Friday, March 09, 2012

Things are gonna be changing around here…

Three blogs are too many blogs.  Plus there is the constant pressure of coming up with content for all three of them that is specific to the niche that I’ve established for each of them.  Grist for the Muse: Writing ideas and inspiration; The 15-Minute Writer – Finding time to write and time management techniques and tips for writers. And this blog: Flash Writing – Devoted to providing content that is for writing anything less than 1000 words long. These are all very narrow focuses, and I’m finding that I have a lot to say that exists in between these niches.

The best writing blogs give you a glimpse into the writer’s mind and life and lets you get to know him/her. The have good days and bad days. They have opinions. They rant. They rave. The express their doubts and fears, as well as their successes. But none of my blogs have that kind of energy right now.  At times I dread looking at them because I know they are defective and diseased, but yet feel I need to nurture them even though they are clearly rabid and need to be put down. So I’m putting them down.

Good writing blogs are about two things: The writing life and making money with it. So the new focus of Flash Writing moving forward: Write Fast. Make Money.  I’m not promising that I won’t change focus or change my mind on the other blogs.  I will keep them online for a while and redirect them here to this site, as well as take the best content on them and republish it here

Flash fiction is interesting to me, but I’m not sure that I can become a definitive destination site for writing all things that flash. There are other sites out there that do a much better job of this.  FlashFiction.Net for example does a great job providing resources, interviews, stories and other articles surrounding flash fiction… But as I’ve always said, the principles of Flash Writing can be used for any writing project, so I’m going to build upon this concept and focus on growing one site well instead of three sites poorly.

I have content that fits none of these niches that will be of interest to writers everywhere, so I want Flash Writing to be that destination from now on.  So go there for your time saving, productivity tips and all of the other content you've been seeing on The Fifteen Minute Writer over the past several years.  The Fifteen Minute writing concept is one that is core to my writing practice and a book will emerge from this concept soon, so watch for it.

To head over to Flash Writing click HERE.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

6 Things I Like About the Kindle Fire

I was reluctant to buy an eReader.  I love books.  I love the smell, the rasp of turning pages, looking at the colors and sizes of them on bookshelves.  I’ve surrounded myself with books as look as I can remember.  Going to an electronic device that would replace the physical presence of books was inconceivable to me.

Amazon Kindle Fire Box
Courtesy of Pierre Lecourt via Flickr
I had a plethora of reasons not to convert.  Before… the displays were hard to read unless you had a specific quality of light, or if it was too bright, you couldn’t use it. Furthermore, I am clumsy. If I drop a tree-based book, there’s no harm done. If I get the book wet, it is annoying, but you could always dry it out.  If you lose a book, it is an inconvenience and at worst, you are stuck with the cost of replacing the book, not out $100 + dollars to replace an eReader.

But the $150 price tag for a Kindle Fire was too hard for me to resist. I bought one on the release day as a birthday present to myself.  It seemed like a low-risk way to give eReaders a try and start getting in touch with one of the hottest literary trends out there now, eBooks.  And I am surprised to say that I like my Kindle Fire.  I like it a lot. So what do I like about it?

  • Free Books – This has to be (by far) the best thing about the Kindle Fire.  Every day, Amazon (in cooperation with the authors and publishers) has literary classics available for downloading as well as a selected list of eBook versions of popular books.  They may only be free for a couple of days, or somewhat longer, but there is always a variety of free books for any reading interest. Some of these books are only available on the Kindle in an eBook format, while others are free books to introduce readers to a new author or series of books.  Every day Kindle lists the Top 100 Free Books.  I’ve downloaded over 250 free books so far and have been happy with the quality and value of the information in most of them so far.
  • Highlighting and Note Taking – For books in my personal collection, I’ve always had this obsessive need to keep them neat and unmarked.  With the Kindle’s feature that allows you to take notes and highlight passages, this becomes an easy way to track important info or review your thoughts as you read through a book.
  • Games – A guaranteed time waster for a writer, but I LOVE playing Words with Friends on my Kindle.
  • Internet Browsing – This is pretty smooth for a portable device despite the difficulty of entering text quickly into the search or address windows.
  • Netflix – With a decent wireless connection, video content is easily watchable and fun.
  • Free Apps – Every day Amazon features a new application that you can download for free.  Most of the offerings are free games, but some of them have been very nice commercial applications (such as Documents-to-Go).  It is fun waking up each morning to see what the free app of the day is.
So the Kindle Fire seems to have slipped away from being a luxury gift to something that I have to take everywhere with me.  There are a few things that I don’t like about it, but I’ll save those for another post.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

New Year's Resolutions? Meh...

This is the first year in a long time that I haven’t made any resolutions.  My typical resolutions are the following:
  • Write xxx # of words per day.
  • Start an exercise program.
  • Make xxxx $ in freelance income this year.
  • Post 7 blog posts each week.
  • Finish and publish the next book by October 1st.
  • Etc...
You get the idea.  I set lofty goals and then feel like absolute shit when I fail to reach them for whatever reason.

Now granted, it helps to have SOMETHING written down and something to work towards.  And considering that I’m STILL unemployed and have just a little freelance work trickling in, maybe I SHOULD make a few resolutions, but I’m trying something a bit different this year.

I’m going to create new habits and only focus on one habit at a time.  This month, I’m getting addicted to writing.  You heard me right.  Get myself addicted to a GOOD thing.  I’m going to force myself to set a timer at least once a day and just write for 15 minutes.  Even if I have no idea where I’m taking it, I’m going to do it.  I signed up for an online flash fiction that requires that I critique at least 4 stories a month and (suggests) that I write at least one.  I have 3 blogs of which I'm trying to grow and build traffic for.  I have Tweets to my (currently) 215 followers to create and find.  I have an outline of a book project to work on. I have freelance work to find and produce.  There is plenty of substance for this addiction.

Courtesy of Matt via Flickr
So whether it is a freelance assignment, a blog post or creative work on one of my many incomplete projects, I’m going to force myself out of the box occasionally, ignore whatever crises seem to be on hand, and take that time to write something outside of the box.  I'm going to stop being obsessed with one problem at a time.  Stop retreating into distractions such as Words with Friends tournaments with my buddies, seeking the top Bejeweled Blitz score of all of my Facebook friends, or obsessive TV series watching.  December featured a run of the last 3 seasons of Dr. Who on Netflix...

In addition, December had the death of a close friend, a washing machine that could not be repaired and needed to be replaced, a gas furnace that, was too expensive to repair, also needed to be replaced, and, of course, the holidays.  So the 30-Day Writing Challenge was a miserable, epic FAIL.

This is always the darkest part of the year for me. After the holidays are over, here in Ohio winter usually bites down hard… with gray skies and a deep, painful cold that makes you just want to roll yourself up in quilts and hibernate until the sun comes back.

But I’m going to fight this. I have to.

So what do you do to chase away the mid-winter blues?  How do you keep productive during stressful, busy times?  And what are your New Year's Resolutions (if you have any)?  Comment below.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Holiday Promotion Disaster

30-Day 15-Minute Writer Challenge: Day #3

Have you ever had one of those days that nothing goes according to plan? Yesterday, Kristen and I planned a quick trip to the Kroger Marketplace to spend the $130 "credit" we had earned for a special promotion.  There were several problems with this:
old sk00l kroger
Courtesy of Jason Brackins via Flickr

  • The nearest Kroger Marketplace store was 30 minutes away.
  • There are only about 7 Kroger Marketplace locations in the Columbus area, while the number of Kroger stores offering holiday "credit" numbers over 50.  The credit was redeemable only at the Marketplace locations.
  • The time to redeem your credit was limited to 4 days.
  • The types of items that you could use your credit on were limited. Mainly toys, housewares, clothing (although I didn't see any clothing at this particular location), some office supplies and some cleaning supplies.
  • No price tags on any of the items, so if the item was removed from the shelf where the price was listed, you had no idea how much the item was.
  • A stipulation that you had to spend ALL of the credit or you'd have to pay full price for the items you bought. For example, if I bought $129.85 worth of goods, the credit was no good and I'd waste it unless I found something else last minute to push it up over the $130 mark. And none of this information was communicated in a clear, meaningful way until you entered the store.
Result: Mass chaos.  The first clue should have been when we couldn't find a space in the parking lot.  Once we entered the store, it was packed with irritated looking people.  Since you couldn't redeem the credit on grocery items, the reason for the crowd was unclear... until you hit the Marketplace section of the store.

I have never seen shelves picked so clean.  Not even during the last week of a going out of business sale.  The store was trashed. Discarded items tossed everywhere. The lines for checking out were stretched to the back of the store and wound around the aisles.  None of the scan-it-yourself bar code scanners worked, none of the items that qualified for the credit were marked, so you had to find a harried Kroger employee with a hand scanner and ask them to scan the items for you so you could add up what you spent so far as well as determine if the item was even eligible to be used for the program.

So our modest goals of picking up a new frying pan, a couple of nifty Christmas decorations and a few board games for the kids had to be abandoned.  We bought exciting things like a cake server, basting brushes, some storage containers, a clock, a couple of card games, a sock drawer organizer... etc.  Nothing that could be useful to give someone else as a gift or something that we really needed, but we didn't want to waste the credit since we were already in the store.

I get it.  Companies want to attract customers with special programs around the holidays.  They offer special deals but also count on the power of our (the customer's) laziness to offset the cost to the company for those special deals.  We forget we have the credit. We forget about the date when you can redeem that credit.  We don't take the time to read the fine print and show up to redeem the credit too late. This is why stores offer mail-in rebates.  The stores get to offer a great deal, but the customer has to do some work to get that deal, and a lot of us don't do that.  It's a win-win for the company. They graciously offer great deals, yet only take a hit on part of the cost.

But this one was clearly an epic fail.  The customers weren't happy, the employees weren't happy and really got the worst job of trying to manage this poorly planned fiasco, while the brilliant marketing executive who came up with this gimmick was probably sleeping in on this sunny Saturday morning, oblivious of the hurricane that he unleashed for the Kroger employees and managers around the state.

We spent 3 hours at a store when we planned on a quick 30 minute trip to shop for a few things on our list and take it easy the rest of the day.  No one in the checkout lines was smiling. None of the employees were either.With a little foresight, planning and communication of essential information, this could have been a good experience. Kroger failed.

What should you take away from this rant?  Ideas are great. Ideas are wonderful. But if the idea has no organization to support it it will die, and in extreme cases like this one, it will maim you and others along with it.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Finding 15-Minutes to Write: Batch Your Tasks

30-Day 15-Minute Writing Challenge - Day #2

I spent my initial 15-minute session generating content for my Provocative Phrase Friday writing prompts on the Grist for the Muse blog.  By tackling these all at once, I generated about 3 months-worth of content for these posts.  Granted they still need some edits and select the perfect provocative photo prompts to complete the posts, but the hard work is done.  I spent about another 30 minutes putting together enough content to last well over 6 months.

Caution - Instax Windows Batching tasks is one of the ways that you can save time by handling several closely related tasks at the same time. Some of the common ways to do this:
  • Make all of your phone calls at the same time
  • Save errands in a specific part of town and do them in one trip
  • Pay bills all at once at a specific time of the month

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Finding 15 Minutes to Write: Use a DVR

Post #1 in the 30-Day 15-Minute Writing Challenge

TV is one of my biggest time wasters. If a television is on and I am in the room doing something else, I will watch it.  I try to avoid looking at it at all when there’s work to be done, but I still love TV. I love watching House, The Middle, The Office, The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad... you get the idea. 

Luckily, I have had Tivo since the first series was manufactured over 10 years ago, and never have looked back.  Since then, the rest of the world seems to have caught up with me and DVRs are common in homes now, whether purchased by the saavy consumer or provided by their local cable company.
Forgotten television
Courtesy of the autowitch via Flickr

What does this have to do with writing?  According to Wikipedia: The average number of minutes of TV advertising for each hour of commercial television in the US is between 15 to 18 minutes per hour.  But that amount seems to be similar in the rest of the world. The UK: Between 12 to 15 minutes per HALF HOUR?!?  Germany: 12 to 20 minutes per hour (depending on the time of day).  Argentina:  12 minutes per hour. Russia:  Around 15 minutes per hour.  The Philippines:  A max of 18 minutes per hour.

So even if I limited myself to watching 6 hours a week of live TV, I’m wasting 90 minutes of time that could be recovered simply by using my DVR to skip through the commercials. If I watch sporting events, such as an NFL game, I’m probably wasting even more time per hour.

I rarely watch a program at the time that it originally airs.  Sometimes I miss the entire series of TV shows, discovering them later on Netflix, Amazon Prime or some other video streaming service, when I have time to sit and watch several episodes in row; Like I did when I watched Joss Whedon’s incredible sci-fi/western mash-up series, Firefly when I was stuck in bed with pneumonia last Christmas.

Time is precious, so if you are going to “waste” it watching TV, use a DVR and put that recovered time to work with your writing.  Tune in tomorrow for post #2 in the 30-Day 15-Minute Writing Challenge.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The One Thing You Must Know About Writing

This is the one thing that I just wish I could remember when I have those dark days where I lose faith in myself.  Those days where I wonder why I bother doing this at all, this writing thing.  Those days where I loathe myself for not getting the writing done, ensnared in resistance and full of excuses (sometimes even good ones) about why it isn’t happening.

Yes, I’m unemployed.  Yes there are challenges, doctor’s appointments, band practice, sick kids and the never ending time-consuming tasks of eating, sleeping, laundry and the occasional home repair project… but everyone has them. And what they are is the sneaky way that resistance or the Inner Critic slip into your life and sabotage your efforts.

art nouveau winter garden
Courtesy of Eddie Van 3000 via Flickr
I’ve been fighting and losing the battle the last couple of months. I have good intentions, but get sidelined and manage to put off the writing for just a little while longer, or tell myself that this cover letter is the most important thing I have to do today, when, in truth, there is plenty of time for both.

Maybe I don’t like the particular project I’m working on. Maybe I’m just not in the mood to draft the copy for the sales page on my website right now, but the fact of the matter is: It is important and not having it done is preventing me from completing other tasks that depend on it. 

Maybe I’m not in a mood to write a blog post, because who’s going to read it anyway… at least that is what the critic is telling me right before I open Microsoft Word and begin typing… then decide to check my Twitter feed instead.

But if I decide to sit down and set a timer and write for just 15 minutes, and vow not to check email for that period of time, act on a random thought that occurs during that time (such is the power of the web) and focus on just getting something down, I often find myself resetting that timer for another 15 minutes and then another, and soon enough, the dreaded project is done and I FEEL GREAT!  Even if I only do 15-minutes, my brain lets me relax because it has checked writing off of today's must-do list.

That is the part that I always forget about. The guilt-free, anxious feeling erased from the rest of my day which allows me to enjoy watching some Walking Dead, stupid videos on YouTube, or reading for pleasure without that timer that seems to always be ticking in my head.

You are never going to feel that the time is right to write.  It never happens. There is always something more important, more urgent to do. You will never feel less tired, in the mood, or more inspired than you do right now.

Make a promise to yourself to write just 15 minutes a day. Mark it on your calendar, your to-do list or put it on a post it note that you carry with you everywhere, and do it.  Write for at least 15 minutes a day, during the entire month of December with no excuses and see how you feel at the end of the month.

Who's going to join me? With apologies to Tom Petty: "Sometimes the starting is the hardest part..."

Friday, September 23, 2011

Reading Elimination Tournament Round 1: Does Anyone Want Free Books?

DSC_0080No one so far has wanted any of the books that have been eliminated.  Did I scare you off? Just wondering.

I’ve really been falling behind on these posts for the Reading Elimination Tournament, and I just need to get Round 1 finished so we can move on to analyze the survivors and keep reading. So here is the latest round of reviews.

The Golden Compass – Philip Pullman (1995)

I’ve heard about this series for quite some time and been meaning to read them, and The Golden Compass does not disappoint you. Within the first five pages we're introduced to Lyra and her daemon who looks like a moth. We also have them sneaking into a forbidden room, almost getting caught, and witnessing a possible poisoning. The otherworldly feel of this book is amplified by little details such as the daemons. I like how this book starts out in the middle of the action and with a significant event within the first five pages. It sets up some elements of the fancy world and beckons you to read more about it. On to round two.

The Grid – Philip Kerr (1995)

The Grid has an interesting premise, a high-tech office tower that is completely run by computers, yet it turns bad and starts to kill people trapped inside. What's not to like about that? However, I have to make a decision based on the first five pages, and these pages seem to be laying out a lot of background which may or may not be necessary to get the book underway. The description is okay but we still have no idea who the protagonist might be, nor any foreshadowing of what is about to happen within the story and barely any dialogue at all. Although this book slides into one of my areas of interest: technology gone stark raving mad, I'm going to have to eliminate this one based on the content of the first five pages.

The Difference Engine – William Gibson and Bruce Sterling (1991)

This book is acknowledged as one of the pillars of the steampunk genre. Within the first five pages we are introduced to Sybil, a woman who appears to be a prostitute in an alternate Victorian England. In this reality computers have existed for a while and are used to research information about anyone. Although I don't typically enjoy the Victorian era setting in stories, the map in the front of the book showing the world of this 1855 (which looks a lot different than the actual world of 1855) is interesting. I'm sure this book needs a little more time to get started, and I'm intrigued to give it a chance. Round two for this one.

The Hollow Man – Dan Simmons (1992)

Dan Simmons is one of my favorite authors.  In the first five pages we meet Bremen and his wife dying of cancer.  They are both telepathic.  He tries to fill her last night on earth with good memories via that link. She dies around page 5.  This is a great way to hook a reader in. Needless to say, this one is one of the 32 to go to the next round.

Books Eliminated So Far (and available if you want them):
  • 21 – Jeremy Iversen (2005) 
  • Farm Fatale – Wendy Holden (2001)
  • Freezing -- Penelope Evans (1997)
  • Stronghold: Dragonstar Book 1 – Melanie Rawn (1990)
  • Man of the House  Stephen McCauley (1996)
  • Strawberry Tattoo -- Lauren Henderson (1999)
  • Lying Awake -- Mark Salzman  (2000)
  • The Feast of Love -- Charles Baxter (2000)
  • Love Invents Us -- Amy Bloom (1997)
  • Night Duty – Melitta Breznik (1999)
  • The Grid -- Phillip Kerr (1995) 
Bonus Books! (because I've finished reading them)
  • Lord of Chaos (Wheel of Time Book 6) Robert Jordan (1995)
  • Crown of Swords (Wheel of Time Book 7) Robert Jordan (1997)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

15-Minute Writer Site Review - Dumb Little Man: Tips for Life

Dumb Little Man: Tips for Life is another good source of “brain hacks” which consist of detailed, well-written articles from a talented group of writers, who really understand what makes us tick, and how we can stop sabotaging ourselves.

Although this blog is focused on being more efficient and eliminating roadblocks to productivity, many articles address issues of interest to writers, such as these recent posts:
This site posts several new articles every week, and also has over 2000 articles of additional content for you.  It also allows you to follow it via Facebook, email, RSS feed, or Twitter. As a result, this site is a must-add to any 15-Minute Writer’s blog roll. I've added it to mine.

Dumb Little Man: Tips for Life gets ***** out of 5 stars.

15-Minute Writer Rating Scale: * - SPAM is more enjoyable and entertaining; ** - Content not fit for a link farm; *** - An OK site, probably won't be back here often; **** -  Good resource, bookmark and visit often; ***** - An essential resource to consult daily.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

The Reading Elimination Tournament: Round 1 – Show Me, Don’t Tell Me

I critique a lot of manuscripts. And one of the most common issues I encounter is fiction that tells a story instead of showing me what is happening and leading me to draw my own conclusion. Telling is pedantic and boring. Showing is dynamic and responsible for many of those" oh wow" moments we encounter in fiction.

DSC_0098Case in point: Stephen King is a master of showing. In The Dead Zone he doesn't tell us that Greg Stillson is an evil man, he shows us by having him sell cheap, overpriced Bibles to rural residents which fall apart days after the purchase, and most of all, by kicking a farm dog to death for no reason other than it annoyed him. He doesn't come right out and say this man is evil, he shows us.

It is easy for the reader to draw the right conclusion from the scene he presents. So whenever you have a choice, try to present the scene to the reader and not tell him what conclusions to draw from it. Let your words paint the picture and create the sensations of being there.

The Sportswriter – Richard Ford (1986)

This book makes you feel like you have sat down with an interesting person who is telling you his life story. This is an engaging first-person point of view, which suggests several of the conflicts to come within the story; giving up a literary career to be a sportswriter, unresolved grief from the death of the child, and possibly conflict with an ex-wife. There is no dialogue per se yet, but the description and the telling of the tale urges me to read on. On to the next round.

Seven Types of Ambiguity – Elliot Perlman (2003)

I like the concept described on the back cover the book.  It is divided into seven sections with each having a completely different narrator, which changes the point of view dramatically. The book is covered with rave reviews on the back cover, front cover and inside pages. I also like the first person narrator voice for the first five pages because it is so  conversational. The thing I like about this section is that the narrator describes the character, Simon, by how the narrator thinks he is seen by Simon. It's still unclear to me whether the narrator is male or female. I am very intrigued by this unusual point of view and the lyrical description of these characters. The seven section structure, mentioned on the back cover, also intrigues me. This one goes to the next round.

The Dead Zone – Stephen King (1980)

This book spawned a movie and a successful USA series starring Michael Anthony Hall, so what else does it need?  It is amazing that I haven't read this book yet since it features some of my favorite subjects, Armageddon, predicting the future, and impossible choices.  The other thing that makes this great is within the first five pages Stephen King shows that he's a master of showing not telling. He doesn't specifically tell us what Johnny's cryptic warning means when he awakens from the bump on the head which gave him predictive powers. He shows us. He doesn't tell us that Greg Stillson is an evil man, he shows us, and in such an intriguing way that compels you to keep reading.  This one goes the next round.

Night Duty – Melitta Breznik (1999)

There are a couple things right off the bat that I do not like about this book. The first  of which is the lack of any dialogue. Flipping through the first 20 or 25 pages of the book, I do not see any dialogue whatsoever, and long, dense paragraphs of text. The first pages provide detail for an autopsy and has a somewhat artificial beginning with "the story begins a long time before my birth, in the German city during the war…”

I don't like pages of long description with no hook, no apparent character or conflict. This one never had a chance. It is eliminated.

Books Eliminated So Far (and available if you want them):
  • 21 – Jeremy Iversen (2005) 
  • Farm Fatale – Wendy Holden (2001)
  • Freezing -- Penelope Evans (1997)
  • Stronghold: Dragonstar Book 1 – Melanie Rawn (1990)
  • Man of the House  Stephen McCauley (1996)
  • Strawberry Tattoo -- Lauren Henderson (1999)
  • Lying Awake -- Mark Salzman  (2000)
  • The Feast of Love -- Charles Baxter (2000)
  • Love Invents Us -- Amy Bloom (1997)
  • Night Duty – Melitta Breznik (1999)
Bonus Books! (because I've finished reading them)
  • Lord of Chaos (Wheel of Time Book 6) Robert Jordan (1995)
  • Crown of Swords (Wheel of Time Book 7) Robert Jordan (1997)