As a writer needless to say, I love journals almost to the same capacity as Fahrenheit 451’s Faber’s love of books. Whether they are composition notebooks, faux leather covered journals, just anything I can write my unending ideas into is amazing to me. Sometimes, I need a little more than what a nice journal from Barnes and Noble can offer. I needed something to help me take notes on a fantasy novel that I want to write. So why not try making my own? This is my journey in learning bookbinding.

First things first: supplies and tools. Reading all the books and crafty blogs I could find, I had a general gist of what I needed for my dream fantasy journal:

  • Large mixed media paper
  • Waxed linen cord
  • Sewing awl
  • Pleather
  • Lots of cardboard
  • Paper cutter
  • Cutting mat
  • PVA glue
  • Book linen tape; if you can’t find linen tape, blanket binding and duck cloth are some of the alternatives you can use (optional, but good for reinforcing book seams)
  • Bone folder (optional, but helps the folds be more even)
  • Repair needles
  • Scissors
  • Exacto knives and utility knives

In most scenarios, I would have needed to cut the paper to the size I wanted the page to be. Fortunately for me, it was the perfect size.

Fold each paper in half and group them in sets—these are called folios. Most sites recommended doing folios in sets of 6-8 pages. I wanted to make the most of my mixed media paper so I did 9 folios that way I would have 72 pages to work with when I started writing. Once finished, they needed to be pressed flat by either a heavy object or a book press. Being the poor college student, what could I use? I know textbooks!

Next I had to think where to stab holes into these folios. I needed enough for the linen cord to go through and secure it. So I measured and made 8 holes equidistant to each other before sewing them together. Then I added some PVA glue to secure it. That was when a minor disaster struck. I had no way of stopping the glue drippage or preventing it from sticking to the pages.

Mistake #1: Dry folios on a nonstick surface and in a position where glue won’t run.

Now the hard part: planning the journal’s set-up. I knew I wanted to have within the front cover something to unroll, so I could draw a map for my fantasy land. But with the limited cardboard that I had, there were only so many ways I could make the cover unfurl. It became a mess of me laying it out, drawing diagrams, researching different folds and journal making techniques. Oh my gosh, so much geometry! After a month and a half of planning, I figured it out, and it was time to sew it and glue it together.

Of course, geometry is needed or just plain measurements. Only problem is that it is a lot of geometry and planning. Fortunately, I recently took a quilting class, so my math knowledge wasn’t lost to high school memories.

Then came the hard part, which was assembling everything: the folio, the journal, and sewing the pleather onto it. This was so hard, especially since I haven’t used the sewing awl that much and kept constantly pricking myself on it.

Pro tip: Do not use pins for thick materials, clips work way better and are a lot less prickly even if you are only hemming. In my case, binder clips work and are lot cheaper than if you bought professional quilting binder clips.

Even though I hemmed, I still used the awl again to fix the pleather to the base board for my outer portfolio.

This took a few more hours to do. But it was well worth my time in securing the fabric.

Once I had finished the outer folder, I thought I should move on to cover the inner journal. However, I realized something. I want the map to be removable, so that I may openly reference it. How could I do that? I didn’t know. And as of now, I still don’t know. Once again, I will return to my planning. Hopefully soon, I can finish this journal. Still I hope this gives a general idea for all you aspiring journal makers out there. Remember, most things are trial and error. Even if you do make some mistakes like I did, the process in making it and those mistakes add a little piece of yourself to your work.

– Angelica Dimson

How you tell a story can be easily overlooked, but it is easily the most important thing to consider as a writer.

A few weeks ago, I recorded an audio post with two fellow editors at OAR, talking about the effects of role-playing games and tabletops. These past few weeks since, I’ve spent hour after hour of my time playing even more games and thinking about the ones I’ve played in the past. Being keen to analysis of many things, I started to question things.

Would these games be different as novels? Would these pieces of short fiction be different if they were illustrated? What other ways could these stories be told that would make them even better than they already are?

Now, I never went into detail about my experience with the game, Dread, in the audio post. ( Warning to anyone who wants to play the game; most of the post ahead will include spoilers for the Dread scenario “13”.)

In that game of Dread, I was playing a young girl named Charlie. She was 12 years old, lived a sheltered life, and had no idea how to handle a haunted mansion with rooms that shifted locations. She couldn’t handle any of that, let alone a cat-like, ceiling-crawling monster. For the first half hour of this game, Charlie and I had both been lead to believe that this creature was out to kill the team.

Melissa KleinHad it been a short story, the audience could have been screaming the truth at me. He’s not out to kill you! Don’t stab him, but that was exactly what I did. The tension that the game created turned my paranoia into a specific action: one that ended up killing my most powerful ally in the fiction of the game.

Playing off that tension is the entire point of the game.

I thought, for a long time, how much differently that tale could have been told in a different medium. As a writer, you have to consider scenarios. How could these scenes be written more effectively? How might the audience be reading this? Could they read this a lot differently than I do?

How you tell a story can be easily overlooked, but it shouldn’t be. Keep in mind what your medium can do for you as a writer, because you have a great deal of control over what the audience will interpret. Use that to your advantage.

Bring the world to life without having to throw in a Jenga tower.

– Melissa Klein

As writers, we feel a huge amount of pressure to be original 24/7. Works derived from others are seen as being watered down, tasteless, and just plain rude. Why is this? As writers, we are constantly hyper-aware of other writers’ ideas and fearful of plagiarism – as we should be – but why do we feel equally guilty for taking writing pointers from the authors we love most?

When you think about it, it’s impossible to grow without mimicking someone else. The only reason we ever learned language is because we repeated whatever came out of our parents’ mouths. We decided whatever genre of music was the “coolest” based on what our older siblings played for us. We learned how to do our makeup by copying our mothers and sisters. If this is how we learn everything else, why can’t it be applied to writing?

This semester was the first time I ever took an English class in which I never had to write an analytical paper. Instead, my professor urged us to engage with each text in a creative way and put ourselves into the shoes of the writers (and even the characters!) themselves. This was an eye opener for me! It was so much fun to think about how Daisy Buchanan (The Great Gatsby) would fare if she were plopped into the prize fighter’s campsite (In Our Time, “The Battler”) or how differently Their Eyes Were Watching God would unfold had it been written from Janie’s first-person point of view. I had the chance to adopt the voice of Lorelei (Gentemen Prefer Blondes) and stage a scene in the town of North Dormer (Summer). Engaging with the works we’ve studied in this way allows us not only to gain a better understanding of the author’s intentions but also to expand our own writing techniques in ways we never imagined.

While I’m not encouraging you to republish the entire Game of Thrones series under different character names or to write about a cult of stay-at-home-moms who use all the same spells as Harry Potter, please don’t ever be shy to look at your work from another angle or borrow the techniques of others. If you’re stuck in a rut, try rewriting a scene in third person. Change your main character’s gender. Introduce the protagonist of one story to the antagonist of your favorite novel. Give one of your characters a thick southern accent. As long as these classics are on our reading lists, we might as well learn a thing or two from them!

Good luck and happy experimenting!

– Mary Wilson

5) Davis McCombs- Ultima Thule

When I was a sophomore, I’d only known the superstars of the poetry world: Hass, Dove, Wojahn, Komunyakaa. Ultima Thule, the 1999 Yale Younger Series winner, was literary mouthwash at a time when I’d only had practice dissecting memory narrative. A deep imagist, McCombs realizes primitive truths through the voice of Stephen—a cave guide hired to spelunk the enormous Mammoth Cave Park. This is a good book to read in the winter.

Check out: Star Cavern

4) Laura Kasischke- Housekeeping in a Dream

As a big fan of Plath and W.D Snodgrass, finding Laura Kasischke was one of the major steps that propelled me as a beginning writer. She helped bridge the gap between the old and new, with spunk and exceptional craft. Her attitude lets stanzas detonate down the page—though some of the greatest moments come in the slowing of time—

“God exists.

Instead we are teenage girls, drunk

at one of those awful carnivals”

Check out: Fatima

3) Maurice Manning- Lawrence Booth’s Book of Visions

I remember the class where my poetry professor pulled out Langston Hughes’ “I too sing America” and stomped along to the cadence. There is something communal, human and ritualistic about rhyme and music in poetry. In Manning’s debut, country boy Lawrence Booth daydreams and sings his way through an odd assortment of scenarios. With his right-hand man, Black Damon, Booth channels the heartbreak and charm of the racially tense south.

Check out: Strait

2) Larry Levis- The Darkening Trapeze

I remember discovering Levis in the dedication page of a Philip Levine book. If that wasn’t enough– when I met Linda Gregerson, one of the first books she ever recommended me was Levis’ posthumous Trapeze. Levis poems combines the surprise of short story narration with an unmatched ear for breath. Terrance Hayes calls Levis “The Whitman of our generation.”

Check out: Darkening Trapeze

1) Tony Hoagland- Donkey Gospel

What I love about Hoagland so much isn’t the political turmoil bubbling beneath some of the poems. In the same vein as Philip Levine, or Neruda, Hoagland has the rare gift of splitting the atom of a poem open into its bare truth. Many of these poems are wrapped in the delight of humor and story. This book is guaranteed to make you toggle between laughter and tears.

Check out: Mistaken Identity

– Will Georges