Monthly Archives: November 2016

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be a better writer

3 Lazy Ways to Be a Better Writer

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Every writer wants to be their best. Many think that improving their craft means painstaking practice and perhaps even some classes. Because they imagine completing hours of writing prompts, slaving away like medieval monks copying the King James Bible, they give up. But you can be a better writer by adding a few fun, playful routines to your writing arsenal.

Here’s the deal: The more fun something is, the more likely you are to do it. The more you do it, the more practice you get. The more practice you get, the better you become. It’s not rocket science, but it is effective.

Are you ready? Let’s start!

Be a Better Writer the Fun Way

Watch Television

Uh-huh. Television. Put your feet up on the couch, pop a bag of popcorn and settle in to improve your writing. The more shows and movies you watch, the more ingrained the flow of plot and sequencing becomes. This is particularly true if you watch shows and movies in the same genre in which you write. You’ll become familiar with the type of characters that populate your chosen genre and you can use this familiarity for reference when needed.

Listen to Audiobooks/Read Aloud

Listening has a profound effect on memory and learning. For some, hearing a book read aloud allows them to immerse themselves more fully in the story, and helps burgeoning writers mind map the distinct ebb and flows of plot line and characterization. Reading a favorite novel aloud can have the same, or even greater, impact by forcing you to see the words and their patterns, hear the subtle variations in dialogue and descriptions, and experience the story as you progress through the pages.

Play a Video Game

If you’re into video games, there are plenty of RPGs (Role Playing Games) that can help you be a better writer. If you’re more of a real-world kinda person, you might fancy a game of Dungeons and Dragons. Immersing yourself in a fanciful world and taking on the persona of one of its characters can enrich your writing experience by causing you to become someone else for a time. As a result, it’s easier to step into your protagonist’s, or other character’s, shoes when the time comes. If video games or DND isn’t your thing, consider trying out for a play at a community theater or even acting out a story with your kids.

So, the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed by the thought of improving your writing skills, take it easy. Let the natural ease and enjoyment of doing one of these activities help you be a better writer effortlessly!

See you on the next page!


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taking criticism

Taking Criticism: A Writer’s Guide

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Featured photo by Mike Licht

Taking criticism is a breeze — if you know how to do it right. As a writer, sometimes it seems like everyone’s a critic. Well, they are. Each and every set of eyeballs that reads your work belongs to a human being with his or her own set of likes and dislikes. Whether they judge your story a flash of brilliance or a pile of dung, they’re still expressing a simple opinion.

Do you get angry if your dinner partner hates broccoli, even if it’s the broccoli you slaved over? No, because we all accept that everyone’s entitled to particular and singular tastes in food. We’re okay with it. But when it comes to our writing, we often forget that what we serve up to the public is just another morsel in the vast smorgasbord of literary options they have.

Like a predilection for a certain type of food, some readers’ critiques are expressing an opinion on your story. It either resonates with, or repulses, them for entirely personal reasons. Some people like epic novels; others prefer short stories. Some like supernatural drama; some prefer historical fiction. The critics that are already in love with the type of story you’re serving up are the ones who will give you true insight. This is the stuff of miracles — the exact thing you need to propel your work into true mastery. Of course, if you aren’t interested in selling your work to the public, feel free to ignore these bits of judgement. But if you want to craft stories that crawl inside readers’ heads and live comfortably for decades, then you need to listen up.

Taking criticism is part of your job. As I mentioned, you don’t need to take it all. You can ignore the romance reader who doesn’t approve of your dystopian sci-fi novel. She simply isn’t your kind of reader. But if you have a fan of dystopian novels who thinks you can use a bit of help organizing your new universe, you might want to tune in.

I call these readers “validators”. They love your genre. Plus, they love the length of story you’re offering. They just have a few suggestions, but they’re validating what you already know — you’re a pretty darn good writer. They wouldn’t have made it through the entire book if you weren’t. But there were just a few things that didn’t sit well with them. Those things are the key to raising your story to its highest potential. Don’t miss out on their keen insight because your precious ego is feeling stomped upon.

Don’t get me wrong. Even some valid readers can be real toots to deal with. Let’s face it: some people are just mean. If this is what you’re dealing with, you can close the book. No one is required to deal with rude, inconsiderate, or troll-like comments. The criticism you are looking for is, above all, constructive.

Taking Criticism the Right Way

So, good criticism is generated by valid readers, polite, and constructive.

If you’re lucky enough to be the recipient of good criticism, here’s how to respond.

Evaluate: Not every review or critique is going to be entirely useful. Find the elements of the critique that are on target. Remember, you’re being totally objective while considering your own work. If you’ve determined that the reviewer is valid, then by that assumption they aren’t trying to hurt your feelings. They’re helping you.

Make notes: After reading tens or even hundreds of reviews or critiques the information may start to go a bit muzzy. Make sure you keep detailed notes of the things that stand out to you so you can revisit them later.

Rework: Now that you’ve compiled a list of things you’d like to revise, get cracking!

Say thanks: Nothing is rarer and more appreciated than someone who sees the value in criticism. Personally thank, if you’re able, those reviewers that really helped your story take a giant leap forward. If you can do this publicly, all the better. This will encourage other valid reviewers to jump in and help you out.

If it’s bad criticism, here’s how to respond.

Silence: The best approach to a mean-spirited critique or other troll-like behavior is to simply ignore it. If the comments happen on your website or social media and are persistent, feel free to block them. If you feel you must respond, reply with grace. Rise above name-calling and childish behavior.

Above all, remember that taking criticism is an important and integral part of honing your skills as a top-notch writer. Remember, without abrasion to keep its edges razor sharp, a knife becomes dull. A pass through the flames lends strength to the sword. Let the well-meaning evaluation of your audience strengthen your pen in the same way. Then, your writing can become sharper, better, and more powerful than ever.

And who wouldn’t want it any other way?

See you on the next page!

 


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write better

Live Lighter, Write Better

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I learned how to write better this week by giving things away. I just read Put Your Life on a Diet: Lessons Learned from Living in 140 Square Feet. It’s a fitting title for me, since I’m in the process of downsizing my home by 1,000 square feet. This is phase one of an eventual move to some acreage with an even smaller home upon it.

My family and I had about two weeks to move a lifetime of collected stuff manually from one place to the other, so only the most important, or most necessary, made the cut. Gone were the knife sets, holiday dishes, and 20+ mugs collected from birthdays, travel, and well-meaning friends. Gone, too, were some of my treasured hardback books, old page-worn friends I thought I could never live without. I actually cried when I packed them lovingly in the boxes for the next Goodwill run.

write betterWrite Better with Less

What does getting rid of stuff have to do with learning to write better? Currently, I sit surrounded by the flotsam and jetsam of a cluttered life, still sorting through piles as I adapt to my new space. In our temporary quarters, (we’ll be renting this place for about a year while our new home is being built), I have taken over the dining room as my writing space. It’s not a large room, and there are no closets in which to hide the various writing paraphernalia that I’ve collected through the years. I tackled this room first, since I can’t afford to have any writing downtime. In doing so, I learned that half the things I kept in my office were useless clutter at best, and at worst, distractions.

I kept the essentials: my computer, my desk, my chair, a printer, a comfortable couch for inspiring daydreaming and my favorite artwork. But the ten to fifteen volumes of self-help books for writers, several disturbingly blank journals, and the remains of half-finished hobbies hit the road for new homes.

Like many creatives, my multifaceted personality means I bore easily. I write, sure, but I also paint, create jewelry, and enjoy needlework. In pursuit of those peripheral hobbies, I’ve collected a veritable mountain of stuff to fuel my interests. I stored all of this in my writing room, in case I wanted a diversion from writing tasks.

targetWhat getting rid of clutter has done for me, not surprisingly, is narrow my focus more keenly on my writing. Gone are the half-finished paintings that shot a pang of guilt through me every time I saw them. With them went my reason to delay beginning work on a new novel. It’s not that I want to write to the exclusion of all else. It’s just that now when I sit in my office, writing is the only thing staring me in the face.

Even if you don’t want or need to downsize, consider getting all non-writing-inducing materials out of your writing space. Sewing machines, leather tooling equipment, beer-making supplies, or (fill in the blank for your favorite extra-curricular pursuits) should find a place elsewhere. A dedicated hobby room is great if you have it; if not, consider a garage or basement storage spot or, if you’re really brave, find it a new home with someone who’ll use the heck out of it.

Then, look at your writing space with new eyes. Your writing is no longer an ephemeral pursuit, relegated to hobby status through long association with other whimsical interests. It’s your job, your calling, your raison d’être. With nothing to hold you back, you can give in to the tug of words at your heart and the spill of ink from your pen. Let your fingers dance across your keyboard in the joy and freedom that your focused surroundings can bring you. Write! Write! Write! Write better!

See you on the next page!


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office exercises

Office Exercises for Writers —
How to Sit and Still be Fit!

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I’m a writer. Writers sit. Sitting writers can get out of shape fast if they don’t take care to get regular physical activity. Besides, being active is a key for sparking creativity. Movement has big impact on memory, thinking, and creative capacity. Now, it might seem easy to schedule 30 minutes to an hour of activity into each day, but sometimes it’s almost impossible. Not only do I work from home, but I manage the schedules and tasks associated with three teenagers, two dogs, and ten hives of bees. That’s why I’ve learned to add a series of simple office exercises to my day.

When I’m able, I love to take a morning walk to get my day off to an invigorating start. Walking briskly is great cardiovascular exercise and it also allows me some quiet time to plan my day or to listen to an audiobook. The downside is that sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate. Here in Texas, it’s most often too hot or humid and sometimes it’s pouring rain. Other times, I’ve got things to do that require me to be on the road in the morning, and this will derail my intention to walk.  I still try to make it happen, but I’m glad I can rely on my office exercises to help keep me moving, even if my walk doesn’t happen.

Office Exercises for Writers

The great thing about these exercises is you can do them any time, and almost anywhere. I try to stop what I’m doing every 15 minutes or so to do something active. I have a standing desk, but I alternate between standing and sitting throughout the day. So besides getting in a workout, taking a break to move helps me to remember to change desk positions. Here are some of my favorites.

Exercises for Arms

The office exercises I do alternate between “leg” days and “arms” days. On a typical arm day, I’ll do the following office exercises. I do use 3 pound dumbbells for some, but you can use what works for you. Try soup cans if you don’t have dumbbells.

Arm Raise: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Holding your weights, bring your arms up to a “V” above your head, making sure to keep elbows and wrists slightly bent. Then lower your arms to your sides and, without pausing, go back up again. Aim for 25 at each mini-session.

Tricep Pulse: With feet shoulder-width apart and holding your weights, raise one arm straight overhead. Then slightly bend your elbow and pulse it back up to the completely straight position. Keep pulsing up and down for 25 repetitions on each arm.

Arm Pull: Hold your dumbbell in your right hand. With feet shoulder-width apart and your left hand on your left hip, raise your right arm straight in front of you with the palm facing the floor. Pull your right elbow to your hip while twisting your palm toward the ceiling. Do 25 repetitions on each arm per mini-session.

Exercises for Legs

Squats: These are your typical squat. Nothin’ fancy. If you don’t know how to do a squat, here’s a link to a great set of instructions with video.

Inner Thigh Lift: Sit on the floor and extend your right leg with your left leg bent. Keep your left foot on the floor with toes forward. Flex your right foot, turning it out and away from your body. Lift the right leg so it’s parallel to angle of left and point toes. Return to starting position. Do 25 reps on each leg.

Outer Thigh Lift: Lie on your left side, with your left leg slightly bent, leaning back on left elbow. Keeping your right leg straight, cross it over the left. Keep hips rotated to the left and lift the right leg to a 90-degree angle while keeping it straight. Lower to starting position. Do 25 reps with each leg.

Exercises for Abs

Piking: Lie flat on the floor with arms at your sides. Lift straight legs up to ceiling to 90 degrees and then gently lower. Without pausing, lift them back up again.  Do 25 reps per mini-session.

Advanced Piking: Lie on the floor, legs straight out in front of you with your arms on the floor stretched out over your head. Hold onto a weight and bring your hands up to meet your legs when you raise them to a 90-degree angle and lower your arms and legs back down to the floor at the same time. Do 25 reps.

Results!

I’m sure you’re thinking “Big whoop, 25 reps of anything is not going to amount to much,” but check this out: I take a break every 15 minutes. That’s four breaks an hour. If I do 25 squats four times, I’ve done 100 squats! And don’t worry about the time it takes — I used a stopwatch and it takes me about 33 seconds to do 25 squats. It’s not going to cut into your productive time too much.

You’ll only need three hours of work time to get in your three exercises per day if you stop every 15 minutes to move. If this seems difficult, or if you’re in the groove on your work assignment, don’t fret. Stopping every thirty minutes or even one time per hour will still give your more than enough time to fit in all your sessions.

Remember, one size does NOT fit all, so modify the exercises to fit your schedule and your level of fitness. Always check with a doctor before beginning a new fitness program. If you want to see more similar exercises, check out Tracy Anderson’s website.

Do you think this is a program that can help you remain fit while you sit? Tell me why or why not!

See you on the next page!

NOTE:  I am not affiliated in any way with Tracy, nor am I paid to promote her program. I get no money from any purchases made on her website. 

 

 


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