Be a Winner with your writing

I did it! I won the Wordscape tournament. No, I didn’t get a gold trophy for the mantle, nor did I get a purse of cold coins. I got a lot of points, which I will never use. The point is not what I won, but why I won and what that has to do with writing.

Learn new words. My life-long reading habit has given me a love of words. Sometimes I love the feel of them as they fill my mouth; sometimes I like the sound of them The tintinnabulation of the bells, bells, bells has always felt and sounded like word candy. Over the years, I have amassed a large vocabulary and seldom come across words I’ve never seen or heard before. It’s always fun to find a new one.
If Wordscape accepts a word that I’ve never seen, I can tap the word and the definition pops up on my screen. Of course, if I don’t see or use it again, I will not remember it, but the word itself is a discovery—even if ephemeral. If I do manage to make the word part of my vocabulary, my writing will be the richer for it.

Gain a new skill. The ability to see words in a set of jumbled letters is a skill that helps with other things. My Scrabble skills have increased as well, even though I seldom play. My crossword puzzle skills have benefitted, too. I can see a partial word and my brain automatically starts filling in reasonable letters for the blanks. 
No, I don’t sit around playing word games all day, but it is another way of keeping my brain active. Keeping your mental game sharp and exercised is always a winning strategy.

Strengthen your Self-Discipline. I spent the final day of the tournament alternately writing, editing, and confidently playing short bursts of my game. I was Number 1 until two hours before the tournament ended. As I watched the screen, my standing dropped to Number 2! Oh, no!
It was nearly time to sleep, and I could always try again next weekend. But that would be quitting, wouldn’t it? How far behind could I be? I turned off the TV and concentrated. The Game Was On! It took me an hour to regain first place, and then I couldn’t stop because I pictured the now-number-2 player hunched over his own screen, gritting his or her teeth and working furiously to unseat me once again. I was tired and sleepy, but I persevered. I played on, keeping my Number One seat until the tournament ended.
That is how books are written. It’s not all fun, especially the proofreading, but that’s what makes a story shine. The discipline to stick with the research, the editing, smiling through the critiques, staying at the computer when your favorite show beckons from the other room…writing needs self-discipline.

Consistent effort. I play Wordscape every day. Sometimes just ten minutes, the equivalent of stretching exercise for my brain, sometimes for a half an hour through a not-very-inspiring TV program, and once for two hours at top speed to make it to the finish line first.

All of this is relevant to writing. Read voluminously, absorb new ideas, learn new words, pay attention to the craft as you read. Stephen King says, “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.”

Writing is hard work. Form good habits, be consistent, be self-disciplined, keep your mind alert.

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dixiane hallaj.com
You, too, can be a winner!
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Starting the new decade

DON’T WE WISH!

It’s the fifth of January already. We are almost one week into the new year…you know, the one that fired up all our latent ambition and resolve. There’s something about a new decade that is more challenging than “just” another journey around the sun. Mind you, I’m not making light of the annual journey. Believe me, I’ve been around that fiery ball enough times to be truly grateful for one more trip. But there’s something about changing two digits on the calendar that stirs up the internal fires.

So today I looked at my still-new goals to take stock and perhaps even do some planning. Planning is not my forte, but I wanted to change my goals into actual tasks that I could arrange in a reasonable order and get to work ticking them off the list.

I smiled at my lofty list of goals, and they stared back at me, unmoved. I did the oh-so-satisfying stretching exercise of patting myself on the back for actually writing down my goals for the year. I picked up one of my favorite pens and the writer’s nemesis—a blank sheet of paper. 

Tick tock. My paper filled with doodles and crossed out phrases. My smile changed to a frown, then back to a smile, and finally a small chuckle. All my goals boiled down to a single statement:

KEEP DOING WHAT YOU’RE DOING BUT BE MORE EFFICIENT

Unfortunately, we cannot add sand to the hour glass. Once a day has passed, it is gone forever regardless of whether we used the time wisely or not. It is our responsibility to make the most of the time given to us.

That being said, we cannot always measure good use of time by the number of words we added to the manuscript. Word count is important, but it should not rule your world. Good writing requires good thinking. Exhausted writers are neither brilliant nor overly productive. Sometimes we need to stop and recharge our batteries. Then we can begin anew with fresh ideas and more energy.

I’ll work on that—right after I win the Wordscape tournament of the weekend. I’ve never been higher than #5 but I’ve been #1 since Saturday morning. Wordscape is my procrastination method of choice for today.

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We’re baaaaack—with tools

woman_plumer_300_nwmI can’t believe it’s been over a year since the last blog post. I don’t know what you’ve been doing, but we’ve been busy making big changes to the way we operate.

One of the big changes is the loss of the Short & Helpful Online Writer Workshops. We had fun with it, but the time has come to concentrate on other things. So…the website is gone. If you were one of our participants and want to see a video, please send an email and we can make it happen. We still have the videos.

Instead, we will be sharing the accumulated knowledge of many years of writing to focus on small things that can improve your writing and the presentations of your manuscripts. As you may know, we see a lot of manuscripts in the course of our lives as writers. We all should belong to writers groups and critique groups, because these groups provide great sounding boards. They are also a major source of emotional support when the well seems to run dry.

We follow our own advice in that respect and belong to groups and association. We share and read and contribute our two cents. However, in addition to being writers, we are also micro-publishers. Our website, sandhbooks.com showcases our collection of women fiction that has grown slowly over the six years we have been in business.

The advice of the day: Have patience—writing takes patience. Nothing about it is quick or easy. The writing is hard, and it can take years to finish your book. Then you finally write THE END, but you’re nowhere near done. You still have to polish and refine it…also hard. Sending your baby out into the world to find a home with a publisher. Ha! Talk about needing patience. Just as this blog has languished for over a year, so have the manuscripts in the S&H submissions inbox. Life throws roadblocks in the way.

 

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Is Your Chair Killing You?

fall_chairWriting is a sedentary occupation, and writers who are serious about their efforts to live by the pen often worry about the effects of sitting for many of their waking hours. It is often said that the only way to become a writer is to sit in your chair and move your fingers on the keyboard. Now we read that an essential ingredient of our career can kill us?

Millions of people have flooded the internet with articles warning readers that sitting can kill them. Most cite the results of long term studies concluding that spending long hours in a chair leads the way to serious medical problems.

As usual, it does not take long to uncover a host of articles saying the exact opposite, or touting ways to circumvent the possibly disastrous effects of sitting all day. Most of the ideas claiming to counteract too much sitting involve exercise—always a good idea for improved health. Then BAM! Another study, Sitting too long can kill you, even if you exercise, pops up to confuse the issue. It seems to have valid research behind it. Now what?

After reading a few articles, looking at the sources, and then skimming even more, I made my own plan to combat the sitting-too-long malady. My distillation of the articles I considered reasonably well-grounded gave me two takes on the idea of spending too much time sitting. One is the over all number of hours per day you are in a chair, but equally important was the duration of each period of sitting. What doesn’t work is spending all week sitting and going to the gym to work up a sweat for three hours on Saturday morning. What does work is sitting for 20-30 minutes at a time, broken up with 5-10 minutes of walking.

That’s a great plan, but not always practical. The muse has gifted you the perfect scene and your fingers are flying on the keyboard…not the time to take a break to exercise. Or you’re working on a tight deadline and can’t lose your train of thought for an exercise break. I’ve been there and done that. Before you know it, hours have gone by and you haven’t moved anything but your fingers.

And then I got a perfect birthday gift—a sit-stand desk! I absolutely love it and I can stand often without taking more than a few seconds with my fingers off the keyboard. It changes height easily, accommodates my monster monitor and two computers, and lets me change positions as often as I like.

Do you have any midday exercise tips that work for you? Please share with your fellow writers.

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Proofreading Your Work

inspect_this_page_800_wht_17900Proofreading your own work is one of the most demanding tasks required as you ready your manuscript to meet the world.  Why? Because the brain sees what it thinks is there.

Proof poof

Count the number of errors in the excerpt above.  Most people see the first four immediately, the fifth a little later, and the sixth takes a lot longer. Now read it again, using a piece of paper to block out everything below the line you’re reading. Read it aloud slowly, line by line. The mistakes pop out almost immediately.

Try the tips below. Each tip is an arrow in your quiver. Unfortunately, the silver arrow that does it all has not yet been discovered.

  1. Run the quick-fix approaches: spelling and grammar check. Bear in mind that neither of them are infallible.
  2. Make sure you’ve fixed all the editorial issues before you begin proofreading. You don’t want to go through this more than once.
  3. Take a break of at least a couple of days before beginning. Step back from the story and concentrate on words and punctuation.
  4. Work with a printed copy of the manuscript. You’ve seen it so many times on the screen, seeing it on paper is a new experience.
  5. Masking all but the line you are reading, read it aloud slowly and distinctly. Setting your computer to read it is often more helpful. Follow the computer voice with your finger, word by word. The computer will pronounce what you wrote, not what you meant, catching things like letter reversals. Your follow along on paper will catch the “sound alikes.”
  6. Almost all experts agree you should do this from front to back, and again from back to front. (Tedious, I know.)
  7. One final step I do is go back to the computer and view the manuscript reduced in size so you see at least a dozen pages at once on your screen. It should be too small to read. Scan for dense pages—those with little or no white space. Enlarge that page and see if you can break up large paragraphs into two or more smaller ones.
  8. Make sure your chapter headings are sequential. It’s amazing how often I see manuscripts with a skipped chapter number or two chapters with the same number.
  9. If at all possible, ask someone else to read it. Maybe you can find a writing friend willing to be a proofing partner.

Cross your fingers and release your baby. No matter how careful you are, someone is bound to find a few more things that can be improved. Learn from every experience.

Do you have any proofreading tips that work for you? Please share with your fellow writers.

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