Those loose threads.

But what I think makes for a good ending in both stories and lives, is the promise of a new

beginning. That is the Easter story in a nutshell. An

New Beginning

ending that promises a new beginning for all. In a good story, the main character grows or changes in some way. Maybe it is recognizing the error of his/her ways. Maybe it is coming to realize what is important in life (like my mom said). In this way, the end also gives the promise of a new beginning. A better life.

I just finished Code Name Verity, a fabulous historical fiction book, the ending of which, although it did not please me, was nonetheless a fitting ending for a great story. It was fitting because it flowed naturally from what came

Code Name Verity

before it.

Most people like the “happy ever after” endings. Whether you end happy or sad, I would argue for leaving the reader with at least the hope of a new beginning. Even something as bleak as The Road by Cormac McCarthy gives the reader hope at the end.

So whether you look at the story of your life or the story you are writing, consider the ending. Does it tie up loose threads? Does it offer the promise of a new beginning? Does it offer hope.

Blessings on your writing in this Easter season.

The Lies We Tell Ourselves

The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule

One of the things that fascinates me the most about being hardwired for STORY, is the stories we tell ourselves. How much of those stories are true, and how much are lies? And are we even aware when we lie to ourselves? I know I am sometimes, but what about the rest of the time?

We all tell stories to ourselves that aren’t true. This is partly because nobody can ever be completely objective. We see the world through the filter of our past, our experiences, our upbringing, our expectations. This means the stories we tell are biased. However, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing–as long as you realize it. This is where it becomes important to listen to the stories and opinions of others, even those that are opposite of ours–especially those that our opposite. What scares me about today is how many people get their “news” from Facebook or Twitter. The ability to filter the world is both a blessing and a curse. What if we only follow those who are like us? Those who have the same beliefs and the same ideals. Those who say only things we like to hear. How will we ever know if we are lying to ourselves if we never check our stories against what others say and believe?

Sometimes it is good to lie to yourself. How can this be, you ask? Well, let me tell you about student teaching. The only way I survived was to keep telling myself I was confident, it was no big deal. I needed that “story” to act confident. It’s the whole, “fake it til you make it” thing. (Which, now that I think of it, was how I survived high school too.) Still, I was aware that it was a story I was telling myself. Head games.

Use this in your writing. In my first novel, Black Dragon, the protagonist tells herself a story

Dragon Fighter

to stay alive. She tells herself that she is a dragon fighter because dragon fighters fight, they don’t just give up and die. Think about the stories your characters tell in their heads. How can you use these to help your character survive and grow?

Sometimes it’s not good to lie to yourself. I’ve listened to people tell themselves stories about being incompetent, uncreative, or stupid. The saddest part is when they really believed those stories. Here’s the thing about stories–they have power. Even if you say those kind of things without really meaning them, eventually, if you tell yourself that story long enough, you start to believe it. It becomes true–to you.

Use this in your writing. The negative self-talk can tell us a lot about a character. But the opposite is true too. What if you have a character who thinks German are superior and Jews are inferior? Or what if you have a character who’s inner story is that he is a genius and all other people are idiots? What kind of things would that character be willing to do? Take a look at the Columbine shootings if you want the answer to that question.

Columbine by Dave Cullens

I’d read and heard a lot about the shootings at Columbine–of course, working in a school made me extra sensitive to all of it. But I couldn’t wrap my head around how these two boys could walk around that school shooting people and whooping it up like they were having fun. What kind of things were they telling themselves that made it “okay” for them to do such horrible things to people they knew? Finally one of my friends recommended the book Columbine by Dave Cullen. The book is non-fiction, but reads like a novel. I couldn’t put it down. Sifting through thousands of reports, police records, journal entires and more, the author paints a very chilling picture of Eric Harris as a psychopath who believed he was superior to all. Eric Harris’s warped inner story is what allowed him to shoot classmates in cold blood.

At the time I was reading Columbine, I was struggling with one of the characters in my YA manuscript, I Feel For You, and I started to think the solution involved that character’s inner story. So what do I do when I’m stuck in my writing? More research, of course. (not that I’m advising this) I read the book, The Stranger Beside Me, by Ann Rule (An excellent book about serial killer Ted Bundy) and Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us by Robert D. Hare, PHD. One of the things that struck me most was the sentence, “Psychopaths frequently see themselves as the real victim.” How someone’s inner story could be so far from the truth was astonishing to me. Ted Bundy worked on a Crisis Hotline helping people through some terrible dark moments. Yet he was a brutal killer. The disconnect still boggles my mind.

Broken Inner Stories

One of the reasons I write is to understand myself, others, the world around me. And those things that boggle my mind keep me writing. Hope it works the same way for you.


Made Of Story (& 5 Ways This Impacts Your Writing)

Made of Story

Back in the early days of February, I wrote about how I began thinking about The Importance of Story. Story kept cropping up in all sorts of places, and it eventually got to the point where I knew I’d have to write about it to connect all the dots. So today I want to look at how we as humans are essentially made of story.

First off, stories help us remember or learn what is important–the things that help us survive. Don’t believe me? Think about the difference of having someone tell you not to drive a car while texting, and then watch this BBC film that tells the story of a fictional 17-year-old girl, Cassie Cowan (nickname Cow), who is distracted for a few seconds while driving with two friends. who texted while driving (Warning, it is very graphic) The story makes the lesson much easy to remember than just the warning.

Lisa Cron, author of Wired for Story, explains how story is uniquely human.

Story, as it turns out, was crucial to our evolution—more so than opposable thumbs. Opposable thumbs let us hang on; story told us what to hang on to. Story is what enabled us to imagine what might happen in the future, and so prepare for it—a feat no other species can lay claim to, opposable thumbs or not. Story is what makes us human, not just metaphorically but literally.as important as opposable thumbs. Thumbs help us hold on to things and story tells us what to hold on to.

Second, story is how we know who we are, and how we explain our behavior. In the book, Surviving Survival: The Art and Science of Resilience by Laurence Gonzales, the author quotes Tilmann Habermas, a psychologist at Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, who wrote:

“memories are strung together into a ‘coherent, ongoing narrative’ to create what we know of as identity. From the age of about ten, the left hemisphere of the brain begins to create that narrative, arranging it in episodes and giving it coherence as adolescence ends and we enter our adult years.”

Gonzales also quotes Steven Pinker, a Harvard professor of psychology who refers to the left brain as a “baloney-generator” that helps us explain our behavior.

Baloney – Generator

“Often those explanations have nothing to do with reality. They’re simply the stories that we tell ourselves to help us get around in the world. ‘The conscious mind,’ Pinker said, ‘is a spin doctor.’ LeDoux concurs: ‘People normally do all sorts of things for reasons they are not consciously aware of.’ And: ‘One of the main jobs of consciousness is to keep our life tied together into a coherent story.'”

Of course, Surviving Survival is a book about what happens in the brain when a person goes through a traumatic event. A trauma causes problems even after it ends because it has interrupted that narrative of life. But this brain science has relevance to all humans–partly because we all go through at least one traumatic event in our lives, and partly because this linking of memories, this created narrative defines our identity. Who we are is determined, in part, by the stories we tell ourselves.

Another interesting post on this topic is by Eva Grayzel.

Story World

And finally, story helps us understand the larger world/universe in a way that we can understand. I became interested in this idea of story when I was reading Terry Pratchett’s books this past summer. In his book A Hat Full of Sky, a Hiver (a creature who consumes the minds of those he takes over) comes after Tiffany. A one point Tiffany finds out that the Hiver is afraid of everything. Tiffany thinks she understands, but the Hiver thinks otherwise.

“Lucky humans, who can close your minds to the endless cold deeps of space! You have this thing you call…boredom? That is the rarest talent in the universe! We heard a song–it went ‘Twinkle twinkle little star….’ What power! What wondrous power! You can take a billion trillion tons of flaming matter, a furnace of unimaginable strength, and turn it into a little song for children! You build little worlds, little stories, little shells around your minds, and that keeps infinity at bay and allow you to wake up in the morning without screaming!”

In summary, story helps us learn or remember what is important, know who we are and explain our behavior, and make sense of the world in a way that doesn’t drive us mad.

So what does this mean for your writing, your characters?

1. What stories help your characters learn or remember important events?

2. What is the narrative your characters use to establish their identity and explain their behavior?

3. How do traumatic events break that narrative?

4. How does your character write/develop a new narrative? 

5. What stories do your characters cling to in order to find meaning in the wider world? Or, for that matter, what happens when your character cannot find a story to help him/her understand the world in a way that keeps him/her sane? (Insane can be fun to write.)

Tune in later for How To Lie To Yourself and How To Lie To Others.