Super-charge Your Imagination: Turn Off Your iPod

It’s well-established that the human brain works best when it’s not distracted. In spite of that “sure, everyone knows that” statement, most of us constantly bombard our brains with twitter feeds, Facebook, and email. And when we’re on the move, we’ve got earbuds in our ears, as we travel to be the beat of our favorite drums.

Right now I am brainstorming my next novel and it occurred to me that one of my methods may be worthy of description.  I walk a lot, or at least as often as I can. When I walk I usually listen to an audiobook which helps me with my to-be-read pile. But when I need to figure out some twists and turns in my writing, or when I’m developing characters, I will often walk, and walk. This works for be and the ‘trick’ is to leave the iPod at home. It makes me smarter… every time.

Well, maybe not smarter but if I my brain has nothing to do but think, it thinks and it I pose questions to my thinking brain during a long walk, my brain responds. Instead of the iPod I take a notebook and pen with me to capture the thoughts.

I’ll think and walk, think and walk. And when something comes to mind, I’ll stop and write it down. Then I’ll think and walk some more. Today I went with a goal of figuring out what my antagonists were doing and what their relationships would be to one another. It’s a plot involving collusion and bribery and I needed to figure out the interconnectivity of the pieces. Not exactly, of course, but enough that I know where to put the pieces on the chessboard.  Heck I needed to know what pieces there would be.

After a two hour walk I had a diagram that showed those relationships and some brief notes about what sorts of characters I needed and how they are associated with each corporate entity.  The walk also spawned notes for three scenes that just came to mind.  One will show something about the theme of the book. Another illustrates the relationship between two of the principle characters. And the third is a humorous scene and, to be honest I have no idea how it will fit, if at all. Not a bad result for a couple hours of clear thought, all because I turned my iPod off.Oh, and as I did this “writing session” I burned some calories, worked on my tan, and I got to see a mother mallard duck with her newly-hatched brood of ducklings.

Cheers — Larry

 

Why Do We Set Goals And What Should They Be?

If you spend time in online writer forums you hear writers talk about their goals.  They also talk about all the reasons they didn’t achieve them.  And they will tell you what their new goal is and how it’s better.  Other writers do what we do; we offer up lots of ‘good luck’ and ‘you go girl’ responses.

Why do we set goals anyway?  Every year people set New Year’s resolutions, often with the full knowledge that the goal will never be achieved and often jokes about this fact are told while proclaiming the goal.  Why?  Clearly, one function of goal setting is to make us feel good – make us feel like we’re making plans, moving forward and trying to accomplish something.

Feeling good is… well… good, but I don’t think this is the best use of goal-setting.  A better reason to set goals is to actually motivate us and cause us to achieve something.  To do that a true goal must meet four criteria.  It must:

1) Be something you can control.

Setting a goal to sell 30 books a month is not a goal.  It may be a dream if you’re only selling 10/mo, but it’s not a goal that you can control.  Yes, you may be able to improve your marketing and thus sales but you need goals like “Do three guest blogs this month,” something over which you do have some control.

2) Be quantifiable.

To say, I’m going to improve my use of dialog sounds admirable but it will not lead anywhere without an additional clause that starts with “by….”  Add “by reading Chiarella’s Writing Dialogue and doing all of the exercises,” you produce a goal such that your action or inaction can be measured.

3) Be short-term enough to be actionable

Some say “goals must have time elements” and while I don’t disagree, I think this aspect of goal-setting needs more precision than “set a deadline.”  Here’s why.  To often I see people making goals like “I want to finish my book by the end of the year.”  That’s a fine goal if it’s said over Christmas dinner.  It’s a lousy goal if it’s spring.

The difference is that humans procrastinate, and/or set other, more short-term goals ahead of any long-term goals.  Thus, if you say “I want to finish my book by the end of the year” at the spring picnic, it’s likely that you’ll be saying “I’m so far behind on my book that I’ll never get it done by the end of the year” when Christmas dinner rolls around.  Short-term deadlines motivate; long-term deadlines do not.

4) Be attainable without super-powers.

This, by far, is the biggest problem I see with most goals that writers set for themselves.  The most common is “I’m going to write 1000 words a day, every day.”  If you have lots of free time this may well be a reasonable goal but there’s a real Catch-22 here.  If you have lots of free time for your writing you’re probably no more likely to set this sort of goal for yourself than a skinny person is to say “I’m going to eat 500 fewer calories every day.”

Instead, writers with full-time jobs, 2 kids and a husband they have to baby-sit set an unreasonable word count goal for themselves and then beat themselves up for not being up to the challenge.  “Stephen King writes 1500 words per day, why can’t I?”  It’s because Stephen King has all day to do it, that’s why.

In the end, goals are not only valuable motivation tools, they are probably necessary for those of us doing things without someone looking over our shoulders.  But just as they can motivate, poorly chosen or defined goals can sabotage your writing, even to the point of convincing you that you’re unworthy of the label “writer.”   Chose your goals wisely.  Make them work for you, not against you.

The Only Writing Advice You’ll Ever Need.

We read all forms of advice on how to be a writer, how to become an author, and all the ins and outs of getting published. But sometimes you come across someone able to boil the process down such than anyone can understand the message. James Scott Bell is one such person. Once you hear his advice ask yourself if you can follow his advice.

 

Well, can you? Will you?

Cheers — Larry

Is Ignorance Really Bliss?

I guess you’d call this a ‘guest post’ as the text is  written by  my sixteen year old daughter, not me.  In her English class she was tasked with writing what she called “a rant.” I think it more to be an advocacy paper but either way, she was supposed to come up with a topic she felt important enough and that she was passionate about for a rant.

She is discussing the most fundamental problem of our modern society as it affects our dialog, our politics, our economics, and our beliefs.  Before turning you over to her, I should add one – English is my daughter’s second language.  Oh how I wish I could write like this in French.  Without further fanfare, I give you Jodie Côté-Marshall.

 

Is Ignorance Really Bliss?

by Jodie Côté-Marshall

Less than a few decades ago, what qualified someone as “smart” or “intellectual” wasn’t solely based on how he or she performed in school or in other academic situations. Watching the news, reading the paper, being well informed: those were common things that people did in order to be aware of what was going on around them. Nowadays, that concept isn’t as popular as it once was. The younger generations have chosen to minimize the amount of information they get in spite of the fact that they have access to all the information they need. In other words, people have chosen to shut out all knowledge at a time when being knowledgeable is crucial to our society.

I think one of the reasons that can explain this phenomenon is the fact that interests have completely shifted from big world news to plain-old gossip. As long as your favorite singer or actor has his or her name spread out across a glossy magazine cover, major political and economic issues will be out of the picture. In my opinion, something is terribly wrong. As a citizen of planet Earth, it is your duty to be aware of the major conflicts and discoveries going on in your world.

Another explanation for ignorance is that most people are very self-conscious about their image. According to the modern teenager, knowing things is not very “cool.” In fact, a lot of kids get bullied in school because they’ve dared to show others that they know things. Those who have kept their mouth shut have been spared from the bullying. When a person denies being smart, their ignorance is not bliss, but insulting to those who are actually proud of their intellectual capacities. It is completely illogical that those who know more should be frowned upon and considered abnormal.

This rant isn’t about bullying, nor is it about trying to equalize all stereotypes. It is about convincing people that knowledge and understanding the world is one of the most valuable things a person may possess. It is not a crime to know things and it is not a crime to want to know things. It is up to you now to choose whether or not you want to forget everything that I’ve just told you. Whatever choice you make I ask you to remember this one last thing: while you may not need the world to continue being you, the world will always need you to continue being the world.

 

 

Do You Allow Yourself Writer Embarrassment?

My favorite TV show is Castle.  I mean, what’s not to like?  A bestselling mystery writer following around a good-looking female homicide cop?  It doesn’t get any better, particularly if you’re a mystery novel geek like I am.

The interesting ‘twist’ from this show is that there are actual mystery novels being written under the name of the lead character, Rick Castle.  Recently a new Rick Castle website has been launched to promote the book series, including the upcoming release of the third book in the series, Heat Rises.

While the whole notion of fictional characters writing real books is appealing to me, what really caught my eye was a small section where Rick Castle answers questions and he’s asked:

What do you do when you have writer’s block?

Castle’s answer: “I don’t believe in writer’s block. I believe in writer’s embarrassment. That’s when you’re so embarrassed by the horrendous drivel you’re writing that you can’t bear to see it on the page. After all, you can always write something. I’ve discovered that giving yourself permission to write poorly is the gateway to writing well.”

Personally I’ve never believed in writer’s block, muses, and the rest of the mythology associated with writing.  And I think Rick Castle (whoever the actual author is) is right on the money.  If you realize that your delete key is a powerful tool, you can bypass all the writer’s block nonsense and get on with the writing.  Do you allow yourself writer’s embarrassment?

Cheers — Larry

Writing Project Milestones

When I was in the magazine business life was a continuous series of milestones.  Every four weeks the sequence repeated.

1) All text from outside authors were in house and content edits completed.

2) Copyediting & proofing done.

3) Any articles I was responsible for were written.

4) My editorial was completed.

5) All art & magazine layout done and approved.

6) Bluelines from printer proofed.

7) Print run & distribution.

All of these activities overlapped one another and ‘lots of balls in the air’ is a good descriptor of the magazine business.  And while it was a hectic life, it was also very gratifying because of those milestones.  There’s something satisfying about completing something and doing it on a schedule makes it that much better.

All of my schedules are self-imposed these days but nevertheless, completion of milestones still feels good.  And so it was today that I completed all major revisions on my novel Her Book of Shadows.

This novel was a gleam in my eye back in October of last year.  I took advantage of NaNoWriMo to write the draft and I completed it in 18 days.  I took a break through the Xmas holiday season and probably dragged my feet with the revisions but six months from inception, it’s done.  I should be available ‘real soon.’

Cheers — Larry