Saturday, March 7, 2009

Making contacts

In the past couple of weeks, I've started using Twitter. I learned about this application when a political figure made the news by tweeting about a secret mission to Baghdad, letting the world know when he wasn't supposed to that American politicians were visiting Iraq. (Thank goodness the people in charge are rocket scientists.)

So I googled Twitter and found the website, signed up for an account, and off I went. At first I couldn't understand how posting 140 character status updates could be useful. I did it anyway, though. Call it an experiment. (What can I say? I'm an experimental girl.) By giving Twitter access to my email address book, I found several of my friends who were already on Twitter. So I started out following those nine people. And pretty soon, most of them were following me, too. That, on its own, was a little like the status updates on Facebook. I could see what those friends were doing from time to time. Okay, I thought. This is easier than Facebook and less of a time sink.

There were applications that could take your Twitter status updates and make them your Facebook status updates, and I considered using on of them. But then something interesting happened. I started using Twitter differently than I used Facebook. I developed a Twitter personality, almost. One that my writer friends said they'd never seen before. "You're funny on Twitter," they told me. Hunh?

The next step was to look for the Twitter feeds of published writers. And sure enough, without too much difficulty, I found some. Followed by those of agents, publishers, and other interesting people and organizations.

Now I'm a huge fan of Twitter. I completely see how a person could meet a lot of others in their industry or just get to meet people whose work they're fans of. And some of them are very entertaining. You can follow anyone you want, unless they've blocked access to their updates. And anyone can follow you. It's a really interesting way to meet people who you'd never ordinarily get a chance to meet.

For example, one of the people I'm following is John Cleese. You know, THE John Cleese, from Monty Python. It's strange to see his updates in real time and to be able to reply to them if I want to. Now, Mr. Cleese has 80,000 followers so obviously he can't answer every tweet he gets, but he does answer some of them. Cool.

But here's my bete noir: There are a whole group of Twitterers who are trying to market themselves or their products with their Twitter feeds. They randomly follow thousands of people in hopes that those people will look at their tweets (Twitter messages are called tweets, if you haven't gathered that by now) and buy their products or subscribe to their feeds (and eventually buy their products or tell others about them.) I've even seen Twitter links that talk about some kind of multilevel system that automatically gets people to follow you on Twitter. This is really annoying. I don't want 10,000 followers who are only in it for some random marketing reason. If someone is following me, I want it to be because we share some interests. So when people start following my tweets who seem to be just marketing people, I block them.

it's true that I myself am thinking forward to the day when I'll have a published book. Everybody's got to make a living. But can't I just put my message out there, like setting a bottle adrift on the virtual seas, and see who comes looking for me? I hope the crate of canned goods washes up on the deserted island with me though. Otherwise, this may be a long, hungry sojourn. (Note to self: Bring a can opener.)

You can find my Twitter feed here.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Write or Die

I discovered a writing program called Write or Die that puts pressure on a person to put words on the blank screen. This seems both like a helpful idea and a terrible idea. The premise behind is that the only thing you can't fix is a blank page. I don't know if I agree with that. If pressure makes you write in the wrong direction entirely, you will end up wasting a lot of time trying to fix pages that shouldn't be there in the first place.

But on the positive side, I wrote more in 22 minutes with this program than I normally would in 2 or even 4 hours. It worked because it forced me to not be distracted by other things. How did it do that? Well, on "normal" level, when you don't write for more than about a minute, the screen starts to turn pink, then red. When it gets red, a loud annoying song starts playing in the background. (My only issue was that I actually couldn't stop singing the song for the next two days.)

But, as a coworker asked, was the writing good or was it crap?

Well... to be honest, it had it's weaknesses. But generally at this point, when I am constantly forcing myself to write, I end up having to do revisions, major revisions. Even if it takes me hours to write a couple of pages. So at least I made some progress. I think the events are fine. It's the wording that needs work. And that's ok.

It's a very different experience of writing for me. I'm usually slow and careful, easily distracted by ideas that I have to research and sometimes this leads me to other ideas and soon I've done a ton of research, only some of which is useful, goofed off some, had a snack and my page might still have only two sentences on it. I'm still deciding whether this is a better way. Try it for yourself and let me know what you think.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Author website

I took the first step to having an author website yesterday. I bought three urls. I haven't set anything up yet. I really want to have some photos taken, with props, and it will take a bit of planning and setting up. None of which I have time for now. But at least I have a web address to put something up on.

I almost changed the title of my novel. I had what I thought was a brilliant idea as I thought about what the novel meant. it's really about what underlies a person's conscious being. In art, it would be an underpainting, something never seen directly, but which affects the final outcome. I thought Underpainting would be a good title. I proposed this idea to Abby Murray, my brilliant poet friend. What?! she exclaimed. You're going to call it underpants?! No, I laughed. Underpainting.

That is a terrible title. It sounds too much like underpants. You need to introduce your head to the gutter. Adrianna's head, this is the gutter.

It goes without saying (but I'll say it anyway) that I will not be calling my novel Underpants... I mean Underpainting.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Bumps in the imaginary road

Perhaps you've heard of writer's block. If you're a writer, you probably have at least a vague idea of what it's like to have writer's block. If you're not a writer, I will try to explain it as similar to dieter's block. Dieter's block is when you're trying to lose weight, but you keep getting tempted off your diet by the chocolate cake that your coworker brought to the office, or the French fries that your roommate brought home, or the jar of chocolate hazelnut creme that you just discovered in the back of the cupboard. And you know you shouldn't eat these things, but you think--aw, just this little bit. And suddenly you're off your diet. And since you ate that bowl of ice cream, what could it hurt to have a few more forbidden foods. So maybe just for today, I won't diet, but tomorrow, I'll get right back on it. And then tomorrow comes and you accidentally have a doughnut before you remember that you're supposed to be dieting. And on it goes.

So, writer's block is like that in that you know you should be writing, but there are all these distractions and even though you know that if you sit down and write, eventually you'll have something great (a better figure or a new novel chapter), compared to whatever is distracting you, it somehow doesn't seem worth it It's too painful to write, to put yourself through the discipline and the emotional and mental turmoil that it takes to write true characters and disturbing events. And anyway, you don't have any ideas right now. No ideas at all, so how can you write? Maybe a break would do you good. Maybe tomorrow, or the next day. Or next week.

I can't help you with dieter's block. All I can say is avoid, avoid, avoid tempting snacks. Threaten your coworkers with some dire consequence if they bring chocolate cake anywhere near you. Toilet paper their cars or something. (You did not hear this from me, by the way.) But writer's block is a different story.

Here are a few tactics I've used to get myself unstuck when struck with lackofstoryitis.

1) Do something else for one day or evening or whenever it is you usually write. One day does not a disaster make. And sometimes it's very helpful to just give your brain a break from thinking about the same story. Go see a movie, read a book, go out to dinner, go to a carnival. Do something fun. Feed your muse. But beware letting it drag on too long. Especially if you are writing a long work, like a novel or memoir. At least in my experience, if you stay away too long, it will get harder and harder to start again.

2) Sometimes just the sheer desire to write something, to try my hand at writing something specific will jolt me out of writer's block. So I encourage myself to write by reading blogs about writing or about writers who are doing something interesting. Google writers who interest you and look at their websites, or blogs. Think about finishing your novel, selling it, and becoming like them, with people looking at your website and wanting to be like you.

3) Awakened Minds Focus CD has helped me through a block many times. I just sit down with it and start writing and almost every time, I get something done. Except when Ariel, the rubber band cat, keeps jumping up on my desk and acting all cute, rubbing against my chin and blocking the keyboard. Then I'm pretty much doomed.

4) Write about your current story from a different angle. Recently while feeling stuck, I started writing about a therapy session where my main character went to a psychiatrist and talked about her life. I had been struggling to write a page a day of my novel, but I whipped off almost eight pages in two days when writing about the session. Then I was able to go back and work on my novel and make real progress. Some might say I wasted two days, but actually I may be able to use some of what I wrote there, if not directly then as history for my character.

5) Call me crazy, but I recommend hypnosis. There's this company called Hypnosis Network that makes CDs with liscensed hypnotherapists. I have several of their programs and I have found them useful. One in particular called the Hypnosis Experience, I've used to break out of writer's block a couple of times. It guides you through some exercises (no gym equipment needed!) that help get your brain going in the right direction. Hypnosis has been studied and used for all sorts of things, but normally, I'd say those recordings are a waste of time. These particular ones, though, seem to be really good. The company often has sales, so get on their mailing list and watch for one.

I have nothing to do with any of these companies I'm mentioning. I have just had to search high and low for ways to deal with my own inability to sit still long enough to write anything and I've been lucky enough to find these things.

6) One last suggestion: Blog about your writing dilemma. It will get you writing, get you thinking, and if you're lucky all your writer friends will email you sympathetic messages. And then you'll stop procrastinating and get to work. Like I'm about to. heh.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

For those who don't read fantasy (and those who do): Contemplate this.

In 1817, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley wrote Frankenstein, the story of a obsessed scientist who creates life from the remains of various corpses. This work is said to be the first fully realized science fiction novel.

The story of Victor Frankenstein and his created creature spawned a whole genre of writing and has been made into several films. The idea of man being given the god-like power to create another human being never seems to get old.

But the truth is that people do have the power to create life.

I found out recently that two of my friends are pregnant. As I have lived my entire life never having created a human, the ease with which others are doing it seems amazing to me. More magical than biological.

Anthropologists believe that early in human evolution woman were worshiped for their creative powers as it was not well-understood during the transitional period from more instinctive animal-like human thinking to the development of less instinctive and more logic driven thinking patterns, how women were able to produce children. To me, it is no less miraculous given the knowledge that it is not only women, but a pair of humans who create a child. A small group project so to speak. Let's just whip up another person, shall we? It's not exactly making a sandwich or even creme brulee. In fact, it's harder than rocket science.

The idea of child bearing as miraculous continues to provide fodder for fiction. In 2006, the film Children of Men portrayed a near future where women have stopped giving birth. The end of humanity is nigh. In that film, when a woman does conceive and bear a child, it is seen as so miraculous that soldiers fighting in the streets in the midst of all out war stop and stand aside in awe as this new mother passes by.

We're a strange lot who don't believe in magic when it happens all around us all the time. Babies are born, lightning explodes from the sky, trees bear fruit, we feel joy, we fall in love, our brains capture the information collected by our senses and create an impression of the world, we build cities destroying nature to do so, nature takes the earth back bit by bit. Those of you who don't believe in magic will say, "This isn't magic. it's science." We've come to take these things for granted. Just as we come to take for granted the relationships in our lives that last the longest and give us the most.

Sad really, when you think about it. In an effort to be intellectual, we are blinded to the magic all around us. Thank goodness there is fiction that lets us safely believe in magic, while maintaining our intellectual affectations

Otherwise we might forget the experience of wonder.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Writing made simple. Sort of.

Congratulations should be going out to Mindie Kniss and me. We, for the second week, succeeded in putting enough words on paper to equal six pages of prose. I think the truth for both of us could be summarized by the subject line of the email Mindie sent me in the wee hours of the morning.

Do we really have to get this done by April 30th?

Yes, Mindie. There is a Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, Mother Theresa, the Big Bad Wolf. You have a fairy godmother and so do I. That dollar under your pillow came from the Tooth Fairy. Her name is Daisy, by the way. Babies are grown in cabbage fields. Al Gore invented the Internet and George W. Bush invented pants. I personally own the Brooklyn Bridge. It's been in my family for generations, and if you offer me the moom, I'll sell it to you. And speaking of the Moon, it's either made of cheese or it's a boat carrying a beautiful woman floating on the dark river of night.

But if you believe nothing else, Mindie, believe this:

Our thesis manuscripts are due on April 30 and we will gt them done. And Valerie Miner will be as shocked as Captain Louis Renault.

Thursday, February 5, 2009


I don't know when this started to be a problem for me, but I'm sure it's gotten worse over time. I've said for years that I have the attention span of a gnat. Now I'm not even sure it's that long.

I spend more time on Facebook than ever before and I just joined Twitter yesterday. While entertaining and useful in keeping me connected with friends, I'd compare these social networking tools to being in the back of a kindergarten class with the ADHD kids.

I don't know if any of the rest of you (and when I say you, I mean writers or writing students)have problems trying to follow the butt-in-chair rule that gets you to that much-to-be-desired Zen place, but I'm betting that I am not alone.

So here are some things that have worked for me, or at least made it a little better. I'd say I have roughly doubled my writing output by following these tips.

1) This will sound weird, but change your eating habits. There is no doubt that what you put in your mouth affects your ability to concentrate. To learn how important this is, read The Ultramind Solution: Fixing Your Broken Brain by Healing Your Body First by Mark Hyman, M.D. What Dr. Hyman says in this book was not new to me, since I've been studying natural medicine as a hobby for a long time. I knew a lot already about how good certain things were for my body, but I never quite realized the impact nutrition and things like hormonal balance had on my brain. I'd like to summarize it for you, but you won't really get it until you read the book.

Best tips: Balance your omega 3 to omega 6 ratio and eat more plants.

2) Awakened Minds, Inc. makes these CDs using binaural beats, which basically means they play a different tone in each one of your ears (using headphones) and this triggers changes in your brain wave state. If you took psychology in college, you may remember that your brain waves change with different mental states from deep sleep to active problem solving and several varieties in between. By changing your brain waves, you can crate better focus or creativity. It sounds like mumbo jumbo, but it was recommended to me by a doctor that I trusted. And these cds are not that expensive. I know about another system, but it costs a lot more. As a starving artist, I'm fine with cheap stuff that works. Anyway, one of these CDs is called Focus. It plays a rain sound (and now I think they sell the same one with an ocean wave sound instead)so you don't consciously hear the different tones. I am amazed though that when I just can't concentrate, I put that CD on and listen to it with headphones and it makes a dramatic difference. Basically, it's the difference between me goofing around on my computer and actually putting words on the page.

3) Caffeine does me wrong. I mean, it helps me stay awake and all, but it also increases my blood pressure, keeps me from sleeping when I want to, makes me tired the next day. I try never to drink caffeinated beverages any more. So what I've started doing instead is taking sub-lingual B vitamins. I buy a liquid called B Total that gives me a big dose of Bs. B vitamins are water-soluble, so they get filtered out of your bloodstream by your kidneys. Unless you have some health issue that prohibits it (and I don't know of one--maybe a B vitamin allergy?), you can safely take a lot more B vitamins that the RDA. They do a lot of good things, like giving you more energy, focus, and helping your heart and nervous system. B vitamins, especially B 12 get more difficult to absorb as you age or if you have digestive difficulties and take antacids or proton pump inhibitors. (If you want to read more about this, just google it.) So chances are, you could use more B 12 if you're over 40, take those stomach meds, or if your a vegetarian because the primary sources of B 12 are animal-based foods.

d) Also, from time to time, I have to remind myself to get up and move around, go for a walk or--because I live in the godforsaken Northern winter wasteland--just stretch or dance or something. The motionless office will be the downfall of Western civilization. We'll all get really big heads and little scrawny bodies. Ew! I don't look forward to that future. And what's the point really? The Singularity is coming anyway, and we can never out evolve intelligent machines, so why not just keep our muscles and actually write about what it's like to BE HUMAN amid all this chaos?

What some of us have to go through to come up with a blog post!