Spring Cleaning Your Writing

It’s sunny and warm in Portland, and there’s no better place on earth when such is the case. (People visit here in spring or summer, fall in love and move. Then the fall and winter rains set in. Rah roh.)

This year, more than any I can remember recently, I’m feeling very spring-y. Maybe it is because I spent a month in France earlier this year (seems like a distant memory now), or because there are so many ongoing changes in my life. But whatever it is, I’m feeling like shaking the cobwebs out of my house, my brain, and my writing. Time for a refresh!

Here are some things I’ve been thinking about cleaning up:

Mindset. This word is becoming cliched, which is too bad, because I like it. Wave the word under my nose and I’ll follow you anywhere. Maybe because I’ve always believed how important it is to maintain a positive mindset, even if I can’t always do it. Things I’m looking at: Am I constantly complaining about how little time I have to write, or actually sitting down and getting to it when I do have a few minutes? Am I fretting about how “good” I am or am not? am I complaining about how hard it is to complete this rewrite? I need to pay attention to the crap my brain spews at me and change it to a more positive message. I’m reading a book called Train Your Brain that talks about this. There’s not a lot new in it, but she explains it in a simple, logical manner. I like.

Process. Remember how glorious it was, when first you started writing, to get so absorbed in your work that time passed and you had no sense of it going by? Yeah, me, too. That feeling is why so many of us write. And it is really easy to get led away from it. Happens like this: you start obsessing over every word and sentence, polishing your prose relentlessly before you move onto a new scene. Uh-uh. There’s a process to follow for your writing and it goes like this.

–Write a discovery/rough/first draft. Make it crappy. You won’t have to try too hard to do this, because it will be crappy. Discovery drafts are. That’s why there are called that. You’re learning the story and getting it down on the page.

–Rewrite the draft. Go back over it, ponder, rearrange, deepen characters, makes sure your plot is working, look at theme, and then write a second draft.

–Rewrite again. And again. And again–for as long as it takes.

–Revise. When your characters and plot and everything else is working, then you can start polishing.

So take a look at where you are in the writing process and clean it up. Are you writing a discovery draft, but toiling over every line? Cut it out. Write fast. Get that story on the page. Are you ready to revise (see below) but still tinkering with character motivation and arc? You need to go back to rewriting.

Polishing. Remember that you need to wait to do this until the final run-through! Though one caveat is if you know you use too many adverbs, you can start being aware of that as you write. But no obsessing! Here are some things you might want to pay attention to:

–Strong verbs. Are you using them? Or reverting to the same old, same old variants of “to be?” The blog post I wrote on this years ago is still one of my most popular ever, so I think it is something we all struggle with. But also something worth spending time on.

–Adverbs. Gotta love ’em. I do. And I use them way too much. There is a place for the use of adverbs, there really is, but the key concept is to use them judiciously. That way they will have some oomph and impact.

–Sentence structure. Make sure yours is varied, for one thing. Nothing is more monotonous than reading the same sentence structure over and over again. And, also consider shortening up those babies. Here’s a great blog post that explains more.

Reading. I’ve been trying to spend more time reading books and less time on the internet, reading forgettable articles. Besides Train Your Brain, mentioned above, I’m finally getting around to reading A Gentleman in Moscow, which I highly recommend. There’s a satisfaction in sinking into a novel or memoir that you just don’t get from quick hits on the interwebs.

Foundation Rituals. All the “boring” stuff, like meditation, exercise, eating healthfully, getting enough sleep. Yada, yada, yada. You’ve heard it all before a million times and so have I. (And I’ve written about it.) But these things really do make a difference. And at this time of year, it is easy to get re-inspired to walk more and eat all the seasonal produce that is coming into markets. Right?

So, that’s the spring cleaning I’m thinking about. How about you? Leave a comment and tell me how you’re cleaning up your writing! And if, in all this cleaning, you realize you might need a little help with your writing, maybe I can help. Hit me up and let’s chat about your work.

Photos from everystockphoto. 

Is it procrastination or percolation?

Right now I’m supposed to be writing. I have some time cleared away for a session attending to my rewrite. But I’m not writing. I’m doing social media. (VERY important.) I’m making a list of all the things I want to accomplish in the next four months. (Before I leave for my next France workshop.)Emailing people who have expressed interest in attending.

In other words, doing everything and anything but writing.

But, here’s the deal.  I’m at a tricky spot that needs working out. I’ve looked at the chapter a couple times today and sat back in my chair and sighed. Furrowed my eyebrows. Twisted my mouth. Sighed again. Then clicked on over to check out Twitter.

Because in the back of my mind, things are percolating. Every time I look at the manuscript, I get a bit closer to figuring out how to work on it. And since I don’t know yet, I’m letting things percolate while I do other less brain-fatiguing work.

Creativity is a cycle. You can’t go full out on it 24 hours a day. You’ve got to give your brain a break. It is useful if you can actually refuel it by doing something you love to do. This morning on a phone call, I knitted, for instance. That was lovely–and knitting has the advantage of helping jar loose ideas.

My friend Patty Bechtold tweeted this Elizabeth Gilbert quote:  “Time, when treated like a bandit, will behave like one.” Sometimes, you just have to take the time to knit, to do your social media, to go for a walk, to weed the garden and let those ideas percolate.

It is not procrastination, it is percolation.

By the way, if you’ve got things percolating that aren’t making it onto the page, maybe you need a coach. Let’s chat!

I used to drink coffee from an electric perc coffemaker like the one in the photo. Those were the days. Man, that coffee was strong! Just the way I like it.

Why It Pays to Prep For Writing a Novel (A Love Letter)

I am not big on preparation. I am more of a jump-right-into-whatever-I’m-doing kind of gal. I never read instructional manuals, instead preferring to just start pushing buttons and see what happens. I glance at recipes and often halfway through realize I’m missing crucial ingredients.  And, much to the consternation of my husband, I rarely follow maps.

Yet when it comes to writing, the best experiences I’ve ever had banging out a novel came when I had spent lots of time preparing ahead of time before I got to the actual writing. (And I’ve taught prepping for the novel numerous times.) But the last couple of novels I’ve written fell into the category of brilliant ideas that came to me like a lightning bolt from the blue, which meant that I was so eager to get to them that I just launched right in.

And so I did. With varying results. I wouldn’t say the first drafts were terrible, but in both cases they had some pretty big plot holes and character issues.  Which then required serious revision in the next go-round. And I’ll be honest, sometimes dealing with big issues in a rewrite is hard, hard work.

The rewrite I’m working on right now is…hmm….the second? Third? for my agent (I’m truly blessed that she is willing to work with me until I’ve gotten it right). And only recently, after much pondering, note-taking, and hair-pulling-out, have I gotten to the point where I understand some basic things. Like my main character’s motivation. And her flaws. What she truly wants, not just what she says she wants. Her love interest’s character arc. And so on.

And so, I am here to tell urge you to do some prep work for your novel, for freaking God’s sake. You will be so much happier when you launch into the fun of rough draft writing because you will have some idea of what is going on.

You might like to know, at bare minimum:

A lot about your characters. Use a character dossier, or try out The Story Planner, which has a ton of different ways to suss out a character, and nail the externals first. Then proceed to the internal—desires, motivation, flaws, etc. For my money, it all hinges on the characters. You can never do too much prep work on characters. Figure out as much about them as you possibly can, I say!

The setting. Get a good idea of the basic locations you’ll be using before you start. (You can add on as you go.) Where does your character live? Work? Hang out? Doe she live in the country or the city? How does this affect the story?

The plot. I like to work from a loose list that can be added to or rearranged. And lately, I’ve fallen in love with using index cards, which can easily be shuffled and changed up. It really is helpful to have some idea where you’re going.

Writing a novel is a back and forth process. You do some scene writing and then realize you need to know stuff, so back you go to your character dossiers and your plot list. And then you get ideas for scenes so you return to the writing. That’s the nature of the beast. But I strongly advise you to do as much prep work as you possibly can before you lunge into it.  The next novel I start is going to be supported by as much prep work as I can possibly do.

And I might even start using maps once in a while. Or reading all the way through a recipe before I begin cooking. Or read instruction manuals. Nah, can’t really see that happening.

Are you a prepared type of person or more like me? How does this affect your writing?

And if you are struggling with any aspect of writing a novel, from prep to rewriting, I do have a couple of openings on my coaching roster.  Pop me an email and let’s talk!

Lucky Me/Grateful Me/How Good It Is To Be a Writer

Arles-sur-Tech

So, we’re coming up on the end of our third week here in Ceret. After Saturday, we have one more week here, and then Debbie and I have three days in Lyon before heading back to the states.

Already, we are talking sadly about how fast the time has gone. How hard it will be to leave. How much fun we’ve had. How much writing we’ve gotten done. How wonderful it has all been.

And I am sad that this writing sojourn will be over (I refuse to use the word soon in that sentence). But I am also so, so grateful to have this opportunity. I tell myself how lucky I am. But then I stop and think about it. Years ago, when I was living in Sun Valley, Idaho and leaving to return to college after a semester off a friend told me, “Remember, you make you own luck.”

I think I believe that. Yes, we are lucky to be here, but it also takes work. It takes work to find the housing, figure out the travel connections, make the arrangements and so on. But more than that, it takes believing that you can do it. As Debbie, my business partner in Let’s Go Write, good friend, and mastermind of this trip says, “You just have to decide that you’re going to do it.”

(Sort of like writing, right? Would any sane person embark on the process of writing a novel? Or a memoir? Or even a short story or essay? Well, no. But then I’ve always said that writers are the best, most interesting people around so if we are all crazy I guess that is okay.)

Green shutters in Ceret

This is starting to sound preachy, and I don’t mean it to. My intent is to open your mind, and expand your horizons and make you start believing you can do it, too. I’ve been coming to France once a year (this year it will be twice) now for six years. The first time I came, I flew over by myself and made my way to the Air BnB room in an apartment by myself and I was scared to death. I’d gotten used to traveling alone all over the states, but I’d not traveled internationally by myself ever. For that matter, I hadn’t traveled internationally for 30 years.

I managed just fine, of course, because one does. But hailing a taxi was scary (my landlord did it for me), trying to figure out what track the train left from was terrifying (luckily, Debbie met me there), and who knew you had to haul all your suitcases up a tiny staircase once you got on the train? Plus, the French speak very fast and half the time I was left staring at someone trying to talk to me with my mouth open in the universal expression of, “huh?”

But I also remember the feeling of exhilaration that overcame me that first year. How excited I was that I could actually manage to do this. And that feeling has not lessened in all my journeys here since. I still sometimes find myself in a car on a narrow French road lined with plane trees, thinking, I’m in France, I’m in France, I’m in France.

So if I can do it, you can do it (and if you want to come for a writing workshop, consider sojourning with us in September in Collioure.)

It is work, luck, and writing that got me here.  Besides my family, writing has gotten me all the best things in my life–travel, adventure, friends, fun, excitement. As I sit here gazing out from behind my computer to the French sunshine, all I can think is how lucky I am, how grateful I am, but most of all, how good it is to be a writer.

Where has your writing taken you? Leave a comment, or join the Facebook group and we can chat there.

On Travel and Writing (A Love Letter)

As you read this, I’ll just be settling into my home-for-a-month in Ceret. (Follow me on Instagram for lots of photos.) Because I will be spending several days in transit, I went in search of an older post to set up ahead of time and this one from 2015 seemed especially appropriate. Enjoy!

I love travel, as you might have guessed. So let me count the ways, and convince you, too.

 1. Travel inspires me.  Duh.  This is the obvious reason most people travel.  Immersing oneself in different locales and cultures shows us new things, fires new neurons, inspires new ideas.   And, of course, ideas are good.  They are our life blood.  A writer can never have too many ideas.  Ever. 

 2.  I’m different when I travel.  I don’t know anyone, other than the people I’m traveling with, so all bets are off.  I can drink all night, swing from the rafters act anyway I want–talk to people I meet on the street, stop and stretch in the middle of the sidewalk, gaze with obvious rapture at a medieval cathedral.  Nobody knows me so I’m free.  And isn’t this what we long to be on the page?  Once I regularly experience the feeling of freedom in my regular life, it is much easier to translate it to the page. 

 3.  Travel sometimes makes me uncomfortable.  Okay, let’s face it.  Most of our lives are not hard.  Well, my life, anyway, is not hard.  Mostly I sit at the computer all day long and convince myself, hand on forehead that I’m suffering.  But travel is a different thing.  There are times when I don’t know what’s happening, or what stop the train just pulled into, or what the person in front of me is trying to say to me.  There are times I’ve probably embarrassed myself.  But you know what?  This is good, excellent, even.  It is good to feel discomfort once in awhile.  Because, after all, isn’t that what we put our characters through? Don’t we always say, the more conflict the better? Yes, yes, we do. 

 4.  Travel is fun.  And I don’t care if you’re trying to write or become an insurance agent, fun is important.  We get veeeery serious about our lives most of the time. 

 5.  Travel makes me adventurous.   I’ve gotten obsessed with reading the blog of Eugene Kaspersky.  He runs some crazy big cyber-security site and spends tons of time traveling, some of it adventuring.  He climbs volcanoes in Kamchatka, treks across snow fields in Iceland, circumnavigates the planet, and so on.  I’m just going to say right now I will do none of these things, ever.  But I love reading about him doing them.  And when I travel in my own tame way, I step out of my comfort zone into my own adventures.  And there are always adventures when you travel. 

 6.  Travel makes me try new things.  Like the unknown shellfish we tried at a seafood dinner in Port-Vendres, or climbing the side of a mountain (I exaggerate a tiny bit here) to reach the ruin of a castle when my hips were screaming in pain (again, a tad bit of poetic license, but still).  It can be as simple as turning now a new street, or trying a different café–things I don’t do often enough here because I so easily get stuck in a rut.  Things that may somehow work their way into your writing. 

 7.  Travel lets me meet different kinds of people. There aren’t a whole lot of French men or British women carousing down my street, for instance.  And it is relatively rare to even hear someone speak in a different tongue in my day to day life.  If there’s one thing I love, its meeting people (I confess to a terrible extrovert streak–I’ll talk to anybody, anywhere).  And one of the best things about travel is the different people you meet–the couple from Australia in Paris, or the nice lady from London who was toiling up the hill beside me.  Again, who knows what person might spark an idea for a character? 

 Okay, so I hear you.  You’ve got a newborn baby, you’re in school, you have a demanding career.  And travel to Europe, or anywhere else for that matter, is just not on the horizon.   But, honestly, you can “travel” in your hometown.  Change up your routine, do something different, drive a new way to work.  Do something, anything to shake things up. 

 Last week, the morning after I got off the plane, my brain as foggy as a morning in November, and inspired by my visit to the Inter-marche Hyper (read=big, very big) supermarket in France, I went to the American version here that I usually avoid.  My shopping took me twice as long as I stumbled through the aisles trying to figure out where things were, but I discovered new products and chatted with an adorable, funny cashier.   One never knows when someone just like him shall appear in a book. 

So, how about it?  How about we all spend the rest of this year devoted to living with a spirit of adventure?  I’m in, are you? 

 Do you love to travel or hate it? Hit reply and tell me. (I’ll have a good wi-fi connection and be eager to hear from you.)

Rewriting: How to Deal With Comments

Okay, so there it is–your manuscript.  You’ve just gotten it back from your beta readers. Or your editor. Or your agent. Perhaps it is a lovely stack of papers with writing all over the page. Or maybe it is a file on the computer, laden with those little comment boxes.

You’ve read over all the comments.  You agree with most of them. You’re ready to dig in.  But there you sit, staring at the pages. Where to start? Sometimes the sheer number of comments, written or digital, can feel daunting.

(Take it from someone who, earlier this week, invented all sorts of excuses as to why she couldn’t dive into her commented-upon manuscript. Because it’s snowing! Because I need to find my tax receipts! Because I really must finish knitting that sweater front. Lame, every single one of them.)

So here’s some guidance.

  • To begin, read, or at least glance, through the manuscript, so that you can get a feel for the gist of the comments. This is a safe, easy way to get started. You don’t really have to do anything, you’re just getting the lay of the land.
  • Now take a break for chocolate and coffee. Or wine.  It’s five o-clock somewhere, right?
  • Now that you’re revived, get back to it. Have paper and pen handy. Start working your way through the comments, with these caveats, one at a time. But here are some rules that will help you not faint with the effort:

–If you can deal with it quickly and easily, do it.

–If you’re flummoxed by a comment, or you don’t feel like dealing with it yet, skip it.  Make a deal with yourself that you will do this. You don’t want to get stuck obsessing over a comment. Better to move on and get some momentum going.

–If the comment is speaking to a larger issue, make a note about it on your paper.  You might need to parse out some ideas about it and the paper is the place to do it.

  • Take a break! More chocolate! Or maybe some popcorn. Few things better.
  • Okay, back at it. Continue working your way through the comments, accepting them as you’ve finished them, and noting the ones that will take more thought on your paper.
  • Once you’re all the way through the comments, go back to the ones you skipped or that need more work. Now that you’ve bravely gotten this far, you’re on a roll and momentum will carry you through.
  • You’re done! Celebrate. Champagne? Nah. Maybe just more red wine.

By the way, I wrote another post on rewriting earlier this week.  This one was on draft passes, a useful concept at a certain point in your rewriting. So go to it!

Let me know how it goes. Leave a comment!

Rewriting: Draft Passes (A Helpful Writing Tip)

The passing lane. Like a draft pass. Right?

Ah, rewriting. So fun! So engaging! So intense! I’m serious, I actually really like it. But it can also be mind-boggling.  Where to begin? How to approach it? What to do?

One concept that may be useful to you is that of draft passes.  I’ve done this myself and recommended it to others, but I’ve never had a tricky name for it until now. And for that, I thank Rachael Herron, who mentions it in her new (and highly recommended) book,  Fast Draft Your Memoir: Write Your Life.  

A draft pass is when you go through your manuscript looking for one specific thing and that thing only.  For instance, you might want to track the throughline of a subplot.  Or check that the description of a character is consistent throughout.  Or look at and vary how you note character movements. (I tend to have all my characters shrug, nod, and blow out long streams of breath, for instance.)

Isolating this one thing makes it easier to track it in the morass of pages that constitute a novel.  Draft passes work best after the bulk of your rewriting is done and you’re finished with the big story questions.  For instance, I just got notes from my agent on the rewrite of my romance novel. One thing I need to do a draft pass on is my two main characters thinking how attractive they each find the other.  There’s way too much of it, and readers need to see it rather than have it told to them. Another draft pass will be devoted to heightening the main character’s motivation for not allowing herself to be swept off her feet by the hero.

I liken the process of draft passes to gently pulling pages of the manuscript apart and dropping a few pithy new words on sentences or even a scene in.   You can use the search feature to help you find what you need, or, hopefully somewhere you have a list of scenes that will guide you.  (If you don’t, I recommend you create one immediately!) And I’m sure those of you who use Scrivener have all kinds of cool ways to track things that I’m not aware of.

Oh, and just in case you were wondering, Janice Hardy had an excellent article on the difference between revision, rewriting, and redrafting on her blog this week. Check it out.

Have you ever done draft passes? Leave a comment or come over to the Facebook page and discuss.

P.S.–this post contains one teeny, tiny affiliate link.

Whining on the Yacht (A love letter)

One of my dearest friends read last week’s post with the subject line, a love letter about winning, and wrote me that she thought it said whining. To which I responded, what an excellent idea for a newsletter. And so here we go.

In the spirit of the Olympics, I am a championship whiner.  I can whine about anything, and I do.  It’s too rainy, it’s too sunny (only a native Oregonian would whine about that), I’m too tired, I’m hungry, I’m full, I can’t focus, my knee hurts, I don’t want to exercise, my writing is crap…on and on it goes.

Until I get pulled up short and reminded how lucky I am.  Most recently it was when I was watching a Facebook live event of an energy healer.  (I’m pretty fascinated with this guy, Charlie Goldsmith.) As he worked with people on camera, others commented. By the time I quit watching, there were something like 18,000 comments. And 99.9% listed the terrible physical problems people were having, and begging for help.

If that doesn’t make you sit up and realize how lucky you are, I don’t know what does. Which is when I remind myself of the phrase, no whining on the yacht. I’m not sure where this originally came from, but I first heard it from my daughter-in-law a couple years ago.  (Okay, I just looked it up.  There’s an article dated 2010 that attributes it to U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer.)

I have a wonderful family and friends, an amazing agent who loves my work and is determined to sell it, and oh yeah—I get to spend the whole month of March in France, writing. So yeah, not a lot to whine about.

And, most of all, I’m a writer. I get to write every day of my life and many days I get to work with other writers.  I have an activity that I never get tired of, and I never, ever get bored, because there’s always another story to uncover.

So yeah, my novels may not have found a publisher yet, and I may wish I had more time to devote solely to writing them. I’m not rich, money-wise, and I do have chronic knee pain.  I get called on way too often to watch grandchildren or drive neighbor kids to school because I work at home.  I’m always, always, always, looking for more time to do the things I love.

But who freaking cares? Because I’m a writer. I’m one of the lucky ones in the world, because I get to make up stories and bring them to the world.

(This article first appeared in my weekly newsletter, The Abundant Writer. If you’d like it to arrive directly into your inbox each Sunday morning, you can subscribe in the form to the right.)

What’s Your Word Count–and Does it Matter?

I’ve been working with one of my clients, who shall remain nameless (Hi, Mitch!) to trim down his long middle grade fantasy.  Clocking in at over 140,000 words it is, as I said, long.

Meanwhile, I recently set out to write a short story.   Apparently, I have a hard time writing anything short.  The story ended up at almost 15,000 words. Which isn’t terrible, but still on the long side for a short story. (When I was a kid, my Mom subscribed to all the lady’s magazines of the day and back then, they all published fiction, what they called short stories.  I expected short stories to be short, like one page or so.  I was always annoyed at how long short stories were. So it’s ironic that I am now the queen of writing long short stories.)  It gets worse. Last year I set out to write a novella.  It’s just shy of 50,000 words, which is short novel length.

Does word count matter?

So, with all these varying word counts, does it really matter? Should my client and I be struggling to trim scenes to make his novel shorter? Should I turn my novella into a novel by adding a few scenes?

Word count does matter–publishers will balk at anything over 100k. The first novel (women’s fiction) I submitted to my agent came in at over 100k and I was instructed to trim it done.  Publishers don’t like long works because they  will cost more to print, for one thing.  And even if your longer book is self pubbed, many people will balk at reading such a long novel. I know my own reading habits, and I tend not to finish overly long books, so I wouldn’t buy one in the first place.

On the other hand, if something is too short it might seem flimsy.  Trivial.  Not substantial enough to warrant going to the trouble of publishing. Of course, in these days of self publishing, all those rules have gone out the window.  But, still–many’s the review I’ve read on Amazon complaining about the shortness of a book.

So, what’s a writer to do? 

Probably aim for a reasonable word count within industry standards is the best option. What, you ask, are those industry standards? Well, funny thing, they tend to vary a lot according to genre. Or who you ask. Or what way the wind is blowing. Or how the planets are arranged.

But, I’ve  come up with some good guesses estimates. While I’m citing specific sources, I looked around a lot to find credible ones that seemed pretty ballpark. So I think the following are good guidelines:

According to Reedsy, here are standard word counts by genre:

  • Commercial and literary novels: 80,000 – 100,000
  • Science fiction and fantasy: 100,000 – 115,000
  • Young adult: 55,000 – 70,000
  • Middle grade: 20,000 – 55,000
  • Romance: 80,000 – 100,000
  • Mystery: 75,000 – 100,000
  • Thriller: 90,000 – 100,000
  • Memoir: 80,000 – 90,000
  • Western: 45,000 – 75,000

And here, some counts for shorter works (from Christopher Fielden):

 

  • Flash fiction: under 1,000 words
  • Short story: 500 to 17,000 words
  • Novelette: 7,500 to 25,000 words
  • Novella: 10,000 to 70,000 words
  • Novel: 50,000 words or more


Some random things to keep in mind:

 

  • The standard word count per page of double-spaced manuscript is still considered to be 250.
  • The industry relies on word count rather than page count because page size varies according to format, but word count remains the same.
  • Edgar Allen Poe defined a short story as a story that could be read in one sitting.
  • Here’s a fun infographic of the word counts of some famous books.  (593,674 for A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth!)
  • According to Amazon, the median length for all books is about 64,000 words.
  • And, finally, the best rule to adhere to is this: write your book as long as it needs to be.

What’s the word count of your current project? Do you worry about it? Leave a comment. Or come on over to the Facebook page to discuss.

***I have room for one client or editing job during my upcoming writing sojourn in France. Email me at charlotte@charlotterainsdixon.com if you’re interested.

Why Writing is Good For Your Brain (A Love Letter)

Here’s reason #5,001 (I’m counting): that writing is a worthwhile activity: it’s good for your brain.

Allow me to digress a bit. I’m teaching myself to crochet. (Head on over to the blog if you want to see a photo of my first finished piece, a scarf heavy enough to qualify as a weighted blanket if it were an afghan).   Every time I start a new project, I puzzle over the directions, which read like a foreign language—even to somebody used to deciphering knitting patterns like me.  Then I need to Google obscure abbreviations I don’t understand, and often refer to two or three sites to figure out what I’m supposed to do.  And finally I usually have to start the project several times before I get it right.

While I’m doing this I swear I can feel all the neurons in my brain firing.  Learning something new like this is good for my brain! And if there’s one thing I desire to maintain, it’s my brain. Which is why I do crossword puzzles, read a wide variety of book genres from non-fiction to fiction, and try to get my butt out the door or to my stationary bike to exercise. (Yes, exercise is good for the brain as well as the body.) 

But as I loop yarn around my crochet hook and congratulate myself for being a lifelong learner, I keep thinking about writing.  The thought occurred to me that it must be an excellent thing for your brain to be engaged in. Because, think about how hard your brain works when you’re trying to figure out how to make a plot work, or what happened in your character’s backstory that created her motivation that powers the story.  It’s hard to think up new worlds and create people to populate them.  (And I believe that is the reason some struggle to find time to write—they don’t have the necessary brain space to do it, what with the crazy amount of input we get these days.)

So I went to the Google and looked it up. And found this: “challenging your brain activates processes that maintain brain cells and stimulate communication between them.” Boo-yah. But this is even better: a German study observed fiction writers at work and found that their brains showed similarities to people skilled at other complex actions, such as sports.

Sometimes I think we need excuses to take time to write (which is why I maintain that afore-mentioned list). So next time your partner complains about you burying yourself in your writing cave, you can haughtily inform him or her that you are improving your brain.  Never mind that you’d much rather be writing than watching Fast and Furious #18 for the thousandth time.

Do leave a comment and tell me how you’ve improved your brain recently.

Note: these love letter are taken from my weekly newsletter. If you’d prefer to have them come right into your inbox, sign up to the right!