Accountability Tuesdays – Week 29

Before I get on with the accountability today, I want to mention a couple of things.

First, a huge hug to the new followers I’ve been getting on this blog and on Twitter. I’m not sure exactly what I’ve been doing lately that suddenly has people sneaking in out of the shadows toward my sites, but I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. Welcome, thanks for coming, and I hope you stick around! 🙂

Second, on a whim I recently tried Googling myself, and I was quite amused to find that the first three results were actually me. I rather don’t need my 9gag profile popping up on Google, but I was happy to see that the second result was this blog and the third was my 750Words.com account. It’s a good sign when your real persona pops up on Google, right?

Third: a call out for info and/or advice. I’ve Googled this problem many times but I can never seem to find anything that quite matches my issue. I’ve been having trouble sleeping again (it seems to happen for several weeks at a time, a few times a year), and the issue as far as I can describe it is that I spend an inordinate amount of time in dream sleep (REM sleep), meaning that my rest isn’t, well…restful. I’m waking up feeling like hell even when I sleep 9 or more hours, and it’s very wearing. I’ve consulted my doctor before and his only suggestion was to try antidepressants, which I thought was a little silly and insulting since I’m pretty damn confident that I’m not depressed. So since I can’t seem to find any information on my own, I thought I’d ask here on the off-chance someone may know something or suffer from similar. Help?

Okay, on to the accountability.

Health and Body Image Goal

If I’m totally honest, I’ve plummeted miserably on this one. I’ve been doing no form of exercise and have been eating rather terribly. It doesn’t help that I’m experiencing sleep issues, as mentioned above. I keep trying to convince myself to get up a little early in the mornings (before it’s scorching hot out) and do my zombie runs, but I haven’t been able to manage it because I’m so damn tired. I need some motivation, terribly, and that’s a fact.

Editing Goal

It’s been a surprisingly busy week so I haven’t managed to sit down at my laptop for very long periods of time, but I’m still (slowly) plugging away at my supernatural romance. Really, really looking forward to finishing so I can submit it to a publisher and move on to my zombie apocalypse.

1,000,000 Word Goal

It hasn’t been a great week, but I did manage to get a few words in. Between blogging and a return to 750Words, I managed to get in 4802 words this week. I’m hoping to ramp it up this week through a series of ideas I’ve compiled, one of which is to use 750Words.com in the mornings to empty my brain of the dreams I’m plagued with every night. It might be a pro-bono situation…I get extra words, and maybe writing down the dreams will make them go the hell away. Starting this Sunday, as well, I plan to start reading The Artist’s Way and work my way through the 12-week process, so look forward to that.

29 weeks down, 23 to go. Here’s hoping the remaining 23 start to look up a little!

Things I Know About Kids – Germs

It’s pretty much a given that when a new parent is expecting their first child, an endless wave of advice will follow. Sometimes it can be annoying, and sometimes the “advice” makes you wonder how the giver’s children ever survived to adulthood. But for the most part this tradition of passing down the knowledge of how to rear our young is a good thing, especially in those first few months when we really have no idea what we’re doing. Expecting parents will read books, take classes, watch documentaries, research on the internet, ask their doctor a million questions, and still, in the end, everything is unexpected. Therefore it’s great to have people around you to pass information down, even if not all of it turns out to be helpful.

My daughter is almost two and a half now, and I like to think I’ve learned a few things. Though what I have to say won’t necessarily be helpful to everyone, I thought I’d share because it will be helpful to someone.

For my first installment, I thought I’d talk about germs.

This is a touchy subject for some, I know, especially those who are squeamish or have serious issues with germs, but here’s what I know: germs will not kill your child. Seems logical enough, right? And yet we have a veritable epidemic of children being scoured multiple times a day, disinfected at regular intervals, and denied some of life’s little joys because they might get a bit of dirt on them.

This might be hard for some people to believe, but Google it, I dare you. Some germs are good for you. In fact, we have bacteria all over our bodies at all times that are actually essential to our health. Dirt – the good old fashioned kind that your grass and flowers grow in – is actually filled with tons of good bacteria as well. It’s been studied and shown that kids who play in the dirt are healthier because they get more access to these good “germs”. And this last one is going to be a real shocker: guess how your body learns how to fight sickness? That’s right. Germs. Your body learns how to fight germs by being exposed to them. It’s no different from training your mind. If you do a little bit of math every year up until you’re a teenager you’re going to understand it a hell of a lot better than if you were kept away from math until you were a teenager and then had it all thrown at you at once. The immune system is the same way. It can’t learn how to deal with germs it’s never seen.

I’ve seen it dozens of times: mothers chase their children around with wet-naps, bathe them twice a day, and won’t let them touch their toys until they’ve been disinfected with every kind of chemical out there, and then they can’t figure out why their kid seems to get every single cold that goes around. On the flip side of things, my husband and I are very lenient on this front with our daughter and she is rarely ever sick. She’s only had one full-on cold that I can recall (which we all had…it was a rough one), but other than that even when she seems to feel a little under the weather she’s better within a day. The kid is extremely resilient, and yes, I believe it’s because we let her play in the dirt, we can handle her going a day without having a bath, and we clean her toys only when they are genuinely filthy. She gets exposure to things that build up her immune system, and so far it seems to be working quite well.

So go ahead, for goodness sakes…plop your kid in the front yard and let them eat some grass. Unless you’ve pumped it full of fertilizers and weed-killers I promise it won’t hurt them. It might even help them.

Contesting Your Writing

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

99. Writing Contests

To be perfectly honest, it hasn’t been such a long time since I first discovered that the world of writing contests actually existed. Mind you, I knew of the concept of writing contests, but I didn’t realize it was such big business, so to speak. Do a quick search on Google and you will find sites upon sites upon sites toting contests for those brave enough to submit a piece of work. There are contests for short stories, contests for poems, contests for drabbles, contests for every type of genre. There are fun contests amongst fellow writers and serious contests with prizes and/or publication on the line. There really is no way any one writer could even consider them all, never mind enter them all.

Personally I haven’t been able to pluck up the courage to enter any such contests yet, but for those who might be interested I offer this little nugget of advice: research the contest first. Anything with prizes, in particular, is likely to have a laundry list of rules, terms and conditions, and possible sneaky ways to bite you in the ass. A contest from a publisher, for example, may have a clause hidden in the terms and conditions that states that the publisher retains legal rights to reprint your submission without compensation. I’ve heard a few horror stories about things like this, so I urge you, do your homework before submitting to a contest.

And if I ever do pluck up the courage to enter one myself, I promise you will all be the first ones to know!

Going Beyond Your Depths

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

90. Adding depth to your writing

Oh man, this post could go in so many different directions depending on how we think about the word “depth”. My brain is beginning to hurt just thinking about it. Couple that with the fact that I’ve never so much as submitted a manuscript to an editor, agent, or publisher, and I find myself wondering if I’m really one to talk. But as with several of the other posts I’ve written in response to the 101 Blog Post Ideas, I’ll go ahead and give you my thoughts and opinions, and you can take them for what they are. For additional info, I suggest wandering over to Kristen Lamb’s Blog. She’s written advice on almost every aspect of writing and she’s about as close to an expert as I’ve ever come across.

So…depth. There’s no doubt about it, you want your writing to have depth, but that’s a fairly broad term. Are we talking about emotional depth, depth in the plot line, or depth within our characters? Are there other forms of depth we could be considering? Probably, but these three are the ones that come to mind right now, so let’s talk about those.

First of all, emotional depth and character depth, which actually go hand-in-hand. Maybe this isn’t an important aspect to all readers, but for me it’s an absolute necessity. If I, at some point during the reading of the story, do not feel emotionally attached to a character (not necessarily the main character) then I feel like the author has not done his or her job. If the book in question is part of a series, failing to make me feel emotionally invested in a character will result in my failing to continue on to the second book in the series. That’s not to say that every character has to have an elaborate back story that endears me to them, but someone in the story has to make me care about them. Otherwise why do I care what happens to them? This sort of depth is best achieved, in my opinion, by finding reasons for your readers to bond with your characters. Harry Potter gains our empathy because he’s an orphan and we feel sorry for him for having to grow up with his awful relatives. Eddard Stark gains our approval because he’s an honorable man who cares deeply for his family and finds himself in a difficult situation that pulls him from them. Frodo Baggins has us rooting for him because he’s clearly the underdog with no discernible skills or abilities. Your characters have to have both upsides and downsides, merits and faults. The main reason that so many people hate the character Bella Swan is because she’s too goddamn perfect. Even her “faults” are played off as things that make her more adorable and endearing to the other characters. It pulls the reader away because you find yourself wanting to see her fail just to prove that she’s capable of failure, and that’s not a great way to think about the character who is meant to be your hero. Your characters have to be human (even when they technically aren’t) or else your readers can’t get inside their heads and feel for them, become them, and find themselves desperate to see them succeed.

As for depth of the plot, this is something that will vary from book to book, genre to genre, but the basic element remains the same. You do not want your story to be predictable. Now obviously a psychological thriller is going to have a lot more plot depth than a supernatural romance, but the point is that you have to occasionally give your reader something surprising or upsetting. If your reader is constantly thinking “this is what’s going to happen next” or “this is totally the big reveal” and it turns out that they’re right, that’s not a good thing. Sure, some level of predictability is to be expected, and there are always going to be those readers who somehow always seem to know what the author was thinking while writing the story, but most readers crave some kind of mystery to their books. You don’t want to be able to figure out exactly what is going to happen because otherwise you could just write the story yourself. One of the reasons the A Song of Ice and Fire series is so interesting is because it constantly has you guessing. You’re never quite sure who is a good guy or a bad guy, or what might happen next, or what just happened ten pages ago for that matter. You don’t have to create a labyrinth of mystery, confusion, and intrigue, but you have to give your readers something worth looking forward to. Reveal a good guy to actually be a bad guy or vice versa. Throw in something magical or otherwise supernatural just because it would be surprising and interesting. Kill off a character that the reader would have thought was important or had become attached to (this one doubles for emotional depth). Keep your readers guessing, basically, because that’s what keeps them moving on to the next page, and the next, and the next. Why do you think so many television shows end on a cliffhanger every single freakin’ episode?

In general, when writing your book, think about what it was you liked about the books you’ve read. Think about the types of things that made you like the characters, what events made you gasp or cringe or cry, what about the story made it impossible for you to put the book down. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and that all the different types of books have already been written, and any truly good author will tell you that part of being a writer is stealing from other writers. Use those concepts to figure out what is good about other books, and to imbue your own stories with those successful elements. Build depth by learning to recognize it in the writing of others. And when in doubt, remember what I always try to remember: if my writing doesn’t affect me, emotionally and mentally, then how can I possibly expect it to affect others?

Accountability Tuesdays – Week 7

Tuesday, Tuesday, wherefore art thou, Tuesday?

Oh crap, you’re right here? God dammit, I’ve gotta learn how to pay more attention to time passing.

It’s been a bit of a rough week, goal-wise, so let’s go ahead and get this over with, shall we?

Health and Body Image Goal

This week wasn’t as good as I was hoping, but better than past weeks have been. Of course, as I’ve mentioned before I never eat particularly well while at home, so that’s a nick in the ‘bad’ column, but on the ‘good’ side of things I started doing Jillian Michaels’ Body Revolution. It’s a 90-day program something like P90X, but the videos are shorter and involves more cardio than the weight-training-heavy P90X. So far I’ve done two of the “Workout” videos (which are high-intensity interval training programs that intersperse cardio moves with weight moves), and one of the Cardio videos. All are much tougher than I was imagining. I had hoped to use the first week to do Jillian’s “Rev Your Metabolism” program, which is basically doing two videos a day instead of one for the first week, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. I managed it the first day, but on the second I only got five minutes into the second video and literally could not lift my legs anymore. I was really trying, I swear, but it just wasn’t happening. So I’ll continue on with the rest of the week as normal and maybe I’ll be able to manage the “Rev” plan on one of the consecutive weeks. Either way, I’m getting some exercise in, which is way more than I’ve been doing previously.

Editing Goal

I’m going to just go ahead and admit that I still haven’t done jack on this one. No excuses, no reasons, just good old fashioned “Nope. Haven’t done it.”

1,000,000 Words Goal

The only words I wrote this past week were for the blog (I’m trying to schedule ahead of time so I don’t have to worry about it for a little while), and those words totaled 3646. Not a great week, but still better than nothing. Hoping to do better this week, but I’ve got quite a few things to take care of at home before I head back out West next Tuesday, so we’ll just have to see, I guess.
And before I put this post to rest, a request:
Does anyone have any advice for potty training a toddler? I could really use some, seeing as we’re not getting anywhere. She comes to the bathroom with us (and even asks to go herself sometimes) and sits on her potty for a few minutes, but as yet she hasn’t done anything so I don’t think she’s really catching on so much as she’s just copying mommy and daddy. One more week until my husband is stuck doing this alone for two weeks straight, so any advice would be just lovely. 🙂

Beliefs In and Out of Writing

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

83. How your faith or beliefs have impacted your writing.

A few days ago I read a piece of advice online: “If you want people to like you, don’t talk about your religious or political beliefs.” I admit, I let out a little chuckle. “Too true,” I thought. “Nothing will make people dislike you faster than hearing about how you don’t believe the same things as them.”

This is a constant consideration in writing, and I find that to be rather unfortunate. I have made no attempts on this blog to hide the fact that I am atheist, and it saddens me to think that I may have lost readers because of that fact, because I personally pride myself on being tolerant. I may not believe what you believe, but I accept that it’s your own business what you believe and it would be nice to think that others extend me the same courtesy and don’t judge my writing based on this one small detail of my personal life. And while I know that there are definitely people out there who do extend me this courtesy, I’m not naive enough to think that everyone does.

Faith and beliefs are loaded topics because of the emotion involved in discussing them. People simply don’t like it when other people believe different things. It’s one of the reasons that American-made movies have American heroes and the bad guys are always from other countries, specifically ones that America has been at war with. People naturally like to think of those with different beliefs as being “bad guys”. That can make infusing your own beliefs into your writing quite difficult because you don’t want to destroy your reader base just because your hero happens to have a faith or certain beliefs that clashes with the majority of your potential readers.

Personally, I try to keep my own beliefs out of my fiction. I don’t hide it on this blog because I don’t believe in hiding my beliefs (if you dislike me because of that, that’s your problem, not mine) but I see no reason to carry that over into my fiction. I’m not trying to make any statements, I’m just trying to write an enjoyable story. In order to do that my characters may occasionally share my beliefs or they might believe the exact opposite of what I believe. What matters is that those choices impact the story in a positive way.

So I suppose, in general, my “faith and beliefs” haven’t affected my writing much at all because I actively try not to let them do so.

Is it love? Definitely.

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

55. How to enjoy writing time more

I’m quite certain that this is an issue that plagues many writers, particularly those who write as their primary form of income. I can’t say that I wouldn’t face the same problem if I were in a position to live off of my writing, but at this current time finding ways to enjoy my writing time is definitely not an issue.

I hope to be published someday, but right now the reason I write is because I enjoy it. I love creating a story with nothing but a pen and paper or a blank word processor document. I love finding the perfect words, and I love writing a scene that’s so powerful I can almost feel myself experiencing it. I love to get into the heads of my characters and let the thoughts and emotions that come through pour out onto the page. I love to torture them and I love to reward them. I love reading something I wrote and being able to honestly say that it is something I would enjoy reading if I’d found it in a bookstore. The only thing I don’t love about writing is that I don’t have more time to do it.

But that doesn’t help you. I guess if I had to give some advice, it would be this: write what you enjoy. It’s not always possible, for many obvious reasons, but if you find your enjoyment of writing beginning to wane, take a break from the usual and sit down and write something that you want to write. If you’ve always wanted to write a children’s book, do it. If you’ve been secretly longing to write a cheesy romance story, do it. Let the words that have been building up inside your head pour out. No one has to read it if you don’t want them to, but I’ve found that one of the most cathartic things a writer can do is to sit down and just write the thoughts that are running through their head, no matter how silly, cheesy, foolish, or nonsensical.  Letting yourself write what you want instead of what you think you should is a surefire way to enjoy writing more.

Moral: Math is Evil

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

49. Advice you wish you had never heard

It’s a sad truth of human nature that we like to believe that we’re experts on anything we have a tiny grain of knowledge about. Anything we saw on CNN, read about in a magazine, or tripped clumsily over while browsing the internet becomes a topic on which we can speak as though we’ve taken a university course or three on it. The result of this shared delusion is that a lot of people give a lot of advice on things they aught not be giving advice on. Bad advice ends up being given to people who don’t know the difference and don’t figure out that it was bad advice until they’ve already used it and reaped the “rewards”.

I believe that for the most part I’ve managed to be lucky on the receiving end of this issue. I can’t honestly say that I’ve never given bad advice, but I’m fairly confident in stating that I generally recognize bad advice that is given to me and am able to react accordingly. As with all things, however, there are always exceptions.

There is one particular example that I remember from college. My program was set up in such a way that we would take four separate math courses, creatively named Technical Math 1, 2, 3, and 4. Alternatively if you were ambitious you could choose to take Calculus 1 and 2 instead. The coursework would logically be more difficult, but you would save a lot of money by taking only two courses instead of four. I had always been good at math and, seeing this, my department dean advised that I take the Calculus courses. He rationalized that it was also an excellent decision because if I ever decided to further my education toward programming someday I’d already have the required level of math behind me. I reluctantly agreed and signed up for the more difficult option.

But here’s the thing…the Calculus professors at our college, uh…left something to be desired. One was a Chinese man with a thick accent who, while he was actually quite a fine teacher, was extremely difficult to understand. The second was a tenured jerk who did whatever he pleased, and what pleased him was to see how many of his students he could fail each semester. The third, the professor that I ended up with, just plain didn’t give a rat’s ass. He had no teaching skills to speak of, and all but refused to answer questions asked during class. In addition to dealing with this less-than-half-decent excuse for a professor, I was also dealing with the various other stresses that one experiences during college, not to mention the stresses that any young adult deals with on a daily basis. In case you aren’t catching my point…I was stressed.

I passed Calculus 1 with a mid-70. Calculus 2 was another story. By the time the final exam came along I was seriously concerned that I was going to fail. I hadn’t done well on any of the homework and I’d only barely managed to pass the various tests throughout the term. As I sat in my bedroom studying the night before the exam I realized that if some of this stuff didn’t start sinking in immediately I was going to fail the course. I had never failed a class in my life. Hell, I don’t think I’d ever even failed a test in my life. The thought of it panicked me. While I knew that it wasn’t really the end of the world, it felt like it at the time. I was miserable, and that night was the closest I’ve ever come to a genuine anxiety attack.

In the end I managed to make a good enough mark on the exam to pull out of the course with a 52 and I never had to concern myself with advanced mathematics again. However, while I did end up passing the course, I experienced a level of panic and anxiety that I couldn’t have imagined up until that point. Looking back it was clearly not something worth losing my mind over, but the way I (choose to) look at it is, I never would have found myself in that position if it weren’t for the advice of my department dean. Okay, sure, it wasn’t technically bad advice since he couldn’t possibly have known what I would go through for that course, but the prompt wasn’t about bad advice in particular, just advice you wish you had never heard, so it still applies. 🙂

Write Everyday!

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

48. Advice you wish someone had given you

Over the past couple of years I’ve been delving deeper and deeper into the social networking aspect of being a writer. I run this blog, tweet when I think of something I think is worth saying, and browse the ‘net for interesting material written by my fellow online authors. During this social journey I’ve found myself regularly stumbling across bits of advice on various aspects of writing, managing the lifestyle of a writer, getting published, and so on. Everyone out there (myself included) feels the need to impart our little pieces of wisdom, and there is one particular tidbit that I’ve seen come up on a very regular basis:

Write Everyday.

There is a saying going around, based on an idea posed by Malcolm Gladwell, that a person needs 10,000 hours of practice with something in order to become an expert. While that number may not be accurate for everyone (natural talent – or lack thereof – have to account for something as well), it’s an understandable concept. In order to become good at something you have to practice, or in other words, spend a lot of time working on it. As with anything, writing is something that takes a good deal of time and effort to become good at (and you should never stop trying to get better), and therefore you should Write Everyday.

It seems ridiculously obvious to me now, but I really wish someone would have imparted this particular piece of advice on me when I was much younger, when it first became apparent to me that I would always want to be a writer regardless of whatever else occurred in my life. If I had taken the time to Write Everyday since the third grade just imagine how much practice I would have behind me! Imagine how many words I would have put to paper, how many finished stories I might have to my name! Imagine how much more confident I might be, how much closer I may have come toward publication! And while it is never too late to change, to do what you think you should be doing, you can’t deny the fact that I would have benefited from this idea much more earlier in my life. These days I have many more responsibilities: I have a demanding work schedule, a husband and daughter who both require my time and attention, a household that needs taking care of, and a host of other daily tasks and concerns that require dealing with. These days it is much harder to Write Everyday, but if I had known to do so when I was younger I could have had years of this practice behind my belt before all these other responsibilities came to light.

In conclusion, if there are any younguns out there right now who aspire to become writers and have somehow managed to stumble across this blog, I’m giving you the advice that I never got: WRITE EVERYDAY!

Critique Coping

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

20. How to cope with a substantial critique or edit

Reading critiques or edit suggestions must be the worst part of being a writer. I don’t care who you are, no one enjoys being told that there’s something wrong with the thing they’ve spent so much of their time and effort creating. Your initial reaction is always going to be one of defense: “This idiot doesn’t know what they’re talking about! I’m right and they’re wrong, end of discussion!” Even if you’re mature and composed enough to realize that the person giving you the critique has a very good point, part of you will still want to argue, to fight and say that there’s nothing wrong with the way you wrote it.

For myself, the way to deal with a critique is by taking a deep breath, reading it through a couple of times, and trying to see what the reader didn’t say. That is, I put a lot of effort into trying to decide whether the reader is being harsh because they really want to help, or if they’re just being intentionally cruel; whether their ideas have merit, or if they’re letting personal opinions get in the way of sense; whether they genuinely want to help you make the story better, or if they’re just shooting out some generic nonsense to mask the fact that they barely read the story.

The sad fact is that while you can’t have the knee-jerk defensive reaction to critiques, you also can’t accept them as gospel. One thing I learned while hanging out at Critique Circle is that, yes, some readers are knowledgeable people who truly want to help you make your story be the best that it can be, while other people are just going to force their opinions on you under the guise of giving you “advice”. That’s why it’s a good idea to have multiple proof-readers. For example, there is a scene near the beginning of the action in “Nowhere to Hide” in which the main character strips off her pajama top and wraps it around her fist so that she doesn’t hurt herself while breaking a window. When I posted this scene for critique, one reader told me that the whole scene was pointless and “smacked of fetish”. I was hurt and confused when I read that because I didn’t feel that way at all, and I thought the scene made a lot of sense given the situation. I was just beginning to wonder if maybe I was being a little sensitive when half a dozen other critiques came in and almost all of them mentioned how much they loved that particular scene. If I hadn’t gotten those other critiques I may have changed the scene based on one person’s opinion, which would have been foolish.

So in conclusion, take critiques seriously, but not always to heart.