Physical and Mental Fitness

You need to exercise to maintain your physical health. At the same time, you need to exercise your mind to keep your mental health. One without the other is pretty much useless. Your quality of life requires both halves of this equation. Physical fitness plus mental fitness equals total health. That’s just how it works. Like anything else worthwhile, you have to work at it.
You don’t need expensive gear to get in physical shape.  A good pair of running shoes is pretty much all that you need. Just go for a walk. While mental health is a bit more complicated, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get mentally fit, either. You can play mental games online, but mental fitness is more than playing games like that website that claims to train you brain. You only need to do things to stretch and exercise your mind, just as you would stretch and exercise your muscles. Reading a good book will help. Listening to an audiobook while walking or running counts towards your mental fitness regime. Anything that makes you think works.

You just have to keep this thought in mind: a healthy body doesn’t always mean a healthy mind. You need to exercise your mind to keep it in the peak of health. To that end, you need to challenge your mind. Take an online class through Coursera or some other websites. Find something you are interested in and learn more about it. You need a healthy mind as well as a healthy body to have a good quality of life. I’m not claiming that you can avoid diseases like dementia or Alzheimer’s by exercising your brain. I don’t think you can. I’m saying that you can prevent the decay of your mind if the seeds of those diseases are not already present. I’m saying that you can postpone the inevitable aging of your brain in a manner similar to postponing the debilitation of aging in your body by simply exercising your mind. Crossword puzzles, math puzzles, a good book, and other  things that require you to think are all you really need to maintain your mental health.

While mental puzzles to exercise your mind are helpful, you don’t have to do complicated puzzles to stay mentally fit. All you have to do is let your imagination out to play, read a nonfiction book about a subject that interests you. Stretch your mind with new ideas. You don’t have to spend a lot of money either. Visit your local library and check out books on topics that interest you. Watch documentaries that interest you. Surf the Internet and learn what’s out there. There’s a lot of knowledge out there. All you have to do is look for it. Seek it out and your brain will reward you by letting your mind be healthy.  You could even just sit there and describe the world around you, that’s enough. That’s really all you need to do.

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Posted in General Opinion

The Final Stage of Writing

The last stage of writing is only the last stage if you plan to publish your work. Of course, I’m talking about publishing. Once you have the work polished to your satisfaction, you will have to try selling it. If you have an agent already, you can send the piece to him/her. It’s your agent’s job to sell your work. Agents deal with the publishers and act as a go-between between the publisher and the author. Don’t think you won’t have any input in this process – you will, but you will have help unless you chose to self-publish your work. .

If you don’t have an agent and you want to use traditional publishing, you will need to get an agent. You learn what you can about a particular agent and then query them. you will have to make your query grab attention. It has to stand out before the agent will even read it. if you can’t grab the agent’s attention in the first couple of lines, you won’t stand a chance. At this stage, you aren’t so much selling your novel as you are selling your skill as a writer. You demonstrate that in your query letter. If you can grab the agent’s attention in your query letter, you stand a better chance of getting the agent to look at your work. Word has a number of templates for business letters that you can adapt. The form is important, but you also have to craft the letter as carefully as you did your novel. Typos, grammar, and spelling mistakes will not impress an agent. While you are writing your query letter, you should also be looking at agents. Research them. Know what they are looking for. It will do you no good to send your children’s book to an agent who is looking for erotica. Do your homework before you send the letter out.

There are a number of good websites where you can self publish your work. I use Smashwords for my eBooks and CreateSpace for my print books. Book Baby and Lulu are also out there.
Again, do your homework and research these sites. Find the one that suits your budget and goals. There are a number of places where you can self-publish your work, but remember, you shouldn’t pay to publish your novel.

After you publish, you need to market, but that’s not what I consider a stage of writing – it’s one of the steps of publication, since the point of publication is to sell books. If you are self publishing, you need to write ads and post them where people will see them.

Those are the seven broad stages of writing fiction. I haven’t gone into much detail on them. I have only touched on each of them. Writing is individual. We all have our own way of doing it. We all have our own reasons for doing it. We all have our own expectations and dreams. Whatever stage you are in, keep writing.

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Posted in Fiction, Writing Fiction, Writing Techniques

The Seven Stages of Writing pt. 2

The fourth stage of writing is plotting. Some writers make detailed plot outlines, others just dive in and write. The former are meticulous and the latter actually plot in their heads and go with that. The former have a firm idea of where they are going while the latter have a vague idea of where they are going and just head out to get there. Personally, I fall somewhere in the middle. I start with an outline, a broad sketch of the story. Then I will start writing and go off the outline and back on, then off again. The point I am trying make here, is that everyone has an idea of where they want the story to end up. You have to have some idea of where you want to end up before you begin writing. It’s as simple, and as difficult, as that.

The fifth stage is the actual writing. You just write. You go to your favorite writing spot and just sit down – or stand, if that’s how you write – and write. You write until you reach the end of your outline or story, if you don’t make a formal outline. This stage can take the longest, depending on how detailed your world building, your characters, and your outline are. Get the words out. Don’t agonize over whether the words are exactly right. You can fix any problems in the rewrite. And there will be a rewrite — many of them, in fact. No one writes the perfect draft without a revision. Anyone who claims otherwise is either a liar, or revises as they write. There’s nothing wrong with revising as you write, but it will make the journey to your first draft a lot longer.

Which brings us to the the hardest part of writing – revision. This is the point at which you look at what you have written and decide what you will keep in the piece and what you have to get rid of. Sometimes you need to add things. I have a tendency to have a lot of talking heads and need to interject some activity to show where the characters are having their conversations and what they are doing. Sometimes you have to cut things out that you really like. Be ruthless. I once had a lovely start to a story where I moved in on the planet, down to the character on the ground. It was beautiful. It was poetic. I could visualize it in a movie – it added nothing to the story. It would only be two seconds in a movie and took up five pages in the novel. I cut it. I won’t say it wasn’t painful because it was, but the overall novel was better for it. I think the result justified the amputation. As with a decorative shrub, a little pruning makes for  a better story. Trim the untidy pieces from the story and give it the perfect shape. Revision is necessary for a good story. Don’t skimp it.

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Posted in General Opinion, Writing Techniques

Seven Stages of Writing

The seven stages of writing are generating an idea, world building, character development, plotting, writing, revising, and publishing. That assumes that you plan to publish of course. These stages are actually processes.

Before you can write anything, you have to have some idea what you are going to write about, fiction or blog or even nonfiction, you will need to brainstorm ideas for topics. For fiction the story is a topic. For my book Accidental Colony, this process yielded this: A group of scientists become stranded on a planet four light-years from Earth and must learn to survive. That is the one sentence premise of the novel.

Creating a one sentence summary of your story is a good idea. It gives you a clear idea of what the story is about. Of course you need to expand on that one sentence, but it is a good place to start. To get that one sentence, I played the what if game. What if scientists went to another planet to study it. What if something happened and they became stranded? So brainstorming is the first stage of writing.

After that, you have to build the world, in the case of Accidental Colony I literally had to create the world. World building is not just for science fiction and fantasy. No matter what kind of story you are telling, you have to create the world in which the action takes place. Otherwise, you would have characters floating around in a vacuum, which would not make a good story. For one thing, humans cannot live in a vacuum. You will have to give them a place where there is air. If your story is set on earth, you can use the world around you and just create a town. Or you can set your story in a well known city and create a street in that city. The point here is that you are creating a space where your story will take place.

Once you do that, or before you create your space – there’s no hard fast rule of order here, except for starting with an idea, you need to create the people who occupy that space. This can range from a sixteen-page character development chart, to one or two paragraphs on the character. I will say that the more details you have for a character, the more real they become. I usually range from five pages of details about the main characters to a simple one-page character sketch. I usually try to have something on all of my characters.

So those are the first three stages of character development, brainstorming, world building, and character development. As I said after you get your idea for your story, you can develop your characters and build your world, or you can build your world first and then develop your characters. There’s no hard rule, but it is a good idea to do these three things before you move on to the next stages. Next week, I will discuss the fourth and fifth stages of writing.

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Posted in General Opinion

Feline Freedom League Report: August 2015

From: Agent Snickers To: Mr. Whiskers Date: 2 August 2015
Subject: Mission Report

I was already in pain when they took me for interrogation. I gave them nothing. The torture has not ended though. I still find it painful to walk. They force some vile stuff down my throat and I find it unpalatable, but somehow, after they do that the pain I had is not quite as bad. I do not know how much longer I can continue with my duties as an agent. I will only say that I will do my best to learn of any plans the humans may be hatching against feline kind.

I will do my part; don’t doubt that I will do that. I am just as committed to our cause as any cat here. I will work harder because of the pain, not less. I am no shirker. I will use my pain as a motivator. I am certain that the humans are responsible for the pain. I do not know how they have introduced this pain, but I know that they have. They have named it Arthur or Titus, I have not figured out which is correct. I will find out and I will defeat it.

From: Agent Storm To: Mr. Whiskers Date: 2 August 2015
Subject: Mission Report

For the record, no one has accused Agent Snickers of shirking her duties. We can see that she is incapacitated. If she asserts that she hasn’t given up any information during her last interrogation, I, for one, believe her. I hope that Agent Snickers understands that she has my full support in her time of need. I hope that she regains her former agility soon.

That said, I believe that the Younger Female has undergone an interrogation of her own. She and the Older Female were gone from this place for a time. They returned for a dark time, and then the Younger Female was gone again. When she returned this time, she smelled of the Vet. She appears to be in pain, which has led to my conclusion that she went for interrogation. No doubt, she found reporting to her superiors not as pleasant as we find reporting to headquarters.

Agent Probie has been trying to ascertain what the humans were doing to the Younger Female to put her in such pain. As of this writing, he has not been successful. He and I have discussed his attempts and agreed that he should continue his efforts to learn what he can there. We may have discovered a division in the enemy ranks. We will look for ways to take advantage of the situation if we can. We will keep you apprised of our results as we can.

How has Agent Pica been coping since the loss of Agent Trouble? We have not heard and would appreciate an update. I found her quite agreeable when we worked together for that time. I hope that she has received a new partner. I believe that agents need to work in pairs as a cat alone is not able to cover all the territory that they should. Please let me know how she is doing.

Michigan Humane Society: Somebody here needs you.

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Posted in Feline Freedom League Report

Mowing the Lawn

Mowing the lawn is a pain. Homeowner ship is a pain. My lawn mower is cordless and the battery is going bad on me. It’s not one of the kinds where I can change the battery myself, so it will cost me to replace the battery. My sister had an electric one but it had a cord. She gave it to me. I used it a few times and then it died. Doesn’t it figure? I had to get a new one after all. Doesn’t it figure?

Anyway, it takes me a good two and a half hours to mow my yard, wrangling the cord. It’s a pain, but it is better than struggling with the gas and oil and such for a gas mower. The lawn mower itself is lighter than a gas mower would be as well. That’s important. My lot is a third of an acre. I know a good portion of it is paved driveway and the house, but that still leaves a lot to mow. I could use a lawn tractor, but I want an electric mower, as they are more environmentally friendly. They are also quieter.

I know that there are advantages to having a gas lawn mower. Gas engines are more powerful than electric one. The problem with gas mowers is that you can’t just plug them in and have them work. You have to get gas and put it in the mower. Then you have do maintenance that isn’t there with an electric. All mowers should be cleaned after use, so that isn’t the issue. gas mowers need more work than elective ones.

It all boils down to personal preferences. I prefer the quieter sound of the electric mower. Then there is the weight. A gas mower is heavier than an electric one. When I was online searching for a new mower, I found robotic ones. That would be cool, but they are cost prohibitive. It would cost me over a thousand dollar to have a Roomba® for my lawn. I would also have to put up a fence around the entire perimeter of my lawn. I’d rather have one that I could operate with a joystick. Then I could simply turn it when necessary. Having a robot mow my lawn would be cool, but doing it myself is reality. Sometimes reality can suck.

The American Dream is to own your own home. That ownership comes with responsibilities, one of which is maintaining your lawn. Responsibility is always with us. Mowing the lawn once a week during the season, is part of home ownership. It’s not the most pleasant part, but I tell myself that I am getting a workout when I do it. there’s a lot to be said for living in an apartment, or renting a place where they mow the grass for you. Some days I wish I did live in an apartment. Mostly though, I like living in my house. If only I could just enjoy the lawn without having to mow it.

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Posted in General Opinion

Taking a Break

Our power went out in the windstorm we had a few weeks ago. I woke up to no power. I was still able to go for my walk, which was less enjoyable due to the noise from all the generators in the neighborhood. I could hardly hear the birds. The ground was littered with leaves and branches from the storm. Nothing huge came down, but it was still a good walk despite the noise.
I had to shower in the dark, which wasn’t that hard. I don’t mean to imply that it was complete darkness, only that the bathroom doesn’t get good natural light. I was only showering and not doing much else. The temperature was in the fifties, which meant that, without the heat, I didn’t linger. Then I was faced with the problem of making coffee. Fortunately, my coffeemaker is the type that will let me pour hot water through it, so I have coffee. I have it in a thermo pot, which is keeping it hot.

My routine was impacted because I couldn’t access my journal file, but I could write the morning entry on my tablet. I write in my journal every day, even during a blackout. I simply uploaded it to the network after the power came back on. I also couldn’t work on the novel I was revising. That file is not in a format that I could access from the tablet. So I wrote a blog instead. That’s why it is a good idea to have alternative project, like blog posts. I could still be productive even if it wasn’t in the way I had planned. I just had to slow down a bit. That’s cool. It’s good to do that once in a while.

Power outages don’t have to be catastrophic. They don’t even have to be real. Just unplug all your electronic devices and pretend that you don’t have power. Then just sit back and enjoy the quiet. Try writing with a pen and paper, or even with your tablet, the way that I did. It doesn’t matter. All you have to do is relax.

Take this time and connect with your writing soul, or your inner child, if you prefer. It’s the thing that is deep inside you. If you aren’t a writer, this is also good for you. It will give you time to think; time to learn what you need in your life. We don’t think enough about that.

The power outage was on a Sunday. It gave me the time to contemplate things. I didn’t obsess, except over whether the battery on my tablet would last long enough for me to finish my journal entry. It was quiet and peaceful. I almost enjoyed it. it was nice. It was restful. That’s not to say that I wasn’t happy when the power came back on. I’m not that into the basics, but it made for a nice break. Taking breaks like that has to be good for you. so unplug from the world for a few hours and enjoy.

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Posted in General Opinion
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