June 2011


Going-to-the-Sun RoadI’ve been working on my first novel for a couple of weeks now as part of my June Writing Month goal.  And it’s been challenging, if not more so than I expected.  I’ve been meeting my daily word requirement–somewhat (okay, it’s not always 1000 words, I may fall short and land somewhere around 800 words.  As I mentioned before, the goal was to start writing my novel, which I’ve been putting off mainly because of time.  So, in that sense, I may not hit that magic number of 30,ooo words by June 30.   In any case, I’m happy that I’ve been writing, developing my story, and getting to know my characters.

One of the challenges I’ve been dealing with has been writer’s block.  And as a someone who writes magazine article on health matters, I know that when I hit a roadblock in my writing it has more to do with what’s going on in my personal and professional life than anything having to do with figuring out dialogue or working out the details in a scene.  Because frankly all of these details will be reworked again and again in revisions anyway.  So, what’s the deal with the blinking cursor on the blank page?

Well, it has a lot to do with a couple of things?  And most of these issues I’ve been able to get a handle on (or at least I’m aware of).  I think it’s important to have a roadmap that shows you where you’re problem areas are and what you’re doing to get around them. It’s just like driving and you come across a road that’s been closed off, you just don’t sit there and wait for the problem to work itself out.  You work out a plan to get to where you need to be when it comes to your writing goals.

Here are the key areas I’ve found that have contributed to my writer’s block and what I’ve been doing to map out solutions:

Designate a Time to Write: And I mean just writing my novel.  Not checking email intermittently, researching a location I’ve mentioned in my book, or answering phone calls.  This is why I’ve decided to switch my writing hours to first thing in the morning.  I also have freelance assignments that I’m working on.

However, if I don’t put myself first then this book will never get done.  I’ve found that switching my novel-writing activities to priority No. 1 has been helpful.  So far, this seems to be working out well for me, and it’s improved my writing flow–writing chi, as I like to put it.

Previously, I was writing later in the evening.  Frankly, I was just too mentally drained by that time of the day.  While writing in the morning may be a good switch for me, other writers may find that late nights are the way to go for them.  Basically, you just have to try out a few different times to determine what works best with your schedule (and personality).

Take a Chill Pill: Writing a book has been a lifelong dream and now I’m actually doing it.  I know it’s hardly in any publishable form.  But I’m working toward a goal.  The writing process can be frustrating, and any writer who takes a leap of faith to begin to write a book should be proud.

So take the frustration away from your writing.  Your fears and anxieties about being well-received as a writer are honest feelings.  I do deep breathing and yoga to calm me down.  It allows me to focus and release my pent-up frustrations and anxieties, which are most likely contributing to my writer’s block.

The Policy on Honesty: Issues in your personal and career life can mask itself as writer’s block.  Take a moment to examine your feelings and assess what’s been bothering you lately.  Are you off your game when  speaking with a particular client or co-worker?  Are there any unresolved issues at home that you’ve been avoiding?  Sometimes talking things out with the person involved is helpful or discussing the issue with someone you trust can shed an enlightening perspective on the matter.  And for issues that are more difficult to resolve seeking the help of a professional can offer therapeutic options to get you and your writing back on track.  Getting to the core of life’s matters can help you handle your writing issues.  Maybe working through these issues can even provide you with a new idea for your book.

Become Your Own Cheerleader: Writing a book isn’t an overnight process.    And although recent buzz surrounding John Locke’s success with How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months! might light a fire in some writers, I’d say this isn’t a route in book publishing often traveled.  So, in the meantime celebrate each milestone no matter how small you think it is. By celebrating your successes you create a positive atmosphere for writing that is fueled by you.  I try to generate joys from within while writing my book and that’s helped me to clear up my writing chi as well.

Whether one of my characters enjoys a victorious moment while bumping into an old flame who dumped her, or I’ve worked through a difficult scene, I appreciate the smallest things in my writing process.  Because it’s been helpful in boosting my morale and drive.

2011.06.19 - ListsJune 21st marks the first day of summer. Yup, that’s today.  But New York isn’t really feeling the summertime glow just yet — it’s cloudy and the forecast indicates rain.  Yet, that isn’t stopping me from pulling out my summertime reading list.  Every summer I initiate two traditions: “Rediscover and Read”.  The rediscovery part involves my love relationship with the city I grew up in.  New York is a phenomenal city with loads of history (So, I’ll take a trip to Battery Park in Lower Manhattan) as well as great museums and open spaces (I hear MoMa calling, a stroll through Central Park, and a serene visit to the Japanese Garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden). But of all the things I love most about summer it’s reading a good book, which is the other part of my version of summertime R&R.  And here are my must-read, feel-good, thought-provoking, gasp-inducing, laugh-out-loud, and awe-inspiring summertime book selections.

Writing Inspiration: I’ve come across Stephen King’s On Writing many times while shopping at bookstores or reading blogs and articles on suggested books for writers.  And after seeing it suggested a couple of times, I think it’s time that I check it out for a bit of inspiration.

Controversial: Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses is my drama-riddled book selection not only because of the content, but the historic events that ensued when the book was publishedthe book sparked riotous activities that led to injury and death.   And even as booksellers pulled his books off their shelves, Ayatullah Khomeini issued a $1 million bounty to assassinate Rushdie, which led the author to seek safety in England. I always heard the story, now I think I’d like to also read the book that triggered censorship and death threats.

Oldies, And Goodies: I wanted to revisit the world I entered in high school where the books fossilized an impression in my heart and mind of tension, unrequited love, anger, passion, wealth, secrets, and tragedy, which is why I’ve chosen Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte  and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Now as an adult I dare to be moved again by these great novels with all that I know, what I’ve come to love most, and the things I’ve lost.

Dear Friend: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison fits nicely into this category because it’s a powerfully moving story that always puts me in state of introspective work.  Especially when I find myself  starting to get sucked into a funk about the state of my writing aspirations.  That is when, I head to my stash of books my fingers skimming titles looking for that beat-up copy.  And after I read this book I’m always back to my upbeat self because of that little girl — again, I remember how much I want to help her to see what I see and recognize her worth.

Something New: I became intrigued by Three Percent, a website started four years ago to promote international literature.  I enjoy watching foreign films, so why not gain global insights into other cultures through books.  This is the first time I’ve made a conscious choice to read translated books, and I intend to incorporate foreign books into my reading list at least once a month.  After reading a few suggestions offered by David Kipen, and checking out the reviews on Three Percent’s website, I decided to go with My Two Worlds by Sergio Chejfec, which goes on sale in August (plenty of time for me to indulge in my other books).

Pink Martini: For the true romantic girly side of me I’ve selected Cecelia Ahern’s PS, I Love You.  I’ll need Kleenex for this one, definitely.

There are more good reads I’ll pick up along the way.  But I think this is a varied and interesting start to my summer reading.  What’s on your reading list this summer?

This week I came across a few articles that used the word “vampire” in its title. No, these weren’t articles highlighting Twilight or the upcoming fourth season of True Blood.  Actually, these articles were discussing real issues that had nothing to do with the allure of attractive, charming vamps fighting over an intriguing (and often times feisty) mind-reading waitress named Sookie — okay, I admit I’m a fan of True Blood, don’t judge.

For instance, one article posted in the online news section of Consumer Reports was titled: “NRDC: Set-top boxes are home-energy vampires, even when not in use“, which covered how much money DVR’s, cable set-top boxes, and other plugged in devices are costing us while they aren’t even being used (but are plugged in)–a whooping $2 billion a year. Now that’s some serious money-sucking action!

And this got me thinking, how many things are vampiric elements in day that are sucking the life out of my time (and as a freelancer time is money)? clocksWhat are the things that keep me from being as productive in my freelance career as I possibly can be?  Since I’m talking about vampires and all, the obvious doesn’t count, because the series begins in about two weeks and it’s also shows late in the evening.  I’m talking about those productivity vampires in my day that suck up valuable time, which could be used to: pitch ideas to magazines, read more (because reading is vital to any writer’s life), and generate more freelance business.

I’m always complaining that I don’t have enough time to get things done. And so I decided to track my usage of time in order to assess what I’m doing on a daily basis that have a vampiric effect on what controls my time.

Cue in Drama Button.

Well, my little experiment was quite revealing.

Emails: I found that I spent quite a bit of time reading my e-mails in the morning (and throughout my day — occasionally peeking to see if I’ve gotten a response from a client, or I’ll even stop what I’m doing to write an email while I’m in the middle of something else).

Racking Up Browser Tabs: I tend to open up Firefox and have multiple tabs opened up at the same time: Twitter, Linkedin, the New York Times, and other blogs.  And as I see things of interest along the way, I’m opening up other tabs and bookmarking websites too.

What’s in the Middle?: At times, I’ve even scheduled webinars and teleconferences in the middle of my day, which can be quite distracting as well, especially if I’m falling behind schedule (very likely). Or I may schedule interviews for articles that may interfere with the flow of other work, rather than keeping set days to conduct interviews (I try to do this but it doesn’t always work out).

Transcribing Frenzy: And when I’m done with the interview the recording can be a major time sucker (fangs fully exposed with this one).  Even though I have speech-to-text software this task is not something I particularly enjoy doing.  As I begin to get more assignments, I’m going to seriously consider outsourcing this task.

So, now after tracking my activities, I’m more aware of the problem areas that seem to affect my productivity.  From getting distracted with e-mails to  following discussions on my social media outlets, I’m working on getting these productivity vampires under wraps by revamping my schedule so that it’s more task oriented (e.g. check emails a specific times of the day only and not throughout).  Because the enchantment and mysticism of vampires may reel me in when it comes to movies, but in the real world time-sucking tasks make me feel, well, quite anemic.

I’ve been working diligently on my draft for a week now.  And one of the hardest things I’m finding out is that crafting dialogue so that it has a conversational tone can be really difficult.  You’d think that it would be easy since we speak to various people everyday.  Ah, but it isn’t easy.  And I’m finding that writing dialogue is harder than I thought it would be.

The first habit I had to break out of was my use of speech tags, other than she said (e.g. he explains and she agrees).  Since I’ve been mainly writing articles this was an easy habit to carry over into novel writing.  Thankfully, I didn’t get to far in my writing before I caught this problem.  It may be okay to find alternative ways to write ” Dr. X says” in an article.  But, using various tags in dialogue isn’t done, and when I thought about it I haven’t seen many variations of “said” in the books I’ve read.  I mean readers don’t need to see the word “agrees” in order to know that Character A in fact does agrees with Character B.  The dialogue alone should let the reader know what’s happening without the need for superfluous jargon and speech tags (aside from the commonly used he said/she said).

Although I didn’t plan on editing while I was writing my draft, I did take time to rework the dialogue that I already wrote.  And I was prompted to do so after my sister (who has a knack for performing onstage and memorizing her lines) suggested that I read my dialogue out aloud.  And when I did I had a serious reality check.  Ouch!  Listening to myself read the lines was like being in one of my elementary school plays all over again acting out some cheesy show riddled with generic lines.  I mean nobody really speaks that way–because it sounds rehearsed, unrealistic, and boring (yawn).

Here are a few tips I’ve learned to help me breathe life into my lines and draw readers into the conversations of my characters:

Listen UpHEAR ME !!!
Start paying attention to the way people speak because this will provide you with a good foundation for crafting dialogue that has a conversational tone.  Watching movies is also a great way to listen to speech. For instance, if one of your characters stammers watching the The King’s Speech can help you develop a realistic conversation that will add credibility to your character.

Break it Up
No, I’m not talking about a fight, at least not a real one.  Breaking up dialogue helps your readers to see the entire picture and not just the conversation between characters, which can become dry if it isn’t broken up with some action or descriptions that allows your reader to see the whole picture–the environment in which the dialogue is taking place.  And a fight may be one way to do that, especially if the fight occurs right before one of your characters is about to disclose some vital information.  But she is stopped short because she has to get out of harm’s way.

Profanity1Bleep You, No Bleep You
Using expletives in dialogue should be approached with some considerable thought.  The exchange of cutting words can make characters appear tough but you should decide on if and when you should use profanity in your book.  Because even in fiction the excessive use of “bleep you” (even if one of your characters is a dangerous criminal from Boston, reminiscent of Jack Nicholson in The Departed) may alienate your readers.  So get creative and find an alternative way to say what you want that showcases your brilliant writing talents without losing the edginess that you’re trying to portray in your character.

Do you have any tips for writing realistic dialogue?

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