A Writer’s Life for Me Tag Questions

This is in response to Kristen Martin’s vlog post, which you can watch here:
TAG | A Writer’s Life For Me

1. What kind of writer are you? (Fiction, poetry, plays, screenplays, non-fiction, more than one of these?)
Poetry is how I started writing regularly. I also write fiction, non-fiction, science fiction, and fantasy (short stories and novels).
I’ve posted over 100 of my poems here. Each word under PAGES along the right-hand side is the title link to a different poem. Click the link to read the poem. 🙂

2. When did you start writing? What made you want to try it?
I wrote for my school newspaper in 7th grade, but I know I journaled and told stories verbally for years before that. I began writing consistently at 14, when I started writing poetry.

3. What inspires your stories (or poems, plays, etc.)?
With poems, it’s usually a word, scenery, song, dream, or an idea that sparks a need for me to write about it. With novels, I generally want to tell stories I’ve never heard before, so I think of some idea that interested me and how that could be applied in a narrative way. With short stories, I’ve usually had writing prompts that caused me to write a short response.

4. What themes do you like to explore in your writing?
I don’t really think thematically yet when writing.

5. Are you a pantser or a plotter or a bit of both?
I was very much a plotter in my youth, but I never finished any of the novels I started. The first novel I did finish I totally pantsed. I think pantsing works better for me, but I’m such an organized person I still enjoy plotting.

6. Where are you at in your journey? Querying, agented, published?
I’m going back and learning the fundamentals of storytelling at this point. I’ve always written things that interest me, but I’ve found they don’t interest others. I’m learning how to express the same idea from multiple views so that my writing engages more readers.

7. Have you ever entered any writing contests? Finaled? Won?
Yes, I entered many in my youth. The newspaper I wrote for took first place in the state of Texas that year for middle school papers. I wrote an essay in high school that took third place in the state of Texas, and I won several poetry contests I entered back then. I stopped entering contests when I went to college, though.

8. Who are your writer heroes?
Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury were huge influences on me in my youth. I still adore them both.

9. Have you been to a writing conference?
Nope.

10. Top 3 tips you’d give to newbie writers?
Read. Write. Repeat.
Seriously, though, you do need to read to write better, and you do need to practice writing to be a better writer.

Feel free to respond to these questions yourself! 🙂

5 ways to Improve Your Life in 2016

Here are five tips for areas of your life you can work on to improve your life this year:

 

1. Focus on Health

Every year, millions of people join gyms, go on diets, and focus on improving their physical health. Those who succeed at improving their health are the ones who incorporate small, manageable changes into their lives that they can follow on a daily basis.

If you feel the need to exercise more, joining a gym may not be the best approach for you. Try changing your daily routine to add exercise into your day. Develop a simple 5-10 minute stretching routine that you can do each morning when you wake up. Park farther away from the door when you go grocery shopping each week, or when you arrive to work each day, to give you a reason to walk more. Go for a walk on your lunch break for ten minutes, or take a short walk at the end of the work day before you head home. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Jog to the bus stop instead of walking. Look for opportunities to give yourself an excuse to up your normal exercise. Your exercise routine doesn’t have to be dramatic and impressive. All the little steps you add daily into your life will add up and give you positive health benefits that are enjoyable and easy to accomplish.

Sleep deprivation is the most significant health problem people face in our modern world. Poor sleep habits affect every area of a person’s life. For both physical and mental health, go to bed at a reasonable hour each night to ensure you get 7 to 8 hours’ worth of sleep. Being rested will help your body fight disease, maintain a healthy weight, focus and think more clearly, and give you a happier mood throughout the day.

If you have a habit of running late or procrastinating, decide to get up a half hour earlier than you normally do (which also means going to bed a half hour earlier). This choice provides positive mental health benefits, as you will feel less hurried and stressed throughout the day, and generally will feel more impressed with yourself for facing the day and choosing to greet it on your own terms. Early risers accomplish more each day than those who fall out of bed at the last minute because their attitude about the day is significantly different. They have decided to take charge of their lives, rather than run after it. You can be in control of your life, and the first step is giving yourself the time to do what you need to do each day.

 

2. Smile More

New Year’s resolutions tend to focus on physical health, and few people set goals to improve their mental health. A simple way we can all improve our mental health is to smile more often each day. Research has shown that adults tend to smile around 20 times per day. In contrast, children smile 400 times each day.* If you remember being happier as a child, it is because you were! The simple act of smiling will make you feel happier. Smiling has been shown to improve our overall health, and it helps to boost our immune systems too. A smile is also the fastest, easiest way to make you look more physically attractive to other people. Smiling helps you to relax, and it makes you feel more positive that you can accomplish what you’re doing. In fact, adults who smile more are also perceived by others to be more competent and capable than their frowning counterparts. So when in doubt, smile!

*Source (click here for a cool video all about smiling): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U9cGdRNMdQQ

 

3. Focus on Finances

One of the biggest sources of stress people face in their daily lives is financial concerns. The beginning of a new year is the perfect time to sit down and evaluate your financial situation. Most people only worry about their monthly expenses. Now is the time to write down all the expenses that you reasonably expect to pay in the coming year – taxes, transportation, doctor visits, medications, birthday and holiday gifts, vacation plans, etc. List out every expense you anticipate having this year. Then write out how much you expect to earn this year.

If your annual income is insufficient to cover the expenses you expect to have this year, now is the time to decide how to best address this situation. You may need to cut back on your expenses. Do you really need to buy a new car this year, take that vacation, or join a gym? You may have to decide to turn off the cable because it’s not in your budget and start reading more books from the library instead. If you are already living a “no frills” life and have no extras that you can cut, then you need to consider other options. You may need to work more hours at your current job, or take a second job. You may need to find a cheaper place to live or get a roommate, find a less expensive form of transportation to take to work, or look into consolidating your debt so you have fewer bills you’re paying each month. You may need to look into bankruptcy options, or speak with a financial expert on how you can avoid such measures.

Planning for financial problems at the beginning of the year will keep you from being surprised at the last minute later on. Even if you can’t make ends meet, you are aware of the problem and can be actively seeking solutions to your financial problems. Being proactive will lower your stress and keep you from feeling overwhelmed by your finances. You can take control of your financial situation, no matter how dire it may be. You simply need to be honest with yourself and face the problem with a realistic attitude.

On the other end, if your finances are sound and you will make more money than you need to cover your bills this year, then you can look into long-term planning for your future. Set up a savings account to cover any emergencies that may arise during the year. Set up a retirement account, or take other financial measures to save for the day you can’t work… or just don’t want to any longer. It takes years to save for a secure retirement, and you’re never too young to start that process. If you already have a retirement plan set up, evaluate if you should increase your contributions to it this year.

Financial planning is a process everyone at every income level should do at least once a year – so why not start your new year off by accomplishing this task? Making this effort now will help you to plan better for the year ahead, feel more in control of your own life, and be happier throughout the year.

 

4. Learn Something New

Successful people never stop learning. They are always reading about the world or technology, learning about the industry they work in, or developing themselves in some positive way. It’s the beginning of a new year, and the perfect time for you to expand your own knowledge base about the world and grow as a person.

Learning about the politics of your country – all the parties and their platforms – helps you to be a better citizen at the voting booth, and may make you less frustrated with “the other party” because you will understand the broader scope of issues politics is trying to address in the world. Catching up on the latest medical and technological advances of last year keeps you engaged in the problems society is solving, and helps you to understand how your life may be impacted by the changes these solutions will bring.

In your personal life, learning more about your profession is a great way to improve your happiness and value at work. Learning a new skill or hobby that has nothing to do with work is a wonderful way of expanding your focus in general, and it makes you a more interesting person to be around. The only dumb people in the world are the ones who think they already know everything and so have stopped asking questions. Learn to improve your life. Seek out knowledge. Do something you’ve never done before, like dancing or drawing. Be interested in the world around you because it is amazing, and you should be a part of it.

 

5. Volunteer

Ask anyone who makes a habit of helping others, and you will hear how it makes them feel better about themselves and life in general. Volunteering your time, skills, or help to others helps you love yourself and other people. It is something we can all do. People tend to think of volunteering as going to an organization and signing up for several hours a week, and it’s great if you want to do that! But volunteering can also be as simple as giving your neighbor a ride to the grocery store with you once a week when you go because you know they have no way of getting there on their own, or picking up groceries for them because they’re too sick to go themselves. It could be as simple as offering to babysit for free so a parent you know can have time to go take care of something they need to do, or have an evening off now and then just to relax. It could be visiting the sick in the hospital who have no one else to talk to. It could be mentoring someone at work who is struggling, or volunteering to tutor a child in math, reading, or some other subject you know well.

Opportunities to volunteer exist everywhere; you just have to look for them. When you help others, you help yourself. You see the positive way your life impacts the world, and you get to share your skills and abilities with someone who will be grateful for your help. You will value others more, as well as yourself. So do more volunteer work! Starting volunteer work at the beginning of the year will make it easier for you to set up a pattern of giving that you can maintain throughout the year.

 

So here are five steps you can take now to improve your life and make 2016 a great year. I hope you go for it!

BEDN (Blogging Every Day in November)

It begins! I plan on blogging every day in November. My goal is to write creatively each day this month. I hope to focus on one story, but I realize that sometimes what I post may not seem to relate to the story told so far. Feel free to ask questions, but realize they may get answered much later on. If you think you know where the story is headed, try to not spoil it for others! Lol. Here we go:

—-

November 1, 2015

Life shouldn’t be this hard, should it? I mean, I have a pretty easy life compared to most people, and still I have days when I wonder – when is it going to get easier?

For me, I think this mindset started the day I was born. I came kicking and screaming into this world, demanding everything … and everything was given to me without question. I didn’t even have to ask. My parents would just figure it out. Diaper change? Feeding? Rocking? Singing? They’d try it all until they’d find whatever I was wanting, and I’d be calm for five minutes. But then I’d get needy again, and start their whole dance back into motion. By the time I was three months old, I could have told them what I wanted, but I was a real jerk at that age and refused to talk until I was almost two. Luckily, they liked me anyway.

Their willingness to please me was endearing, of course, but it engrained in me this unhealthy expectation that life would provide whatever I need, when I need it. I came to expect that, rely on it. It sucked getting older, let me tell you! Having to learn to walk, talk, get dressed, feed myself, take myself to the bathroom … damn! That’s asking a lot. My parents referred to those years as “the terrible twos.” I’ll say! I hated having to become so independent. I don’t think I ever got over it, either.

The next ten years or so were a tug-a-war between me wanting my parents to do it all for me, and them wanting me to be self-reliant. Then, when I finally started to embrace the idea of being independent, they laid all these rules on me of what I can and can’t do. Seriously? Being a teenager became a daily battle of wills with them. By the time I was an adult, though, my parents felt like they’d won. They’d turned me into a responsible, productive member of society. Or so they thought. Between you and me, I still get annoyed when I cry and no one else steps up to immediately solve the problem for me. What a waste of energy crying is. Cathartic, my eye!

So they set me loose on the world, expecting me to do great things. And what have I done? Nothing. Not a damn thing. Well, let me rephrase that. I’ve done a ton of stuff over the years, but nothing that they’d hoped I’d do. I’ve had a lot of fun. I avoid responsibility like the plague. I hate being an adult.

Everything I do has consequences. I mean, everything. Mostly because the whole world notices me. I’m one of only a handful of first gens on the planet at the moment. So everyone treats me like I’m still a kid. Even strangers have an opinion on what I should be doing, and I hate being told what to do. Sometimes I wish I’d grown up on Mars! I wouldn’t mind it as much if Immortals were the only ones treating me like I’m a child. Everyone must seem like a child to them, after all.

Ben keeps telling me, “Hale, people will treat you like an adult when you start acting like one.” I usually stick my tongue out at him when he says that. He feels more like a second dad than a brother when he tries to lecture me. He’s been a really great brother, though. I hope he doesn’t die today. Or his wife.

Click here to go to: Page 2

I Am a Grammar Nazi

I remember not speaking much when I was little. I had trouble understanding verbal communication, so it wasn’t until I learned how to read that my speech began to improve. People assumed I was shy because I would not talk unless absolutely necessary. Because of my underdeveloped skills in this area, I had to see a speech therapist in first grade to prevent being held back a year.

Conversely, I developed strong writing skills. My grammar was excellent from a young age. I have always noticed when words are misspelled or commas are amiss. I learned to point out these mistakes to family and friends very early on in life, and received a lot of gratitude and positive feedback for doing so. I do make mistakes when writing, of course, but I always appreciate when a courteous observation is made so I can correct my errors.

My practice of focusing on grammatical issues started innocently enough. I began assisting fellow students with their school work to keep their grades up. I was happy to do so. I was helping others and putting my knowledge to good use. As an added benefit, I was teased less for my silence. I never imagined my assistance would one day turn into a bad habit.

I still help friends today with their college papers or works in progress. It makes me feel good about myself to share this skill with them. However, the world today is different than the one in which I grew up. The Internet exists now, where people chat, blog, tweet, and text daily. The vast majority of online interactions are written correspondence. I rarely used the Internet before this year to engage in any of these activities though.

Now I find myself in the unusual position of reading strangers’ writings on a regular basis. These people do not request nor want grammatical feedback on what they’ve written from me. Yet I find myself offering unsolicited advice anyway. Once a beneficial skill to share, my editorial focus now upsets others. I’ve tried to stop. A lifetime of learning to attenuate to these problems and offer solutions is difficult to break, but I’m working on it.

The Internet has helpfully coined a term for people like me. We are Grammar Nazis. Some people are proud to be one. Others, like me, worry that I do more harm than good pointing out grammatical errors to strangers who are simply trying their best to communicate. I know what it feels like to be made fun of for not being able to communicate effectively, and I don’t want to ever make another feel like I’m being malicious or mocking them. I try to present my advice in a friendly way, though it doesn’t always come across that way to others.

I still receive requests for my grammar skills from family and friends, but I’ve become more hesitant to provide it lately. Logically, I know I should just give my advice to those who ask for it, and withhold it from those who don’t. Yet I do not find it that easy to do in practice. I know I’m not alone, either, or this moniker wouldn’t have been created in the first place.

So if I slip and correct you when you’ve not asked for my advice, please know I mean no harm. I’m not trying to make you feel bad about your writing skills. I want to help you improve them. Many people still thank me for this advice, and I feel great when I can help others in this way. Sometimes I get a rush from that feedback, and all is good. At other times, I upset someone, and I feel terrible about it. I hope I’ll strike a balance soon and stop offering help when it’s not wanted, but I’m not there yet. Please bear with me.

Has anyone else had this experience, or do you have some other talent that has become a liability in your life or social interactions? Please feel free to comment about your experiences below. Thanks for reading!

inner demons

Fanfics, Journaling, and NaNoWriMo

I love the show Criminal Minds and adored it in solitude for years. I finally went online in 2008 to the CBS message boards to chat about the show with other fans, and I ended up making some really great friends there. CBS shut down their message board a few years later and turned it into a Twitter-styled posting area, which was not conducive to fans actually talking with each other, so a small group of us made our own message board. We still chat on it together regularly, though I have limited my talk time to once a week to chat about the latest episode since I became more serious about my writing endeavors a few years ago.

Since our conversations are all written, many of us have strong writing skills. Two years ago, one of my CM family members, Thn, decided to write a piece of fan fiction for the show every day for a year. She called the project 365. She succeeded in writing about the show every day in 2013. I didn’t read it until after I finished my first novel last year. I was impressed and inspired by her dedication, and I enjoyed many of the storylines she came up with for these beloved characters. It’s an amazing piece of work that she accomplished, which you can read here.

I decided to start a daily journal this year where I could write down all my story ideas and scraps of writing each day to keep track of them. I named it 365 as a tribute to Thn’s work, and it serves as a reminder for me to write daily. Today I noticed that my journal is 382 pages long. Some of those pages are filled with screen shots of pictures, drawings, and other visual information I wanted to save, but they also contain (at this moment) 179,371 words that I’ve written. I was surprised I’ve written so much, and there’s still three months left to this year! (To give some perspective, my novel was just under 76,000 words after I edited it, and it took me two years to write.) Thanks for your excellent example, Thn!

I’d like to say my 365 journal is full of remarkable musings that I will someday spin into entertaining stories, but most of what I’ve written within those pages isn’t worth sharing with anyone else. It quickly turned into a normal journal, and I have written a ton of my thoughts, feelings, and nightly dreams in it. Still, it has kept me writing this year, and I find that process therapeutic. I strive to limit what I blog about here on my website to the “best of” my thoughts from this year, and spare my readers my rambling reflections. However, I do have a few story ideas I’d like to develop that wouldn’t fit neatly into a short blog post.

NaNoWritMo is coming up soon. For those of you who don’t know, that stands for National Novel Writing Month, and it is an organized event each year for writers to sit down and write 50,000 words for a novel in the month of November. I’ve participated in the past, but I’ve never met that writing goal or finished any of the novels I started for NaNoWriMo. I usually lost interest before the month was over.

I have been thinking that this year I might instead start a story here on my website on November 1 and add to it each day for the whole month. I’m hoping that having an audience would motivate me to stick with it and finish the story in that time frame. I want the exercise to be about getting myself into the habit of writing creatively daily, not about word count or whether I finish the story by the end of the month. Writing my thoughts and dreams down has been helpful to me, but I want to move away from that to producing work I can share with others.

I have an idea for a novel that I’ve wanted to write for a while that has a little mystery in it. The story would be rough and unedited, nothing like what I normally post on here. It might have continuity problems since I probably won’t remember everything I’ve written as time goes on, and I might go off on tangents that don’t initially make sense. I think it could be fun though. I considered just starting it at the beginning of this month, but I liked the idea of doing it concurrently with NaNoWriMo, as I don’t plan on joining in with that competition this year but want to do something creative. So that’s what I’ve been thinking about this week.

Please feel free to comment with any thoughts you may have on this idea. Thanks for reading!

What Is the Answer?

I saw this posted on Facebook yesterday:

What is the Answer 1

Several people posted that the answer to this question is 90. Others said 72, 36, 0 or some other number. None of them were wrong.

This is a logic problem that does not provide enough information to explain it with only one correct solution. Several answers can satisfy the question as it is presented. How valid those answers are is debatable. For example, here are two solutions that are questionable:

What is the Answer 2
In the first example on the left, the proposed solution is that each number is multiplied by a number that increases by 1 each time. It looks simple, but the numbers on the left skip from 6 to 9. Should this absence be taken into account when writing the multiplier numbers on the right? This solution opts to ignore the skipped numbers, so 9 is multiplied by 8, and the answer is 72.

The solution on the right suggests multiplying each number by the number below it to get what the top number equals. This approach does take into the account that the numbers 7 and 8 are skipped. In fact, this solution does not work if they’re not taken into account, as 6 x 9 equals 54, not 42. Further, this solution assumes that the number below 9 will be 10, giving the result of 90. Some people responding to this problem on Facebook argued that the numbers could start over again at 0 or 1, or perhaps wrap around from 9 back to 2. These assumptions would give the answers 0, 9, and 18 respectively. Any of these solutions could be considered correct.

Returning to the solution on the left, let’s look at how it changes if we take the skipped numbers into account. Then we can write the solution in this way:

What is the Answer 3
In this approach, the answer becomes 90, not 72.

This solution can also be written as a mathematical formula:
What is the Answer 4

Using this formula, we find the answer of 90 again:

What is the Answer 5

What I like about using this formula as the solution is that it no longer matters if we add 7 and 8 into the solution or not; the formula still gives the result of 90. However, this is not the only solution that works whether we consider the missing 7 and 8 or not. We could instead use the equation X*||X-6|-7|, which provides an answer of 36:

What is the Answer 6

These are not the only solutions to the proposed problem. They are a few examples of how this problem can be interpreted and solved.

The respondents on Facebook could not agree on what the correct answer would be, and many argued that their proposed answer was the only correct one. Many resorted to name-calling and belittling to make their points, so I won’t be providing a link to that discussion.

Thinking about this problem led me to wonder, not for the first time, what is reality? Even from the rigorous perspectives of math and logic, sometimes the same problem yields different answers. Growing up, I liked the idea that science could boil our reality down to hard truths, absolutes that we can rely upon when making decisions. This isn’t always true, though. Some things cannot be quantified. Some problems have multiply answers that are equally valid. How do we choose between them?

We’re not accustomed to thinking both sides can be right on a given issue. What if they can be? What if some of our most complex problems in life are a result of multiple solutions being equally valid? Our politics are polarized today, but what if the various parties are all presenting effective solutions to the problems we face? How do we choose among them? We argue about religion, spirituality, and the physical world as if only one idea can be true. What if everyone is correct? Is it possible that the truth isn’t black-and-white, or grey? It could be all three simultaneously.

Perhaps I’m being too radical in my conclusions, but it is interesting to contemplate. Could we achieve more harmony and happiness among groups with different values and priorities if we understand that each group could be “right” in their point of view? The truth may be less absolute than we like to think of it as being, and sometimes reality may genuinely be a matter of perspective.

What are your thoughts on this topic?