Mindful Details: Paying Attention to the World Around You

How many times do you find yourself in a waiting room, on a bus, sitting outside a restaurant waiting for the rest of your party . . . and to pass the time, you pull out your phone. You might be thinking it’s the perfect opportunity to catch up on social media or to shoot off some emails you’ve been procrastinating on. Maybe you’re playing a game or reading an e-book.

We all do this. I know I’m guilty of it. Actually, I shouldn’t use the word “guilty” here, because I, for one, see nothing wrong with this. I’m not here to shake my fist in the air and shout to the world that electronic devices are destroying human interaction, yada yada yada. (I actually believe they’ve brought people closer together in some ways, but that’s another post for another blog).

Nope, I’m not going to chastise anyone for playing a game of Candy Crush while sitting at the bus stop. I might, however, be so bold as to say that frittering away the “boring” moments of life on our phones is wasting an opportunity to improve our writing skills. When was the last time you kept your phone in your pocket and just sat, observing and experiencing the world around you? When was the last time you were fully mindful of your surroundings? When did you pay attention–really pay attention to the people passing by?

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While at an art museum this last weekend, my friend, who’d recently moved into the town in which I was visiting her, was asking the woman at the front desk if she had any recommendations of other things to do in the area. They talked for a long time, and I sort of let myself fall off to the background. At first, I busied myself taking pictures of the cool architecture in the lobby, then posting the pics onto Instagram. But eventually, as the two continued to chat, I became fascinated by the way the woman’s heavy jewelry clacked with every movement she made. And she moved a lot. She was animated, talking with her hands. I watched for a while, wondering how it didn’t bother her, deciding it would certainly bother me. And then . . . it occurred to me that I could use this for one of my characters. I excused myself, pulled out my phone again, opened up a note app, and wrote the description down.

The next time you have the opportunity to people watch, take it. See if you can find at least one unique detail about a person, whether it’s a distinctive article of clothing that hints at their personality, the way they carry themselves, what their voice sounds like, what they smell like (if they’re close enough)–and write it down. (One caveat: don’t be obvious about it. You never know how someone might react. I take no responsibility for any black eyes.)

Don’t stop with people. Be mindful of scenery too. Of the feel of a room when you enter it for the first time. Of the sounds of wildlife outside your window bright and early in the morning. Don’t push these observations to the background as you go about your day. Keep your eyes, ears, and nose open and really take it all in. Then write it down. Even if you don’t have a place for a particular observation in your current project, it’s good practice anyway.

One more thing: don’t focus only on the strange and/or unique. Focus on the mundane as well. Some of the best writing I’ve read has been able to transport me into a scene via one or two simple sensory details of something as plain as the sticky feel of over-waxed wood beneath fingertips, or the citrus scent and fizz of bubbles in a sink full of soapy dishes. You can feel that wood yourself now, can’t you? Because we’ve all felt it at one time or another. You can smell that dish soap and hear that faint crackle of foam, and now, you’re in the scene. These are mindful details. And the more often you take the time out to pay attention to the world around you, the more often these details will seep into your writing, making it so much stronger.

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File Jan 15, 5 15 03 PM.jpegWhen she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard (it’s all the same, right?), Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele (badly), knitting (rarely anymore, unfortunately), or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys (pretty much constantly) with her husband. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. (Go Huskies!) Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here.

 

Puzzling Out Your Revisions

I did it! I finished my draft! And now . . . ohhh boy, is it a mess.

I’m not talking about awkward sentences and sparse details—though there’s certainly plenty of that. I’m talking about huge plot and character shifts part way through, characters I introduced, then ghosted on, a beloved pet dog that appears in the first chapter only—that kind of a mess.

I have chapters I wrote, then moved, that now need to be rewritten so they’ll make sense within their new context. I have location shifts, missing parents, siblings that I may or may not add in. . . .

Basically, I have a TON of work ahead of me. When I look at everything that needs to be done, it’s overwhelming.

As writers, one of the most prevalent pieces of advice we’re given is to get the words down. Just get them down, finish that draft, worry about the mess later. We can’t revise what isn’t there, right? This is great advice; however, once we’ve followed it . . . what do we do next?

Puzzling

First, take a deep breath.

Then another.

Ok, just one more.

Now that you’ve calmed down a bit, open your document back up.

You might even want to go so far as to print it out so you can physically go at it with a red pen. Or, if you prefer, you can use the comments option in your word processing software program of choice. Do whichever feels easier for you when it comes to wrapping your head around the monumental task ahead.

First, read your manuscript and take notes—any and all thoughts that come to mind—but resist making any changes at this time. (I know, it’s hard.) If you make changes as you go though, you might find later that the changes you made at the beginning still aren’t going to work with the changes you end up needing to make at the end. Think of this as the Intel-Gathering phase. Right now, you’re a detective figuring out what best needs to be done to your story and how best to do it—how to fit the pieces of this messed up puzzle together in a way that makes the most sense.

Ok, so you’ve done that, and . . . you’re still feeling super intimidated, aren’t you? Maybe you should take a few more deep breaths.

Better? Good.

The next thing you need to do is categorize your notes. Just like separating out puzzle pieces into groups—grass pieces over here, sky pieces there, what looks like maybe the hull of a wooden boat? Maybe it’s a house . . . over there. I find organizing and separating the different types of fixes that need to be made in my draft, helps me break things down into more manageable tasks that make the entire process feel less daunting. Rather than go through the manuscript one time, tackling each note one by one, I’ll make multiple passes focusing on one problem at a time.

Big stuff comes first. (It’s ok to take another deep breath here if you need to. Ready? In . . . out . . . good.)

What is it about your draft that needs the most work? For me, it’s usually characterization. For you, it could be setting, or filling in plot holes, or smoothing transitions. Take the biggest task and go through only focusing on that. Trust me, you’ll feel so much better once you get that bit out of the way. Next, move on to the second biggest issue.

And keep on moving down the list this way. I haven’t finished taking notes on my current draft, but I’m guessing my big focus areas for example, in order from messiest to least messy, will end up being characters, setting, plot holes, transitions, dialogue.

Once you’ve finished these big picture tasks, move on to the nitty-gritty things, like grammar, punctuation, varying your sentence structures, and finally, removing unnecessary filler words (like, very, really, that, etc.) and adverbs.

And that’s it! Keep in mind, you might need to go back and adjust areas you’ve previously focused on after you’ve made some later changes, but it should be much easier now. And then, of course, you’ll absolutely need to go through the entire process again once you’ve let your critique partners and/or beta reads get a hold of it. But the hardest part should be over. Congratulations! You’ve now turned your huge, jumbled up, intimidating mess into something you’re actually willing to let people read! The puzzle is now complete.

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File Jan 15, 5 15 03 PM.jpegWhen she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard (it’s all the same, right?), Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele (badly), knitting (rarely anymore, unfortunately), or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys (pretty much constantly) with her husband. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. (Go Huskies!) Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here.

10 First-Timer’s Writing Conference Tips, Written By A First-Timer

This weekend, I had the amazing opportunity to attend the LDS Storymakers conference for the first time ever.* In fact, not only was this my first time at Storymakers, it was my first time at any major writing conference. For those of you who, like me, are thinking of attending your first writing conference, I’d like to tell you about some of the things I learned this weekend—not about writing technique (because that would take pages and pages, as I learned so many things)—but about what it’s like to attend a writing conference such as this one.**

So here are my First-Timer’s Writing Conference Tips, written by a first-timer:

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1) If you can, go with someone you know

…or at least plan to meet them there. If you’re a bit of an introvert (like most writers,) having at least one other person you can comfortably follow around like a puppy d–I mean hang out with–will make you feel much more at ease.

2) However! Talk to people you don’t know, as well!

I know. This is haaaard. But everyone attending is there for one or more of the same reasons you are: to learn something. And, yes, to network. And maybe to pitch to an agent (not me, this time. My current WIP isn’t ready for that yet.) Yes, I get that most writers are introverts, but besides this, you already have something else in common with every single person there: You. Write.

So talk to people. Don’t be shy. Sit down at one of the big round tables at lunch and ask the person next to you if they’re enjoying the conference so far. Ask them where they’re from. Ask them what genre they write. And then reciprocate with the same info. Ask them (if they’re comfortable) what their current WIP is about. I know many of us like to keep that info close to our chests, but trust me, they’re highly unlikely to steal your idea (and you can be vague). They have their own ideas. That’s why they’re there. And from these initial conversation starters, more back-and-forth talk will follow, and before you know it, you’ll be following each other on social media. AND . . . you may even end up as critique partners, or at the very least, good friends.

3) Expect to take LOTS of notes

And unless you have a strong hand, take your laptop with you to classes. I started out handwriting my notes in a little spiral-bound notebook, just like I did back in college (cough) eighteen (cough) years ago. But by the second class, my hand started cramping and my letters morphed into illegible squiggles. I have no idea how I hand-wrote my notes every day, three-to-four classes a day, so long ago, but I think it might have been due to some kind of witchcraft that I have long since forgotten how to perform. So anyway, I switched to my laptop for the third class, and note-taking became so much easier.

Speaking of laptops and electronics in general . . .

4) Bring one or two portable, rechargeable phone chargers

Have you heard of these? They’re these lipstick-sized cylindrical battery chargers that you can plug into the wall and fill, and then later, plop them in your bag with a charging cable and hook them up to your phone or tablet in order to charge your electronics on the go. I originally bought a couple for camping, but they’re FANTASTIC for keeping your phone charged during cons. I bought mine at REI, but you should be able to find them on Amazon as well, and at any outdoorsy/hiking/camping store.

5) Stay Fueled Up!

Pack a water bottle and a few small (non-messy or noisy) snacks. Learning uses up mental energy. You’ll want to keep hydrated and keep your brain well-fueled. I stashed a bunch of Lara Bars in my suitcase before I left, and I’m so glad I did. I ended up eating all of them by the time the conference was over.

6) Stay Warm / Cool / Pain-Free / Fresh

Make sure you have a light cover-up (I had a thin cardigan,) deodorant, a small thing of ibuprofen or aspirin, and breath mints in the tote-bag that you carry from class to class. Some classrooms will be chilly, some will be toasty. You may get a back-ache from sitting too much, or a headache from neck-strain or forgetting to drink out of the water bottle you brought (if you didn’t, please re-read tip #5 above), and sometimes lunch is served with onions. And if you want to network, you don’t want onion breath, okay? Seriously. Onion breath ruins everything.

7) Bring cash

Storymaker’s had a bookstore set up with all the books of the authors who planned on attending the signing event at the end of the conference. The store had Square set up, so credit cards were accepted. However, if you want to buy a book at one of the actual signing tables during the event, not all authors will have Square, so you may need to pay with cash. Also, break up your twenties beforehand. Because you can’t expect them to have to keep track of cashboxes filled with change as well, when they’ve been basically doing the exact same thing you’ve been doing all weekend: attending and/or teaching classes. (Actually, I have a fun story about this. I wanted to purchase Ally Condie’s most recent release, Summerlost, at her signing table, but it was $9. I had thought to go to the cash machine before the trip, which was good planning on my part, right? However, cash machines typically pay you in twenties. And I went to her table very early during in the signing event. She only had change for tens. However! I remembered that I had some wadded-up cash in my jeans pocket from I have no idea when and so I reached in my pocket and pulled out a five and two ones. I also happened to have two more ones in my wallet from who knows when. Which meant that I had exact change. The person next in line, however, still only had a twenty. So, I gave her my nine dollars, and she gave Ally Condie her twenty, and Ally gave her a dollar back. Thus we were both able to purchase her book at the table and get it signed. Ally declared that it was a Storymaker’s miracle. (I am inclined to agree.)

9) Chose Your Classes Wisely

I don’t know if other writing conferences are arranged this way, but Storymakers is organized in a series of one-hour “breakouts.” If you sign up for an Intensive (highly worth it, please do), it will span two full breakouts. Every other class takes up one. And there will be a good selection of classes to choose from during each one-hour session. Think about what you’re working on now, and what you are planning to work on in the future, and choose classes that apply to those. For instance, my current WIP involves a small town police department. So I took a Police Procedural class taught by Mike Perry (who is hilarious as well as a fantastic teacher, by the way–hands down one of my favorite classes at the conference). I also have a future project planned, which is a modernization of a classic. So I took a class on retelling classic literature (taught by McKelle George and Kate Watson, and also one of my absolute favorite classes this year). I also chose classes on techniques that I know I struggle with. If it’s available, get the class schedule ahead of time and plan EVERYTHING out. You will get the most for your time and money this way. (This is where I say, and absolutely full-heartedly mean, that several of our own TTOF authors taught classes that, yes, I attended, and oh. my. goodness, they all did a fantastic job. (cough) Rosalyn Eves, Tasha Seegmiller, Helen Boswell, Elaine Vickers (cough), yes, that’s right. TTOF had a STRONG presence at Storymakers, and also, with the exception of Helen [who I roomed with and met IRL twice before,] I got to meet in person for the first time at this conference. I love you guys, and I wish I didn’t live so far away. . . . Okay, enough gushing, back to the subject at hand . . . )

10) FEEDBACK, FEEDBACK, FEEDBACK

Storymakers has a class feedback system. I have heard, though I cannot confirm, that some other writing conferences have this as well. If the conference that you choose to attend does allow feedback, GIVE IT. The organizers need this information so they know who to invite back again to teach the next year. I had one class (no, sorry, I will not say which one) that I wasn’t satisfied with. The instructer went through her slides too quickly so no one had enough time to actually take notes on what was on them. So yes, I provided feedback that reflected this. But don’t just give feedback on the classes that you weren’t satisfied with. Give feedback on the awesome ones too. The organizers NEED THIS. I cannot emphasize this enough. GIVE FEEDBACK ON EVERY SINGLE CLASS YOU ATTEND.

And that’s it. Those are the top 10 tips that I can give you. Will I attend Storymakers again next year? I certainly hope so! For a first-time conference experience, I couldn’t have chosen better.

*Let me clear this question up for you right now. Yes, it is an LDS conference. Do you need to be LDS to attend? No. I am not LDS. BUT . . . if you do attend, and you are not a member of the LDS church, please be respectful of it. I worried, at first, that I might feel like an outsider . . . like an interloper. But I needn’t have worried about that at all, because I was welcomed with open arms. So here’s a HUGE thank you to everyone involved. Thank you for making me feel welcome. And whenever I am able, I hope to attend again and again.

**Your mileage may vary. Obviously, not all writing conferences are identical. Even from year to year, the same conference will be different.

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File Jan 15, 5 15 03 PM.jpegWhen she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard (it’s all the same, right?), Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele (badly), knitting (rarely anymore, unfortunately), or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys (pretty much constantly) with her husband. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. (Go Huskies!) Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here.

Trudging Through Sludge

It creeps under doorways, rises through vents, incorporating everything and everyone in its path, zapping them of energy, physical and mental. It’s a destroyer of focus and productivity, causing its victims to write at a snail’s pace, stare at blank screens, and abandon projects. I call it the Sludge, and I’ve been trying to wade through it for ages now.

Sludge

I briefly escaped it when I traveled across the country to write in a cabin with a bunch of other writers (several of whom were also traveling to escape the Sludge.) I hoped that maybe while I was away, the Sludge would get bored and move somewhere else. But no, it had waited patiently back at home, and was there to greet me again when I returned.

I tried to convince it to go with threats of Camp NaNoWriMo word counts, but it laughed in my face and gave me the flu. It knows I can’t write when I have the flu. Then the dreaded Spring Break arrived and the two teamed up. There’s no wading through a combo of Sludge and Spring Break—what was originally the thickness of molasses hardened into clay. I’ve written very, very little during the last three weeks.

There’s a trick to fighting the Sludge though, if you’re patient. You know how in old movies, the protagonist would fall into quick sand, and the more they struggled, the deeper they would sink? Eventually they would realize that if they stopped struggling, they’d float back up to the top where they could reach a vine or outstretched hand that would bring them back to safety. The Sludge is kind of like that. The more you stress about how little you’re writing, the harder it becomes to write, until eventually, you’re not writing at all.

I’ve found that I do better if I stop thinking about it much. If I just ride along on the surface of the Sludge and let it carry me to wherever it’s trying to go, it will eventually float me to a branch that I can use to pull myself out. I stop worrying about word counts, and just ask myself if I’ve written at all that day. Or heck, if I’ve even opened up my document and looked at it, if I’ve thought about it at all while showering or doing the dishes—if I haven’t abandoned it completely, that’s good enough for now. And eventually, if I keep at it in just such a way, the Sludge will slink away for a while and let me get back to work.

Have you ever been taken over by the Sludge? How did you handle it? Or, if you’re currently trudging through it, I hope this has helped you to know you’re not alone, and eventually, you’ll find your way back out.

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File Jan 15, 5 15 03 PM.jpegWhen she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard (it’s all the same, right?), Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele (badly), knitting (rarely anymore, unfortunately), or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys (pretty much constantly) with her husband. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. (Go Huskies!) Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here.

Make the Most of Your Writing Retreat

I’m on a writing retreat. And it is glorious.

I’ve never been on a writing retreat before, so I was a bit nervous (and of course excited) to go. Would I really be able to write anything? (Spoilers: Yes.) Would I get along in-person with the people that I get along with so well online? (Definitely, yes.) Would there also be fun shenanigans? (HECK yes).

If, like me, you’ve never been on a writing retreat before, there are a few things you should know in order to make it a successful trip.

Retreat

First and foremost, make sure you understand what kind of writing retreat you’re going on. Some retreats have teaching and/or workshop objectives in mind. Others are just meant to be a place where you can work on whatever it is you need to work on, away from your routine and everyday distractions, and around like-minded people who are trying to get some work done as well. The retreat I’m on has no other objective than the latter, which has been perfect for me.

Two, make sure you have a back-up plan. I went with the intention to work on one book, and ended up working on a different one that I’d shelved about a year ago . . . which is fantastic actually, because I feel like I’ve accomplished way more than I would have if I had stubbornly stuck with my original plan. I’m super psyched about this too, because the reason I had shelved this book was due to being stuck, and getting away from my usual environment and habits somehow opened up my mind a bit more and allowed me to figure everything out. I now know every scene that needs to go into this book, and where each scene needs to be. At least—I do for now.

Three, if everyone going is on social media, and you are too, follow them ahead of time. Chat back and forth. Get to know each other a bit beforehand because you’re going to be spending a lot of time together. Also, you’ll want to feel comfortable talking about your projects with each other because a retreat is a prime opportunity to bounce ideas off other writers and get help where you need it.

Four, prepare for some play too. Because all work and no play makes, well, you know the quote. Most of us have been getting up in the morning, chatting over breakfast and coffee, then settling down to work. Then after a couple hours, we inevitably need to blow off some steam, so a brief period of shenanigans occurs. Then more work, then more shenanigans, then more work, until dinner, then it’s pretty much only shenanigans for the rest of the evening because by then, our brains are fried. Shenanigans at this particular retreat have included labeling everything in the cabin with post-it notes (windows are “nature portals,” the TV is a “basketball watcher,” and the microwave is a “coffee warmer,”) T-rex costume dance-offs, and games of Cards Against Humanity.

Finally, just relax. Even when you’re working, be relaxed about it. And be courteous. Take turns cooking and cleaning. Compliment each other. Laugh. Eat chips and brownies. Enjoy yourself. And make plans to do it again next year because by the end, you will agree that it has gone by too fast.

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File Jan 15, 5 15 03 PM.jpegWhen she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard (it’s all the same, right?), Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele (badly), knitting (rarely anymore, unfortunately), or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys (pretty much constantly) with her husband. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. (Go Huskies!) Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here.

Non-Writing Podcasts For Writing Inspiration

I’ve recently discovered the joy of listening to podcasts while doing things around the house–such as washing dishes or folding laundry. And as a writer, I’ve been happy to discover that there are lots of podcasts specifically about writing. But I’m not going to talk about those today. I’m going to talk about all of the non-writing podcasts that I’ve been discovering that help fuel my writing, either by providing me with practical information that I didn’t know I (or my characters) needed, or by fueling my imagination.
No matter what genre you write in, you’re sure to find all kinds of podcasts that will be useful to you in these ways. I tend to lean toward fantasy, paranormal, and science fiction, so most of the podcasts I seek out deal with those subjects. Sometimes I’ll just listen and let my brain absorb ideas–if a story idea pops into my head, I run to write it down, then go back to listening. Sometimes I seek out an episode of a podcast with a very specific subject that I need to know more about for one of my stories. And sometimes, whatever I’m listening to has nothing to do with anything that I’m working on, but just listening to the subject matter gets the creative part of my brain warmed up for writing later that day. If you don’t listen to podcasts, or only listen to writing ones, I highly recommend you give this a try. Here are a few of the ones I like to listen to the most:
(Note: all of these podcasts are available in the iTunes store, however, with the exception of a few, I’ve linked to their websites so non-Apple users can listen
as well.)
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The Paranormal Podcast with Jim Harold:

This is one of my absolute favorites. It’s a lot like the Coast to Coast AM radio show, if you’re familiar with that. On the show, Jim Harold interviews guests about a wide range of spooky and/or esoteric subject matters ranging from ghosts, to cryptids, to government conspiracies, to alien abductions. Whether you believe in these kinds of things or not (I tend to lean toward very open-minded skepticism, personally. Just call me Scully), it’s a great show for keeping up to date with practically every fringe theory out there. That, and it’s great fun. Just maybe don’t listen to it before bed if you’re easily spooked.

Stuff They Don’t Want You To Know:

This is another one of my favorites. It’s by the How Stuff Works people, and it runs along a similar vein as The Paranormal Podcast; however, there are a few differences. First of all, they typically don’t interview people. They also do extensive research and take a very unbiased approach toward each episode’s topic. They lay down the verifiable facts, the hearsay, what people claim to believe and/or have believed throughout history, and all possible explanations for the phenomena. If you’re the kind of person that is interested in this stuff, but might roll your eyes at the previous podcast, then this is the podcast for you.

Spy Cast:

Spy Cast fascinates me. It’s produced by the Spy Museum in Washington, DC, and is exactly what it sounds like: a podcast about spies–real spies–detailing the methods spies have used throughout history, as well as some of the more famous events in which spies were known to have been involved. They’ve even delved into current events now and then. Recently, they covered the dossier that’s been in the news lately about our president and, ahem, some…shall we say alleged shennanigans…in Russia. Don’t worry, they keep it completely appropriate. They’re more about the facts and are mostly apolitical.

NPR (National Public Radio):

I’m just listing NPR in general here, because they produce a TON of interesting podcasts that you’re sure to glean useful information from for writing research or inspiration. There’s How To Do Everything (which is no longer making new episodes, but is still available in the iTunes store,) StoryCorps, and Invisibilia to name a few. I recommend you just search NPR in your podcast player and see what you come up with.
I also have several podcasts in my queue that I can’t vouche for because I haven’t listened to very many episodes yet, but so far, they’re promising: Myths and Legends, Biography (this one is hosted by Matt Smith, Whovians, but don’t get excited like I did. This is not the 11th Doctor, unless he suddenly developed an Australian accent,) and Codebreaker–which should appeal to sci-fi writers, because it covers brand new and in-development technology (cyborgs, anyone? How about bioengineering?)
I hope this has convinced you to branch out from writing-specific podcasts (though you should still listen to those too) and see what else out there can inspire your writing. And if you have any other suggestions, especially in a genre I haven’t covered, please tell us about it in the comments.

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File Jan 15, 5 15 03 PM.jpegWhen she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard (it’s all the same, right?), Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele (badly), knitting (rarely anymore, unfortunately), or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys (pretty much constantly) with her husband. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. (Go Huskies!) Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here.

Focus

I have a slight (okay, huge) problem with staying focused on tasks that I don’t want to do. Sometimes it’s because I find a task boring–like housework. Or it’s repetitive, or I don’t see the point, or . . . I love it, and I find it interesting, and I want to do it, buuuuuuuut it’s hard.

Writing, you guys. Writing is hard. I love writing, but it’s hard. So hard. It is, I might even  go so far as to say, quite difficult.

Whenever I get stuck for words, or I’m not quite sure how I want to go about writing the next scene, that’s it, my brain’s like “this is HARD,” and I’m off clicking on social media, checking my texts, getting up to grab a snack I don’t need, etc. But I’ve been trying a few things to help with this problem, and I thought I’d share them with you in case you have a similar issue.

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1. Meditation

Meditation is basically just training your brain to focus, and you don’t have to do it for very long each day. I’ve been using an app called Headspace to help me out. It does require a subscription to be able to use all of it, but the Take-Ten (10 minute) beginner/training sessions are free. There are also other apps out there–a quick search in your app store will bring up many. But you don’t even need an app for the basics. Just find a quiet, comfortable spot (sitting, preferably, so you don’t get too relaxed and fall asleep) and focus on your breathing. Count your breaths in your head, if that helps. And whenever you notice that your mind is wandering (and it will), just gently acknowledge that and bring it back to focus on your breaths again. I try to do this before I sit down to write, and it really helps a lot.

2. Physical Activity

Again, it doesn’t take much. A brisk walk or some yoga, or even just dropping to the floor and doing a few pushups can help get the blood flowing to your brain and increase your ability to concentrate. I will often do some stretches or pushups between writing sprints.

3. Less Caffeine

Wait . . . WHAT?!

Yes, I know. I’m a writer. Don’t writer’s practically bleed caffeine? I used to, but I just can’t do it anymore. Too much caffeine sends my brain into hyper drive, and makes it more difficult for me to reign it in. I do need some in the morning, however, to jumpstart my day. so I’ve started making my morning cup with one scoop of caffeinated grounds, and one scoop of decaf. That combo is perfect for me. You might need to do some adjusting to figure out the right balance for you.

4. Set up a Permanent Writing Space

. . . and be consistent about writing there. I’ve had a writing desk set up for quite a while, actually, but the couch is so comfy, you know? And so, until recently, I rarely ever wrote at my desk, preferring my laptop, a cozy blanket, and my sofa. It’s no wonder writing often made me sleepy. As soon as I lost focus, I’d often opt for a nap (and no, this has nothing to do with the reduction in caffeine–couches just make me want to nap no matter what, so don’t even go there.) Not only that, but the living room is where we watch TV and play games, and mine’s connected to an open kitchen where I can see all the dishes that are piling up, not to mention mail and papers and . . . you see what I’m getting at? It’s distracting because it’s associated with many different things, and they’re all competing for my attention.  My writing desk, however, is tucked away in this weird little nook in the hallway that the builders thought needed to be there for some reason, and it’s away from the chaos of the rest of the house. Everything on and around my desk reminds me either of my writing, or the things that have inspired my writing (like my T.A.R.D.I.S. and my Mulder and Scully Pop figurines.) If I consistently choose to write at my desk, my brain will associate that spot with writing only. And so far, it’s working really well.

So those are the main things that have helped me focus and stay on task as a writer. I hope you find them helpful too, and if you happen to have any other tips, I’d love it if you’d share them in the comments.

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File Jan 15, 5 15 03 PM.jpegWhen she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard (it’s all the same, right?), Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele (badly), knitting (rarely anymore, unfortunately), or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys (pretty much constantly) with her husband. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. (Go Huskies!) Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here.