Month: October 2013

Top 5 Halloween Posts for Writers

MummyPumpkin

Happy Halloween everyone! On this spooky holiday, on the eve of November Novel Writing Month, I decided to gather my top 5 Halloween posts for writers. Happy haunting!

1. This blog on “13 Unlucky Things That Are Truly Terrifying to Writers” by Matt Haig.

2.  The Ghost Writer jokes that are gliding around Twitter today. Look ’em up. They are cheesy and ‘fantasmical’. (A taste: Do atheist authors believe in ghost writers?)

3. Download the complete works of H.P. Lovecraft as part of your Halloween enjoyment. A blog with the PDF link can be found here.

4. The scariest photo of all. (from @PaulStecen)

5.  The story of Pearl Curran, a true ghost writer.

5 Fun Internet Distractions for Your Day

Writers sometimes need to take a break from work and reset their systems. If you’re experiencing the dreaded Writer’s Block, or if you’ve just completed a scene or chapter, and need a breather before diving into the next… here are 5 fun internet distractions that can help you take a break but won’t completely derail your productivity.

Google Gravity

I just discovered Google Gravity at work and proceeded to open it on several of my coworkers’ computers. It’s physics for your Google page! I definitely wasted some time playing with this site before returning to work.

Atari Breakout

Atari Breakout

Again, one of the many Google tricks you can do. Head to Google Images, and type in “Atari Breakout” – then wait, don’t select any of the images that pop up, just wait and soon your screen will turn into one large breakout game.

PopCap games and Typer Shark

Typer Shark

PopCap games has been around for awhile and brought us Bedazzled, Bookworm, and Plants v. Zombies. If you need a quick gaming break, there are a few games you can play online. Of course, my favorite old PopCap game is Typer Shark. I knew my typing skills were important – this game just showed me why. It is no longer available online at PopCap, but you can find it here instead. Using it as a distraction for myself, I reached Level 7 and had a bit more than 519,000 points before I was eaten by a purple shark.

Google Doodles

If you use Google as your search engine, then you are most likely aware of the Doodles that they launch on special occasions. If you use Google+, like I do, then you might have even noticed that on your birthday, they create a special Doodle just for you. Touching and a bit stalker-ish of you, Google.

But in case you’ve missed a few of the Doodles, never fear – there’s a section where you can go look at all the Doodles Google has ever done. Yep, it’s definitely a distraction.

DeviantArt

I love wallpapers for your computer and iPhone. DeviantArt is a great place to grab wallpapers, check out the ingenuity and creativity of your fellow artists, and waste a lot of time. It’s even great for commissioning tattoo artwork! Just browsing all the artwork can be a satisfying distraction, even if you don’t have anything particular you’re looking for.

 

So I hope you enjoyed those five distractions – or perhaps you’re reading this blog as a distraction itself from whatever else it is you’re doing. But always remember, once you take a break, the most important thing to do is: get right back to writing again!

The Differences Between: Ensure, Assure, and Insure

Lately, I’ve seen several misuses of three words I thought were fairly well understood, but after seeing three or four different writers use them differently, all in a week, I thought it might be good to review the differences between the words:

ensure, assure, and insure

First, identification. Out of the basic parts of speech, these words are verbs, which means that they carry the action of the sentence.

Now for the tricky part. These words all mean, in some form, “… to make secure or certain,” yet I do not believe you should use them interchangeably (there are differing opinions on this).

I’m going to use the same source to look up each definition, and that source is The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (yes, I have a hard copy of a dictionary still).

ensure – “To make sure or certain”

To be fair, it also cites that insure is a word you can use interchangeably. I believe this is old-fashioned, however, and that for clarification purposes, “insure” should only be used in regards to issuing insurance.

insure – “to cover with insurance; to make safe and secure”

assure – “to inform confidently, with a view to removing doubt”

Do you see the difference? Here are three tips for remembering the differences:

  1. Use “ensure” when you could use the word “guarantee” – such as, “I want to ensure you board your plane on time by dropping you off at the airport with time to spare.”
  2. A few websites suggest that you can think of the differences as such: assure is to people; ensure is to things; and insure is to money.
  3. In most business writing cases, you probably are trying to use the word “ensure” – or, if speaking specifically about policies, “insure.”

And finally, I’ll end with some example sentences:

  • I want to ensure that you get good service while you’re here.
  • He assured his daughter he would make it to her recital.
  • We need to insure the rental car before we drive it.

Do you have any other tips for remembering the difference  between these three words? If so, leave your tips in the comments section!

Looking Back to Aesop’s Fables

Sometimes I like reading old stories or writing that I loved as a child as a reminder of what moved me at such a impressionable age. I wonder now as I read such stories about the writer, and what they were thinking as they wrote. Aesop’s Fables were some of my favorite stories as a child because I loved animals and the simple tales that ended with a moral. There was some clever dialogue thrown in as well. So today, as a throwback, I’m going to post one of my favorite fables for your reading enjoyment. Like it? Have another favorite? Leave your thoughts in the comments section, and enjoy!

You can find a listing of all of Aesop’s Fables online (for free!) here.

The Dog and the Wolf by Aesop, from Aesop’s Fables

One moonlit night, a lean, hungry, half-starved wolf happened to come across a jolly, plump, well-fed dog. When they had greeted one another, the wolf said:

“I must say, you’re looking extremely well. I never saw anyone so radiant and healthy. Tell me, how is it you live so much better than I do? No one is braver or more willing to work than I am, and yet I’m almost dying of hunger.”

“Why,” answered the dog, “you could live just as well as me, if you were willing to do what I do.”

“And what is that,” asked the wolf.

“Oh,” said the dog,” simply guard the house at night and keep the thieves away.”

“Gladly,” replied the wolf, “for I’m having a hard time of it at present. Some good food and a warm roof over my head would be very welcome after the cold wet woods where I’m living now.”

“Come with me then,” said the dog.

Now, as they were trotting along together, the wolf noticed a mark on the dog’s neck and couldn’t resist asking him what it was.

“Oh, it’s nothing,” said the dog.

“No, do tell me,” the wolf insisted.

“Well, if you must know,” replied the dog. “I’m tied up in the daytime, because I’m quiet fierce and they’re afraid that I might bite people. But they do it to make me sleep during the day, more than anything else, and as soon as it’s dark, I’m let out and may go wherever I want. What’s more, my master brings me the bones and scraps from the table with his own hands. I get all the leftovers, as I’m very popular with all the family. So there you are – that is how you are to live. Well, come on! What’s the matter with you?”

“No, I’m sorry,” replied the wolf, “but you may keep your happiness to yourself. Freedom is everything to me. I would not be a king if I had to live in the way you have described.”

The moral of the story is this: it is better to be the most humble person on earth, and free, than to be exalted but lose one’s independence.

Writers Need Their Space: The Downside of Open Office Layouts

In the age of open office layouts and collaborative group-think, writers need their space still. I recently finished the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain, and while the book had some issues for me–such as Cain’s avoidance of definitive statements without the obligatory smooth-over, or the entire section on Asian-Americans–I was still intrigued by many of the studies she cites, especially in regards to the problems of the open office layout.

I’ve been in interviews and visited offices who all champion their “start-up” layout or their collaborative nature. Some of these businesses work out of one large warehouse room, with no actual four-wall offices and very few barriers. Low walls, workstations that face one another, and glass rooms might look nice, but do they actually assist in productivity and creative work? The answer that Cain gives, and I agree with, is often no.

Here are some downsides to open office layouts:

The noise.

Especially for writers, even ambient noise can be a distraction. While many writers might not want to work in a completely silent environment, the chitchat of neighbors, the sound from meetings and phone calls, and the noise from copiers, printers, or other machines can be deadly to concentration and the all-important train of thought. Yes, work might still be able to get done, but it will most likely be done at a slower pace, and it won’t be as good. And a study of workers in Hong Kong shows that as workers age, their dislike and inability to concentrate with noise increases.

Less productivity.

In her book, Cain cites studies that present evidence to suggest that open office plans are linked to lower productivity. Not only do the layouts lead to unhappier workers, but motivation is reduced, and more off-topic conversation occurs. The layouts can be distracting and the loss of privacy can create disgruntled and bitter workers. For writers, this can especially be true if they are working on an intensive project, or they are proofing. Distractions can lead to costly mistakes.

Health and hygiene.

Offices have never been great places to go when you’re sick, but open office plans can carry disease quicker and further than even more traditional office designs. People in close proximity with each other get each other sick more often, and open layouts remove barriers that might have prevented the spread of sickness. Added to that, a non-private workspace is often more stressful, and stress exacerbates sickness, especially if the tools of the trade, such as keyboards, monitors, desks, or supplies are shared.

Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a4/TradeMe_offices.jpg
Open office layouts can be distracting and too noisy for most writers.

So what’s the solution? What companies like Apple, Microsoft, and Intel (three companies Cain also mentions in her book) have done: created a layout that mixes open, collaborative space with private, personal space. So a writer, for example, can meet with other writers or the team to brainstorm and develop ideas, and then retreat to a quieter, personal space (such as an office or a closed cube) to begin the writing process.

Writers need their space.

Writing thrives behind a shut door, or with monitored collaboration. Writers need their space and privacy to concentrate and produce quality work, and open office layouts do not provide these conditions.

What do you think? Do you work in an open office layout? Do you want to? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.

Writing Update – Tighten Up Your Goals

It’s October and a quick writing update with some advice, tighten up your goals. I’ve talked with some writers who haven’t been achieving what they want to off their lists of to-do and tasks because they’ve focused too broadly on what they want to accomplish in too short of a period. While I’m a believer in setting short-term and long-term goals for yourself, I also believe that setting too many in a short period of time can be overwhelming and actually hinder you in completing them. You don’t want to set unachievable deadlines and then get used to not meeting them. Why not instead tighten up the goals you choose to focus on for the month? You can still have that bucket list or long-term goal chart, but focus for the moment on less, rather than more. Figure out a number that’s achievable for you – you can always add more on later. And tightening up on goals doesn’t necessarily mean losing the big projects.

I’m shooting to mark 2 items off my bucket list in addition to the writing goals I’ve set for myself. What are your goals for this month? Leave your comments and keep writing!

Choosing Your Character Names: Top 5 Baby Names

How do you go about naming a character? You can often begin with an idea of someone you know in your mind. That person can become the foundation for an imaginary character, with similar physical features or personality traits. If you’re like me, you put a lot of time and energy into character naming. I have spent my share of time on name etymology websites or reading character naming books. I’m not a writer who picks a name at random.

But I’ve also thought about picking a name based not on its meaning, but on its popularity – its current popularity, or the strength of its popularity at the time you’re character was born. To that end, I thought it would be interesting to see what names have been popular lately, and what names are the most popular of all time.

I first made my way to the Social Security website, which tracks the most popular baby names up to the prior year.

The top 5 baby names for 2012:

For males, it was:

  1. Jacob
  2. Mason
  3. Ethan
  4. Noah
  5. William

For females, it was:

  1. Sophia
  2. Emma
  3. Isabella
  4. Olivia
  5. Ava

Those are the top names for babies actually named in 2012. But this CNN article gives a different perspective, showing the “top searched baby names” of 2012.

Top 5 searched baby names for boys:

  1. Jacob
  2. Max
  3. Liam
  4. Ted
  5. Mo

Top 5 searched baby names for girls:

  1. Isabella
  2. Millie
  3. Sookie
  4. Ann
  5. Ella

Interesting tidbit: as the article mentions, many of the top baby names are all short and sweet, mostly one syllable – which may indicate that more formal names are becoming less popular.

And finally, BabyCenter.com released its list of Popular Baby Names for 2013.

Most popular male names:

  1. Liam
  2. Noah
  3. Ethan
  4. Mason
  5. Jacob

Most popular female names:

  1. Emma
  2. Olivia
  3. Sophia
  4. Ava
  5. Isabella

Names tend to remain popular for a couple years, as this chart from the Social Security website shows. Yet some names have remained popular in the last 100 years:

For girls, the top 5 are:

  1. Mary
  2. Patricia
  3. Elizabeth
  4. Jennifer
  5. Linda

For boys, the top 5 are:

  1. James
  2. John
  3. Robert
  4. Michael
  5. William

Perhaps if you’re going to publish your book in the next couple years or so, naming a character Ethan might make him resonate more with your readers. Or a timeless choice would be Linda. Personally, I would stick to creating strong characters and naming them whatever seems right. Knowing the recent top picks and the most popular names in the last century only gives you another way to narrow down your choices. I hope it helps!

What are you thoughts about character naming, or even thoughts on the most popular baby names of the last two years? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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