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Five Non-writing Ways Writers Can Write Better

Dreams image 2IMG_0351I’m an obsessive person. Most writers are and often to the detriment of their health. For most writers I know, balanced is not their natural state. For many of us complete and total tunnel-visioned obsession is more the norm. After coming off a very challenging year in which I’ve been forced to find a more balanced way to live, I’ve discovered that while balanced may not be my natural, writerly state, the more balanced my life is, the better I write, and the more productive I am. As counterintuitive as it sounds, I’ve discovered that for me to be the best writer I can be, there are some non-writing things that I need to incorporate into my routine. Every writer has a different list, I’m sure, but these are my top five.

 

Read More for Pleasure. Okay, we writers all know that reading is a great way to improve our P1000885
writing, and I would be the first to give a hearty nod to reading in order to write better. BUT this is not that! This has nothing to do with anything but enjoying yourself. It doesn’t matter what you read, read it for pleasure, read it with your feet up and a nice hot cuppa or a good glass of wine at hand; read it while munching some seriously decadent chocolate. Read it in a boat. Read it with a goat. Read it greedily and obsessively and leisurely, and totally and completely do it for the sheer delight of it. You won’t regret it.

 

kettle bellsBe More Physical. We writers tend to forget that beyond the fabulous world where our imagination meets the written word, beyond the characters with which we eat, breathe, and sleep 24/7, beyond the WIP and the plot problems solved and the scenes unfolding in our head, we are flesh and blood. We’re often flesh and blood with carpal tunnel, stiff necks, horrible posture and bad backs because about as physical as we get when we’re on a roll, when the Muse is with us, when we’re chasing a deadline, is to move our fingers across the keyboard at blinding speed. Physical bodies were meant to be … well … physical. It doesn’t matter so much what we do, but that we move – pilates, zumba, kettle bells, dance, walk, run, bike, row, swim, but move! It can hardly come as a surprise to learn that the Muse likes a fit body as much as we like to write about one.

 

Eat Better: Never mind the notorious one-handed read, most writers could tell you a thing or two Harvest 25 AugIMG00569-20130825-1722about the one-handed write. It happens when we’re in the zone, in happens when we’re facing a deadline. We manage the keyboard with one had while we shove something quick and dirty into our
mouths with the other – pizza, M&Ms, a bag of chips, cookies, donuts, any kind of take-out. We need to eat and we don’t want to take the time to do it properly. But a one-handed write doesn’t have to be an unhealthy one. We can make the choices good for us. It’s amazing how easily fruit lends itself to the one-handed write. I’m a notorious grape-popper. Or even better yet, I have been known from time to time to actually walk away, take a break, fix myself a real meal – something healthy. You’d be amazed how many yummy, healthy things you can fix for yourself in just a few minutes. There are a gazillion recipes out there all over the internet. AND, the great side effect is that when I give myself a break; I come back refreshed and more focused, and I actually write better.


Be Seen in Public:
I tend to be a hermit whenever I can get away with it. I tend to be even more of a hermit when I’m chasing a deadline or when I’m in the zone with a new novel. But, we humans, even the IMG_3633reclusive hermits among us, are social animals and being with other people feeds the Muse. Plus the occasional honing of social skills helps to insure that we don’t forget how to use them. The truth of the matter is that there’s nothing more inspiring than watching and listening to people. People are where the stories come from, and our stories are almost all about people! That being the case, it might be wise to spend some time with a few real ones and not just the imaginary ones in our heads.

 

Pamper yourself: As often as I can, I try to do something for myself that’s deliciously decadent and Sleeping woman reading181340322466666994_IswNAb85_bjust flat out feels good – so good, in fact, that it makes me happy – possibly even makes me feel guilty for being so indulgent. What’s a writer without a little self-imposed guilt? I love long baths with nice bubbles. I love to read in bed – there, you see, I’m actually multi-tasking when I do that. It helps assuage the guilt J What are your guilty pleasures? Be sure to indulge in them regularly. They’re good for your writing. Your Muse will be pleased.

 

I’ve discovered that good writing involves more than just writing. Good writing often involves not writing at all. But as all writers know, even when we’re not writing, we’re still writing, so lets practice a little self-indulgent, decadent, pleasurable, physical, fun non-writing from time to time. Our Muse will be glad we did.

 

Dubrovnik Show and Tell

Most of you know that Mr. Grace and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary with a great Christmas escape to Dubrovnik, Croatia. If I’ve not written about what a fantastic week it was, what an excellent way to spend Christmas, it’s probably because I’m still trying to get my head around the experience. This was a return visit for us because when we went last year, I tore a meniscus in my knee our second full day there and had to depend on tour buses and taxis, missing out on the best part of any place, which is the walking. Well, we most definitely made up for it this year with miles and miles of fabulous walks. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I decided to make today’s post a Show and Tell, and I’m going to share a bit of what we learned about Dubrovnik. I hope you enjoy it!

 

Dubrovnik this trip meant warmth and sunshine.

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Dubrovnik was a medieval walled city-state that rivaled Venice, and it was independent until Napoleon invaded. That glorious wall still surrounds the city, and you can actually walk on top of it around the whole of old town.

 

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Dubrovnik is build on some serious hills

 

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Dubrovnik has a cool fort.

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Cats like Dubrovnik, and apparently, Dubrovnik likes cats.

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Two words Adriatic Sea!

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The Adriatic Sea means fab fresh seafood. Cat’s like that.

 
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Great statuary!

 

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Some mythological

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Some churchy

 

IMG_4890 Some very naughty

 

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Some practical

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Some in Grave yards

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Some just fun

 

The local holiday cuisine can be enjoyed at kiosks in the sunshine. I did mention the sunshine, didn’t I?

 

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The party’s all in Old Town on Christmas Eve. Party till midnight, then go to mass.

 

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The sunny days mean clear, moonlit nights.

 

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Clear moonlit nights mean a view of Venus on the horizon in the morning and  … more sunshine!

 

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And coffee! On the balcony! In the sunshine!

 

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Dalmatian wine! Just saying … on the balcony in the evening!

 

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Lots ofCroatian Beer. Has to happen. (It was sunny and hot)

 

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More Great Coffee!

 

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Great walking!

 

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Fabulous architecture!

 

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Waking up to sunshine! Again!

 

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More great walking … in the sunshine! Ain’t no map for this!

 

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Great views!

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Lots of inspiration for future stories.

 

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Ha! That was the short version! We both came home rested, happy, inspired and down a couple of pounds from all the delicious walking. Now THAT’s a great anniversary and Christmas gift!

 

 

Predictions from a Muddy Walk

IMG00118-20111113-1422“Lets take the route through the woods,” I said. “It’ll be safer, less muddy,” I said. Gawd, am I glad I’m married to a man who isn’t into ‘I told you so,’ cuz Wow! I think I actually came home with mud in my ears yesterday after our annual New Years Day walk. Although having said that, the downpour that we walked in the last third of the walk might have washed the mud out of my ears as while. It did wash most of the ten pounds of extra weight off my boots en route. Nice, easy cleanup that way.

As we got closer to finishing our walk — and we did manage a little over eight miles — I got to thinking that if I were a fortuneteller, I might consider how the first walk of the year goes to be an indication of what’s to come in the year ahead. And, actually, as a fortuneteller, I might do okay in this respect. Here’s what I figure.

 

Prediction One: Sometimes things won’t go according to plan

We approached the walk with enthusiasm, chatting about which route to take, because living in Surrey, as we do, we’re spoiled for choice. However England in the winter means LOTS OF RAIN and many of the paths turn into mud baths from December through to April. Prediction: Like every new year, like every new beginning, we approach with enthusiasm, we plan and scheme and take into account as many variables as possible, but there will be times in 2016, things just aren’t going to go according to plan. My logic for the choice of paths we took was sound. It made perfect sense to both of us to take a flatter path rather than a steeper, more treacherous one. We might have been safer, but we worked four times as hard just to stay on our feet. Never mind! We managed with lots of laughing and joking and a minimal amount of blue language from yours truly.

 

St Martha's Hill 2 23 novPrediction Two: Sometimes things will get messy

Prediction Two is very closely tied to prediction number one. Things will get messy. It’s a given. Might as well get used to it now and not let it get under my skin. I always let it get under my skin. I like things to go according to plan. I like to keep the mud off my boots, so to speak. So here is the warning sigh for the muddy bits. Be prepared K D! Take a couple of deep breaths, think peaceful thoughts because you know, as sure as you’re sitting here pounding out a blog post, that things will get messy.

 

Prediction Three: This too shall pass

Eventually, we came out of the woods onto solid ground – a paved road, actually, a part of a route we’d not walked in a while. We abandoned our original plan in favour of just getting out of the mud and then we remembered why we had enjoyed this particular forgotten route so much. There were great views of the Downs and solid footing – even a bit of cover by the trees when the rain properly set in. Our ordeal in the mud had put us in a reminiscing sort of mood, remembering all the walks that we’d had in which the weather or the circumstances were less than ideal and yet, when we ended up at the pub at the end of the day celebrating over a pint, some of those walks were the best ever. We decided we could write a book about those walks that went wrong and then turned glorious. Which leads me to prediction four for
2016.

 

raindrops 3Prediction Four: 2016 will result in new war stories

The best walking war stories we have are the ones from the most difficult walks. We never get tired of talking about them, and we always laugh and smile when we do. The best walking stories come from the most difficult walks because the most difficult walks challenge us and test us; some have made us really dig deep to see what we’re made of. Those are the ones that make us earn our pint. That goes with most of the challenges we face every year, and this year will be no exception. I have war stories from 2015; I’ll have them for 2016 as well. In fact, the very first one is a walking in the mud story from January 1st! Nietzsche might have said ‘what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger,” but I say what doesn’t kill us will be worth a good laugh about over a pint when we get through it.

 

 

Prediction Five: Even if it gets messy, it’s gonna be good!

I’m basing that little prediction on the track record of the past … well … whole bunch of years of my life. I have to admit, I can be a bit of a ‘glass half empty’ sort of a girl from time to time. Fortunately I’m married to a ‘glass half full’ sort of guy so we balance each other out, and it’s good! Even at times when I’m up to me ears in the mud and the rain, it’s all good. That’s more than just taking into account that this too shall pass and that there’ll be beer or coffee or both waiting at the end of the tunnel. That’s the fact that all things being equal, I expect lessons along the way, and I also expect that some of them I’m not going to like very much. Usually those are the ones that I learn the most from. I don’t come out unscathed. I always come out with a few new battle scars and war stories, and I always find myself, at the end of the year, astounded that I made it through at all! What are the chances? I mean really? What are the chances of any of us really being here, and yet we are, and we laugh and we cry and we love and we fight and we squirm and we angst and we struggle through the mud, and we get there and we shine, at least a little, and that’s what we remember. That’s what matters. I have to say, I’m with Edna on this one!

 

 

 

Sun through trees NDW Nov 2011

 

My candle burns at both ends;

It will not last the night,

But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—

It gives a lovely light!

Edna St. Vincent Millay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May there always be a nice pub and a pint at the end of your muddy walks in 2016.

 

Meditations on Laundry

“We went through a lot of workout clothes this week,” I say. Raymond is making coffee and I’m folding clothes in front of the drying rack that clutters our kitchen whenever we do laundry. Sometimes it clutters our kitchen all week long until I finally get around to folding the clean clothes and putting them away. However this week I am making a virtuous effort to get everything ironed and put away by Wednesday.

“We’ve had extra workouts this week,” he says as we both listen to the satisfying gurgle of the mocha maker sitting on the cooker.

clothes_basket “Both your gees are clean and ironed, all ready for Saturday.” I nod to the pristine karate uniforms hanging over the kitchen door. He teaches a karate class on Saturdays in Sutton and goes into London for a workout in the morning as well.

“Thanks.” He says, getting out the coffee cups. Raymond doesn’t iron, but he makes kick-ass coffee and a mean bowl of oatmeal. “Are you going in with me to walk?”

“I plan to.” I just happen to be folding the breathable Eddie Bauer shirt I wore last week when Emma Louise Burbidge and I walked the London Parks, and I smile at the memory. I don’t smile at the memory of the ratty tank top I wear whenever I do the roots of my hair between visits to the hairdresser – always something I put off until I start getting skunk strip down the centre of my part. I fold it hastily and put it in the basket. Interesting that I take care in folding the clothes that I have fond memories of wearing recently, and not so much with the ones I don’t.

Raymond hands me the coffee just in time as I turn my attention to the frustrating task of folding his myriad black socks. The thing is, he has a gazillion pairs and they’re all look almost but not quite exactly a like. They’re just different enough to make matching them a real nightmare. Some have different coloured toes, some are ribbed differently and there are at least three kinds that are identical except for the ribbing on the cuffs which varies in width by millimeters. I hate folding men’s black socks. This morning he has mercy on me and takes the task off my hands so I can return to the pleasure of folding the history of our week told in laundry.

“You’ve got a rip there on the sleeve,” I say, holding up a blue shirt. “And the collar’s getting tatty. I think we should retire this one.”

He studies it for a moment and nods his agreement. “I caught it on the corner of the filing cabinet in the printer room. Something needs to be done about that.”

“You know, every week we can detail the past week’s history in our clean laundry,” I say. In our dirty laundry too, I think, but I’d rather not think about that so much reminded of the ripe load of workout clothes I put in with extra detergent on long cycle.

Writing image He gives me The Look – the one he always does when he thinks possibly meds might be requires. Then he nods to my coffee cup, because clearly I haven’t had enough caffeine yet this morning.

“No, seriously. Look” I pull a pair of his blue workout shorts off the rack. “Remember kettle bells last week?”

“That was a killer,” he says with a smile that says he likes kettle bells class best when it’s a killer.

“And look, those walking trousers — I wore those in to try on new boots at the North face shop, but they didn’t have my size. Then I got ‘em muddy on the walk to Newland’s corner the day after.

“And that long-sleeve t-shirt there,” I nodded to a faded red V-neck. “I wore that last Wednesday when the house was like a deep freeze and I was trying to finish up the week’s edition of In The Flesh for my blog. I wore that blue hoodie too and spilled tea on it in the process, and then I got toothpaste on it that
evening when I brushed my teeth before bed.”

“I guess you’re right,” he says, looking around at our partially folded history lesson. “I never thought of it that way.

Neither had I, but there have to be a thousand stories in people’s laundry – dirty or clean. My laundry mostly tells the story of someone who writes and works from home, someone who walks a lot and works out a lot. Raymond’s tells the story of a man working in management, seeing clients, catching up on never-ending reports. They tell the story of a man who loves martial arts and loves being active. Sometimes there are travel stories, like the stain from some exotic sauce acquired while entertaining clients in a seafood restaurant in Alexandria. Sometimes there are anatomy stories, like the way his socks wear on the heels while mine wear out on the bottoms. We both threw away a couple pairs of socks after we’d finished the Coast to Coast walk a few years ago. I wear high socks when the weather’s cold and I’m sitting on my arse spending long hours in with my characters. I wear short light socks in the gym.

The point is that the stories of our lives and the fodder for the stories of lives I make up can unfold – or
fold, in this case – in unexpected ways. Perhaps Raymond was actually using his martial arts skills to raymond 018fight off spies who infiltrated the copy room to steal company secrets. Perhaps that’s how he ripped his shirt. Perhaps I woke up this morning and found myself folding the laundry of some stranger, none of it mine, none of it familiar. Perhaps the mud on my walking trousers was actually from my night haunts of staking vampires in old churchyards.

Mind you, most of the time, the folding and putting away of laundry is cause for little more than a sigh of relief that it’s done for this week and I can take down the racks and unclutter the kitchen. But sometimes, even folding the laundry can be more than it actually appears to be, and at the end of the day, everything tells a story – even men’s mismatched black socks.

 

Reflections from Face Book Prison

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The Face Book Police

 

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I’m doing my time in Face Book prison at the moment, carving my name on the unassailable walls with a
rusty ink pen nib next to the names of all those who have gone before me. I was incarcerated without a fair trial and, though I’ve made some pretty good guesses as to why I’m blocked from many of my groups, I can get no actual response from Face Book. I’m told that the usual sentence is two weeks, so I’m halfway through.

It’s strange, this Face Book Prison. I can comment and share pics and updates on my own page with no problems, but with all of the groups to which I belong, I can only see the posts and press my nose to the window longingly while I offer up only a feeble little ‘Like.’

I suppose it’s a writer thing, working in isolation as we do, but the pull of social media is a powerful one. That’s not too surprising since it’s a way of building and having community that we otherwise wouldn’t get. Plus, best of all, it’s words! We writers can all interact with each other in short little status updates and tweets and have meaningful conversations and share witty banter while safely and comfortably seated at home in our jammies. It’s introvert paradise. It allows us to talk about writing and books with lots of other introverted writers for hours on end. We writers are notorious for considering every word we put on the page precious. Yes we may have to ‘cut’ those precious words in the final draft, BUT we never throw them away! We just cannibalise them for the next work or the one after that. And yet, thousands of words are lost to us every single day, set adrift in status updates and tweets to end up somewhere out there in the cold outer reaches of cyberspace.

Words treated carelessly – that’s one of the side effects of social media, I think. Words are way more Book stacksthrowaway now than they’ve ever been in a history that’s treated words pretty precious because they tell stories, they tell our story! Now stories are nipped and snipped to status updates and 140 character tweets. Oh, the story is still there. It just has to be unpacked and teased out, and tomorrow it’ll be lost and forgotten.

What does that have to do with Face Book Prison? Well as much as anything it means I’ve been forced back into a world where words are creatures of leisure, words are a little bit more precious and treated with a little bit more respect. I’ve been forced back into a world where words line up to in long serpentine queues to tell their story and they take their own sweet time to do it. Anticip-a-a-ation. They’re making me wait, and the wait is bloody well worth it!

The thing is, as much as I enjoy the interaction, and I truly do, I have to admit that I’m really enjoying the enforced time with my own thoughts, time to allow my own enormous collection of words to come out and play. And strangely enough, in the midst of all those wild frolicking words, I’ve taken incredible pleasure in the silence. I had no idea that Face Book was such a loud place, but then it makes sense that
social media, by the very act of being social is psychologically loud. I had nearly forgotten that in the Writing pen and birds 1_xl_20156020midst of all my words there could be such delicious silence.

I miss my friends in the groups. Efforts have been made to send files hidden in cakes, but the Face Book
police are far to savvy for that. Though I do appreciate the efforts. I just want to tell everyone on the outside that it’s not so bad to be temporarily banned for crimes I would have enjoyed a helluva lot more if I’d only know what they were. I miss the connection, but in its absence, I’ve been reminded of other connections, creative connections that don’t come in status updates and tweets and, while I’ll be glad to be welcomed back into the fold, I don’t want to forget the frolic and gambol of words and the way they come in their own time in their own way, and I don’t want to forget the exquisite silence in between that connects them all so seamlessly and gives me a place to rest a bit and regroup.

 
© 2017 K D Grace
The Romance Reviews

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