May 12, 2010

Procrastination Gets a Bum Rap

Today I will answer a question found on the Discussion Forum.

Help! *`Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?' The first line won't come and I sit and stare at the blank screen!

Alice: `Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?'
Cheshire Cat: 'That depends a good deal on where you want to get to'
Alice: `I don't much care where--'
Cheshire Cat:`Then it doesn't matter which way you go'
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: Lewis Carroll

Now, most would advise this writer to just write anything to get some words up there. Even if it’s ‘I want to write but can’t think of anything!’ about a hundred times. That’s supposed to unblock the imagination so the story hidden deep inside can come out. I’m not going to say that. I’ve tried that logic, but found it got in the way of procrastinating so I don’t advise it anymore. Procrastination is a good thing, and we should learn to appreciate it more. It’s been getting a bum rap for too long.

I’m a pretty good procrastinator, but only if I have a deadline, such as this newsletter. Without a job to put off, procrastination has no purpose. The first and most important requirement is your promise to do something.

Don’t become frustrated because you can’t begin your story today, there's always tomorrow. Go vacuum the floors or wash the cat, and while doing that, think about the story.

Stay positive. Instead of saying, "I can't...," "I should...," or "I have to..." say, "I want to vacuum first...", "It would be a waste of time to start without researching..." and "I don't want to." Being honest with yourself is always a confidence builder.

Here are some ways I've used my computer to procrastinate almost any chore.  They all work well.

Take the side of the computer off, and get out a blower of some kind, I use the air pump that came with a air mattress I bought about seven years ago.  the mattress didn't last long, but the pump was worth the money!

Blow away all those dust bunnies that clogs up the air vents and fans.  You'd be surprised at how dirty it gets in there.  When you're finished, trying to find the screws to put the side back on takes another hour or two.  (I never did find mine).  None of my computers have their sides on.

Clean inside the system of your computers. Those registry cleaners are powerful! If something is 'cleaned' that you find you really needed, you get to find it again. Woo!

Study your system devices. Some may actually need updated drivers and searching for them can take loads of time..

Defrag your hard drive. I gained a whopping 3% in my disk.

Clean out the internet history and cookie folders in the windows directory. Do it one file at a time, checking each.

Read your e-mail.

To help your self-esteem, (depending on the final score) exercise your memory while procrastinating, try this one. Keep score. Erase the passwords you stored in the auto-log on of all your browsers. See how many you can remember on your own before clicking ‘forgot password’.

Clean out the windows temp file one file at a time. Open them to be sure there's nothing you want to save. This is also good for the memory. "Where did that file come from and what was I supposed to do with it" is kinda time wasting.

Real procrastinators don’t need excuses, but having a real one might save you some irritation. "I didn't finish the story on time for the contest because my computer broke’ is a good one. This is especially useful for contest judges. And it will be the truth after messing with the settings all day.

Changing your handle to 'without internet' or 'computer broke!' will alert all who are concerned what you've been up to. "ah, procrastinating again, huh?"

Search the web for anything.

Call it research rather than surfing though. Keeping a writer's mindset by using a writer's word is good for warding off your guilt complex. Researching the net is informative and can be very useful in wasting time and putting off what you don't want to do today.

Clean out the crumbs that's accumulated between the keys on the keyboard.

Read your email again..

Repeat for as long as it takes.

Now you're ready and able to start your short story or submit your newsletter.

According to an e-mail notice, my deadline has arrived.

Happy procrastinating!

May 7, 2010

Read With Skill

Learning to review depends largely on how well you’ve learned to read. When readers read a story, they bring along their own experiences and understanding. The author tries to guide the responses, but inevitably each reader will perceive it in their own individual way. Ethnic background, education and life experience all contribute to the images they see and their response to the story.

As reviewers, we can and should make an effort to understand what an author seems to be getting at. Writers can tell a great deal, but they cannot and should not tell us everything. They write for an audience they assume will know at least as much as they do about the topic; and they depend on their critiquers to know how to read with a certain, basic skill. 

Learning to read comprehensively and to make reasonable inferences will pull the reviewer beyond his own experience level and he will be better equipped to read with understanding even those works out of his familiar genre. Read with common sense and make notes. Ask yourself if that gap you noticed is important to the story; if not, it isn’t a mistake. It’s indeterminate and the reader is free to fill it with his own images.

For example:

If a story is written of two women, one younger than the other, will not knowing their ages matter? Are their physical looks relevant to the story? It completely depends on the context. If the information is needed, you should be able to draw it out by making a reasonable inference. Listen to the sound of their voices. Their choice of words will help show personality and ages. You won't have to be told. If it isn’t needed it only adds wordiness to a story.

If one character calls the other “Aunt” and her parents are never mentioned, we may wonder where her parents are, but perhaps it isn’t any of our business. We can draw our own inferences. They are possibly dead or on a long trip. If not knowing doesn't interfere with the plot, there isn't a need to know. 

Stories include indeterminacies (passages that are open to interpretations) and gaps (things left unsaid; such as why an aunt rather than the mother is caring for the young woman). If the aunt is referred to as ‘stately’ at one point, we should be able to comprehend she is from a well-off family, and probably past middle-age.

As we read, we keep re-evaluating what we have read, pulling the details together to make sense of them. It’s a process called consistency building. By the dialog and action we will be able to determine which woman is the older. Readers will begin to see their physical appearances through their personalities, dialogue and emotion, and their personal (readers) experiences. They want to see themselves or someone they know. They want to put themselves in the writers world. Experiment by not describing the main character by specific physical attributes; use the personality - the attitude and voice. Give readers the opportunity to become the main character and they'll love your story.

Learning to read comprehensively and drawing reasonable inferences are skills that will make reading more enjoyable for you and the author you’re reviewing. If you finish the read with unanswered questions, mention them in your feedback. They may be intended 'indeterminate gaps', but the story should be understood. The reader needs to know as much as the main character knows, or some details are missing.

© Copyright 2006 

May 6, 2010

Getting Read,Reviewed and Rated

With excitement you think: “Will anybody read it? Will they like it?”

You’ve decided to join a writing workshop to show your work and hone your skills. You’ve read in the ad’s that, ‘members read and give constructive reviews,’ and you definitely want to be read! Did you quit reading before the end of the sentence?

With excitement you think: “Will anybody read it? Will they like it?” Then, you take the plunge and, Merry Christmas! It was read! And it was critiqued. Oops.

“ but I did'nt expect anyone to rate my things! the "SPELLING & GRAMMAR POLICE"sent me a low rate!”

I’ve had more then a few express surprise at actually being reviewed. They don’t think to proofread or check their formatting, then they’re hurt when they receive a low rate.

Being critiqued is not easy to take by anyone, but especially for beginning writers. Writing is our personal thoughts and feelings, our ‘babies’- and we want to protect them for as long as possible. But remember, reviewers are not judging you. I know that’s hard to accept, and you won’t believe it at first. Your words are you, right? You’ve poured your heart and soul into them. You’ve looked forward to being read and enjoyed - praised. Believe me, I know.

If someone gives you an honest opinion of where your story isn’t working for them, try to be gracious. Don’t slam the reviewer or make excuses. Try to view your story through the eyes of the reader and understand for yourself why your point isn’t getting across. Read what the reviewer had to say.

Don’t edit or delete your work simply because one reader didn’t understand it or your feelings were hurt. I have done both to my regret! Wait to see what other reviewers say. By clarifying what you meant to say, you don’t need to change the story - only the way you chose to tell it. If one reviewer makes a suggestion, and you don’t agree, then leave it alone. It’s your story. If several make the same suggestion, it would be to your advantage to at least take another look at that area.

The opportunity to have someone look at where your story is going wrong and offer advice should be treasured. Learn from the reactions of your readers; they are your future audience. That’s why we’re here.

The Excuse

“but it’s supposed to be slow-paced. I wanted the reader to think.”
“ my character is supposed to be inconsistent.”
“ you weren’t reading it right. You didn’t get it.”
“ but I wanted to leave the readers in suspense.”
“I intended to write with ambiguity.” (New writers love that one, and they accomplish it well.)

There’s nothing wrong with your story containing any of these elements. What is important is that the reader must be able to understand why you wrote it that way.
A writer who needs to make excuses for his or her writing is missing the point. The idea of writing a story is to take readers into your make-believe world for awhile, and make them believe it. Write so your words are clear enough to carry the images from your mind into the minds of your readers.

If you feel the need to explain, then you haven’t achieved the goal yet. No one said it was going to be easy; in fact, it’s very hard. You’ll cry and tear up more than one writing during the journey. Just be sure you always keep the original. After a while, you’ll go back to it one day and see it in a new light. You really will.

New writers make excuses for their work. We all did. The best way to get over doing this is to read and review other new writers. You'll learn to revise, tighten and polish until every word shines. Keep practicing - it's good practice, and, it works.

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