Thursday, September 21, 2017

Productivity Tips Make You An Unproductive Writer

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Productivity is a cultural obsession. You can’t toss a virtual rock without hitting an article or App that “helps improve productivity.” Indeed, we want to maximize our efficiency, and we’d all love to get more done, but for creative endeavors, such as writing, much of the productivity advice works against you. That is, trying to be more productive can result in less productivity and often lower quality work.
The Virtues of Production
Productivity has a unique place in American culture. There is a long-standing belief that productivity’s opposite is laziness or sloth. Sloth is one of the original deadly sins, and early Puritan settlers warned that “idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”
Although the “sinfulness” of idleness faded, works such as those by Benjamin Franklin continued to focus on the productivities grand rewards.
“plough deep while sluggards sleep and you shall have corn to sell and to keep.”
Two hundred years later, we still believe that “the early bird gets the worm” and we teach our children the terrible things that happened to the lazy grasshopper who played all summer while the industrious ant worked.
Such stories fail to mention that the ant died a few years later from a stress-related heart attack.
The Real Root of Our Obsession
A heightened focus on productivity was a result of changing labor laws and began with the efficiency studies from the 1920’s.
As we moved from farming to factory, the connection between “production” and “survival” loosened. A farmer’s desire to avoid starvation motivated him to tend crops, to maintain precise schedules, and to beat the harvest deadlines.
Unlike the farmer, factory workers exchanged their time for money. Whereas a farmer’s output was directly beneficial to his well-being, the factory worker’s output was secondary because it was a means to a paycheck, and the paycheck ultimately purchased things beneficial to his welfare.
Companies recognized the productivity implications created by a pay-for-the-hour system. The possibility of misaligned goals between owner and worker. Whereas the owner wanted maximum hourly output and the worker desired minimum hourly effort.
The Hawthorne Studies, commissioned in the 1920’s marked the beginning of the corporate effort to understand how to improve productivity. And over the past century, companies continue to study everything from lighting to workstation layouts, to the motivational impact of free food on worker’s output.
Productivity and Big Brother
These early studies reached two conclusions. First, output decreased after forty hours of work. Each additional hour returned less of a return on investment.
Our traditional forty-hour work week isn’t a humanitarian effort; it’s based on a financial calculation.
The second conclusion suggested productivity was related to motivation. The Hawthorne Studies found that increased production was not as simple as systems, processes, and environment. Worker motivation played an equal role in production levels. Most importantly, the research discovered that the simple act of “paying attention” to employees and letting them know “you were paying attention,” increased production.
This phenomenon was called the Hawthorne Effect, and the psychological implications were far reaching. In medicine, clinical trials include control groups and placebo groups to ensure the outcomes aren’t just the results of either the Placebo or Hawthorne Effects.
Theoretically, We’re Still Punching the Clock
Interestingly, most people no longer work in a factory, but we still adhere to the forty-hour work week.
Our productivity system doesn’t consider . . .

* Originally posted on WritersAfterDark.net by Raymond Esposito

Monday, September 18, 2017

Small Press Publishing: The Questions You Must Answer Before Signing




Small Press Publishers provide a great middle ground between the traditional and self-publishing options, however before you sign you can avoid potential heartaches by answering these critical questions.



I'll share the YouTube link, as it's easier to share on Blogger than the audio file. But below you'll find the links to other options.





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*Originally posted on WritersAfterDark.net

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Using the Five Senses in Fiction, Part Two: Smell, Touch, & Taste

Five senses Part Two
Continue to read an excerpt or click here for the full article.


“I was afraid that by observing objects with my eyes and trying to comprehend them with each of my senses I might blind my soul altogether.” —Socrates
I say let’s blind our readers’ souls with our stories! What? Seems legit to me. *shrugs*
As an author, your job is to transport your reader into the story and have them go through the full journey. And the use of the five senses is the simplest way to do so. They help with taking in information from the world around us, and help convey a message to the readers by providing a strong image in their souls . . . err, heads.
If you missed last week’s post on Using the Five Senses in Fiction, Part One: Sight and Sound, what are you waiting for? Go check it out!!! 😀
Now let’s get to the last three senses: smell, touch, and taste (they were feeling left out).

SMELL

Authors don’t seem to take advantage of smell as much as they should, which is a shame, as it can be a very stimulating sense. Layering your scenes with it can create a subtle sense of ambiance. Think of the scent that assaults you when you walk into a restaurant or the repulsion you feel if the septic tank starts overflowing.
Ugh. Let’s move on from that one.
Smell can be the most provoking of all senses. When your brain processes scent, it travels through your memory and emotions. Which is why it’s also best known for evoking powerful memories and nostalgia.
  • It might seem that describing scent is difficult, but what you have going for you is that smell is concise. Use scents tied to a setting that most people are familiar with, such as the antiseptic smell of a hospital.
  • Like all senses, you can also use smell to convey certain emotions. For example, I always feel hopeful when I smell coffee in the morning. Others feel comfort when the aroma of fresh bread flows through the air. Actually, that comforts me too, because, like Oprah, I love bread. Umm, I mean because most scents are universal. On the other hand, if you grew up with a drunk dad who slapped you each time your mom baked bread, you’d feel anxious, angry, or scared whenever the scent of fresh bread hit your nostrils.
  • Smell never stays in one place. It’s always in motion, so it will never . . . 



* Originally posted on WritersAfterDark.net

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Five Stages of Writing Grief



Knowing when you need to improve your writing is emotionally challenging for most writers. In episode seven, we examine the five stages each writer must conquer to achieve acceptance and to ultimately improve their writing.



I'll share the YouTube link, as it's easier to share on Blogger than the audio file. But below you'll find the links to other options.






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*Originally posted on WritersAfterDark.net

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Using the Five Senses in Fiction, Part One: Sight & Sound

Five Senses Part One
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Good writing is like enjoying a hot cup of chocolate on a snowy morning. It activates all your senses: sight, smell, touch, taste buds, and even sound. I was going to say it’s like sex, but this is a daytime gig, and my mommy reads this, so . . . hot chocolate anyone? 😛
As a writer, your job is to paint a vivid picture in the mind of your reader. Or as I like to think of it: download your vision into their brain. But since you lack a flash drive for that, you’ll have to rely on the five senses. And that’s all you need. I know this not because I’m a good writer, but because I’m a reader.
Our senses are pretty much the most powerful tool accessible to a writer. Each one is amazing in its own way, but combined they immerse the reader into the story. By using the five senses, you can invoke the experience of your characters in their “physical world,” and weave deep layers into the story, giving it a magical quality.
“The beginning of human knowledge is through the senses, and the fiction writer begins where the human perception begins.”— Flannery O’Connor
All five senses are powerful individually, but they each have their limits. So combining them is the most effective way to create scenes that are alive. But please don’t overload your reader with ALL the senses—we’re not looking for their heads to explode. Well, unless they gave you a 1-star review in the past. Then, by all means, do what you must.
And speaking of heads exploding, I didn’t want to overload your senses (hee hee). So here are the first two I’d like to talk about today: sight and sound.

SIGHT

Since your aim is to show the reader and not tell, visual description is the most used of all senses. And of course you can show with each sense, but sometimes we just get lost in describing what we see—because it’s so vivid in our minds—that we forget to share that full experience with the reader.
We live in a visual-driven world, so think of your book as a movie screen for your readers. Instead of boring your reader with scene after scene filled with flat description, offer them a layered setting for them to explore.
• Make sure your visuals enhance mood and themes.• Use Pinterest to find inspiration, and to practice description.• Describe with . . . 
But first, a gift:
WADColorMeaningChart

* Originally posted on WritersAfterDark.net

Monday, September 4, 2017

Writing A Powerful Book Opening

Every writer knows that their first chapter can make or break their story. You simply never get a second chance to make a first impression. So in this episode, we discuss the ingredients that make for a powerful book opening.
I'll share the YouTube link, as it's easier to share on Blogger than the audio file. But below you'll find the links to other options.





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*Originally posted on WritersAfterDark.net

Thursday, August 31, 2017

3 Habits of Prolific Writers

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Prolific writer is one of those terms that is difficult to nail down. The word prolific just means: productive, abundant, or creative. In other words, we may “know it when we see it,” but the meaning is subjective. It’s a quality that requires comparison. And by comparison, history has delivered some very prolific authors. Interestingly, a review the top forty prolific writers, reveals many names you might not recognize.
Sometimes the reason may be as in the case of the German author, Rolf Kalmuczak who wrote over 2,900 novels but did so under over one hundred pen names. In other cases, such as Barbara Cartland’s 772 novels, the unfamiliarity may be because you’ve never endeavored to read romance. But there are other names, such as Isaac Asimov and his 506 books, you may know even if you’ve only experienced his stories in movies (Bicentennial Man and iRobot). The numbers, however, make the modern day prolific writers such as Stephen King (plus 100) and Nora Roberts (plus 213) seem almost lazy.
Although one could certainly argue that quality is of greater value than quantity, the list of “who’s who” in the most prolific writers club, has plenty of quality. Of course, back here on the planet, “Lord let me just get one book out a year,” being more productive is a consistent theme for many modern authors.
When asked “how” they produced so many books, most prolific writers fall back to advice on character development, confidence in the work, or as Muriel Spark suggested, get a cat. The question of “how” appears as difficult to answer as the question of “inspiration.”
It is not that these authors are holding back some secret, it’s that they, themselves, can’t answer to the exact mechanism that creates such production.  But, within their processes lies some consistency that might hold the key. There are things you can identify that seem almost—there aren’t any absolutes in most things—universal to all prolific writers.
1. Prolific Writers Are Prolific Readers
The one consistent behavior of the most productive writers is that they are prolific readers. Their love of writing stems from a love of reading. And most are known for not just reading a few books, but an enormous amount of books. To be a prolific writer, you need to have a lot of ideas, and there is no better way to find new ideas than exposure to . . . Ideas. An additional benefit is that exposure to different styles and plots also improves a writer’s own crafting of style and plots. Plus, if you want to know what good writing looks like then you have to read it.
Does that mean an author should read Classics? First, any reading is better than no reading. But one psychological theory on learning suggests that“hearing an incorrect answer” can lead to providing the wrong response in the future. In short, we remember the question and the first response regardless of the validity of the reply. Additionally, much learning is the result of modeling. So exposure plays a role in how we learn. The better the teacher, the more opportunity for the student to advance. Exposure to the Classics provides a writer with a greater opportunity to improve their storytelling than exposure to comic books.
2. Habit Over Inspiration

E.B. White wrote,  “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.” Prolific writers have a severe writing habit. They write every day. They . . .




*Originally posted on WritersAfterDark.net by Raymond Esposito

Monday, August 28, 2017

Are You Really Ready to Publish Your Book?


Knowing when you’re ready to publish can be difficult. In this episode of The Writers’ Podcast, we take a hard look at the ways to determine if you are ready to publish your book. We also discuss the eight questions every writer should ask and answer before they hit that publish button.
I'll share the YouTube link, as it's easier to share on Blogger than the audio file. But below you'll find the links to other options.





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*Originally posted on WritersAfterDark.net

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Creating Your Character – A Checklist


                                                    Continue to read an excerpt or click here for the full article.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re aware that characters are kind of big deals when it comes to fiction writing. They’re the heart of the story and the main reason our readers gift us with hours of their lives. Let’s face it: without characters, the reading experience wouldn’t really be electrifying. Like, at all. May as well hand them a book on mathematical physics, I say.

I mean, sure, some readers enjoy plot-driven stories, but almost every great story is about the people. Even a fantastic plot-driven book would feel empty without well-developed characters. Why? Because there’s nothing like connecting with a story on an emotional level. And having rich, layered characters in your book is the way you achieve that. How? By making them realistic. I know, I know. This goes without saying . . . but it’s best to add a reminder. Just in case.
Readers need to care about your characters. And that won’t happen if your character is not believable. So how do we make our characters realistic? Well, in simple terms: humanize them. Give them flaws, hopes, fears, skills, and weaknesses that real people have.
Characters take us inside our made-up world. They create empathy, fear, disgust, confusion, amusement, make us fall in love, and in the end, they either make us happy or they break our hearts. Some characters stay with us, while the rest get lost in a pit of oblivion. So don’t be that guy. The one who writes “pit of oblivion” characters. Instead, see if this checklist has any tips that resonate with you, turn you off, or inspire your next superstar of a character.

Your Character’s Checklist in Six Parts:

1- FACTS


  • As the author, you should know your character’s name, age/DOB, and sex (not “yes” or “no,” but “male” or “female” 😛 )
  • Make sure the name fits your character’s profile. For example, Satan’s name wouldn’t be Mickey since it wouldn’t even intimidate a puppy.
  • Know your character’s occupation, where he lives, what he drives, and his position amongst his peers, family, etc.



*Originally posted on WritersAfterDark.net

Monday, August 21, 2017

Writer’s Imposter Syndrome

What is the difference between issues of self-confidence and Imposter Syndrome? In episode four, we discuss these distinctions and provide remedies to become a more confident writer.
I'll share the YouTube link, as it's easier to share on Blogger than the audio file. But below you'll find the links to other options.




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*Originally posted on WritersAfterDark.net

Thursday, August 17, 2017

3 Ways a Lack of Research Will Ruin Your Book



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I remember the first time that I was interviewed for a national publication. I experienced a mixture of nervousness and excitement. Being interviewed as an “expert” in your field is a great opportunity, but I worried I might sound dumb or unprofessional. In preparation, I did extensive homework. I made certain I had all my talking points prepared, facts on hand, and a quick introduction and conclusion, in case either were required.
The interview itself lasted about thirty minutes. The article’s author asked me questions, probed topics with follow-up questions, all the while providing encouragement with well-placed “uh-huh” and “interesting.” At the conclusion, she assured me that it had been an excellent interview and she had learned much from me on the topic. All my preparation seemed to have paid off.
A few months later the article was published. I was at first astonished and then disappointed.
Thirty minutes of conversation appeared as three quotes in the article.
Three.
As you can imagine, my initial reaction was: WTF did I spend all that time for if they just needed three damn sentences from me?
My second reaction: What an incredible waste of my time! I so could have just winged it.
Later, with my ego sequestered to a quiet place, I reread the article. And I discovered that my three lines provided valuable, if not critical, points to the piece. The author had done a great job summarizing that thirty-minute discussion into its most salient points and driving those points home with my quotes.
The specific information I provided worked to support the whole of the article.  Yes, my input was secondary to article’s main contention but no less critical in supporting the contention. I was one piece of the total research the author had conducted. She had done her job well.
The lesson I learned I later applied to my fiction writing.
Fiction is, in its simplest form, a series of lies. We start with one lie and build other lies upon it. Imaginary people doing things that never happened, and often in places that never existed.
But great fiction isn’t untruth…it’s a bending of the truth.
Fiction operates between our world and the world of pure imagination. For it to make sense to the reader, they need a bridge. A bridge comprised of the information and rules to help them quickly make sense of our imaginary world or events.  The rules operate on a scale. If your story is entirely rooted in “this” world, then you have to follow the rules of this world. If your story occurs in the future or fantasy, then you have to work hard to explain those rules to the reader.
All of which requires research. Research on the external world and research on your internal world.
And just like my interview, often you’ll spend hours on research to create one single line of fiction.
A lack of research may ruin your book.
I say “may” because it is true that many authors don’t bother. It is also true that some writers who don’t bother manage to reach the best-seller’s list. But in both cases, they either limit the reader’s experience or are called out on their errors.
In any case, here are the three ways in which a lack of research may ruin your book:
1. The Loss of Plausibility
As a dark fiction author and a vampire-lore fan, one of my favorite examples of this “lack of research” problem is Stephanie Myers’ Twilight Series.
Ms. Myers was adamant that “her” vampires were not to have fangs. Apparently they just “bite” the neck and “drink” the blood. Okay, fair enough, but if they aren’t “mainstreaming” the blood then how are they absorbing it? She never explains.
I did about five minutes of research and here is what I discovered.
The human body contains about one hundred and seventy ounces of blood.  A loss of eighty ounces usually results in death. The stomach can hold about thirty-two ounces of liquid at one time. The liquid is absorbed in the small intestines. It takes ten ounces of liquid about five minutes to reach the blood stream. It takes about eleven minutes for half of it to reach the blood stream, and one to two hours for the entirety of that ten ounces to be absorbed.
Without some further explanation, the process of drinking blood for sustenance is a little complicated and compromised.
We would expect that the vampire couldn’t drink more than say fifty ounces without an amusing looking bloated belly. And they could not ingest enough to kill a person by “draining” them. And, again without some explanation, any blood ingested would take a minimum of five minutes to have any benefit and a couple of hours to have the full benefit.  And on a final note: When you get a blood transfusion do they put the blood in your glass or your arm?
The lack of research means we have to rely on – “well it’s magical and complicated, and you wouldn’t understand.”
My purpose isn’t to pick on Ms. Myers’s story. The point is that with five minutes of research and one or two lines of explanation, the entire issue could have been avoided.  Her implausible creatures could be, at least scientifically, plausible.
2.  Lack of Credibility
The author must be the subject matter expert on their work. I don’t know a thing about the Land of Shandonolia where you’ve placed your characters. I expect that you do and that whatever this “world” is that it’s going to work in a way that makes sense.


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*Originally posted on WritersAfterDark.net by Raymond Esposito