Friday, February 27, 2015

The Fifty-Two Seventeen Rule

I know. Sounds like a stupid made-up rule, right? Dirty trade secret: yes indeedy, sometimes I do make up stupid things and post them. But not this time. The 52/17 Rule is a bonafide concept that did not come from the back corner of my grey matter. It came from 99U, so you know it's the real deal. And no, I didn't make up that number either.

The premise of 52/17 is that humans weren't made to sit for eight hours a day working. Not only is this tough on the body, it takes its toll on productivity as well. Research shows that standing up and taking a frequent break improves productivity.

According to some research done by Julia Gifford and DeskTime, there was a clear pattern exhibited by the most productive employees. You know where I'm headed with this, right? You got it. The superstar workers put their nose to the grindstone for fifty-two minutes at a stretch, then took a seventeen minute break before getting back to it again.

Think if it in terms of sprinting. Those fifty-two minutes were spent in intense concentration, like a burst of running. That was rewarded by a break for seventeen. And no, rest does not mean trolling around on Facebook or getting sucked into email. It means give your brain a rest from the computer. Have a cup of tea. Take a stroll. Read a book.

Even if you don't have a full eight hours to devote to this little experiment, give it a whirl with the chunks of time you do have. At the very least, your eyeballs will thank you. Staring at a screen for hours on end is just a bad idea all around.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Mid-Winter Kick in the Writerly Pants

The days are grey. It's freaking cold outside. And all I really want to do is sit around in my yoga pants and eat boxes of Girl Scout Cookies. Hey, don't judge me. You know you've been there.

What I really should be doing, though, is kicking butt on my manuscript if I'm hoping to get it finished by summer. Somewhere along the way, though, I lost my motivation. I think it might be outside, on the far corner of the porch, underneath the frozen pile of Christmas lights I haven't yet put away. What to do? Make a list, of course . . .

5 Ways to Gain Momentum When You're in a Writerly Slump

Read
Dive into a well-written book. Reading great writing inspires your own great writing. Then pull off a crappy book from the shelf. A real wing-dinger of a gag-inducing I-can't-believe-this-ever-got-published kind of book. You can usually find these on the bottom of a rack at Goodwill. Read it. This will fan the flames of your sweet-mercy-I-can-write-better-than-that reflex, and you'll be off and running in no time.

Meditate
Don't worry. I'm not advocating some wackadoodle yoga pose or mumbling of any sort. Just take a few moments to think about where you're story is headed and allow yourself to get excited about it. That helicopter crash you've got planned? Yeah! Ka-blooey, baby! Or the upcoming boy-wins-girl scene? Warmth and fuzziness. Spend some time with your characters in your mind, because if you're expecting your readers to hang out with them, then you should too.

Research
Sometimes all it takes is a new idea to spur your story into a full-out gallop. Where will you find that new idea? Google it. Search the ol' web for something related to your plot or era. You may come across something cool to include. In my recent release, Brentwood's Ward, this happened when I discovered Bramah Locks and that no one was able to pick one for over fifty years. I wondered what would happen if my hero discovered that one had and bam-o. New plot twist.

Exercise
I know. I see you, darting your eyes everywhere except at this paragraph. You were really hoping I'd skip over this, hmm? Trust me. I hate this one as much as you do, but doggone if hiking my butt outside for a walk, even when it's cold, doesn't give me a whole new perspective.

Write
Go to a library, a coffee shop, or the writerly nook where you know you're most likely to be able to crank out something. Turn off the internet. No emails. No tweets. No Trivia Crack or Candy Crush. Then write. Yep. That simple. Keep your heinie in the chair for at least two hours. I don't care if you have to stare at a blank screen for the first hour and fifty-five minutes **lifts two jedi-fingers in the air and swirls them around all Obi-wan style** you will accomplish some kind of word count.

So there you have it, Sparky. Step away from the Girl Scout Cookies and get cracking.
Don't make me come over there.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

What's in Your Attic?

It's nearly that time of year to haul out the ol' bucket and mop for spring cleaning. I know. Eew, right? I suspect that the only thing of value I might uncover is a few coins stuck in the couch cushions. Or maybe I'll find that earring I lost awhile ago. But I probably won't unearth anything like a fella over in Scotland recently found.

Eighty-year-old Walter Elliot was nosing around in his attic, rifling through things, and discovered a 48-page booklet he'd forgotten he'd even owned. No wonder. It had been up there for more than fifty years. But what a find . . . the first unseen Sherlock Holmes story since the last was published over eighty years ago.

Sherlock Holmes: Discovering the Border Burghs and, by deduction, the Brig Bazaar is a short story that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote as a means to help build a bridge in the town of Selkirk, Scotland. The bridge was wiped out by a flood in 1902, and in 1904, locals banded together and organized a three-day event to raise funds to rebuild. Part of that event included selling a collection of short stories written by villagers called The Book o' the Brig. Conan Doyle loved visiting the area and agreed to contribute a 1300 word tale for their collection.

Along with a painting of the replaced bridge, the booklet will be on show at the Cross Keys Selkirk Pop-up Community Museum. Is anyone besides me getting a freakish cartoon bubble in their mind for that museum? What the heck is a "Pop-up" Museum? 

Whatever, I think I'll go poke around in my attic and see if I can find anything other than spiders.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

No Agent . . . No Problem

I awoke to -9 today, as in freeze-my-patootie-off-fahrenheit. Thank the Lord and pass the potato salad -- whatever that means -- February is almost in the rearview mirror. Woo-hoo! The Ides of March will soon be upon us. So will great hoards of green grease-painted Irishmen, all wobbly and drunk. But neither of these is as exciting as . . .

Drum roll, please.
Ear-splitting cymbal crash.
Tooty horns doot-doot-dooting.

A Fortnight of Open Submissions at Tinder Press! 

Yee-haw and hot dang! And don't slip on all the confetti because I won't be held responsible for broken hips, especially if you're a drunk Irishman.

Here's the deal . . .

Headline imprint Tinder Press will celebrate two years of publishing by opening submissions for unagented manuscripts for two weeks in March, beginning on the 2nd. They'll be open to accept fifty pages, an outline, and an author biography from previously unpublished writers of fiction ranging from short stories to novels. For further details, click here.

So, why am I posting this now instead of on March 2nd? To give you a headstart, kiddo. Drag out that manuscript wasting away in a drawer. Spitshine it. And while you're at it, zing up that proposal as well. You never know . . . you might be the next Tinder Press bestselling author.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Insecurity: The Bane of All Writers

Recently one of my writing buddies shot me an email. If I named the person, you'd know who it is, the name is that well-known. It's a multi-published author who's won many awards and is a well-received speaker. Here's the gist of the note:

"I don't believe in myself anymore. 
I don't believe in my writing."

If you're like me, you're like, "What? Dude! Are you freaking kidding me? Newbie writers would pull teeth to write like you. You are a rock star of an author!"

Surprised? Shouldn't be. Doubt is the monkey on every artist's back, whether you're a writer, an actor, a red clay pottery whizz, whatever. Every artist stops dead in their tracks at the self-doubt crossroads. (click to tweet)

The choice is to go left and quit. Hang up your writerly hat. Kiss it all goodbye and do something else. Or you can plod along on the right path, writing down stupid words that look stupid, sound stupid, maybe even are stupid, but you keep trying because it's who you are, what you were made to be. 

Believe it or not, doubt is the mark of a true artist. Only wannabes and posers are puffed up with confidence and pride. Real artists anguish over and struggle with creating the best work possible, and sometimes that gets messy.

The bottom line is that it's not about you. It's not about writing. It's all about God and the gift He's given you. Whether you believe that you're gifted or not is quite another issue.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Psalm 46:10














Today's Neighborhood: Devotional

How much of life is a blur?
Did I stop to watch the snow fall,
admire the size and shape of the flakes stinging my cheeks,
listen to the crunch of boot on frozen earth?
Why do I whizz past and ignore the awesome gifts
You hand over to me -- willingly -- each day?
What a slap in the face.
And I am horrified it is my hand
that leaves the red mark behind
mars the brow
drives the nail
yet even so You give freely,
abundantly.

Faithfully.

Stay my hand today
open my eyes
slow my running feet.
Sometimes there are snowy days.
Help me to admire each flake.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Is it Heroic to Lie?

I really liked Divergent. Strong female lead. Buff and handsome hero. Plenty of action, plot twists and an ending that left me wanting more. I'm nearly finished with the second in the series, Insurgent, and you know what? Not liking it nearly as much.

Oh, there's the same wham-bam shoot-em-up edge-of-your seat type of suspense, and the hero is still drool worthy. It's the main character, Tris, who's leaving a sour taste in my mouth. In fact, it's getting to the point that I flat out don't like her. Why? Because she lies. Not just once, but several times over. It's fine with me if villains don't tell the truth. In fact, I expect it. But how can a reader look up to a heroine who lies like a meth addict?

Answer: you can't. But that's not the only reason a lying main character is a bad idea . . .

5 Handy Dandy Reasons Your Hero Should Never Lie

1. You lose a reader's trust.
Not only does lying ruin the relationship between the main character and other characters, it causes a rift between reader and hero. Most people don't trust someone in real life who's deceitful. Why would they hand over that trust to a fictional character that's shown to lie?

2. The protagonist is a role model.
Like it or not, a hero is a role model. Readers want someone they can cheer for. Unless you're a psychopath, rooting for a liar goes against the grain of humanity. Good people don't lie. Bad ones do.

3. It's the coward's way out.
Generally one lies because it's easier than facing a particular consequence. Does that sound very heroic to you? It won't to your reader, either.

4. It corrupts the hero.
Telling lies is habit forming. If a character indulges in this form of wrong-doing, he might become more comfortable with wrong-doing in general. And that, my friends, is a trait of an antagonist, not a protagonist.

5. It feels like cheating.
When an author causes a hero to lie, the reader is cheated. Why didn't the author do the hard work of figuring out a different route to accomplish the plot twist without causing the hero to lie? Sniff, sniff. Smell that? Smells an awful lot like lazy writing.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that a hero can never lie. Maybe he does and then is torn up with grief over it, eventually admitting and owning up to the consequences. That could be workable, but again, it's going to take a LOT of work to reel that reader back in.

There's still a chance in the third book of the Divergent series that the author can redeem Tris's lying and yank me back as a fan, but it will take some fancy writerly footwork to make that happen. And honestly, why risk losing a reader in the first place?
 
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