Writing Advice

Why A Daily Writing Habit Improves Your Life

14 October 2018

From Medium:

One of the most important habits that I’ve formed in my life is daily writing.

. . . .

I recommend that to everyone because of these 5 reasons:

  1. Better self-discipline
    Living a life of pleasure is simple. Everyone can “Netflix and chill.” It’s easy to “hang out” all the time. But those easy things will not give you inner satisfaction. The reason that we don’t do anything useful with our precious time is that we lack self-discipline. But when you write every day, you strengthen your discipline. You can use that better self-discipline to achieve virtually anything in life.
  2. Improving you persuasion skills
    Writing is nothing more than persuading the reader with words. But your tools are limited — you can only use words to tell a story. And when you write for yourself, you’re trying to convince yourself of your own thoughts. So the more you write, the better you become at persuasion.
  3. Cultivating self-awareness
    Nothing will help you to get to know yourself more than translating your thoughts into words. When you force yourself to write every day, you automatically become more aware of your thoughts. And self-awareness is one of the most important skills that predict career success.
  4. Better decision making
    Too often, we do something without fully understanding why we do it. Think about it. How often do you answer “I don’t know” when someone asks you “Why did you do that?” That’s the sign of weak thinking. Sure, we don’t know everything. But we must aware of that too. And when you write about your decision-making process, you will automatically become more aware of the “why.”
  5. Seeing the power of compounding in action
    When you do something every day, you don’t notice any difference at that moment. You think, “Where are the benefits?” But when you keep doing it for a long time, the positive effects compound. Writing every day will demonstrate the power of compounding like very few other things can.

Link to the rest at Medium

10 Questions Answered by Writers on their Writing Life

5 October 2018

From The Writing Cooperative:

 

  • 44% of writers regularly work on their novel on more than one device.
  • 58% of writers still use Microsoft Word as a regular part of their writing toolkit.
  • 34% of writers say they write Science Fiction or Fantasy.
  • 6% of writers say they write Literary fiction.
  • 20% or writers are part of an offline writers group.
  • Private Facebook groups dominate online writing communities.
  • Romance is the second most popular genre for writers.

. . . .

The first question, aimed at identifying the professional status of the writer, showed that 53% of respondents had published or self-published a novel or short story. A further question showed that over 85% of respondents were currently working on a novel or short story. The answers to these two questions highlight the fact that the writers surveyed were, for the most part, professionals rather than wannabe writers or dreamers — they were actively working on new novels and many had already reached the publishing stage at least once.

. . . .

Q4. Do you regularly work on your novel on more than one device?

Of all the questions asked in this survey, we consider this to be the most important for software developers like ourselves as we strive to build better products for writers. When PageFour was first built way back in 2005, much of the world was still struggling with dial up connections — broadband was making inroads but only slowly and storing personal data on the cloud was not even an idea. Almost everyone worked on a single PC or Mac and working on multiple devices was for pure techies.

We were expecting that a large majority of writers would be working on a single lap-top and that maybe 10% or so would be syncing across a second device — possibly a desktop / lap-top combination.

Yet 44% of respondents say they work regularly on their novel on more than one device. In a few years that figure could rise to 70% or even 80%. What then for single-platform software or software that does not automatically sync data with a central cloud repository?

Microsoft Word is cross-platform, comes with apps for iOS and Android and syncs with your own OneDrive account. Multi-platform, multi-device — everything a modern writer needs apart from the fact that it’s Word and not software designed for creative writers. Scrivener — the market leader for creative writing software — has Mac and Windows versions as well as an iOS app, but it does not store your novel in one location and it does not keep your novel in sync across devices — for this it relies on the user to configure and use Dropbox accounts separately — and carefully.

Our own new software, Atomic Scribbler, specifically warns against working on a project from within a cloud folder, as corruption of the project can happen easily in such an environment.

Food for thought here to be sure. The biggest stumbling block we see with building cross-platform software for writers that fully utilises central cloud storage is marrying the reluctance of consumers (writers) to pay a monthly or yearly fee for their software with the necessity of such recurring fees for the development of the cloud based software they seem to want.

Link to the rest at The Writing Cooperative and thanks to Bill for the tip.

Research tools for crime and thriller writers

30 September 2018
Comments Off on Research tools for crime and thriller writers

From The Parlour:

If you’re including authentic technical or procedural information in your crime writing, you’ll be wearing your research hat. Your story should come first, of course. However, be sure to get your facts straight before you decide if and how far you’re going to bend reality.

. . . .

My brushes with the law have been limited to bad parking. Still, I know a few coppers socially, and it’s to them I’d head for procedural guidance in the first instance.

If you know a police officer, a forensic anthropologist, a crime-scene investigator, a barrister, or whatever, ask them if you can pick their brains. They’ll have expert subject knowledge and insights, and your talking with them face to face could be the most powerful tool of all.

If you don’t have existing contacts, ask your friends for theirs or put a call out on social media. A writer recently requested help from munitions experts via the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) Facebook group. Several commenters provided advice and one offered to put her in touch with an expert.

. . . .

In a bid to improve relations between the police service and the public, some larger forces now operate ride-along schemes that allow members of the public to patrol with an officer. In the UK, these include Avon & Somerset, Nottinghamshire, Essex, Lincolnshire, Lancashire, Humberside and Warwickshire Police.

. . . .

How about TV and movies? Your favourite crime dramas and fiction might have been meticulously researched. Then again, they might not. In ‘Five Rules for Writing Thrillers’ David Morrell urges writers to do the research but to use caution:

‘You don’t need to be a physician or an attorney to write a medical thriller or a legal thriller, but it sure helps if you’ve been inside an emergency ward or a courtroom. Read non-fiction books about your topic. Interview experts. If characters shoot guns in your novel, it’s essential to fire one and realize how loud a shot can be. Plus, the smell of burned gunpowder lingers on your hands. Don’t rely on movies and television dramas for your research. Details in them are notoriously unreliable. For example, the fuel tanks of vehicles do not explode if they are shot. Nor do tires blow apart if shot with a pistol. But you frequently see this happen in films.’

Morrell talks more about how research makes him ‘a fuller person’ and how he learned to fly in order to create an authentic pilot for his book The Shimmer. The expense of a pilot’s licence will probably be out of reach for the average self-publisher. YouTube could be the solution.

. . . .

There are thousands of hours’ worth of real-life video footage on YouTube. You can learn from experts about how a body decomposes, how an autopsy is carried out, how a forensic sketch artist works, and how to clean up a crime scene.

And there are lectures on the science of blood spatter, computer forensics, investigation techniques, and forensic imaging. You name it, it’s probably there.

Link to the rest at The Parlour and thanks to Shirl for the tip.

5 surprising ways your office is influencing your brain

26 September 2018

Not precisely the situation in which many writers find themselves but PG took a look at his surroundings after reading it.

From Fast Company:

You probably know that your office setup plays a considerable part in your productivity. Poorly lit offices, for example, can have a negative impact on your memory. Those of you who work in open offices probably have a gripe (or two) about your coworker’s loud chewing noise or your inability to make calls in private.

But your office influences your brain in more ways than you think. And since you probably spend plenty of your waking hours there, you might not realize all the effects that it’s having on your mind. Here are five unexpected ways that your workplace can change your behavior—and what you can do when that shift isn’t for the better.

. . . .

YOUR OFFICE HAS AN ARTIFICIAL SOURCE OF LIGHT

Research shows that people who work with natural light are less susceptible to stress and mid-afternoon slump, and report higher levels of well-being. And according to a 2017 study by HR firm Future Workplace, almost half of workers in the U.S. reported feeling tired or gloomy as a result of a lack of natural daylight in their workspace.

Daylight plays an important role in regulating the body’s circadian rhythm, the internal clock that tells us when it’s daytime. Light plays an important part in this because it triggers the release of hormones and neurotransmitters that make us feel alert and energized. Cortisol wakes us up in the morning, and serotonin regulates our mood throughout the day. This in turn improves the brain’s ability to focus and think, as there is plenty of oxygenated blood flow to the brain’s higher thinking cortices, and we’re not distracted by feeling sluggish, hungry, or demotivated.

If your only source of light comes from fluorescent lamps, make it a point to walk outside whenever you can to get a longer daylight fix. You could also invest in a natural-light lamp to have on your desk. These mimic natural light, and as a result will limit the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. If you are particularly susceptible to the negative effects of a lack of sunlight, it may be worth getting your vitamin D levels checked and taking a supplement.

. . . .

YOU’RE NOT FREE TO TAKE BREAKS WHENEVER YOU PLEASE

In offices where you’re expected to stay at your desk for long stretches of time, your brain will pay the price. Human brains can’t focus at a deep level for long periods of time. Concentration fatigue is a real phenomenon, and this occurs when the prefrontal cortex–the part of the brain responsible for logical and analytical thinking–is depleted. The brain needs downtime or a change in focus in order to recharge.

The thing is, the ideal “break” routine varies from person to person, and this is the point. Some people need to walk around, others need to get some air or make a cup of tea. Unfortunately, in many offices this is frowned upon. Hopefully we’ll see this trend change as we see more scientific research that demonstrates how breaks improve productivity.

Link to the rest at Fast Company

The dark history of our obsession with productivity

12 September 2018

From Fast Company:

You know it’s bad when you start typing “obsession with” in the Google search bar and the first auto-completion prompt is “productivity.”
As workers, we are obsessed with getting stuff done. No wonder there seems to be a bottomless well of advice, filled with evangelists, gurus, and thought leaders proferring hacks, tools, tricks, and secrets to help us pack more output into the waking hours of our workdays. Productivity software alone accounts for an $82 billion market, according to IBISWorld research.

But where, exactly, did this lust for wringing greater efficiency from every possible second originate?

. . . .

There’s no definitive source, but we start to see historical mentions of productivity in that classic economics text Wealth of Nations, written by Adam Smith in 1776. In it, Smith contended that there were two kinds of labor: productive and unproductive.

There is one sort of labor which adds to the value of the subject upon which it is bestowed; there is another which has no such effect. The former, as it produces a value, may be called productive; the latter, unproductive labor. Thus the labor of a manufacturer adds, generally, to the value of the materials which he works upon, that of his own maintenance, and of his master’s profit. The labor of a menial servant, on the contrary, adds to the value of nothing . . . A man grows rich by employing a multitude of manufacturers; he grows poor by maintaining a multitude of menial servants. The labor of the latter, however, has its value, and deserves its reward as well.

Benjamin Franklin, a contemporary of the Scottish economist with plenty of productivity theories of his own, put forth what might be considered the first “to-do” list in 1791. The productivity measure in Franklin’s list of tasks (wash, work, read, work, put things in their places) was less likely to be measured in hard numbers like Smith’s. Franklin’s assessment was simple: Start the day asking what good shall be done, and at the end of the day evaluate based on what was accomplished. Lofty, to be sure, but an interesting measure nevertheless.

. . . .

The notion of planning’s role in increasing productivity was enjoying a moment during the rumblings of the Industrial Revolution. A Boston Globe report reveals that by 1850, day planners were not only proliferating, their makers were making bank. An 1844 list of wealthy taxpayers shows that among the two Boston businessmen with $100,000 or more was a blank book manufacturer. Productivity became inexorably linked to the virtue of working hard at this time, too. Etiquette manuals of the era suggested that the daily planner was a means to self-improvement.

Although the 20th century was rocked by two World Wars and the Great Depression, productivity was a focal point for manufacturing of goods needed to support military efforts and later, to satisfy the demands of the U.S.’s growing middle class.

. . . .

So it was ripe for the rise of the earliest efficiency expert, an industrial engineer from Philadelphia named Frederick Winslow Taylor. Nicknamed Speedy Taylor, he would get himself a consulting gig with a company, observe its workers, and calculate how they could do their jobs faster (and then charge a hefty sum for the report).

. . . .

Let’s not forget Bill Smith, an engineer at Motorola who introduced Six Sigma in 1986 as “a disciplined, data-driven approach and methodology for eliminating defects (driving toward six standard deviations between the mean and the nearest specification limit) in any process–from manufacturing to transactional, and from product to service.”

According to Six Sigma, “Productivity is much more important than revenues and profits of the organization because profits only reflect the end result, whereas productivity reflects the increased efficiency as well as effectiveness of business policies and processes. Moreover, it enables a business to find out its strengths and weaknesses. It also lets the business easily identify threats as well as opportunities that prevail in the market as a result of competition and changes in business environment.”

. . . .

The thing is that in the frenzy to be more productive, we as a nation have become a little less so. Economist Robert Gordon of Northwestern University chalks this up to the fact that we are using methods and procedures that are over a decade old. He told the Atlantic, “We had a great revolution in the 1980s and ’90s as businesses transitioned from paper, typewriters, file cabinets to personal computers with spreadsheets, word-processing software. And then that revolution was accompanied in the 1990s by the internet, by free information through search engines, through e-commerce, and doing away with paper.”

. . . .

As Leila Hock points out: “It’s not hard work–work is work, and yes, some work requires more brain power, but most of us smart people like that and want more of it, so let’s stop calling it hard. Let’s call it productive. Effective. Valuable. Anything that speaks to nature over quantity, because that’s what we need more of.”

Link to the rest at Fast Company

Cliffhangers: Is the Suspense Worth It?

10 September 2018

From BookRiot:

*Slams down a mug of tea, looks bitterly off into the distance* You want to know what I hate? (You probably don’t, but you’ve gotten this far). Cliffhangers.

To emphasize why I don’t like them, I could just end the article here, or, like, three sentences ago. But I do have a wordcount to fulfill, so by gum, I’m going to talk about cliffhangers.

I think, in most cases, it’s super lazy writing, or rushed series-creating. The author pitched a single story to an agent, who then said, “Let’s make this into three books!” And the author panicked while tripling the size of a single story. “Shoot, in my original draft, this is where I put my climax…um…to be continued. Yeah, that works.”

. . . .

Obviously, that’s not the case for every cliffhanger in existence. There are some good ones out there. I can’t think of any, but I know they’re there. I’d also argue that there are genuinely good ways to use most literary techniques. Unfortunately, some of these techniques, like cliffhangers, are abused and overused.

. . . .

Because cliffhangers occur at the end of a story, I finish the book with a bad taste in my mouth about the whole thing. It ruins the whole reading experience for me. It could have been a fine book up until the final “…”

For me, when a book leaves off like that, even if I really want to see what happens, and even if the Goodreads reviews are decent for the sequel, I refuse to read the next book. Yeah, it’s a little spiteful of me. Maybe even a little harsh. But here’s the thing: when I picked up the book to read it, I wanted to follow the full plot arc. I dove in to get closure on this single book, on these characters, on the problems they’re having.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

9 Pieces of Bad Publishing Advice New Writers Should Ignore

3 September 2018

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog:

Social Media is both a boon and a curse to new writers. Online writing groups and forums are an excellent source of insider information on the publishing industry—stuff we once could only find at expensive classes and writers’ conferences.

But social media is also a major source of misinformation and dangerously bad advice.

. . . .

1) If You Can’t Handle Rejection, Just Self-Publish.

This is one of the most common themes I see. Somebody asks a question about querying agents, like how long you should wait before you take silence as rejection (about 6 weeks), or is it okay to phone an agency to ask about the status of your query (no.)

Inevitably, somebody pipes up with a variation of: “I could never go through all that. Agent rejections are so painful. I’m just planning to self-publish when I finish my novel.”

I usually don’t say anything to these people. Bubble-bursting makes me feel like a meanie, and I can hope they’ll learn more about the process before they finish that book.

But if the poor dears do self-publish, they’d better pray they never get any reviews.

If you think agent rejections are hurtful, your first Goodreads review will send you into screaming agony.

Rejection is part of a writer’s job description. You’ll get it from reviewers, readers, editors, bookstore owners, advertising newsletters, and your brother-in-law. Get used to it.

In fact, learning to take rejection and criticism well should be listed as one of the top 10 skills every writer needs.

. . . .

3) Follow this/that Guru and Learn to Game Amazon.

This might be the saddest delusion of all. There have been some major “bestselling  gurus” who have FB groups or other more secret forums, where they teach new writers the “ropes” of gaming Amazon with book-stuffing, trading reviews, or joining pricey boxed sets that promise to make you a “USA Today Bestseller.”

These “gurus” often end up in court, but not before their followers have lost thousands of dollars and may have been kicked off Amazon for life.

Amazon is run by algorithms and bots, and the temptation to fool robots is high. But even if somebody is making major bux running circles around Amazon’s algorithms right now, you can be sure that Amazon will catch on eventually. Then you can be booted off the site—for life. No shopping. No using that gift card, or even your Prime video subscription.

Don’t tempt them. Amazon is not a videogame. Do not mess with the Mighty Zon.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog

When I’m 64

2 September 2018

From Medium:

It used to be that the years would pile up, one on top of the other. “Where does the time go!” we cried, palms to cheeks. Now, it’s the decades piling. Decades are laying dusty atop one another like so many old files, stuffed and disorganized and in need of sorting.

Ten years ago, I fell apart. The story isn’t that tidy, of course — I didn’t wake one morning completely unraveled — but it’s close. The vagaries of a female body, in a world that eats girls, caught up to me and I fell down. Literally. And when I got up, it was hard to stay up. There was a lot of hot water, in other words.

A curious thing happened at the time of the falling apart, though. I started writing. In a ceaseless rush, the words spilled out of me. After a lifetime of yearning to uncork the creative, it happened unbidden, in my darkest hour. All those words on the page have somehow carried me into a new, surprising, and rewarding stage of my life. Creativity saved me.

I lately find myself intrigued (obsessed?) with the stories of creative women hitting their stride later in life. Laura Ingalls Wilder published the first of her Little House books at 65. Sojourner Truth worked for women’s suffrage and civil rights well into her seventies. Grandma Moses didn’t start painting until she was 78, when arthritis made embroidery too difficult. Rachel Ruysch, the brilliant Dutch still-life painter, proudly signed her age on her paintings and worked into her eighties. Toni Morrison still burns bright at 87, a leading literary voice and a force for feminism and racial equality. Beatrice Wood — the “Mama of Dada” — made art until the end of her astounding 105 years, publishing at the young age of 92 an autobiography titled, I Shock Myself.

Aging is an effective teacher, if we listen. It counsels patience and acceptance, it gives us perspective and experience. The decades can whittle away our concern for the opinions of others. They prune the unnecessary and allow us to blossom as we are, as we want to be. I care so much less now for protocol, for norms, for the rules of society. The cycles, the seasons, the wins, and the losses — it’s bouncing back and getting up that trains us for the marathon. The storms are easier to weather when we’ve seen so many.

. . . .

In Anna Louie Sussman’s article, “Why Old Women Have Replaced Young Men as the Art World’s Darlings,” the South African artist Sue Williamson observes, “Women in later life often push aside their anxieties about satisfying the market, and competing with their male colleagues for attention, and just make work which pleases themselves, first and foremost.”

Link to the rest at Medium

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