Archive for the ‘How-to’ Category

h1

Bake Mouth at 450 Degrees

April 26, 2016

Scalding

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has burned the tongue from a hot cup of coffee, or a bite of burger hot off the grill, or maybe a bit of overdone potato. But have you ever scalded your mouth from something steaming hot? I mean fresh outta the oven at 450 degrees?  So hot you can even see the steam rising? Scorched to the point of dripping, ruined flesh?

Uh, me neither.

Oh alright…I did it.

One major problem of extreme hunger is impatience. Any 5pm on a weekday is happy hour somewhere. We had intel that a great new little restaurant just opened up and had a fabulous happy hour prices on delicious food. I’m all about cheap and delicious, so off we went.

I’m a sucker for a delicious dip, so I had to order the cream cheese artichoke heart dip. Prepared fresh and baked at 450 degrees, it went straight from the oven to the table right in front of my hungry, impatient mouth. Ah, dinner time! I knew it was hot, sure. So I blew on it a little, and shoved a chip-full of it right in.

The attempted caress of air used as a stop-gap cooling method didn’t work. Nope. Not at all. With extremely poor etiquette that would cause Miss Manners to blush and glare, I expelled the offensive scorching fragment of hell right back onto my plate. But it was too late. The damage was done. At once I felt hanging chads of flesh clinging to the roof of my mouth. My tongue felt like a summer day on the Sahara. And only mass quantities of ice water soothed the burn.

Dinner wasn’t nearly as delicious after that. But it didn’t stop me from eating it after an appropriate cooling period. I learned my lesson: when the directions say ‘let sit for 5 minutes before eating’, it’s for your own damn protection.

So if this happens to you, feel free to adopt my impromptu methods below to assuage the incinerating oven that is now your mouth.

After the burn:

  1. Let Someone Know

It is important to inform the fellow diners and restaurant employees of the emergency. Do like me and with an open scorching mouth yell, “AAAAAHHH!!! GAHHH DAAANG!!! ‘AAASSS HAAAAAWWWT!!!!”

  1. Apply Ice Water

To begin immediate relief, use copious amounts of ice water. Splash the remaining 10-12 ounces of ice water from your glass inside your gaping mouth. Don’t worry about getting water on your outfit. It will dry. If possible, perhaps through the aid of your dining partner since you now cannot speak, request a trough of ice water be placed in front of you.

  1. Avoid Crunchy Foods

After the burn, it is wise to avoid crunchy foods. Do not eat that tortilla chip that came with your scalding artichoke dip. It is now a shard for which to pierce your sensitive pie hole.

  1. Eat Plenty of Ice Cream

As a form of recompense, ask the restaurant for a dish of delicious, sweet ice cream for desert. At least three scoops. Eat more when you get home. And be sure to stock up because ice cream will be your only meal for the next few days.

h1

5 Useful Motivations for Daily Writing

August 25, 2015

Write Every Day!Fiction writers do not have it easy. Unless you’re Stephen King or John Grisham who are paid advances at the mere hint of a new novel, you are expected to write “on spec”, or on your own volition with no promise of publication or reward. Writers tend to do this anyway because we have an inherent, instinctual, and obsessive need to get our ideas and stories on some kind of media.

So without the promise of a large publishing advance or even a wink that our novels will ever see the space between book covers, we have to find our own motivation for BICHOK (also known as ‘But In Chair, Hands On Keyboard’). Here are five things that can help you BICHOK more frequently:

MORNING PAGES

One of my favorite motivational gurus is Julia Cameron. For years her famous workbook, The Artist’s Way, has been rousing and inspiring writers and artists to do their best work. One of the core activities, whether a writer or other creative type, is to write down a stream of thought longhand on three pages of paper every day. She calls it Morning Pages, but some of us don’t do the hard-core morning routine and simply call it ‘Daily Pages’.

It is meant to provoke and synchronize the day and task at hand. It helps clear the mind and focus on the next task: writing your novel. Morning Pages doesn’t have to be neat. Just write about whatever’s on your mind.

A website has neatly and conveniently created an online space to do Morning Pages. The site is called 750words.com. The concept is that three handwritten pages is about an average of 750 words. Good typers (and slow writers, like me) can log on and do their morning (or daily) pages at their convenience and even save time doing it.

LEAVE YOURSELF A CLIFFHANGER

The rule of thumb for novel writers is to leave each chapter with a cliffhanger in the action so the reader is eager to move on the next chapter. You can do this trick to yourself with your writing. Before you put down your pencil or close your laptop, leave a scene in the middle of your thought. That way you will find that you are motivated to BICHOK the next day to continue to the scenes exciting conclusion.

WRITER REWARDS

Much like Visa rewards, you can set yourself up with a rewards program that provokes and excites you to BICHOK. A reward can be simple like a sweet treat, or a glass of wine or champagne after completing your daily goal. I like to motivate myself with small purchases for finishing a certain number of daily goals with a new pen, or a shiny new journal.

THE WRITER’S SANCTUARY

I find that a weekend holiday to a beach hotel, or a nice B&B is a great getaway for some focused and concentrated writing. However, we can’t have our holiday retreats every day.

A writer should set up his or her own daily writing sanctuary that is welcoming and comfortable. It can be a separate room in the house, but doesn’t need to be. A kitchen table or nook can work fine for some folks. What is important is having a welcoming space with reasonable lighting, a cozy temperature, and an appropriate comfortable chair. Additional elements might include soft background music (Mozart is renowned for helping concentration and opening channels of creativity), or even a window to a beautiful outside setting.

PARTNER UP

Finally, enlist a writing partner. If you have someone with whom you can check in, and even compare daily word counts, you have a great motivator. A little friendly competition can be a good thing that helps each of you put words down and complete a writing project. If you don’t have close friends who write, find a local writer’s club and recruit someone you can join with.

It is important for authors to get the words out of our heads. Having a space to write, and motivation to BICHOK every day will help make happy and satisfied writers. Do what you need to do so that you write every day. If you have other thoughts on daily writing motivation, I welcome them here in the comments.

Now, go write!

h1

Do You Write With Verve?

August 13, 2015

Verve

Do you write with ‘verve’? Do your readers devour your books with verve?  Do you even know what the heck is verve? Webster defines verve as:

the spirit and enthusiasm animating artistic composition or performance: VIVACITY

Other definitions include “with vigor and spirit or enthusiasm”. Synonyms include ‘zest’, ‘sparkle’, ‘charisma’, ‘brio’, ‘gusto’…and there’s a lot more but I’m running out of room for my point.

Verve is not just a descriptor of performance, but also for the expression of ideas. When you write, you are writing action, thoughts, dialogue, description, all which have to be interpreted by your reader. A reader should be swept away and immersed in the words he or she reads, as if the story is actually happening right now in their imagination.

Using verve in your writing gives the words on your page/screen more life, more animation, more oomph. Take, for instance, the following short but familiar narrative:

Old Mother Hubbard
Went to the cupboard,
To give the poor dog a bone;
When she came there,
The cupboard was bare,
And so the poor dog had none

Compare to:

The crusty, wiry-haired old dog whined under the rotting wooden table almost sounding like a whimper. Emma, the last of her nine siblings to survive past the age of 90, patted her old friend on the head, pushed herself upright from her chair, wincing with the painful effects of arthritis, and teetered to the lone cupboard in the corner. If there was any food in the modest but dusty little three-room cottage it may be found there. Emma reached up her gnarled hand, pulled the small handle, and creaked open the cupboard door. She raised herself on her tiptoes to see better, but it was no use. Not a scrap of food was left. She nodded in resigned confirmation, walked back to her chair and patted her old friend on the head again.

Does one or the other have more ‘verve’? Do you notice more animation, brio, or gusto with one narrative over the other? With all due respect to our famous nursery rhymes, the first stanza of Old Mother Hubbard tells a succinct and direct story, but it lacks verve.

The animation and life you put into your writing is what keeps a book in a readers’ hands. Don’t fall into the trap of “then this happened, and then that happened”. I found myself getting sucked into that pitfall when trying to steam ahead and write my story as quickly as possible. But in doing so I found my verve lacking considerably. I have once again found my verve and I hope you do too.

h1

How Writing a Novel is Like Pac-Man

May 18, 2015

Pac-ManSee if this sounds familiar: you’re writing a novel. You have big ideas and really get into the writing process. But your big ideas are really just general plot points and not specific details on how your character gets there. During the process your brain has to come up with thousands of choices about what your protagonist does. At a crossroads do you make him go left or right? Does he take the road less traveled to an exciting and unique adventure, or a safe path toward certain over-done cliché story lines?

I am reminded of one of my favorite video games: PAC-MAN. Pac-Man was MY game as an adolescent. I played it every chance I got. I was hooked I saved, bartered, and even sold every Star Wars action figure just to get quarters so I could play another game of Pac-Man (and am I now terribly regretful I sold of my Star Wars stuff – oy!). I was good. Really good. I won Pac-Man tournaments (which gave me more quarters just to stuff back into the video game), and I could play for hours on just a few quarters. But getting good took practice. I had to learn when to turn left, and turn right at just the right time, and memorize the patterns so I could do it again. Took a lot of trial an error.

When I write it feels like a game of Pac-Man. I have to turn right, or turn left, and see where it takes me. And eventually I make hundreds of decisions that make sense and gets me to completion. The completion, of course, is getting my hero through an impossible maze against terrible obstacles and completing his or her goal.

So get to it. Start writing and making decisions. The first choice may not always be the best, but trial and error will get you through a maze of impossible tasks to finally complete your novel.

h1

A Bookcase Full of Writing Reference Books

March 18, 2015

BookcaseI have a bookcase. A tall one. I live in the city of the world famous Powell’s Books. So yeah, my shelves are stacked and overflowing with books. One particular genre of books taking up precious space on my bookcase are those from the writing reference section. Dozens upon dozens of books face me each day as I pass by begging me to “Write That Novel”, and exclaiming, “You Can Write Romance!”. I have encouragement from Julia Cameron and her Artist’s Way (and btw, I’m counting today’s blog as part of my morning pages.) And I have all the forensic procedures and poisons I can swallow (sorry, that pun just had to happen.)

Now the big question I’m sure you are begging to ask is, “so have you read all those books?” Of course not! They’re for reference! When I need to know how to pick a poison I have just the guide. If I need a plot structure helper I know where to go. I would say I’ve read close to one-third of them. And many of them I have not even cracked open. So the point is why own so many how-to books if I don’t read them, or even open for a quick reference.

To me it is encouragement. I have succeeded in writing online articles and content, but I am committed to writing a novel. Each time I stop by Powell’s Books I browse the writing reference section to check for another used copy of a handy and helpful writing guide. A novel full of 70,000 – 100,000 words requires a bit more creative thought, planning, outlining and plotting than a simple 300-700 word article. And by a ‘bit’ I mean exponentially harder. My books are my mentor. Stephen King encourages me in his On Writing memoir. Janet Evanovich tells me How I Write and I can model her example.

Could I write without all these books? Sure I could. And so could you. But if writers didn’t need encouragement and support there would be no MFA programs in creative writing. And the Artist’s Way would never have been published. And the Writing Reference section at Powell’s would be boarded over and in its place would probably display blank journals. So I cherish my books, unopened as some of the may be. But I’m confident that when I finish my first novel the investment in my writing reference shelves will have paid off.

h1

When Do YOU Grab Time to Write?

January 29, 2013

Time running outLike most writers, I’m sure you have the same excuse: “ I just don’t have time to write!!” (extra exclamations added for emphasis). But like the X Files used to say, ‘the truth is out there’, I’d like to say, “the time is out there” .

What do I mean by that, you may ask? I expected that question so let me elaborate. Writers are high maintenance folk when it comes to their precious writing time. Myself included, I’ll admit. If I am going to work on an article or increase the word count on my novel, I want to have a long chunk of time in front of me. I like at least an hour, if not more to really focus and tune in to my theme or dialogue. But we must break through that high maintenance barrier if we choose to be a part-time writer.

The reality is that most of us have daily lives that get in the way. We zoom around town racing to work, running errands, preparing meals, chasing kids upstairs to brush teeth and get them to bed, etc. I’m sure this is sounding familiar.

If you are like the other 99% of writers, you cannot expect time to be your friend. You simply can’t expect to be awarded hours each day to spend in your luxurious and peaceful writing den. You have to take what is yours, and when you can get it. And the truth is, time is everywhere. Here are some examples:

Before Work

I like to get up a bit early each morning before work and spend 30-40 minutes on my laptop before I leave the house. Ugh, I can hear the groans already: “But I HATE waking up early!!” . No worries, then check out the other options below. But if you really want to be a writer and finish your story, you need to make and take time, which means you may sacrifice some sleep doing it.

Bus/Public Transportation

Do you take public transportation? Now there’s a prime example of wasted writing time. Though you can’t spread out like the bus is your own private office, you can jot down some notes on your pocket sized Moleskine notebook. Use that 30 minutes it takes to get downtown to continue plotting out your story, or figuring out a new scene. Jot down notes. Sketch out some new character traits.

Lunch Hour

Once or twice a week I’ll bring a brown bag lunch and my trusty notebook computer. The size is perfect for traveling to work. During my lunch I’ll claim a spot in the lunch room, plug into the iTunes, and type away. If you’ve got a laptop, notebook ‘puter, or any kind of tablet computer, you have no excuse not to use it for your writing project at lunch time.

Dr Office

How long have we all sat in a doctor or dentist office? Or other appointments like the DMV (shudder)? These are other times you can use to move forward with your novel.

Before Bed

Finally, you could switch off that TV (use DVR if you must record your favorite program) and type away for the last 30 minutes of the day. Sit in bed and bring your laptop. Assign this time of day to expand your word count by even 100 or 200 words.

As you can see, the time is out there. If you truly want to be a writer and at some point claim to be a published author, you must find the time to dedicate to your craft. Don’t let time be your enemy – take the time that is yours!

h1

Sit Down And Write

January 11, 2013

SitDownAndWrite

Yesterday I tweeted the hashtag, #sitdownandwrite. Then I thought I’d follow the hashtag to see what other tweets might include this subconscious direction. Not a single other tweet. Not one.

That surprised me. If you do a Google search for “sit down and write” you’ll get over 86 million results. Why? Because writers and authors who teach or motivate others to write like to say this as their #1 direction. Just sit down, shut up, and write.

Why is this said so frequently in published books and writing courses? Because it’s easy to procrastinate. Especially if one has a full-time job, children to take care of at home, oh, and maybe catch up on the latest Dexter episode. Understandably, life gets in the way. But the bottom line is: writers write.

I’ll admit, I’m no different. I admitted a few blog posts ago that I’m a chickenshit and getting down to writing is a complex, time-consuming, and scary proposition. But I’ve learned that what helps me sit down and write is some motivation. Here are some that might motivate you, too.

Deadlines

But back when I was writing online articles full time I had a good motivation – deadlines! Some weeks I had 30 to 50 articles assigned to me and like always I would procrastinate until they absolutely had to get done. I recall on one single day I tallied up about 25 articles totaling around 12,000 words. If I could do that every day I could write a novel almost every week! But no matter what, I always met my deadlines, which meant I had to place butt firmly in chair and ignore the signs of carpel tunnel.

Giving yourself a self-imposed deadline can help a lot. Say you want to finish your novel and have it ready to send to publishers by mid-year. That’s motivation to sit down and write at least 16,000 words each month, or 555 words per day, EVERY DAY, until then.

Schedule Your Sit Down And Write Time

For some folks it is more helpful to schedule a block of time to sit down and write. Earlybirds may want to set 30 to 60 minutes each morning at the keyboard right after they wake up. Others may want to do this the last thing before bed. Others may find that bringing a sandwich and spending 60 minutes at the laptop during lunch hour each day is the way to go.

The important thing to remember is to set a schedule that works for you, and stick to it.

Rewards

I am finding that rewards are good motivators for me. I’m a sucker for donuts, and I have a special place in my heart (and stomach) for Dove’s dark chocolate. And there’s nothing quite like a delicious local micro-brewed IPA. I allow myself to indulge these things if I reach my goals.

What do you like most? Determine that you can allow a little indulging for yourself if you just sit down and write like a good writer should.

Don’t forget that you wanted to be a writer. But nobody can call themselves a writer if they don’t sit down and write. Get to it and be proud of your results!