Tag Archives: Writing

Censoring Character Development

Sometime back, HBO’s Game of Thrones aired an episode that caused some controversy. Of course, this isn’t the first time the show has done this, but apparently some critics took it upon themselves to decide they knew what was in store for the show better than the writers do and decried an incident in the episode as unnecessary.

I haven’t seen the episode. I’m slowly catching up on this show, but it’s not easy. I’m catching up by checking each season out from my local library, and the waiting list is long. So I’m only now going to be able to watch season four after today (July 9). I haven’t read all the books, either, though I started on them way back when the first volume came out. If memory serves, it and the first volume of the Wheel of Time series came out about the same time, and since I love epic fantasy, I grabbed both up.

I long ago gave up on the Wheel of Time. Far too many books. I can’t sustain my interest that long, especially when he overemphasized the whole battle of the sexes thing, in my opinion. I gave up somewhere around halfway through Book Five. And no, don’t comment urging me to finish the series. Ain’t happenin.

scumbag-george-r-r-martin-memeOf course, the problem with the Song of Ice and Fire series is that George RR Martin has been writing them so slowly that it has its own form of frustration. Where Robert Jordan fluffed Wheel of Time with the battle of the sexes thing entirely too much, Mr. Martin seems happy to keep his fans waiting, all in the name of “getting it right.” As a writer, I understand that. But getting it a little wrong would be preferable to not getting it at all. Mr. Martin isn’t a spring chicken anymore, and he needs to keep that in mind.

End rant.

What I really want to talk about here, though, is the aforementioned episode. In it, Sansa Stark, eldest daughter of Ned and Catelyn Stark, is raped off-screen. Now, as I understand it, Sansa is being groomed, or so many speculate, at least, to be the Queen of the North. I want you to keep that title in mind.

She’s being groomed, I’m assuming, not so much by any particular person or group—though I supposed that’s possible, considering the rest of her family is either dead or scattered to the four winds in a world rife with factions vying for the Iron Throne—but by life itself. She’s lost her father, her mother, her brothers, and her sister (as far as she knows). At the beginning of the series, Sansa is a romantic. When she has an opportunity to journey to King’s Landing, she sees it as an opportunity to meet princes and knights and take part in the wonders of court life, never dreaming of the rude awakening she has in store for her.

Sansa’s story is that of a journey not only from the cold of Winterfell to the warmth of King’s Landing, but her opposite journey from that of a warm, romantic girl to that of a cold, practical woman. Or, again, so I assume. Mr. Martin has a way of surprising us, as do the writers of the show, so who knows?george-r-r-martin-writer-cinema-producer-mass-killer_o_1996013

Of course, thanks to Mr. Martin’s slow pace at writing the books, the show is veering away from their course out of necessity. So the show’s writers might have a different idea in mind for Sansa than Mr. Martin does.

But whatever the case, the critics who raised the hue and cry over an off-screen rape really should keep their mouths shut. Their primary criticism seemed to stem from the fact that, in their opinions, Sansa has grown as much as she can as a character. She’s hardened, not at all the girl who traveled south from Winterfell, and having her raped after all the other things she’s been through was just too much. Besides, it was offensive. I have a feeling this last counted for more than their supposed critique of the forming of her character.

Unfortunately, that’s a little too much like the apocryphal quote attributed to Charles H Duell, Commissioner of the Patent Office in 1899, when he said Congress might as well close down his office as “everything that can be invented has been invented.” Nice thought, Mr. Duell, but a bit shortsighted.

I just want to tell them to get a grip.

Yes, it seems contradictory, but we must keep in mind that these are fictional characters, and yet we must make readers care about them as thought they were real. Will we, as authors, need to start putting a disclaimer on our stories that no real people were harmed in the writing of this book? Do the critics think the general population is so stupid they don’t know the difference between what they see on TV and what’s real?

my-feelings-towards-george-rr-have-changed-slightlyThe development of characters in a story, just as with us in real life, is a complex and daunting task. As writers, we owe it to our readers to make our characters as real and authentic as our skill allows us to do and then some. The world of A Song of Ice and Fire is brutal. It’s not the world of, say, The Princess Bride or a Disney movie. It’s brutal, and cruel, and the idea that Sansa could have her romantic notions even as she grew up in the cold north is something of a miracle in and of itself. That she could hang onto such fanciful notions in a world such as this means she’ll have to have some really nasty things happen to her in order to disabuse her completely of her notions.

Being the victim of rape—on top of all the other things she’s had to endure—is more of the writers forging of her new outlook in life. Now, the thing to me is, this could go one of two ways (and probably more, since others out there can see other outcomes for this): either Sansa Stark will become a cold, ruthless queen who will manage to bring Westeros—or at least the north—together in time to resist the Wildlings from beyond the Wall, or she’ll unite the nations when she remembers what it is to be a victim and she’ll be able to rally the common people behind her cause, thus winning enough support to protect the Seven Kingdoms.

Or, knowing George RR Martin, it could be some other outcome altogether. He’s good at surprising us, isn’t he?

Regardless of the final outcome for Sansa Stark, critics who have not seen the entire picture need to hold their criticisms until they’ve seen the end result of all this. Until then, they’re wasting my time and yours with their petty protests, and contributing in a small—or perhaps large—way to the censoring of creativity, because writers will fear taking their characters where they need to go out of concern of some uninformed opinion of their work.

And that would be a far larger offense than the rape of a fictional character.ef2205c9ecccef6fb26e57fef98accb3



Learning from Stephen King

If you read this blog with any kind of regularity you know I’m a Stephen King fan. Not so much of his recent works—Duma Key is one I have a hard time remembering the title, let alone the story, and Under the Dome was something of a disappointment as well—but when it comes to his older stuff… well, that’s where my heart is.

The-Stand-Book-CoverFirst off, there’s The Stand, probably his magnum opus, at least in my opinion. It is a close second, and a novel I love to revisit on occasion. And ’Salem’s Lot will always hold a special place in my heart as it’s the first Stephen King novel I ever read—after seeing the second half of the miniseries back in the day and wanting to know what happened in the first half. In our book-poor county, I had a heck of a time finding a copy, but once I’d read it I was hooked.

There’s no way I can count up the pleasurable hours I’ve spent lost in Mr. King’s worlds, from his Dark Tower series, to The Dark Half and his short story collections (he’s one of the few authors I’ll read when it comes to shorts), his words played a big part in my decision to be a writer.

Now, whatever you may think of Mr. King and his works, I think we can agree on one thing: he’s a good benchmark when it comes to a writer’s dreams of success. He’s a regular bestseller, and even he has lamented on more than one occasion that he could probably publish his laundry list and it’d be a hit.

Mr. King is good for inspiration, and I won’t dissuade you from reading him. He knows how to string words together in a way that usually makes you want to keep reading (I’m in the middle of Finders Keepers, his newest, as I write this, and it has me reluctant to put it down), andfinders keepers his nonfiction On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is pretty much at the top of my list when it comes to recommending books, well, on writing.

But you don’t want to follow Mr. King’s methods too closely.

As Inigo Montoya said, let me ’splain.

Stephen King began his writing career in a day when the standards were different. For instance, author intrusion was an accepted way of storytelling that it would be hard to get away with today. The literary landscape has changed, and I won’t get into an argument as to whether it’s for the better or not, because I can see it from both sides (note to self: this might make a good post in the future).

Back in the seventies, when Mr. King and his contemporaries such as Dean Koontz and Peter Straub (neither of which I’ve ever been able to get into nearly as much as I did Mr. King) started their careers, author intrusion was normal, even expected. Let me give you an example from page 126 of Finders Keepers:

Pete lay awake for a long time that night. Not long after, he made the biggest mistake of his life.

It’s that last sentence I want you to pay attention to, because it breaks deep POV, and that’s a no-no these days. Writers like Mr. King can get away with it for a few reasons. His readers expect it. It’s how he learned to write, and he became a bestselling author writing that way, so why fix what ain’t broke? And probably most important, see the aforementioned reference to his laundry list. It don’t matter what the boy writes, his fans is gonna buy it.

Why change?

But I have a news flash: You’re not Stephen King. Or Dean Koontz. Or Peter Straub. You don’t have decades of bestselling books on your résumé. Your name isn’t a virtual guarantee of being on the bestseller list.

You don’t got clout, man.

foreshadowingI know, too, why Stephen King does things like he did in the example above. It’s a form of foreshadowing that heightens the tension a bit. You’re given a tidbit that bodes ill for the character, and that’s why we read books, isn’t it? To see what happens to these poor people and how they deal with it. And we really want Mr. King’s characters to get out of their predicaments because his strength is in his characters. Story is almost second in importance in a Stephen King book. We care about the characters because Mr. King rounds them out so well we can’t help but care about them—even the bad guys, in a lot of cases.

But in today’s publishing atmosphere, if this was his debut novel, an editor would tell Mr. King to go back and find another way to tell us that foreshadowing detail, one that doesn’t tell us something Pete couldn’t possibly know. Because, as much as that little detail heightens the tension, Pete can’t know it, so you can’t tell it to us that way. Mr. King can, because he got that clout I mentioned above.

The clout you ain’t got none of.

And that means you can’t get away with it, unless you find some old-school editor, and I think there must be a lot of them out there, from what I’m seeing in some published works.

And here’s the thing: if you use deep POV properly, the fact Pete doesn’t know he’s about to make the biggest mistake of his life can be used to heighten tension just as much as Mr. King’s little snippet of author intrusion does. One method might be to drop little hints, small clues, that the character (and, by extension, the reader) would see as signs of danger if only he were paying enough attention. And even if the reader sees these things and Pete doesn’t, it still heightens the tension because the reader is screaming at him to wake up and pay attention already!

There are some other authors who break these rules as well—James Clavell and Mario Puzo come to mind, as they do what is commonly called head-hopping, a huge no-noShogun these days—but you’ll notice they, too, are from the seventies.

I’m not suggesting you can’t learn anything from these authors. You can learn from any author, and there’s some merit to the argument you can learn more from a bad author than from a good one (if you can get through the book, that is), because a good one makes fewer mistakes. But you don’t want to mimic them too closely (for one, that would be plagiarism) or you’ll be making mistakes that won’t fly with most publishers these days.

And, hey, like I said, Finders Keepers is a good book so far. Last thing you want to do is ignore pleasurable reading, and there are a lot of good things you can learn from Mr. King. Such as excellent characterization.

Just don’t follow in their footsteps exactly.


Back in Time

One of the things—among many, I guess—that I like about writing is the research. I see authors complaining about it, but I’m not sure why. Sure, it takes time away from actual writing, but so what? What’s better than learning something? It’s not like this is high school where you have to research things you couldn’t care less about. If you’re putting it in your story, chances are you’re interested in it in some way, so researching it should be interesting.

For instance, I recently wrote something of an introductory short story for a shared world project first proposed to me by Casey Cowan, Creative Director for Oghma Creative Media and my boss. One of the things we’re doing is trying to revive the western. We’ve made a start on it with the e-zine Saddlebag Dispatches, which is already getting some notice. An article was written about it on nawonline.com, our local news page, and the Western Writers of America, as well as some award-winning western authors, are sitting up and taking notice of it.

Casey and I were sort of brainstorming at his house one day when he asked, “What would attract people to westerns?”

I thought about it a few moments, then said, “I think we need to add an element of cool into it. Something like you’d see in Django Unchained.”django

Long story short, we developed a western series idea for multiple authors to write about that we think will attract attention. Our characters aren’t your typical—or I should say stereotypical—western characters. Sure, those kinds of people will be in our story, and our characters even appear to fulfill the stereotypes. But once you see what’s going on, you’ll realize they’re not what they appear.

I don’t want to go any farther until we make an official announcement about the project, but suffice it to say I had to do a bit of research to get some historical facts right.

I’ve always loved history. Most people consider it boring, I guess, judging from the reactions I get when I say I love it, but that’s okay. For me, it helps me learn why we’re where we are today.

One of the periods I’ve always loved in particular is the 1800s. All that expansion into the west, the stories of the men and women who ventured out into what was, for them, the equivalent of outer space (they just didn’t need EVA suits), fascinates me, both on the fiction and nonfiction level.

I read lots of Louis L’Amour when I was a teenager, and his writing instilled in me a love of the west equaled only by my love for fantasy lands such as Middle-earth. For me, the Rocky Mountains, the wilds of Montana, the southwestern deserts, the Indians who peopled the area and posed yet another challenge to settlers, it’s all fascinating, and I can get carried away reading about these people.

lamour-1-sizedLouis L’Amour did lots of research to write his novels, so I feel when I read one of his books, I’m getting an accurate portrayal of people back then. Yes, he romanticizes it, but so what? That whole period is a romantic one, or we wouldn’t have such an endless fascination for it as a nation. It was unique in history, and I doubt we’ll see another one like it until we finally venture out into space.

And that one may well be endless, for all practical purposes. Western expansion was limited by the Pacific Ocean, for the most part. But expanding into the galaxy alone will take us thousands of years, at a minimum. And then there’ll be all the other galaxies out there. And, who knows? If the quantum physicists are right about parallel universes, this could go on literally forever.

But back down to earth.

I went on a small spate of research back a year or so agothat had nothing to do with what I was writing at the time. It started with me watching Band of Brothers. That got me interested in World War II, so I watched The War, the Ken Burns documentary. That got me interested in Ken Burns documentaries, so I watched Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery as well as The Civil War. The man knows how to make an interesting documentary. I’ve just reserved his documentary The West at the Ken-Burns-Presents-The-westlibrary.

So, research doesn’t have to be dreadful. I realize there are times we’ll come across things in our writing that’ll be boring to research, but for the most part, we should be writing about things that interest us in the first place, so the research should be interesting too.

Or maybe I’m just an über-nerd.


The Return of Mr. Muse

So. I’ve been in a funk. For longer than I care to think about (almost two years? I think that’s about right).query letter

Mostly, it’s been psychological, but there’s been a creative reason there, too. Or maybe they’re one and the same.

See, I was submitting Startup to agents, right? It’s what we wordsmiths do from time to time: assault the walls of New York publishing (Nevermore, quoth the raven). I think I’ve mentioned this episode here before, but just in case I didn’t—or just in case I did and you missed it—I actually got feedback from one of the agents. It was still a rejection, but it was feedback nonetheless.

Now, this kind of thing is the fabled two-edged sword, or at least it was for me. We all react differently when this happens, and I’m thinking I had both the major reactions you can have.

At first, I was excited. Yeah, it was a rejection, but this guy—and he’s a major agent, believe you me; if I mentioned his name, you could research it and see—said he liked my writing, he just thought the first part of the novel needed redone because nothing was really happening. My writing was skillful, my characters engaging, so on and so forth (I doubt those are the exact words, but that’s the gist of the letter). Hey, that’s encouraging, right?

But then I had an idea, one I thought was a good one: I wrote back. Told this agent I realized there usually weren’t any second chances in the publishing world, but all the same, if I could rework that first hundred pages or so—and I was confident at the time that this was a trifling matter—would he be willing to give it another look? I mean, this guy is my dream agent. He represents one of the biggest influences I have when it comes to crime fiction. Can you imagine what it would be like to share agents with one of your heroes?

He had an assistant answer and say that, if it passed her muster, she’d hand it on to him.

I was nice, and for good reason. I thanked them for this second chance. I stopped working on the novel I was in the middle of and went back to the first one.

It ended up killing the momentum on both.

And the second submission was rejected as well.

muse-knock-knockFirst of all, I think my muse basically spent two years saying, “Hey, we wrote that bad boy already. Move on and get to work on new stuff, man.” Meanwhile, I’m cracking the whip on Mr. Muse, stressing each word with a slashing downstroke to his back: “You—will—fix—this—story!”

Mr. Muse thumbed his nose at me (to phrase it politely), and promptly took a two-year vacation.

Oh, he dropped by to see if I’d given up on my obsession. And sometimes I was able to trap him by baiting the trap with honey: “Look! I have this short story idea! Let’s write it! Oh, this thing in my other hand? Don’t pay aaa-ny attention to that. It’s just, um, and old thing I been lookin at.”

With a wary look in his eye, Muse would sit down and help me with my short story. I’d wait till he was heavily involved, flush with the feeling of victory on penning a good story, and then I’d nab him with the real thing: that bothersome old Startup beginning.

Mr. Muse is gullible that way. He lives to create, and he’s willing to work on something he thinks is finished if, in return, I’ll let him create little stories that’ll fend off my embarrassment at not having worked on my big story for another few weeks. I get to tell the writing group that I have A NEW SHORT STORY TO READ THIS WEEK!!! and he’ll try to come up with something halfway decent to do with that smelly old piece of tripe I keep trying to resuscitate.

In the end, it worked, more or less. With Startup scheduled to be released in June, I come up with something of an outline that utilized various scenes from the six or seven versions floating around on my hard drive, plus a smattering of new material. In return, Mr. Muse have given me…wait for it…A NEW WORK IN PROGRESS.

How cool is that?

I wrote an opening scene for it—a science fiction mystery with the working title of Animal Sacrifice that I’m writing under a pen name—then felt guilty and roughed in the indie-meme-265x300eighth version of Startup (or so I’m calling it; I don’t think there are actually eight versions of it, but it’s damn close). I’ve worked at it on and off, revising scenes to fit into the new continuum, as well as finally getting a good finish on the prequel and sending it off to the editor. I think, as of today, I’m pretty much there. I still need to write a scene or two of new material to fit the revised storyline, but the good news is, in about a week’s time, I’ve added about forty pages to Animal Sacrifice. And it feels so good to finally be creating again!

I’m having to do a log of juggling to get this done. After all, there are still my editing duties for Oghma that I have to perform as well, so I’m creating, editing, editing, creating. So far, it’s going good, so Startup will be out in June—in hardback, at that—and once things are a little more firm, I’ll be announcing a special deal on it that you won’t want to miss.

In the meantime, I’ve got this mystery to work on….



Every now and then, you pick up a book that hits all the right notes. There’s action, drama, intrigue, romance, danger, all of that. You read the book, turning the pages till you reach the climax, and you think, I’d like to read more by this author.

And then you have time to think about it, and you realize something’s missing. But what is it? You go over it in your mind, and everything’s there. The plot unfolds the way it should, the three-act structure is in place, all the pieces fit together.

But still, something’s missing.

200px-MichaelCrighton_StateOfFearI’ve read more than my share of these kinds of books, some by some pretty famous authors. For me, Michael Crichton comes to mind: good books, thoroughly researched (the man was a demon when it came to research; he spent three years researching climate data for State of Fear), all the right characters to advance the plot…but there’s always something missing from his books.

It’s like walking into a show house. Everything is in its place. All the décor matches, and there aren’t any throwaway pieces of furniture. I remember going to an American Log Homes show house back in the nineties. One of the things about log homes is that most dealers live in one of the homes, and their houses tend to be the model home as well. This one felt a bit like an exercise in lunacy, as each room was totally different to show that log homes could fit into any décor style. Take each room by itself, it was okay. But there was no theme to the home, if you get my drift. And, what’s more, because it was a model home, even though the dealers lived in it, it didn’t have that feel of being a home. Everything was too perfect, too clean.

Books that are that way remind me of when Watson was on Jeopardy! Yeah, he got all the right answers, and he won. But, to me, it felt like a cheat. After all, as good as the two human champions were—and though I’ve never actually seen the episodes Watson was in, I know the two humans were the best players the show’s ever had—there was still the fact they were human. Watson had instant recall. He was never subject to that feeling we often have of knowing something, it’s right on the tip of my tongue, if I can just think of it….

Watson didn’t have that problem. And on top of that, he didn’t have to go through the physical act of pushing the button to say he had the answer. His reactions were faster-than-human. The only real satisfaction the humans could take was that it took a supercomputer to beat them. No mere computer was up to the task. That’s like saying it took a superhero to win the fight against some normal guy.hal_9000_wall2013_by_vectorgeek-d5sp2sr

That’s how these books are: all the right answers are in place, but they might as well have been written by HAL 9000 for all the humanity that’s in them. It’s like you’re reading programming code turned back into English. All the action is there, but the emotion feels fake. Like that model house, there’s no dirt in the corners, no throw pillow out of place, no dirty fork left lying on the counter. The curtains hang just right, the dining room chandelier doesn’t have any burnt-out bulbs, and even the eight-year-old remembered to make his bed that morning.

Grit. Soul. Bottom. Call it what you want, it’s not there. It’s got the rhythm, but it can’t feel the beat.

And yet, for me at least, it’s hard to point at any specific point in the story and say, “Here’s where and how you can fix that. This is where you can put that jazzy feel that gives it bottom.” I can’t do it because I suspect either the writer has it or he doesn’t. And no amount of books from Writer’s Digest will ever infuse his (or her) prose with that all-important feeling if it’s not already there.

542692_10150749842905379_252657169_nNow, we’re all different (duh). So maybe all writers feel that way to at least one other reader out there. You may find Michael Crichton’s books to be full of feeling. Maybe it’s that so many of his characters tend to be professionals of one sort or another, and most of them in fields I know very little about, so I find it hard to relate. Maybe my stories of common folks caught up in webs of crime will feel sterile to someone who immerses themselves in Crichton’s works.

So I can’t offer up a solution. Part of the reason this blog exists is for me to make observations about the reading/writing world, and this is one I’ve made over the years. I doubt there even is a solution, especially in light of the what I said in the last paragraph. I’m simply saying, “Hey, I’ve noticed this. Have you?”

And by the way, I still read Michael Crichton on occasion, and enjoy his stories.


To My Daughter

Every now and then, I get the urge to talk about someone important in my life and tell why they’re important. Or, at least, get as close as I can.

This time, I want to talk about a young lady who’s the center of my world, who’s made my life so much brighter by being in it: my daughter.couch slouch

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not one of those dads who’ll say his daughter is perfect. She’s not. But I love her anyway, perhaps more so because I see so much of myself in her. And, like any parent, I wish I could spare her learning the lessons I had to learn. I try, of course. Who wouldn’t? But, in the end, the important point here is that she’s like me, and that means she has to learn the hard way. We’re both the kind of people who have to stick our hands in the fire to believe it burns. It’s not that we think you’re lying to us, it’s just that we have to experience it for ourselves to truly believe it.

Makes for an, um, interesting life.

Fortunately, my kid is smarter than I am, at least in some ways. Things I had trouble with, she’s already learned. But there are other things I want her to know that only come with age and experience. I guess that’s true with all parents and their children.

Ours is, if not a unique story, at least an unusual one. Her mother and I separated when Jesi was six months old, and, except for pictures, that’s the last time I laid eyes on her until she was eighteen. On top of that, we fell out of contact when she was three, so I totally missed fifteen years of her life. I tried at one point to find her, using one of those locator services, but it only went so far and then they wanted more money. I sensed a scam and let it be.

Sometimes I regret that. If I remember addresses right, they’d already found the right one, or were damn close to it.

But I gotta tell you, it was worth the wait. While I sometimes regret not paying that extra money, I also sometimes wonder if things worked out for the best. She and I are so alike in so many ways, it’s made us close as adults. But it’s possible we might have hated one another if we’d lived in the same house the entire time. We definitely would have butted heads a lot.

As it is, though, we’ve become very close since we got in contact in 2007, and I’ve enjoyed it so much.

CIMG2385For one, she’s so intelligent it scares me sometimes. I love talking to her, and I talk to her about a lot of things. Since she’s also a writer, I’ll go to her with plot problems, and she’s often helped me out of them, suggesting things I’d never even come close to thinking of.

She’s talented, too. She’s interested in cosplay and making costumes of all kinds, and last I talked to her about it, she wants to open up a costume store, maybe work in the movies. Of course, that last will be a tough one to do, and she’ll have to find a way to make herself stand out, but I have faith she can do it. She’s done some incredible costumes for her and her friends without any formal training, and now she’s going to college for such things as fashion design and makeup, among other things. Of course, I support her one hundred percent, even if I have little interest in such things.

But she’s interested in them, and I’m so interested in what she likes I’ve even asked if I could go to one of her conventions with her, at least for a day. I don’t want to do cosplay myself, but I’ve seen some awesome costumes online and it would be interesting to see some of it firsthand.

She’s not just my daughter, she’s my friend, and I love her from the bottom of my heart. And stay tuned to this space, because she’s just achieved something else I’m gonna crow about when I get the chance, but I gotta wait for her to announce it first. It’s her achievement, and I’m not about to steal her thunder.

I’m so glad you’re in my life, Jesi. I’ll love you forever.


Turn It Off

Sometimes we need to be reminded of the basic, common-sense things. I know I do.

nerdfitnesslogoI subscribe to a site called Nerd Fitness. Essentially, they’re a site that helps ordinary, everyday people get fit and stay fit by equating life to a video game. No, that doesn’t mean they’re not facing reality. What it means is they’ve happened onto a good gimmick to promote fitness. It’s even in their tagline: Level up your life, every single day. They do this with a holistic approach that includes diet and lifestyle as well as exercise.

Not only do they have an extensive website with lots of helpful videos and articles, they also send out motivational emails (by subscription, which I highly recommend) at fairly regular intervals (I’ve never gauged what that interval is), and it was the most recent one I received that is the subject of this post.

The email was based on the idea presented in a movie called Limitless (which I’ve never seen): A down-on-his-luck writer takes a pill that gives him unlimited brain power.limitlessposter03 He writes a book in four days, learns new languages, stops smoking, loses weight…basically, he’s able to tap into the 80% of his brain we don’t use.

The idea behind the Nerd Fitness post is to find a way to do this in practical, real-life terms: not necessarily tap into the unused portion, but make more efficient use of the part we do utilize.

The first recommendation they made that stood out to me was to stop multitasking. To me, this is a no-brainer for one simple reason: we can’t do it. Oh, we like to claim we’re multitasking, but we’re not. In reality, we’re wasting time jumping back and forth between two or more tasks, when we could be getting each task done quicker if we’d concentrate on one at a time. And I can tell you as an IT guy, computers don’t multitask either. They simply switch back and forth so fast it just seems like they’re multitasking. And then we complain when we’ve got forty programs open, we’re watching videos and looking at pictures, and we’re surfing the Net and suddenly the computer slows down. Well, duh. Get a clue. As we IT guys like to say, the problem is with the ID-10-T (think about it; I’ll get back to you).

So: concentrate on one thing at a time.

The next thing that stood out to me was when he starts talking about our obsession with viewing emails, and Facebook statuses (statusi?), what’s been posted on Pinterest, who’s tweeted what.

social-media-multi-taskingLeave it alone. Close your browser unless you’ve got research for your current (or forthcoming) project up there. Log out of Facebook, shut down your email—and that includes getting rid of that annoying alert tone that lets you know you’ve just gotten more spam—do whatever it takes to shut the world out so you can concentrate on one thing: writing your friggin book.

Now, let’s get one thing straight: (I know, I’m using a lot of colons in this post) writing your friggin book might mean you’re researching, not actually keying in word count. Let’s all pause for a moment and acknowledge that writing a book doesn’t always mean you’re adding to the manuscript.

But we also have to acknowledge that research is a tricky thing. In my early days of learning the internet, I soon found out I had to discipline myself severely when researching. The thing with the internet is that there’s too much information out there, and you can find yourself running down rabbit trails far from your starting point—and many times those trails end somewhere with someone wanting you to send them some money for that important bit of info you so desperately need.

On the other hand, too much discipline in your research can mean missing something that comes entirely out of left field and keeps you from adding something really interesting as a twist, because you didn’t know it.

You have to walk a fine line.

But that’s a rabbit trail in itself, as far as this post is concerned. What I’m writing about—as the title should suggest—is our plethora of electronic distractions. It’s called adhd image 1ADOS: Attention Deficit—Ooo Shiny (or if you’re not a Firefly fan—and why on Earth aren’t you?—Ooo Squirrel!)!

I’m guilty of it too. I’ve been letting all kinds of things get between me and my work: movies, shows, books (though I argue wholeheartedly that the last item is also necessary in the life of a writer, but that’s another post), and just life in general. I don’t have cable, but I do have game consoles and, worse, a smartphone. As I write this, I’m also wondering how to make a compromise on that one. I need it to do my research, and it often gets used that way. I also need it to keep in touch with my company, as well as keeping in touch with my family. I can’t see it being practical to just shut it off.

On the other hand, I need to discipline myself, just as someone who has regular internet needs to. I should ignore the Facebook tile (I have a Windows phone) that’s telling me I have notifications. I need to stop staying up to date on status, um, updates. I need to stop checking my emails every time the alert sounds.

In other words, I need to practice what I was preaching earlier in this post.

tvoffSo for those of you sitting around going, “I’ve always wanted to write a book. I just never can find the time,” there’s a solution: turn of your TV (most of that stuff is worthless anyway. I mean, c’mon, how many more stupid “reality” shows do we need?), ignore Facebook/Pinterest/Twitter/ad nauseum, stop texting all the time (especially when you’re driving, you idiots!), and sit down at a computer or with pen and paper and WRITE!!!! Of course you can’t write that book you claim you’re dreaming of writing if you’re doing your best to wear a groove in your couch/easy chair. Television—as mindless as it is—ain’t gonna write that book for you. I think you’ll find that, if you’ll just stop obsessing about Shark Week or the latest episode of insert favorite show(s) here, you’ll find you have lots of time to write. And maybe have time left over to, I don’t know, spend with family?

Just a thought.