The Physical Writer

It’s the first Wednesday of the month, and time to talk about writing – literally. As writers, we spend a lot of time inside our own heads. We value our mental strength, the size of our imaginations; and are generally less concerned about being physically fit or impressive. The pen being mightier than the sword, we focus on exercising our brains, sometimes at the expense of our bodies.

All well and good but, like most things, this attitude can be taken too far. Just as the greatest athletes and body-builders need to train their minds, writers and artists need to take care of their bodies. After all, even if our stories live and grow in the mind, we need some way to communicate those stories to the physical world. Since brain-reading technology is still in its infancy, we rely on pens, keyboards and the like to bridge the gap between the minds of the writer and the reader.

Hello, hand cramp. Or, for those who prefer speech-to-text software, sore throats. Not to mention tight shoulders and lower back pain from poor posture; or eye-strain headaches from staring fixedly at unco-operative words day and night. The occupational illnesses of a writer are insidious, and tend to be things that we brush off lightly when we are young and fit. Well, spoilers: They still get you in the end. Caffine and pain-killers are the quick-fix solution, for when you are racing a deadline, or trying to work through a killer cramp. But it’s better to avoid the pain in the first place, if at all possible. A few small stretches and exercises throughout the day can work wonders.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER – PLEASE READ!!      

I am neither a doctor nor a trained physiotherapist. All I can do is share what I’ve been able to research, and say how well it works for me. If you have existing health trouble, or even an old injury, be sure to consult a professional before attempting the exercises in this post. And, EVEN IF YOU ARE IN GOOD HEALTH, take the stretches and exercises only as far as your body will allow.

Note: This is not an “office workout” – there are plenty of those available online if you’re interested. Most of these moves are not exercises at all, simply stretches. If you have the time, energy and inclination, then these stretches can lead into more vigorous exercises. However, they don’t have to. The idea is just to loosen up and prevent stiffness.

1. Wrists and hands

Hands and armsLift your hands from the keyboard and make a fist. Squeeze for a couple of seconds, then shake out both hands, making sure to stretch your fingers, and get plenty of movement in your wrists. Splay your fingers wide and hold for two seconds. Repeat at least twice.

2. Neck and shoulders

Head and ShouldersRoll your shoulders backwards to counter the effect of hunching over your desk. If you can, lift your arms and do a mid-air backstroke to really unwind your shoulder blades. Let your neck go with the movement, looking up and down, left and right. DO NOT roll your neck right round – stick with half-turns. Finally, shake out your arms, and tilt your head left and right, as if you were trying to touch your ears with your shoulders.

3. Back and legs…

Time to get up, and get down. Get up from your chair and lie down on the floor, flat on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. Keeping your head, shoulders, and lower back firmly on the floor, and your knees together, twist your legs so that your knees are on your right side. Don’t pull a muscle by trying to push them further than they’ll go, just twist to the right, then the left. Make sure to keep your back still and flat. This should help undo any tension that builds up in your lower back.

If you can’t lie down (or don’t fancy your chances of getting up again without help) you can try a variation of this stretch that you do standing up in a doorway.

Back and LegsStand in the doorway with your back to the hinges, feet shoulder-width apart, looking at the door jamb. The door is there to give you a frame (hah) of reference, to make sure you don’t tip forwards or backwards. Twist your upper body, keeping one hand on the door jamb at all times. Don’t try to twist too far, just turn to gently stretch the muscles in your back. SLOWLY turn the other way. Repeat no more than four times.

Whichever stretch you do, take the long way back to your chair – give your legs a chance to move a bit.

4. Posterior…

No picture for this one, because it’s an invisible stretch (almost). Clench your buttocks like you were trying to hold off using the toilet, count to four and relax. Repeat as often as you remember. This is a great way to avoid stiffness in your hips, and prevent pressure from building on your tail bone.

5. Eyes…

Preventing Eye-strainEvery hour or so, close your eyes for thirty seconds, then open them and look at something as far away as you can. If you don’t have a line of sight on anything far away, then close your eyes again and imagine yourself stargazing, or bird-watching – anything to get your eyes to focus on distance, rather than close-up. This can help reduce eye-strain, and who knows? You might see something in the distance that inspires a new piece of writing!

6. Feet and Ankles…

Lift your feet from the floor and roll your ankles a few times, clockwise and anti-clockwise. If you can, hold both feet off the floor for a moment. This is another stretch that you can do without interrupting your writing.

For more stretches and exercises, see: http://www.wikihow.com/Exercise-While-Sitting-at-Your-Computer.

Be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day, and eat healthily – which means different things for different people. There isn’t a “right way” to health and fitness, any more than there’s a “right way” to write a novel. It’s about finding your own style, and refining it. Following this advice won’t give you killer abs and toned thighs; that’s not the purpose of exercise for a writer. What it may do, though, is give you enough physical and mental energy to let your brilliant thoughts flow more easily from your brilliant mind to your brilliant prose, or poetry, or blog post.

May your writing be as painless as possible or, if there must be agonies, let them be of the creative soul, not the body.

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The (Revised) Plan

I had a plan. It was a good plan, and I was all set to follow it. Then life happened, and… yeah. Well, this is the last Wednesday – in fact, the last day – of 2014, so that makes it time for a look back (briefly) and a look ahead.

What Went Wrong

To quote my sponsor, Ember Rain, from Writing.Com:

“You went into this hoping you would win but not really expecting it.”

This pretty much sums up my entire year. I faced a lot of minor challenges, and each missed target sapped my energy for the next. I loaded all my failures onto my back and tried to take on yet another challenge – NaNoWriMo. My failure was not unexpected – and that’s the problem. As Ember Rain very kindly didn’t say, I set myself low targets and consistently failed to achieve them. With this model, failure is virtually guaranteed.

So, next year, my motto will be: “Shoot for the moon; even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” Of course, my brain – being the dangerous cynic that it is, immediately adds, “…or, you could fail to achieve escape velocity and burn up on re-entry”. Because my brain has no concept of when to shut up.

Last time, I also leapt into the plan with my posts outlined, but not written ahead of time. This was a mistake, and is the reason why most of next month’s posts have been written in the last week of December, needing only status updates and last-minute checks before they go out into the virtual world.

The New Schedule

As before, the plan is to update this blog every Wednesday, with a different theme for each week of the month, like so:

Week One: Writing
– Anything from SPaG mechanics to motivation tricks

Week Two: Reading
– A review or two of what I’m currently reading

Week Three: Story-telling
– In any medium, the principles of telling a good story remain the same

Week 4: Free day
- When there are five Wednesdays in a month, this is the “extra” day.

Last Week: Summary
– Look back, look ahead. Speaking of which…

January

Writing goals:

  • 2k new words per day
  • 6 hours editing per week
  • 3 hours research per week

Current projects: Fragments and Silver Tongue

Other goals:

Well, that’s the plan. Will it survive contact with the new year? Only time will tell. See you next Wednesday for some thoughts on writing.

Posted in Blogging, Challenges, Life | Tagged , | 1 Comment

4.1 Building Outwards

RoW80 update, week one:

  1. Reviews written – None. Oops…
  2. NaNo Prep tasks – mostly done, although some of them are late entries
  3. Update this blog – done. Writing right up to the deadline, but here it is…

As it’s the second Wednesday of the month, it’s time for some writing advice. This month is about “building outwards”, a technique I’ve been using unconsciously for ages, but only recently tried to put into words.

Most stories begin with an idea – a theme, a scene, even a single image. As you work on the story, you will change many things, but that initial spark will probably remain almost intact. This is one of the story cores. The other core is the climax of your story. These two cores may be very close, or miles apart, yet between them they form the heart and soul of your story.

I’m currently outlining Silver Tongue, the tale of Long John Silver. My two cores are actually quite far apart, as they form the bookends of John’s adventures in piracy. The spark idea was “How did he become a pirate?” coupled with speculation on how and when he lost his leg. The climax of his story is the moment that he decides to save Jim and fight against his fellow pirates. With these two points as my anchors, I can build a coherent arc for John’s actions, beliefs and behaviour. But even though my cores come towards the edges of my narrative, I’m still “building outwards” when I use them as anchors. I need to establish John’s early life, before he became a pirate, or even went to sea. I also need to show where he went after he disappeared from the Hispaniola, and how his decision changed him. Then comes the really difficult bit – bridging the gap between the two core moments. I need to make every point on the arc as smooth as possible; every change needs to feel at least plausible, preferably inevitable.

Timeline showing the two core moments of "Silver Tongue"

I’m outlining this novel using a mixture of the NaNo Prep calendar and a modified version of the Snowflake Method. I’ve also looked into the three-, four- and five-act structures, as well as “phases” and the “Three Acts, Nine Blocks, 27 Chapters” template. Building outwards isn’t a method of outlining as such, nor is it intended to take the place of any of these existing guides. Instead, it suggests a starting place within these structures, and that starting place isn’t necessarily the beginning (or the end) of the story.

I have to admit, I’m not an exclusive fan of any one method of outlining. Each story is different, and as such needs a slightly different approach. If you want to see vehement defenders in actions, search for “compare three four five act structure” (without the quotes), and watch as each advocate tears the other methods to pieces. Then make up your own mind.

I find it useful to run the first stage of a few different outlining methods on any new story. Once I’ve spent a couple of hours doing that, the best fit is usually obvious. By identifying the anchor points, I can usually make a broad-brush outline quite easily, then find the right structure to help me fill in the details.

Over to you guys – how do you get into a new story? Do you make it all up as you go, or do you plan in advance? Comments are open.

Posted in Fiction, The Art and the Craft, Writing | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

RoW80 Round Four Goals

 photo ROW80Badge.jpg
Hi, people. RoW80 is about to launch the final round of 2014, and that means getting my act together and deciding on my goals of this quarter.

  1. Update this blog every Wednesday, with the following monthly schedule.
    • Week 1 = Recommended read (free online)
    • Week 2 = Writing advice
    • Week 3 = Recommended read (to buy)
    • Week 4 = Look back, look ahead
    • Week 5 (occasional) = Original story or poem

    With a good buffer, I should be able to keep to this update schedule.

  2. Outline and write the first draft of Silver Tongue

    Silver Tongue will then be put aside for editing, sometime in the spring.

  3. Review at least one piece a week over at Writing.Com
    • Start with the people who have sent me reviews
    • Then, look for review requests (listed on the front page)

Reviews on other sites, and comments on blogs, are encouraged, but not required for this goal.

As well as participating in RoW80, I have listed these goals over at WDC as part of their “Slave Drivers” challenge. I’ll be reporting my successes and failures there every week, as well as here. I’ll also be posting my responses to the NaNo Prep challenge in my WDC portfolio.

As this is the first Wednesday in the month, here is my recommended free-to-read fiction: Heavenly Nostrils. This charming newspaper-style comic chronicles the adventures of young Phoebe and her unicorn friend, Marigold Heavenly Nostrils. The two of them take turns to hold the maturity baton, each having her own foibles and predicaments. Phoebe’s parents, school friends (and enemies) make regular appearances, and we get to meet a few of Marigold’s friends and relations along the way. Read the current strip, or go through the archives from the beginning.

Enjoy! See you next Wednesday.

Posted in Blogging, Challenges | Tagged , , ,

I never said WHICH Wednesday…

Hi! How’s July treating you? It’s the time of year for extremes, either hot or cold, so I hope you’re all coping. I’ve spent most of the last ten days in front of a fan, drinking water by the litre, and generally trying to work without dying of heat stroke.

Speaking of work, I’d better report on my RoW80 progress. Pretty good, although not brilliant. I’ve written something every day (not 1,500 words, but still something), and submitted “The History of Haplow House” to my first agent. I’m preparing the letter for the second one now. Meanwhile, my Duolingo streak stands at 50+ days, and I’ve been getting more involved with my local writers’ groups. The only thing I haven’t managed is online reviews; I’ve even stayed on top of my email (just about!)

I had to adjust my Camp Nanowrimo goal in order to avoid abject failure, but since I’ve been editing as well I feel that 16k of a new novel is still a decent achievement. It looks like I’ll be spending the rest of the summer getting “Fragments” written, before moving on to “Silver” as my 2014 NaNovel. I’ll edit “Fragments” in January, and hopefully be able to start posting it here in February or March.

Yes, I’ll be posting a story for free on my blog for all you lovely people who have been so encouraging in your comments, likes and follows. By the time I post the first scene, I’ll have the draft written and edited, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be taking your feedback into account. Getting honest, helpful criticism from readers is how I improve as a writer – although I reserve the right to ignore flames and trolls.

I’ll tell you more about the story as we get closer to launch. That’s still five or six months away – which is good, because I haven’t finished writing it yet!

 

Posted in Challenges, Fiction, Getting published, Prose, Writing | Tagged , ,

RoW80 Round Three Goals

I read Kait Nolan’s post for today, and it triggered a train of thought that has been lurking in my hind brain for a while. It took some time for me to get a good enough hold on the thought to pin in down to words, but it eventually yielded this: If you don’t value your own work, nobody else will.

I don’t mean that you have to be an evil diva and declare yourself the greatest artist since the dawn of time, but you do need to recognise what is good about your creations, not just what is bad. If you are putting your work out there, whether to sell or for free on the internet, you can’t be timid about it. Saying “I’m afraid it’s not very good,” won’t make strangers say, “Oh, I’m sure it is really!” They are much more likely to say, “Oh, it isn’t? I won’t bother with it then.” The open market is not the best place to fish for compliments; people are choosing where to spend their money and/or time, and most of them aren’t too bothered about pandering to an artist’s ego.

To use a concrete example: I know someone who makes beautiful, hand-sewn bags, often with matching scarves or other accessories. She has tried selling them at various craft fairs, but never had a very good response. Her reaction to this was to bring the prices down, but she still didn’t sell many – and she was effectively working for free once she’d covered the cost of the materials. I have tried to persuade her to price the bags higher, but she is sure that it will simply put people off. I eventually went to a shop in town and bought a handmade bag, very similar to the kind she makes. It is small and simple, and (frankly) not quite as good as hers, yet it was priced the same as a high street handbag. I’m going to take this bag, complete with price tag, and show it to my friend just to prove that you can – and should – sell things for what they’re worth. Since I know she’ll need some convincing, I’m going to test out my reasoning on you guys.

  1. If you price your stuff too low, people are going to wonder what’s wrong with it.
  2. It might be a labour of love, but making things is still labour, and you’ve got to live.
  3. Your product (and your time, skills and brilliance) are valuable, and the price should reflect that.

OK, I lied. This line of reasoning is for my friend, but it’s also for me. Because I am just as guilty as any other writer, artist or designer when it comes to undervaluing and apologising for my own work. Looking back through my April posts, and my attempts at poetry, I find over and over variations on “I’m not very happy with this one,” or “It’s not a very good poem,” sometimes even within the poems themselves! If I’m going to convince my friend to value her own work, then I need to set a good example. My RoW80 round three goals therefore are:

  • Write at least 1,500 words a day (This should get “Fragments” finished)
  • Review a least two pieces a week (one online and one at my writers’ group)
  • Answer letters and emails within three days of receipt (even if it’s just a brief acknowledgement)
  • Contact one agency a week with “The History of Haplow House”.

AND…

  • Stop putting myself down. (At least in public. My inner critic is probably here to stay)

That’s it. Thanks for reading and commenting on this sporadic and rambling piece of nonsense I call a blo- er, I mean, See you Wednesday for the first check-in!

Posted in Blogging, Challenges, Writing

Fall Down Several Times…

Well, that was interesting. Life ambushed me, but in a nice way – being busy with family and friends beats being busy with stress and sniffles any day. Sorry I abandoned you again though, especially after building up all that momentum in April. Those of you who are subscribed may find yourself getting a barrage of update emails soon, as I’m going to finally post those missing April drafts. They’re written, but I never got around to actually putting them up. I’m not sure what effect back-dating a post has on notifications. Maybe you’ll get back-dated emails?

RoW80 round 3 starts on July 7th, so expect a goals-post soon. Meanwhile, it’s July and that means Camp NaNo is back in town. So far, so good – I’m on track with my personal schedule, and I’m confident about the path my story is taking. And if – or maybe that should be when – things start to get hard, I just need to roll with the fall and get up again. And again, and again. Can’t keep a stubborn fool down.

Posted in Life | 1 Comment

Sunday Summary: May You All be Celebrating a Successful April

Final Summary: May You All Be Celebrating a Successful April
(An abecedarian)

And at last, I am all caught up. So, I didn’t manage to post each letter on the correct day but I did write all 26 posts during the month of April, as well as four Sunday summaries. I didn’t manage to write my novel, but I did reach my (modified) goal and built up my outline. I didn’t learn a whole new language, but I did study every day, even when I really didn’t want to. So, all things considered, I’ll count this April as a moderate win. Go me!

Whether you are consoling yourself over missed targets, pulling out a last-minute victory, or celebrating a run-away success, may you all be enjoying the new month, and what it has to offer. For my part, I bring you an abecedarian in honour of the April A-Z blogging challenge. This marks the end of my descent into poetry – although the occasional verse may show up in the future. There is certainly enough material available for me to devote another April to a poetic A-Z and not repeat myself, but it’s probably time to move on and get back to my neglected novels.

An April Abecedarian

April draws to a close, and brings
Bright May, along with other things
Cast off all thoughts of winter’s gloom
Delphiniums are now in bloom!
(Except in the Antipodes,
Fair summer’s had it’s too-short lease)

Good to see so many bloggers
Holding out from A to Z
Inexperienced and vet’ran
Jointly sharing what we’ve read.
…                (Those who say it “A to Zee” / Jointly share in what they see)

Keeping to the theme and letter,
Looking to make good posts better,
Making changes after midnight,
Nothing ever seems to be right,
Oversleeping, missing deadlines,
Patching holes, back-dating archives,

Quitting seems the only option
Reaching from so far behind
Stubborn will to keep on going
To regain some peace of mind

Understandably frustrating
Veritable undertaking
With ‘X’ and ‘Z’ words to be found,
(“Xenophile” was my workaround)
Yes, I have had some trouble, yet A-
Zest for life makes most things better.

Posted in Blogging, Challenges, Poetry, Writing | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

The fundamental interconnectedness of all things

(with thanks to Dirk Gently for the title)

I have just completed a month-long exploration of the art of poetry, with a view to improving my skills as a novelist. This may seem odd, but as I explained at the start, there are connections between prose and poetry that serve to improve any writer’s technique. For this year’s BADD post I will go a step further, and say that if you look hard enough, you will find a connections everywhere.

Wait, surely I’ve wondered off into the realms of abstract philosophy here? What does any of this have to do with Blogging Against Disablism Day? It’s simple: disablism, or any -ism for that matter, stems from a single piece of flawed thinking: seeing other people as “less” in some way. Putting a barrier in your mind between “us” and “them”, where “us” really means just “me”.

A graph comparing what we think is important, against what we say is important.  Not scientifically tested.

xkcd-inspired numberless graph.

That is not to say that everyone is the same. We’re not. We’re all different, and that’s not a bad thing. We have different strengths and weaknesses, different abilities and responsibilities. Different talents, and different interests. But we need to treat each other as equals where is matters – inside our own heads.

Stamping out disablism means more than getting people to stop using offensive language, or making places accessible to everyone. It won’t be really gone until we stop thinking in terms of “us and them”; not just putting on a socially acceptable mask but actually thinking differently. Change has to happen from the inside, and that takes more than ramps and open subtitles.

Don’t get me wrong: ramps, open subtitles, plain-English information, braille signposts, and educating the public in matters such as how to react to an epileptic fit, or recognise a stroke – these are all positive things, and I’m not belittling the work it has taken to get them. But until we stop seeing these measures as “for those kinds of people” and start seeing them as “making the world better for everyone”, we will still have a problem with disablism.

Posted in Blogging, Life | Tagged , | 2 Comments

ZaniLa Rhyme

The letter ZThe ZaniLa Rhyme is a form created by Laura Lamarca. Each verse (minimum three verses, no maximum) has four lines, with the rhyme scheme xaxa, and lengths 9/7/9/9. The third line contains internal rhyme, and is repeated in every verse. The nine syllables of the line are split into two phrases, either 4 and 4 with a linking work, or a 4/5 split. These two phrases form the internal rhyme, and are swapped around as they are repeated in each verse. For a 4-and-4 example, see here. I’ve gone with a 4/5 split instead.

With BADD coming up, I’ve been reviewing some of the posts from years past. One of my favourites is “The Gorilla in Your House“, which grew out of a discussion on the old “Ouch” message boards. Some of the highlights of that thread are quoted in the comment from ‘Mary’, here.

Compare and contrast “The Spoon Theory” by Christine Miserandino.


Gorilla

What you’ve got here, is a gorilla
Can’t be more helpful than that
Learn to train it, you can’t contain it
Neglected gorillas stomp you flat

It’s in your life now, this gorilla
What you do next’s up to you
You can’t contain it; learn to train it
There’s not much else anyone can do.

I know you don’t want the gorilla
But it’s decided to stay
Learn to train it, you can’t contain it
Or wrestle the beast out of the way

It’s a three-hundred pound gorilla,
People are going to stare
You can’t contain it; learn to train it
You can’t just pretend that it’s not there

So go on and train your gorilla
You’ll find it well worth the strife
Learn to train it, you can’t contain it
But you can still get on with your life.

Posted in Challenges, Poetry