Tag Archives: writing inspiration

5 Lessons from J. K. Rowling on Writing and Life

Posted by August 4th, 2015

J. K. Rowling is an author who’s experienced great success—but also failure. Years before her Harry Potter series became an international sensation, she was “as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless.” Even after the smashing success of her fantasy books, she encountered rejection when she submitted her work to publishers under the pen name Robert Galbraith. These setbacks remind us that every writer’s path has challenges and foibles; that’s why we find Rowling’s words to be so powerful and inspiring. Here are five J. K. Rowling quotes on writing and life that have particularly captured our fancy.

On Overcoming Failure


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Domenica Ruta quote: “Humor is a real emotion…”

Posted by July 24th, 2015

Domenica Ruta quote

Domenica Ruta quote

Read more wisdom from memoir writer Domenica Ruta here.

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Kate Atkinson Quote: “The beginning is the word…”

Posted by July 10th, 2015

The beginning is the word and the end is silence. And in between are all the stories.(Kate Atkinson Quote)

New to Book Country? Learn how to get started here.

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David Busis: What PREP Means To Me as a Writer

Posted by August 28th, 2014

Labor Day weekend always reminds me of one of my favorite books, PREP, by Curtis Sittenfeld. I read it obsessively over a Labor Day weekend many summers ago, barely doing anything else until I’d finished it. In graduate school, I met a writer named David Busis, and when he told me how much he loved the book, too, I knew that we’d be friends. In admiring the same book, we spoke something of the same language. When the two of us had a chance to take a writing workshop with the author, Curtis Sittenfeld, we were like giddy children all semester. Not only is Curtis a fantastic novelist, she’s also a great writing teacher, generous with her time and insights.

PREP on RandomHouse.comI asked David, who recently became a Book Country member, to write a blog post for us about what PREP means to him as a writer.


When I was teaching at a prep school, I asked the head of the English department if he liked Curtis Sittenfeld’s PREP. He complained that Lee, the main character, never changes. Actually, Lee grows up, but you can only measure the change by triangulating between yourself, the high school protagonist, and the adult narrator.

Like Lee, I experienced adolescence as a maelstrom of desire, a time when the most pedestrian feelings of rejection and loneliness sometimes seemed poetic and noble because of their intensity. Most of the things I wanted—a school prize, a girl, an invitation—seem unimportant, though they felt more urgent than almost anything else has since. I love the book for reminding me of that urgency. Continue reading

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In Another World: A Writing Residency in Antarctica with Jynne Martin

Posted by March 14th, 2014

I’ve been obsessed with Antarctica since I was a child: it represented a colossal, prismatic space of mystery and unanswered questions, the final wilderness on our planet, where men wearing ill-fitting reindeer skins took teams of sled dogs over glaciers for years at a time, through miserable conditions that are beyond imagination. So when I learned the National Science Foundation offered an Antarctica Artists and Writers Residency, I immediately applied. The NSF selects one or two artists or writers from any discipline – filmmaking, puppetry, painting, photography and poetry, to name just a few – to travel to Antarctica during the austral summer and embed with science teams.

The application process is rigorous, requiring extensive research about the existing science on the continent, permission from any field team that you propose to embed with, and justification of why your art requires a trip to Antarctica. I contacted four different field teams that work with Antarctic animals: from the largest animals, the seals, down to the smallest, the soil microbes. I wanted to spend weeks immersed in the vernacular of the scientists, and to better understand how these myriad animals had adapted to not just survive, but thrive, in the most strange and barren circumstances, and to write poetry and nonfiction about these experiences.

Jynne Martin Penguins

Jynne observes penguins in their natural habitat.

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Writing Prompts: Finding Inspiration with Manuel Gonzales

Posted by February 26th, 2014

the amazing story generator by manuel gonzalesMy own stories start—as most stories do, I’m  sure—with a voice, or an image, or a normal annoyance extrapolated into something severe and outlandish. Lately, though, I’ve found myself drawn to story starters, which I give to students as writing exercises. Most of these I’ve pulled from THE AMAZING STORY GENERATOR, a flip-book that offers three story elements with which to start a story. They’re often ridiculous and rarely produce workable stories. For example: 1) Upon winning the lottery, 2) a reformed hit man, 3) meets the ghost of Ernest Hemingway.

As ludicrous as the prompts might be, they make for good writing exercises, though, forcing the students to write something new every week and giving them constraints, which are good for writers. Whenever possible, I like to hem writers in with constraints.

I am refreshed, too, by the expansive variance that comes out of these exercises. It is less that no two stories are alike and more that there is such a wide gulf between each writer’s crack at the prompt that time and again my faith in the wicked, cruel, sorrowful, and hilarious minds of new writers is renewed. And every so often, a writer will tackle a prompt and something compelling—to the readers, but most importantly to the writer—will emerge and a true story will have been started. Continue reading

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What Could Have Been: Re-writing History with Jillian Cantor, author of MARGOT

Posted by October 2nd, 2013

MARGOT, a recent Riverhead book by Jillian Cantor, is a historical re-imagining of the life of Margot Frank, the older sister to the world-famous diarist, Anne Frank. Although the sisters died of typhus in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp during the Holocaust, in Cantor’s MARGOT, the elder Frank sister escapes the Nazis and begins a new life in America. No one knows her past and she plans to keep it that way — until the movie version of “The Diary of Anne Frank” debuts in theatres and Margot must confront what she thought she left behind.

Margot cover“Writers of historical fiction worry about getting the facts right, especially when they are writing about real life figures,” Brandi said to me during a conversation we had about this book. “What struck me about Jillian Cantor’s book is how she was able to use historical fiction ” to carve out a world that I wish could have been reality.”

As writers, what’s the takeaway from a book like MARGOT, besides, of course, a compelling read from a young breakout author? For us at Book Country, it serves as an inspiring example of the power of historical fiction: “You can’t change the past,” Brandi says. “But as a writer, you can.” Margot’s fictional experiences as an immigrant to the US also underscore the value of writing a well-known history from a creative angle, which allows a writer to accomplish much more than a straight retelling–it’s also “a retort” to what we think we already know.

In the following essay, Cantor explains why she felt pulled to write about Margot, and the greater themes she was able to write about using Margot as her main character.

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Meet Writer Marc Poliquin

Posted by July 15th, 2013

I’m excited to welcome Book Country member Marc Poliquin to the member spotlight!

writer Marc Poliquin

“The characters really will dictate their actions if you let them.”

Marc Poliquin spent the first twelve years of his life in a Tibetan monastery contemplating the nature of silence and the effectiveness of robes in a frigid mountain environment. He spent the next twelve years in South America searching for a rare, one-petaled flower that a group of scientists (who, strangely enough, all seem to be aspiring writers) believe holds the cure for procrastination.

He is also known for making stuff up.

Lately, he’s been living in Canada, editing video full-time, enjoying life as a husband and father, and writing whenever he gets the chance. He has also traded in his robe for a sensible parka.

NG: Thanks for joining us, Marc! When did you realize you were a writer?

MP: I’ve been writing since I discovered which end of the pencil made the little squiggly marks on the paper—and the walls, if we go back far enough. My apologies to my mother. But the moment I knew I wanted to be a writer was when I read The Sword of Shannara. It was 1987, I was fifteen, I had just moved to a new town, and the world between the covers of that book seemed infinitely more interesting than the real world. I remember looking at the book and thinking: This. I want to do this. I’ve been chasing this crazy dream ever since.

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