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.

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.  

Tuesday Tip

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tip#1We’ve all wanted to fast forward parts of our lives, i.e., the boring parts: working, sleeping, commercials, chores, migraines, even intimate (or awkward) moments with our partners. There are no special remotes or fast forward buttons for life, and if there were, we’d probably find that the simple, mundane moments are what compose our lives. However, these moments should not compose your book. But how should you skip time in your novel, or should you?

This tip was inspired (provoked) by a discussion (argument) I had with my knowledgeable (know-it-all) sister. For my series, I need several time gaps to get to certain events. She said I can’t do this because it’s jarring. I agree that time hopping can be jarring and confusing (probably why I don’t watch “Dr. Who”), but sometimes it’s necessary.

What to skip

The same thing you would skip in your regular life, the boring stuff.

  • meals
  • sleeping
  • using the restroom
  • working

Bare in mind, you should keep these scenes if they are essential to the plot. For instance, the dinner scene in “Oliver Twist” where Oliver ask for more food is necessary to the plot. You may also want to show your character working, like in “House of Cards,” a memoir about an ex-greeting card writer.

Do you need a time jump or just a page break?

Time advancements should be used to move the story forward to another plot moment. For the most part, time progression should be linear, but you will run into situations where an hour, day, even a month just won’t be enough time to forward your plot. For instance, if your story is going to have several generations of characters, you will need to insert time lapses.

Rule of Thumb: If a month or more goes by, a page break might be too jarring. Consider a new chapter, even another book to show the time difference. Make sure you skip only non-pertinent information.

How to mark time gaps

Gaps larger than a few months should be marked. There are several ways to do this. If they aren’t clearly marked, you risk being jarring. Likewise, too much narration dedicated to the time gap can be boring, and the purpose of skipping time was to avoid being boring. Consider the following.

Example: In ten years, not much happened. It was a wonder the newspapers kept coming. Nowhere did time seem to crawl more than at the Inn. At fifteen Christine imagined her life leading up to this point would be filled with excitement and adventure, but she could only recall endless days of working at her mother’s inn, sweeping floors and washing dishes . . .

Maybe this isn’t the most boring passage I could create, but it isn’t all that exciting. Plus, it’s just an entire paragraph dedicated to set up. It doesn’t really connect plot points or even advance the plot. It could be condensed so that we could rejoin the plot sooner. On the other side of the coin, consider this story with no set up. The character would go from being five to fifteen in a blink. Talk about whip lash. Always be upfront about the passage of time and immediately establish it. don’t wait several chapters, even paragraphs, or your reader will be confused.

Prologues and epilogues

It seems like a lot of people are against prologues and epilogues (I guess they’re going out of fashion), but they can be used to separate passages of time. When a reader sees the words “prologue” or “epilogue” they automatically assume they are in the past or future. J.K. Rowling uses an epilogue to show the passage of years.

Dates

You can be blunt by simply putting the year at the beginning of the chapter or “10 years later.” This isn’t exciting, but it’s safe. It can also, however, be jarring. Consider easing your reader into it with dialogue or narration.

Example:  There was nothing left after the fire . . . that was almost 10 years ago, and everything from the house still smelled like smoke.

Journal entries or time logs

You can also change the format to a journal entry when going to past events. I believe Mark Lawrence uses this technique in his “Prince of Thorns” series. He also starts his chapters with either current day or four years prior. He is an example of an author who has a great idea, but doesn’t execute it well. I didn’t mind the story going back and forth from current day to four years prior. The problem was he might spend three chapters in the past, go back to the present, trap the characters on a mountain in the middle of battle, and then go back four years for four chapters. By the time the story returned to present day, I’d forgotten they were on a mountain, so I had to re-read the last chapter to get back to speed. The idea was good, the execution, in my opinion, was poor.

Seasonal cues

I recommend not overusing these. If the present events are occurring in the summer, establish the time gap with descriptions of snow or falling leaves, or simply have your characters constantly lament how “winter is coming” like George R.R. Martin.

I hope you find that helpful. Let me know what you think. Who are some authors who have done this well or poorly?

 

 

Tuesday Tip

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tip#2When we meet someone for the first time, we ask questions to get to know them–unless you’re Toby Keith and you just wanna talk about you. Asking questions is a great way to get to know your characters.  But who do you ask? Characters aren’t real people; they can’t talk . . . or can they? For my second Tuesday tip, I’m going to talk about one way to get to know your characters.

Character interviews are a fun way to discover what you know–or don’t know–about your characters. By the end of the interview you should establish these things: origin, back story, family, physical appearance, talents/skills, personality traits (both good and bad), and goals/obstacles.

You can pretend you’re Oprah Winfrey or Stephen Colbert. Just make sure you are in the character’s mind frame when you answer the questions. The easiest method for a character interview is to prepare the questions in advance and answer them as the character. Helpful hint: use a friend as an interviewer so your answers will be more spontaneous. Below are some questions you should ask your protagonist as well as your secondary characters. Feel free to post your answers in the comment section below, I’d love to get to know your characters.

Start with Basics

What is your name? Any nicknames? Who gave them to you?

What do you look like? What is your most distinguishing feature?

What are you wearing right now?

What do you do for a living? If you could change jobs, would you?

Where were you born? Do you live there now? Where would you like to live?

What impression do you make on people? Does this attitude change as they get to know you?

Do you have family? Do you get along with them?

Let’s Dig a Little Deeper

What is your greatest fear? Who have you told this to? Who would you never tell?

Do you have a secret? Does anyone know?

What is your greatest achievement?

What is your greatest characteristic? Your worst flaw? Does this flaw get in the way of your goals or keep you from being who you want to be?

What do you do when you’re angry? When you’re happy? Which of these do you feel more often?

Are you in love? Have you ever been in love? Have you had your heart broken?

What is your greatest regret?

What is your best talent? What talent would you like to have?

If you were cleaning your house, what would you have a hard time getting rid of?

If you had one day to do whatever you wanted, what would you do?

Who is your best friend? Worst enemy? Which would you like to know better?

What is the worst thing that’s happened in your life? The worst thing you’ve done? Did you learn anything from it?