Friday, May 31, 2013

Ninja Captain shares his time-management skills

Today, I have the pleasure of hosting a close blog buddy of mine: Ninja Captain Alex Cavanaugh. He is the author of the successful Cassa Trilogy: a space opera, which is on the Amazon’s bestsellers list. Alex will share his time management secrets with us.

Time Management, Ninja Style!

I joke that I use clones to get everything done. But really, it’s just me. I’m one lone Ninja balancing work, family, writing, blogging, music, and life.

Learning to juggle everything hasn’t been easy. I’m not a natural multi-tasker. I still manage to make it work though.

Here are some of the things I do to manage my time without the use of clones:

·         I’m fortunate that I can blog from work. I perform my duties on one computer while blogging on another. (And often while watching a movie on a third!)
·         I keep my regular blogger buddies in a separate folder in my reader so I can access them quickly
·         I stick to a schedule, blogging Monday-Wednesday-Friday. This gives me a break in between so I don’t burn out.
·         Posts are planned in advance and as I find new items, I add the links to the appropriate file in Word. (Then I don’t have to go back and search for something.)
·         I have a calendar and keep track of all blog events. (Be terrible to miss my own blogfest!)

·         Guest posts are written well in advance. (Mostly so I don’t forget!)
·         When working on a manuscript, I block out two to four hours every evening. It doesn’t matter what else is happening in the world – that is my time to write.
·         I’m a lazy writer, so I take advantage of NaNo and similar challenges. (Gives me the motivation I need because I hate to lose.)

Life in general
·         I don’t have kids, but I do have a wife who needs attention. We eat dinner, play games, and see a lot of movies together. My freedom to do so many things is a testimony to the strength of our relationship and good communication. (It also helps that my wife has the patience of a Saint.)
·         I’m also a guitar player in a band and practice a minimum of one hour a day. Knowing others are depending on me not to suck motivates me to schedule time.
·         I know when to take breaks and enjoy life rather than let it control me.

I know my pace of visiting over a hundred blogs a day is something a lot of people can’t fathom. Then again, there are those who write a story every month, read several books a week, or home school their kids. We all have situations and challenges that are unique, just as we all possess different strengths and talents. We have to find what works best for us.

I think it all comes down to what a person really wants to do with his time. If it’s a priority, we’ll find a way to make it happen.

With or without the use of clones!

Alex J. Cavanaugh

Alex J. Cavanaugh has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and works in web design and graphics. He is experienced in technical editing and worked with an adult literacy program for several years. A fan of all things science fiction, his interests range from books and movies to music and games. Online he is the Ninja Captain and founder of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. The author of the Amazon bestsellers, CassaStar and CassaFire, his third book, CassaStorm, will be released September 17, 2013.

Thank you Alex, for letting us into your time-management secrets. Hopefully, we will be able to accomplish a little of what you so effortlessly do everyday.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Get Healthy Blog Hop!

I signed up for the Get Healthy Bloghop. It’s the brainchild of Stephen Tremp, L. Diane Wolfe, Michael Di Gesu and Alex Cavanaugh. The Blog Hop focuses on health. This is an issue with many bloggers who have expressed gaining weight over the holidays and other negative health issues that they are dealing with. Here is a Blog Hop that can help us make 2013 a year that we can help turn the tides! 

The Objective: Share with everyone something you have done that affected your health in a positive way. You can share an awesome low cal low fat tasty recipe. Post simple tips to lose weight. Or a testimony on what has helped, like joining Weight Watchers. Recommend a routine like P90X or Insanity. Or stretches one can do while sitting in their office chair working or writing. We’re sure people have countless great tips and ideas they would love to share. 

My entry for the blog hop.

1.   As I spend long hours working at the computer, I ensure I take regular two-minute breaks after every hour. This is to avoid cramps that long hours of sitting at the desk entail. In these two-minute breaks I drink water (I deliberately keep the water in the furthest corner of the room) so that I walk toward it and stretch my leg muscles.

      2.   I make it a point to blink a lot to lubricate my eyes and keep dry eyes at bay.  Regular eye exercises go a long way in keeping the eyes healthy. Staring at a distant object, then at an object close by, repeating this process several times is good for the eyes. As is looking left and right in sequences of eight. This is followed by looking up, then down, then up and back down, again in a sequence of eight. Another relaxing eye routine I follow is squeezing the eyes closed as though I am trying to block out all light.  This instantly relaxes the tensed eye muscles.

      3.   Hand and wrist exercises are a must to avoid Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Repetitive Strain injury. Stretching the fingers as wide as possible, then closing it as though one is clenching one’s fists in sequences of five is good to keep the blood circulation going. Rotating the hands from the wrists onwards, with the fingers clenched, first in a clockwise direction, then in an anti-clockwise direction keeps the hands, wrists and fingers supple.

      4.    An exercise I do to prevent the neck and shoulder muscles from getting stiff is: sitting straight in a chair, with my elbows bent, palms turned up, and pushing my shoulders as high as possible and then relaxing and bringing the shoulders down. This exercise, like the eye and hand exercises can be done several times in a day, in sequences of 3, 5 and 7.

Hope my exercises will help you all to keep your eyes, hands, shoulder muscles  and neck healthy. I am looking forward to reading the other entries. To read the other entries click here.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Getting an agent or editor’s attention

 For us (unagented authors and writers) entering competitions where agents and editors are judging the entries is a surefire way of snagging an agent/ editors’ attention. 

Honestly, our queries may get submerged in the deluge of the slush pile every agent is flooded with. I have heard that some agents don’t even go through unsolicited queries, forget about reading either the synopsis or the first few pages.

There are many blogs and sites which hold competitions where one has to submit either the pitch or the first 250 words of one’s manuscript. And many writers have got their agents through this route. Even winning short story competitions can work in our favour, as agents and editors’ interest is perked when they hear about prize winning writers.

I came across one such competition while researching a few agents last night. The Greenhouse Literary agency is conducting the Greenhouse Funny Prize, a competition to find new writing talent. It’s the second year for the competition. This year the competition has become bigger. It’s open to the world. The winners will receive an offer of representation from the Greenhouse Literary Agency. If you can make people laugh with your writing, then check out the guidelines here.

Have any of you ever entered a competition where agents and editors where judging. What’s your take on competitions? Do you think competitions work in a writer’s favour?

Friday, May 17, 2013

Tackling moments of doubts and madness

From the past few months I have had several moments of madness. It’s at these moments that I have done impulsive things that either I am regretting or applauding myself for. I feel strange forces have silently and subtly pushed me towards these moments of madness. Perhaps a higher force unknown to me.

These mysterious forces are also largely responsible for my bursts of literary creativity. It’s during these moments that I am tempted to choose themes for my WIPs.  Sometimes the themes range from the completely bizarre to the weird, from the wild and wacky to the strange and quirky. What starts off with an initial burst of promise sometimes takes just moments to fizzle out, and then after several pages have been filled I am assailed with doubts about the commercial and literary potential of what I once considered my future masterpiece.

What started off as awesome has somewhere along the line turned into a big bore? Honestly, this is my current state of mind. I feel my plot is no great shakes, the stakes are not high enough, my character’s story is not page turning enough, the antagonist is not coming across as strong and the world building is pretty slow, the supporting characters are too dull. I am doubtful whether any editor will even want to read my first book, forget about the trilogy.
I don’t know why I am so caught up by doubts that I am second guessing everything and dismissing most of the scenes as not happening enough. Though I am still working on my books, I am not satisfied with what I am writing. Maybe I should work on something else for a few days, distance myself from my manuscript. The long wait for a reply from the publishing houses is straining me emotionally. And my agent search that didn’t go too well also psyched me up.
Do you all go through what I am going through. How do you all tackle your doubts? Do you distance yourself from the project or do you plough on? Do you feel I should work on an entirely new project for the next few days? Maybe even work on some short stories so that I can let the doubts and worries fade from my mind? Please share your wisdom.


Friday, May 10, 2013

Creating a memorable antagonist

When we talk of the characters in our books we normally talk of the main character and the other characters who play a supporting role. We write posts on how to make him/her more likeable, memorable and rounded.

I think that in our mad rush to create lovable protagonists, we tend to overlook the antagonist. He single handedly drives the conflict. Creates tension. Is  responsible for the obstacles in our character’s life.

The protagonist and antagonist are two sides of the same coin. Without them our manuscript is incomplete. Having a strong antagonist is as important as having a strong protagonist. While working on my current WIP (yes, even though the muse is on a holiday, I am still jotting down points and writing scene descriptions and thinking on world building lines).

I realized that I was paying a lot of attention to my protagonist. My antagonist was coming across as a weak one. No wonder then, the conflict in my manuscript was looking pale.

To toughen the conflict and raise the stakes, I had to concentrate on the antagonist. Make him strong. Powerful. Clever and resourceful. If the balance tilts in one person’s favour, the conflict loses its appeal. But if we have two powerful forces (protagonist and antagonist) that’s when the conflict becomes interesting and the battle between them engrossing and intriguing. Till the last minute the reader must keep guessing who is going to win the war.

We have to constantly ask ourselves what are our antagonist’s strengths? What are the advantages he has that give him an edge over our main character. Is the antagonist able to capitalize on his strengths? Is he able to push the protagonist into corners? What about the antagonist’s weaknesses?  Is the main character aware of the chinks in the antagonist’s armour? What is the antagonist’s safeguard against the protagonist?  

To make the conflict strong, I have to give both the protagonist and the antagonist an equal number of strengths and weaknesses. A battle grips us when there are two powerful forces pitted against each other. Forces that would do anything to win. Who is about to find the chink in the other’s armour first? Who is able to capitalize on the other person’s weakness first, will decide the winner?

I loved Harry as much as I disliked Voldemort. I wanted Harry to kill Voldemort, come what may. They were two formidable forces with an equal number of strengths and weaknesses. Their clashes were page-turners.

Is the antagonist on top of your character development? Do you believe that powerful antagonists drive the conflict better? What are the things you all are doing to create powerful antagonists? We all would love to know.

Friday, May 3, 2013

My Muse is MIA

My muse has suddenly decided to disappear from my life. The evil creature has packed his bags and done the disappearing act now when I am writing book one of my Middle Grade Paranormal Fantasy Trilogy: Zespirit Chronicles.
At the best of times, my muse is pretty troublesome, many times he throws tantrums and sulks, but this has been such a letdown. Honestly, it’s at this time I needed him the most. I thought that while writing the first draft of book one, I would also make rough outlines of books two and three. But, the muse is at its uncooperative best.

He showed up at regular intervals for the first half of April. I wrote back stories for all the characters, made detailed character sketches and was generally happy with what I had accomplished. I was sure I would complete the first draft on schedule. Things were going pretty well.

But by the third week of April, my muse disappeared.  In the last two weeks of April, I wrote just a few scenes. It’s got me worried, as I had set a tentative deadline for the completion of the first draft of the first book for April end.

Though I wrote many features for the newspapers, and jotted down notes for more features, I have not worked on my manuscript much. I am even seriously considering shelving the trilogy for the moment and working on something else.

Nowadays, every time I switch on my laptop, the blank sheet frustrates me. I even switched to writing long hand, but it’s like my brain is in a shutdown mode. And as the days are passing, my worries are getting the better of me. I have decided I need to do something about this scenario soon. There are so many other things on my mind clashing with each other that it is driving me crazy.

I know that I should be patient and keep writing but somehow worries are getting the better of me.

How do you all tackle an errant muse? Do you all work on something else, or keep writing in the hope that the muse revisits? What would you all advice me? Shall I wait for the muse to come back? Shall I continue writing even though I know that I will delete all the scenes I write in this phase? How do you all tackle writing slumps?

P.S. The features I am writing for the newspapers are making my readers super happy. Their fan mail lightens up my bad mood and it’s the only bright spot in my life at the moment.


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Co-hosting IWSG: Helping through our Insecurity

Being a part of IWSG (Insecure Writers Support Group) started by Alex J. Cavanaugh has been a wonderful experience.  We post on the first Wednesday of every month. It’s so therapeutic to share our writing insecurities, worries, fears and doubts with other writers. This month I am one of the Co-hosts, the other two are Lynda Young and Mark Koopmans. Click here to see the other posts by the IWSG members.

We constantly talk about how insecurities afflict us. But, today I am going to talk about how we writers overcome our insecurities and help other writers. Our solidarity is amazing. Each of us who has reached our publishing dream owes it to the other writers who offer all kinds of support in the background.

None of us writers (atleast the ones I have met via my blog and facebook) have shown a mean or a selfish bone in their bodies. Everyone has been so supportive and warm, eager to share their knowledge and useful links. Even when we all are in the throes of depression, courtesy rejections, bad reviews and writing slumps, we have been quick to help and support other writers in several ways: reading our buddies’ revised first chapters until we know them by heart, polishing their synopsis and query letters so that they snag an agent’s attention.

Though we writers have our own share of fears and insecurities, the writing community is one of the most supportive of all communities online. I feel it’s our insecurities that make us more understanding, more sympathetic of what another writer is going through.

By critiquing another writer’s work, by giving them shout-outs, by announcing their book releases and other good news, by carrying reviews of their books and giveaways and blog hops to celebrate their good news, we try to help other writers and this in turn inspires us to get closer to our own dreams.

This post is a tribute to all my fellow insecure writers and blog buddies, who channel  their insecurities into helping other writers. 

What do you feel about the supportive writing community? Do you feel that insecurity is what binds us together and makes us more aware of what someone else is going through?