Category Archives: Writing Tools

Ups and Downs of the Writing Life

There is a huge drawback to writing on the computer. You can get dependent on the technology.

I was riding a high wave on my CampNaNo project. I was above and beyond the number count every day, averaging about 1700 words per day. Then the worst thing that could possibly happen happened. My computer decided it didn’t want to start.

I spent the next couple days trying to decide if I really needed a computer or not. While they are getting more affordable, how much computer did I really need? The more computer, the bigger the price. I realize that what I really do is I write, surf a little bit, and that’s pretty much all I do on the computer. I don’t need huge graphics. I hate the idea of a touch screen.  But I did want a cd/dvd drive as I’m still partial to my cds so a “flip” computer was pretty much out.

I had been riding the high of CampNaNo and suddenly came to a screeching halt. With the finish line  in sight. I tried writing on a pad and simply couldn’t get any words out. So I went from almost 2k words higher than the goal to 5k below the daily goal in just a couple days.

Now it’s the last day. And I have only written a handful of words since this happened. I went from writing 1700 words a day to less than 100 words a day. I totally lost myself, my enthusiasm and my story in trying out a new computer.

Bear with me here. I’m going on a tangent. I have recently reconnected to twitter, just like this blog. I check it two to three times a day, sometimes I tweet, sometimes I don’t. Since rejoining I have added 40 new followers and am following almost 100 more than I was previously. I have no idea how, but I came across Joanna Penn and followed her.

A few days ago she tweeted about an interview podcast that she did with author Rachel Aaron/Bach.  She wrote the Eli Monpress series and a few other series. In this interview she talks about how she writes TEN THOUSAND words a day. And I thought oh. my. god. That’s insane!

MyAnd only watching a decade later will we understand all the other jokes... first reaction is there was no way I could possibly reach 10k a day. She and I have drastically different lives. She’s a full-time writer. I’m a full-time mother and homemaker. She has one young son. I have triplet toddlers. She’s been published both traditionally and self-published. I have only had a few articles published in a college magazine.

My second reaction was: “Well why the heck can’t I?” If I say I can’t, I probably won’t. And I may not be able to make the 10k every day, but if I could religiously do 4k would be amazing! So I listened to the podcast again. I found her blog and in particular the post where she talks about how she increased her writing from 2k to 10k a day in about a month. I’m not going to go into detail about how she did. But if you’d like to read it you can here.

Getting back to my original idea. Writing has always been up and down for me as I write in an organic way allowing the story more or less to write itself. Doing this, I’m probably never going to get published, self or traditional. I have started more than 5 novels. Although I love them all, I ride the high and when I get stuck and the story stops writing itself, I stop.

This CampNaNo I was insistent on “winning” right up until my computer crashed and I lost all hope. But now I can take what worked for her, find what parts work for me and apply it to my writing. Just because I only have a few hours a day to myself doesn’t mean I can’t break 2k every single day.

Time to start the experiment. I’ve more or less used up all my writing time today to get this post done. Awful I know. Since NaNo was keeping track of my writing, I’ll be able to use that as my “before” numbers. I’ll apply what I can to my writing and I’ll track what happens. I’ll let you know about my progress in a week or so. My goal is to reach 4k a day in my 2-3 hour writing period every day.

Stay tuned.

 

 

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Exercising Your Creative Muscles.

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For Christmas I asked for a subscription to Writer’s Digest magazine. While I haven’t entered any of their contests in a while (say like a year), I do enjoy reading the articles that they publish. And while I can often get them online for free, I’d rather be able to turn the pages in my hand, and stop half-way through an article if I have to, or want to. Well guess what? I got it. And my first magazine came in yesterday (oddly enough it’s February’s issue), which is why I waited until today to make my post.

In this edition of Writer’s Digest, there was an article about exercising your creative muscles. “Skill-Builders for Fiction Writers,” by Mike Nappa, gave a list of things to do, what that “exercise” was supposed to do for your writing, and how to make make the most of it. In short, this is a review of one article in the February issue of Writer’s Digest.

Exercise: For enhancing our plot building, the first exercise he lists is “Play alongside a kid.” This is supposed to help you put more imagination into your plotting by immersing yourself completely in the child’s world of make-believe. He then suggests that you ask the child why they made certain decisions.

Pros: First, this is fun. If you have access to a child and haven’t done this, then you’re missing out on something that, although it’s completely exhausting, is also far more enjoyable than you’ll admit later. Second, it really is a great way to see things from a different perspective. If you’re crawling around on all fours, pretending to be horse, rearing, and whinnying and all the rest, you get not only a different perspective physically (you are, after all, on all fours) but you have to ask yourself: what would a horse do?

Cons: The obvious con here is that not everyone has a kid to play with. A writer might be an only child so no nieces or nephews, and they might not have children of their own. Another con, I find that children are relying more on television and video games than their own imagination. My third con for this one, don’t ask a child why. They’ll just as likely give you no reason as a real reason (especially the youngest ones). I would humbly suggest that you interpret why. It would be more beneficial to your skill building than simply asking anyway.

Overall: If you have a child, who uses their imagination, then this is a great exercise. However, not everyone has a child at their disposal. I would suggest, instead, simply changing your perspective deliberately. Go outside, sit against a tree and imagine what it would say to you. Imagine all the sights and sounds it has experienced and write that down. It may even spark a story.

Exercise: To help build characters, Nappa suggests that you “Let characters define themselves.” This one I really enjoyed, mostly because I thought it was funny. He suggests that you create facebook personalities for each (main) character. This will really bring your characters to life as you fill out their likes, dislikes, philosophies and religion.

Pros: This exercise will help make your characters real in a way that “describing” them can’t. What, after all, is cooler than logging into facebook and seeing your character as a “friend?”

Cons: This exercise theoretically must be done online. Also, if you want a separate account for each character, you’ll have to get an email to match it, according to fb’s new rules.

Overall: Totally funny, and I’m gonna try it. It may be useful to create one account that you can change the information on. Print them out as you finish and start over. Another way: make up a table (using Facebook as a guidline…or not, whichever), and fill it out. You can save them all to one file, or have separate files for each…and no need for the internet.

 

Exercise: The last exercise he provides is supposed to help you adapt your writing: Use every fifth word in this article. He suggests that you highlight every fifth word in the article (the one he wrote had about 160) and use them to write a story.

Pros: Definitely helps adaptation. I’ve done this exercise before, although not in Writer’s Digest. I felt my mind being stretched because in the one I tried we had to use only those words, Nappa gives no such limitation, which makes it far easier in my opinion.

Cons: Theoretically you need something in paper, however, if you can copy and paste into word it’s just as effective.

Overall: Loved this one. You can use any article, any number, and can use just those words, or you can add to it. It’s a very versatile exercise.

 

These are just a few of the exercises given in the article, and on the whole, I enjoyed reading it. However, I feel that if you’re going to present an “exercise” routine for promoting creativity, they should be offered in a way that everyone can do.

I hope you enjoyed this little review, and by all means, try an exercise.

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Word Challenge Wednesday

I’m going to throw down the gauntlet today. Today is all about expanding your horizons.

If you are a writer you need to know words well. Writers should be constantly expanding their vocabulary. I expand mine when I read, as well as when I write. And since there are many places on the web where you can get a free word of the day: http://www.merriam-webster.com/word-of-the-day/; http://dictionary.reference.com/wordoftheday; http://www.transparent.com/wotd/ (this one also offers different languages 😀 ) just to name a few; there is no reason to not expand your vocabulary.

Today’s Challenge it get a word of the day and use it. If you don’t want to use one of the websites, the do it the old fashioned way…look it up in the dictionary. After you have your word of the day, use it as a theme in a piece of short fiction.

You don’t have to share if you don’t want to, but I’d love to see what people come up with. If you wish to share, first post the word, then what it means, and then the work. I got this word from http://www.merriam-webster.com/.

Wombmates

A slang term for twins.

A tear rolled down Janice’s cheek. “I wish Sam could be here.” She whispered to Jason as she stood.

He  squeezed her hand. “There’s nothing to worry about. The doctor said you probably just misjudged when you conceived. Just think, in another hour, your baby will have it’s first picture. We can show Sam when he gets home from Iraq.”

“But what if I’m just fat?” She wailed. Three long months she had been waiting for this checkup. Then in a whisper she added “It’s not quite the same thing as hearing the news is it?”  She didn’t need to see his head to know that he agreed. Pictures have always been a sore topic for Janice. With one hand she gripped Jason’s to calm her nerves, while the other hand held a long cane that ranged out ahead of her, the slight snags warned her of a rise in the floor and she didn’t need Jason’s murmur that there were stairs ahead.

They followed the orderly through more turns than Jason could count, but he was sure that Janice could find her way out without him if she had to. But he had been her guide when they were just kids, had been thereto protect her from boyfriends when they were teens, and now, while her husband was away, Jason stepped up to help his sister whenever he could.

The room they had been taken to was just as cold as the waiting room and when she shivered, Jason threw his jacket around her shoulders. Jason tapped his foot impatiently as he sat in one of the chairs after guiding Janice to the exam table.

She was serene, one arm wrapped protectively around her belly. And arched an eyebrow in Jason’s direction. But her puffy, red eyes belied her calm. One thing she didn’t want was gestational diabetes. She had promised herself she wasn’t going to be like her mother. But when the doctor came in the the room, she winced.

Jason was at her side in moment, squeezing her hand. “It’s okay,” he murmured over and over. “It’s going to be okay.”

The gel was even colder than the room. And although the doctor explained everything that happened, as it happened, for Janice’s benefit, she only felt relief when Jason repeated it.

A soft, almost wet, swishing noise filled the room. “That’s your baby’s heartbeat.”

Janice bit into her lip, then, “Am I…” She trailed off. She couldn’t stand to be too fat. She started again. “What is it?” When silence met her inquiry, “Jason!”

“I think,” he started.

“Congratulations Janice, it’s twins.”

She laughed in relief. “Are they girls?”

“One boy, one girl.” The doctor replied.

“Just like us,” Jason said.

She smiled through tears, “Just like us.”

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Why Study Mythology?

This month’s post of Mythological Monday! Hurray! Today, I want to talk about why anybody should study mythology/religion, especially writers, and why I enjoy it.

As was commented on in a previous post about religion and the writing craft, some writers treat religion and mythology as a single unit: mythology. I don’t. They are still important to learn for various reasons. Firstly, if you’re not learning something, then you’re stagnating…dying. Also, nothing can give insight into a culture like studying their mainstream religions. Religion and mythology can also help us understand our own pasts, like a theological history. Religion and mythology are great resources, and sometimes great beginnings, for writers. And finally, most real people have a religion that they subscribe to, so a character that you want to feel real, should also have one.

There is a reason why I separate religion and mythology into two groups. Even among religions there are sets of beliefs that are often mythological, and called so in that religion, but are not held as doctrine. A great example would be Judaism. They have doctrine, found in both the Hebrew Bible and the Talmud. That is religion. They further have a set of stories, and some beliefs, which can be learned, is usually accepted as true, but “unfounded” so to speak. That is mythology. It is from one of those stories that my novel has blossomed. The Lilith myth. It is a story used to explain why there are two versions of the creation story in the Bible, why a woman is supposed to be subservient, as well as the existence of demons. This is mythology. I treat most ancient religions as religion: Greek mythology, Japanese, Norse, etc. Those I treat as religion. But when it’s clear that the religion has a set of beliefs that itself treats as myth, I almost have to treat it slightly differently.

And now for the ranting. Stagnation is a nice term for death. If a person is not learning something, anything, not stretching their comfort zone, they are dying. It really is that simple. I can say this from experience. I graduated last December. Since then I have not gone to school, but instead focused on trying to find employment. I have been learning nothing. And as the last nine, nearing ten, months have gone by I have felt myself wither away. All the zeal, the beliefs, the joy that I had in life has slowly been sapped away. I’m not learning. I’m not working. I can’t seem to do anything right now. Besides being completely depressing, there is a stagnation that creeps in even on my writing. I’ve noticed that as time has gone by my writing, at least the quality thereof, has suffered more than I would have at first believed. So yes, learning anything is important, but what could be more fascinating than another religion?

Learning the majority religion of any given culture can help a person understand that culture in ways that simply looking at it couldn’t. Why? Because oftentimes the history of a culture is tied to their practiced religions, sometimes to the point of being inseparable. If you’re studying the history, then you’re studying the religion. Japan, for example, if you’re studying their history, you’ll see the kamikaze pilots in WWII. That stems, at least in some part, to the Japanese sense of honor, which is linked to their religion.

These topics can also help us to understand our own history in new ways. It is said that “those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.” We have seen this time and again with war…Korean War, Vietnam War, the War on “Terror.” All of them doomed to fail from the first. Of course, if you listen to Sun Tzu it’s because they didn’t understand the Art of War. But I digress, understanding the Christian roots of Western culture, most specifically American culture, can help us to comprehend why there is separation of Church and State, and why it should continue to be so. It can help us understand how things quite often go horribly wrong when religion and politics mesh. In our own history the most immediate situation that comes to mind is the question of “gay” marriage. I don’t have “gay” lunch. I have lunch. Marriage is the blending two souls no more. The Salem witch trials also come to mind. Abortion. The KKK. There really are too many problems to list.

Religion can also be a great resource for writers. It can be used for inspiration, like my own work was. Alternatively, the religions of ancient cultures are often used in present day, such as the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. It should not be necessary to point out that in every case, each writer brings something familiar to the story as well as something special only they could have thought of.

And finally, writers and readers alike prefer round, complex characters. Since most people have some kind belief, religious or otherwise, it only makes sense to let your characters have one. If your character is an ex-Catholic vampire from Jersey, s/he will act completely different from an Islamic werewolf from London. Hmm…an Islamic werewolf in London. That might have potential.

I started studying religion simply because I liked it. I enjoy learning different perspectives. I suppose that’s why some often think I have no perspective. That’s not entirely true. More often than not, when I was in my religion classes, I went against the majority for the fun of it, even if my personal beliefs aligned with theirs. Plus it really is the best way to go about learning history in my opinion.

On a completely different note, since this is my first October post, I thought I’d share my writing goals for this month. My single goal is to write 1,000 words a day, besides my blog. So far, I have only fell short yesterday by 100 words, but I simply had to go to bed.

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Dragon, Naturally Speaking

There are a lot of writing aids out there that “help” you write, or at least make it easier. One such tool is a dictation program called Dragon, Naturally Speaking. My fiancé bought it for me for christmas, ostensibly it was so that I could use it while writing my novels, however, that’s not what this is about. I’ve never used another dictation program so I can’t compare, however, I will review this program as well as several books that are supposed to help with the writing process.

First the pros: This program is easy to set up. You insert the disc, run the program and speak to start the program recognition of your voice patterns (you can set it up to different accents as well, including Indian English). It can be used with a variety of programs including Microsoft Office, the internet, and some versions are compatible with Adobe. It definitely saves the wrists (I have had problems in the past with carpal tunnel syndrome, and this program definitely prevents a recurrence from typing). It’s a good program that you can think and type at the same time.

The cons: While easy to set up, it also takes a long time, during which you first have to make sure it recognizes your microphone, then you have to read a selected passage, sometimes more than once, so that it can register how you say certain things. You need to make sure the microphone is always in the same position when you use it. Because the program can’t read your mind, you have to say all punctuation such as saying “period” at the end of the sentence. It makes things a bit more time-consuming than simply typing that way. Also, every time you use it, it will make mistakes so you have to keep your eye on it and say “correct that” every time it misinterprets what you say, and sometimes it will misinterpret that command as well. It will become better over time, but it takes consistent use. Further it can also slow down your computer if using it with the internet, although that may simply be my slightly outdated computer.

Overall I’ll give this program 4 stars out of 5. While it does have some low points for slowing my computer, I am pretty sure that it’s mostly my computer being old, it’s about six years out of date; if your computer is newer it will run faster. I enjoy using it when I’m on my own usually, I can play music while talking out the problems in my novel rather than having to figure it out in my head only, which seems to me to be the more natural way to work out problems.

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