OF CLOCKS AND TIMERS

Time is intangible. You can’t see, smell, taste, hear, or feel it. So, it’s hard to pin down. Probably one of the reasons clocks were invented.

Timers can be a great help for keeping track of our time. Decide you’re going to work for an hour, set the timer, and you don’t have to think about time again until it goes off. Smart.

Clocks are not nearly as helpful, but if you check them often enough and pay attention, you may learn to “feel” how much time has passed and be able to guess pretty accurately what time it is. (I can actually do this, probably because I used to be very time conscious about everything, so I know it’s possible).

But I recommend using a timer. The benefits are many.

Here’s one example. You need to tackle a job that can take hours that you hate (cleaning out the kitchen cabinets and scrubbing them down, cleaning out a closet, or the garage, for example). Tell yourself you’ll work on it for fifteen minutes every day until the whole job is done. Every day at a set time, get ready, set your timer for fifteen minutes, and begin. You can stop at fifteen minutes, or if you feel like it, continue for a while. But don’t push yourself or you won’t want to put in your fifteen minutes the next day. You can always stop at fifteen minutes. Because tomorrow you going to do it for fifteen minutes again, and you know it will eventually be all done.

Or perhaps you want to do a big project, and you really like doing it, but you keep procrastinating. Again, set a time of day to start, put your timer on one hour, and go. At one hour, do stop. If you’ve been sitting, get up. Stretch. Do a small chore, grab something to eat, freshen up, make a phone call (standing). If you’ve been on your feet the whole time, sit down with a snack, file your nails, make a phone call—anything that takes about ten minutes Then you can call it a day, or go for another hour, then take another break. And so on.

You can use the same method to get a lot of small jobs done all at once. Set the timer for half an hour or an hour, and work on that list until the time is up. Tomorrow’s another day.

Hope this is helpful.

FICTION WRITING RULES FROM FAMOUS WRITERS

I thought it would be fun to compile a list of lists of rules for writing fiction. We can, of course, start with Elmore Leonard’s famous list. Many people disagree with some of his rules, but it won’t hurt to read them carefully and make up your own mind. What do you like as a reader? Maybe some of the things he’s against, you like to see when you’re reading. Nothing wrong, in my opinion, in breaking some of his rules, or any others in the rest of the lists below. In case you’ve never seen Mr. Leonard’s, here’s a link.

http://www.nytimes.com/2001/07/16/arts/writers-writing-easy-adverbs-exclamation-points-especially-hooptedoodle.html

You’ll love Margaret Atwood’s ten tips:

http://www.literautas.com/en/blog/post-755/ten-rules-for-writing-fiction-by-margaret-atwood/

Of course, Mr. Hemingway had a set of rules. See all seven here:

http://www.openculture.com/2013/02/seven_tips_from_ernest_hemingway_on_how_to_write_fiction.html

Here are six from George Orwell, compiled using one of his essays on writing:

http://www.writingclasses.com/InformationPages/index.php/PageID/300

And then there is the famous Lester Dent  formula, a master plot, for any 6000 word pulp story. This is not a list, but no list(!) would be complete without looking at Mr. Dent’s formula. If you spread it out, it will work for any story, short or long:

http://www.paper-dragon.com/1939/dent.html

Final rule from Jan Christensen:

Trust yourself. Yes, learn the craft, read and ponder the rules. Read a lot of fiction. After you do that, you can  trust yourself to know what works for you and your work.

 Good luck!

COLLECT LIKE TASKS TOGETHER TO SAVE TIME

You need to pay the bills. I’m pretty sure you don’t sit down at your desk, pay one bill, then go and clean the toilet. Well, maybe you do. But probably you sit down and pay all the bills all at once, writing out the checks, stamping the envelopes and filing away the invoices.

Try using this system—it is a system—for other like tasks. For example:

Telephone calls.
Replying to emails
Running errands

There are two ways to clean a house. One way is one room at a time. It’s nice to have one room completely done. Another day, you do another room. But this is not the best system for saving time. For each room, you have to gather your equipment—vacuum cleaner, dust mop, dust rag, cleaning solution(s), high mop–and take them to the room. Then you have to put them all away. Next room, another day, repeat. What I do is vacuum the whole house one day (I also wash the kitchen floor that day). On another day, I dry mop the floors and dust. Another day, I clean the bathrooms and kitchen. Done on a regular schedule, everything remains clean enough for company.

There is something called mindfulness. For me this means paying attention to what you’re doing. Take stock every so often. Then see if you can figure out a better way to do the routine things you have to do every day, week, month, and year. This is a great way to get your life streamlined, leaving you time to do the things you enjoy the most.

Have you ever done this with a particular chore? Tell us about it in the comments. I love learning new tricks.

F-BOMBS AND EROTICA AND WHY I DON’T GO THERE

Here’s the first scenario:

You’re writing about a crusty old codger who swears like a sailor. You mentioned this, but you don’t actually show him doing it. And in one place, you know he’d probably use an f-bomb, but you leave it out.

What do you think reader reaction will be? Here are two I can think of, one probable, the other improbable:

  1. Well, f**k, he should have used the word f**k right there. It would be authentic. It would be the way this guy would speak. I’m throwing this book across the room and never reading anything else by this author.
  2. Reader doesn’t even notice, or if it dawns on her/him, she/he shrugs and keeps on reading.

Which do you think is more likely?

Next you’ve come up with a really hot sex scene, and you put it in, then have second thoughts and delete it, just doing what the old romantic movies did, closing the door behind the lovers and leaving it to the imagination. Reader reaction might be:

  1.  Well, s**t, I wanted a sex scene here. I want every detail. What are these two characters really doing behind that door? I’m throwing this book across the room and never reading anything else by this author.
  2. Reader thinks about what those two might be doing behind those doors for a while, then goes back to reading your book.
  3. Reader is so interested in what’s going to happen next in the story, he/she quickly turns the page and keeps reading.
  4.  Reader sighs with relief. She either doesn’t like to read sex scenes or is so bored by them that she skips over them. She thinks it’s like describing a person eating a meal, bite by bite. She continues reading happily.

Again, which do you think is more likely? If the story is compelling enough, and I hope it is, I doubt very many, if any, readers would stop reading if there was not a “bad” word or a sex scene where they might expect one.

But, even if the story is compelling, you risk losing readers if there are explicit sex scenes and “bad” language.

Which would you rather have happen? I leave it to you.

That said, there is a big market for erotica. If that’s your bag and you write it, I think that’s fine. I’ll even read it if it’s good enough. But I think writers are taking a big chance if they throw it into a book that is not marketed as erotica. Noir and hardboiled might also get a pass with very “bad” language. But, believe me, it’s not even necessary then. Not many of  the classic noir and hardboiled stories had either. And I’ve written some noir (published) that didn’t have any. So, it can be done.

Many thanks to Anne R. Allen’s blog post for getting me to think about this and expand on what she wrote:

http://annerallen.blogspot.com/2013/11/sex-sells-right-maybe-not-why-you-might.html

THE IMPORTANCE OF TO-DO LISTS

The importance of to-do lists cannot be over-stated. Almost everyone who uses them gets more done than those who don’t. Sure, a few people can keep everything in their heads without a problem. Most of us need some help remembering, especially lists.  Studies have shown that people who are disorganized are anxious. Making a list of to-dos, and using a planner, calendar or spreadsheet for expenses can help calm the anxiety.

However, be very careful with that to-do list. Here are several ideas I’ve come across during my study of this subject:

Go ahead, make the list. Then choose either the three or up to six most important things on it. Write them down on another list, and put away your longer one. Concentrate on getting those three to six things done before tackling anything else. This does not work for long-term projects, however. Most people cannot write a whole novel using this idea.

In that case, break your six larger projects down into smaller chunks. For the novel, your to-do list says to work for a certain about of time or word count every day. Then you go on to the next item.

If the next item of importance can be finished, after doing your hour or so on the broken-down project, finish item two.

Maybe item three or four is also a project that will need to be spread out over several days. Again, plan to devote a certain amount of time to it, then get to the other things.

Another way to do a list is to break down your life into sections: Family, work, health, finances/family business, spirituality, leisure. Or pick your life priorities, and put them in order of importance. Then plan to devote a certain amount of time every day to each one. In this case, you’ll probably have to again break down your work priorities into order of importance and amount of time to spend on each every day during working hours. Notice the coincidence of my listing six life priorities. The other day I read about picking three things from your to-do list every day to concentrate one. Today, I read about picking six items. I’ve seen the other idea of life priorities over the years.

I’m thinking for work, you might want to have three major project priorities, and three smaller ones that can be done quickly.

I suggest fooling with your to-do list or lists (could be one for work and one for personal) until you find a system that makes you the least anxious and least likely to procrastinate.

That will end up being your own, personal system.Then, you can do the happy dance.