Reading time: Just over 5 minutes
Here are my 10 favourite articles or posts from last month, focusing on the most useful, helpful and healthful pieces for writers.
Little Jack Horner
Sat in the corner,
Eating his Christmas pie;
He put in his thumb,
And pulled out 10 plums,
And said, “What good blogs have I!”
If you’re taking a break this Christmas, it might be a good time to step back and read about writing. Here are 10 fresh ideas to help give you fuel for the new year.
Write without looking
If you want to give yourself a truly great present this Christmas, break the habit of editing WHILE you write. A new piece of software, called Ilys, and mentioned by Ann Handley (@MarketingProfs) in a recent blog post will help you do exactly that. I tested it myself and it’s fun, too! Each time you type a letter, that one letter appears in large grey type. But, as soon as you type the second letter, whoosh, the first one disappears. In other words, you can’t see anything you’re writing. And as I like to tell my clients, if you can’t see it, you can’t edit it. Ilys stands for I Love Your Stories and it’s free until the end of 2020. Quick! Try it before you have to pay for it.
Focus on your nouns and verbs
Grade school teachers often tell students to focus on their adjectives and adverbs. But people who know more tell writers to attend to their nouns and verbs. These basic building blocks of sentences will give your writing muscle and heft — or, as Chuck Berry put it, “When you’re writing a song, nouns and verbs will carry you right through.”
I really enjoyed a blog post by Austin Keon (@austinkleon) in which he meditated on this topic, advising writers to:
- Make a list of ten verbs related to some profession.
- Write down ten nouns within your field of vision.
- Connect the words that don’t usually go together.
And here is Kleon’s piece of writing:
Dig out the car
Mix up the glue
Hammer the table
Drive your pencil
Bury my books
Cut the electric lines
Stack the houses.
Even though as Kleon himself says, it’s “nothing that great,” it’s clear the phrases have a welcome compressed energy. Give this experiment a try the next time you want to improve your own writing.
Consider taking a coffee nap
Over the Christmas holidays, you may have more time than usual for napping. (Me, I’m not a napper who actually falls asleep midday, but I do enjoy the occasional lie-down for 25 minutes.) But I appreciated some very specific advice in a recent blog post on the coffee nap by productivity expert Chris Bailey (@Chris_Bailey). Here are his instructions:
- Drink a cup of coffee or another caffeinated beverage of your choice. [Make it] either black coffee—without sugar or cream as they can interfere with energy and digestion—or a cup of black tea.
- Set a timer for 20-25 minutes. This length of nap is the sweet spot. It takes the average person seven minutes to fall asleep. On top of this, we feel groggy if we nap for around 30 minutes or more. We’re best rested and least groggy when we nap for 10 or 20 minutes. If you fall asleep easily, set a timer for 20 minutes, if it takes you a little longer, set a timer for 25.
Caffeine doesn’t kick in right away, which is what makes this type of napping so effective. You wake up raring to go.
Break your habit of dreading meetings, events or chores
Do you spend too much time in dread? In an interview with writer Lauren Martin, (@LaurMoneyMartin) posted on the website of @gretchenrubin, Martin describes her changing feelings about dread.
Here’s how she puts it: “I would build things up in my mind for days and eventually, when the task was over, I realized what a waste all that dreading had been. Why had I spent three days worrying about something that was over in 30 minutes?”
Her trick to beating this phenomenon is to reframe the job or activity. If the task is something that makes her nervous, for example, she decides it’s making her excited. After all, the feelings are the same — rapidly beating heart, butterflies in the stomach. “We can trick ourselves into believing that we’re actually excited for the meeting, the event, and that changes how we feel and respond,” she says.
Deal with your hand, arm or wrist pain
I recently suffered from a bout of de Quervain tenosynovitis. That exotic-sounding name refers to a thumb that hurts like hell. I was beside myself for a few days (even removing the sheets from the dryer was unbelievably painful) but with the help of a lot of icing, the pain has settled. Still, I’ve wrestled with bouts of carpal tunnel syndrome over the years so I paid attention when I read a recent post on the Make A Living Writing (@TiceWrites) website. Under the headline “Wrist Pain From Typing? You’re Probably Not Doing This” writer Evan Jensen suggests strength training — weights or body weight exercise such as push-ups, lunges or planks — as a way of addressing the issue. Far more sensible than just loading up on painkillers!
Write with blue; proofread with red
If you enjoy working with colour, pay attention to a new study from my alma mater, the University of BC. A study investigates which color most improves brain performance and receptivity to advertising — red or blue.
The answer depends on the nature of the task or message. It turns out that red is the most effective at enhancing our attention to detail, while blue is best at boosting our ability to think creatively. Perhaps this is a result of generations of school children who learned to write with blue pens and who then had their work corrected by red ones?
In any case, the walls to my office are yellow and I’m wondering what impact that colour has on my creativity. I think I’m going to hedge my bets by placing a photo of something blue (water? Mountains?) close to my computer. Thanks to reader Derek Little for sharing this study with me.
Enjoy some bad ideas
As a long-time fan of Seth Godin (@ThisIsSethsBlog), I enjoyed the chance to watch a 3-minute TED-talk in which he simultaneously shares his philosophy about the value of doing something badly while he painstakingly assembles a clarinet, an instrument he used to play as a youth.
The video is only three minutes. Watch it! And follow Godin’s advice: “Don’t worry about changing the world. Focus on making something worth sharing. How small can you make it and still do something you’re proud of?”
When I work with writers I often ask them to begin by writing for five minutes a day. And if that’s too hard, two minutes is fine. And if that’s still too hard, one minute is still more than enough. How is that possible? These micro-habits allow us to start because there’s no need for willpower. Who cannot do something for one minute? Not you! Not anyone! And once you’ve started the habit, you can build on it later. Writer Armadeep Parmar (@ArmadeepSParmar) takes this concept to the next level in his blog post headlined “20 Realistic Micro-Habits to Live Better Every Day.”
Here are my two faves: #5. Balance on one leg when brushing your teeth in the morning and the other in the evening. And #6. Make sure your butt goes to the back of anywhere you sit. The former will help improve your balance and the latter will help prevent lower back pain. My friend Eve, who is a posture expert, endorses these tips, too, saying, “if you were supposed to sit on it, it would be called your under, not your behind.”
Writers often come to me with questions about how to do their research more effectively. Recently, I was thrilled to find more such advice aimed specifically at novelists on the Write Practice (@write_practice) website. Under the headline “9 Key Strategies for How to Research a Novel,” writer Joslyn Chase outlines specific advice for people whose main job is to make stuff up. Here are her nine tips:
- Write first, research later
- Recognize that research is secondary; telling a good story comes first
- Write for your fans
- Don’t obsess over accuracy
- Go with the most interesting version
- Keep a “Bible”
- Don’t fall down a wormhole
- Save simple details for last
- Finish THIS project before starting another
Read the post if you’re a novelist who needs to research. It could save you a lot of time.
Value quantity over quality
Most writers will tell me that quality is way more important than quantity. It never occurs to them that one might lead to the other. Perhaps that’s why I loved the story in a recent Austin Kleon (@austinkleon) post under the headline, “Quantity leads to quality (the origin of a parable).”
In this post, Kleon tells the story of a pottery teacher who put his class into two groups. One would receive their grades based on quality while the other would receive them based on weight. (Fifty pounds of pots rated an A.) But here was the curious thing: The pots of the highest quality were produced by the group being graded for quantity.
Kleon deconstructs the story (there are some doubts about its origins) before concluding that he agrees with it. “The frequency of my work — showing up at regular intervals, without worrying about results — has actually led to better results,” he writes. “Quantity leads to quality.”
An excellent thought on which to end! Best wishes for a happy Christmas to those who celebrate that holiday. I will be off my blog between now and Jan. 5.
Need some help developing a sustainable writing routine? Learn more about my Get It Done program. The group is now full but there is turn-over each month, and priority will go to those who have applied first. You can go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours.
What are the best blog posts you’ve read in the last month? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Dec. 31/20 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!