May 23, 2024

Don’t Skip Leg Day

I’ve got a big birthday coming up—a double number birthday—so I’ve been thinking a lot lately about health and exercise. We’ve turned about half our garage into an exercise area, and I try to get out there at least three times a week (preferably four, but at least three) to stretch and do weights for 30 or 40 minutes. I’m also trying to be better about doing at least an hour on the treadmill. And if that fails, we also live right on a canyon, so there’s always a good hike right there.

Seems like a lot for an old guy, right? Well, part of this is my ongoing desire to see the 22nd century, but that’s a whole other story. A lot of it, though is just a general desire to exercise, well… everything. If you’ve been following me for a while, you may remember me talking about working with a physical trainer named Jerzy. He was really big on balance with his workouts. Some days were more reps, others were more about weight. Some days favored arms and shoulders, others favored legs and core.

He was big on working the body as a whole, because focusing too much usually meant getting kind of out of proportion. You’ve seen guys like that, right? The ones who over-work their arms and shoulders and usually end up, well, skipping leg day.

And a lot of time, this sort of partial exercise actually interferes with their actual goals. They want to look good, but they twist up their posture. They try to build stamina, but they actually end up weaker and slower because they’ve only worked out one or two parts of the bigger, overall system.

So what does all this exercise stuff have to do with writing?

I’ve met some people who do nothing but write. Write, write, write, write. I’ve seen pro writers brag about never taking vacations or even just a day off. Hell, years back I had one aspiring writer excuse their lack of familiarity with a popular book series by saying “real writers don’t have time to read.”

And I can’t help but notice that a lot of the time these folks… aren’t actually producing that much. For all their non-stop work, their output is… kind of average. In frequency and, well, quality.

Now, this is just my personal opinion, but I think in a lot of ways the brain works a lot like the rest of my body. I can exercise it and train it. Repetition can build good habits and reflexes.

But I can’t over-focus on just one aspect of it. Because that’s when things get off balance and grow… well, distorted. The exercise doesn’t help as much as it could because I’ve overworked that one element without working anything else.

You know what most of the other successful, prolific writers I know have in common? They’ve got other interests. I know writers who are into painting and photography and drawing. I know some who run, do martial arts, play basketball, box, and fence. A few of them are musicians. A bunch of them cook—like serious prep time, multiple-burners cook. And sooo many of them play games– video, tabletop, and miniature.

Me? I make a point to take at least one day off every week. A day to do something different. Something that lets me. I make my brain solve completely different types of problems than the ones it gets during the week. I tend to start the day with lawn and garden work, and then I build model robots and LEGO sets and paint little toy soldiers. I focus on shape and color and spatial relations

Plus, during lockdown, I got really into cooking. Italian food. Korean food. Pizza. I like making dinner for my beloved. I like that it requires actual prep and usually more than one pan. That happens several times during the week.

And yeah, I’m trying to squeeze in some exercise, too.

Take a moment. Take a breath. Try doing something else—anything else—and exercise a few different mental muscles. It’ll help your writing in the long run. Honest. And maybe try some actual exercise, too. Increasing blood flow is never a bad thing. That’ll help your writing, too.

Next time… well, like I said, I’ve got a birthday coming up, so I’ll probably bore you with some deep thoughts of some kind.

Oh! And StokerCon is a week from today. I’m not actually attending, but it’s right here in my city, barely ten minutes away. So I may lurk at the bar and say hi to some folks. Maybe you’ll be one of them.

Until then… go write.

July 12, 2018 / 2 Comments

I Don’t See Color

            I know, I know.  Asking-for-trouble title on this one.  Please just stick with me, though, okay?  There’s a good reason for it.
            Which I shall explain with this shocking revelation and a quick story.
            When I was in seventh grade, I found out I was color blind.  This may seem like a weird thing for someone to “discover,” but it makes sense if you think about it.  I’m daltonic (or deuteranomalous if you want to get super-specific), which means I can see most colors, but I have trouble with reds and greens.  I just kind of learned by filling in the blanks. 
            For example, leaves, Sleestaks, and the Hulk were green.  Grass is the same color as leaves, therefore grass is also green. The Lizard is the same color as the Hulk, therefore the Lizard is also green.  I just matched things up with what I learned from books and comics and Sesame Street.
            In other words… I learned just like everyone else did.
          Of course, it never occurred to me that what I was seeing might not be what everyone else was seeing. Why would it?  My vision was perfectly normal.  Nothing made this more clear than several determined childhood attempts to manifest either X-ray vision or optic blasts.
            (and maybe teen attempts)
            (…okay, last week)
            Then one day I got to Science class and the teacher had a slide show set up.  It was a bunch of those pictures-hidden-in-colored-dots things (an Ishihara test, if you were so interested).  Like that one right down there.  And much to my surprise… I couldn’t see anything in them.  Almost two-thirds of them looked blank.  Just like that one down there.  I can’t see anything in it. No pictures or patterns or anything.  If you can, feel free to say something in the comments.
            Anyway, I had a low-level, seventh grade freak-out about all the important stuff—Will I still be able to get a drivers license?  Will I have to get glasses?  What girl will ever want to kiss me knowing I’m color blind?!
          Once that was done, I spent the next day or two re-examining my whole world.  What did Sleestaks really look like?  That “grass is always greener…” thing had always seemed stupid to me, but did it make sense to everyone else?
           And that’s when it suddenly hit me.  How did everyone else see the world?  What was I missing out on?  I mean red, white, and blue Captain America looks really good to me, but how much of that was being told for most of my life that red, white, and blue were complementary?  How did everyone else see those red stripes?  I couldn’t imagine a “new” color that could fill that slot.  Would most people be horrified at what I saw?
            I spent weeks pondering this.  What were other people seeing?  How were they experiencing the world?  If red was the color of anger… was their anger different than mine?  Their envy?  What would alternate-green envy be like?  I was honestly second-guessing everything (which, granted is what most of seventh grade is, but this was on top of the usual stuff).
            Once or thrice here I’ve talked about empathy.  Really simply, it’s the ability to understand what other people are going through.  If your friend has a hangover, goes through a bad breakup, or saves a bundle on car insurance with Geico, these are all experiences we can relate to, and we can apply how we felt to guess how they’re feeling.
            But really, empathy goes beyond that.  I still have both of my parents, so I didn’t know what it was like when one of my friends lost his.  But I could extrapolate from how I feel about my parents and from huge losses I have suffered.  Empathy’s being able to relate to people even when you haven’t directly experienced what they have.
            I’ve never had that ice-water in your spine moment what I realized I’m sitting in an office with a serial killer. I’m guessing most of you reading this haven’t, either. But our job is, quite literally, to convince people we have.
            Y’see, Timmy, I don’t think it’s exaggerating to say I can’t be a good writer if I don’t have empathy. If I can’t see the world through the eyes of different people—not how I think they see the world, mind you, but how they see it—I can’t have good characters.  And without good characters…
            Well, you know.
            Next week is… oh, holy crap, next week is San Diego ComicCon!  And I’m going to be there next Thursday, hosting a Writers Coffeehouse with Jonathan Maberry (he of Glimpse and V-Warsand the Joe Ledger books).  Plus I’ve got a couple of signings scattered through the day.  I’ll put up a schedule very soon.
            And next week, for the rest of you…
            Well, I’ll come up with something.
            Until then, go write.
August 17, 2012

No Coloreds Allowed!

            Well, that title got everyone’s attention real quick, didn’t it?

            Allow me to explain, then feel free to report me…
            When it comes to adjectives, one of the easiest bits of description to drop into writing is colors.  I can tell you I’m sitting here right now on a gray chair wearing a blue shirt and black shorts (there’s a major heat wave going on in Los Angeles right now) and my tan cat is trying to get my attention.
            Now when a lot of us hit that mid-phase in our growth-as-a-writer arc, we start using metaphors for everything.  My shirt isn’t blue, it’s sky-colored.  My shorts are the color of coal.  My cat, Charlie Baltimore, is linen-colored.  Some folks get comfortable at this point of the arc and they’re the ones who tend to use lots and lots of purple prose (color pun not intended, but it works so I’ll go with it).
            The catch, however, is when people develop the habit of describing everything as “colored.”  Even colors.  Which is wrong.
            I’ve seen some folks describe things as red colored, yellow colored, and blue colored.  That’s just silly.  And it’s excess words I could cut.
            Y’see, Timmy, colors are inherently “colored.”  If I tell you my shirt is blue, it’s understood that I mean “my shirt is the color blue.”  So I wouldn’t tell you “my shirt is the color blue colored.” 
            I should never use the word colored with colors.  I shouldn’t have blue-colored sky or green-colored grass.  They’re already colors—what else could they be?  Blue flavored sky?  Green textured grass?  Snip that word and have blue sky and green grass.
            I use coloredwhen I’m making descriptive comparisons.  A girl with strawberry-colored hair can wear a grass-colored dress, for example.  My zombies have chalk-colored eyes.  One draft of Ex-Patriotshad Stealth described as “shadow-colored.”
            Use the Find feature and search through your latest work for uses of the word colored.  Make sure it’s being used correctly.  Slash it if it isn’t.
            Next time I may be a bit cramped for time, so you’re either going to get a rant about time bombs or another screenwriter interview (if I’m really up against the wall).  But if I do, I’ll make sure it’s a fun one.  Or, at least, highly controversial. 
            Until then, go write.