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Writers–One More Reason to Get Up Out of Your Chair

IMG_0012A few months ago I wrote a short post about what some are calling “the new smoking.” Research seems to indicate that sitting for long periods can be one of the worst inactivities for your health. Now a Stanford study finds individuals are more creative while walking. It seems that in the past people might say they were more creative if they spent time outside, and that might be a first reaction to that statement. “Of course I’m more creative after coming in from smelling the flowers.”  2011-07-24 11.41.52

But the study Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking implies it is the act of walking, not the outdoors itself, that produces more divergent thinking. Some study participants walked indoors and still produced more creative ideas, while others were pushed around in a wheelchair outside. Presumably these individuals did not produce an equivalent number of creative ideas. The effect seemed to last for at least a short period of sitting after a walk as well as during the actual activity. Here is a summary of the study http://news.stanford.edu/news/2014/april/walking-vs-sitting-042414.html.

Just one more reason to get up and out of your chair when you’re writing. Maybe you’ll come up with a new solution or create an astounding dilemma for your protagonist. And what an excuse to walk around the building or down the street in the middle of the day. 2012-07-28 10.08.13Don’t forget your sunscreen. Could a new walking desk set up be down the line?

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The Ecology of the Font

My friend Caroline is wild about fonts, reading book after book on their variability and creation. I’ve been known to fall in love with a particular font as well. At the same time, I’m one of those environmentalists who cringes when I notice one of my workmates purposefully printing a reverse white-on-black sheet of paper. Sure, it would be nice if we had a color printer, but color or white-on-black has little practical use in our healthcare-related positions.

So it was with interest that I read an article about Suvir Mirchandani in the New York Times a few weekends ago. At 14, he’s published a study of the way entities can save money and ink by judiciously picking a font. Three contenders were Times New Roman, Century Gothic, and Garamond.

 

Garamond turned out to be the winner as far as using the least amount of ink. Since it is a slightly “thinner” font, I’m wondering if the readability is less than the standard Times New Roman. Since it is lighter, will it cause eye strain? Will agents and editors rebel?

While writing this, I found links to many sites with free fonts to download. (For example Intavant, and Dafont.) Maybe it’s time to give up the dream of a career in writing and revert to making posters for post.

Do you have a favorite font?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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March 9, 2014

Celia near Pompelli’s at 18.

We’d been friends since 7th or 8th grade. She sat across the aisle from me in homeroom and we’d converse in sign language, the going communication method in those days. When we couldn’t sign fast enough, or the teacher wasn’t around, she’d talk in an almost monotone, swinging her foot, staring straight ahead, almost unaware of her words. She was the first of my circle of friends to have a steady boyfriend.  That boyfriend put a year or two rift in our friendship, since she wasn’t as available t o talk, but when she dumped him at the end of junior year, we called each other nightly.

For years we wrote letters, but she died prior to the dominance of the Internet and email. I often wonder what would have happened if she’d lived into the days of quick and easy email. Even during the last year of our snail mail correspondence the frequency dropped. Would we—I—have been able to pace an email exchange so that neither of us was exhausted or bored?

Celia in the Hickories at 28.

Although my brother had died prior to Celia, his death had been more or less expected whereas hers was unexpected, sudden, and mostly unexplained. The March day I found out was similar to this March day in Colorado. It was warm enough to have the front door open, and the park across the street was full of kids playing.  My husband had gone fishing. I’d hung up from talking to a friend who wanted me to go to the movies with her—I said no—when the phone rang again and Celia’s husband told me she had died. I said, “Okay,” and sat on the stairs and cried.

Later he sent me the letters I’d written to her over the years. She had unfolded them and kept them in a file. I had all hers but I’ve never attempted the task of matching mine to hers because she was notorious for leaving off the date.  One of my earliest blog posts (Sept 28, 2013) used a quote from her letter, which is still hanging on my bulletin board.

She’s hard to forget and someone I will always miss.

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New DANGER for Writers!

Recently a friend wrote a blog about plotting vs. pantsing; it appears there is a new “danger” and meaning related to pantsing.

For some time people at my place of employment have been talking about the need to not sit for extended periods of time. I’ve heard hints of this in the popular press, too, and I am a participant in a long-term, nationwide study that asks a question about how many hours a day you SIT. If this anti-sitting  research pans out, it appears  writers are at risk for ailments not associated with writing in the past. Diabetes. Heart disease. Obesity and probably other ailments as well. Much of the research appears to have come from Australia, with interest shown by many other health care professionals.

Probably most of us think, “Oh, I walk for a half hour a day, or ride my bike for two hours, or exercise on the weekend,” but what this research is saying is that that is not enough and what we need to do is stop sitting for extended periods of time. Exactly what constitutes an “extended” period of time I do not currently know, nor do I know how much time you have to stand up and move around to counteract the effects. Does standing and walking down the stairs to pour coffee provide enough of a break when you’ve been sitting for three hours editing a manuscript? Probably not.

2/20/12 UPDATE: It looks like this could be even more of a concern for older writers. Younger writers turn into older writers on a daily basis, so it most likely is best to establish new habits NOW.

The best advice at the moment might be to set a timer and get up and stretch every hour or so. Dance. If you’re at home, vacuum, run down to the basement to fold the wash, walk to the store. If you can find a place to use your laptop while standing, do that for part of the day. If you’re at writing group, stand up and discuss the writing for at least five minutes of every hour. Just don’t sit in your seat staring at the screen for hours at a time.

This cutting edge research gives new meaning to the word pantser, but unfortunately, it applies to plotters, too!!

Here is the Abstract for one of the original articles from European Endocrinology:

‘Too Much Sitting’ and Metabolic Risk – Has Modern Technology Caught Up with Us?
David W Dunstan,1–5 Genevieve N Healy,1,3 Takemi Sugiyama3 and Neville Owen3

Abstract
Recent epidemiological evidence suggests that prolonged sitting (sedentary behaviour: time spent in behaviours that have very low energy expenditure, such as television viewing and desk-bound work) has deleterious cardiovascular and metabolic correlates, which are present even among adults who meet physical activity and health guidelines. Further advances in communication technology and other labour-saving innovations make it likely that the ubiquitous opportunities for sedentary behaviour that currently exist will become even more prevalent in the future. We present evidence that sedentary behaviour (too much sitting) is an important stand-alone component of the physical activity and health equation, particularly in relation to cardio-metabolic risk, and discuss whether it is now time to consider public health and clinical guidelines on reducing prolonged sitting time that are in addition to those promoting regular participation in physical activity.

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Is a Unique Setting Necessary to the Goodness of a Novel?

Maybe there are two kinds of posts, those that are opinion and those that require research. The second could also include opinion, of course. After reading a comment by Saytchyn (see comment to previous post) that didn’t actually make it into the comments section for some reason, I decided to write separately about my thoughts on the ten characteristics of a First Class Novel.

What she said was that what met the criteria was subjective, and of course it is, but it also seems as if at least a few of the categories might have more objective measures. For one, transporting us to “unlikely cultures or times” seems as it can be objectively determined, although I’m not clear on the qualifier, “unlikely.” The reader should know if a book is set in a culture, country, or time in which they have never participated. Yes, few of us alive have been to a time prior to 1914. Does that give all historical fiction a point in the 1st class category? The book that Saytchyn mentions, The Bone Key by Sarah Monette, is set in England. If the reader has never traveled to London, does this qualify it as an “unlikely culture”? What if you have visited? What about an English reader living in London? Are they likely to think less of the book if they are familiar with the setting?

Here is the list of the first ten adult fiction books I have listed on Goodreads. Not sure why they are in the particular order they are, maybe by date I rated them? I’ll give a quick assessment of whether or not they meet the culture/country/times criteria.

1. Dancer (Colum McCann)–set in Russia and the world of dance   YES

2. Confederacy of Dunces (John Kennedy Toole)–New Orleans of the 1960s. Setting marginally meets the criteria but possibly the characters make it an “unlikely” culture.   Yes

3. Let The Right One In (John Ajvide Lindqvist)–Sweden world of vampires. YES

4. Mother of Sorrows (Richard McCann)–suburban Eastern US, 1950s or 60s.This would seem like a no for anyone over 40.  No.

5. Chang and Eng (Darin Strauss)–mid-1800 world of Siamese Twins in the US. YES

6. Sense of an Ending (Julian Barnes)–contemporary and mid-1900 England.  A very little bit, but how different in England from the US?  not really

7. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? (Peter Hodges) mid 20th century mid-American small town.  No, at least if you’re over 25.

8. A Dangerous Woman Mary McGarry Morris –20th century small town.  No, again, if you are over 25.

9. Nobody’s Fool  and Straight Man Richard Russo–upstate New York, small town, 2oth century and college town in the Eastern Us.  No.

10. A Patchwork Planet (Anne Tyler)–20th century Baltimore. Again, not really.

What does this short analysis say? That I like books with a change in culture/time/country, but it isn’t  necessary for me to think a book first class. I know from that sampling that my love of Sense of an Ending was driven by the beautiful writing. The last five were related to the characters. Overall, for me, although a unique, interesting, or foreign setting adds to my assessment of a book, it’s not strictly necessary for me to call a book First Class.

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Lessons Resolutions Have Taught Me

I’m not sure I’m ever going to get around to writing the post I was thinking about all week, so I’m taking the easy way out and discussing resolutions.

I haven’t often made those lose weight/exercise more resolutions that are easy to make and easy to discontinue when February rolls around. In the past, I’ve attempted to resolve to do something I’d want to continue for many years. One year my goal was to entertain in some capacity at least monthly. Another year I planned to do something cultural on a monthly basis. That kind of goal prompted me to do something that I enjoyed and probably wanted to do but had been finding excuses not to do. Even though I don’t set either of these as current goals, the fact that I did them for a full year helps me stay in the groove. For various reasons, entertaining has morphed into a goal of twice a year–once outside in the summer and once at the holidays, but the mere fact that I once did this more often encourages me to exceed my goals.

I started implementing my resolution for 2014 more than a month ago. This year I am putting things where they belong in the first place. No more jackets thrown on chairs or mail shoved to the side. This should help me be both neater, making it easier to clean the house, as well as accomplish more since I won’t have to be looking for missing items. If I open the mail and pay the bill, throw away the donation request right away, etc. I won’t have missing bills or other mail avalanching off my desk. This resolution is a direct result of B.K. Winstead’s post Mindful Writing, Mindful LIfe.

The advantage of making a resolution and sticking with it for a year may be that remnants of it continue to influence in later years. I might not entertain monthly these days, but I do still think to ask people over; I look at occasions as a possible time to entertain and I am more willing to take the time to attend a concert or visit an art museum. In the back of my mind, I’m still counting how well I’m doing with both those goals. They are now part of how I operate. My writing goal for this year is to post a blog a week. I believe I posted my first blog on Sept. 27 and although all my posts have not been scintillating, I have already posted often enough to average once a week. This is, then, both the last entry for the past year and the first of the new one.

Since for me writing is all about interaction, I’d love to hear what your writing goals are for the year and how you plan to implement them. At the end of the year we can all see how we did!  Happy 2014.

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Secret Santa, Gift Card Rant

I’ve played Secret Santa at two work places. If you don’t know what Secret Santa is, it is an activity where you pick a recipient and secretly provide a small gift, usually each day the week, before the holiday. There normally is a spending limit. In years past, we had a very low dollar limit for all five gifts combined. We drew names early enough shopping wasn’t a hindrance. In anticipation of the following year, I usually picked up holiday related items at post-Christmas sales.

My current workplace has increased the dollar limit to $20, the time limit to NINE days–you pick at least four–and we fill out a preference sheet as our ticket to participating. We draw our recipient four days before we start. Granted, this gives us a weekend to shop, but with the preference sheet, it makes me feel pressured. What if I don’t want to, or can’t, shop that weekend? For me, the fun is getting a small gift daily as well as trying to sneak a gift to my person each day, but nine days is too many!.

What I most object to, though, is the preference sheet. Yes, it is nice to know that someone is allergic to nuts or hates dark chocolate since you always wonder, do they like purple or should I have gotten the yellow Santa? Okay, so some basic information is nice if your organization is large enough you don’t know everyone. But when the questions involve hobbies and what stores you prefer, I feel as if I’m being handed a checklist and if I don’t purchase at least one item on that list, I’m a bad Santa.

To me, this is similar to the proliferation of gift cards or money as requested presents. Sure, now that postage often costs more than the gift you want to mail, gift cards are a good alternative for those at a distance. Before gift cards were the preferred present, my sister’s mother-in-law sent gift certificates along with a catalog with ideas circled. No rule you had to purchase that exact thing, but if it happened to be a sweater, it was nice to pick blue over pink, or make sure you ordered a size that fit. This year I’m giving my nieces gift cards to a local restaurant. With gift cards it is possible to be creative, but with money I feel like I’m nothing but the bank. I want to say to my sisters, “Why don’t we add up all the gift-giving occasions, multiply by twenty-five  for each gift/person, subtract what you’d spend on me, and I’ll give you a check to cover the kids’ lives.”

I don’t believe Secret Santa gifts need to be practical;frivolous and silly serves the purpose. I also don’t believe most gifts need to conform to what you want or what you expect. The best gifts both reflect the giver and the recipient. How will you ever know you like something new and different if you aren’t given the chance to explore possibilities beyond your usual field of interest or knowledge? The very best Secret Santa gifts I received were from a Danish woman who made me paper ornaments and Danish cookies. I have those Danish stars hanging on my tree today, twenty years after I received them. I never would have written on my preference sheet, “White handmade paper stars,” but I love them and look forward to taking them out every year.

The group at the first workplace, a nursing home, was small enough we knew or could tease out likes and dislikes without resorting to a list. (The year the handyman selected my name and immediately cornered me to say, “So, you like to ride your bike?” I knew immediately he was my Santa.) My current organization, although not huge, is spread out and many of us seldom interact with others. Maybe I’m the only employee who feels closer to my Santa and recipient. I can point out which teddy bear was given to me by whom, which Santa tin was presented by another work friend. For me, Secret Santa provides a chance to make connections and have some fun.

I wanted to relate Secret Santa and writing in some way but when I attempt this, it gets convoluted and involved and better saved for other, more specific blogs.

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How Does a Literary Agent Target an Editor?

Here’s a post by the literary agent Linda Epstein on how she targets an editor. I’m exhausted just reading it!

How do you target an agent?

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Grit and Writing leads to Success?

Tom HIlbert, the coach of the Colorado State University volleyball team, posted a Weekend Ted Talk. The talk, via The Huffington Post, was titled The Key to Success. The CSU Rams are currently one of two undefeated teams in D-1 volleyball in the nation and are ranked #10. I’m suspecting one of the reasons Tom found this talk interesting is its relation to the team and the fact that they keep finding ways to win when this year had been presented as a rebuilding year. Friday night’s game was played against Air Force, our instate conference foe. The Falcons are perennial bottom dwellers in the conference standings. CSU is 41-1 against them, having last lost in 1982. While watching the cadets battle us on Friday, I turned to the woman sitting next to me and said, “They play with grit.” Even though they had to know they were likely to lose, they kept playing without a hang-dog attitude. One very long rally earned the respect of the crowd and they were given a round of applause.

The aforementioned TED talk suggests that IQ isn’t a good measure of success but grit is. What does it mean to have grit? Merriam-Webster online defines it as “mental toughness and courage.” Dictionary.com includes pluck, an indomitable spirit, and firmness of character. The lecturer, Angela Lee Ducksworth, defines grit as the passion and perseverance to accomplish long-term goals, or working hard to make dreams or goals a reality.

I never feel bad when CSU beats AF, mostly because I know these players have a chance to be successful in other areas of life, partly due to their grit, but obviously, grit in this instance does not guarantee success in volleyball. My question is, does it equal success in writing?

Ms Lee Ducksworth states many talented individuals do not meet with success, just as there are many smart people who are not successful. Submitting writing for publication is the one area of writing  that I would agree requires grit. When you are faced with a deluge of rejection, you have to be able to get back up and resubmit. One other quality of grit that is mentioned in the short lecture is that those who demonstrate it do not believe failure is a permanent condition. Definitely a necessary characteristic to have as a writer. Most published authors had to exhibit some amount of grit in order to obtain the state of publication. One of the few successful authors who comes to mind who did not have the grit to continue to seek publication is John Kennedy Toole. Confederacy of Dunces,

the 1981 Pulitzer Prize winner, would be considered successful by most criteria, although the same may not be said for the author since he committed suicide prior to the book’s acceptance. It was his mother who exhibited grit in her determination to get his book published.

What about other aspects of writing? Does it take grit to finish a novel? A short story or poem? Or is the grit in the editing and rewriting? And even if you have the grit, say, to finish Nanowrimo, we all know that 50,000 words does not equate with success in publication. Possibly we could use the mentality that those who are successful have the grit to revise and rewrite to the point that their work is accepted and published. Certainly that is one type of grit, the determination to be published no matter what, and by that definition, anyone who is unwilling to conform to the exacting demands of agents/publishers/genres may not have the grit necessary for publication. Of course it is necessary to be flexible enough to listen to the critiques of others, but to some degree it seems to me that saying that an author who has spent time and effort concocting the best piece of writing of which they are able who is still not able to find a route to publication lacks grit, is an example of blaming the victim. Often you hear that if you are good enough and have worked at perfecting your craft, you will find success. If that is true, then someone who doesn’t find success did not maintain grit long enough.

This unsuccessfully published individual might still have had the grit to finish a novel or other piece of writing, but does having a finished product equate with success?

If you are a talented author with the will to complete a piece of writing and the grit to seek publication, are you guaranteed success? I think there are plenty of us out there who would respond no. What other factors are involved in writing (as in publishing) success and do they require grit in some form?

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Blog Post #4 is the True Test

This should be my fourth Social Media Monday and my fourth blog post. The other two don’t count since I was trying to put the stories under the tab I wanted them in, not write a blog! I’ve started two other blogs. Both bogged down after entry #4, and I’m curious to see if that will happen with this one, too.

I had wanted this blog to be my attempt at having the necessary social media platform many in the publishing industry espouse. I have to admit, though, that I’m somewhat discouraged since it feels like the novel with the same name as this website may be going nowhere. As in out to agents, not as in finished. It’s finished. It’s ready for a final copy edit, then out, but I’m despairing of having a place to send it. The reason for this is the subject of the post I want to write but unfortunately, it is going to take more time than I have today, even though I started thinking about it years ago and wrote part of a draft yesterday.

Back to work!

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