The Truth About Multitasking

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Have you ever heard someone say they are a great multitasker? Heck, you might have even said it yourself. But what really goes on when it comes to multitasking. From school, to work, to penning my first novel, I should be a star multitasker, right? Well, today, I’m taking a closer look at what it really means to multitask.

Multitasking: Model or Myth?

Interestingly, a recent study by the National Safety Council (NSC) focused on the growing issue of distracted driving, debunks the all-too-common “Myth of Multitasking.” The study reveals that  contrary to popular belief, the human brain is not able to multitask! But what about that old classic example of walking and chewing gum? Misconception at its finest. Walking is known as a thinking task, while chewing gum is a non-thinking task. So is it really multi-tasking?

Let’s take the scenario of answering a multi-line phone at a front desk in an office. This is absolutely a thinking task as you coordinate several variables to get the calls routed efficiently and accordingly. Next let’s look at tallying up numbers for a weekly expense report. Like the first duty, this is a thinking task as you focus on checks and balances. If you are a star multi-tasker (or claim to be), this should be a cinch right? Think again.

Simultaneously and effectively performing two “thinking” tasks at the same time is… well, impossible. Medical studies show that psychologically, our brain is incapable of doing this. We believe we are multitasking when in actuality we are “micro-tasking.” This is done when our brain handles one task at a time, quickly alternating between both tasks as it works toward completion.

However, because our brain cannot adequately process all of that information coming in, our brain processes only parts of the information, resulting in performing the task at less than 100%. Everything may turn out well but the risk for error, failure or worse are ever present when we do this. So answering that switchboard while trying to run that expense report? NOT a good idea, no matter how great of a multi-tasker you believe you are! Can we say burnout ahead? It would seem that we can safely say that multitasking is indeed a big fat myth!

Multitasking and Writing

So how does all of this relate to the act of writing? Well, if you are a writer and you give any value to the act, you are likely putting your brain power into it. If that is the case then, your brain is completely focused on that task at hand. Taking it a step further, if you are trying to write, you can’t very well watch your favorite show or carry an intelligent conversation with your spouse 100% effectively at the same time. At least you can’t without diminishing the written work, right? So it stands to reason that if you really, truly, actually, HONESTLY want to get some real work done when it comes to writing, you need to padlock your door and have a blow torch ready if anyone manages to get through. (If only, though!)

It boils down to this: if our brains cannot truly multitask as we might have once believed, then we might be cutting ourselves short by taking much needed attention away from our work or craft. In this day and age, it’s something of a proud bragging chip to be able to say “I’m the multitasking queen” or “I am the king of multitasking!” Truth be told, it’s no better than saying you are an expert at doing everything at 63.4% of the quality it should be. You see the dilemma, I’m sure.

Writing the Right Way

We can all agree that writing is definitely a thinking task. That being said, we should treat it as such and stop with the distractions. In the end, we want to be productive as writers and we cannot do that until we turn the rest of the noise around us off (some nice instrumental music doesn’t really hurt though). The goal is to write and focus on that task ONLY. Don’t try to make that doctor’s appointment, don’t try to plan for dinner, don’t try to toggle between your writing project and some other work-related project you might have. Simply stop, breathe, and turn it off.

Don’t multitask, just task. Give your talent 100% of the attention it deserves. Just above my desk, I’ve got a simple mantra I’ve tacked on to my cork board that states: “No Distractions. Writing Comes First.” I bring it to the forefront and I give it priority. In life, things happen, interruptions occur (unfortunately) and then life goes on. Take time, make time, mind set for single tasking, and own it. Sometimes doing it all does nothing while doing one thing at a time is all you ever needed to do in the first place.

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Writing a Synopsis for Your Fiction Novel

Carolyn M Walker Fiction Novel Synopsis.jpgI’m excited. I’m seeking representation for my novel. I’m nervous. I’ve never done this before. I have to write a synopsis for a literary agent who’s looking at me. I’m lost. Ah, the lovely synopsis; that nice little document some agents want to see in order to gain a concise yet powerful rendering of your novel’s story and the growth/development of my characters.

All of this must be, mind you, distilled down to a one-page document that not only hits all the key points of your story but also piques their interest to read the entire manuscript, while providing enough information so as not to bog down or turn the reader away. Yep, it’s the dreaded synopsis.

Some agents aren’t a fan but others want (and need) it to decide if your work is worth reading another word of. I’ve done a fair amount of research over the past week on how to write an effective and meaningful synopsis for your fiction novel, which I will share with you momentarily. One thing I will say that a synopsis is NOT: a brief plot summary of your story. It is not a play-by-play either. You have to provide just the right amount of pertinent and valuable information to convey that your tale is worthy and developed to the point of potential publication.

So, without further ado, here’s what I found out after hours of scouring the internet, checking out as many publication guides and synopsis books I could find at the library (the librarian thought I was crazy), and asking my writer friends for their two-cents on the matter:

Fiction Novel Synopsis Checklist:

TOP MISTAKES TO AVOID-

  • Do not create a bare bones plot summary.
  • Do not summarize EVERY chapter.
  • Don’t get bogged down with the specifics of character names.
  • Avoid character backstory. Only use flashbacks if it progresses the story.
  • Avoid dialogue, unless it represents a major moment in the book.
  • Don’t ask rhetorical or unanswered questions.
  • Don’t split your synopsis into sections, or label the different plot points.
  • Tell, don’t show. Keep it concise and to the point.
  • Keep it tight, not wordy.

 

WHAT MAKES A GREAT SYNOPSIS-

  • Capturing the emotions (anticipation, fear, hope, excitement, and disappointment).
    • The elation of victory at the end, or the agony of defeat.
    • Emotional twists (especially of main character) and turns make a novel appealing.
  • Identify your protagonist, the protagonist’s conflict, and the setting by the end of the first paragraph.
  • Simultaneously describing your sequence of key plot events.
  • Use energy and vitality. Synopses should usually be written in active voice, third person, present tense.
  • Keep it short, or at least starting short. Write a one-page synopsis—about 500-600 words, single spaced—and use that as your default.
  • Make us care about the characters.
  • Define the protagonist’s core conflict and how he succeeds/fails in dealing with it.
  • Help us understand how that conflict is resolved and how the protagonist’s situation, both internally and externally, has changed.
  • To decide what characters/plot points stay or go in a synopsis, ask yourself: “will the ending make sense without this character or plot point? If it’s no, it stays.
  • Broadly generalize less important areas.
  • Incident (Story Advancement) + Reaction (Color) = Decision (Story Advancement).
  • The ending paragraph must show how major conflicts are resolved.

 

WHAT A SYNOPSIS DOES FOR A LITERARY AGENT-

  • A synopsis must convey a book’s entire narrative arc. It shows what happens and who changes, and it has to reveal the ending.
  • The synopsis ensures character actions and motivations are realistic and make sense.
  • A synopsis will reveal any big problems in your story.
  • A synopsis will reveal plot flaws, serious gaps in character motivation, or a lack of structure.
  • A synopsis also can reveal how fresh your story is; if there’s nothing surprising or unique, your manuscript may not get read.
  • Shows whether your story has an original idea or premise.
  • Shows whether you have an interesting main character.
  • Shows whether your subject matter and theme are either topical or intriguing.
  • Shows whether you can create a sound plot that makes sense.
  • Reveals if you can build tension and lead to a satisfactory conclusion.

 

CREATING A SYNOPSIS, STEP BY STEP-

Take the major story points and edit them into something resembling a short story (without dialogue or description). Write a synopsis that addresses both the plot and the emotional sides of your story.

  1. Start With Plot Basics

Identify the several basic stages. These include…

  • The inciting incident that gets things moving and sets the protagonist on a path.
  • Opposing event(s) going against the path/goal.
  • The crisis event or turning point that that leads to meeting or failing the goal.
  • The resolution or the climax, which reveals the meet/fail of the goal and aftermath.
  1. Add the Main Character’s Arc

The emotional side of the story will be expressed by the main character’s progression Answer the following questions:

  • Who is your main character at the start of the story?
  • What kind of person is he/she? What is his/her approach to life?
  • Describe how your main character is thrust into a situation and pressured to change.
  • Does your main character decide to take a leap of faith and change?
  • Does he adopt a new approach or take some uncharacteristic action?
  • Does he hold true to who he is and become stronger?
  • At the end of the novel, is the main character better or worse?
  • Does the reader feel that the main character has done the right thing?
  1. Consider the Impact Character’s Role

The impact character(s) are responsible for pressuring the main character to change, generally with a different approach or outlook. He or she shows why and how the main character might need to change. Answer the following questions:

  • When the impact character enters the novel, how does their approach or attitude from the main character?
  • How does the impact character pressure or influence the main character?
  • If the main character changes at the climax of the story, the impact character typically remains fixed in their ways. If the main character stays the same, the impact character may be forced to change. How is this illustrated in your novel?
  • Is the impact character better or worse off at the end of the novel?
  1. The Major Relationship

Another aspect to a well-rounded story is the progression of the relationship between the main and impact characters. They could be romantic, the hero and villain, hero and mentor, etc. Regardless, the relationship between them will also exhibit an emotional arc. Answer the following questions:

  • How does their relationship start at the beginning of the story?
  • How does their relationship develop or is tested in the course of the story?
  • What is the climax of their relationship (a decisive change)?
  • How is their relationship at the end of the story different?

NOTE: All of the “#1”s from each of the steps above will go into the first part of your synopsis. All the “#2”s will go into the second part, etc.

  1. Include Thematic Considerations

If these points are a crucial part of your novel, write them down.

Answer the following questions:

  • What issues do your characters struggle with in your novel?
  • What themes will be addressed and weighed in the story?
  • What is the message or moral?
  1. Include the 8 Basic Plot Elements

Write an index card for each of the 8 basic plot elements, describing how it is illustrated in your novel. Once again, put each card into the appropriate pile, according to where the illustration appears in the story.

  1. Edit All Your Points Together.

By now you have a set of over 24 index cards, each describing an element of your novel. The cards are in four piles, representing the four acts of your story. Your final step is to arrange the cards in order within each pile and write/edit them together to create a summary of your story. If you have included all of these elements, you should find that your synopsis covers not only the events that make up the plot but also the emotional side of your novel.

You may find it useful to write each point on an index card or piece of paper. Then you can sort them into four piles representing the order they will appear in your synopsis.

The above checklist was in part, compiled from the wonderful tools and information provided by Jane Friedman’s wonderful post about the topic. Very helpful stuff! 🙂

Take from this what you will and happy Synopsis-creating!

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Typing vs. Longhand Manuscripts

Greetings fellow readers and writers! Today I want to talk about the method behind the madness that is the written word. It has long been favored by many to write by hand while others tend to prefer the keyboard or even typewriter. Personally, I enjoy the keyboard for its versatility, convenience, and overall clean copy I can draft with it. But as of late, I’ve been taking a liking to longhand. I think both ways  have their benefits and I want to take a closer look at why.

Type Your Heart Out, Keyboarders

So what makes typing up your work great? Well, there’s the speed of it. When you’re typing, ideas can just fly into your head and (if you type fast enough), your fingers will fly across your keyboard. But with speed comes more and with more comes a greater chance of errors and erroneous stuff. And I’m an overwriter (writing more than I should) instead of an underwriter (not writing enough), so when I’m writing on my laptop or tablet or computer, I tend to have a lot of editing on the back end.  Another benefit is easy storage. Nothing beets the ease of being able to archive my work on my devices or drives. So it seems that convenience and storage are the two biggies for me when it comes to typing as a preference. But what about creativity?

The Long Haul

When I first began writing, I wrote everything longhand. To me, it was the only way to write back then, before laptops, tablets, mobile and everything else. But even with all those great mediums today, there is something both nostalgic and especially creative about writing longhand. For me, I seem to get a stronger connection to the writing than when typing. Plus, longhand is more labor intensive and time consuming so the room for overwriting tends to be cut down dramatically.

As a testament to the longhand revival, I’ve decided  to try my hand (literally…ha-ha) at penning a skinny first draft of my latest project strictly via pad and paper–no electronics! It’s been a challenge, but very rewarding. I’m very much a planner and outliner so the longhand approach really has helped me to brainstorm and flesh out details that are needed to craft this new story with the most clarity.

The Long AND Short of It

I’d nearly forgotten how useful longhand writing can be. It also feels distinguished in a very special way. That’s not to say that you can’t be a fully electronic writer and not consider yourself just as distinguished. No, way! It’s just another way of expressing yourself and strengthening your craft. Plus in the end, it comes down to your preference. In my quest to find out how other writers drafted their creative masterpieces, I began listening to Virginia Presscott’s 10 Minute Writer’s Workshop. Many authors on Virginia’s show share interesting tips for writing, what inspires them, and which medium works best for them during their creative process.

She has interviewed some amazing authors including: Megan Abbott, Tom Perrotta, Jodi Picoult, Judy Blume, V.E. Schwab, and Tana French. Virginia Prescott is also the host of New Hampshire Public Radio’s (NHPR) show Word of Mouth. So, which writing method works best for you?

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How Early Bird Writers Differ From Night Owl Writers

I’ve always wondered what it would be like to get up first thing in the morning and start writing. Unfortunately, I can’t really tell you because I am NOT a morning person like that! I get up super early only if I need to and when I do, I can’t promise I’ll be the most pleasant person before at least two thirds of my coffee is gone. 😊 It is interesting though how everyone has their own schedule that works best for them. So how are they different from one another and does it affect the way we write?

What Determines Whether You are an Early Bird or Night Owl?

EarlyBird Vs NightOwlSo what determines which type of person you are? Is it personal preference? It is schedule? If your life revolves around the “normal business hours” of 9-5, you might be better suited for mornings. Yet, if you work the graveyard shift, obviously night seems better. But believe it or not, that doesn’t determine what we are wired to lean toward. Interestingly, research shows that our sleep patterns are actually genetically predetermined. So, you could be taking after specific ancestors who were either early risers or late nighters before you.

Traits Associated With Both Types

No matter your schedule, sleep deprivation is a major issue for those who may have a predisposition for early days or late nights. And of course, sleep deprivation directly affects how early birds and night owls act. In particular, night owls tend to experience what is called “social jetlag” because even though they stay up late, many might may need to get up relatively early in the morning. Researchers have found that early birds tend to be more positive and social, compared to their night owl counterparts who are often less optimistic and proactive. This is due to fewer pathways in the night owl’s brain for feel-good hormones like serotonin or dopamine to pass through. However, night owls tend to me more creative and have higher cognitive abilities than their early bird counterparts.

How Does it Affect Writing?

In the writing world, this makes for a pretty interesting correlation. It seems like those who get up earlier are more prone to produce more, perhaps quicker than the night owls. Yet on the other hand, night owls may tend to produce more creative and cutting edge work than the early birds might. This may not be the same for everyone, but I see truth in it based on my experience. I’ve had a couple of nights where I’ve writen a lot, and then mornings (late mornings) where I’ve been super creative. But overall, my more “creative” times tend to happen at night while my longer pieces actually were written during the daytime hours. 😊 The only thing I can say is that as a night owl, my day seems to be much shorter, therefore it might feel like I have less time to write more. But during the day, sometimes it feels like I’ve got all the time in the world. Hmm…

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5 Reasons it Might be Time to Shelve Your Manuscript

writinglaptop_CarolynMWalkerSo after many moons of blood sweat and tears, I’ve had to make a very hard decision. I’ve had to shelve a manuscript I’ve been working on the past few years. And let me tell you, it stings! It’s a tough decision that NO writer ever wants to make but sometimes it must be made. That being said, I’ve decided to share my insights on this whole experience. The reasons behind why it might need to be done can vary but for any writer who’s had to go through it or is considering it—the anguish is real.  So, when is it truly time to let go and shelve your beloved manuscript? Read on and weep my friends.

Reason #1: You Won’t Let Your Book Grow Up

In other words, this manuscript is your baby and you’ll be damned you are going to give up on it…even if it needs work—A LOT of work. Of course everyone thinks their baby is the cutest one in the nursery but truth be told, this mentality can lead to a lot of blinders. I am absolutely guilty of this. Unless you step back and look at it through a different lens or better yet, get a beta reader to be your second set of eyes, you might miss all sorts of things. This can stop you from growing and eventually getting your manuscript to where it needs to be for the big publishing venture. If you’ve been working ten years on your “baby,” it may be time to shelve it.

Reason #2: YOU Have Grown Up

Let’s be honest, your writing style changes as you grow up, grow older, and experience new things. Your priorities change, your perspectives change, your values may even evolve into new and different things. The point is that if you start a manuscript for a book, say in high school, but don’t finish it until you are half way through college, chances are your going to sound and come across a lot differently. This same thing happened to me and as I matured as a writer, I found myself having to go back and rewrite things. Taking too long to draft a manuscript can do this to you. Life changes can do it too. If you see the voice varying too much throughout, your manuscript is not ready to move forward. Rather, you might have to set it down.

Reason #3: You Got on the Query Train…and Never Got Off!

So you’ve finished your manuscript, polished it up, drafted an awesome query letter, and sent them off to those good ‘ole agents. And… [insert cricket sounds here]. My goodness whatever could be wrong here?! Perhaps, your manuscript just isn’t ready. Of course, it could also be other things like bad luck, lousy timing, or fubbing up on the guidelines (it happens even to the most thorough of us). If you have gone through hundreds of queries and don’t even get so much as one lick of feedback, it may be time to reevaluate. This is by no means saying you should give up (that shouldn’t even be in your vocabulary), but it is saying that it may be time to step back and take a realistic look at your product. Obviously something isn’t working and stepping away might be a good idea in the meantime.

Reason #4: You’ve Landed in the Dreaded Trend Trap

It’s a tough pill to swallow but yep, things go out of style. If your manuscript happens to be one of the genres that has recently flooded the market, then this might be what’s getting in your way.  Looking back at Reason #3, one of the reasons you might not be getting hits from agents is because they find your subject matter to be a hard sell. This is usually the case if the genre is intensely flooded or the scope of the story is so all over the place, it can’t be placed in a genre. Genre plays a big role in getting noticed, I’ve seen and trends go hand in hand with genre. For example, topics surrounding vampires, angels, demons, zombies, and dystopian scenarios have FLOODED the market with a vengeance, so if an agent will struggle to sell the idea to a publisher, it’s going to be hard for you to sell it to the agent. Of course, you write what you want and trends be damned, however if you’re getting no hits, it might be time to shelve it. I wrote a great dark fantasy related to angels, oh about 10 years too late. Did I learn this the hard way? Absolutely :(.

Reason #5: But It Was Your First Love…

Did you catch the key word here? First. I know, I know, but sometimes the hardest thing to face is that sometimes our first completed manuscript might just not be the one we start off with. Sometimes, it was a great learning process. Sometimes it was a good run. Sometimes it just needs to collect some dust while we pen the next great novel. I remember when I finished my first full length novel. OMG, the feeling was surreal. I was so proud of myself it wasn’t even funny. Then it never saw the light of day. I don’t think it was bad, it just wasn’t ready to go further. I did contemplate my options for a while but in the end, I decided to shelve it. Every now and then I read it through and reflect on how much I’ve grown. Maybe someday I’ll go further with it but for now, it will be my beloved and private first. And you know what? That’s okay.

At the end of the day, only you can decide what’s best for your manuscript. But no matter what, the decision needs to be made after full consideration. All of the above reasons doesn’t mean that your manuscript is dead in the water forever. It means it might need a break from you and you from it. The great thing is that words are immortal and well, you can always pick it up again later and take another stab. In the end, be true to yourself. Closing one door opens two more. There’s no telling what amazing story lives inside of you because you decided to make a change.

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What’s in a Fantasy Genre?

fantasy genre carolyn m. walkerThe Fantasy Genre Explained

Genres…we all know them and we all love them, right? Well… perhaps we might love them a little bit more if the genre wasn’t so confusing! So I’ve decided to try my hand at providing some further detail on the topic.

What’s the Genre Again?

I was so  proud of myself the day I finished my first full-length novel. I’d accomplished a great feat– I’d built this complex story set within this fascinating dark world, breathed life into characters that I created, and did it all with my own bare hands!  So of course, I told anyone who’d listen!

And their first question was always: “So what type of book is it?”

“It’s a fiction.” But then they’d ask what type of fiction and then well… I’d get kind of stumped. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that it’s kind of confusing when it comes to defining what your genre is. For a long time, I just told people it was a supernatural story. But these days, that’s just not good enough anymore, especially if you are an agent looking for new talent. They want to know things like:

  • what age group is it appropriate for?
  • what reality does it take place in (on earth…or not)?
  • what time does it take place in (contemporary/urban or historical)?

And each of these things determine what genre you fall into. Aaaah! That’s enough to make anyone’s head spin! So, I decided to really dive into exactly WHAT a fantasy genre really is and what I’ve learned from my own research on the different subgenres. Writing a novel is no joke and properly classifying it is just as serious.

The Vast World of Fantasy Fiction

Let’s say you have written a fiction novel. And it’s fantasy. Unfortunately, this genre is so broad you can easily get lost trying to figure where you fit within the fantasy spectrum. So, let’s take a closer look at three common subgeneres that fall under the fantasy umbrella.

URBAN FANTASY – Also known as contemporary fantasy, this subgenre usually encompasses stories that typically take place after World War II up to present day. While these fantasy stories may contain supernatural elements that can vary by degree, they are typically set in a city setting, hence the name “urban.” Also, they can be historical, modern, or even futuristic, depending upon the scope of your story.

HIGH FANTASY – This is fantasy that encompasses elements of a completely fictitious world, and it usually has supernatural elements and creatures such as: dragons, elves, imps, faeries, gnomes, and the like. That’s certainly not to say other or different creatures are not seen in high fantasy. Many also typically tend to take on a hero arc or a good vs. evil story line. Many times you see in depth sagas in the high fantasy genre.

DARK FANTASY – This type of fantasy is like a combination of supernatural elements and horror. Here you see a greater emphasis on darker elements like dark backstories, psychological exploration, horrific scenarios, and dark creatures such as vampires, demons, ghosts, and similar. Of course not all dark fantasy includes every one of these elements but usually you might see one or more together. Also, these stories can take place in present time, futuristic settings or even historical settings.

While this is by no means exhaustive of the genres out there under the fantasy umbrella, these are the three I’ve worked in and among the most.

Age Appropriate Reads

Young adult, new adult, middle grade, or just adult–where do you fit? With the recent growth of young adult or YA books, it is no surprise that more and more folks are concerned with which age group a book falls under. When I go to the bookstore or the library, there’s an entire section, even an entire room in some cases, devoted to just young adult / YA or teen titles. And of course children’s reading has its section, including the ever-growing middle grade category.

Sometimes, all of this can become confusing for writers who are tying to see where their book best fits. One main thing to point out is that Young Adult, New Adult and Middle Grade are NOT genres. They are age categories, determined by what the target age of the readership is.

  • A story that is appropriate for ages 8-12 is Middle Grade.
  • A story that is appropriate for ages 12-18 is Young Adult.
  • A story that is appropriate for ages 18-24 is New Adult.
  • A story that is appropriate for ages 25 and up is Adult.

This distinction is worth mentioning since so many folks often think of the age determination as a genre. Even with all of this clarification, it’s still the tip of the iceberg when it comes to figuring out what genre best fits your novel. As a reader, we might not notice it so much but as a writer, it’s a completely different ball game.

Looking at the Big Picture

So it can be confusing trying to find the right place for your book and you might be confused. but with the right resources and research, it might help you to better fit where you belong, especially when you are trying to query agents and pitch your book under a particular genre or for a specific age group. Here are some great links that I feel are pretty helpful when it comes to defining book genres.

LitRejections Blog on Genre Definitions

Best Fantasy Books Genre Guide

The Editor’s Blog

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