Kay: Are You Getting Enough? Sleep, That Is

Lots of times when I have a problem in my story, I can go to bed and wake up the next day with a solution. “Sleeping on it” isn’t just for decision making any more!

As we all know, sleep affects us in many ways, from our energy and moods to our brain development. We’re told we’ll be happier, thinner, and healthier if we get enough regular sleep. (Plus maybe richer and better looking. I can hope.)

I recently ran across a blog post that made a stab at correlating the sleep habits of famous writers to their level of productivity. The blogger makes no claims to causality—data was hard to find and hard to quantify, many factors in a writer’s life affect output, and the analysis is subject to an enormous degree of subjectivity—but the results are fun, if not scientific.

The data set consisted of 37 writers for whom wake-up times were available. Productivity was measured by the number of published works and major awards an author received. The duration and era of an author’s life were acknowledged variables.

Overall, with the exception of outliers such as Ray Bradbury and Stephen King, who are both prolific and award-winning, late risers seem to produce more works but win fewer awards than early birds.

Click to see all 37 authors, their wake-up times, and their literary productivity, depicted as colored “auras” for major awards and teeny bars for number of works published. The writers are organized from earliest to latest wake-up times, beginning with Balzac’s 1am and ending with Bukowski’s noon. I’m with most of the crowd in the 8am–9am range.

It’s always fun to see how the greats worked, but it’s good to remember that no specific routine guarantees success. It’s just important to have a routine, to show up and work most days. That’s how the books get written.

Check out the full blog post and graphic. Where do you fit in?

 

Kay: I Finished the Book!

I finished the book.

Last Friday I typed “The End” on book two of a three-book trilogy about Phoebe’s adventures in romance-land. It’s been a haul for sure, starting with book 1, which I started before the McDaniel class in 2012, and didn’t progress much or at all in 2012 because of class, 2013 because of poor health, and 2015 because of family issues.

But now book 2 is finished. It still needs revisions—the last chapter in particular, which I thought I’d have to rewrite completely, but perhaps all I have to do is cut the last 1,000 words. I want to conflate two of my characters, that will take some thought. And there’s still the beta reads to go. Still, it’s all done but the shouting, as we’d say back in the Midwest.

Sometimes I think it’s a miracle that I ever got this far with it. Continue reading

Kay: Ode to Critique Groups

This week I met with my critique group, Beth and Patricia. We usually meet monthly at somebody’s house, although lately we’ve hit it big at a Mexican restaurant with a waitress we love, who listens only to audio books and prefers science fiction. This meeting was fun and productive, as it always is. Beth, as always, said about my section, “It needs more emotion! I want to know how she feels!” And Patricia said, as she usually does, “This part just doesn’t make sense.”

I love it when that happens.

I’ve met with Beth and Patricia for the longest time—years and years—but even my newest beta readers are godsends. Every one has flawlessly pointed out the weaknesses in my work—the overwriting, inconsistencies, confusing passages, and character or emotional underachieving. They’ve done so with humor and kindness, intelligence and bravery, and I’m more grateful to them than I can say. Continue reading

Kay: Back to School at the Writers’ Police Academy

“Pistol Pencil” by Liam Wolf, 2014. dribbble.com/neopeaks

I got derailed on my WIP this past week—a project turned up that needed my undivided attention, but until that happened, I’d been going great guns on my story. I was closing in on the finish, I know what needs to happen, I’m getting it down on paper. So that’s been great after that long period a while back when I’d write 500 words every day and delete 1,000. Those were dark times.

I want to finish this one soon; I have a third book planned in a trilogy and I’m ready to move on altogether, away from these characters, even though I haven’t finished book two and book three is barely in the planning stages. Until those three books are done, I’d decided that I’d take no more classes, attend no more conferences except RWA, and sign up for no more workshops. It’s not that I know everything, it’s that I don’t need another class to finish a book. I know what I have to do, and that’s sit down and write the dang thing. I have a couple of other books that have been patiently waiting to be written, all of which are a lot different than this current trilogy and include real FBI stuff, guns, and drama.

So you’ll understand my dilemma when I ran across the Writers’ Police Academy. It looks like fun. You get to drive fast! And shoot! And learn about forensics! And it looks like other fun stuff. And it’s in my home state, so I could visit people while I’m there. It’s filling up fast—they’re already booking into the overflow hotel. What do you think? Should I go?

Want to come with?

 

Kay: Maps Tell You More Than Where You’re Going

A medieval depiction of the Ecumene (1482, Johannes Schnitzer, engraver), constructed after the coordinates in Ptolemy’s Geography and using his second map projection.

I recently had to take a trip out of state to an unfamiliar area. I’m a recent convert to the delights of GPS, so I traveled without fear or fore planning. I just got in that rental car and drove.

I got to my destination safely and without confusion, but I was also a little disconcerted. I hadn’t used a map, so I hadn’t known even the direction in which I headed, since a downpour obscured the sun. If it hadn’t been for the road signs, I wouldn’t have known if I was driving north or south.

I thought of a blog post by Barbara O’Neal that I’d read recently. She describes how novelists draw maps of their fictional worlds so they know what everything looks like and how everything and everyone is placed. I’ve done that myself. I once used graph paper to draw in scale the room where my characters were going to have a shootout. If they stood this far apart, what were the odds that the villain’s gun would shoot straight at that range? I moved the furniture around to give my hero more cover (would it work if the doorway was a little more to the left?), and I drew lines in different colors to show how everyone moved in the course of the scene.

Continue reading

Kay: What Does Your Book Smell Like?

Extracting the smell of an 18th century Bible in the Spangled Bedroom at Knole House. National Trust/James Dobson

I’ve just returned from a trip to my home state, where I engaged in a lot of high-powered thrift store shopping, my cousin’s favorite sporting activity. I don’t buy very much on these excursions, because whatever I purchase has to be either shipped or schlepped back to California, a transaction that depresses the carefree, low-risk joy of the acquisition.

But I’m always in the market for reading material, so when I’m in a thrift shop, I check out the books. The prices at these stores can’t be beat, and often there’s something I can be tempted by.

The biggest problem with books at thrift shops (compared to used book stores, which are a whole different kettle of fish) is that you never know where those books have been. Continue reading

Kay: Kill Your Darlings

This word cloud was built from the text of this post.

Last week my critique group talked about “empty” words—the words we don’t need and don’t notice we use too often. My go-to favorite unnecessary word is “just,” a word I discovered that I’d used 368 times in a 127-page (so far) manuscript. By the time I finished searching and replacing it with a blank space, I’d cut 250 words from my text. Other favorite empty words we found: really, actually, and well.

The problem with finding empty and overused words is that unless you know your favorites and keep a diligent eye out for them, you don’t really (see what I mean?) notice them as you type. They’re in there before you realize it, and they’re invisible to you when you reread your work.

A fun way to discover what words you’re using a lot is to build a word cloud, which shows you at a glance which words you’re using most in your text. Scrivener has a built-in feature for this purpose, but if you’re not a Scrivener user, there are other ways to do it.

Several free programs will build word clouds for you. Continue reading