Sunday, November 21, 2010

Random Recommendation: Autocorrect

National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, is nearing its end.  Writers around the world join in the NaNoWriMo challenge to write 50,000 words of a novel before the end of November.

While most Americans will be sleeping off all of that extra serotonin after Thanksgiving dinner, many writers will be frantically trying to finish their Novel before month's end. 

This recommendation is dedicated to all of those NaNoWriMo writers out there:

"Autocorrect is your friend" is a wonderful blog post that explains a creative way to use the AutoCorrect feature of your word processing software.

Many of us have crutch words that we repeat while writing our pieces.  We may also overuse the dreaded "ly" words.  The author shows us how we can kick these habits as well as save some valuable keystroke time.

Great article!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Peel Off the Stickers...Nobody's Looking!

If there's one thing that I've learned in life, it's that sometimes it pays to cheat.  And before you get any sneaky ideas about your tax returns, let me explain...

Think back to your childhood:  Back to a time when Uncle Frankie could pull his index finger apart and wiggle the severed end.  Back to a time when the adults would chuckle when you struggled to figure out the complexities of the world.  Back to a time when you were just learning that certain rules were still open to interpretation.

One of the adults gives you a scrambled Rubik's Cube and explains that all of the stickers on each side need to match colors.  They think, this ought to keep you quiet.  And it does...for a while.  You leave the room and peel off the stickers and replace them in their correct location.  Now you can watch all of the adults, including Uncle Frankie, wonder how in the world you were able to solve the Rubik's Cube so fast...and at your age!

It's a wonderful thing to have the freedom and creativity of a child.  I try to take those childhood eyes and focus them on my writing process.  With all of the rigors of trying to get a story edited just so, it helps to exercise some freedom without boundaries.

One excellent way to do this is to write in a journal or do prompt exercises.  You don't have to share this with anyone...ever.  You can write anything you like without having to worry about what you come up with.  When it comes to grammar or punctuation, it doesn't matter.  It won't be perfect, but so what?  Cheat.  It's about tapping into that childhood creativity.

All writers have an inner critic like that adult hovering the child's shoulder saying, "No, that's not the right way to do it."  Your challenge as a writer is to go into another room where nobody else is looking and become that child.  You may discover something surprising and wonder, how in the world did I come up with that?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Obsession, For Me...Not Calvin Klein

We humans are a curious bunch of primates, aren't we?  Habits come pretty easily to us, even the vices.  An innocent interest can evolve into an obsession before you can say, "I'll go to bed, but after I do this just one more time..."  It happened to me with the Rubik's Cube.

I learned to solve the cube with one goal in mind, to demonstrate the power of process ("Are You Afraid Of Process?").  After countless hours of practice, I couldn't stop myself.  I would spend time searching the internet for new techniques.  How to do it faster.  What cool patterns could I create?  Then it was all about variety.  How many methods could I use to solve it?
  • Start with one layer first and build from there
  • Start with the eight corners and then fill in the twelve edges
  • Solve the first two layers simultaneously and go from there
  • Start with a small 2x2 chunk and expand from there
  • Move each piece into its correct location one piece at a time
  • And so on and so on.
It was like I was looking for that next high, a little better than the last.  Drug addicts hopelessly search for that elusive euphoria to match their first hit.  Surfers dream about and wait for that perfect tube.  Endurance athletes torment their bodies to trigger the release of endorphins so they can experience their "Runner's High."

Yes for me, the Rubik's Cube became an obsession.  But that can be such a strong word.  I hear it and I might think of the following playing out:

          "The President will see you now."
          Oh, no!  Did I turn off the iron?
          "Wow, Mr. President, it's an honor to meet you!"
          I'm pretty sure I turned off the iron.
          "I can't believe that little ole me was invited to the White House."
          Oh God!  The house is going to burn down, I know it!

But as Calvin Klein has proven, Obsession can be a good thing too.

As a writer, I obsess about a lot of things.  I may spend hours upon hours researching a topic for a short story, or even a scene.  I try to get into the head of a character and wonder, is this real?  Is this accurate?  Is this really what the Florida Keys are like during a hurricane?

The fix I'm looking for is some acceptance in an ocean of self-doubt.  This sucks.  Nobody will like this.  Maybe if I change this part, someone will eventually "get it".  Someone will have the insight to see what I am trying to do as a writer.  If I strike a chord with someone, that will give me a high.

But is it good enough?  And when is the piece really done?  A story can be edited and manipulated and tweaked until the end of time.  Think about that, though.  If I waited until my post was perfectly crafted, then this would be a pretty sparse blog.  And who wants to read a blog with only one post?  Even if it were "perfect".

I can't help it.  There are always things to obsess about.  The beginning, the middle, the ending of a story.  What an English Bulldog might actually say if she were the CEO of a dog food corporation.  Am I writing enough?  Am I learning enough about writing?  Am I finishing enough stories?  Am I editing enough stories?  Does what I have to say really matter to the world?

What kind of writer are you?

Do you get coffee-type jitters if you aren't able to write something, anything at a certain time each day?  Do you obsess about word count?  Do you edit your prose endlessly?  Do you dash from your bed at night before you forget a great phrase, plot twist, or character flaw?  Does your keyboard beckon you like Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-tale Heart"?

Some of the finest pieces of art were created by tormented artists obsessed with their work. Even Calvin Klein showed the world that Obsession can be quite nice.  Thank you, Mr. Klein.