The Skim: 7 February 2015

Welcome to The Skim. I skim the news for things I want to read and things you may want to know about. (Get it? The skim…I amuse myself.)

The quotation of the week goes to Jane Austen: “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” Right on, Jane.

I’m still recovering from the split decision on winter vs. spring that came earlier this week. That Yankee groundhog said more snow. General Beauregard Lee of Georgia said spring is coming. I wish the weather and groundhogs could decide so I can decide if I need to bundle up or start exfoliating.

Saturday’s Google Doodle features Laura Ingalls Wilder, the author of The Little House on the Prairie. Saturday marks her 148th birthday. Her work has been hotly contested recently here, here, and here, but the stories about the plains, Ma, Papa, and the family inspired my love of the West.

This read (at least the Twitter headline) made me feel much better about myself and my life. Most people who look productive aren’t.

In truth, most of these “hard workers” are just inefficient. Look closely and you’ll see they use these methods to produce the same results as everybody else. And while it can be argued that these people are disciplined because of their work ethic, more of a focus should be put on productivity. And to produce more results, you don’t have to work longer, just smarter.

Wave your hands in the air if you work smart, not hard!

Fifty Shades of Grey is popping up everywhere. Christian activists want to trade with you: your book copy for a copy of the Bible. Domestic violence advocates want you to donate the price of the movie ticket to a local shelter. Haters just want you to not go because the actors have no chemistry. I’m going to go watch Body Heat again and lust after online photos of Jamie Dornan. (He is dreamy with facial hair and in The Fall. Get into it.)

Harper Lee is coming out with a new book, Go Set a Watchman. Well, it’s not so new. The book was written before To Kill a Mockingbird, and it sat in a safety deposit box for years. (There may be hopes for the manuscripts under your bed and in your old files.) Roy Peter Clark from the Poynter Institute (a great place in a wonderful location) wrote a piece on Harper Lee as a storyteller, discussing her use of suspense through her descriptions of time passing:

In “Mockingbird” we are awaiting a verdict. Jury deliberations, especially in the Jim Crow South, could be over in a few minutes. Or they can take days and days. Or the jury can be hung. What will happen? That’s what all the characters in the novel, and all its readers, want to find out.

Amtrak started offering writer residencies. Authors would ride the rails and write about their experiences and whatever else they wanted. Now a hotel is getting into the act per Fast Company. Evan Peterson summed it up best: “A free night’s stay that forces you to write is not a bad deal.”

Harvard Business Review is my go-to source for all things business and management. One article worth sharing this week is this one on staying motivated after a big win or accomplishment.

Many of us have experienced some of the same feelings after completing a major project, or winning a big sale, or making a crucial presentation to the board. For months or weeks you were ruthlessly focused on a single, herculean undertaking. And then inevitably, that assignment is done.

When we think about achieving a major goal, we picture the exhilaration of reaching new heights. What we often fail to anticipate, however, is that once we’ve scaled that mountain, it can be surprisingly chilly on the other side. After a period of massive productivity we have to revert back to life as usual and settle back into an established workplace routine.

It’s a lot harder than it looks.

Now reading and pondering over this Thought Catalog piece on dating in the social media age: “We are told we can’t show vulnerability so we never admit our true feelings. We get out before we get hurt. We then move on to our next “match” as if the fairy tale will fall into our laps. We’ll find the perfect person, who will be better than anyone else you see, whom you can be vulnerable with and won’t hurt you, it’ll be an instant, effortless happily ever after.” How does the social media age and dating in this era factor into romance novel writing? Are authors talking earnestly about the grind and game playing of modern-day romance?

Enough about me, enough of my skimming. What are you reading, watching and listening to this week?

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Friday Five: May 18 Edition

1. Additional tips on better self-editing (David Sheets, SPJ): “Blame this boom in boo-boos on the ease of electronic publishing, which has reduced the gap between writing and marketing to a barely perceptible slit and goads us into stream-of-consciousness creativity. We are all just a keystroke away from fame and fortune, we’d like to think. Thus, we’re inclined to rush the process.”

2. R-E-S-P-E-C-T isn’t free (Kristen Lamb): “I am here merely to help you use this tool called social media in the most time-effective way, because the best thing you can do to become a successful author or even a brand is to write more books. Write as many books as you can! Good books.”

3. I wrote a five year plan (and you can, too) (Simple Mom): “Our plan is dreaming big, but it’s also possible.”

4. The Internist: Letting Your Reader Inside Your Protagonist (Ruby Slippered Sisterhood):  “That skating-over-the-surface style – which can be expedient in a first draft when you have plots to figure out – can be downright lazy in a final work.  (And I’m not just pointing fingers here, I’m just as guilty of lazy writing as the next scribbler.  But if we are aware of the areas we short-shrifted the reader, we are better able to add an extra level of shine to our finished works. Here are some tips to take your reader deeper.”

5. Five reasons to keep writing (James Killick): “We’ve all been there – staring at a blank page wondering what the hell we’re going to write on it, or worse, why the hell we’re even trying in the first place. A novel or a play can take years of effort and without recognition or appreciation sometimes writing the thing can start to feel like a waste of a good life. Sometimes it’s hard to remember why you do it. Here are some reminders.”

Friday Five: May 4 Edition

1. Characterization and the kitchen sink (Seven  Sassy Sisters): “Knowing the characters we create is key to a well-plotted and emotional story. I have a character sheet generated from different classes I took to help me create my hero and heroine. But, to be honest, most of the information didn’t appeal to the “I like things quirky” in me….So, I sit my character in a chair beside me and I ask him: ‘How do you load your dishwasher?'”

 2. Write, Damnit (GradHacker): “My first post was August 2010, and I’ve written almost two posts per week since then, coming to a grand total of 180 posts to date. The posts are about 600 to 800 words long depending on the length of the journal article or my opinion. It used to take me about two hours two write that many words. Now it’s about an hour, and the posts always range on the longer end of the spectrum. I honestly didn’t realize until recently the writing benefits that I had been getting from an activity I consider to be a hobby. I now have the power to sit down at my computer and pound out 800 words with little difficulty.”
3. Living Loud. Living NOW (Pam Asberry): “I have stopped flogging myself in penance for things I cannot change; I have stopped asking myself, “what if?”  Instead of imagining a future fraught with loneliness and peril – always the default; why don’t we envision futures filled with unicorns and rainbows? – I choose to focus on the many blessings I have in right here, right now. Yesterday is gone; I have little, if any, control over much of what is yet to be – besides, of course, what I can do in the present moment. And I’m going to play that moment for all it’s worth.”
4. How to Make Worrying Work for You (Courage 2 Create): “Today, I recommend listening to your worries, instead of trying to shut them out. First, find out what specific situation The Worry is most concerned about. Then, write down a small, easy, and immediate action you can take in the next week or so to address every, single worry. When you do this, I promise you will feel much better afterward. Why? Because instead of ignoring or shouting at The Worry’s request, you are thoughtfully listening to The Worry and giving it a practical answer.”
5. Beware–Writers have long memories (Shelli Johnson): “Most writers have long memories. Some of us may wish we didn’t. But the fact remains that if you cross us, hurt us, humiliate us, or do any multitude of things that make us feel less than, you can pretty much bet that you will, at some undetermined point in the future, show up in a story and not in a pleasant way.”

Friday Five: April 6 edition

All Fridays are good Fridays, but today is Good Friday for those who are of the Christian faith.

Your Brain on Fiction (New York Times): “Brain scans are revealing what happens in our heads when we read a detailed description, an evocative metaphor or an emotional exchange between characters. Stories, this research is showing, stimulate the brain and even change how we act in life.”

Climax! (Seekerville): “According to Nancy Kress in Beginning, Middles and Ends, the climax is whatever big event the forces in your story have been building toward throughout the book. The climax should do four things…”

Creating Dark Heroes (Sweet ‘N Sexy Divas): “Most dark heroes tend to be Alpha males and I have a tendency to develop Beta heroes. Since my heroes tend to have an underlying darkness, I was eager to learn how Anne creates her dark heroes. Here are some notes on creating the hero for the dark love story which I’ve put together from my notes. There are many questions, but much of the ability to develop character layers is to ask questions and not be afraid to dig deep.”

Silence Your Editor with Substance (Seekerville): “When we remember to do certain things as we write that first draft, we’ll silence that pest. Why? She’ll have the assurance we’re not merely typing words, we’re typing story.”
Who What Where Why (Seven Sassy Sisters): “We have a dozen things to do before breakfast, and then the pace really picks up.  But sometimes we don’t stop to consider WHY we’re doing what we’re doing. Pausing to ask a pertinent question now could save you a LOT of grief later on.”

Thought for the Day: Amateur vs. Professional

“There was a moment when I changed from an amateur to a professional. I assumed the burden of a profession, which is to write even when you don’t want to, don’t much like what you’re writing, and aren’t writing particularly well” ― Agatha Christie

Becoming a professional in any career means that you have put in your dues. You have interned, you have studied and passed tests, you have acquired the knowledge of the field, you have put in the time it takes to move out of the novice phase. Same goes with writing. It’s easy to write when it is fun, when you’re inspired, when the right music is on. The mark of a true professional is the dedication to putting words on the page each day in the same mindset as the U.S. Postal Service. You do it regardless of the weather or conditions. You just do it.

So what are you: the amateur or the professional?

Thought for the Day: Foolish Words

“Do not say a little in many words but a great deal in a few.” – Pythagoras

“A fool’s voice is known by multitude of words.” – Ecclesiastes 5:3 KJV

Wisdom echoes wisdom. Choose your words wisely. Edit mercilessly. Clear out the word clutter. Follow the kiss (keep it simple, silly) principle in writing. Don’t be a fool.