Books to read over the holidays

Books to read over the holidays

With Thanksgiving coming up (and Christmas not far behind), I’m looking forward to the opportunity to decompress from all that food by diving into a book or two. If you’ve got a little time off for the holidays, why not add to your list of books read in 2015 before the year comes to a close?

Fiction and personal essay collections are my favorite books to read when I’m holed up for a few days to enjoy the holidays and avoid Black Friday insanity. Here are a few recommendations so you can do the same!

You could read…

An old favorite

Some books make such an impression on you that you’ve just got to read them twice. I know, I know—there are too many books to read and SO LITTLE TIME, but what better time than the holidays to spend with a book that has changed you?

For me, that was Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck. I picked this one up from the library earlier this month because the book I’m writing for NaNoWriMo has similar themes, and it had been years since I read it. I’m so glad I picked it up again—it was like reading it for the first time. There was so much more to appreciate about this book the second time around, just as I imagine there will probably be when I’m closer to the age John Steinbeck was when he wrote it. So many of his observations about American culture in the early 1960s when it was published were still relevant today, even prophetic.

The great thing about rereading an old favorite? You already know you’re going to love it.

A new author

Not just by reading one book, but two or more (chronologically) by the same author. If you’re curious about an author’s style and techniques, study their body of work to appreciate how their voice has developed and changed over the years.

I recently checked out Miranda July’s collection, No One Belongs Here More Than You, and novel, The First Bad Man. July’s short stories were so off-putting and perverted, yet her distinct and strange voice was compelling. Plus, her short stories prepared me for diving into a longer, weirder story. When July interviewed and wrote a profile on Rihanna last month, I thought, Yep, that’s July’s writing. You’ll be able to spot an author’s work from a mile away if you spend lots of time with them.

A collection of short stories or essays

If you want something you can easily pick up and read in short bursts (or between breaks in other books), try a collection of letters, short fiction or essays by an author you love. This is also great way to sample an author you’ve been meaning to read, and if you don’t have the chance to read the whole thing at once, you can pick it up any time.

Aside from July’s short stories, Lydia Davis’ collection Can’t and Won’t is another recent favorite. Some stories are merely a sentence long, often peculiar or witty observations, while others like “The Letter to the Foundation” are funny yet vulnerable portraits of anxiety. I also recommend Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist, an enjoyable critique on pop culture from start to finish.

A book on writing

Looking for inspiration or motivation? Countless authors have written some fantastic books on writing that will remind you why you want to be a writer in the first place.

I love a good book on writing, particularly those that are more literary and observant than how-to. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is an old favorite I’ve read more than once, and Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life is wonderful in ways I didn’t expect from a book on the craft. I’d like to read Joyce Carol Oates’ The Faith of a Writer next.

Something from your bedside table

You know the one—that book you’ve been meaning to read for months. Quit putting it off and crack that book open already! The Christmas tree can wait.

I’ve got a few on my bookshelf I’d like to read, plus several that have been on my library wish list for a while, including Leslie Jamison’s collection, The Empathy ExamsI’ll let you know what I think after I’ve read it!

Currently I’m reading The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer, and Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan is next on my list. (I can’t get enough of those library books.)

What’s on your to-read list? Anything to add here?


I’m taking the rest of the week off from the blog and newsletter to properly work on that reading list, enjoy the holiday, and end NaNoWriMo strong (hopefully—it’s been rough, guys). I’ll be back next week. In the meantime, happy Thanksgiving to everyone celebrating!

Writer Spotlight: Sofia Marie Gonzalez

Writer Spotlight: Sofia Marie Gonzalez

I’m so excited to introduce today’s interviewee: writer, actor and comedian Sofia Marie Gonzalez. Sofia is the creator of We Need To Talk, a comedy web series based on real-life breakups. You may recognize her from the viral BuzzFeed video, “If Latinos Said The Stuff White People Say.” (She’s also appeared on network television in shows like NBC’s Community!) Here, Sofia shares what it’s like to work and play in the world of comedy writing.

Meet Sofia Marie Gonzalez

Tell us a bit about your background, upbringing, and how you got into comedy.

The first part of my life was spent in the beautiful city of San Francisco. My father was elected to the board of supervisors and it was a very exciting time. I remember my mother and father catching up about their days at dinner and me and my siblings trying to get in on the conversation.

In school there were a lot of field trips to museums and live theater. I loved performance art from a very early age and started auditioning for the school plays right away. I’m so grateful my mom would help me with everything from my costumes to running lines.

When we moved to Sacramento there was a lot more celebration for sports and athleticism. I got to play soccer and basketball and learn the value of being a teammate. I was lucky to have fantastic teachers. My brother was a couple of grades above me and watched out for me. My sister began college at UC Santa Cruz and I remember getting to hear about all of the exciting things she was up to over the phone. I ended up attending UC Santa Cruz for college and majoring in politics.

When my brother Jaime and I released We Need to Talk, our friends from high school and college were the first to help us spread the word.

What was the impetus for We Need to Talk?

The truth is, I was busy with my one-woman show and my boyfriend at the time took me to a Starbucks to tell me he had gotten another girl pregnant. Now most people would have gotten up and stormed out, but I thought it was such a peculiar moment and I felt compelled to investigate.

The more questions I asked the more hilarious the specifics of the situation seemed. He met her at Applebee’s, he thought she was “hot or whatever” and he didn’t find it weird to answer a phone call from her while we were talking. My comedian friends encouraged me at the time to write it down and hyperbolize different aspects of the reality. Then when I looked back at other dating flops, I thought, Wait, maybe this is a fun theme to explore, when two people fire each other from their lives.

What (or who) else has influenced your work and passions?

Maya Rudolph on Saturday Night Live inspired me to follow my dreams. Her Pamela Bell character singing the National Anthem can still bring me to laughter to the point where tears are streaming out of my eyes from glee! It was important for me to see a woman shining and sharing her intelligence and talent. When I started my training at The Groundlings School of Comedy, I took a meeting with a manager by the name of Pam Thomas. She had represented Maya early in her career. I took it as a sign from the universe and Pam became my manager. Years later I got to meet Maya and tell her how much she inspired me. She was so gracious and kind. I hope she knows how much that meant to me.

How much time do you spend writing or editing material on any given day or week?

The days range for me with professional projects, but I write every day. I start the day journaling about what I want to achieve for the day. I am always writing things down on my phone whether it’s silly observations, a cool place to do a scene, or big ideas that I would love to explore. I think it’s important to carry a journal. If you love writing, you should treat it how you would a great romance! Lots of attention and excitement.

There are the days where I will avoid a deadline, but then when I start I think why the hell was I avoiding this? This is awesome!

What is your writing process like?

I chase feelings. I love to write when I’m feeling sad. It’s so dramatic and dark and later very funny. So I’ll feel hurt by a friend or boyfriend and then write the scene. Then I’ll go back and say okay how can I make this more fun? Where could they be having this conversation that would complicate the matter in a humorous way? Are they at a costume party? What details and specifics can I layer in while these characters hash this thing out?

Your work also involves a lot of collaboration with other writers, comics and actors. How does the collaborative process usually work?

Writers rooms are, to use an old lady slang, “da bomb.” I look forward to collaboration. Your idea can grow and get so much better. When I first started out I was very controlling of my work and didn’t want notes or suggestions. Then when I finally opened the door, I was so mad at myself for not being open to being collaborative sooner! Sometimes actors can make your written lines so much better, so give them a take or a chance to say it their way. If you truly don’t like it at least you gave them the respect as a collaborator to try. Also sometimes your ideas don’t have “legs,” and that is okay. It may just be a great one-liner and can be implemented in a different way.

Usually for a TV show you will pitch episode ideas. From there the group will discuss which ideas are the most exciting. Then the episodes get assigned to various writers. Then you regroup and punch up the script to make it better.

Describe the performance aspect of your work. How do you prepare for standup routines? What do you love most about them?

I usually write down things in my phone all the time that I think could be a “bit” or something to rave or rant about on stage. I am falling madly in love with stand-up comedy. I was lucky to join a class here in L.A. called Pretty Funny Women and then train privately with Jodi Miller. I am very lucky to perform consistently with awesome female comics. I am finding that revealing my fears and truth on stage is getting me bigger laughs than my observational humor.

What’s been your favorite project or gig so far, and why?

We Need to Talk was my favorite even though it was a lot of work to be wearing hats of writer, producer, actor and editing assistant! But I had so much fun working with the talent and the crew and of course my brother. I associate many happy memories with We Need to Talk. And I hope we get to do it again.

I also got to sit next to Chevy Chase one time in our make up chairs on NBC’s Community. And he was my favorite character in Three Amigos, so I get to brag about that!

With BuzzFeed I had the opportunity to make some social commentary with a video that received almost 5 million views, “If Latinos said the Stuff White People Say.” I am glad it resonated with so many people. Also I was part of the writer’s room for Fusion Comedy’s digital channel show SHADED and that was extremely rewarding to see our work come to life.

Comedy is still such a male-dominated arena. Have you faced sexism? How do you deal?

The truth is yes, it is there but I just say fuck that and keep moving. Yes, I have faced it and it was gross and awkward and awful. But then you just point it out to them in a clever way and you leave that B.S. in the dust. I’m cursing a lot in this answer aren’t I?

I have met amazing men in this business who have held my voice in high regard because I am a woman. I am proud to be a collaborator with men who are excited to work with women in comedy.

What’s your next plan? What’s your dream project?

I would love to write a feature film. I am also very excited for We Need to Talk to have a second life with other people’s stories.

What advice would you give to a young woman trying to make it as a comedian or comedy writer?

Do great work. I also advise finding community. There are so many great theaters, acting studios and excellent writing programs out here and if you hang around you will meet exciting, ambitious and lovely people. When you have great work to show people, the managers and agents will come. I am continuously working on making my reel and writing samples excellent and impressive.

Also have the most fun with your life and get inspiration from there.


Thank you Sofia for giving such an awesome behind-the-scenes look at the life of a comedian and writer. If you enjoyed Sofia’s interview, be sure to let her know in the comments and follow her on Twitter. Don’t forget to check out her series We Need To Talk.

How to persevere when you hate writing and everything sucks

How to persevere when you hate writing and everything sucks

National Novel Writing Month is more than halfway over, and everything I write is steaming garbage.

Not only that, but I’m completely stuck and way behind on my word count.

This was inevitable. I expected it. Welcomed it, even, in my naive enthusiasm for the daunting task that is/was my life’s dream. Just kidding, it’s still totally my life’s dream. Which is why it hurts so bad to suck. Anyone else feel me?

There’s nothing fun about getting yourself deep into a project only to realize this writing thing is, like, way harder than it looks, but that’s typically how it goes. There are a few ways to handle this. You could:

Stomp, scream and scare away your family, roommates and/or pets.

Give up writing all together and become an accountant or professional survey-taker.


Or, you could try one of these more productive coping mechanisms that will help you get over yourself and this small hurdle. (I’ll be doing them myself!) After all, writing through the roadblocks is what makes you a writer.

Take a macro approach

Chances are once you’ve hit a wall, you’ll start making minor tweaks here and there without making any meaningful changes, quickly leading to despair (and possibly an existential crisis). Get yourself out of the weeds of your project and revisit your outline. If you started writing without one, now might be a good time to create it. Organize your material so it’s not overwhelming. Whatever you do, don’t get into nitpicky edits until you’ve worked through your bigger problems.

Use writing prompts to get the juices flowing

Maybe you’re just plain out of ideas or unsure of where to go from where you left off. Start anywhere—you don’t have to write chronologically. If you’re writing fiction, John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction writing prompts are a great source of inspiration. If you sign up for the WTH Weekly newsletter, you’ll get 30 writing prompts to spark ideas.

Work on another project

Have multiple projects going at a time so that when you hit a wall on one, you have another to turn to that will keep you writing. It can be such a relief when you realize your fingers do in fact work, and all your brain needed was something new to focus on. And remember, not everything you write has to be publishable. It might be a welcome break to work on something that’s personal without putting any pressure on it to be good.

Read a book

Key word: book. Not blogs or articles online that will merely distract you or tempt you to procrastinate, but physical books that get you away from the computer and your mind someplace else entirely. You may draw inspiration from it or at the very least read something that reminds you why you want to do this in the first place. Reading a good book can heal most writerly woes and is never a bad way to spend your time. (i.e. No guilt.)

Check in with yourself

Make sure that what you’re writing is actually something you want to write. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in an idea we think will be popular or sounds very literary and don’t even realize it rings false because it’s not something we’re truly in love with. The key is knowing the difference between something we’re lukewarm about and something that’s hard, particularly once we’re in the trenches of a project and reach that inevitable wall. If even after a period of anguish and self-pity you still want to write the thing, pick yourself up and write the thing.

Do literally anything else

For the love of God, change out of your sweatpants, go for a run, cook a meal and interact with other human beings. Stop torturing yourself and go be a person who does normal-people things, even though you’re definitely probably not entirely normal. (That’s why we’re writers, right?) Trust that the words will come next time you sit down to do the work.

Cool? You’ve got this.

Related: What happens when we let fear dictate our art


Judging your worth by productivity

Judging your worth by productivity

American culture is obsessed with productivity.

You can look to apps (another obsession of ours) for proof. There are all kinds of apps dedicated to tracking, managing, organizing, rewarding and inspiring productivity. You can make lists, set reminders, coordinate your schedules, color-code emails, schedule tweets and more—all in the name of productivity. Ironically, you could waste a lot of hours trying to decide which out of the thousands of productivity apps are worth your time.

As for us writers, when we talk about productivity, we’re talking about progress in the form of putting words on the page. Simple and gut-wrenching as that.

The problem is, our sense of self-worth is often closely linked to our productivity (or lack thereof). If we fall short of even the most arbitrary of goals, it can be devastating not only to our mental health, but to our work as well. Thus creating a cycle of suckiness, or the “I Suck Spiral,” as my boyfriend calls it.

I noticed a somewhat disturbing trend when updating my five-year diary every night. I’ve completed almost three full years of it, and looking back on the past couple of years, so many of the entries refer to how productive I was or wasn’t on any given day. The more productive days reflect happy moods with exclamation points. But on some of the days I deemed unproductive, I go as far as spelling out a few sighs. So dramatic, right? I can practically see the roller coaster of emotions in my jittery handwriting.

Here’s the thing: It’s so much easier to get down on ourselves for not writing enough than it is to write one book, one blog post, one sentence that feels right. It’s hard, and it’s supposed to be, but if we stopped attaching our self-worth to how much we haven’t written and instead celebrated every crappy sentence or shitty first draft we did write, we’d all be better off.

The label “writer” is a part of our identity. Word counts and rejections and bad days are not.

Now, I’m documenting only the little victories and things I’m grateful for in my five-year diary, even—and especially—on bad days. And I don’t need an app to be productive. All any writer needs is someplace to put the words and the faith that those words will come.



A peek at WTH Weekly (plus 30 writing prompts)

Happy Monday, everyone!

Just wanted to check in and see how your writing is going. What are some of the problems you’ve run into lately? What would you like advice on or help with? (And if things are going well, awesome! What’s working for you?)

One thing I know we could all use help with from time to time is inspiration, which is why I put together 30 days of writing prompts and inspiration for subscribers of WTH Weekly, the newsletter I send out every Saturday. Starting today, if you sign up for the newsletter, you’ll receive a PDF of 30 writing prompts designed to get you writing every day (or to help out on the days when you’re feeling stuck). If you’re already subscribed, you’ll get a link to the writing prompts in this Saturday’s newsletter.

Here’s a glimpse of what these weekly newsletters look like: 

WTH Weekly newsletter

The newsletter usually includes a short note from me (Cassie) about something writing-related or something that’s been in the news lately. The rest consists of my favorite interweb finds of the week, submission deadlines for writing contests, fellowships, etc., and a little inspiration to round it out. (Yes, sometimes that includes pizza. In GIF form, of course.)

WTH Weekly newsletter

In the future, I plan on creating and sharing even more resources to help make this space useful to writers. (And in the coming weeks, the “resources” page in the menu up top will be beefed up to include some great stuff for you!) Newsletter subscribers get first dibs, because inboxes are personal spaces, so I want to thank subscribers for allowing WTH Weekly to grace their inboxes every week.

Lately, I’ve been trying to clean up my own inbox by unsubscribing from newsletters that no longer interest me, don’t provide any value or are spamming me with too many emails. There are a handful, though, that are consistently wonderful.

Here are some of my favorite newsletters for and by writers:

Ash Ambirge’s Middle Finger Project (even though the word “newsletter” makes Ash gag)
The Ann Friedman Weekly
Nicole Belanger’s Girl Gang Missives
Paul Jarvis’ Sunday Dispatches
Christine Frazier’s Better Novel Project

I recommend you add those to your inboxes—you won’t be disappointed. And if you’d like 30 free writing prompts, add WTH Weekly to the mix, too. If you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy putting it together, then I’d call it a success.

If you end up publishing anything that was inspired by the writing prompts, tweet it to @WittyTitleHere so I can share.

Let me know what’s on your minds, and if you have any newsletter recommendations of your own, leave them in the comments!