Be a Healthy Writer

Be a Healthy Writer

Has it ever dawned on you suddenly—

that you’ve been staring at your computer screen for ages? That your neck is crunched, your back is aching, your tush is squashed, and your eyes are bloodshot? Join the writers club.

Writers have particular challenges when it comes to health—both physically and mentally. Let’s address some of them.

Working at Home

Not having to go to a 9-5 job is fantabulous. But when your workspace is in your home, you need boundaries, and that is not an easy thing to establish with family, housemates, or friends. Most people just won’t get it because they have no experience doing it.

It’s up to you to set your own rules and boundaries and maintain them. And it can be done. I have worked at home for decades, first as an illustrator, then as a writer. My first years as an illustrator were in advertising and the deadlines were always crazy—especially newspaper deadlines (this was in the 80s when newspapers were printed :-P). With deadlines continually looming, I was forced to optimize my time, space, and attitude in every way I could.

The first thing you’ve got to do is:

Develop a thick skin when it comes to judgments from others regarding your work as a writer. All this takes is to remind yourself time and time again that you are following your dreams. There is little that is more important in life than that.

If you sleep late because you write late into the night, don’t bother trying to defend your schedule to people who can’t think outside the box of “the early bird catches the worm” mindset (almost everybody).

How to Write and Stay Healthy: For Cave-Dwelling Authors & Other Keen Writers

Accept that no one may understand, and don’t blame them for it. Writing is a nebulous job to those who haven’t gone through the process of completing a whole book. You may be at it for months or even years until you have a finished product to show for all that time. It may seem to others that you’re just having fun writing—you are!—but the work has to get done and that won’t happen unless you set rules, maintain boundaries, and learn to say NO.

If you have trouble saying no, try this:

For one week, say no to everything (within reason). You can use the excuse that you are doing an exercise, if this is too uncomfortable. Blame it on a book you’re reading (this one!). The point of this exercise is to experience how it feels. By saying “no,” you will feel the relief from certain things you really did not want, or have the time, to do. This will jumpstart your ability to make good time-management decisions without emotional responses.

How to Write and Stay Healthy: For Cave-Dwelling Authors & Other Keen Writers

Motivating Yourself

It’s so easy to find excuses not to write (much like the excuses not to exercise :-P).

As a writer creating a product out of thin air, you must push yourself to finish that book! This takes commitment and discipline. You’ve got to kick your own self in the butt, and be your own motivator.

Don’t let snarky opinions or bad reviews stop you from continuing. And don’t wait for good responses to keep you motivated. On the other hand, be open to constructive criticism. If a beta reader makes a suggestion or raises a question, DON’T DEFEND YOUR WRITING. Listen. Make notes. You don’t have to change anything, but you may want to if, after consideration, it feels right. The key is: 

Detachment and Self-Honesty

How to Write and Stay Healthy: For Cave-Dwelling Authors & Other Keen Writers

Your All-Important Eyes

Unless you’re writing anachronistically by hand or on a typewriter, your eyes are glued to a screen when you write. The official term for too much screen time is Computer Vision Syndrome, popularly known as digital eye strain.

There is a lot you can do to ease the strain on your eyes as a writer. Here’s one tip:

Write, BLINK, on a sticky note and attach it to your computer, laptop, or whatever device you write on. The number one reason for eye irritation, according to my own easy-on-the-eyes eye doctor, is not blinking enough.

How to Write and Stay Healthy: For Cave-Dwelling Authors & Other Keen Writers

Overworked Hands, Fingers, and Wrists

When you write, you engage in repetitive motions, and hold your arms, hands and fingers in certain positions for long periods, whether you’re on a keyboard, touchscreen, or old-fashioned typewriter.

There are great stretches, tendon (self)-massage, and office adjustments that will help those overworked fingers, wrists, and forearms. Here’s one easy stretch:

Reach for the stars.

Lift your hands over your head—without lifting your shoulders and pulling them out of their sockets—to increase circulation and get any pooled blood to move and flow out of your hands.

This opens up your chest area and it feels great to take a deep breath while doing this.

How to Write and Stay Healthy: For Cave-Dwelling Authors & Other Keen Writers

Sitting on Your Tush

I call it “squash bottom.” You’re probably sitting on your tush now, squashing the muscles, fat, blood vessels, nerves, and corpuscles like sandwich ingredients in a panini press.

Do you feel it?

One tip for squash bottom:

Get up every once in a while and walk around the room, house, down the hall and back. Just move around a bit and kick your circulation back into gear.

A great time to do this is when you get stuck on a word, idea, sentence, whatever. It usually happens that a short stroll around the house gives you fresh eyes on the matter.

How to Write and Stay Healthy: For Cave-Dwelling Authors & Other Keen Writers

Squeeze Every Last Drop of Happy Juice out of Life

If you want to write to your heart’s content and feel great while doing it, How to Write and Stay Healthy: For Cave-Dwelling Authors & Other Keen Writers is full of actionable stradegies and practical solutions to the challenges of working at home as a writer.

A whole chapter is devoted to “Exercise Without Exercising.” It’s a way of going about your day in a different way—something I developed when I first started martial arts training. (I now hold two advanced-degree black belts.) 

There are tips and insights in How to Write and Stay Healthy you will only get from a veteran freelancer like me, who has always been determined to stay out of the mainstream workplace and live a healthy lifestyle.

Happy writing!

 

Reviews:

“I loved this book! A quick read full of great practical information for staying healthy and dynamic as a writer. A gem for both new and seasoned writers!”–Kelly Larsen, author of Keys to Unlocking Your Inner Power

“Fisher nails the often-overlooked physically taxing part of writing with practical and–most importantly–actionable strategies that any author can apply and every author needs. Sprinkled with poignant quotations from literary greats and infused with a healthy dose of humor, every chapter of this book provided me with sound advice that I continue to practice on a daily basis. How to Write and Stay Healthy is a must for every writer!”–Mark Plets, author of Business ESL Made Easy

“It’s a quick read, entertaining, and full of helpful suggestions, with actual examples of what to do and how to avoid the inevitable stumbling blocks. Highly recommended for anyone who sits in front of a computer all day, and not just writers.”–K. Z. Kane, author of Blindfolded: A True Story

get book

 

Different Ways to Write Fiction

Different Ways to Write Fiction

“John Irving once told me he doesn’t start a novel until he knows the last sentence. I said, ‘My God, Irving, isn’t that like working in a factory?'”—Tom Robbins

There are probably as many different ways to write fiction as there are novels on Amazon.

SOME FICTION AUTHORS write with structured outlines and in-depth character analyses, knowing exactly how the novel will end. This is a logical and practical way to work through a story. Some very successful indie authors write formulaic genre novels they know readers want because that’s what is trending. It’s possible to achieve high sales and make a good living writing for the market.

Some authors start with an idea and let stream of consciousness take them on a ride. Even though they might begin with a protagonist in mind, without the tight reins of a planned-out story, that protagonist will undoubtedly develop a unique personality as though she is writing herself and her own dialogue. Secondary characters crop up and insert themselves, veering off on their own colorful tangents. Really surprising scenes appear. The ending always changes, or isn’t thought of at all, and it somehow connects invisible threads in the story. Such a writer will feel he or she isn’t writing at all—just watching as the story unfolds by itself.

There are countless mashups in-between.

“You can’t blame a writer for what the characters say.”―Truman Capote

I don’t mean to suggest that writing a novel is easy, however it’s done—it’s not. Rewrites and edits and changing things up that don’t fit and days when the muse is absent can be challenging, hard work, sometimes agonizing and even painful. You might be floating on pink, puffy clouds sipping nectar-of-the-gods one day and slogging through mud in flip-flops the next. Yes, it can be what normal people call work, but crazy authors call bliss.

“Don’t ever write a novel unless it hurts like a hot turd coming out.”—Charles Bukowski

What I’m getting at here—and this is the juicy bit—is there is magic in writing. No matter how structured you like to be when writing that novel, and even if you’re writing genre fiction for a specific demographic at a specific point in time when this or that is trending—it doesn’t mean you can’t let a little magic into the mix.

Don’t Choke out the Magic

Leave a door or two open for the muse to waltz in, take hold of your story and shake it up a little. So you took a side road from your outline, you added a bit that goes against the popular grain, a character pops up you hadn’t planned for—let it flow. You can always slash it later. Generally, with novels, there should be a good deal of merciless slashing in the rewrite phase. But in the first draft, let writing be loose and inclusive, not tight and exclusive. You can still work from an outline, still follow your plan, still write for the market, but don’t forget that you are you—and you have a uniqueness that needs a little room to stretch and express itself.

“Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up.”―Stephen King

On the other hand, it’s all good. Okay, so you don’t want to take chances on risky adventures into the labyrinths of the imagination, when you have a deadline, bills to pay, marketing to do, a book to finish. I get it.

In fact, I have a twinge of envy for indie authors who can keep pumping out books for the trending market. Though I must add a caveat here and express my absolute loathing for the romance “billionaire” genre. Aside from the absurdity of it, and the fact that it was born out of that hurl-it-against-the-wall book—Fifty Shades of Stupid, or something like that—I feel it’s the epitome of selling out as a writer.

No offense to anyone capitalizing off that massively successful, massively horrid set of “billionaire” books, and you’re probably laughing at me all the way to the bank, because from a business standpoint it’s smart.

“Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.”―Cyril Connolly

Okay, so that was a bit harsh Cyril. Because we all should do whatever the heck we want in this life. There is no right or wrong way. What works for me does not necessarily work for someone else. And it’s completely unique in every case.

Writing a novel can be a deliciously rich experience—full of surprise, pain, elation, love, hate, illumination, self-discovery, excitement, frustration, challenges up the wazoo, and a host of other descriptors. It just depends on how crazy you want to get. Personally, I like to get as crazy as possible, and being structured gets in my way.

Whatever you choose to do in your writing, I will leave you with the wise words of one damn sexy dude. (They’re not really his words, but let’s pretend they are—after all, we’re talking about fiction here.)

do whatever blows your skirt up

From Traditionally Published to Self-Published

From Traditionally Published to Self-Published

The business of writing and selling a book is easier and harder than ever.

Self-publishing is accessible to anyone now, but getting the job done well can be a crazy challenge in many ways. I was a traditionally published author and illustrator when I decided to self-publish. It nearly ripped my brain to shreds trying to jump over the hurdles I encountered.

How I ended up self-publishing . . .

While freelancing as an illustrator, I started writing short stories as a creative outlet. This led pretty quickly to a practice novel—which, being my first attempt, sucked, but it was a great learning experience. In the meantime, a publisher I was illustrating for asked me to write a how-to book. So my career shifted slightly to include professional writing.

I found my voice in my second novel. Skip to my third novel and now I have an agent. But publishing was in the middle of a huge industry change. The advantages of being traditionally published were quickly being outweighed by the advantages of self-publishing—unless your name was Stephen King or Patricia Cornwell. I regrouped and got serious about publishing my own books.

Creating the ebook.

I thought, This is going to be easy. Boy was I wrong. I was used to working with a whole publishing team, and I was suddenly faced with having to do everything myself. The first task, after gobs of rewrites and paranoid edits, was learning to properly format an ebook.

It was a nightmare of epic proportions and serious brain-shredding.

Just trying to get a solid overview of the whole shebang in the scattered, disconnected book-publishing help section on Amazon scrambled my brain, and sent me scouring the Internet for clearer, straight-to-the-point information that didn’t leave out crucial bits. Of course, this was also like slogging through mud in torrential rain, and I was lost in rabbit hole after rabbit hole, trying this and then that, discarding it all as inferior, getting blown off by the Amazon support team, and frustrated with no clear path in sight.

I spent months researching ways to properly format with Word, freeware, apps, code, add-ons, advice from every YouTube author dishing it out, and something always went wrong. I’d upload a ms. to Amazon KDP, and on some device the formatting was lost, messed up, or my book just looked like crap. 

(It must be noted at this point that I am a perfectionist and I don’t give up dammit. Being an artist, I want things to look the way I want things to look, down to every detail. But I am also an entrepreneur/freelancer and I know the value of cutting losses and compromise. Hence, a sometimes grisly conflict of interest.)

After months of agony, I stumbled upon some luck.

I finally found a YouTuber, Joanna Penn, who interviewed Brad Andalman, one of the two creators (both Brads) of Vellum, an ebook and print book formatting app. I will do another blog post in more detail on the awesomeness of Vellum, but now just let me say, What a relief! And, Wow! And, My formatting troubles were over.

(Just one note on Vellum: It’s for Mac only. Trust me, it’s worth buying a used Mac just to take advantage of this stellar app.)

Vellum not only solved all my ebook formatting issues, it solved a number of other problems as well, such as, Amazon’s iffy book-preview feature, and, how to create the print version. The Brads really know what they’re doing.

That solved, now what?

Well, the thing no artist wants to do: market. So I entered my first self-published novel, How to Rate a Soulmate, in two literary contests as part of my newbie-self-published-author marketing plan. One yielded a really cool 5-star review based on an unpublished draft, and the other a first-place win in the romance genre with the finished print version. 😀

I’m still slogging through effective marketing strategies, much in the same way I slogged through formatting options: learning curves up the wazoo; shredded brain.

And so the journey continues.

Read the first chapter of How to Rate a Soulmate free, here.

Buy it here.

 

 

 

 

 

The CRINGE

The CRINGE

To kill, or not to kill?

Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.—Stephen King

In writing, you must kill all your darlings.—William Faulkner

Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.—Arthur Quiller-Couch

Countless authors—famous and not—have warned aspiring writers to cut the crap out of their manuscripts with some version of “kill your darlings.” From Oscar Wilde to William Faulkner, creative writing teachers to author workshops, we are advised to murder our most beloved—and probably self-indulgent—prose for the sake of the overall work.

The reason this advice is so often repeated is because it’s smart. We can, as artists, be too close to our own art.

But at the same time, it’s important to discern the difference between creations we are attached to—for various emotional or egocentric reasons—and personal style/individual voice.

You don’t want to mechanically nix all adjectives, eliminate semicolons, substitute grandiose words for common ones, or pander to magic-bullet, how-to-write hype. You don’t want to kill your style. Authenticity rocks, and the greatest authors will bear this out. But you do want to mercilessly slash anything getting in the way of your best work—the work you will be proud of.

Hence, THE CRINGE.

You know what The Cringe is. Everybody does. The Cringe is a little devil in the gut rearing its unwelcome head when we come across something we know is not quite good. It’s an inkling of a groan. It’s a whiff of embarrassment. We don’t want to acknowledge its presence because it makes us feel unworthy—as though the months or years of work weren’t enough. It points out that we could do better. Maybe we aren’t the geniuses we like to think we are. We deny its existence because it’s uncomfortable. The Cringe is there to challenge the rationalizing and motivate writers to reach for the stars—not cruise on the ground with the mediocre masses.

You absolutely know (somewhere deep in your bones) when you’re being too wordy, indulging in superfluous grandiloquence, using words that don’t quite hit the mark, and interjecting content off your style. But attachment to your work (and the fact that these days everyone is overwhelmed with too much to do) can cloud your clarity.

The Cringe cuts straight to the point without crushing style and your own hard-won or developing voice—the point being to do your best. Your best does not have to be perfect. There is no “perfect.” But it’s YOUR best, at the given time.

How it works.

You’re reading through your first rough draft, or you’re rereading and rewriting for the gazillionth time. And you get to a point and hesitate. You experience a slight cringe inside. It’s as though a really heavy, phantom frog just landed on you, pushing your head down into your chest cavity, and you feel your shoulders hunch and your head sink like a turtle retreating into its shell. (Okay, so I’m exaggerating and using unnecessary similes, adjectives, and metaphors which may or may not be cringe-worthy.) The point is, there is a glitch in the manuscript matrix.

The Cringe may be triggered by a word, phrase, scene, even a slowly dawning realization that surfaces and breaks your reading flow. Your apprehension of what isn’t working may be subtle. But however it comes to your attention that something isn’t quite right, don’t gloss over it—consider it.

Let’s say there’s a paragraph that upon rereading gets the job done, but seems a little clumsy. You don’t have to delete it right away. What I do is hit return a couple of times in front of the pesky paragraph, creating space for a new version, while keeping the old version for reference. This way I don’t feel panicky, or get separation anxiety for my work (if you have ever lost writing from a computer crash because you were in the groove and not saving the doc, you will understand).

Then I rewrite the passage with fresh eyes. It’s always better.

Sometimes entire scenes or characters have to go. But you don’t have to trash those either. What I do is cut and paste them into the end of the ms. where they can be resurrected if needed. But they never are. And it’s so satisfying when, after I have rewritten something so much better that incites no cringes, I delete the dubious content in question.

Books aren’t written—they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.―Michael Crichton

Does it really matter?

Let’s face it—the reading public, in general, just doesn’t seem to be that discerning. When considering the insane success of certain popular novels, you might think it doesn’t matter that much whether a word, paragraph, or character elicits an itty-bitty cringe. There is that much-touted 80/20 rule, which can be effectively applied to endeavors in today’s busy world.

But as I see it, it’s always a good idea to do your best work, even if you’re writing for the trending market just to make bank. And The Cringe is your chisel—chipping away at the marble until your statue of David emerges in the form of your latest book.

Try this:

Have you ever noticed any last-minute twinges when it comes time to enter your book in a literary contest, submit a ms. to an agent or publisher, or hand it over to an educated, discerning beta reader? You thought you were done, satisfied, good with your work. Now you aren’t so confident, or you rationalize that it’s “good enough.” That’s The Cringe speaking.

So imagine, when reading your “final” draft (“final” usually having several iterations) that you are going to hand it over to Stephen King for review. Or Tom Robbins. Or Joyce Carol Oates. Or any accomplished, famous author you like. Any cringes? Any hesitation?

Is your “good enough” manuscript good enough?

It’s all good. Or is it?

There is the concept that this is your life and you should do whatever blows your skirt up (I’m quoting myself here :-P). Free expression is a sign of evolution beyond survival, stretching limitations, opening to possibilities, and doing things you never thought you were supposed to do. Screw “supposed to” and go for it—write books, paint paintings, sing songs, invent crazy stuff.

But consider what you publish professionally, what you add into the already saturated media.

And don’t confuse cleaning up your manuscript as best you can with obsessing over producing the next Nobel Prize winner. I’m just talking about taking advantage of an awesome tool—The Cringe. You already have it, and it’s trying to tell you something.

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