Where are all the used bookstores, LA?

To me, there are very few things that are better than a cheap, charming used bookstore. When I was home in Bedford, Texas this last week, I was reminded of how, since I was a kid, I have always loved wandering around inside Half Price Books, looking for my next literary adventure. Every time I go home, I go to the local branch  and hit the clearance section to grab great books for $2 and $3. Even though it is now America’s largest used book store chain, it started in Dallas and the store around the corner from my parent’s house is the one that I’ve been going to since I was in the first grade.

It seems that stores like HPB are a rarity these days around here. In fact, in Los Angeles, there are not many notable cheap used bookstores that I can think of. The only one I frequent are the $1 Book Heaven in Burbank, which is currently operating a Halloween store at the moment and I’m told will be turned back into a bookstore soon. And I’ve heard Ilyad Books up in North Hollywood is good, though I try not to venture into the valley anymore unless I really have to.

I’ve been wondering why this is, and I’m guessing it is due to lack of demand and expensive real estate prices. There are a lot of small independent shops that are great – Book Soup in my neighborhood is awesome – but I don’t get the lack of used bookstores. Why are Los Angelenos so anti-used books?

The Courage To Start

Today, I made history. For myself at least. Today, I started writing my novel.

I sat down, opened up a new word document, and strung together a scene. I didn’t open up my chapter breakdown grid. I didn’t start trudging away on another lengthy character profile. I didn’t even get on facebook to update my facebook status. I just started with one line of dialogue, followed by a bit of exposition, and then some more dialogue, and then a character description and a short action sequence. The next thing I knew, I had a full page of a first draft completed. And then I had three.

This is a personal victory that I cannot begin to exaggerate.

I tend to be a bit of an over-planner. Actually, I’m a violent over-planner, who usually ends up getting tired of a great idea after planning it for so long that I no longer want to execute it. But not today.

Today I was a doer. I was able to actually accomplish something, even if it was mere 1,600 words.

I was spurred on by chapter I read today in the book Pen On Fire by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett about the process of rewriting. She says that “You can learn to appreciate revision, especially if you frame it like this: At least you have pages that need revising, a major accomplishment in itself.”

It then occurred to me how silly it was that, even though I’ve been “working” on my novel idea for several months now, creating chapter outlines and writing character histories and maps and timelines and whatnot, I hadn’t actually written anything.

I’d been held back by fear that it wouldn’t be great, that I’d never do my great idea justice. DeMarco-Barrett says that “fledgling writers mistakenly learn that coming up with great ideas is the most important thing, not rewriting. They also believe they should be able to say exactly what they mean the first time out of the gate. Nothing else in life is like this. Who prepares a fabulous meal the first time they cook? Or plays a piano concerto at will?”

She’s right, dammit. I need to get a first draft out there and then beat the crap out of it before it will start looking like I want it to. How ridiculous of me to sit there planning it for months and months, when the only way I’ll get to really know my characters is by writing them, and then rewriting them. The only way I’ll get to that amazing plot is to write a really shitty one first, with a lot of holes and a bunch of poorly written, one-dimensional characters.

Let’s do this. I’m diving in.

How I Stack Up As A ‘Serious’ Writer

My current "office" - my kitchen table.

As a first step in trying to get myself to write more, I started scouring my favorite writing blogs to find some inspiration on what it means to be a writer, and I came across a post over at Aliventures called 7 Habits of Serious Writers. When I read it, I started to think about how I stack up as a ‘serious’ writer, by her definition. Besides lacking the obvious number one habit – ahem, writing itself – I’m obviously missing a few of the other habits she lists as necessary.

#1: Writing – Obviously, I do not have this hurdle conquered, otherwise I wouldn’t have started a blog to complain about how I never write. But, I am taking the first steps towards getting serious about this writing business, even if it’s starting a blog about not writing. Hey, they say that if you aren’t sure where to begin, start by writing what you know. I’m certainly an expert on being a non-writing writer.

#2: Focus – This one I fail almost as miserably at as I do actually writing. I have always had issues focusing on things for an extended period of time. I struggle with wanting to plan everything out down to every last detail, but lacking the focus to follow through. But again, hopefully by making a habit of writing in a blog as often as I can will start a disciplined habit of focusing on ignoring distractions and – hold on, wait a second, Facebook did what? I’ll be right back.

#3: Reading – Ah, FINALLY a habit I can say that I have pretty much mastered. I love books, and I love reading. I read everything from non-fiction, literary fiction, YA titles, classics, and I even have an obsession with reading old college textbooks when I have 10 minutes to kill. I rarely get rid of a book after I’ve read it and I have a ridiculous number of books on my shelves that I haven’t read yet but am dying to tackle. I can’t help it, I love being surrounded by books. Ali recommends reading half an hour a day – that’s easy for me. So, I’ve got one down. 1 for 3 – that isn’t bad. I’ll take my little victories when I can get them.

#4: Learning – Ali means learning how to write by reading about writing and paying constant attention to improving your work. I don’t think I’m doing too badly at this, either. Granted, I haven’t been writing much the last few years but I’ve certainly been reading about writing and thinking about what makes writing better. Score another one for me.

#5: Redrafting – I’m going to go out on a limb and say that without writing something, you certainly can’t redraft something. So this one is another megafail on my part.

#6: Professionalism – I’m not going to even tackle this one. I’m a writer that has a blog about the fact that I don’t write. I don’t expect anyone to take me seriously.

#7: Reflection – I think she means looking at your goals as a writer and your work as a whole as you hone your craft and trudge away towards your ultimate goal. I’d say I’m an uber-reflective person, and I definitely have goals as far as my writing goes. In fact, I fear that I reflect too much, set too many goals and struggle with actually taking the steps it takes to get to where I want to be. What little writing I actually do I think I reflect on far too much, beating myself up over the details and the fact that it isn’t what I intended, until I scrap it. I could do with a little less reflection in my life. I want to replace it with more action.

I’d say I’m 3 for 7. That isn’t too bad of a place to start, right? Hopefully the rest will come with time. But then again, I’m feeling pretty damn optimistic today. Tomorrow I may want to toss this computer out the door and start looking into joining a cult.