Dec 05

On Maintaining Good Wristiness

I used to be the silent suffering type. Thirteen years ago, I recovered from brain surgery on nothing more than Extra Strength Tylenol four times a day. I dragged myself from a wheelchair and flopped around in a freezing swimming pool, hoping perhaps one over-achieving brain cell might like to try its hand at walking. I slurred my words into the poor ears of anyone who would listen, simply to improve my speech. Never a complaint slipped past my lips. Never a whine. Not one moan.

Boy have times changed!

I complain with the best of ’em now. I’ve even just today ordered a Stephen Colbert WristStrong bracelet with the hope that someone … anyone … might ask me about it so I can legitimately whine on ad nauseum about my wrist.

Until I receive my red plasticness WristStrong bracelet, however, let me pass on some good information about repetitive wrist injury. Writers … yes, you who spend a good deal of time at your keyboard … are particularly at risk. So, sit up and take note. Believe me, prevention of wrist injury is well worth the trouble it takes to follow these simple admonitions:

1. Stay Healthy

Maintain a healthy body weight and a good cardiovascular system. An unhealthy body causes stress everywhere. Add that to any environmental stressors and you may have a problem. (I’ve been mistakenly under the impression that zoftig is the new beautiful. Wrong! Repeat after me — treadmill and light weights. Treadmill and light weights.)

2. Stay Strong

Keep your wrist, arm, hand and fingers strong. It is harder to overuse something if it is normally worked harder. Strengthen the muscles involved and increase flexibility through stretching. (This is hard for those of us who live in writer’s caves with pasty skin and sagging muscles.)

3. Don’t Break the Wrist

Lay the outer part of your forearm on a hard surface. Let it rotate inward naturally. Keep your wrist straight. That is the natural wrist position. The palm should be at a 30-45 degree angle and the fingers curled. Keep that position whenever possible. Flexing and twisting of the wrist causes all the tendons and nerves to rub over leverage points at the joints which can cause a lot of problems. (Yeah, tell that to my computer who doesn’t seem to give a darn.)

4. Use Your Muscles

Control the movement of your hand and fingers through muscle use not tendon/ligament use. One big problem with typing on keyboards is the lack of strength needed to press a key. This causes you to simply start a motion of the finger and let momentum carry it through. This can cause minor hyper extensions and wear and tear on the tendons and nerves. Musicians are prone to this as well, due to the speeds they need to achieve. Developing strong fast twitch muscles is a better alternative. (What are strong fast twitch muscles? Can’t I just go buy them? Didn’t I see a sale on fast twitch muscles at Target?)

5. Take Breaks

Take regular breaks to relieve stress. Take this opportunity to stretch and increase blood flow. You should break for at least 10 minutes for every hour of continuous work with 30 second micro breaks every 10 minutes. Performing a warm up and cool down stretch will help as well. (Breaks! Now you’re talkin’ MY language.)

6. Change Positions

Change your position and posture regularly. Change of position will call in different muscles, kind of like a relief pitcher, letting the first group rest. (Change position, as in go to the nearest coffee shop for a double espresso latte? That kind of position change? Cool!)

7. Get a Good Grip

Use a proper sized grip for your hand. Look at your natural wrist position again. Now bring your thumb and fingers together until they are separated by the width of two quarters. That is your grip size for holding things. That is your ideal grip for things like handrails or screw guns. Now continue to close your hand until the thumb overlays the first joint of your index finger. That is your grip size for manipulating things with your wrists, things like hammers, shovels or golf clubs. (I’m still trying to figure out the size of rubbing one nickel together. I’m a WRITER, after all.)

8. Maintain Your Distance

When working with your hands keep them in the middle ground, not too far, but not too close to your body. This allows muscles in your arms, shoulders and trunk to help share the load. It also keeps your joints in the middle of their range of motion, which increases blood flow and reduces the flex of tendons/ligaments/nerves over those leverage points at the joints. (I’m all for sharing. Anyone have an agent they’d like to share? Hmmm?)

9. Don’t Go to Extremes

Just because your joints can pivot that far does not mean yours should. Do not flex your joints to the edges of your range of motion while working. Most muscles can not maintain control of your body at these extremes which can lead to hyper extension and muscle pulls. It also flexes the tendons and nerves over those leverage points of the joints. (And you say this to someone who wants to overachieve? Someone who wants to publish? Please!)

10. The Low Down

Do not flex upward. The hand is designed to grip, so most muscle control and joint range is aimed at a downward flex. There’s less leverage on an upward flex so the body has to work harder to move that way. The tendons and nerves also have harder leverage points to stretch over. Keep palms and fingers somewhere between flat and the grip position. Keep your typing and mouse click upstrokes as short as possible. Do not use the scroll wheel as that motion is almost entirely upward flexing. (Now they tell me about the scroll wheel. I’ve been a scroller since birth.)

Tomorrow, maybe we’ll talk about the proper beverage grip.

Dec 04

Missing Mother Too

Yesterday I wrote of my father. Today’s thoughts are of mom.

She was the one in the apron. The one who held us together with a spoon and a spatula. Mother knew how to knead. Her breads were beyond compare. Her cookies were devine. I know she tried to teach me culinary arts. Unfortunately, my best efforts came while standing at the kitchen sink, holding a glass of soapy water high above my head, tipping the glass until its contents trickled out like Bridal Falls near Crater Lake, Oregon.

Thinking of this now, I still seem to trickle out my best efforts. Last summer’s Finalist accolades at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association conference have still not produced an agent. An editor. I’ve religiously read the amazing help from Anne Mini at www.annemini.com and still I’m stymied.

Yet, I know there’s a recipe to be followed here. I know it takes placing one’s behind in one’s chair and tapping out (even with a screaming wrist) one letter after another to potential agents. It takes research, followed by further research. It takes paying twenty bucks a month to Publisher’s Marketplace to ferret out the prospective agents who represent similar material. It takes more manuscript edits to make certain I’m presenting the best possible product.

That’s what we’re offering, you know — a product!

Any other manufacturer wouldn’t be in business long if their product was inferrior. Why would a writer be any different? As I look through my local Border’s Books, I notice how the new writers are amazing. Just as my mother did, every word is kneaded just so. Every cookie is sprinkled with just the correct amount of sugar. Every recipe is followed to the letter.

So I’m putting on my apron. I’m using my best cookie cutters to make certain my words form perfect shapes. I’m making certain that everything is tasty.

Mom would be proud of me!

Dec 03

On Dads and Trees

My father was an artist. A commercial advertising artist. I picture him often, standing at his drawing board, a pencil behind his ear, his teeth holding another pencil, while he deftly moved a third pencil over a large sheet of paper. He always had at the ready a putty eraser, but he rarely needed to use it.

Sometimes he’d let me paint rubber cement on a piece of construction paper, so that after the glue was dry I could peel it off and circle it into a ball. Now that was just fun for a kid.

He had few tools: a couple of rulers, some erasers, glue, charcoal pencils, and his thumb for blending and shadowing. His best tool was his practiced eye.

Dad would stand at the board for hours, but to him, it was always sheer joy!

I think of my father especially during the holiday season. Dad was the decorator of the house. Every Christmas tree was a work of art. Every table setting worthy of a magazine feature. He taught me a great deal about structure and form. About how the eye always looks upper left first, then across and down. “Always put your tallest item at the left,” he would advise. “That’s where people first look, so you want to give them something big to look at. And group things in odd numbers. Symmetry is fine for some artists, but imbalance is much more striking.”

I was always too kinetic to learn much else. Standing for hours at a drawing board was well beyond the understanding of my busy legs. It seemed more fun to roll rubber cement in my fingers than to take on the pose of my father at his board.

Nevertheless, my father’s lessons of symmetry and imbalance somehow struck a chord in my mind. I think of that often as I’m writing. A good story rarely seems a study in how characters are copies of one another, but rather how they may differ. Conflict. Differences. Imbalance. That is the magic of story – how characters move from one disruption to another, and how each conflict changes the characters involved. In the end, there may be balance … or symmetry … but often, I notice my characters have unwittingly simulated my father’s visual pattern of left to right – discovering their initial conflict, moving through and across it all, and finally ending up with the smallest and most poignant detail to be revealed at the end of the story.

I think my father would like this year’s Christmas tree. There’s nothing symmetrical about it, but it sure has character!

Dec 01

Darned Wrist

Okay, here’s the thing. The scar from my surgery is clinging to my wrist bone like an alien face-hugger. It won’t let go! So, I’m in physical therapy three times a week, with self-manipulation of my poor, beleaguered wrist three times a day.

So what does a writer do when she can’t do anything? She has a glass of chardonnay (for medicinal purposes, of course) , and smiles at her husband’s fascinating efforts to fix what he clearly can’t fix. Bless him!

In the meantime, I’m researching, revising, rewriting, and otherwise trying to look busy while not actually doing anything.

Next week, I’ll probably suck it up and have something done to my wrist that will actually fix it. I’m told that means litterally sucking my scar away from my wrist bone.

Ow!!!

Okay, okay. I’m having another glass of wine just to erase that thought from my bewildered brain.

I hope you’re all doing better at this point than I am.

Ow! Ow!!!

Nov 30

What to do When Typing is Tough

Here are ten things to do when your wrist screams, “No! Don’t make me type another word.”

  1. Read through your recent material and make hand edits as needed (using your good hand, of course).
  2. Go to the bookstore to find the latest and greatest in your genre and read it, absorb it, enjoy it.
  3. Study Christopher Volger’s The Writer’s Journey. Invaluable help for your next tome!
  4. Send out your next few query letters. Remember, nothing asked — nothing received.
  5. Read through the best writer’s blog ever: Author! Author! located at http://annemini.com/
  6. Go get that mani/pedi you know you want. Splash on some lipstick. Wink at your husband.
  7. Select your next group of agents to query, using your always careful and precise due-diligence and research.
  8. Use your good hand and practice a little Natalie Goldberg Writing Down the Bones technique, employing your finest well-flowing ink pen and lined paper.
  9. Read the newspaper cover-to-cover to find thought provoking ideas for your next novel.

And when all else fails …

10. Have a nice glass of wine.

So, enough typing today for this tender wrist. Now I’m on to a grande latte and a good session with a yellow highlighter and a long list of really swell agents, one of whom just might fall in love with my novel.

Nov 29

When a Writer Can’t Write

I know now what happens when a writer can’t write. Said writer mopes. She whines. She fidgets and grumps through her days. She stares out the window and counts the flecks textured through the living room carpet. She cries great dripping tears.

When at last she can no longer stand it, she takes her recently operated-on wrist, and with all the wristiness she can muster, she takes to her computer and manages a couple of sentences.

She grits her teeth and takes an extra Advil for all the misery.

She writes a few words of unremarkable drivel, then collapses on the sofa with the back of her hand to her forehead a la Greta Garbo in Camille.

Then her husband brings her a steaming latte and all is better. At least for the moment.

Tomorrow will speak for itself.

Sep 19

Rejection Equals Success

I’ve just received my first rejection letter and I couldn’t be more pleased! Now, don’t get me wrong. Certainly I’m not happy to have received a rejection letter. But a rejection letter from a prospective agent isn’t all that bad. Really. Truly. It isn’t that bad.

What it does represent is simply that I didn’t connect with one particular person, on one particular day, regarding one particular manuscript. There are a bizillion reasons why one is given a thanks, but no thanks letter. This agent’s letter kindly said that the story wasn’t right for her. She was forthright, complimentary and apologetic. She let me know that it was about her likes and dislikes, rather than a failure on my part. She wished me success, and I was happy to receive her good wishes.

So, what do I do now? I double down. I send out another query. And another. And another – until I find that one particular person who falls in love with my story and wants to spend time and energy selling it. Writing is part creation, part promotion, and part being in the right place at the right time.

So, here’s to another query. Another day. Another time.

Oh, and also, here’s to the start of my next book. After all, writers write.

Best of luck to us all as we locate just the perfect words to tell our stories.

Sep 06

Two Small Words Say it All

I’ve just completed the final edits on the first draft of my second novel. With pleasure filling the back of my throat, and yet tears filling my eyes, I wrote the two words that every writer either looks forward to or dreads. I wrote, “The End.”

For this particular manuscript, it was a sprint to the finish. My process is generally to edit a section (maybe 50 pages) on screen, then print the section for hand edits. I place those 50 or so pages in a folder, then trot them off to my nearest coffee shop. I’m ruthless when editing, but I don’t feel quite so mean to myself if I’m sipping a nice latte or some otherwise caffeine-loaded concoction. I then incorporate the first edits on screen, print out the section again, and give it to my husband for his eagle-eyed scrutiny. He’s the Comma King. Once again, I incorporate his edits (provided I agree with him, of course), and print it out once more for a final look-through.

This process takes time and lots and lots of paper. For this first draft work, I ended with a twelve-inch high stack of marked-up paper. It’s all worth it. I get plenty of face-time with my manuscript … and quite a few lovely lattes in the bargain.

Now, it’s back to the computer to compose the all-important cover letter. Wish me luck as I prepare to send out requested material to some very nice agents I met at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association conference.

Aug 04

From Synopsis to Synapses

After an extended absence in which my husband suffered the indignity of cancer surgery involving his nether region, here is what has transpired: Dan attempted to embrace the healing, lush greenery of the pacific northwest (which he discovered was too rainy for him to recover properly on the golf course); we sold our house and, in an abrupt about-face, bought in the desert southwest (where my husband now happily ponders putts rather than prostates); I finished the first draft of a manuscript (which won a finalist spot in the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Literary Contest); and my beloved Lily the Cat (who the vet said was too delicate to make the long trip and wild climate change) now graces another woman’s life and lap.

I’ve just returned from the PNWA annual conference, my head filled with information and assignments. The dreaded synopsis I fretted over in my last post turned out not to be so dreaded after all, and now will serve me well as I contact the agents and editors I met who indicated an interest in seeing my winning manuscript. But first, I’ll conduct a careful reading and an even more careful editing of the manuscript, I’ll prepare the perfect cover and/or query letter, and grind out a personal plan for a bit of shameless self-promotion. Can anyone say, Press Release?

There’s no hurry-worry over any of it. More important than rushing to present a first draft manuscript is making certain that every word, every sentence, every paragraph is precise and well-considered. The story I’ve written may be delicious to me, but will it make an agent’s or editor’s mouth water as well? I’ll spend the next two weeks cloistered over my manuscript making certain that each word makes a reader’s eye hungry for the next word, the next sentence, the next paragraph, and so on.

Just as Dan and I endured the painful decision of location, location, location to locate the best place for his recovery, I’m of the school of thought that good writing takes practice, practice, practice to find its best chance for publication. It takes firing up those brain synapses every day in the practice of writing. It takes reading the best work of other authors in your genre. It takes finding your own voice, and then warming up that voice every day until your writing sings! Natural desire and talent is one thing, but part of writing also entails precise and specific knowledge that only comes from the doing of it. I heard somewhere that if you want to be an author, you must first learn to be a writer. That’s good advice for the likes of me.

So it’s on now to my first grande latte stop of the day, manuscript under the arm, reading glasses on the face, and a ruthless red pen in hand. Wish me luck with my writing, and say a prayer that I’ll soon stop missing my Lily the Cat!

Feb 03

On writing the (dreaded) synopsis

Love to write … hate to synopsize? You’ll have to stand in line behind me. I’m now at day ten in creating the perfect synopsis … just in case an agent or editor should request one. Here’s how I’m doing:

  1. I’ve filled my shredder twice.
  2. My brave and stalwart husband has taken refuge on the golf course.
  3. It’s dawned on me that there isn’t enough chocolate in the world to get me through this.
  4. Lily the Cat isn’t sure whether to comfort me or take to her bed.
  5. After ten days, I can identify only one good sentence.
  6. I think my hair is thinning.

Glory be, how a simple writing task can turn one into a simpering, sniveling child! But there is hope in the form of two books I can greatly recommend. The first is The Sell Your Novel Toolkit by Elizabeth Lyon. The second is Christopher Volger’s The Writer’s Journey.

I think that given enough time, some good instruction, a few glasses of wine, or at the very least, a strong antidepressant, and many, many hours experimenting with words and their effects, a reasonable synopsis will be born.

In the meantime, it’s off to my neighborhood Internet Cafe for another day of sobbing my woes into a Grande Latte and hoping for just one more lovely sentence.