Saturday, 31 January 2015

My editing tips (as a non-editor) - Part 1

Source: Dreamstime.com
I might have mentioned a time or six, that editing is not my strongest skill when it comes to writing. It still means that I have to edit my work, before sending it off to a professional for that final touch. So what do I do, since I don’t know what I am doing?

Over the years I have learned a few things about editing in general, but also about things that work for me as I start preparing a manuscript for publication. Here are the first 5 tips that work for me:
  1. I print the manuscript on paper. Being sensitive about environmental issues, I print the manuscript, two pages per page and double sided – thereby reducing the amount of paper used by 75%.
  2. It is an established fact that we retain more information from reading on paper than a computer screen – hence the print. After printing, I read it beginning to end, no editing, with the exception of spelling or obvious grammar mistakes.
  3. I used a set of fine markers – all colours – to tackle this editing phase. Small things like missing or incorrect punctuation marks, red pen. Editing text, or adding more words – colour of the day. This also helps me to keep track to see if I am on schedule. If I plan to publish a book, say the 21st of April, I need to plan my own editing to be finished by 24 March. This will give my editor enough time to apply her red pen, and myself enough time to work through those editorial gems for updating my work.
    Note:
     Allow yourself enough time for this process. There is nothing more frustrating to a reader, waiting in anticipation for your next book, to be told that you have extended the publication date.
  4. I edit with a notebook next to me. Despite my good intentions, it takes me about two years to write a novel. This means that there are some things that I forgot, or that was not quite sorted out while I wrote the first draft. (Reminder: while I plan some aspects of my books, I am a pantser at heart). Therefore the notebook. Place names, detail descriptions of the setting, that sort of thing. My notes help with consistency throughout the story.
    Note: 
    In Michael’s Mystery, the people of Kryane live in a desert and I had to be super careful with descriptions on how they dressed and how they lived. Strappy dresses and flip-flops won’t work.
  5. Titles and other forms of address sometimes give me headaches. Using capital letters or not for titles, and references to deities, God and royalty becomes part of this process. Consistency again, and sensitivity to context especially when it comes to religion, is one of those notebook entries of mine.
    Note:
     In Michael’s Mystery, the High Lords and other magicians are addressed as lord this or lady that. Writing the first draft I don’t worry about capitalisation of titles or not, but during editing, definitely.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Planning to Write - blog posts, articles, fiction...at the same time

As I wrangled with my morning pages, I came to realise that my writing is not efficient. I have a long list of things to do - blog posts,  freelance work, short stories, editing, non-fiction books - and yet I cannot seem to be as productive as I want to be.
I love writing, not only fiction, but prioritising doesn't seem to be working. Or maybe it is not enough to prioritise my non-fiction above editing my third novel.
I know which projects need to be completed first, deadlines are looming, and yet I am spending my time in such a way that progress on each of these projects is not what it should be at this stage.
I have an allocated writing time - check.
I know what to write, no writers block issues - check.
What I need is to get better organised about which project to work on at what time.
So here I went and put some thought into the details. I am not going to bore you with my reasoning, but I believe it can work.
I have came up with this plan this past weekend, and will try it out for a week or three and adjust it if necessary.
My freelance writing (marked as SEO in the plan) depends on my deliverables for the week or month, so on that I might need to be more flexible. The same applies to weekend writing. If the opportunity arises there will be more time available to write and I will then be able to work on a project that has me inspired at that time.
I don't rely on a muse to write, but it has been known to happen and then I can do whatever is absolutely pressing on my mind.
Do you have any advice to help me out? How do you manage to work on multiple projects at the same time and still manage to meet your deadlines?

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

How I added tai chi to an already packed daily routine

From the time I made the decision to learn tai chi, until I started to do the lessons, there had been a few days delay. Not that I wasn’t serious about learning, or practising my lessons, quite the contrary.
I was so committed to doing it that I had to make sure that I could make the time such that  I could continue to do it. Starting some kind of exercise is all good and well, but if you can’t keep on doing it, what would be the point of starting in the first place?
In case you are wondering, it wasn’t a new year’s resolution either. I started in December last year, but figuring out where to fit it into my schedule was not an insignificant headache.
First I made a spreadsheet with hour time intervals for weekdays and weekends. Since I work full time, my workdays are pretty much dominated by the requirements of my employer. Fair enough. So where to put it into a schedule with work, household chores, and writing everyday?
Firstly, I read about the typical time it takes to do a tai chi routine. For competitions the time limit is set at 6 minutes, so for me still a novice at this martial art, I would plan for 15 minutes per session to do the routine as I have learned it, then practice the move of the lesson I am studying at that time, and then repeat the routine as I have learnt it up to that point.
But I decided to do that twice a day.
Getting up earlier would be a normal decision for anyone, because what is 15 minutes? Not in my case. I get out of bed as soon as my husband finishes in the bathroom at 05h10 in the morning, so getting up earlier? Not a chance!
The first 15 minutes I will do in my office, which is a little cramped but I can manage. The second 15 minutes wiggled themselves into my routine before I take a shower in the evening, before my writing time starts. Writing time is non-negotiable in case you were wondering.

Weekends are easier, but the commitment remains, and that is the most important to me. I love the discipline, and one day I might actually be good at it.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Staying in the Game - Part 3: Recognition

The writer of the original post states that we as writers need the recognition from others to be seen as writers. It got me wondering why. Why do creative people - writers, visual artists, musicians, etc - need to be recognised as such, whereas other people in other professions do not?


I got my engineering degree and no one doubted my engineering abilities. I did not need to be recognised as an engineer to believe that I am one. All the years of studying definitely got that imprinted into my brain.

Sure, not every creative person has a formal qualification in the arts, but many do, so why the need to be recognised as such? Are we still dealing with a society that thinks that being a writer, a painter or a musician is not good enough? Or are we our own worst enemy?
Do I, Linzé Brandon, believe that I am a writer, an artist? For a while I confused recognition with validation, but no longer.
When you look in the mirror, do you point a finger to your own image and say: you are a writer (recognition) and, at the same time, I write because I want to and it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks (validation)?


Being a trained engineer (now project manager) and a writer, this irony of being one but not the other still baffles me. Even the other day someone said that it was a nice hobby - writing books.
I didn't take exception, because I know this person meant it as a compliment of sorts. This is not always the case, and those words do not always come out as admiration of a creative talent. Sometimes people do look down their noses when I tell them that I am a writer.

Although I have been writing for almost fourteen years, published since 2011, it is only recently that I sorted out this problem for myself - I am a writer.
For many though the question remains: am I writer because I think I am, or am I a writer because others say I am? What do you think?

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Handwriting and its history - a post about a book, and me

Every once in a while I find a book in a shop that catches my eye and I just have to read it. There is no rhyme or reason for it, in fact it wasn't even the cover that got my attention. If you have browsed around on my blog you would have noticed the series I wrote on the history of the Kama Sutra, based on a book I found on that topic.
Well this time around it was a topic more intriguing, only because of the fact that we don't think about it, or maybe you have, but I certainly have not. The history of handwriting may not feature in the school curriculum (at least not in this country) but it got my attention.
Amazon ebook
When I thought about this post, I originally intended to write it by hand, on good paper with a fountain pen (yes, I have a few of those) with the intention to scan the result and post the resulting graphic as the post to this blog.
Make no mistake, I won't win any handwriting competitions, but it is not bad either, especially when writing with a heavy fountain pen. I prefer a heavy pen and Francois bought me a Waterman stainless steel pen a few years ago for my birthday. Being a lovely gift aside, it is still my heaviest and favourite pen.
So why didn't I write the post by hand? The answer is simple: size of the file. I would have had to scan the file at a high resolution to ensure legibility of the text, because the graphic would invariably have to be resized (made smaller) to fit the blog's usable space. Not using a high resolution graphic would have made the text fuzzy and more difficult to read.
So instead of straining your eyes, and your patience with a post that takes forever to load, I will limit my forays into handwritten blog posts to a greeting.
It took me a while to read this book, because it is a mix of fact, historical and modern, interviews and personal commentaries by the author. Sometimes it took me a reread of a paragraph or two, to keep up with the narrative. (That's just me, not the author's fault)
When I started reading it, I had a look at my own handwriting. Not a difficult thing, since I keep a handwritten journal and still have the last four years' journals at my disposal. (Why only four is a story for another day.)
My handwriting changed and yet it did not. I write differently with a ballpoint pen than a fountain pen. The same applies to italic nibbed pens, or gel pens or whatever different writing instrument technologies I have in my arsenal. (Confession: I am a pen collector, and I estimate at least one of every type of pen under the sun feature in my collection)
I prefer a fine or needle tipped pen, but the feel of the shaft in my hand is just as important.
I don't know if graphologists (people who study your personality from your handwriting) would be able to find all my flaws in the different ways that I pen a word, then again cute, fluffy and served with a pink bow, is not me either.
Will handwritten words disappear, as the keyboard takes more and more of our words into the world?
I don't know, but if the scientists are right, learning to write by hand and keeping up the practice, has more benefits that just being able to read and write. As immersed as we have become in our modern smart and small devices, studies have shown that our data retention from reading from a screen, is much less than reading from paper.

If this is true for the general population, myself included, how much do we stand to loose if we stop writing by hand?


Saturday, 10 January 2015

Staying in the Game - Part 2: Stamina

Stamina to my mind is something that professional athletes aspire to, especially those of the marathon and ultra-marathon persuasion. Come to think of it, anyone doing ultra-anything, probably has the have the stamina of a lion in mating season. Yeah, they go at it for days at a time - and without food!
Mating lions in the Chobe (c) Linzé Brandon
So where does it leave the writer?
Should we start getting fit to write for hours and hours at a time? Writing is an intellectual exercise and hours and hours of anything intellectual is bound to be crap because we are not built for effectiveness, productivity and concentration for hours at a time.
So I guess the answer isn't that. But it is time dependent for sure. We have to persevere. We are in this for the long haul after all.
Writing everyday to form the habit, but not just for ten or fifteen or thirty days. We have to do this...forever. If you want to be a writer, this is a lifetime commitment. Of course, when the first book is done, it's done. You move on to the next project: research, planning, writing, editing, until its done, and then on to the next.


Before indie publishing became a viable option with better quality end results, traditional publishing was the only way and many, many writers gave up because of that horrible thing called a rejection letter. And yet many didn't give up. They kept on going. Writing, submitting query letters and manuscripts, until they found a publisher.
They had the stamina to keep going, because they did not see the end in the rejection letter. They dug deep to keep going, no matter how many letters, no matter how long it took. And when it happened, they started on the next book.
Writing is a ultra-marathon with no winners post, only milestones along the way. Set your milestones (eg. write a novel or two every year) and your stamina will grow. We practice to hone our skills, so we must practice to grow our stamina, mental and physical, to keep writing.
Publishing isn't the end, it is merely a milestone on that ultra-marathon journey of being a writer.
So we apply the discipline we need to write everyday, to reach the milestones we set for ourselves, to gain the stamina to keep going.

On a personal note: I have had my share of rejection letters. At the time I had no idea what I was doing, and either ignorance or arrogance kept me going, because this was what I wanted to do.

In 2015 I am going to publish my third novel and two non-fiction books - my next three milestones on my journey as a writer.

Have you set your milestones on your writing journey yet?


Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Tai Chi Chuan - My First Steps

Source of Image
Of all the physical activities and sports in the world, I ended up choosing tai chi as a means of getting my butt off the chair.

My reasons are simple (to me at least):
  1. I hate exercise, always have, probably always will. It makes you sweaty and creates a lot more laundry. Yeah, I hate that too.
  2. I rather liked playing squash, but my schedule no longer makes that an option.
  3. I am not particularly competitive and not many people like that. I would rather conceded a point, if it prevents me or my partner from getting injured. My squash partner and I got along well on that score, because we played purely for fun.
  4. With tai chi I don't need a partner, nor any specific equipment or facilities, and I can do it when it suits me - 4am, or 11pm. And there is no competitiveness involved, only discipline and practice.
And that was the thing that drew me the most: discipline. I may not be competitive, but what I do I want to do well. It took a long time for me to realise that being competitive and being good at something, is not the same thing. Unfortunately, that is the doctrine we grew up with - you can only be good at something, if you are better than everyone else.
Not in my world, not anymore.
I started tai chi lessons on 15 December, and have made the choice to practice at least twice a day. With the exception of Christmas and New Year's Day (because of other obligations) I have kept to this routine.
One thing about tai chi that threw me, was that it looks easier than it is. It is not difficult, but the movements and coordination of hands, feet and body require more focus than I thought it would.
The discipline I mentioned? Yep, so far it worked for me. My course is the Yang style 24 movement short form, and I have reached movement no 4 - the Bent Knee and Twist Step. For some reason this one is a bit more challenging than the first three. Then again I had to practice a lot on the second and third movements too.

Tai chi is sometimes called moving meditation. While I need to focus right now on getting the movements correct, I can understand why. There is just something in these movements that makes me slow down and think.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Cover Reveal: Garden by Jane Yates


Inspired by the classic novel The Secret Garden, Jane Yates introduces us to a steampunk world of bio-domes, robots and mysteries. Eleven-year-old Aberdeen is so used to being by herself that all she has to fill her thoughts are stories of mighty dragons and grand castles. Aberdeen’s world is soon thrown into disarray however; her parents murdered.
Having no choice, Aberdeen is sent to live with her uncle back on Earth where her fascination into her new surroundings begin to take hold. Untrusting of new people at first, it isn’t long before Aberdeen comes across 3 other children, and taking a risk, befriends them as she tries to adjust to her new home. And yet, along with Maisy, Peter and Lenard, Aberdeen comes across a riddle – a set of clues to reveal the hiding place of a lost manuscript. A manuscript that forces more questions than answers.
Oh, and there’s Frank too, Peter’s robot dog, who completes this special circle of friendship.
Garden is a journey of self-discovery, of trials and friendship. With adventure boundless, Jane Yates follows up her acclaimed Paradox Child trilogy with a new tale for young fans of steampunk and science fiction. 


Book Trailer


About the Author
Jane lives in the historic city of Oxford, England with her two spaniels. She works at the Pitt Rivers museum there too and is amazed and inspired by its wondrous array of objects. Being a museum of anthropology and world archaeology, Jane often finds herself influenced by its exhibitions. And indeed it has helped Jane write a trilogy for children – the Paradox Child series.
Jane is not only a mother, artist and storyteller, but dyslexic too, which only highlights her success even more. Jane refuses to allow the disorder to halt her dreams and continues to enjoy her favourite hobbies. Jane is a lover of steampunk, adventure and children’s stories, which often play a huge role in her own books.














Saturday, 3 January 2015

Staying in the Game - Part 1: Discipline

I recently read an article written by an author and writing teacher on the things that a writer needs to ‘stay in the game’, as he put it. Since I have been in ‘the game’ for a while, and would like to stay, I paid attention.
He mentioned three things that a writer needs: discipline, stamina and recognition.
I am sure these words are just as familiar as to you as they are to me, but what do they truly mean for a writer? Google is my friend, so there I went.


Discipline often has a very negative connotation attached to it, and yet it is the very essence of the positive in people. Order, patterns and self-control are not only the tools of a writer, but the tools of a well-balanced individual.
Write everyday. Advice we hear from everywhere and anyone when asked. How do we establish that order, pattern and self-control? Is it difficult to establish this pattern of behaviour?
When we start out as writers, or bloggers, it is with all the good intentions of a new year’s resolution. Yes! This is the year that I will write that novel, or start a blog, or write my memoir. But good intentions alone seldom produce the results we desire. For all my good intentions, I still haven’t managed to loose the weight I have to. Sound familiar?
So what is the answer: you need an action plan. Something that will help you to write the book, or establish that blog.
Ask yourself a few questions:
1.      What do I want to accomplish with this project?
2.     When does it need to be finished? Or in the case of a blog, how often do I want to post?
3.     Am I committed to putting in the time and effort to do it?
4.     Am I a morning person or a night owl?
5.     Where can I make some space for my writing?
6.     How am I going to keep myself accountable?
7.      What support network is available to help me?
Here is what works for me:
1.      When I started to write, I wanted to write romance stories and publish them. I ended up writing fiction in several genres - short stories, flash fiction and novels - as well as two non-fiction books to be published in 2015. It didn’t happen overnight. Decide what you want to write and start there, finish the project and then move on to the next one.
2.     I set a deadline for each project. One novel per year. A short story takes about two months from start to publication. Flash fiction – one week per story. Since there is no one watching over my shoulder, keeping to these deadlines are not easy. If you want to be a blogger, the next date is your deadline. Posting twice a week – there you go, your deadline is set. How often you post is up to you, but to have a successful blog you need to be consistent and post on schedule, your readers and followers expect it.
3.     When I started to write, I did it for my own pleasure, in fact I still do. Since I work as project manager full time, writing is my escape from the stress that defines my working hours. need to write. In the beginning that hadn’t been the case, until I realised how much I liked it, and how much pleasure I got from finishing and publishing a story.
4.     I am a night owl, although I get up very early in the morning, thanks to being married to a morning person. My husband works in another city, so to reduce his stress of battling traffic, he leaves home just after 5am. As a result I am early at work too. This early time gives me the opportunity to do a lot of things before my daily schedule of meetings kicks in. One thing I learned very early in my working life, is to leave work at the office. And it is this exact mind-set that helps me to write at night, even after a long day. After dinner, making lunch boxes for the next day, taking a shower and checking my email, I sit down and write for two hours before bed. Every day, including weekends.
5.     I have an office at home where I do my writing. My husband is an engineer, but he takes his photography very serious – so he has a studio at home where he can hide away to do his thing. I also like to write at a coffee shop, especially over weekends to get away from the distractions at home. It is a quiet place, and the staff and owners (knowing me and my habit) will leave me alone for hours at a time. There aren’t many such places, so I not only support them, but refer as many people as I can to them. They serve the best coffee!
6.     Being accountable is difficult and to help myself, I started a writers’ group in 2011. We meet once a month at the coffee shop I mentioned before. We support each others efforts, and even published a short story anthology in 2014. It was hard work, but all worth the effort to hold that beautiful book in my hands at the end. I also belong to groups on Facebook where holding myself accountable helps me to keep going.
7.      A support network is very important to a writer. Family, friends and online friends too, for which I am truly grateful. When deadlines loom, or NaNoWriMo is upon me, my social life takes a back seat, and the people in my life give me the space I need. I am not sure they truly understand what drives me, but I am grateful for them allowing me to hide in my writing cave at these times.
I have been writing consistently since 2001 and my routine is well established by now. But you need to find out what works for you. Get up earlier to write before work, or after the kids have gone to bed, or maybe lunch time at work. Talk to you family and friends about your writing time being your own, and join a group. Groups are different, and you need to ‘shop’ around until you find one where you get and give what you need.
How disciplined are you when it comes to your creative acitivies? Please share in the comments below.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Resolution or Revolution: What is in store in 2015?

It is funny how two words can look and sound so much the same, and yet they are worlds apart. A resolution (according to my trusty Oxford dictionary) is a firm decision. This is the kind of things we do to ourselves at the beginning of a new year.
“I am going to loose weight.”
“I am going to go to the gym again.”
“I am going run a marathon this year.”
“I am going to...” and so the list goes on. Unless you have already started training for that marathon, it is not going to happen. And you knew that already.
Even when we put action plans in place, and commit to holding ourselves accountable to a friend or on Facebook, we fail.
And we don't just fail, by day three the resolution is gone and we are back to our old tricks...we fail miserably.

So why do we fail at these firm decisions?
Because we don't understand what we really want to accomplish. We need more than a decision, we need a revolution of the mind.
My trusty Oxford defines revolution as a dramatic and far reaching change. In the opening of his book From Dawn to Decadence - 1500 to the Present: 500 Years of WesternCultural Life, Jacques Barzun states that “revolutions change more that personal habits or a widespread practice. They give culture a new face.”
You might rightly think about the Religious revolution instigated by Martin Luther, or the Industrial Revolution some time later, amongst others. While we think of modern day revolutions as a wartime activity involving violence and death, a revolution is much more than that: it is a change of thinking, giving human existence a new face, if you like.
So how do I apply that to myself? I am after all a single person, with only the intention of changing something for or by myself.

You start by nailing your list to the church door - figuratively speaking of course.
If you really think about it, you know what needs to be changed. Do you really need to loose weight, or do you need to change your lifestyle? Or deal with the emotional issues that caused the weight gain in the first place. Just going on a diet, has never solved anyones problems, and neither did it solve the problem of being overweight.
You need a new face; a new way of looking at yourself and the things that you want to change. Jumping in and snap, snap, snap, making changes may not be the best way to tackle the problem.
Neither is waiting until a new year rolls around.
I used the weight problem, since I also need to look at my weight. I am not so young anymore and losing weight becomes more difficult the older we get. While I know that going on a weight loss programme, of any kind, is not going to help me, I decided to change tactics. As a diabetic Type II I know that my diet is already adjusted, so I need to look at the other side of weight control, exercise.
To be honest, I hate going to the gym, so that will never work. Trust me, I have tried. I liked playing squash with a friend, but our schedules had changed to the extent, that it simply became impossible to continue our weekly games.
I also travel a lot for work, making it impossible to have a routine where someone else, or sport facilities need to be part of my exercise routine. While I admire the runners I see on the road every morning on my way to work, running is not for me.
Thinking out of the box? I decided to take up Tai Chi Quan. I can learn by myself, practice by myself and need only a little space and comfortable clothing. No gym, no running, no dedicated equipment needed. Just me, and a quiet place.
It was the beginning of my revolution. On 15 December 2014, I started my first lesson, and until today I have learned and practiced at least twice everyday.
A new year's resolution, perhaps, but a new me revolution, definitely! This new face of me will be more visible in future posts about the course I chose, and how I am getting on with my training and my experience of the lifestyle adjustment that is Tai Chi.

Let 2015 be a journey, not a quick fix plan doomed to failure before it even started. The start of a journey to the you you want to be!


Happy New Year everyone!