Recovering writing time

The first step to recovery is to admit you have a problem. So:

I admit have a problem with an app.  Not just any app, a game app on my phone that takes up an inordinate amount of my time.

The app advertises itself as a tool to exercise your brain and stave off dementia. It involves words, so … sounds beneficial, right? Except I’ve become so good at it, I can do it rather mindlessly while watching TV. My brain could atrophy and I could slide into dementia today, but I’m quite certain I would still be rather adept at it. I’d forget what a spoon is, but my fingers would instinctively and proficiently play that darn game.

I don’t even want to think about how much time I spend on it—mindlessly earning game coins that I can’t buy anything useful with—except other game coins.

But I have had an epiphany. Every time I reach for my phone to play that game, I am going to think of the word “write.” What if that time I spent playing the game was transformed into writing time?

I know the time of day when I typically reach for that game, so I can easily imagine doing something more useful: writing, thinking about writing, watching a webinar on writing, reading about writing, honing my writing craft, analyzing books in the genre I am writing in.

When writing isn’t your main job, and it’s not translating into a paycheck at the moment, it’s easy not to prioritize it. There are other things to do. But honestly, some of those other things … are they really worth doing? Think about how much closer to your writing goals you’d be, if you spent more time writing or reading about improving your craft. Even if it’s just a little more time. So:

  • Game app = writing.
  • Log writing time. (I’m going to use a nice calendar for that.)
  • Set goals (my own writing deadlines, submissions, etc.).

Think of a useless, veg-out type of activity that’s wasting your time. Maybe it’s that second hour on the couch watching TV. Imagine turning off the TV, and then choosing to do something very specific: I am going to set the timer and do 20 minutes of free writing on anything that pops into my head. I am going to search for submission opportunities. I’m going to pull out an old manuscript and change the POV. …

Cheers to a more productive writing journey!

Critiques—writer reality checks

I love writing stories. I love tinkering with words. It’s such a joyful feeling to think, “I’ve got something here. I really think this time I’ve got something.”

And then I submit it to my critique partners.

I appreciate critiques. I really do. But honestly, sometimes I wonder if a colonoscopy would be less painful.

Living in a fantasy world where my manuscripts are ALWAYS PERFECT is a lovely place to be. But in the end, it is a very lonely place to be. No one else lives there. Just me.

Critique partners are great when you need help brainstorming or looking for a suggestion to get you over a writing hump. But as painful as it is, they are especially great when they act like vultures, swooping in on your fantabulous story, served up naked on a silver platter.

Sure, sure, sure, there are good things about your story, but chances are, there’s room for improvement. And no matter how nice they are about it, and how carefully they couch their suggestions, critiques of your “baby” can hurt.

“Oooo, what’s that thing? Hmmm. I don’t know … Maybe, you want to … or Hmmm, that doesn’t seem quite right. Ha! I like that part. Good start. Happy rewriting.”

Good start? “Wrong, Wrong, Wrong! They don’t get it. They don’t know what they’re talking about.” You stomp around the room. You cry. You rip up paper. You promise yourself you will never, ever, ever write again.

Then you take a deep breath, and email: “Thank you for your insightful feedback.”

Insightful? Yes, because it is. And You know it. Maybe not now, but in a month or two when you pull out your story and read it again. “Oh. Right. Aha! That would make more sense. They were right.”

Not always right and not on everything. But enough, maybe a lot. The key here is to put space between you and your critiqued manuscript. That way, you can read it with fresh eyes and from a more critical perspective.

Then comes the opportunity to write an even better version of the story.

Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, and then buckle up. It’s time to submit to the critique partners again.

Lord, have mercy, because hopefully, your critique partners will not.

Welcome to my writer’s office

I was never a big fan of the word “office.” Maybe because a lot of people identify it with something they want to get out of, have a break from, or leave completely.

One of the places where I write is my dining room table. Papers clutter the space around my laptop, and bright sunlight pours in from the windows that line one wall.

I’m always just a few steps from the kitchen cupboards and refrigerator. I’m also a leap or two from the window where I can see what the neighbor’s dog is barking at or what the kids are shouting about on the playground.

Don’t scold me. Those aren’t distractions. Those are mental breaks that might lead to musings, that might lead to something interesting.

My dining room table is a nice place to write. But it’s not my favorite place. It’s not always the best place for seedlings of ideas to sprout and bloom.  

That would be here:

Writing is my mind wandering. And I don’t always wander well unless I’m moving. My mind works best weaving and winding down a tree-lined path or behind the wheel, gliding over a country road.

Ideas have even popped up unexpectedly in the shower, while cleaning the toilet, or mowing the lawn. Sometimes my ideas go bump in the night. I’ve learned to write it down then and there, or risk losing it forever.

Sometimes when I get back to my seat in the dining room to tap out the idea on my laptop, that idea kind of fizzles and fades. It seemed brighter somehow when I was folding the laundry.

But sometimes it grows into something even better than I thought it would.

Yes, I know I need to plant myself in front of my laptop to actually get words to document. But I also know I need to take my mind out for a walk or a drive and let it run wild.

One word or two?

The English language can make your head spin sometimes. Or is it some times? There are a lot of words that make writers go hmmm.

headspin

Is it onto or on to? Awhile or a while? Everyday or every dayMaybe these words are no brainers to you; or you may be fooling yourself.

If you can replace maybe with the word perhaps in your sentence, then it’s one word.

Back to the word sometimes. It means now and then.

  • Sometimes, I just want to throw up my hands and forget it all.

Sometime means some unspecified time.

  • Sometime maybe can get together and talk about life.

Some time means a while. You can replace some time with phrases such as a little while or a long time.

  • It took some time before he realized he was driving the wrong way.

How about onto versus on to?

Use on to when on acts as an adverb, and to acts as a preposition.

  • Estele grabbed on to his arm as if afraid she’d fall.
  • Harold logs on to his computer, hoping there’s free wi-fi.

Onto is a preposition meaning upon or on top of or in position of. If you can put the word up before on in the sentence and it makes sense, onto is correct.

  • He jumped onto the rock in the middle of the creek.

Onto is also used to mean in a state of awareness:

  • I’m onto your evil plans for world domination.

Everyday or every day?

Everyday is an adjective:

  • Irvin used his everyday dishes when his boss came over.

Every day:

  • Are you going to nag me every day about this?

Awhile or a while?

Use awhile as an adverb:

  • I hope you can stay awhile.

But if you add the preposition for or in, then while becomes a noun:

  • I hope you can stay for a while.
  • My father hadn’t been home in a while.

Then there’s a lot. That one is easy because there is no such thing as alot. It lives out there among the unicorns and leprechauns.

We could go on, but … If you see a word and you’ve got a funny feeling about it, look it up. Or you can contact me at I Spy Edits.

Punctuation gone wild

wild punctuation

!!! Have you ever ended a sentence with two or more exclamation points because you wanted to show your character was really, really excited?

?! Have you ever ended a sentence with a question mark and an exclamation point because you wanted to show your character was questioning and emotional?

……… Have you ever ended a sentence with ……………..? Uhm, why would you do that? Because you wanted to show your character drifted into a coma?

If you have committed any of these heinous acts against punctuation, cease and desist.

Descriptive writing, not the misuse and abuse of punctuation is the way to get your point across to the reader. You know, that whole “show don’t tell” thing? Telling it with punctuation should never be an option.

Read to better writing

Graphic

And for us writers, the best is waiting for us at the library and the bookstore.

books2

Stephen King says, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or tools) to write.”

It’s not just about reading books that teach you how to improve your craft. It’s about reading books you love and immersing yourself in the kind of books you want to write.

In The Magic Words, editor Cheryl B. Klein writes, “If you want to write well, you must get good prose and story structures into your brain so they flow naturally onto the page. You can only do that through massive amounts of reading.”

Klein shares Newbery Medal-winning author Linda Sue Park’s suggestion that aspiring children’s writers need to read at least 500 books in the age range they hope to write for before they begin.

Read, love, learn

Study the books you love. Why do you love them? What is it about the writing, the plot, the characters that make you want to turn the page and keep reading?

One writing exercise is to rewrite a chapter of a book or an entire picture book to study and absorb the prose of a well-written story.

“Massive amounts of reading” may sound like a daunting task, but if we look back on our reading history, I bet most can honestly say, “Yes, I’ve already read a massive, walloping, humongous amount of books. And it was my pleasure.”

Now all we have to do is add purpose to that pleasure.

So, treat yourself, dear writer. Turn off the TV and delete that Solitaire app on your cellphone. Linger instead among the stacks of great books—a writer’s best friends and teachers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do writers need a muse?

Merriam-Webster defines muse (noun) this way: a source of inspiration; especiallya guiding genius.

Meet my guiding genius:

troll2

Since I write children’s fiction, I always considered my own kids—or sometimes that random kid on the playground—my primary source of inspiration. They still are, but this green-haired troll has become a fixture next to my keyboard.

Inspiration

Trolls were popular when I was a kid and I had several. When I saw this tiny troll at my kids’ school book fair a number of years ago, I had to have it. He reminded me of my childhood—a time when the chasm between the kid and adult worlds seemed wider and deeper. No helicopter parenting then. If you were a kid on a bike, you were free … for hours … until the streetlights came on. When you sat down to dinner and your mom asked you what you did all day, the answer was always, “Nothing.”

Nothing, but you did everything. You explored, you navigated, got dirty, skinned your knees, made your own rules, maybe caused a little trouble or fled from it. You got lost in your own little world or in a herd of other kids. You did so much, but to recount it … to a grownup? They would think it was nothing.

But it was never nothing to a kid, and that’s what my little troll reminds me.

Dreamy thoughts

Another definition of muse (noun): a state of deep thought or dreamy abstraction. Dreamy abstraction. I like that. Preoccupied with thoughts—dreamy thoughts. What a nice way to think about writing. What a wonderful state of being.

So, whatever it takes to transport you to that dreamy abstraction … why not?

Writers write. Period.

I’m an emotional eater. Something goes wrong in life, and the next thing I know, my head is buried in a bag of chips. I don’t even bother scooping the ice cream into the bowl. I just eat the whole thing right out of the bucket.

ice cream 2

You, too? When things go wrong in life, do you feed your face but let your writing starve?Do you tell yourself: “I’m just not up to it now” … “How can I write a funny scene or an inspiring story when I’m feeling gloomy?” … “I’m too stressed to write”?

Whatever our mood, it shouldn’t determine whether we write or not. Writers write.

Writing can be the escape, the refuge, or even better, the cathartic release for whatever ails us. Instead of drowning our emotions with food, we should be releasing them through writing.

Admit it, writing gives you a sense of accomplishment, doesn’t it? More than that, writing can be euphoric. Writing is a happy pill. So, open wide and swallow it.

Think of writing as a sensible diet plan: A fat and happy writing life means you’re less likely to bury your head in a bucket of ice cream.

 

Writing when you’re not

Here is a writing tip I found: Set a timer for 45 minutes. Write. Even if you stumble and go blank, write about anything until the timer goes off. Then get up and do something else for 15 minutes: unload the dishwasher, walk around the block, watch the colors change in a sunset. Do something mindless.

brain wander

It works. Research has shown taking a little break can help you figure things out, maybe even get an aha! moment.

I have found that I do some of my best writing when I’m not hovering over my keyboard and staring at the computer screen. I’m usually watching my daughter’s softball game, driving, hiking, vacuuming the carpet, mowing the lawn. A story idea, a line in a dialogue, a scene, a character, a plot fix can suddenly pop up.

Creative stuff happens when I allow my brain to wander aimlessly. That’s why when a famous author insists her mega-hit series came to her in a dream, I kind of believe it.

Cracking the whip and demanding my brain perform on the computer screen does work, too—up to a point. Setting the timer, and then getting up to wander, that seems to be the work/play balance my writer’s brain needs.

Writing sound words

Can you hear what’s happening, dear reader?

ear2

Sound words can draw your readers into a scene.

Quick tip: Italicize sound words in your stories. 

Whomp, whomp, whomp. The helicopter hovered over the crime scene like a giant vulture.

The pitcher fired the ball toward Casey. Crrraaack! The crowd watched the ball sail over the fence. 

Plop … Plop … Plop. If the apartment manager didn’t fix that dripping faucet soon, Marge knew she’d go mad. Plop … Plop … Plop. All day. All night. Plop … Plop … Plop.