Update Day

It’s the last Friday of the month, which means that’s it’s time for another Update Day post. For those of you who don’t know, a group of us set some crazy or important goals, and then, once a month, we post updates.

If you would like to join in, you can click this link for more information.

So how April went for me…

Sigh.

I’m just really glad I didn’t set any specific goals for this month.

At the same time, though, I’m annoyed by how everything seems to conspire to prevent me from achieving anything I set out to do.

Still alive though, so that counts, right?

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Update Day

This post is for Update Day, which is our once-a-month update for the Got Goals Bloghop.

I’m a few days late in updating, and I have two reasons for it. Firstly, Update Day fell on Good Friday, which I had decided not to post on, and then I got majorly side-tracked on Thursday, which was when I was planning to write and schedule my update post.

Secondly… I got easily side-tracked because I had been procrastinating on writing this post. And… you know… blogging in general.

Why? Well… the thing with a monthly update (and blogging as a whole, really) is that it requires a certain amount of introspection.

Usually, it’s the case that I would feel like I achieved little, and would end up being surprised at how much I actually did get done.

March was another beast. One that I did not, and still don’t, want to face.

….

…………………………………………

Okay. I just faced it and it’s just making me feel nihilistic (and like I’m going to jump from somewhere high in the near future), so let’s not post that on the blog, even though I doubt anyone will see this thanks to A to Z. (She says after deleting about half the post she’s written.)

Suffice it to say… I didn’t achieve anything of not last month. And odds are there’s not going to be much in the way of improvement in April. On the contrary.

So I’m not going to set any goals, because I’m just going to hopefully let myself be pleasantly surprised in a few weeks.

I’m probably not going to blog much until the next Update Day either. So if I’m quiet this month… don’t worry… I’m probably around somewhere… But April happens to be a good blog break time if you’re not taking part in A to Z. (I’m not.)

IWSG: Thoughts and Prayers Appreciated

Since it’s the first Wednesday of the month, it’s time to do another Insecure Writer’s Support Group Post. If you’d like to join in or just see more information on what this bloghop is about, please feel free to click here.

Today’s title deals with neither writing nor an insecurity per se, but I thought I’d take a moment to ask those of you who pray to shoot a quick prayer up for me and my family.

As some of you might know, I live quite close to Cape Town, which is currently facing something of a dystopian-level event in July, namely where the water levels in our dams will be so low that the city will be turning off the water supply to homes, and people will be required to queue for water at a few hundred water points.

Well… what you guys don’t know is that my family business (and me) have basically been quietly but slavishly working on offering the City a possible band-aid to help stave off Day Zero. I can’t give you guys precise details just yet, but to tell you guys it’s been a Hurculean effort on the part of our small business is a bit of an understatement.

But people said we wouldn’t be able to approach the City… But we did. They said that we wouldn’t be able to get the resources together to make the business work, not even on paper. But through God’s grace, that’s done too.

Today, we submitted our pitch to the City government at their request, and now we have to wait to hear whether or not they give us the Okay Go.

At the moment, my fingers are shaking as I type this, as we have literally done every single thing we could do to make this happen. It all depends on a yes or no from the City of Cape Town. But I can definitely say that if we get a yes, this will by far be the biggest thing I’ve ever been part of in my life.

So if you pray, please ask God that His will is done, and that if it is His will, that He would continue to supernaturally intervene in this business in order to help us pull it through.

Okay… Bringing it back to the point of IWSG…

Given that this business thing has basically consumed my thoughts lately, I’m a bit low on writing right now to even think about being insecure over it. So… Today I’m going to answer this month’s question:

How do you celebrate when you achieve a writing goal/ finish a story?

Usually, I just dance around a bit and brag about it on social media. Overall, though, I don’t see this as a major achievement yet. The big celebration is for when I actually publish something.

What about you? How do you celebrate finishing a story?

I just don’t feel like writing.

I really can’t believe that more than a week has passed since I last posted. I kept thinking that I’d at least post once more, but somehow, that never materialized.

There are a few reasons for this, like the major freelance job I got and the major development in the family business that kept me busy.

But then there are other reasons too, like how I’ve just been having this urge to play on Photoshop. (The results of which I’ll probably be revealing over the next few weeks on Wednesdays.)

Thing is, I didn’t have to do those things. I just wanted to. It never even occurred to me that I was procrastinating from my writing until I actually had to sit down and write this post.

See, I have about a month’s worth of posts planned, so I have about 12 interesting topics to choose from today. Buuuuuuuut…. I just don’t feel like writing.

So here I am, writing about not feeling like writing.

On the plus side, at least the words are flowing naturally here, so I’m not in severe burn-out territory.

I’m just feeling like my creative urges have shifted gear into visual forms instead. I’m still going to edit, though, since that mostly uses a different part of my brain.

But for today, I decided to give myself a pass, and just wanted to let you guys know why I was so quiet last week.

How are you doing? Do you also sometimes find your attention unexpectedly pulled to another art form? 

Update Day: February

Well that was somewhat annoying. I missed my own bloghop, thanks to internet gremlins getting into my internet connection just as I wanted to write this post.

Anyhow. The Got Goals? Bloghop is a group of us who have set some crazy or some seriously important goals. Once a month, on the last Friday, we post updates on our progress. For more information or to join in, click here for more information.

Last month, I set some goals for February that are aimed at bringing me closer to my goals for the year. So let me take a look at each goal and how I did.

1) I want to finish this revision round of Book 3 by month end, if I can. 

I don’t think I’m going to get there before the end of the month, but I am through 70% of my chapters.

2) I want to make a final decision with regards to whether I’m going to use my old system of CPs for each round of edits after this point, or hire an editor. 

Because of me not finishing, I think I’m moving this decision out to next month.

3) I want to post regular updates to my blog and vlog, and also update the content that goes to my other networks. (The two are related.) 

I’m not quite happy with my progress here. Although I did much better than I did last year, I still missed days thanks to my unexpectedly hectic schedule. We’ll have to see how I do next month.

4) Maintain and further improve the healthy habits I’ve started to establish in January.

I actually took this a step further. So now I’m drinking large amounts of water every day. I’m also exercising more and finally, I’ve cut all refined carbs from my diet. This decision has been a while in coming. See, I love love love bread and other baked goods, but I just don’t like how they make me feel. But it’s really hard, basically impossible for me to just lower my carb intake, so in the end, I decided to cut out basically everything but healthy carbs like those in fruit and veg.

5) Read for an average of 15 minutes per day. 

This month was a bit hard for me. I was really busy, and because of my prioritizing my editing, I’m currently closer to 10 minutes per day. I might still get to 15 minutes if I get a few hours’ reading in over the weekend.

So because I still have to do all these things, I’m just going to set the same goals for March.

How did February treat you? Have you been making progress in February? What would you like to achieve next month? 

Ellen G. Goldman on Health Tips for Writers

Hi guys, today, I would like to welcome Ellen G. Goldman to my blog. I met Ellen when I did the editing, cover design and formatting for her book Mastering the Inner Game of Weight Loss: An Easy-to-Follow Guide to Permanent Weight Loss Without Going on a Diet, and since I think she’s got some awesome advice, I thought I’d ask her to share some health pointers for us writerly types. Take it away, Ellen!

Have you ever muttered to yourself, “This job is killing me!”? I know I have.

It is usually at times when I am feeling overwhelmed, overworked, and time-pressured. They are fleeting moments and pass quickly.

But a few years ago, they took on new meaning.

I was in the fitness industry for years, running my small, private personal training business. Most hours I was on my feet, working side by side with my clients. Coupled with my own workouts, very little time was spent sitting at my computer, or seated at all.

Once I shifted from training to coaching, my daily habits changed as well. Coaching by phone, writing blogs, newsletters, social media content, plus managing the marketing and other tasks related to running my business had me sitting at a desk for more hours than ever before.

It was a problem. Not used to sitting still for so long, I had to adjust. I was also reading the new research that said extended periods of sitting are bad for our bodies and our minds.

According to the studies on this, sitting on our duffs for most of the day takes a serious toll on our health and well-being, despite daily exercise.

Most working individuals average at least eight hours of sitting each day. For writers, it may be even more. It’s hard to walk away, especially when on a creative roll. However, inherent problems that come with hours of sitting without breaks aren’t easy to ignore.

Individuals with sedentary lifestyles, coupled with frequent prolonged sitting, have shown an increased risk for high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels, diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.

Although the reasons are unclear, studies have linked excessive sitting with colon, breast, and endometrial cancer.

Being slumped over your computer in your chair all day leads to tight hamstring and hip muscles, weak abdominal muscles, and flaccid glutes. Together, that’s a recipe for postural problems, neck and back pain, and increased risk of lumbar disc degeneration.

If the distraction of being in pain and taking time off to attend to disease and illness isn’t enough to make you rethink the way you work all day, don’t discount that extended sitting also impacts your brain.

If you can relate to staring at a blank page while trying to come up with creative prose, feeling as if you can’t think straight, it is probably because foggy brain is setting in. When we are sedentary for a long time, everything slows, including brain function.

It’s hard to write inspiring words when your brain isn’t getting the proper fuel it needs. After 60 or so minutes of sustained focus, the mind begins to fatigue. Just like our bodies tire when working our muscles for extended periods, we feel sluggish and have difficulty thinking when we are fuel deprived. The brain needs a constant source of oxygen to perform optimally. Once it is used up, it needs a break.

Moving muscles pumps fresh blood and oxygen through the brain and triggers the release of all sorts of brain and mood enhancing chemicals. Pretty essential if you want to do creative, meaningful work.

Here are some easy to implement ideas you can incorporate starting today to improve your health, decrease your risk of injury and illness, and increase your creativity and productivity.

  • Set a timer to go off every 55 minutes, reminding you to take a five-minute break. Stand, stretch, walk around, and grab some sips of water.
  • Consider investing in a fitness tracker. Not only will it record your total daily steps—to optimize health the recommendation is 10K—but many have a built-in reminder to go off when you’ve been stationary for too long.
  • Set a rule—no eating in front of the computer. Mindless eating leads to over-consumption and weight gain. If you desire a sugar treat to “wake you up,” it is a sure sign that it’s time for a break.
  • Commit to a daily lunch break, and enjoy the time off. You’ll come back to work rejuvenated. If hunger strikes mid-morning or afternoon, stop working and take a few minutes to enjoy a healthy snack.
  • Eat a combination of protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates. This mix keeps you satiated and gives the body and the brain the energy it needs to stay focused and be productive.
  • If you feel sluggish, take a movement break rather than depending on caffeine or sugar.
  • Keep a water bottle on your desk. Sip often.
  • Schedule exercise breaks. Remember the most creative ideas come when the brain and body are being flooded with oxygen. Keep a pad by your side or record thoughts on your phone to capture those that come to you while working out.
  • Although adherence to exercise seems to be better for those who work out first thing in the morning, that might not be the best time for us writers. If your most creative time is in the morning, leave exercise for the afternoon when you need the pick me up. However, if you are a slow starter, and later in the day is when words flow for you, a.m. exercise would be a better time.
  • Create a 10-minute stretch-and-strengthen routine for the end of the day. Stretch your back, hamstrings, and hip flexor muscles. Strengthen your spinal and abdominal muscles.
  • Consider purchasing a standing desk or, if your budget allows, a walking treadmill desk.
  • Use wireless headphones when on the phone, and walk while you talk.

Try out a few, or all, of the above tips and see how quickly you positively impact your energy levels, mood, health, and happiness as well as turning on your creative brain. Who knows, you just might write your next masterpiece.

Ellen Goldman created EllenG Coaching to help overextended business professionals and entrepreneurs who are worried about their health and happiness, and are either exhausted, burnt out, out of shape, overweight, or all of the above! Through her coaching programs, motivational talks and online courses, she shows clients how to integrate health into their busy lifestyles with simple, small steps that lead to massive change, resulting in greater energy, focus, productivity, and happiness every day. With 30 plus years’ experience in the health and fitness industries, working as a personal trainer and certified wellness coach while raising her family, Ellen knows firsthand that you do not need to sacrifice your health and happiness to have a successful career. Her mission is to help others thrive both personally and professionally. Ellen is the author of Mastering the Inner Game of Weight Loss: An Easy-to-Follow Guide to Permanent Weight Loss Without Going on a Diet. To learn more about Ellen and her wellness programs, visit www.EllenGcoaching.com.

Social Contracts, The Prestige, and the Subtle Art of Mind-F*ckery

Social Contracts, The Prestige, and the Subtle Art of Mind-F*ckery

As I mentioned on Wednesday, I recently read a book that had some… let’s call them issues. I’m not going to name names, but you guys will probably be able to track it down if you follow my social networks, or if you’re patient enough. But if you do track the title down, keep in mind my comments can be seen as spoilers once you have the context, so choose wisely if you want to find out what book I’m talking about.

At any rate, I mostly did enjoy this book. It had an interesting voice and rapid pacing that did serve to keep me immersed in the reading.

But will I be reading this book’s sequel, which is coming out soon?

No.

I could blame some of the plot issues this book had, but if those were the only ones, the book had entertained me enough to encourage me to (eventually, maybe) pick up the sequel. But no. The issue was a bit more serious.

The issue is that the writer broke her social contract with me.

Some writers seem to be completely unaware of the fact, but all works of fiction come with a reciprocal, unwritten social contract.

The reader agrees to suspend disbelief until the end of the book, trusting the writer’s ability to tell a good story until the very end.

On the writer’s side, there’s the promise of a good story being told, and that any leap of faith taken by the reader will be either explained or rewarded in some way by the end.

I always talk about the plot and characterization in a book being its foundation. Well, taking this analogy further, this social contract of trust and reward basically stands as the reason why the foundation had been laid in the first place. The writer wants to entertain, and the reader wants to be entertained. The social contract makes it possible for both sides to both get and deliver what is needed for this transaction to occur.

My problem with this book is that I spent 90% of the book trusting the writer despite some logic issues in the story, only to be rewarded at the end with “Oh well, the conflicts, the stakes, the choices, and even the supposedly devastating sacrifices as the result of those choices never actually mattered and were all undone by the end.”

While it had been foreshadowed from the start that this was the case, but nothing had prepared me for how little it all mattered in the end.

And so, at the end of it, I, being a reader, felt betrayed. So much so that I’m simply not willing to get back onto that roller-coaster again for the sequel.

So How Do Writers Deliver Their End of the Contract?

The main step, of course, is to tell a good story, which revolves around all the techniques you guys already know.

But if you were to want to write a book that is designed to completely screw with your reader’s minds, it basically comes down to one thing:

Don’t put the mind-f*ck ahead of the story. 

In other words, if you’re putting so much effort into blowing the mind of the reader at every turn, you’re actually harming the story, either by making it predictable, or by unraveling all the meaning you’d put into it.

Or in still other words, put the mind-blowing events into your plot, but don’t make your plot about the mind-blowing events.

This is such a difficult thing to explain without naming examples, so I will name two examples in movies. And to make the point I’m making clearer, I’ll even make the main characters have the same vocation.

I present to you:
Image result for the prestige
and
Image result for now you see me
Before we continue: SPOILER WARNING!!!

Of the two, I think the book I’d read was trying to be The Prestige. And why wouldn’t it?

In The Prestige, the pacing was tight. The conflict was no-holds-barred and take-no-prisoners. The stakes kept climbing. But here’s the thing. The conflict centered around what two stage magicians were capable of doing to each other in the name of revenge. The mind-f*cks started coming when the understanding the viewer had of the events in the story took on a new meaning, once they realized what the magicians were willing to do to themselves in order to win in this revenge game. (Let me just say that those things are more horrific the more you think about them.)

Everything in The Prestige is established, shown, and explained, peeling back layer after layer until the viewer is given clear sight of what they had been seeing all along. In other words, nothing was hidden, save for the meaning of what they had seen, and even that is revealed by the end as the huge twist. If viewers rewatch the movie, they will have a different experience, just because they understand all that’s going on in context. But even knowing the context and twist, The Prestige is still a movie worth watching, simply because the characterization was excellent and the plot in itself is amazing. (Brilliant conflict. Huge and ever-increasing stakes driven by character motivation.)

What the book ended up being was Now You See Me. This movie sets up a conflict, only to reveal it’s a diversion, then sets up another thing, only to show it’s fake. And another, and another, none of which is real. By the third time there’s a plot twist (and I use the term loosely), the viewer’s mind isn’t blown, because the viewer knows that literally nothing that’s happening is actually happening. So stakes? Nada. Conflict? Meh what conflict? We don’t even know what the goal is yet. (If we don’t know what the goal is, we don’t know what is standing against the goal.)

Plot twists are thrown in with little to no real ground work, all to “generate interest.” And in the end, it is revealed that the one thing the viewer thought was real—in other words, the heist and the conflict with the detective—was all fake and that the whole time, there had been an entire other plot that the viewer had not been allowed to see on purpose, and that gets jumped on the viewer from left field with little more than a “ta-da!” in the third act.

This in a nutshell was exactly what had happened in the book. Literally in the third act, we’re not only introduced to this whole other unseen plot, but said plot literally undoes everything in the book, including the relationship between the two leads that had been developed as the story progressed.

So what happens is that once this other plot becomes known, the plot we readers had read—the one we had known and spent time on—doesn’t gain a new meaning. It gains non-meaning. As in, if I reread this book again, I’ll never be able to commit to the story again, because this story literally means nothing now. Nothing I had been shown in the story actually meant anything. The story is defined by what I hadn’t been shown, and in short, by how much the writer had taken my trust without giving me anything of substance in return.

And instead of being mind-blown, I’m just really upset and let down.

So if you are working on a book that hinges on some major plot twists, please do ask yourself:

If my readers reread this book knowing the plot twists in it, will they still be presented with a compelling plot?
Or will everything I set up fall apart because of the way I resolved the story? 

If you answer yes to the latter, you failed to hold up your part of the social contract. It really is that simple. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go rewatch The Prestige. 

Anyone else love The Prestige as much as I do? Anyone else feel as betrayed as I do when plot twists basically undo entire stories?