Writing Advice

A new formula for exercise? Study suggests 1 hour of activity per 8 hours of sitting

28 July 2016

From The Washington Post:

If you fear you’re doing irreparable damage to your body because your white-collar job keeps you sitting at your desk from 9 to 5, or you regularly spend entire weekends sprawled out on your couch binge-watching Netflix, there’s some good news just out from sports medicine researchers.

According to a study published in The Lancet, all is not lost. You may be able to “make up” for your increased risk of death due to a sedentary lifestyle by engaging in enough physical activity.

So just how much is enough? The first thing you need to know is that it’s not a fixed number but based on a ratio that depends on the amount of sitting you do daily. If you sit four hours a day, you need to do at least 30 minutes of exercise. An eight-hour work day of sitting means one hour of exercise.

The numbers come from an analysis based on a very large pool of people, about 1 million adults, 45 and older, from the United States, Western Europe and Australia. The findings show a risk reduction — or even elimination — for your risk of death from heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.

Researcher Ulf Ekelund, a professor at the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences, suggested that the one hour of activity could be brisk walking or cycling but said that the exercise doesn’t have to be so rigorous or all at one time. That is, the hour of activity can be spread out over the entire day.

. . . .

The findings suggest that the person who sits longer isn’t necessarily worse off: Those who sat for eight hours a day but were physically active were better off in terms of risk of death than those who sat for fewer hours but were not physically active.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

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You Must Be Talented to Be a Professional Writer

27 July 2016

From Dean Wesley Smith:

The word “talent” has been used for a very long time to destroy writers.

I have always believed that the word is the worst myth of them all in publishing, so here goes a chapter that I’m sure will be annoying to some people. Especially to those of you who think you are talented.

Okay, first to my trusty and well-worn Oxford American Dictionary for a standard definition.

Talent: Special or very great ability, people who have this.

That’s about it. Pretty straightforward. Notice the word “ability” and notice it says nothing about being “born with.” Just notice.

Okay, when it comes to writing, let me put my definition right out front here.

Talent in Writing: A measure of a person’s craft at storytelling at any given moment that depends on who is judging and the age of the person being judged.

As I have said before in a number of places, when I started writing, I was so untalented, it scared anyone who even tried to read something I wrote.

In school I hated writing because I was so bad at it. If I had listened to all the people who told me I had no talent for writing, I would have quit four decades ago. No, make that six decades ago, because all my early report cards said I had no talent for writing.

Now, after millions and millions of words practiced, many books and stories published, I get comments all the time like, “You are a talented writer, of course you can do it.”

Or one I got the other day. “You have the talent to write fast.”

Sorry, that one actually made me laugh.

Well, when I started to get serious about fiction writing, it took me hours and hours to do one page. Then that page would be so poorly written and riddled with mistakes that it got tossed away more often than not. Yup, I was a “naturally talented” fast writer.

. . . .

Thank heavens for me I came to the realization early on in my life that talent was only a measure of craft at a certain point in time and nothing more.

Yet, frighteningly, parents, teachers, and so many family and friends think that talent is FIXED. If you are talented when you are young in something, you should be for your entire life. Well, sadly, as many have discovered, it doesn’t work that way.

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith

Here’s a link to Dean’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

9 grammatical mistakes you need to stop making before I throw live scorpions at you

26 July 2016

From Nonprofit with Balls:

Now, as someone for whom English is a second language, I make mistakes all the time. Sometimes on purpose, such as using multiple exclamation points for extra emphasis, like this!!! And I appreciate it when readers email me to help me correct errors, just like I appreciate it when people point out that I have bits of spinach hummus stuck in my incisors. I also know English is a living, evolving entity, kind of like kombucha tea. For instance, the singular they—“Someone left their copy of the strategic plan behind”—is now gaining rapid acceptance, especially in light of our growing awareness of gender identity.

Still, these mistakes below are irritating the crap out of me and colleagues on the NWB Facebook community, so please cut them out before I throw live scorpions at you:

. . . .

Myself. “My treasurer and myself agree with you completely about general operating funds.” Oh no, you did not just say that. You want to fight, don’t you? “Myself” is not a subject, or usually an object (“That timeline works for myself and my team.”) It just sounds weird and pretentious, like “Lady Grantham and myself kindly invite you to our chateau for cucumber sandwiches.” Knock it off. Unless, you are Lord Grantham; in which case, carry on.

Apostrophes. “I forgot my flask, so Janice let me drink from her’s.” Or, “There are leftover donut’s in the conference room, y’all!” Please stop putting random apostrophes everywhere! Apostrophes are like containers of Activia yogurt: They help things go smoothly, but use them excessively and there will be consequences.

Its/It’s. I was generous in the last grammar rant, thinking most people are just lazy when it comes to its and it’s. But I’ve seen enough of this mistake to recognize that it is a serious problem. “It’s” is a contraction for “it is,” and “its” is a possessive. So please don’t write, “The board has reversed it’s stance on allowing live wombats at the office.”

I resonate with. I’ve been seeing this one more often lately. Instead of saying, “Your post on dating in the nonprofit sector resonates with me,” a colleague says, “I resonate with your post…” That’s weird. And it conjures up images of someone resonating, which I envision as someone vibrating. If you’re resonating, please see a doctor.

. . . .

Based off of. “Based off of” is kind of fun to say, which is probably why there’s been an increase in its usage: “Based off of last year’s gala, we should have a signature drink this year, and I think it should be called Equity Juice.” (This is not just an example; I’m creating the recipe for this cocktail, and it involves coconut water). “Based on.” It’s “based on,” all right?

Irregardless. Like “sustainability,” “irregardless” is not a thing. Stop saying it. In fact, carry fruit in your laptop bag, so that you may pummel with aforementioned fruit the people who do say it. Irregardless is redundant. Just say “regardless,” like “Regardless of cultural diversity and dietary needs, beet hummus is an abomination of nature.”

Link to the rest at Nonprofit with Balls and thanks to J.A. for the tip.

20 misused English words that make smart people look silly

21 July 2016

From Quartz:

We’re all tempted to use words that we’re not too familiar with. If this were the only problem, I wouldn’t have much to write about. That’s because we’re cautious with words we’re unsure of and, thus, they don’t create much of an issue for us. It’s the words that we think we’re using correctly that wreak the most havoc. We throw them around in meetings, e-mails and important documents (such as resumes and client reports), and they land, like fingernails across a chalkboard, on everyone who has to hear or read them. We’re all guilty of this from time to time, myself included.

When I write, I hire an editor who is an expert in grammar to review my articles before I post them online. It’s bad enough to have a roomful of people witness your blunder—it’s something else entirely to stumble in front of 100,000! The point is, we can all benefit from opportunities to sharpen the saw and minimize our mistakes. Often, it’s the words we perceive as being more correct or sophisticated that don’t really mean what we think they do. There are 20 such words that have a tendency to make even really smart people stumble.

. . . .

Affect vs. Effect

To make these words even more confusing than they already are, both can be used as either a noun or a verb. Let’s start with the verbs. Affectmeans to influence something or someone; effect means to accomplish something. “Your job was affected by the organizational restructuring” but “These changes will be effected on Monday.” As a noun, an effect is the result of something: “The sunny weather had a huge effect on sales.” It’s almost always the right choice because the noun affect refers to an emotional state and is rarely used outside of psychological circles: “The patient’s affect was flat.”

Lie vs. Lay

We’re all pretty clear on the lie that means an untruth. It’s the other usage that trips us up. Lie also means to recline: “Why don’t you liedown and rest?” Lay requires an object: “Lay the book on the table.” Lieis something you can do by yourself, but you need an object to lay. It’s more confusing in the past tense. The past tense of lie is—you guessed it—lay: “I lay down for an hour last night.” And the past tense of lay is laid: “I laid the book on the table.”

. . . .

Ironic vs. Coincidental

A lot of people get this wrong. If you break your leg the day before a ski trip, that’s not ironic—it’s coincidental (and bad luck). Ironic has several meanings, all of which include some type of reversal of what was expected. Verbal irony is when a person says one thing but clearly means another. Situational irony is when a result is the opposite of what was expected. O. Henry was a master of situational irony. In his famous short story The Gift of the Magi, Jim sells his watch to buy combs for his wife’s hair, and she sells her hair to buy a chain for Jim’s watch. Each character sold something precious to buy a gift for the other, but those gifts were intended for what the other person sold. That is true irony. If you break your leg the day before a ski trip, that’s coincidental.If you drive up to the mountains to ski, and there was more snow back at your house, that’s ironic.

. . . .

Nauseous vs. Nauseated

Nauseous has been misused so often that the incorrect usage is accepted in some circles. Still, it’s important to note the difference. Nauseousmeans causing nausea; nauseated means experiencing nausea. So, ifyour circle includes ultra-particular grammar sticklers, never say “I’mnauseous” unless you want them to be snickering behind your back.

Comprise vs. Compose

These are two of the most commonly misused words in the English language.Comprise means to include; compose means to make up. It all comes down to parts versus the whole. When you use comprise, you put the whole first: “A soccer game comprises (includes) two halves.” When you use compose, you put the pieces first: “Fifty states compose (make up) the United States of America.”

Link to the rest at Quartz

Panes of Clarity In Your Writing

15 July 2016

From author John Ellsworth:

Two things: narrative and dialogue. If it’s narrative, all my people, including first and third, sound alike. Who cares? It’s me telling the story even in the first person. I’m not cool enough to develop a language and style of delivery for a character. Just hints of it. Dropping g’s on ing’s, that kind of thing, but not even that so much anymore. Message to self: readers read you because they like your vision of the world. Everyone is looking to an appropriate vision of the world for themselves. If they like yours you gonna sell lots and lots of books. If your view is mundane, uninventive, apoetic, they’re going to dismiss you as…boring. Writing is boring because it doesn’t shock the reader with panes of clarity. Keep them turning pages with panes of clarity, a way of seeing the world that is all yours. FOR ME, that’s the entire insight I need.
Dialogue– I don’t overdo differentiation so much. I used to, when I was J.D. Salinger. I used to, when I was Ernest Hemingway. I used to, when I was John Irving. But when I stopped being everyone else and just became myself, I have my little simple speech tricks (e.g., less educated people speak in shorter phrases. It’s an observable fact. They don’t expand on ideas because they don’t talk about ideas. They talk about things and they do it in about 3-4 iambs a phrase.

Link to the rest at John Ellsworth

Here’s a link to John Ellsworth’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

If You Just Keep Writing, Will You Get Better?

12 July 2016

From Jane Friedman:

How do certain people become really great at what they do?

That’s the question psychology professor Anders Ericsson has been exploring for his entire career. Now, in his new book, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, co-written with science writer Robert Pool, Ericsson reveals the answer.

If you’ve heard of Ericsson, it’s probably because his research and ideas have been featured in many articles and books, notably Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and Geoff Colvin’s Talent Is Overrated. In Peak, he finally gets to explain things his own way.

In very readable prose, Peak describes how Ericsson and his colleagues have studied top performers in many fields, and it shows how all of these performers use the same kind of training methods. Peak is not designed specifically for writers, but any aspiring writer who reads it and (even more important) makes use of the training principles the book explains will find his or her abilities dramatically improved.

. . . .

When it comes to becoming better writers, most of us make three assumptions:

  1. Each of us is born with a certain innate potential for achievement: We call it talent. Getting better at what we do is simply a matter of fulfilling that inborn ability.
  2. To get better at what we do, we just need to keep doing it.
  3. Improvement depends on how much effort we put in. If we’re not improving, we’re just not trying hard enough.

These assumptions are so common you might not even realize you hold them. But they share something with many other widely held assumptions: they aren’t true.

  1. Even brain scientists used to believe that each person’s brain—and, therefore, his abilities—were fixed at birth. But since the 1990s brain scientists have discovered that the human brain, even the adult brain, is far more adaptable than anyone ever imagined. They call this ability of the brain to change in response to challenges its plasticity, a quality that (barring injury or illness) everyone’s brain possesses. It’s the ability of our brains to change—not our innate talent—that allows us to learn and develop new skills.
  2. “Just keep writing, you’ll get better”: this piece of writing advice pervades the internet. Sadly, it’s completely wrong. In their studies of experts, Ericsson and his colleagues have shown that none of them achieved mastery simply by doing the same thing over and over.
  3. And while effort is certainly important, effort by itself will get us nowhere.
What we need, Ericsson explains, is the right kind of training, the kind of training that creates experts in any field. He and his colleagues named this kind of training deliberate practice. Well, sure: practice. We all know what that is. Or do we?

When most of us think about practice, we’re imagining what Ericsson calls naive practice, the kind of repetitive action we do to learn a skill and then put it on automatic pilot. We learn a lot of things this way—cooking dinner, for instance, or driving a car. The trouble with this kind of practice is that it will never help us improve our skills. For that, we need a different kind of practice, one Ericsson calls deliberate practice. Deliberate practice, he tells us, will harness “the adaptability of the human brain to create, step by step, the ability to do things that were previously not possible.” With this kind of practice, we literally build areas of the brain involved in writing, thereby increasing our own “talent” and making ourselves better writers.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

Diana Gabaldon on Writing

2 July 2016

Bestselling author of the Outlander series, Diana Gabaldon reveals her personal writing habits and how she came to be a novelist.

How To Write Better Without Becoming A Better Writer

1 July 2016

From The Huffington Post:

Andre Iguodala, the 2015 NBA Finals MVP, likes to sleep.

It didn’t always used to be that way though. He used to have terrible sleeping habits. He used to stay up until 4am, watching the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and only then would he fall into a restless sleep for just a few hours. Then he’d sleep for a few more hours before playing a game in the evening. This was considered a “supplement” to the few hours he’d sleep at night.

Unsurprisingly, he’d end up exhausted during the game. More exhausted than a professional athlete should be.

It was only when he decided that enough was enough – the thing that happens before every big change in our lives – that he sought out a sleep therapist.

It worked. Iguodala experienced a 29% improvement in points per minute, and a 37% decrease in turnovers per game when he slept for 8 hours. Meaning 8 hours in row – not some split of a few hours here and a few hours there.

Another quick stat: players shoot 9.2% better from the 3 point line when they get 10 hours of sleep. For context: a player shooting 35% from the three-point line is an average three-point shooter. A player shooting 44% from the three-point line is an elite three-point shooter. More context: for this NBA season, shooting 44% would’ve made you the 5th most accurate three-point shooter in the NBA. Shooting 35% would’ve made you the 90th most accurate.

More sleep is the difference between average and elite.

. . . .

[W]riting has been easier than ever for the last couple of weeks.

Not because I’m using some writing tool. Or because I’ve spent more time writing. Or because I’m using some “hack”.

It’s because I’ve been taking care of myself.

This is how:

– I’ve been prioritising my sleep. I admit that I got completely sucked into the whole “entrepreneurs only sleep 4 hours a night” thing. I thought that’s what it took to be successful. I thought I had to work that “hard” to get what I wanted. That is false. If nothing else, Iguodala proves that. He slept more and performed better. And that’s exactly what’s happened with my writing. I’ve slept more, I’ve slept better, I’ve written better. It’s just like Iguodala says: “Sleep good, feel good, play good.”

– I’ve eaten like I love myself. I spent my whole life playing either football or basketball and so I’d get away with eating pretty much whatever I wanted. When I was at university, I used to drink two 500ml bottles of Pepsi during every basketball practice. Yeah. I know. But when I stopped playing basketball and started writing all the time, I got out of shape. Much more out of shape than I’d ever been. Fatter than I’d ever been. And then came the yo-yoing. I’d eat healthy, and then I’d eat a load of crap again. And then I’d get sick of myself and eat healthy again. And then I’d get bored and buy Krispy Kremes. And then I’d… yeah. I know.

Eating like this gave me no energy. No real energy, anyway. I’d maybe have a burst, but then I’d feel lethargic and demotivated and disgusted with myself.

I thought I wanted to eat junk food because it tasted so good. I didn’t think I wanted to eat healthy food because it didn’t taste as good. But all that said about me was that I was valuing how food tastes over what it does for me. How can that be right?

. . . .

– I’ve been more disciplined. I used to despise the thought of having a routine. I used to think I was above it. That I didn’t need one. That I’d never have one.

And then I started working for myself and that completely changed. Now I agree with Jocko Willink: “discipline equals freedom.”

I NEVER would’ve believed this a year ago. Not at all. I would’ve looked at you like you were a moron.

Then I tried not having a routine. And you know what happened? I honestly felt like my life was falling apart. I wasn’t eating right. I wasn’t sleeping right. I wasn’t writing consistently. I was writing every day… but it was sporadic. And unplanned. And a constant struggle.

I didn’t get it. Wasn’t NOT having a routine supposed to equal freedom? Wasn’t freedom doing whatever I wanted to do?

Apparently not. Because ever since I started using my routine, and ever since I became even more disciplined about it in the last couple of weeks, my life has been so much better.

I’ve been eating healthy food. I’ve been sleeping great. I’ve been writing consistently for a few hours every morning.

I’ve had more energy. I’ve been happier. I’ve been able to do the things I tell myself I want to do, and isn’t that freedom?

And is it any surprise that I’m writing better?

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post and thanks to Marilyn and others for the tip.

Dream Sequences

30 June 2016

From author David Farland:

Most editors will warn you against writing too many dream sequences.  The problems in writing about dreams are multitudinous.  Very often, a new author will write an opening to a story and feel that it is dull, so he or she will spice it up by putting in an action scene—and then have the character wake up at the end.  The editor always feels cheated, and then has to wade through the tedious information that the author was trying to avoid.  Editors are very aware of that, and so we get angry when we find that we’ve been suckered into a dream sequence.  Usually, we get our vengeance: by gleefully rejecting the manuscript.

Now, the technique can work, but it’s hard to pull off.  Your description has to be vivid; your characters need to come alive and become strong protagonists; and you need to be very imaginative.  So you can open a tale with a dream sequence, but be forewarned.

The only cliché worse than opening with a dream is where the writer tells an entire story or novel and then ends with a character waking from his dream.  Don’t do that one folks.  If your editor reads it and then shoots you, it’s considered justifiable homicide.

Link to the rest at Dave Farland

Here’s a link to Dave Farland’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

What Kind of Writer are You: Cook or Baker?

29 June 2016

From LitHub:

People who know about food often say you’re either a cook or a baker; either you enjoy the freedom of putting together a savory meal to your own particular specifications, or you like the structure required for making sweets. I’ve always fallen squarely on the cook side of this divide. I’m happy, even excited, to make dinner out of whatever happens to be in my kitchen—in grad school, one of my staples was pasta with canned clams, canned black olives, and kale. I season liberally and always without measuring. Sometimes I don’t even taste a dish until I’m ready to serve it—it feels like cheating, somehow.

Baking, by contrast, has always intimidated me. You have to have all the right ingredients ready beforehand, sometimes even at the correct temperature, and then you have to put precise amounts of them together in just the right order. I love the outcome of baking: I’m always happy to eat a cookie or a scone. What scares me is all the planning.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, my writing habits mirror my kitchen preferences. I hate to plot out anything in advance. Instead I like to feel my way through every scene, testing and tinkering as I go. When I start a book, I usually have a vague idea of a premise and a main character, and that’s it. Everything else I make up as I go along.

. . . .

But being a cook-writer also has serious downsides. Sometimes my writing goes completely off the rails—I had to throw out 75 pages of my first novel after it devolved into a bizarre story of collective hallucination. It takes me forever to get into a project—I fiddled around with Sophie Stark for a full year before I found the multiple point-of-view structure that let me really get into the story. And never knowing where you’re going is incredibly stressful—until I finish a project, I’m never sure how, or even if, it will turn out.

. . . .

I didn’t make charts or outlines—a cook can’t become a baker overnight—but I did try to plan ahead of time, especially for essays. I talked through ideas with my friends. I tried to come up with not just the germ of an idea, but an entire arc, before I started writing.

So far, it hasn’t worked. In every case, I end up throwing out my plans by paragraph two. An essay that was going to be about enjoying art we don’t understand turned into one about art created by people in pain (also, it still isn’t finished). Even this essay was supposed to end on a hopeful note—maybe, I was going to say, I’ll learn to use my newfound baking skills in writing someday. But the truth is, I probably won’t.

Link to the rest at LitHub

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