Month: November 2013

Favorite Times to Write During the Holidays

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For most, the holidays season means traveling near and far, spending time with family, eating (perhaps too much) good food, sharing stories, and participating in that bit of controlled chaos that marks a true family reunion. So if you’re a writer, does this mean taking a break from working during this period?

But spending time with family doesn’t mean putting down the pen and pad (or perhaps the computer and keyboard, these days), it just means finding different times to write. What follows are 3 of my favorite times to write during the holidays.

In the morning, before the household wakes

One of my favorite times to write during the holidays is in the mornings, before the rest of the household wakes. I often stay with relatives when I travel during the holidays, and so I do not have the solitude or quiet of a hotel room (which, if you do, enjoy it and you probably don’t need to read this post!). Waking early in the mornings can often be worth it to have an hour or so of quiet time for writing. In households with small children, this might be tough, but even if you write a bit in your room before heading out to meet the rest of the family, you can exercise your brain and jot down some fresh ideas.

After lunchtime, while the household rests

Perhaps it’s just my family, but there’s usually a period of time after lunch, during the afternoon, where everyone is either relaxing or gathering themselves for the next activity. This is a perfect time to get a little writing done, and not feel like you’re being anti-social. You can either write in a common area, as long as you’re okay with the extraneous noise and activity – or you can head back down to your room or somewhere quieter and write until the family gathers again. This really works if you have young children (or older family members) who need naps. A two-hour nap window is a great time to get a bit of writing done!

Late at night, while the household falls asleep

This writing time comes with a warning, because oftentimes my holidays are filled with quite a lot of drinking – and so when nighttime actually comes, I often just want to crash. But if you don’t drink or are a night owl, then writing at night can also be a viable option for writing during the holidays. Writing at night is a good way to unwind and reflect over the day’s events, and in some households, late night can be much quieter than early morning, especially if you like to write in common areas of the house. And even if you’ve had a few drinks, as long as you promise yourself you’ll edit sober later, write away!

Regardless of when you choose to write, the point is you don’t have to avoid writing during the holidays just because you think there won’t be time. Of course, it’s also perfectly valid to use the holidays as a vacation from writing – but if you do get antsy and feel the need to do some work, you can always make time.

Have other times you write during the holidays? Let me know in the comments section!

A Thanksgiving Writing Exercise

As we approach the final days to Thanksgiving, what’s been on your mind? Does this list sound familiar?

  1. Stress
  2. Work drama
  3. Work deadlines
  4. Travel plans
  5. Holiday dieting
  6. Family logistics and/or drama
  7. The upcoming month end
  8. December plans

I know. You’ve heard the Thanksgiving bit before: Be thankful for all that you have in your life. But why not go one step further.

Here’s a Thanksgiving writing exercise for you, in 3 easy steps.

  1. Write down everything you are thankful for in a numbered list. Doesn’t have to be in any particular order, and it’s best if you write down the items quickly. Go with your first thoughts and don’t edit. Not yet. Write everything you can in a minute or two.
  2. Go through your list and circle a few key concepts to expand on. Such as, “My health” or “My family” – then take another minute or two to give more specifics. This list should be a short sentence. Such as, “Thankful my tennis elbow subsided” or “Thankful my mother’s surgery was successful.”
  3. Take the list you have now, and focus on one of these items. Start free writing about this idea. Give yourself three to four minutes, and don’t let yourself stop. Write about how you came to have such an injury, or what your mother’s surgery was for – write in the first person if you need to, and don’t worry about polished sentences. When the timer stops, see what you have.

This exercise could lead to a memoir segment or a longer work, and it’s a good way to reflect on all you have to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. Want to share your list or idea? Add it in the comments section.

5 Great Dystopian Post Apocalyptic Books

I just finished reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and already I’ve taken mental stock of my provisions in the kitchen. I got into a conversation about the book the other day, which ended in a swapping of favorite science fiction stories we read growing up. Specifically, in regards to The Road, I wanted to share 5 Great Dystopian Post Apocalyptic Books I Highly Recommend You Read.

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5 Motel of the Mysteries by David Macaulay

I begin with more of a picture book, but a book I’ve loved since I absconded with it from my brother’s room when I was a child. In another Macaulay masterpiece, it’s the year 4022 and an amateur archeologist has discovered the remnants of the ancient country of the U.S.A. and imagines a world alien to him. The images are wonderful & the storyline is witty.

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4 I Am Legendby Richard Matheson

While I’m not the biggest fan of the movie, I thought this novella was captivating. A terrible plague has destroyed humankind, except for Robert Neville, the protagonist. He wards off the remaining population—blood-thirsty creatures who are bent on his destruction.

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3 Freedom’s Landingby Anne McCaffrey

So perhaps this is cheating adding in this book to this category, but I love this series, and hear me out. If you only think Anne McCaffrey writes about the dragons of Pern, you would be incorrect! This is a great series about life after an alien invasion, when humans (including the main character, Kris Bjornsen) are taken captive and shipped off to a seemingly deserted planet to fend for themselves.

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2 The Postmanby David Brin

I hope you haven’t seen the movie, because the book is so much better. In a post-apocalyptic world, a drifter finds a long-dead postal service worker’s jacket and discovers that through the jacket, he can inspire hope and change in the world.

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1  Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

This is one of my favorite dystopian novels. Snowman is struggling to survive in a world that is a far remnant of what it used to be. He goes on a journey to remember fully what happened to his best friend Crake and the woman they both loved.

What are your favorite science fiction stories? Have different ones? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

8 Ways to Block Out Background Noise While You Write

As a business writer or copywriter, sometimes you need some peace and quiet when you’re writing or brainstorming—but if you work in an office or a public location, background noise can be distracting. How do you cope with this? Do you slam your office door (if you’re lucky enough to have one?) or complain to your neighbors? Here are 8 ways to block out background noise while you write.

8 – Close your door.

If you’re lucky enough to work in an office or a location with a door, shut the door. You’d be surprised how often this doesn’t happen. You don’t need to keep your door all day, but if you’re writing, a closed door not on works to block sound, but it can be a signal to coworkers that you don’t want to be disturbed.

7 – Move locations.

Work off a laptop or a legal pad (old school style)? If you’re writing and your space is loud, get up and move! Find another space – either an empty conference room or even the lunchroom (not during lunch, of course) can work. Moving away from your normal space can also help cut back on distractions while you write.

6 – Turn on a fan.

White noise is amazing. I shouldn’t have to say anything else. There are many ways to subtly or not so subtly create white noise. One subtle way is to turn on a fan. This also helps if you’re in a cubicle situation and it gets a bit stuffy or warm in your area. You’d be surprised at the amount of ambient noise a fan on low blocks out.

5 – Wear earplugs.

Another subtle way to block out background noise, or at least lower the noise to a level you can ignore. Worn by concert-goers worldwide, earplugs come in many different shapes and sizes, materials and colors… find the type that works for you, and plug up those ears! This method works too if you aren’t the type to wear headphones, or you get headaches from them.

4 – Wear headphones.

The next step up from earplugs are headphones. If you want to really raise the stakes, you can purchase noise-cancelling headphones. The Boise QuietComfort Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones are amazing, effective, and helpful on plane rides too (caution: they are expensive).  Headphones work to not only block out sound, but like a closed door, you can use them as a way to show coworkers and those around you that you’re working, concentrating, and not to be disturbed.

3 – Work at non-peak times.

If you do work in an office, you can choose to change your hours, if you have that flexibility. Come in earlier or stay later, or take your lunch at an odd time so you can work through the normal lunch hour. Cutting down your coworkers even by a few can really help to cut down on background noise.

2 – Talk to your boss.

This is crucial if the sound becomes too much, or if you’re constantly working on time-sensitive projects and need to concentrate. Your boss should have your back, and together you should be able to come up with a workable solution. Sometimes, especially if you work in a business with a small marketing team (or only one copywriter), the executive team just hasn’t dealt with writers before, and are unaware of what works best for creativity and flow.

1 – Work from home.

Again, if you have the luxury, working from home can be a helpful way to block out unwanted noise. You might learn why freelance writers choose the life. Of course, if you decide to work from home, you’ll have other hurdles to overcome (e.g., distractions and time management). If you have to work with a team, this option might not work for you, but you could talk to your boss and see about combining this with a different schedule, as discussed above. Either coming in later after your writing portion of the day is mostly complete, or leaving the office earlier and working from home for a bit afterwards.

However you decide to block out background noise while you write, the important point is: it can be done! Even if it takes some compromise and adjustment, writers can work in office environments and still be productive and social. What’s your favorite way to block out sound? Tell us in the comment section!

10 Interesting Literary Facts For Your Holiday Parties

I’m sure we’ve all had a conversation where the line of discussion went something like this: “So what do you do? Ah, you’re a writer? You know, I’ve always wanted to write a novel myself.” Thus begins a line of questioning about your past work, your current project, and your thoughts on topics such as, “The Kindle” or “The Death of the Newspaper.” With the holidays approaching, I wanted to share my favorite 10 interesting literary facts you can whip out to impress guests and use as a distraction or diversion. Show your family your English degree at work.

1 Pride and Prejudice was originally titled, First Impressions.

It was rejected by publishers, and after Austen made significant revisions to the manuscript, she also chose to change the title.

2 Roald Dahl was a real-life James Bond…

…working as an undercover agent for the British Security Coordination (BSC).

3 Edgar Allan Poe originally wanted a parrot…

…to repeat the word “nevermore” in his famous poem, “The Raven”.

4 J.R.R. Tolkien considered Samwise as the “chief hero” of The Lord of the Rings…

… not Frodo, because Sam’s adventures and journey.

5 The protagonist in C.S. Lewis’ science fiction trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet…

…was modeled after his friend (and author) J.R.R. Tolkien.

6 John Milton composed Paradise Lost (one of my favorite works!) after he went blind.

He wrote the entire epic poem through dictation with the help of literary assistants and friends. The numerous biblical and mythological allusions within the work attest to Milton’s vast knowledge and impressive memory.

7 While British Romantic authors were literary giants, they weren’t that tall.

John Keats: 5’0″
William Blake: 5’0″
Percy Shelley: 5′ 11″

8 Catch-22 took eight years to complete.

Joseph Heller got the idea for the book in 1953, but it wasn’t published until 1961.

9 There are only a few words in the English language that have all five vowels in order.

The two most commonly used words that fall into this category are: abstemious and facetious.

10 Dreamt is the only English word that ends in the letters “mt”.

*Sources: J.R.R. Tolkein. C.S. Lewis. Roald Dahl. Literary Fun Facts.

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