Thursday, July 14, 2011

Staying healthy in your hovel

This is me now because of
my awful eating habits
Photo: Famar
Do you know what I had to eat today? A piece of toast with cream cheese, coffee, a piece of bread with mayonnaise and a fried egg and a microwave brownie. Do you know what I got done today? Practically nothing. And my tummy hurts. I think it's safe to say that I know from experience that creative types don't always make the best choices when it comes to nutrition when we're working on a project. Ironically, if I had taken better care of myself I probably would have been more productive and I wouldn't be in this position.

Apparently it is important to maintain your health, no matter how creative you feel like you could be if you just munched on a bag of potato chips instead of eating an actual lunch.

Photo: Martin Cathrae
As I'm writing this, it occurs to me that there is a lot that goes into actually being healthy so I think I'm going to follow up with two separate posts: Exercise and Nutrition.  Both of which are important in staying happy and creative. For now, try to snack on fresh things like fruits and vegetables, eat lots of protein and remember that sitting down to an actual meal once in a while is good for you.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Am I a Writer yet?

Today I was writing just a little bit more of my novel for Camp Nanowrimo and before I had more than 34 words down I got sidetracked with my own imagination. I've been writing often for about a month now and while I was starting to get into the habit of "writing" I started some ongoing research so that I could find out what that really means.

The ideal situation for writers...
I mean, without going crazy and killing your dog.
First of all, there is more than one type of writer out there. There are many, in fact. Think of all the bloggers, journalists, freelancers, copywriters and academics that make their living mostly through writing. But when most people say "I wanna be a writer when I grow up!" they are usually thinking of the novelist kind of writer. This is the kind of writer that will get you sidetracked imagining the kind of life you would have if you were them. Just picture yourself sitting in a beautiful and interesting summer home, living anywhere you choose with nothing to do but write with a $100,000 advance to pay the bills. In between bouts of romantic writing getaways, you get to dream up your next novel while you live nicely on the royalties of the last one.  Maybe instead you're the independent type, extremely prolific with a dedicated community of thousands of people centered around your books. You can go about your normal life and do nothing but write while enjoying at least half of the profit from the sale of your e-books.

Turns out that these situations hardly ever happen. What makes you a writer then? The only people who I've come across who apply the label to themselves are the ones who sit in a Starbucks with their Macbook open in hopes that someone will see them "finishing" their novel and be impressed. In my opinion, a writer is not something you just are, it is something you earn by doing it like any other job title. But what do you do to become a writer? After perusing the internets for some time, I believe I can condense the general advice I've found.

1. Writers write. 
Yes I know, it's obvious but if you spend all your time thinking about writing and none of your time actually doing it, you are not a writer. I don't mean just writing when you feel like writing I mean all the time, even when you don't want to. Find a routine that works for you. Set a goal for yourself to write at least 500 words every day toward a project you want to finish, no matter what.

2. Writers finish what they started. 
This goes along with number 1. If you don't finish anything you have nothing to show for the work you've done. Skipping around and writing new scenes or stories that you are more enthusiastic about is fine, to a point. Eventually you will have to tackle those parts of the story you are less eager to write and then you will have to edit your work. No, you can't just propose a novel and plan to finish it later either. Finish some short stories, finish that manuscript you started. Then you can think about publishing.

3. Writers submit and showcase their work.
Once you have a project written and edited you have to get it out into the world for people to see. It will never be perfect which means that you are not allowed to hoard away your stories until you think they will be.  You have to constantly submit your work for publishing or even just give it away for free. You are not a writer unless your work is being read by someone other than you and your cat. Pick a number between 7 and 13. Now make a spreadsheet and keep track of the work you are doing. Make sure you are writing, finishing and submitting projects until you constantly have that number of projects being reviewed for publishing.    

4. Writers spend most of their time NOT being writers. 
Can you imagine a book that was written by someone who did nothing but sit at a computer desk all day? It would be boring as hell. Not only do good writers draw inspiration and knowledge from a ridiculous amount of reading (not to mention the capability of recognizing and avoiding cliches) but they also draw from their life experience.  Have you ever heard of a great author who had an uninteresting bio? If you've ever heard the phrase "write what you know" you may have figured out by now that it isn't exactly true.  At the same time, if you don't really know anything, you have nothing to write about and most likely a limited imagination to write from as well. Experience as much as you can and let the real world and other people's works inspire you. Then you can sit down to write. 

5. Writers do not write to make money.
Writing is something you do because you like it. The work put in is almost never equal to what is gained from it unless you just enjoyed completing something. Fortunately, writing is free. If you know how to read and write you can probably find the tools to do so at no cost to you.  Do not start writing because you got a good grade in English class and you think you could make some extra money, you will be disappointed. It's not wrong to want or hope to make money with your writing but it is unrealistic to expect it.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Wordpress or Blogger? (And why this blog exists)

One of the reasons I started this blog was to compare Wordpress and Blogger. I started this blog on Wordpress to start writing a little bit of an ongoing story so that I could force myself to meet a deadline and keep practicing and I've had multiple Blogger sites but I just never really kept up with them long enough to get a feel for it. Now I know that pretty much anyone who has a blog has probably done a post on Wordpress vs Blogger. In fact, I read at least three of those posts when I was trying to decide what to use for my writing blog. I suppose I just want to explain the reason for this one since this is only the second post and I thought that I might as well get out a few rants about both platforms while I'm at it.

Photo: Rob Davies
Personally, I'm a sucker for good design and I like the layout of Wordpress a lot more than Blogger. It's just... prettier, and since I usually write all my posts in the post editor of the site that matters to me.  I like the simplicity of Wordpress and it works well for when all I want to think about is writing.  It's downfall is how limited it is for the people who use it for free. I do understand there is a reason for this. Blogger has Google to support it, so it can offer more for free, while Wordpress is kind of on it's own. On the one hand, I'm all for services like Wordpress being able to support themselves and obviously I'm happy enough with what I can do with it but I think that it's a better site for people who are professional bloggers or using it as a way to have a website that is easy to update. Mainly, it seems like a fantastic blogging platform for people who are willing to pay money to host it themselves or unlock customizable options but for someone who doesn't really have the money to spend and cannot expect to make any money from blogging (i.e. ME) it can be a little... frustrating. I can understand the sharing ad revenues, I can shrug off the fact that they clutter the mobile version of my blog with ads when I don't get anything from it because I want them to have enough money to keep running but what I really dislike is the lack of customization. I can't change the colors of my blog or the default font unless I pay a certain amount of money every year. Really? I think that is a bit miserly, don't you?

Photo: Martin Lafrance
This is where Blogger triumphs. You can set it up the way you want for free. I like that I can customize the design of my blog exactly how I want it. Of course this is within the limits of the site's format but really, I wasn't planning on doing any in depth site building of my own (and I wasn't doing it on Wordpress either). I can also add html in the text widget without a plugin and it will work just like it's supposed to. I have found that on Wordpress, this isn't always the case. It tends to shorten the html in the text so that it does not work. In other words, if you want to put in html for something that Wordpress doesn't want you to have without a plugin or paying money for customization, you can't just add it in the text box. Then there is monetization. I don't expect to make money here, if I'm lucky maybe I'll make $20 in about six months but hey, that will buy me a lot of coffee, right? I added adsense because I'm curious about how people feel about ads on blogs. I tend to think it's a little tacky, especially when it's someone like me who has (at the moment) zero readers.  Then again, it's an easy way for someone who does have readers to make a little bit of money and honestly, despite how concerned I am for what it looks like on my own blog, I haven't even noticed it on other blogs that I'm sure must have some kind of advertising. What I will NEVER do is put advertising links in text. It's like a minefield for your mouse when all you wanted to do was read the content. So now I have to ask for anyone reading to leave a comment. How do you feel about ads on blogs? Is it tacky, is it normal, did you even notice mine?

Now that I'm doing both, I'm hoping to get a feel for what each one is good for. Ultimately I think it depends on your personality and where you are in your progress as a blogger. If you're a beginner who likes to have control over everything or a pro who likes to keep the site designing simple then I would go with Blogger. For someone who is new and wants something that only takes a few clicks to get started and doesn't require much effort for the appearance or if you're ready to spend money and put in the effort to build your own site and host it yourself then Wordpress is the way to go.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Maybe the good stuff happens in the second draft?

For the first time ever I've begun participation in a National Writing Month. Specifically Camp Nanowrimo.  I was having trouble coming up with an idea for this project. I had a few ideas but none of them worked because they are either short stories, concepts I'm attached to and not quite ready to just write on the fly or something that I've already begun writing. In the end I came up with this. The title is more or less the concept of the novel: Thine Good Night on a Daring Quest in Medieval Times with Magic and Probably Dragons and Also a Princess!

Yes, I know, it's a mouthful. My intentions for the novel were to have a basic plot with archetypal characters with jokes and references to tropes of the fantasy genre that would keep it entertaining.

The first thing I learned after joining Camp Nanowrimo is that my method of writing without a clear plan or outline is called "pantsing" as in: "flying by the seat of your pants". I have to admit I really kind of like this new word. It describes perfectly, and perhaps somewhat unfortunately, the way I tend to go about most things, especially writing. The second thing I learned is that no matter how well imagined you have a scene in your head, it takes a lot of effort to squeeze those words out into a word processor.  Eventually I realized 4,000 words in that I hadn't said anything funny at all. I was barely getting the story told amid a pile of poorly thought out syntax errors.

Photo courtesy of Hans Kylberg under Creative Commons
This made me start to wonder. What if the first draft is just the story. I can go back later and fix everything, make it all make sense and add all the clever things that I wanted to be able to think of in the first place. Then I can take out all the clever things that other people find not so funny. Here's to hoping that writers like Oscar Wilde thought of their most clever lines on the second time through.

Somehow, I doubt it, but for now I'll be pretending I'm out camping somewhere to try to get in the kind of mood I need to finish writing 50,000 words.