Writers: What You Can Gain From Studying Weight Loss

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SIMMONSOne of my reading goals, aside from finishing my Goodreads list, is to get through a stack of magazines my mom gave me. I skim the pages in search of healthy meal ideas, ways to boost energy, and other ways to keep healthy. I was not expecting to get some great writing advice.

I’m not dieting, and I certainly don’t need to, though I could afford to up my exercise. I do what’s known as deskercizing, but that’s getting a little off topic. I do, however, like to read about dieting breakthroughs, because I know people who struggle with their weight. (Although I’m sure the last person someone wants weight loss advice from is a popsicle stick). Back to the point, recently I read an article about dieting that claims people lost more weight and kept it off longer when they set subsequent small goals in place of one large one. The overall goal might be to lose 200 pounds, which sounds really daunting. Instead of throwing in the towel for some cookie dough, what they would do instead is break that down into five-pound increments.

This method worked for people wanting to lose weight, so I thought why can’t it work for people wanting to add word count. NaNoWriMo works like this in a way. You have a 50,000 word goal by the end of the month which is divided into a daily goal. You can see your progress on a line graph or a bar chart, so you see where your at. So if your goal is 80,000 words, why not break that down into chapters or a certain word count. This works for editing too. Instead of making your goal finish editing book two, your goals might look like this.

  1. finish editing chapter one
  2. finish editing chapter two
  3. finishing editing chapter three

Why big goals don’t work

Setting large goals leads to failure, explains Robert Maurer, Ph.D., because setting goals or making life changes can activate the amygdala, the area of the brain that processes fear and anxiety. People often respond to fear by slipping into old or bad habits, which in turn makes us feel like failures.

Large goals also cause people to binge. This isn’t just a diet thing. Think about it. You really want to finish your book. You’ve got 80,000 words to write, so you dive in. By the time you reach 20,000 words, you feel so far from the goal you may just quit. You might write hard and heavy for a week, feel like a failure, quit, and come back to it hard and heavy again. But this doesn’t encourage anything long lasting or consistent. If your goal was 1,000 words a day, you are more likely to meet your goal and feel successful. Smaller goals help achieve steady progress. You’ll write more words and improve your writing habits.

So whether you’re working on the book of your dreams or the body of your dreams, taking small steps towards the top of the hill instead of one leap is the way to go.

Do you break your writing goals into steps? What’s the best advice you ever got from a magazine? Was it related to writing? I’d love to hear from you.

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Tuesday Tip

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tip#1Saturday, I encouraged you to write even when you don’t feel like it, but I didn’t explain how exactly. It’s easier said than done, and there isn’t one answer. There are more than one ways to start a fire.

Identify why you don’t feel like writing. For some of you it will be easy to pinpoint the cause.

  1. You just don’t know what to write
  2.  You had a bad day at work
  3.  You had a fight with a spouse, sibling, or parent
  4. You are experiencing a loss or illness.

While it would be nice to put writing on hold until all your problems sort themselves out, you have to keep going. You do have to face your problems, but writing can be the perfect distraction from the things distracting you from writing. I know that sounds like a tongue twister, doesn’t it.

Outline

To get back into writing, start with an outline. You can outline the entire book, a chapter, or just what is going to happen in the scene you need to write.

Example: Buttercup goes on a horse ride and encounters three strangers on the road claiming to be lost circus performers.

I can hear your collective groans. I know a lot of people hate outlining. If you don’t like to outline, just call it summarizing. Same thing really.

Get some rest

It’s hard enough writing when you don’t feel like it. Now try forcing the words with no energy. If the thought of writing with no motivation makes you want to lie down and take a nap, go right ahead. Take a nap or a quick break. Once you’re recharged, get back to it.

Skip to the good parts

Someone once told me I had to watch “Brokeback Mountain.” I didn’t feel like watching it, so I skipped to the good parts. You know which parts I’m talking about. Don’t make me go into detail. It was a long movie, and I was just curious to see how Hollywood was going to pull that off. So I watched, collectively, about twenty minutes of the movie.

Sometimes, I feel this way about my own writing. I don’t want to write a particular scene because it’s boring. You can identify, I’m sure. Maybe you don’t want to write at all; perhaps it’s just the scene you are working on.

I prefer to write linearly from the beginning to the end. This is also how I eat cake and pizza. I start at one end and work my way back. Some people like to eat the icing-covered edge first or the crust of the pizza. They may even eat the bubble out of the center or scrape the icing off the top. This is how some people write. Feel free to skip to a scene you could feel motivated to write.

Play a movie or music

Whether it’s your inspiration, background noise, or the soundtrack to your novel, a movie or music can help you write. I like Pandora and YouTube. I created a separate playlist for each character.

Read to write

Reading can be very relaxing, inspirational, and motivating. A good habit to start: Read before you write. Everyday, I read ten minutes before I start writing.

Write

That’s right, just write. The very act of writing will help your writing flow. Be prepared to write utter crap. Be prepared to only write a hundred words.

There are numerous other ways to force yourself to write. Force is such an ugly word. How about motivate. Do what works for you. You must write. Remember you can’t wait for things to get better, for more time, or for more motivation. If you wait, it may never happen.

You, that’s right, you, staring at your computer screen. You’re reading this blog, you’re on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, IWasteSoMuchTime.com. Close the extra browsers, like or comment below, and then get back to writing, right now.

50 Free Resources That Will Improve Your Writing Skills

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Just English

 

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Effective writing skills are to a writer what petrol is to a car. Like the petrol and car relationship, without solid skills writers cannot move ahead. These skills don’t come overnight, and they require patience and determination. You have to work smart and hard to acquire them. Only with experience, you can enter the realm of effective, always-in-demand writers.

Of course, effective writing requires a good command of the language in which you write or want to write. Once you have that command, you need to learn some tips and tricks so that you can have an edge over others in this hard-to-succeed world of writers. There are some gifted writers, granted. But gifted writers also need to polish their skills frequently in order to stay ahead of competition and earn their livelihood.

We collected over 50 useful and practical tools and resources that will help…

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Write When you Don’t Feel Like It

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untitledEveryone has bad days. Those are the days you won’t want to write. Those are the days when you have to write.

Imagine the ideal writing day: It’s your day off, and you have the entire day to yourself. You crack your knuckles and adhere your fingers to the asdfjkl; keys. Hours fly by like minutes, and you write thousands of words.

This isn’t what most days are like–a handful at best. Most days you sit at your computer with the intent to write, but the words won’t come. You start to write when the laundry timer goes off or your dinner boils over. You take a quick break after putting the kids to bed. The next thing you know it’s midnight, and you’re watching a man dressed up like Elsa singing “Let it Go.”

Some writers wait until they are “in the mood” to write. Waiting on inspiration is like waiting for a prom date. It might not happen.

You’re going to have days where you don’t feel like writing. I’m having one of those right now. I don’t even want to finish this blog post let alone touch my WIP. I just want to take a nap, maybe wake up in a pile of drool and old magazines and candy wrappers. It’s been that kind of day . . . week . . . month . . . year.

We all have mood killers. A fart can put you off sex or a meal. It usually takes more than that to kill a writing mood, but there are things that hinder us from writing. Note the keyword is hinder, not stop. Things will make it harder to write, but nothing should stop you. The only thing that actually stops you from writing is you. Things will get in the way, but they only make it more difficult, not impossible.

My Hindrances

  1. a recent move
  2. a full-time job (9-6 everyday including Saturdays)
  3. chores and errands
  4. Game of Thrones
  5. lack of energy
  6. cats
  7. a six-year old son
  8. a serious illness in the family
  9. dr. appointments
  10. iFunny and IWasteSoMuchTime.com

Does this sound like your life? Without going into detail, I got some really bad news on Thursday. I took off work to deal with said bad news. I spent a couple of hours just crying, doing research, making calls, and visiting relatives. This left me five or more hours to do whatever. I could have spent them either crying, napping, or eating emotionally, but I chose to write. Most people when they get told life-altering news may forgo writing that day, or entirely. But I told myself all I had to do was finish a scene I’d been working on the last couple of days. Not only did I finish that scene, but I wrote the entire scene after it.

The thing is, life is going to be hard for a while, or indefinitely, because the older I get the more life sucks. If I wait for life to “settle down” to write, I will never finish a manuscript. That’s like waiting for an elephant to become a giraffe. I’m not saying it’s easy to write through grief. Some people may be too distracted by their grief to write, but I think writing should be the distraction from pain. There are only so many hours you can obsess or dwell on the hardships of life before it makes you tired and sick. I’ve worn myself down in the past worrying and obsessing over problems. So you have to give your mind a break. When writing becomes an escape, the act is less like a chore, and the words will come.

Don’t let anything stop you. Write when you’re glad, when you’re angry, when the words on your page blur in front of your teary eyes. Write when you feel like it and when you don’t. Write no matter what.

Tuesday Tip

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tip#1

Last Tuesday, I talked about major time gaps in your story. This week, let’s talk about shorter ones: scene transitions. Between your novel’s beginning and end, there are dozens or hundreds of beginnings and ends. These could be new paragraphs or new chapters. How they begin and end is just as important as how your story begins or ends.

In the movies, it’s easy to show the transition from one place or event to another: Cue the montage music or fade out. But in books, we don’t have musical or visual cues, only our words to convey the passage of place and time.

Transitions should clearly connect one scene to another. Think of it like building a bridge. You want a good sturdy bridge, not one of those rickety wooden things that hangs over a 500 foot drop.

Why you need scene transitions

  • change viewpoint
  • change location
  • change mood
  • change place
  • to move the narrative forward
  • skip unimportant events
  • advance time

How to Transition: Ending a scene

 Before you move on to the next scene, make sure you finish the prior scene. Don’t leave your readers standing in the middle of your bridge–get them across. By finish, that doesn’t mean you have to wrap up all the action, it just means the scene needs to have accomplished something. What needs to happen in this scene? Why were you writing it to begin with? New scenes aren’t only used to establish a new place or time. Sometimes, they establish a character’s new frame of mind. Perhaps in order to end the scene, your character needs to have a change of heart or a realization.

Beginning the next scene

Usually a new scene occurs in a new time, place, or point of view. It can even have a new tone. These are clear ways of letting the reader know you’ve moved on. Establish the time, place, tone, and POV early so your reader is oriented. 

At the beginning of the new scene, there are several ways to let the reader know what has changed.

  1. Type out the date (if a major time gap) or the name of a city or place.
  2. Use the narration to establish the new setting or time, e.g., “that morning,” One sentence might be all it takes, or you can use the first paragraph to describe the new time, place, character, etc. Be quick and concise. Anything over a paragraph or two could result in info dumping. 
  3. Starting a new chapter is the easiest way to establish a scene change. The reader expects a transition at the beginning of a new chapter. Don’t think you can get away with a new Chapter every time you change your setting.
  4. Use symbols between scenes. I’ve seen this done several ways. How you do it may be based on your preference or your publisher. The most common symbol is the asterisk though scrivener uses the pound symbol.
  5. Use an extra space to divide scenes. This is how it commonly looks in published manuscripts. I’ve noticed in some books the first word is indented. In others it’s not. In some, the first words are even capitalized to make the transition clear.

Cliff hangers

As writers, we’re tempted to wrap everything up neatly at the end of a scene or chapter. This gives the reader a break, a place to put the bookmark. I’m not a fan of soft, neatly packaged scene endings. Will the reader return, or is this the final resting place of the bookmark?  Don’t wrap everything up. End on a beat. Keep the suspense. Leave your chapters at a cliff hanger. Think of Game of Thrones. I haven’t finished reading the books, but every episode ends at a cliff hanger, especially the last episode of each season. This compels viewers to buy the next DVD or keep paying their cable bill in order to find out what happens next. Do this in your book. They’ll have to keep turning the page to find out what happens. This ensures your reader will finish your book and purchase your next one.

HInt: Don’t take this too far. Don’t add suspense for the heck of it. This is what is commonly called false suspense. Don’t have your character be presumed dead only to wake up in the next chapter. Your reader will feel cheated and lied to.

Things to avoid

  1. Lazy transitions
    1. My least favorite transition is where a character goes unconscious and wakes up somewhere new (often in bed away from the danger). People don’t usually black out that long, maybe several minutes tops. I will forgive this type of transition, however, if the character wakes up in the same place. Remember that episode of The Walking Dead when Darryl goes unconscious. When he wakes up, it’s still the same time of day, no one has rescued him, and his boot is being gnawed on by a zombie. That is a great way to keep the suspense instead of derailing the scene from the action.
    2. Character goes to bed or wakes up. Similar to the above only instead of false suspense, you get no suspense.
    3. Using “then” at the end of the scene, e.g., “I pressed my ear against the door. I did not hear the intruder walk away, but the absence of sound was reassuring. Then the doorknob turned.” Not the worst example, but imagine how this could have been  more suspenseful and less jarring had the narrator taken the time to flesh this out. 
  2. Back-to-back scenes in the same location. You may need to break up one scene into several transitions, but don’t overdo it. The problem with this is it may not be clear how much time has passed.
  3. Info dumping. If you change to a new time and place, you might be tempted to go into a long-winded description about the new location. Work it naturally into narrative and dialogue. Only tell the reader what they have to know.
  4. Waiting too long to introduce the new POV. I don’t know why writers withhold character names. I’ve read novels where it takes a page or more to establish the name of a new character. Unless their hidden identity is crucial to the plot, don’t create false suspense by withholding information about a character.

As always, I’m interested in your feedback. How do you show scene changes? What are the worst, the best transitions you’ve ever read?

Balancing Writing with Social Media

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Social media and writing are a balancing act, and the Cat and the Hat knows a lot about that.

Social media and writing are a balancing act, and the Cat in the Hat knows a lot about that.

Yesterday, I was supposed to blog. That didn’t happen. Neither did writing. So what did I accomplish in two days, aside from being unaccomplished? I gained and lost some followers on Twitter and posted roughly ten tweets.

I use Twitter to build my platform, so tweeting is very important; however, if it distracts me from writing, it isn’t helping–it’s hurting. Consider my dilemma: Because of my social media platform, I’m not writing, but without a social media platform, whose going to read my writing?

I considered writing about how to avoid social media, but I think that’s unrealistic (like cutting sugar from your diet). I think moderation and self control are key. So instead, I’m going to talk about how to balance building your social media platform with writing.

Make a List

If you go to the grocery store without a list you are more likely to buy food you already have, spend more, forget to buy food you don’t have, and purchase impulse items. My sister and I are prime examples of this. I went to the store the other day and spent $50. When I go with a list, my average is $20. You see my point. Where was I going with this? Never write hungry. Just kidding. 

I’m a list person. I’ve got a list of lists I need to write. Not kidding. Make a list of the things you need to accomplish that day as far as writing and social media. It might look something like this. Only picture it handwritten in chickenscratch.

1. Finish edits to last chapter (this should be on my sister’s list, but she’s probably reading “Game of Thrones”)

2. Research how long pigs live (Sorry sister, I’m picking on you again. This is for you to do as well)

3. Outline second half of book two (This one’s mine. This is where my book really starts falling apart)

4. Finish scene (I don’t go by chapters. I’m pretty happy if I finish a scene a night. I take a break after every page break)

5. Laundry (This doesn’t sound like writing checklist material until you consider the fact that you need underwear no matter where you write)

6. Follow, like, or comment to 10 blogs (I like to set a minimum of interaction to make sure I’m not just scrolling and reading. Being interactive is making your blog time not a waste of time)

7. Post three tweets (I’m aiming for 5 or more a day eventually. Like blogging, interaction will grow your platform)

8. Make lists on Twitter (see there is a list for everything. This helps keep everyone organized)

Once you’re list is done, decide which tasks are your priorities and accomplish those first. Make sure to allocate your time. Don’t schedule more to-do’s than you have time to do them. If you only have an hour, make that hour count.

Kill Two Birds with One Stone

If you have to choose between tweeting or blogging, choose to blog. You can tweet your post when you’re done, which gave you a post and a tweet. You may be thinking, supporting a blog and a Twitter account will take more time from writing. Why can’t I just have one or the other? Let me explain. The point of the social media platform is to gain followers. You’ll gain more followers if you have a blog linked to Twitter and vise versa. In the long one, this will save you time.

Schedule Social Media Time

I don’t know how many writers fall into this trap: You sit down to write, open your laptop (or notebook for you traditional writers), you open your email, Twitter, Facebook, WordPress to check your stats (it will just take a second). The next thing you know, hours have gone by, and your page is blank.

You can schedule time for social media. How you do this is up to you. You could give yourself an hour or two if you’re generous. You could even time yourself using an alarm. Whatever time-tracking method you use, make sure you stick to it.

It’s up to you whether you check your social media before or after you write. I encourage after, because after a good hard writing session, sometimes all you want to do is surf the net. It’s like a cigarette after sex. I’m just speculating, because I’ve never smoked. Besides, it might give you something awesome to Tweet about, e.g., Just wrote 1,000 words #am writing.

Don’t forget to schedule breaks.

You should schedule a little Twitter time every day. Maybe three times a day: morning, afternoon, and night. Don’t stay up too late. What about your blog? Most bloggers don’t blog every day, though it’s a good idea to check your feed at least once a day. The rule of thumb seems to be post at least three times a week. To save time, do what my sister does. Post on certain days of the week. Not only does this let your followers know when they can expect new content from you, but it also helps you set aside time to write or blog. For instance, I always post on Tuesdays because of my Tuesday Tips. This means I write on Monday so I can have it done, or at least outlined, by Tuesday.

Write Post in Advance

Twitter is easier to limit to ten minutes to an hour, because you only have 140 characters to work with. How hard can that be? When it comes to blogging, sometimes it’s hard to know how long it’s going to take. Sometimes half the time is spent trying to think of something to write. Why not pick one day out of the week and write as many posts as you can. Get the skeletal frame built, if nothing else, and save a draft so all you have to do is add the flesh and the muscle later. This will save you a lot of time. Personally, I have roughly five drafts saved.

Before you start writing drafts, make a list of topics you’d like to discuss on your blog. When you don’t take an hour wracking your brain for an idea, you’ll spend less time creating post.

I hope that was helpful. To those of you who are reading this right now, get back to writing! If you’ve already finished your writing goals for the day, feel free to smile smugly and comment below. Let me know how you balance your writing time with your social media efforts.