Getting Stretchy With It

I posted about yoga the other day on twitter and wanted to share with you some ways I stay mobile and flexible with my desk job at work and the time I spend at home writing.

Setup

If all I do is sit slumped at my desk at work for eight hours and then come home and pound away on my laptop, no amount of stretching is going to prevent neck pain.  When I started NaNoWriMo, the laptop proved especially problematic.

Here was my solution for writing at home:

desk1

Note the ergonomic mat for standing.  The desk also cranks down so I can sit.

I know not everybody can get a stand-up desk like this one, but there are some homemade designs you might try.  I used this cat-approved rig until the desk came in:

img_8406

Whatever you do, stand or sit, be mindful of your posture.  I can make my hip hurt in less than five minutes if I let myself stand unbalanced.  Also note that if you’re used to sitting, standing for the entirety of an eight-hour shift may cause pain as well.

Movement

So if both sitting and standing can cause pain, what do I do?  Move.  I try to get up and move around at least every half an hour.  My computer throws up a pop up window to remind me.  This resets my posture and allows me to switch between sitting and standing after some stretching.

Most of us could stand to move more in general anyway.  There are all sorts of ways to get your exercise in, and although I’m no expert my thought is you should pick the one you’ll actually do.  That’s right – don’t pick the method identified by Google.  Pick the one that you will actually do every day.  One can even simply walk into Mordor.

Stretching / Mobility

I try to do some yoga every day, or at least stretch in between tasks at work.  It is easy, free, and doesn’t take any athletic talent.  That’s good for me!

If you need some help in this department, check out ROMWOD.  Every day they post a different 15-20 minutes of yoga instruction, with 45 minutes on Thursday.  Don’t panic because it is in a CrossFit gym and they talk about CrossFit.  I did CrossFit for four years and ROMWOD is not a high-intensity interval workout.  You don’t need to do CrossFit to play. It is relaxing, easy, and how I learned most of the stretches I know now.

Consider looking ta Deskbound by Kelly Starrett.  This includes stretches and mobility tools for desk jockeys like us, as well as ideas for how to be ergonomic while pounding away on the next bestseller.

Cats

I didn’t realize how important they were to my overall flexibility until Aragorn helped me stretch. Here he cuddled with my hood while I was in seated forward fold. That’s over twelve pounds of assistance!

Okay, your mileage may vary with this one. But it does ramp up the cute factor.

Questions for You!
What do you do to stay healthy?
Do your pets assist?

Learning. All of it.

This week, like last week, was all about the revision.  Or is it, “Revisions happened this week, like last week?”  Perhaps, “I did revisions this week, like last week.”  The Grammarly extension for Firefox is fine with all of the above.  The Hemingway Editor isn’t happy with the “perhaps.”  AutoCrit thinks I need more text to analyze.  My plan did not include getting this deep in line editing this week, but I’m a sucker for automatic tools with graphs and highlights.

I also watched several more classes of Brandon Sanderson’s BYU course on YouTube.  I really like his books and the classes are free so I think it’d be silly not to take advantage of them.  This week I learned I’ve been doing dialogue tags all wrong.    I’d like to blame all of my English teachers, but who knows if they actually taught me wrong or if I’m just dense.

The engineering degree has been awesome for engineering, but not as helpful for writing.  Many science classes ask for the passive voice in reports, so my background goes against the common suggestion for fiction writing in that area.  On the upside, I get to use zombies to help me find passive sentences.

I’ve learned more about “to be” verbs than I thought I needed to know.  Actually, I never would have guessed I needed to know about “to be” verbs.  I don’t think I knew they were verbs before Friday.  Now I know, and I want to minimize them.

Then there is this lovely chart for past tenses in English.  I was having difficulty understanding past perfect and past perfect progressive.  I feel better about my word choice now but don’t know what the perfect or progressive do for me, and that chart includes other words like “participle” and “infinitive.”  I’ve heard jokes about split infinitives but as an engineer, I never laugh.

To summarize, this week was all about learning!  Or I learned a lot this week.  Much was learned.  By zombies…

Why bother?  Because I’m trying to write an engaging story, not a clinical assessment of facts.  For the last eighteen or so years, I’ve aimed for clinical assessment of facts.  It’ll take awhile to reprogram for storytelling.  I’m up for the challenge though!  Learning is more fun when it is for something that brings you joy, and I love writing.

Grammarly wanted me to take out the “for” in the above sentence.  It would then read “Learning is more fun when it is something that brings you joy.”  That would make it sound like grammar brings me joy, and that isn’t the case.  Which leads to another thing I’ve learned – don’t just take the advice of editing software!

I do have enough words for AutoCrit now, though most of the reports don’t work as well for blog writing.  It found all the passive sentences I added intentionally.  Here’s the readability report.  Hope you have at least a fifth-grade reading level.

Editor | AutoCrit Online Editing 2018-01-13 19-14-18

In case you’re wondering, these reading levels are high for fiction.  The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway scores only a fourth-grade reading level with the Flesch-Kincaid test.  None of the best selling fiction authors writes above a ninth-grade reading level and Tolkien comes in at six and a half.  This blog has all the awesome charts for reading level.

There you have it.  Or you have it now.  Have it now, you do, if we are channeling Master Yoda.  Go forth and conquer your week! I’ll be here looking at words.

My Adventure Continues!

Last month, I finished my first draft of my first novel!  It was fantastic, and I’m so happy to accomplish that goal.

Several of my friends and family want to know when they can read my novel.  It is really very sweet of them, but they don’t understand how bad my first draft is.  Some reply that I’m likely too hard on myself, and then I tell them I end one chapter with, “And she killed him and rescued Sienna.”  They stop then usually.

There are structural problems, like my first act taking up 40% of the story.  My prose is weak as I don’t ever feel comfortable describing things.  I dropped and added characters at will in the story when I decided it needed to change.  There are serious continuity errors, with one character being dead and then alive and then dead again.  Poor guy.

This is normal and expected!  I knew it would happen when I was writing my first draft.  It is how I managed to write the first draft, as I stopped worrying about making it perfect and just focused on getting it done.  Many published authors talk about this aspect of the first draft.  I’d say they agree with me, but the reality is I discovered they are right.

So, what’s a good engineer to do?  Revise.  I made a spreadsheet, because what other software would you possibly use on a writing project?  I outlined my story with all the scenes in one column and a variety of arcs, information, and plot lines in other columns.  I used this to find all the gaping holes.

spreadsheet

Then I created another tab on the same spreadsheet and revised that outline so it would fill the holes.  I deleted scenes.  I added more depth to different characters.  I decided when that one guy was going to die.

The other step I took this week was to sign up for a class on writing.  Before starting this adventure, I had not seen the inside of a classroom for any sort of writing in almost twenty years.  In March, I’ll be headed to Dallas for a week-long class on prose with David Farland.

I also started another novel.  And by “starting,” I mean I had the idea for another novel.  I’ve written down all the fun details as they come to me.  It’ll give me something to work on while I’m between stages on this novel.  It also sounds way better than my current novel, but I’m told that is to be expected.

Most importantly, I’ve been having fun.  This isn’t my day job and I’m not making any money from it, so it is just a very time-consuming hobby.  Hobbies should be fun!  I can’t wait to learn more!

 

Did you know you can find me on Twitter?  Click here or check out the sidebar to the right.

People Science!

captivate

I noted Captivate by Vanessa Van Edwards was one of my favorite books of 2017, but I have not yet reviewed it.  That changes today!

Do you feel awkward at networking events? Do you wonder what your date really thinks of you? Do you wish you could decode people? You need to learn the science of people.

As a human behavior hacker, Vanessa Van Edwards created a research lab to study the hidden forces that drive us. And she’s cracked the code. In Captivate, she shares shortcuts, systems, and secrets for taking charge of your interactions at work, at home, and in any social situation. These aren’t the people skills you learned in school. This is the first comprehensive, science backed, real life manual on how to captivate anyone—and a completely new approach to building connections.

A people-oriented friend recommended this to me, and at first, I must admit I was skeptical.  Can science really help me interact with others better?  I’m an introvert and a geek, so there’s definitely a need.  In my defense, I’m a funny and nice introvert and geek.

The book starts off with a little quiz on interpersonal intelligence to see how much you already know.  I was surprised by my score, scoring above average!  I don’t know how that happened, but I’ll take it.

After the introduction, it hops right into some science behind the first five minutes after meeting someone.  There are all sorts of good information here about winning in the social game, from easy to implement to a little more difficult.  I’ve already started on the easy wins – for example, I keep my hands out of my pockets when meeting people now.

The second part is more challenging, and it deals with the first five hours after meeting someone.  She goes into different personality assessments you can do on the fly.  I say “you,” because I realized I’m terrible at them.  I tried to identify the primary values of two of my closest friends after reading this book and got them entirely wrong.  I’m a little better with the five love languages, but I’ll admit that’s more due to a process of elimination.  “Well, she rarely hugs me so I’m guessing touch isn’t her primary language.”

Most challenging for me is the third part, which covers more long-term issues, such as how to lead others and deal with difficult people.

If this book is so difficult for me, why is it on my favorite book list?  Because I don’t enjoy reading books about things I already know.  I don’t need a book to tell me how to make a chart in Excel, save money, or clean my apartment.  I’m already pretty decent at all those things.  I want to read things that challenge me and have the potential to actually make my life better, and this book definitely falls into that category.  I can review it chapter by chapter and implement little changes as I go for an overall improvement.

My friend, the people person, uses the book to refine the things she’s already good at.  It has given her different perspectives on how to approach people, helping to round out her skill set.  This is really good since I can always count on her to help me figure out the areas where I am slow!

Questions for You!
Have you read this book?  What did you think?
Are there other books that fall in this category?
What book(s) should I read next?

More Information
Science of People – Author’s site
Vanessa Van Edwards on YouTube

Goodbye 2017!

This year brought many changes into my life, from selling my home and moving into an apartment to becoming a cat lady for the first time.  If you’ve been following the blog, you also know it is the year I completed my first draft of The Story.  The Story has been on my mind for over a decade, and all previous attempts to get it down fully have failed.  So I count that as a major success of 2017!

What’s next for 2018?  Revise that story, of course!  I don’t know what I’ll do with it when I’m done, but I do want to finish it this year.  We’ll see what happens then.  My goal is to do something with it every day and maintain that forward movement.

Other goals include some in the health department, because who doesn’t want to be healthier?  I am going to train for a half marathon, and also need to lose around seven pounds and an inch and a half off my waistline.  The half marathon training and the weight goal should work well together!  I suppose I’ll also need to eat healthier, so at least until the seven pounds are gone I’ll use Cronometer to track my food.

Last year, I completed vision therapy.  I’ll still go back to visit about once a month now, but it is on me to keep up with my daily exercises.  For this, I’ll use my trusty Brock String, a high tech invention consisting of a string and some beads.

While this goes towards physical health, yoga is also great for mental health.  I hope to do some every day, and journal as often as possible.  They’re building a hot yoga place next door so I’ll need to check that out once it opens!

I already enjoy the daily readings during breakfast, so the plan is to continue there.  There are also some spiritual books on my list to read.

Speaking of books, I want read all of them!  Just kidding.  If you saw my post earlier this week, you’ll know I read more than one a week this year.  My count rose to 55 since that post, so let’s aim for 60 next year!

What are your goals for 2018?

 

 

 

 

2017 Year in Books

Goodreads informs me I’ve read 53 books this year.  I imagine I might hit 54 by Monday, but we’ll go ahead and look to see how those 53 went.  28 of the books are non-fiction works.  14 have a religious angle, 5 are about writing, and the rest are business or history related.  Of the 15 fiction works, it looks like all are science fiction or fantasy.

Screen Shot 2017-12-28 at 4.33.14 PM

Non-Fiction.  I read quite a bit in this area for a leadership class at work, but I also think reading spiritual works is important.  Here are my top three non-fiction books for 2017.

  • The Bible.  I almost hesitate to put this on the list because it will appear any year I read the complete book, but it remains my top choice in the non-fiction category.  Some people ask me how I get through the whole thing because let’s face it, some parts aren’t as engrossing as others.
    • I read it totally out of order and spread the parts I’m less excited about around in between the parts I enjoy.
    • If you’re having a hard time following the narrative, check out A Father Who Keeps His Promises by Scott Hahn.
  • Captivate by Vanessa Van Edwards.  This book includes all sorts of science on how to get along with other people, and as an introverted engineer, it has been invaluable.  In addition to actually being useful, the information itself is interesting.  She’s also funny, and I like funny.
  • The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer.  In case you are wondering, traveller has two l’s because of the intended audience.  This spelling is preferred in British English.  Aside from this interesting tidbit, the book itself is fascinating and entertaining.  It is different from a standard history book, and I read more of it than I intended when I picked it up for research.

Fiction. I went all in for sci-fi and fantasy this year!  Here are my top three fiction books:

  • The Final Empire (Mistborn #1) by Brandon Sanderson.  I already wrote about how much fun I had reading this book, but I enjoyed it so much I read it twice this year.  It was no less fun the second time around, as I noticed things I’d missed in my excitement during the first read.  I also liked the second and third installment of this series and will recommend his YA book Steelheart.
  • Blood Song (Raven’s Shadow #1) by Anthony Ryan.  This was my second or third read through of this novel, and like Mistborn, I enjoyed it just as much as the first time.  I recommend the whole series!  I also read the first two books in The Draconis Memoria starting with The Waking Fire and then The Legion of Flame.  My reviews for these books are here and here.  The third book is due out this summer.
  • The Fellowship of the Ring (LOTR #1) by J.R.R. Tolkien.  I read all of them again this year, and the list would be inaccurate with something else in this spot.

What books did you enjoy in 2017?  What are your reading goals in 2018?  What should I read next?

 

 

Not Happy at Christmas

Most weeks I do a blog post on “stuff I like” on Thursdays, but a post from my old blog popped up in my Facebook today and I’m sharing it again with some edits instead.

Are you ready for Christmas?  I’m ready for it to be over.  So many of my friends have expressed exhaustion and anxiety over the holidays, and then further distress they’re doing something wrong for not feeling happy about “the most wonderful time of the year.”  Reasons vary, ranging from stress over keeping up with it all, to depression from a tragic loss or losses in 2017.

And yet we all walk around convinced this is the season to be happy. This, out of all the times of the year, is the one time we must smile and feel good about others, the human race, and the world in general. Everything should be just as cheerful as a golden retriever puppy playing in the snow, a small child swinging on a swing, or a Star Wars trailer. If it isn’t, there are some of us who feel we are “doing it wrong.”

I’m no theologian, but it seems the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity did not take on human nature so that we’d have to smile incessantly and pretend to be overly cheerful for the four (or more) weeks preceding His birthday.  The Incarnation did not occur because we were all smiling and happy people; quite the opposite.

Do you know how far we manage to make it into the Word of God before we run into sin, suffering, and death?  Three chapters.  It is in the third chapter we have the fall, the consequences, and the promise of salvation.  I don’t think the Word made Flesh would forget this.

The pages are not filled with people drinking pumpkin spice lattes, putting up decorations, buying each other gifts, and spreading good cheer.  Time and time again, the people faced sadness, suffering, sin, and chaos.  God continued to work everything up to that moment in time when His Son would come, promising His arrival through the prophets.  The faithful were full of hope at this promise, but this faith didn’t remove their suffering.

And then when Jesus does arrive, it is not to matching warm flannel pajamas, perfect hot chocolate, and freshly baked cookies in a perfectly clean house full of clean laundry and smiling children.  He does pick up some amazing gifts, but I’m not sure they were as practical as a warm blanket at the time.  I think we should be thankful the annoying kid with the drum isn’t actually Biblical.

His life was not full of sunshine and roses.  There was work to do.  There were illnesses.  People got sick and died.  And at the end, He died the most horrifying death known in the Roman Empire.  Jesus is not unfamiliar with suffering.  He is not unfamiliar with your suffering.

Two years at Christmas Eve Mass, my family sat in the front row of my sister’s beautiful church.  The entire place was gorgeous and festive.  Everything about the building was happy.  And for some reason, they had to go and sing I’ll be home for Christmas.  I can’t even link to it without crying, so I won’t.  My mom loved that song.  And so we were in the front row, just sobbing.  I cried, my sister cried, I think my dad may have cried.  ALL THE CRYING.  And then they played it again at the end!  Snot.  Everywhere.  That’s no happy Mass, people.  Did we do it wrong?  Was Jesus displeased with our emotional outpouring of grief?  Was He annoyed we cried on His birthday?  Of course not, that’s ridiculous.  He was right there with us, quite literally in fact, at Communion time.  And that brings me joy.

We can have faith, hope, and love without actually feeling happy.  They are supernatural virtues; overwhelming cheer is not.  Jesus can give us joy without turning us into happy mindless robots.  There is a time for weeping, and this may be yours.  Jesus wept too, so it must be okay.  If this is your time, then let it be your time, and don’t stress over all the bells and whistles you’re not playing with.  It may be time to be nice to others, but you can be nice to yourself as well.

I wish everyone joy and hope this holiday season, regardless of how you are feeling at the end of 2017.  I also wish you happy moments with family and friends, because they are nice, even if those moments are not necessary in the eternal plan.  And Star Wars.  I wish you all the Star Wars.

The Week After The End

If you missed my post last week, I finished the first draft of my novel.  I’d started so many times before but finally got it done this time!  I was very excited and ate a lot of food.

This week, I did not do much with my draft.  “They” all say to put the draft away for anywhere from two weeks to three months, and I’d hate to not follow “them.”  This is pretty easy to do with Christmas coming next weekend, but what do I do with all the free time between now and when I start revisions?

I read!  I read Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card and On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King.  I finished up Evangelii Gaudium: The Joy of the Gospel by Pope Francis and am halfway through Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson.  I’ve been watching some of his classes online as well, because why pass up a completely free college class?  In addition to being educational, all this helped me stay away from all the places I might find Star Wars spoilers.  I’m going tonight!

There were other things to do as well, like work.  I enjoy my job and this is the busy season, so it keeps me out of trouble most days.  There was also exercise.  Writers should remember that a healthy life makes writing easier!  Don’t forget to take care of you.

Exercise always gives me the opportunity to do some story telling, because inevitably something funny happens when I exercise.  I am not the most coordinated or in shape person, which is fine because it is still good for me.  It just makes for funny stories.  On Wednesday, I did CrossFit Endurance and did a lot of sprints.  Do you know the last time I sprinted?  Neither do I.  I can only imagine that’s why I had trouble walking on Thursday.  I enjoyed telling the story of my catastrophic sprint experience with my friend as I tried to run with her on Thursday afternoon.  I don’t think she had any sympathy, but she did laugh at all my jokes.

There aren’t many jokes in my novel.  It is harder to share jokes in the written form, I think, though here on the blog it is somewhat easier.  Also since my novel is about a young woman fleeing from an evil man trying to use blood magic to turn her into his apprentice, it is hard to find funny moments.  I imagine there’s not a lot of laughing going on there.  I still had so much fun writing it.

The cats have a lot of fun supporting my writing.  Here’s Aragorn, supervising my work yesterday morning.  We both wish you a happy and productive week.

If the Apocalypse Comes…

If you recognize the title of this post, you’re in the right place today.  Somewhat recently, I subscribed to the fullscreen channel on Amazon.  For $5/month, I had access to classics such as Bring it On, Center Stage, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Amazon will no longer have this subscription starting next month, but I did enjoy it while it lasted.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is excellent even now, having aged well in the last twenty years.  I’ve seen all the episodes and know how it ends, but still find myself anxious watching most episodes.  Spoiler alert – the world doesn’t end.  But I always think it might!

In honor of my subscription ending, let me tell you my top three favorite episodes from Season 1.

3. Nightmares.  This is on my list solely for the scene between Buffy and her father.  It was heart wrenching and left me in tears.  You can have her fight vampires, you can have her lack a social life due to saving the world all the time, and you can even kill her.  But don’t tell that poor girl her daddy doesn’t love her.

2. The Pack.  Principal Flutie’s last scene was so disturbing I remembered it even before watching the episode again.  I loved every bit of Xander’s part in this episode, from running in to “rescue” the geek from the bullies to going after Buffy with such hot confidence.

1. Prophecy Girl.  Buffy putting the smack down is always going to be awesome, and when her friends get to save the day too I just feel warm and fuzzy all over.  Cordelia finally makes her play here, and it doesn’t get much more awesome than driving into the school on your first proper demon fight.  I will admit to crying when the theme song came on while Buffy marched in to take on the Master.  Hum it with me!

What are your favorite episodes from Season 1?

The End

I’ve had the idea for my novel for over a decade.  It has gone through many iterations as I thought through various details.  At one point, it was even set on earth and there was a nun involved!

For each version, I started to write with grand intentions and would end a few weeks later with nothing more than the first act.  This happened every year or two, and it got to the point I wasn’t sure I’d ever write it to completion.  It was the first draft that never happened.

That all changed yesterday!  After writing almost 78,000 words, I added two more: “The End.”  The first draft is complete!  The story is told!

I gained around eight pounds in celebratory eating.  I’m not even kidding – I weighed myself this morning.  I regret nothing.

There are many, many things left to do with the story.  Allowing the first draft to be crappy was a huge part of my success, but now I have a crappy first draft in need of editing. Here are just some examples:

  • The first act accounts for well over 30% of the story, which is excessive and unnecessary.
  • I decided to delete a character halfway through, so I’ll need to write him out of the first part.
  • I kept changing my mind about which bad guys got killed and who survived early battles so some of them appear sporadically
  • My descriptions are… not there?   I’m an engineer.  That’s my only excuse.  This will make up for all the words I’ll likely delete in the first part.

There are so many other things I’ll need to fix and most of them I don’t even know about yet.  But that’s another fun chapter to explore in this process!  For now, I’m planning another full day of eating and several days of just reading to reward myself.

%d bloggers like this: