Archive for May, 2009


Adverbs Adschmerbs

   Posted by: Faith    in Creating Coldcuts

Excerpt from “Follow These Rules for Stronger Writing”, found in the March/April issue of Writer’s Digest, and also available on their website:

6. REPLACE ADJECTIVES AND ADVERBS WITH VIVID NOUNS AND ACTIVE VERBS. Cultivate the use of strong verbs and concrete nouns. They are the most powerful tools in a writer’s arsenal. Instead of:

Since the day Barbara met the werewolf, she felt very scared and frightened.


Since the day she met the werewolf, terror haunted Barbara’s heart.

There is no surer way to weaken your prose than to pepper it with adverbs. There are, of course, times when the adverb is appropriate and necessary. Choose those times carefully.

She looked longingly and lovingly at the chocolate.


She looked at the chocolate with longing and love.

Or better:

Her eyes consumed the chocolate.

Argh. This is so, so difficult to do when you’re not used to it… and thinking about it while you’re writing a first draft can drive you absolutely batty if you’re just in the stage of getting words down on paper. Yet, it’s an incredibly useful skill to use. In his monograph On Writing, Stephen King also says something to the effect of “never use descriptive adverbs unless someone is holding a gun to your head” (or at least that’s what I got out of it). From that day forward, I’ve been more aware when I write one down, but I don’t always do what I should to change it. This means that revising Draft #1 of my WIP is going to be a complete nightmare.

Of course, I already knew that…

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Book Review: ‘Catherine, Called Birdy’

   Posted by: Faith    in Tasty Tomes

11) Catherine, Called Birdy – Karen Cushman (Children’s Fiction/YA)

A friend loaned this book to me, saying I would like it. I was skeptical… but she was right! The main character of Catherine is likable, funny, and believable as a young teen living in 1290 AD. I appreciated how Cushman included a section at the back on the real history of the time period, it shows that she really did her research and tried her hardest to make her novel authentic. And it shows! I recommend: A hot cup of tea, a comfy pillow, and an hour or two of uninterrupted reading time to best enjoy this one!

Rating: 3.5 coffees out of 5

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Motivation: Day 3

   Posted by: Faith    in Creating Coldcuts

On Monday, I attempted to get through the ‘Day 3′ section of Holly Lisle’s ‘How to Find Your Writing Discipline‘… and I say attempted because I didn’t actually manage to do all the things she suggested, but I think I’m on the right track (for now, anyway).

I’d purchased a bulletin board, colored index cards, and push pins as per the instructions, and I mounted the board on my wall Monday morning, right next to my desk. I can reach it from where I’m sitting, which is a real bonus – that alone should be motivation to keep the board going, since it will require little extra effort to maintain.

So, as per instructed, I made 3 columns with 3 different colors of index cards, and placed them on the board. Then below the column headers (DO! – Doing… – DONE.) I placed cards according to their designated colors, each with one task or a step of a task. Most of these went in the ‘DO!’ column, and a few I was already ‘Doing…’.  Simple enough. However, I ran into a little hiccup, namely that my life is very busy, and I could continue making cards for the DO! column until end of the day, and probably still have more things to write down. Holly makes a good point, though – she suggests only getting 5 steps ahead of yourself, so you don’t get overwhelmed.

Fair enough. But I’m not starting from scratch with my writing – I have 2 major WIPs – so some of my cards are a bit broad, like “finish manuscript”. Okay, so maybe I’m not really using the bulletin board exactly how she suggested… but at least I can see a number of my goals all in one place, which is nice. It definitely gives me a better sense of what I’m working toward, if anything.

There’s another section in the ebook that I didn’t do, mostly because I know myself, and I know that it would just be another excuse to procrastinate. It involves breaking tasks down into 10-minute segments, using a timer, and estimating how much time it will take  you to complete each task (there are sheets to fill out for this… and I know how I get filling out sheets… “oh, just one more thing… and this other thing, I should write it down TOO… oh, and–!”). I won’t go into detail since you can read it in the ebook yourself, but it would be a good idea for someone who’s not used to breaking their time into small chunks like that. It really is quite remarkable how much you can get done – writing or otherwise – in 10 minutes. I actually already own a portable timer and often take it around with me to time breaks, or have personal word wars, or any number of other things, so I figured I’d just stick with what I’ve been doing.

Of couse, I can easily see myself slipping back into old habits and patterns, but for now, I think this ebook was motivation enough to get me back up and running again. I’ve written 1000 words a day for 4 days in a row (minus the weekend & Mondays, since they don’t count), and I am excited to write again. Can I keep the momentum going? I’m not sure… but at this point, the end of WIP #1 is so close I can taste it. I’m excited for the ending, I can’t wait for it to be over, both because it’ll mean my first full manuscript is complete, and because I have WIP #2 waiting in the wings for some love of its own.

Yes, I’d recommend Lisle’s motivation tool, but don’t feel compelled to follow it by rote. Use it and modify the final step in a way that will work for you… but make sure you stay on task for Day 1 & 2, and the 20-minute segment at the beginning. I can’t say for certain that I’ve ‘found my writing disciple’ at this point… but it’s definitely a good re-start. And when it comes to the writing life, I say we celebrate the small victories!

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Book Review: ‘Chicago: A Novel’

   Posted by: Faith    in Tasty Tomes

10) Chicago: A NovelAlaa al Aswany (Fiction)

This was an ARC, and probably not something I would have picked up on my own. The story follows a number of Egyptians as they make their lives in Chicago (and a few Americans, which seems a bit odd, given the novel’s focus on Egyptians in Chicago): from a PhD student whose encounter with American culture forces her to re-evaluate everything she was brought up to believe, to a sixty-year old “Americanized” Egyptian who desires to cut all ties with his former country as he struggles with his own marriage to an American woman.

There are a lot of characters, and sometimes it took me a page or so into each chapter before I remembered who was who. Still, I found most of the character threads interesting – some more than others – and gladly followed their stories. However, this isn’t the kind of book that has, oh what are they calling it these days, a “plot”. There are common threads (Egypt, the university where these people are all based, the impending visit of the Egyptian president), but not a tangible plot line to follow. Now, that’s fine, because it kept me reading until the end…

…whereupon I closed the book and felt like I’d wasted my time. Why? There wasn’t any resolution. The characters’ immediate crises are semi-resolved (or at least there is a hint of a possible resolution in the future), though in several cases we’re left knowing that a character is in either: a) danger or b) despair (ie. their particular crisis resolution doesn’t necessarily bring them any sort of happiness, or it throws them into another problem). I sat there when I finished, angry, because I’d spent all this time getting to know people and care for them, and was then left hanging.

Maybe some people like this kind of ending. I, for one, feel that I wasted a perfectly good Sunday afternoon. If you want to read it, I recommend it on the merit that it’s an intriguing book with interesting people – but be forewarned that you will turn the last page unsatisfied.

Rating: 2.5 coffees out of 5

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Finding My Writing Discipline

   Posted by: Faith    in Creating Coldcuts

In my attempt to get back into the ‘swing of things’ and find my motivation for writing again, I came across an interesting little ebook on Holly Lisle’s website. I’ve been considering the 12-month version of her ‘Writer’s Class’ for about a week or so, but in lieu of that for the moment, I wondered if this little ebook could be of any use to me. It’s called How to Find Your Writing Discipline: A Three-Day Plus 20 Minute Do-It-Yourself Writing Bootcamp, and it’s geared toward writers who can’t find the time, initiative, or discipline to write (or get back into writing).

I purchased and downloaded it on Wednesday night, and completed the ’20 minute’ section almost immediately. It was good – not particularly thrilling, but good – and gave me a moment to reflect on my motivations and reasons for wanting to write. I came up with 15 short sentences for the ‘Find Your Triggers’ portion of the 20 minute exercise, and I think I’m going to post these somewhere that I can see them everyday: they state why I want to write and what writing will allow me to do. They’re big, somewhat elusive, long-term goals, per se.

After this was completed, I read through the section for ‘Day One’. The idea here is that I am supposed to spend a day finding out what’s taking up so much time in my life, so that (I assume) I can eliminate the problem areas or convert them into useful task times. Sound useful? I thought so… I was intrigued and decided to go ahead with it. Instead of giving you a long narrative on my experience, I’ll break it down into daily chunks, and we’ll go from there.

Thursday, April 30th: Day One

- Morning: Slept in by accident… of course. Woke up and wrote the time down on the notepad I’d placed next to my bed the night before (as recommended in the book). Carried the book around with me as I did random tasks, trying to maintain as normal a routine as possible. However, this is a bit difficult when you’re self-employed and don’t really have a ‘regular routine’ to begin with. I also discovered that I hadn’t reset any of the clocks in the kitchen after a brief power outage during last Saturday’s storm. Oops.

- Afternoon: Still doing well, staying on target with writing everything down… even the 6 minute break I took to eat some licorice and dance around in the living room…

- Evening: Well, it was date night, so as soon as I was out the door, I figured there was no point in writing everything down. Dinner, movie, coffee… and home again. In retrospect, I probably should have started back up again once I came back through the door, but my brain said “no, no, it’s still date night”, even as I cleaned out the cat’s litter box. Hmm.

Friday, May 1st: Day Two

Up and drinking my free McDonald’s coffee… *ahhh*… so, what’s my task for today? List everything I did yesterday and how much time I spent on each item… and then figure out which tasks are necessary vs. personally fulfilling vs. things I can delegate out vs. unnecessary. Okay, done.

I should mention here that I really appreciate how Holly doesn’t beat you over the head for wasting time on things… instead, she says “that’s free time you can use”. It’s a matter of changing the way you think and use your time, not to mention the fact that you can be thinking about writing (or “prewriting”, as she calls it) during some of those necessary tasks like laundry or dishes. Makes sense to me… but training yourself to do it is more difficult than saying you will. Changing my thinking to reflect this kind of pattern will definitely take time.

But what did I learn about my use of time?

  • I don’t work as much as I should (but I already knew that)
  • I don’t really have a routine… maybe just a few tasks that happen around the same time each day
  • My day changes drastically according to what needs to be done, because I’m self-employed
  • I am so incredibly privileged to be able to stay home and work, and yet I still haven’t figured out how to use my time to the best of my ability… it’s wasteful and very frustrating
  • My house is a mess

Not exactly things I didn’t know already… but it was interesting to see exactly where the time went. It’s also easy to coast past this step and ‘fake it’ a bit, because you know that you’re writing everything down through the day, so you try to be more productive… but that won’t really help in the long run, since the whole point of the exercise is to figure out where the time goes on a normal day.

A chunk of my time went to checking my email, Facebook, and LibraryThing. I think what I need to do (besides shrinking the time spent on it) is be wiser with when I use these websites – for example, I tend to be extremely unproductive between 1pm-4pm. I’m like the waking dead, I’m useless. This is when I should be online; spend time with the pets; do housework (if I have the energy); run errands outside the house; take a nap or reading break. Often, I feel bad because this time is right after lunch and I feel like I’ve wasted the entire afternoon, but all things considered, if I’m just going to stare blankly at my computer screen anyway, it would be better to spend that time doing things that will fulfill me or doing household tasks that are necessary.

Again, I need to change the way I think about time to be able to accomplish this. Seems like I have my work cut out for me. The funny thing is, Dave & I were talking about this just a few days ago, and now here’s Holly with her ebook, telling me the exact same thing. It’s nice to be reaffirmed… it’s not so nice to realize how far you still have to go.

There is a Day Three in the ebook, but I won’t get around to it until Monday. I have a busy weekend ahead with family plans, so I’ll have to set this aside for a few days – but not my thinking! I should start training my brain over the weekend, getting into the “prewriting” habit.

We’ll see how that goes…

Come back next Wednesday to see how things went on Day 3!

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