Thursday, December 29, 2011

13 Reasons to Follow This Blog

13 Reasons to Follow This Blog:

1. You'll never look at a Rubik's Cube the same way again.

2. It's safe to follow, I'm not the Jason from those old horror movies.

3. I'm funny  at least that's what my mom tells me.

4. If you aren't interested in writing tips, you'll get Rubik's Cube tips  and vice versa.

5. If you join and comment, I will slather you with Internet love  meaning I will mention you on Twitter or visit your blog.

6. Each post has a unique aftertaste turning sour tastes sweet for at least thirty five minutes. (Miracle Berries)

7. Once I reach 42 blog followers, I will reveal the mysteries of the Universe.

8. It's free, but membership has its privileges.  No annual membership fee.  Did I mention it's free?

9. Can you say contests and give-aways?  Sorry, members only.

10. Each post is conveniently sent to your Google Reader.

11. Join today, it will look good on your resume.

12. It's for adults only and it's 100% free of Dora and Kai-Lan.

13. Play The Puzzling Mind Drinking Game  take a shot every time I mention the Rubik's Cube.

What are you waiting for? Join, comment, and enjoy all of the benefits The Puzzling Mind has to offer. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Fiction to the Power of 13

Today’s post is all about the number thirteen.  There are some stories here.  (13)
I don’t normally write flash fiction only thirteen words long, but I tried.  (13)
Challenges are sometimes fun, even when you fail.  It's all about personal growth.  (13)
And since there are no thirteen-sided Rubik’s Cubes, you will get these instead.  (13)

13 Word Stories

1. I'm a hand model.  My twin sister is an underwear model.  I’m prettier.

2. The rotary phone rang.  Only the police had the number.  I ignored it.

3. Paint her eyes green.  Blue’s empty?  Have her wear the yellow dress instead.

4. “Touch me, Daddy.”  His palm pressed the cold bulletproof glass.  "Maybe someday, Sweetheart."

5. “Make yourself puke.”  “You mean they’re poisonous?”  “Hurry!”  “But they tasted so good.”

6. The empty amber bottle hit the carpet.  Her breath stopped, the pain gone.

7. She chased him with the bloody knife.  They escaped the burning butcher shop.

8. It’s not a toy it’s a torture device.  The Rubik’s Cube is impossible!

If you love them, please comment below.  Otherwise, keep it our little secret.  (13)

Thanks Wahooo on Flickr for photographing this wild night in Chicago, it's awesome!  (13)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Thursday 13: Why You're Not Published

13 Reasons Why You're Not Published:
  1. Best-selling authors are not discovered by talent agents wandering the local shopping malls.
  2. Your male-male-male paranormal romance is not Middle Grade fiction.  Ever.
  3. You tout yourself to be the next King, Rowling, or Shakespeare – sorry, you're not.
  4. You're not ready to be published yet.  You haven't written enough.  Scouring the web for farting Pandas is not writing.
  5. Your pitch is too weak.  "I can solve the Rubik's Cube."  Big deal, who can't?  Tell me you can solve it while juggling and now you've at least got my attention.
  6. Forty chapters of your main character staring at themselves in various mirrors will not sell.
  7. The Simpsons did it already.
  8. Your first novel does not deserve solid gold typesetting for your revered masterpiece – nor a seven-figure advance.
  9. Your scented submission printed on glow-in-the-dark paper was sent directly to – the recycling bin.
  10. You handle rejection as poorly as one of your angst-ridden YA characters.  Despite the temptation, always bite your electronic tongue.  Admittedly, the use of profanity and insults via email, Twitter, Facebook, and your blog will get you noticed – but only as unprofessional and difficult to work with.
  11. Your mom is not an editor.
  12. Your novel cannot be sold as a series.  Publishing is a business.  I got hooked on the Rubik's Cube, and then on every variation of that theme.  Just ask my wife how much money we're sending overseas to find the next great twisty puzzle ;-)  It was the original one that started it all, and each subsequent one brings in the real money.  Keep that in mind with your novel.
  13. There is simply too much competition.  Vampires, need I say more?
Thirteen is certainly not an exhaustive list.  Do you have any to add to my list?

Thanks to the queen of subtle on Flickr for the fantastic picture.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Thursday 13: It's That Crazy Time of the Year Again

Hello there.  In case you're wondering what happened to the usual blended smooth goodness of my Rubik's Cube and writing posts, don't worry, I'll still post those on the 1st and the 15th of each month.  Read more about the changes here: Thursday Thirteen.

Now, back to today's post already in progress:

Do you enjoy padded rooms?  Then by all means, go to the malls during the holidays.

For me, this seasonal ritual of holiday shopping can only be compared to medieval torture.  Okay, you won't find water-boarding, thumb screws, or The Rack, but you must be a little crazy to visit the mall during the holidays.

Here are 13 reasons why:

1. Thermostats:  Yes, winter in the Midwest can be cold.  And I, like most other shoppers, own a heavy, winter coat.  But adjusting the mall temperature to resemble late August in Florida is simply not necessary.  If I enjoyed being this hot and sweaty I would run the Chicago Marathon.  But, I refuse to wear skimpy running shorts to the mall beneath a long, down jacket.  Not a pretty picture.

2. Parking Lots:  I could easily have a whole list dedicated to this one, but I'll try to be concise.  For most mall shoppers the only potential exercise they get during the holiday season is the walk from the parking lot.  Yet, for some reason they fight like heck to avoid it at all costs.  

If they are not illegally parked in handicap spots, their huge SUVs will awkwardly block the aisles in a cloud of exhaust waiting with their turn signals on.  It's heartbreaking to watch the elderly couple trying to hurry loading their trucks with merchandise.  One blast from that horn could end it all.  If only you could get around this gridlock you would gladly park in the satellite parking lots.  

I do give honorable mention to those drivers who simply lose that spatial relations part of their brains the minute it snows and the parking lot lines become slightly obscured.  Sorry, I do not want the winch bumper of your Land Rover resting against my driver side mirror.

3. Check Out Lines:  There are no velvet ropes during the holidays and your name is not on a bouncer's clipboard giving you VIP access to the front of the line.  Instead you see the same sagging holding corrals used by our frisky friends at the TSA.  Paint these retractable fabric barriers yellow and you've got police crime scene tape.  Do we really need more trauma in our lives?

4. The Music:  I have this recurring dream I wake up in Hell due to a clerical error – the whole life-after-death-bureaucracy needs a complete overhaul – and I must spend eternity riding an elevator that only plays piano instrumentals of Tool songs.  Leave it to our malls to make my dreams come true!  The Christmas music is more overplayed than Lady Gaga and LMFAO.

5. The Express Lanes:  Ha, trick one here!  There are no express check out lanes – refer to item #3.  Oh, you only have one item to purchase?  You're next, after the person returning an armful of items and paying for new items with rolled coins.

6. Gravity:  Those plastic department store bags filled with skinny denim can really dig painfully into your palms.  Fashion is painful.

7. Smoking:  I confess, I'm not a smoker, but if there's ever a reason to take up the habit, shopping at the mall during the holidays is as good as any.  Anyway, here in Chicago, it's not enough to have to endure the blistery tundra for the majority of the year.  No, we force our fellow brethren to smoke outside!  Those poor souls hug themselves while frantically trying to puff their way back into the craziness inside to escape the incessant clanging of the donation bells stationed at the entrance.

It's like the Grand Inquisitor asking them if they prefer to be impaled or disemboweled.

8. Olfactory Overload:  For some sick reason the stores have convinced us – men usually  to think scented candles, lotions, and soaps are the perfect holiday gifts.  They are not.  And walking into these stores jolts you with a taser shot to your olfactory nerve.

9. Food Court:  You're trapped.  Enough said.

10. Obnoxious Parents:  The holidays are a time for giving and to set an example for their children.  Or in the case of these parents, 'tis the season to demonstrate epic acts of rudeness and selfishness in front of their kids.

And the same parents who lecture their kids to clean their rooms will devastate the clearance bins until they are overflowing and scattered on the floor.

11. Pressure:  You convince yourself that an elusive gift for that impossible-to-shop-for person in your life actually exists.  Not only that, but it must exist, and it must exist at this particular mall, and you will only know it when you see it.

12. Children Playing:  The malls usually have a designated mosh pit for children to play in.  I really have nothing to say about this, it simply adds to the circus atmosphere.  So have fun kids.

13. Time Suck:  You are at the mall when you should be writing!

If you must bring me a gift for the holidays, please take a cue from Harry Houdini and make sure the sleeves have buckles at the ends.  Thank you for visiting, the guard will see you out.

Thanks to jtposey and ninjatactics on Flickr for the great pictures.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Thursday 13: You Will Be Jealous Of These

Welcome to my inaugural Thursday Thirteen post.

Here's the scoop.  December is mildly special this year.  It features two Thursdays that both happen to coincide with my regularly scheduled posts each month. (That actually happens in March and next November, but whatever.)

Anyway, things aren't going to change drastically.  I will still post about writing and the Rubik's Cube as usual on the 1st and the 15th.  But also look for new Thursday Thirteen posts during any week without a 1st or a 15th in it.

It will officially work this way January 2012, for December, I'm giving you a sneak preview.

What is Thursday Thirteen anyway?

Thursday Thirteen is simple.  Every Thursday bloggers post a list of thirteen things tied to a theme or subject of their liking.  It can be anything.  Really, anything.  It's fun, you should try it.

I can't simply kick things off with a boring bulleted list, so I compiled some pretty pictures for you to enjoy.
13 Things I Own

1. Brass statue of the Enlightened One
2. Watercolor painting of my Great Dane

3. High school State Championship Ring

4. Shot head, complete with ice for brains

5. 2008 Beijing Olympic magnets

6. Jagged glass trophy won racing Go-Karts in France

7. Concentric carved spheres from China

8. Obviously...a puzzle

9. Trophy for playing the piano of all things

10. Head carved out of plaster

11. Mind teaser...really!
12. For solving puzzles and writing

13. Polynesian fertility statue

 What do you think? Do you own thirteen stranger items?

Thank you to jeh182 on Flickr for the photo of the unlucky elevator.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

My First Time: Too Soon to Share?

The first draft is always crap
A few years ago I decided to figure out how to solve the Rubik's Cube once and for all.  It was a total disaster.  

The pure number of methods available on the Internet was encouraging.  So many ways to go about this!  How could I not solve it on my first attempt?

I spent hours upon end twisting and turning and driving concepts into my skull.  It should have been easy to pull it all together.

Supremely confident, I invited co-workers to watch me solve the cube.  How embarrassing!  I rallied an audience way before I was ready. 

Don't let this happen with your writing.

There is freedom in knowing that your first draft is not going to be goodat least not ready.  It will be messy.  You're going to make mistakes.  And if you show it to anyone too soon, I guarantee you will be embarrassed.  But that's okay.

That's perfectly normal.

We are halfway into NaNoWriMo and inevitably some of us are itching to have others read our works in progress.  But now is the time to write, not edit.  Although the prose flowing out of your fingertips might seem profound to you, it's still going to be crap at first.  No exceptions.  This is especially the case when we are all scrambling to achieve this ridiculous word count in November.  Face it, it's going to be mostly garbage.

That's okay.  It has to be that way.

This is how your story is born.

It's not an insult to say your first draft is crap.  It's about letting go of your inner critic and being free enough to get down the important points and essense of your story.  Let's finish it first.

Garbage is really important.

Your first draft should be compost for your story.  Let something beautiful grow from it.  Remember when you were a kid running into the house to urge Mom to smell the scoop of compost you dug up for her?  No?  Well, of course not.  Because nobody does this.  You need to wait until the flowers come up before you can share them.  And they will, with time.

So for now, enjoy your first draft and let it fester.  It will be beautiful soon enough.

Happy Writing!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Random Recommendation: 25 Questions To Ask As You Write

It's a very nice! High five!
NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, officially kicked off today.  In case you don't know, this challenge is to write 50,000 words of your novel during the month of November.  (Your ultimate goal may vary, but 50,000 words is approximately 200 pages.)

Many of the participants crazy enough to sign up for this challenge are probably going to be lost in a fog of words somewhere around November 15th.  So before that happens, I decided to offer a blog post recommendation as a beacon for this month and to get you to ask the important questions about your writing.

The post, "25 Question To Ask As You Write" at Terrible Minds, addresses important topics such as theme, your writing voice, and the purpose of each and every scene.  You'll also be asking yourself if you're as ready as you thought you were (the clock is ticking).

Keep in mind, Chuck occasionally uses profanity.  Okay, he has quite the potty mouth, but if you can overlook some colorful language, you'll get some really great advice.  If nothing else, it's always entertaining to read his stuff.

Anyone who compares writing to "brushing the teeth of a meth-cranked baboon" has got my vote any day!  Enjoy!

Are you also doing NaNoWriMo this year? Yes? Stop reading this and write already!

Also, stay tuned for December, I will be featuring Thursday Thirteen posts on my blog.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

And Now For My Next Trick...

If you've spent any time on my blog you'll know that I'm rarely content.  I'm addicted to challenges.  The Rubik's Cube was the gateway drug to other unique twisty puzzles.

I can't get enough.

With every new puzzle I eventually have an epiphany.  It's a rush.  I realize I can use knowledge I have already discovered about previous puzzles and apply these lessons to the new puzzle.

So what can I do as a writer to continue to challenge myself in this manner?

It's the same thing.

I have a decent foundation in place for crafting sharp, high quality stories.  To date, my focus has been writing short stories.  And I am happy with this.  I can turn around edits faster and produce more work.  Plus, I love short stories.

But November is almost here and you know what that means.  NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month.  The challenge is to write 50,000 words in the month of November.

Well, I'm ready for something new.  And I can't have my wife tripping over any more boxes of puzzles shipped from mysterious origins.

So, I'm writing a novel.
I always have the same level of doubt with any new challenge.  With these new puzzles, it's always, "I just can't do it!  Seriously, I don't know how I'm ever going to figure this one out."  This one has way more pieces, or different angles, or circles cut into it.  It's totally unique.  It's too different.

Guess what?

I eventually figured it out.  Every single time.  So that's why it's time for me to write my novel.  I know how to tell a gripping and evocative story.  The foundation is in place even though the challenge will be unique.
But I'm willing to step outside of my comfort zone.  I have to.  I bore too easily.

What about you?  What are you doing differently?  Are you writing something new to challenge yourself? Writing in a different POV?  A different genre?  Or like me, in a different format?

Thanks to S. Trugliai on Flickr for the wonderful image.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Ending the Secrets

And the answers are:
  • "I've got some cream for that."
  • -17.3
  • Underwear
Life is full of mysteries:  the punch line to jokes, the answers to math problems, and that puzzling smushy birthday present.

We have to find out how things end up.  It's critical.  Some of us anticipate a little better than others.

Think about how you read a really gripping story.  Do you nervously enjoy the ride to the very end?  Do you crack and skip to the ending because you just have to find out what happens?  Or do you unabashedly read the ending first?

What if there were no secret endings?  Would it really even matter to you?  Could the story still be enjoyable?

I'm sure you've all writhed in agony at some point listening to someone butcher a great joke you already knew the punch line to.  Although you knew the ending, it was the delivery that ruined it this time.  Hear that same joke told by a good comedian and you're laughing again.

If all we cared about were the endings to stories, then we would get our novels from fortune cookies instead of from libraries.  But it's the journey, not the destination (more about that here in a previous post).  Maybe it was all a dream, maybe the butler did it, or maybe the protagonist dies at the end.  Who cares?  How does it develop?  What must the characters overcome?  What inevitability leads to the ending?  This is what makes reading the story enjoyable.  This is why we have tattered copies of our favorite books.

Life is not simply about having the answers.  Sometimes we never even get them.  My wife, for example, will not let me teach her how to solve the Rubik's Cube.  Apparently she likes a mysterious geek.  But I already know a solution.  Does that stop me from solving it again and again?  Heck no!  It is still fun.

As a reader, do you need your endings to remain a secret?
As a writer, do you need to know the ending before you start writing?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Do You Need a Deadline?

Can you guess what I am?

I need deadlines. It's the how I achieve my goals. I may miss a bunch of deadlines. And some of these deadlines may seem rather arbitrary, but I always set deadlines. If I don't have a deadline, then I procrastinate. Sound familiar?

"One of these days I'm going to learn how to do the Rubik's Cube."

When I finally got serious with the Rubik's Cube, I gave myself one week to learn how to solve it. After I realized that a 37 minute solve time wouldn't garner me any admiration from the ladies, I knew I had my next deadline. 36 minutes. Then 35 minutes. And so on.

This forced me to learn new techniques. To look for efficiencies that could save me precious solve time. I found things that I would not have even considered without the next deadline I set for myself. It didn't matter that it was 35 minutes or 35 seconds. It didn't matter if the clock ran out on me first, I was motivated and productive. (Well, as productive as you can be playing with a toy.)

My time on Earth is precious and shall not be squandered.

Time and output are two of the most important things to a writer. You are granted a finite amount of time to write your body of work. If you don’t have time to write, then you obviously won’t produce anything.

How do you make more time?

Well, that won’t happen with our current laws of physics, but we can make the best of the time we have. Setting deadlines helps you focus on what really matters most: becoming a better writer.

Flexible and achievable deadlines keep you motivated to carry on with your writing. You build your confidence. You have little competitions with yourself. This week I’m going to write 15 pages of my novel or story. That’s only 2 pages per day. After all, I wrote 12 pages last week.

Rigid deadlines can be painful, but they help you focus on your objective. For newspaper journalists, they learn to immediately get to the meat of the story. The editor won’t run their piece if there are excessive words to bog down the story.

For other literary folks, a deadline helps us to just finish the draft. We need to focus on the priorities. I’m here to write a story. I’m here to write a blog post. I’m not here to surf the internet or sharpen pencils (yes, they still exist.)

I think deadlines are a good thing. Do you agree? Do they work for you?

Figure out what that image above is? It’s a timer for speedcubing. The clock begins the moment your hands reach for the Rubik’s Cube. Once you solve it, you slam both palms back down on the pads. Keep in mind that other coffee shop patrons will not share your enthusiasm if you use one of these for your writing deadline.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Is It Done Yet?

If only writing were as easy as the Rubik's Cube!

Yeah, you heard me right.

How in the world is something as left-brained as the Rubik's Cube easier than writing stories?

For one thing, you are certain when the Rubik's Cube is solved.  You know exactly when it's finished.  Like a pop-up thermometer for your Thanksgiving turkey, the Cube lets you know the moment it's done.  There's no such thing as good enough.  "I'll just leave these two corners unsolved" doesn't fly.

Take a look at your WIP (work in progress).  What about that story you threw in the drawer a year ago?  Are you finished with them?  How do you know?

With the Rubik's Cube, if you need to adjust a corner or flip an edge, it's pretty obvious what needs to be fixed.

It's not so obvious with your stories.

There is no solution manual for your stories.  Even if there were a manual, the solution would change whenever it's looked at like the crystals turning in a Kaleidoscope.  There is nothing quite as obvious as the Rubik's Cube to tell you when something is out of place or doesn't work in your story.

So how do you measure when your story is done?

Is it published?
Unfortunately, what may be considered polished and completed for one market or audience may not be so for others.

Are you, the author, satisfied?
Is this the best work you can produce today?  You may change your mind 6 months or 6 years from now.  But that's okay.

Are you exhausted?
Sometimes it is just healthier to move on to something else.  Your story is good enough.  Draft number two, or draft number eight.  It doesn't matter.  You're so weary of it you risk inadvertently 'fixing' something already working well.

I wish there was a magic solution pamphlet to let you know exactly when your story is completed, but that's just not to be.  Perhaps there is an omniscient professor of literature ready to oversee your story progress, but I have yet to discovered her.

Ink scribblings seem to be ever present on my pile of manuscripts.  I have no ideal end state like with the Rubik's Cube.  Stories are Kaleidoscopes because they are beautiful in their many different states.

What is lovely to one set of eyes may not be appealing to another.  What looks like crap today, will look genius tomorrow.

What about you?  How do you gauge when your stories are done?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Don't Do What You're Told!

Don't tell me what to do!  I'm not going to listen.  Go ahead, up the ante.  Tell me I can't do something.  See what happens.  I'm defiant, I'm a writer.

One year ago I started this blog despite the skepticism of one of my friends.  "How many ways can you relate the Rubik's Cube to writing?  You can't create enough new content to sustain an entire blog."

Ha!  How dare you question me?  I will prove you wrong!  Popeye had his cans of spinach to get fired up, but all you need to feed me is doubt.

They said it can't be done.
Erno Rubik doubted anyone would ever be able to solve his newly invented cube.  He worked at it for over a month before he finally worked out a solution.  Look how things have changed.  It can now be solved in less than six seconds.  And some cubers can do what was thought to be impossible:  solve the Rubik's Cube blindfolded.

Defiance breeds greatness.
I'm grateful that Rosa Parks didn't listen to that bus driver in Montgomery.  Thoughtful acts of defiance can grow into ideas that can change the world.  Would there be a Civil Rights Movement in the USA without Rosa Parks?  Probably.  Eventually.  But certainly not without defiance.

LaLaLaLaLa, I can't hear you!
I'm happy I didn't listen to my naysayers, just as most children are happy their parents didn't wait until they were ready to have kids.  Somehow I'm still here.  Happy Anniversary, Blog!

Rather than get discouraged by negative comments, I get motivated to journey on.  I write because writing is challenging.  I know I'm not going to change the world with my blog, but I'm going to keep doing it on my terms.  Maybe this is my last post, maybe not.

Are you going to do what you're told?
Are you a writer?  Have you ever been told to get a "real" job?  Why should you?  Because that's what everyone else thinks you should do?  Com'on!  Stick your tongue out at the world and say "pbthhh!"

I want to read your future, award-winning material.  I want to learn and experience your Earth-shattering ideas.  Despite the odds, despite what other people tell you to the contrary, what are you doing as a writer?  I'd love to hear from you.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Are You a 'Writer', Writer?

Why haven't I published a How-To video for solving the Rubik's Cube?  Good question.  After all, the theme of this blog almost begs it.

Just search for the Rubik's Cube on YouTube and you'll find various videos offering their favorite methods for solving the cube.  In fact, you'll find over 20,000 videos.

So many methods for beginners, intermediate, and advanced cubers!  Yet, most methods require memorization of complex notation and mathematical algorithms.  Should I take the time to deliver my drop of wisdom into the ocean of knowledge?  Can I even be considered a "cuber" worthy enough to preach my gospel?

Yes, actually.  On both accounts.
I can teach my easy-to-understand method to solve the cube and it doesn't require memorization.

What makes a cuber a 'cuber'?:
I have always been a cuber.  But what makes a cuber a 'cuber'?
What's the distinction?  I used to be just some guy who liked challenging puzzles.  I always have been.  But now I'm a 'cuber'?  What happened?  I haven't won any competitions.  Admittedly, I don't have any popular tutorials published on the web. 

I have learned from others, though.  I have studied concepts.  And I have learned new things by solving very different types of twisty puzzles.  Through a combination of dedication, humbleness, and confidence, I have gained a certain amount of credibility.  I'm a 'cuber', cuber because that's how I define myself.

What makes a writer a 'writer'?:
I have always been a writer, (said just like every other writer).  But I didn't consider myself a serious writer until recently.  It has nothing to do with publishing credentials or literary merit.  It's all about how I define myself.  I don't write articles for Writer's Digest, nor do I make millions of dollars writing subpar prose like Dean Koontz, but I am a 'writer' writer.

I consider myself a writer with credibility.  One reason is because I have a unique perspective that I may not have had before.  Just like my 'cuber' alter ego, I have gained credibility through dedication, humbleness, and confidence.  My unique experience writing can benefit other writers.  Just like I can benefit from every other writer out there, (including how to sell books like Dean Koontz).

One secret weapon teachers have in their arsenal is to ask the better students to tutor other struggling students.  This actually benefits both students.  By helping the struggling students to understand topics they have already mastered themselves, their own learning tends to be reinforced.  It can also give them fresh insight on the topic and make them an even better student.

The thing that's really exciting about writing is there are no rules.  Some may not consider the ├╝ber-prolific Nora Roberts to be a 'writer' writer on grounds of literary merit.  While others may not consider an unpublished author to be a 'writer' writer simply because they are unknown.  It doesn't matter.  Every writer can offer wisdom to other writers.

So share your writing tips with others.  Don't worry about your word counts or publication record.  Don't worry if you suffer adequately enough for your craft.  Prepare something to teach to others and you'll learn, or at least reinforce, writing concepts.  Do that and you'll become a 'writer', writer.

What do you think makes a writer a 'writer'?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Random Recommendation: M.E. Anders

Today, I recommend M.E. Anders' Blog.  She loves the thriller genre and is currently writing a psychological thriller.

Her site is quite diverse and includes articles ranging in topics from fitness to psychology and religion.  She is an aspiring novelist and is generously sharing her journey writing her first novel.  She has an interesting approach to plotting you may find useful.

One of the more entertaining features of her blog is a weekly guest interview.  (Here comes the shameless plug:) 

This week I have the honor of appearing on her blog for an interview.  Please check it out:   M.E. Anders.

You can access my regularly scheduled blog post once you've been thoroughly entertained by Mindi's site:  Can You Bribe Your Inner Critic?

Thanks for visiting!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Can You Bribe Your Inner Critic?

Lately I've had a hard time getting started with new stories.  That darn inner critic!  Just when I start to feel confident, he sneaks up to remind me that I'm only as good as my last accomplishment.  How am I supposed to top that one?

I live for new challenges, but if I don't gag this judgmental intruder I'm going to end up with an overworked pile of old manuscripts.  Always critiquing and never creating.  I will knead this gently rising dough of prose until it becomes tough and rubbery.  And nobody wants to serve that with dinner!

Why is he here?

My inner critic is a Bloodhound that sniffs out self-doubt.  I ponder something new, and he can sense it.  Anything new brings on the uncertainty.  And he's right there!  I meander into new territory and I feel like a fugitive panicked by the barking at my heels.

Can we avoid him?

What if we always stayed inside of our comfort zones?  We wouldn't have to worry about failing.  But how dull would life be?  Inside my comfort zone there is a pile of finished manuscripts and a drawer full of conquered puzzles.  I can edit and reedit my same stories over and over again.  (Boring!)  And I can solve and resolve the same puzzles over and over again.  (Yawn!)

But I love new things.

On one hand, I can scour the Internet and buy a new puzzle whenever I feel the urge.  I still have doubts about whether I should do it; but this inner critic is the smaller, feebler younger brother.  He's the accountant in the family.

Maybe I won't be good enough and get stumped with this new puzzle.  I might be out some money, but I'll still be a puzzler.  It won't stop me from trying a different one, (or prying it apart with a screwdriver).

On the other hand, I can't simply buy a new story.  I must create it.  And my inner critic is the louder, stronger, and more convincing older brother.  He doesn't merely judge one particular work in progress.  No.  He doubts all of my abilities as a writer.  "You'll never be able to do anything with this crap," he'll say.

What if I could bribe my inner critic?

Could I pay him off?  Would he leave me alone, just for a little while?  I'm going to try it.  I'm going to turn my old swear jar into a bribery jar.  The FCC is pretty lax with profanity these days, so it couldn't hurt.  If my inner critic says something to keep me from writing, money goes into the bribery jar.

He needs to be silenced until I have something new to work with.  If it doesn't live up to my expectations, so what?  You can't learn to swim if the pool is empty.

Will I love the new story?  Probably not, but that's okay.  Even Shakespeare had first drafts.  But then again, I'll have a jar full of money and my inner critic will be itching to get to work editing.

So bribery might be worthwhile.  When your piece is written, you can use that money to treat yourself to a nice, fresh pot of coffee and get to work editing with the best person for the job:  your inner critic.

What do you think?  Can you bribe your inner critic?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Do You Flip For POV?

Something occurred to me the other day while I was solving my Rubik's Cube.  I solve it upside down.  I solve from the bottom up.  White side first, yellow side last.

I learned this trick to avoid reorienting the cube.  Who wants to keep changing your point of view just to keep track of your progress?

Rules constrain the behavior of the cube so I know certain things will happen to edge and corner "cubies" even if I don't see them directly.  (By the way, a "cubie" is a nickname for the individual pieces on the cube.)  In my case, if a cubie has a white sticker on it, then I know it belongs on the bottom (hidden) layer.  If it has a yellow sticker, then it's going somewhere on the top (visible) layer.  I don't have to constantly peek at the bottom of the cube, I can use other visible cues to ensure it gets where it belongs.

Then it hit me! This is Point of View, or POV in literary circles.  This is the perspective the story is told to the reader.  How is the narration revealed?  First person, third person, etc.

When you write a story, it is important to maintain a consistent POV.  By consistent, you don't switch perspectives mid-chapter, mid-scene, or mid-paragraph without giving the reader an obvious cue.  (Of course you can have multiple POVs in the story, and it's a challenge to pull off successfully.  Maybe I'll cover that another time.)  The most common convention is for a story to be told from a single POV, or perspective.

Too many POV shifts can be jarring to the reader.  Imagine how frustrated you would be if someone constantly reoriented the top color on your Rubik's Cube after every turn you make to solve it.

It's easy to catch POV mistakes by finding "she" rather than "I" in the wrong places.  But also keep in mind that the POV you choose may restrict what can be revealed to the reader through that particular lens.  The tricky POV mistakes are the ones where the POV character acts based on something they couldn't possibly know or see.  It may be as simple as a character not being present to "see" something happen but the action is described anyway.

But also consider the POV character's realm of knowledge.  Would a janitor know the answers to combinatorial problems that even advanced mathematics students at MIT could not solve?  Not likely.  Unless of course that janitor was a genius in the story, as in the movie Good Will Hunting.

What POV do you like?  Does it depend on the story?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

What Would You Save From a Burning Building? (Part 1)

I don't do well with hypothetical questions.

Force me to save my favorite anything from a burning building and I'll be reduced to a charred pile of indecisiveness.  I simply can't choose.  I love variety too much.

This might explain why I have a puzzle 'shrine' in my office.  Some days I feel like doing the Rubik's Cube, other times it might be the Rubik's Revenge, still others, the Mirror Cube.

So don't ask me which stories I would save from a burning building.  I won't post a static and boring list of my 'favorites' here.  Nope.  My tastes evolve like an ever-changing mosaic.

Therefore in this series of posts I will share a cross-section of stories and authors I adore, but no favorites.  I love my children equally, but in different ways.

Bag of Bones by Stephen King
There's nothing like the original master.  Besides Stephen King, I don't read much from the horror genre, but it's hard to cram his work into any one genre.  His uniquely insane voice opened my eyes to the power of great storytelling.  He has taken on Fantasy with The Dark Tower (series) and The Eyes of the DragonThe Tommyknockers showed us his take on Sci-Fi.  Of course, any aspiring writer will cite his Nonfiction On Writing as a masterpiece.

I always coveted his short stories.  Ever since reading Stephen King in high school, I have marveled at this literary master's range.  I absolutely adored the story "Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption".  But of his work, I think Bag of Bones, originally published in 1998 by Scribner, is what really reinvigorated me back to writing.

Bag of Bones is beefy compared to most novels I read.  It's over 700 pages long, still, it didn't feel overwhelming.  It is the story of a widowed writer with writer's block.  It wouldn't be King if there weren't elements of the supernatural.  It's a ghost story.  But that is not why I loved the book so much.

I wanted to spend time with the characters.  The story is emotionally charged and very moving.  Anyone interested in how the "Master of Horror" does "heartwarming" (or heartbreaking) literature should read Bag of Bones.

Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk
Survivor is a truly unique story.  It is my favorite by this author of Fight Club.  The narrator of the story is the last remaining survivor of a suicide cult.  He hijacks an airplane and recounts his life story to the black box recorder in the cockpit.

The novel begins at Chapter 47 and counts down toward the final Chapter 1.  How the story is told is not the only gimmick.  Palahniuk's humor and satire keep the reader engaged.  There are many twists and turns and surprises in the story.  It had been optioned in 1999 by a large movie studio, but the project was dropped after the September 11th attacks.

One side note, the title of the novel certainly should not be confused with the television series of the same name that premiered in the US in 2000.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Life of Pi was first published in 2001 by Knopof Canada.  There are many layers to this story.  It has it all...literally.  Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam.  Read this and you will not have to suspend disbelief because the narrative effortlessly blurs the line between fiction and memoir.

How can a story about a boy stuck on a lifeboat with deadly zoo animals be so believable?  Because it was masterfully written.

What are some noteworthy authors or stories you treasure?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

It's the Journey, Not the Destination

Ever take a road trip?  Was it memorable?  I bet I can guess why.  You anticipated your arrival.  You shared a camaraderie with your friends or family.  You felt like a pioneer.

Once you got there, you realized the Grand Canyon was just a giant hole in the ground.  But those hours crammed in the back of the station wagon with your siblings remain carved into your memory on a geological timescale.  It's because of the journey, not the destination.

Whenever someone asks me how fast I can solve the Rubik's Cube, I think of those road trips.  It was never meant to be a race.  A road trip is meant to meander.  Besides, I never set out to solve the cube in record times.  It was more important that I learned how to solve the cube, not simply memorize hundreds of algorithms and finger tricks.  (By the way, an algorithm in cube-speak is a predetermined pattern of turns that has a desired effect on a group of little cubies.)  No, my ultimate journey was to be able to solve the Rubik's Cube with my eyes closed.  Would I learn how the Rubik's Cube works at a deeper level?  Would I learn more about myself during this journey?

When I write, it's easy to think the goal is just completing the story.  That's not enough.  It's the journey, not the destination.  Sure, I want to create a finished story.  But, I want my readers to remember, and maybe even discuss, the importance of my story in their lives.  (That's my dream anyway.)

I recently read the novel, Some of Your Blood, by Theodore Sturgeon.  It is a deconstructed vampire story.  Okay, that isn't quite accurate enough.  Some of Your Blood is a deconstructed story.  It is non-traditional in every way.  Yet it is fascinating to read because it is more than the story itself, but how the story is told.  Once you finish it, you'll want to read it again.  Think: the movie The Sixth Sense (but this novel was published about forty years earlier).  Another thing about the story that will get you wanting to go back for more is the "unreliable narrator" aspects of the novel.  It reminded me of Kevin Spacey's character in the movie The Usual Suspects.

If you can create a journey for your readers, then you can tap into something deeper and your story will have a lasting effect on them.  It's not just the story, but it's how you tell it.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Lost in (Cyber) Space

Do you have a backup plan?

Normally I do, however, this weekend I was unprepared for the Blogger outage.  If you didn't hear the news:  what should have been routine maintenance for Google's Blogger service ended up locking out users and removing users' data for more than 36 hours.  Google had worked over the weekend to restore lost comments and posts by rolling back data in their environment.  My post however, which was scheduled for today, was one of the casualties of their catastrophic human error.

Unfortunately for me, my post has forever been lost in cyberspace.  Perhaps I will rewrite it.  Perhaps I will restore it to its full glory.  Just not tonight.  I'm too distraught at the thought of having to re-invent, re-edit, and re-post something that may never live up to the original.  I suppose that's why we wear oven mitts: so we never burn our hands again.  I will be sure to be more diligent in the future backing up my data.

I love the fact that Blogger is free, but the real lesson here is you get what you pay for.

When I first learned of the Megaminx puzzle, I knew I had to get one.  But they were pretty expensive (and I wasn't sure I would be able to solve one anyway.)  Why invest in a quality Megaminx?  I thought I would try to solve it once and then be done with it.  So I sent for a cheap one from China.

This is a cheap Megaminx
I began to solve it, then it fell apart and exploded in hands.

This is a Megaminx Explosion
I was embarrassed.  I wasn't embarrassed because I couldn't solve the puzzle.  I was embarrassed for being cheap and not expecting the puzzle to explode in my hands.

It's the same with writing.  I don't get embarrassed with typos or grammatical errors...ever writer makes those.  But I am embarrassed that my original writing was lost, never to be restored.  I did not have a backup plan.  I can only hope that when I do rewrite my post it will be better than the original.

Has anything like this ever happened to you?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Random Recommendation: 10 Difficult to Write Pieces

Whenever I face a daunting challenge, (how about that crazy cube at left?) I remind myself that the world is full of amazing people who make the impossible seem like child's play.  This post is dedicated to all those super humans.

I read this great article that shows us just how amazing people can be when put in extraordinary circumstances...or who simply wanted to challenge themselves beyond what us mere mortals would consider difficult.  If you think solving the Rubik's Cube blindfolded is impressive, wait until you read this post.

The article ranks ten works of literature based on how difficult they were to write.  From a novel written without the letter, e, to a successful novelist who was still years away from puberty when she wrote her first novel, to a memoirist who emerged from a coma to dictate an entire book exclusively with his one eye, this blog post is nothing if not inspirational.

Reading the list also will give you some perspective when you're searching for an excuse not to write.  Enjoy it here:

Let the hero worship commence.  I bow down to all you amazing people out there who keep me humble.

Happy Writing!