Hello World!

Word for the day: Busy: back to writing a novel again! 10/19/16

Household Tip: When you get the mail, take the time to handle it all right away. Yes, even filing what you want to keep. 10/20/16

Word for the Day: Weekend: Coming up. Let’s relax a little! 11/4/16

FOUR QUICK TIME-SAVING TIPS YOU MAY NEVER HAVE CONSIDERED BEFORE
  1. Have only as many credit cards you need—one personal, one business. Think of all the time you’ll save when not dealing with more. The only exception would be for a store card or two where you visit at least once a month and get special offers and discounts for using that card.
  1. When preparing meals, do it near the sink to throw peelings into the disposal and put a trash can right next to you for other trash. If you can’t easily move your can, use a bowl to throw stuff in to be emptied later.
  1. Tickler file at home. If you don’t have much going on every month, just make a file folder for each month. Have a calendar in there that shows birthdays and other days you want to send out cards. Put the cards in that folder when you buy them. Stash tickets, invitations, letters you need to answer and anything else that you want to do in a particular month. I do that and keep a Google calendar on my computer for a quick glance to see what’s coming up, like doctor appointments. Using both the file and the calendar, I am usually on top of everything.
  1. Have a box (about shoe-box size) next to where you store your purses. When you want to change bags, put everything into the box and sort through it to arrange the new purse.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN AMATEURS AND PROFESSIONALS

Jeff Goins wrote a spot-on article about the differences between amateurs and professionals in any profession.

The main points  that struck me were:

  • Pros take action almost every day, if only for a short period of time, even half an hour, or perhaps fifteen minutes. Every day.
  • Pros keep working to get better, even after they’re famous.
  • Pros accept failure as a given and learn from it, then carry on.
  • Pros build a body of work. This improves their work.

To get the full article, go here:

https://medium.com/@jeffgoins/the-7-differences-between-professional-and-amateurs-ab6850c25c61

What it did for me:

I realized that I needed to work harder at being a professional marketer for my work. I need to spend time every single day on that goal, just as I spend most every single day on my writing.

If you really think about it, most of us need two main areas where we shine, usually one helping the other. For example, business manager and employee relations. Or better, wife and mother; husband and father. And yeah, writing and marketing that writing

Do you have two areas you think are complementary? If so, are you spending about equal time on both? Or do you disagree with any of this?

CAN LOOKING AT STATISTICS MAKE US BETTER WRITERS?

Interesting interview with an author about using statistics to improve our writing. Go here and see what you think.

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/one-writer-used-statistics-reveal-secrets-what-makes-great-writing-180962515/

Some of my observations:

  • Best-selling female writers use more “ly” words than the men do.
  • Beginning a story with the weather is not a deal-breaker for most readers. (But it almost always is for this reader.)
  • Favorite words can tell you a lot about an author.
  • This looks like a book that would be great fun to read.

Bottom line? Some writers “break the rules” and become famous. I like to play it safe, though, so I don’t usually start my stories with long sentences, the weather, or a single character musing, especially if she just woke up in bed. I also avoid “ly” words as much as possible, but I do use them sometimes because, you know, variety is the spice of life, and sometimes there is not a good verb that can stand alone that doesn’t distract from the flow. Every time I read that someone is trotting, I think of a horse. Is that what writers want? Think about the reader! Most readers never notice “ly” words, I’m sure. But weird words that are seldom used will take them right out of a story.

READING TO LEARN HOW TO WRITE BETTER

A great trick for helping your own writing is to read other fiction similar to what you write and see what you skim through because it doesn’t interest you or bores you.

Does anything in particular annoy you about the book? Examples:

  • Present tense
  • Starting with one character musing or waking up. No conflict, no action
  • Too much description is a good example. Or maybe even, not enough, which results in no sense of place.
  • Characters with annoying habits that distract you from the plot. One recent read had several characters puckering their lips, apparently in confusion or disgust—I was pretty disgusted myself after about the fourth use of this word. Another one I saw by a best-selling author was; “Her eyes crunched.” What? Like cereal?
  • Anything that distracts you from the plot
  • Long descriptions of travel routes. Who cares how the character got from A to B, unless something exciting happens along the way? I don’t mind a mention of a few streets so that people familiar with a real setting get a better visual, but no need for every single turn, IMO. Or telling the reader every time a character climbed into the car, and then exited again. Anyone find it amusing, as I do, at how hard we try to use different words for ordinary actions, like sitting and getting in and out of a car (climbing in and exiting out of)?
  • Too much jumping around—with too many character POVs, settings, and/or timeframes. All this can be handled well by a good writer, but it can be hard to read by a not-so-talented one.
  • Weird attributions. The latest one I saw by a best-selling author was; “Her eyes crunched.” What? Like cereal?

Bottom line, try to figure out why this particular book was easy to put down.

On the other hand, notice what you liked about a work:

  • The characters? Why? What actions and emotional responses made them come alive for you?
  • The setting? Why—because it was simply interesting to you personally or because it was done so well, or?
  • The plot—because it had great twists or was unusual, or what? What plot points worked well for you? How can you make them your own in your writing?
  • The writing itself—was it voice, or word choices, or theme, or pacing, or something hard to define? See if you can nail it down

As soon as you figure out that the book you are reading right now might be a favorite, start taking notes. For each chapter, do a short synopsis.

  • Pay particular attention to how it starts and ends
  • What was the main conflict in the chapter, or questions raised?
  • How did the writer describe things that made you actually see them in your mind’s eye?
  • What did you like about the characters, including the villain(s). What made you love to hate them?

Is there anything in particular that almost always makes you love or dislike a book? If so, what is it? And what do you try really hard to do well with your stories?

For a much longer blog post about reading to help your writing, I recommend this:

How to learn to write while you’re reading

RANT ALERT: CHARCTER NAMES – TOO MANY STARTING WITH SAME LETTER

Okay, this is a rant. Hey, I enjoy reading other people’s rants, so maybe some readers will be interested in my occasional ones here.

In the last two novels I read, each had three characters of the same sex with names that began with the same letter. I suspect these authors never joined a critique group, and wonder about their editors. I have done this in the past, so I understand how it can happen. But if they had editors, the editors should have caught this. The ones I’ve used have pointed out this problem to me a few times. Now I’m aware it can happen to me, so I do this:

I made a table in Word (or you can, of course use Excel or equivalent) and in headings I have: First Name, Last Name, Age, Car, and Description. Yeah, I put in car because for one novel I kept forgetting what each character drove, and they all seemed to be determined to do a lot of driving. This way you can sort the names by either first or last name and see if any duplicates for first letters appear.

One writer compounded this problem by having a father and son with the same letter for their first name (necessary for the plot), BUT she also had another character with that same letter, plus three more with a different same one. Yeah, I know this is awkward, but I’m sure you can figure it out.

Please find a method for yourself that will prevent this from happening. Your readers will thank you!

PS: You know you may have too many characters if you run out of letters.

COPING WITH DISTRACTIONS

Distractions are so distracting. Here are a few ideas to help you cope:

1) The first trick for dealing with them is to be sure you’re not causing your own distractions: You check your email, Twitter or Facebook account, or make a quick phone call when you had started out to work on a big project, like writing a novel. And then, every so often you do the checking again. This kills your focus, and it will take some time to get back into the “groove.”

You’re doing something you have as a top priority on your to-do list, but it’s boring. So, you distract yourself by, you guessed it, checking email, Facebook, or Twitter. Making a phone call. Playing just one game of solitaire.

2) You allow others to distract you because you don’t have firm rules and signals to let them know you are working and should not be disturbed until you come up for air. This goes for family members if you work at home, and for co-workers at the office. Close a door if you have one, or put up a do not disturb sign if you need to. Be sure to take regular breaks where you are accessible, especially for children.

3)Try checking in with yourself about your habits. Have you made enough things you need to do every day a habit? Think about the habit of brushing your teeth. You don’t even say to yourself, now I’m going to brush my teeth because you do it along with other small grooming habits, every day. You probably do it at the same time every day. You probably, way back when, did have to think about it every time for several weeks before it became a habit. Make as many things you do most or every day habits. This saves mental energy, so you will get more done before being tired.

3) Perfectionism can be a distraction. First of all, it’s practically impossible to get everything you do perfect. You must decide while working on a project: when does it become “good enough?” After that, aiming for perfection is a huge distraction. You’re better off starting on something new instead.

Bottom line: When you get ready to tackle the most important jobs each day, close the door, turn off your phone, shut down your internet connection, and forget about perfectionism. Make all that a habit, and you’ll be amazed at how much you can accomplish every day.

ENDING YOUR DAY RIGHT

Especially for my writer friends (but nonwriters can steal these tips), before you leave your desk for the day or night:

BACKUP YOUR WORK: In two places is best. I use OneDrive and a thumb drive, then once a month I back up to an external drive I keep in a water and fireproof small safe.

CLEAR OFF YOUR DESK: Put everything away and file anything that needs filing.

CALENDAR: Make sure everything is written on your calendar and check to see if you have any early-morning appointments.

TO-DO LIST: Be very systematic with your to-do list. Quickly write down everything you hope to accomplish the next day, but then put everything in order of priority.

DO ONE EXTRA THING: If needed, for example, write one email you owe. Deal with one piece of paper you’ve been hanging onto. Make a quick phone call you’ve been putting off.

Did I leave out anything anyone thinks is also important? Let me know in the comments!

START YOUR DAY RIGHT

For my writer friends, some ideas for beginning your day in order to be more productive:

GET UP, GET DRESSED

EAT BREAKFAST: Make it healthy!

BE THANKFUL:   Think of at least one thing to be thankful for.

REFLECT: What did you do yesterday to advance your goals? What can you do better today?

STRETCH, WALK AROUND: You’re going to be sitting for a while. Get in some stretches and walking before you get to your desk.

GET COMFORTABLE: Wiggle into your seat. Be sure your mouse and keyboard are in comfortable positions. Is the lighting the way you want it? Has something appeared on your desk that’s in your way and needs to be moved? If you usually have something to drink nearby, is it there?

CALENDAR AND TO-DO LIST: Check your calendar so you don’t forget anything you need to do—an appointment, an email wishing someone a happy birthday, etc. The to-do list should have been written and items prioritized the night before, so go over it to be sure you still like the way your arranged your priorities. If you didn’t do it the night before, do it now.

CHECK EMAIL IF YOU MUST (better to wait until after you’re written your morning words, I’ve found): But don’t answer any unless they are extremely important. Just look through the names and subject lines to see if anything really important came in, like that million-dollar book contract.

SMILE.

WRITE.

BOOKS READ, SEPTEMBER, 2016

I’ve decided to list the books I’ve read in the last month on the first Wednesday of every month with some thoughts about each one. My favorite of the month will be listed first in case you don’t have time to read the whole thing. The rest are in no particular order. Last month I said I would only list those that I consider to be at least worth four stars on Amazon. The vast majority of books I read rate that many stars because I look for authors I like already, best-selling authors, and/or for plot lines given in descriptions and reviews that interest me.

*****

What a mixed bag this month. Two books with “girl” in the titles, and I’ve already read two before with “girl” in the title, and have one more on my Kindle. I hope we’ve come to the end of that trend. A couple of speculative books that didn’t quite do it for me, and a couple with rather poor endings. Yet there were none I could say I detested. Somewhat disappointed is a better way to put it. But I broke my 4-5 star rule—a couple of these would only earn 3 stars from me.

When Krishna Calls by Susan Oleksiw

First I have to say, the setting, Kerala, in Southern India, is so well-drawn, I felt as if I were there.

The main character, photographer Anita Ray, half-American, half-Indian, is engaging and determined.

The story begins with a mother named Nisha leaving her daughter in the back courtyard of the hotel Anita and her Auntie Meema run. Anita decides to hide the child until she learns more about what’s going on. The police arrive and tell her the child’s father has been murdered, and they suspect the child’s mother, who has disappeared. Nisha worked part-time at the hotel, and Anita does not believe she killed her husband. So she begins to investigate.

This story has many twists and turns and kept me flipping the pages. It also had one of the best, most satisfying endings I’ve ever read. Review posted to Amazon and Goodreads. Highly recommended.

when-khrishna-callsLittle Nothing by Marisa Silver

First of all, this book is categorized as “magical realism.” Which means there is magic involved, and that it’s supposed to seem real, I guess. My problem is that this kind of story has never seemed real. I can never put away my suspension of disbelief, no matter how hard I try. But every once in a while, I try again.

This book is a fabulous one in so many ways. If you enjoy magical realism, I think you’ll really like it. But if you’re skeptical, you’ll have some trouble understanding the main character because the plot sort of overtakes her characterization. I got more of her mother’s and potential lover’s feelings than I did hers. And the ending was too vague for me, so that was a disappointment. The main takeaway I need to give you is that I wanted to finish this book—it has so many good points: The writing, the setting, some of the characters, and the overall plot.
So this is one of the most conflicted reviews I’ve ever written. Perhaps I should give up on speculative fiction. But I keep hoping.

Never Con a Corgi by Edie Clair

I wanted to like this book more than I did. It has a lot of positive things going for it—humor, great characters, a mystery. But from the title, I expected a lot more about the dog and how it helped solve the murder. Actually, the daughter of the main character did most of that work. That said, I think a lot of people would enjoy this light read.

5,000 Words Per Hour by Chris Fox

This was short. It could have been shorter. But at last I found out how so many writers write so many words and publish so much every year. You cannot type 5,000 words in an hour, and even a couple of thousand. So, what’s the secret? Dictation.

The Promise by Robert Crais

The book confused me because it’s billed as an Elvis Cole and Joe Pike novel, but neither character was the major player here. Scott and his K-9 were really he main characters. That wasn’t a bad thing, but overall, considering how huge Crais’s reputation is, I was disappointed in this novel. Maybe better to read an earlier one or two. PS: One of the ugliest covers I’ve ever seen.

Twisted Threads by Lea Wait

I was enjoying this because I love to do needlepoint and even have a very old sampler done by a relative handed down from others. But I have no idea how the amateur sleuth figured out who dun it. The threads were not joined together to show us her thought process. She talked to one person, then all of a sudden she’s off to see another, then another with no internal thoughts. So, you might like to read this because it’s fun otherwise. Just be warned about the improbable ending.

The Girl Before by JP Delany

So unusual and intriguing. Two female points of view with alternating chapters, which works well. Unfortunately told in present tense. Often unnoticeable, but that device sometimes jerks me out of a story whereas using past tense never does. Anyway, both women get to live in an award-winning house that is run entirely by computers. The architect/owner is very strange. The women have had horrifying experiences before moving in and so are vulnerable. All three facts lead to a fascinating story. I’d give it five stars except for some faddish writing bits and the overall improbability.

The Third Girl by Nell Godden

It is hard to review this book. I liked quite a lot about it, but it tried to be both suspense and cozy at the same time, skipping around rather erratically. Also, the main character, a young woman, knowing there’s a killer of young women on the loose, goes off on walks and hikes by herself in a place she just moved to a few days before after buying, on-line, property in France. And she hardly knows any French. In the end she escapes the killer, of course, but we never see how that happens on the page—we’re told about it the next day when she describes it. There are three murders mentioned, but only two solved; the one not solved didn’t even need to be in the book. A lot of improbable stuff. On the other hand, I loved the setting, the main character was interesting, as were some of the other characters, and I finished it. Always a good sign.

The Bitter Season by Tami Hoag

Unusual, convoluted read. Overall I liked it, although much was improbable, and lately I’m seeing a lot of books with amazing coincidences, even in ones when the detective says, “There is no such thing as coincidences,” or “I don’t believe in coincidences.” Of course there are coincidences—I’ve run into many extraordinary and many minor ones in my lifetime. But I don’t think more than one in a novel is a good idea. This novel had more than one or two

Black Coffee (anthology) edited by Andrew McRae

Okay, this isn’t fair. I have a story in this one. The stories are supposed to be noir, but not all of them are, in my opinion (mine definitely is, so you’re warned). But that’s okay. Lots of good ones, regardless of genre. At least take a peek at the description on-line and see if you’d think you’d like it.

The Children of Men by P. D. James

I was surprised to start reading this one because I didn’t read the description or any of the reviews. It was recommended by someone in the Short Mystery Fiction Society, so I grabbed it. And found out it was science fiction, not a mystery! It was good—had a mystery or two in it, of course, but I was kind of disappointed.

Miracle Cure by Harlan Cobern

I am a huge fan of Mr. Coben, and even saw a talk he gave at a conference and had him sign his break-out novel, Tell No One, for me there. The funny thing is that he himself recommends that you not read this book. It was an early book, written in his twenties and a bit heavy-handed about the AIDS epidemic going on then and how gays were treated. So, if you’re not already a fan, I’d take his recommendation and not read this although it kept me reading. Pick up Tell No One instead. It was great.

And that’s it for last month. See you next time. What’s the favorite book you read in September, 2016?

 

 

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SOME QUOTES

Helen Keller: So much has been given me that I have no time to ponder that which has been denied.

Unknown: Life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery.

Unknown, and popular for a while, but I forgot it until now, and think you may enjoy it, too: Work as if you don’t need the money, love as if you’ve never been hurt, and dance as if nobody’s watching.

dance toon by aungkarns

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