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This is the place for writers and readers alike who have always wanted to know about the book they hold in their hands. Phoenix is AJ's fourth book and here we will be following it from concept to paperback to AudioMovie and beyond.

It takes more than just words to make a book, far more. So here you will follow AJ through the creative process - ideas, research, deadlines, editing, and production. You'll also find posts from Eli, AJ's manager, as she handles all the behind-the-scenes details.

Defeating the Shiny Squirrel – A neuroscience approach to improving your productivity!

Written by admin on May 13, 2016 – 8:13 am

*This is a series of Neuroscience based exercises/experiments you can do to both find the things that best help your word count and to find tricks to boost it from there!

 

Episode 5

Last but not least—the bar.

Where you set your goals has a lot to do with ultimately achieving them.

We all know how you start—one bite at a time.

In Episode 2, we talked about keeping track of your achievements.

It’s important to see that your goal of finishing (with 20,000 words to go) is much farther along than it was a week ago (when you also had 20,000 words to go, but before you added that awesome plot twist.)

See that? If you’re looking at the end? You’re a failure.

If you look at where you came from, you’re pretty awesome.

 

Setting a low bar—though counterintuitive—is really the way to go.

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Think about a word count you KNOW you can make today. Set that as your goal.

Seriously.

End of the day, you’re a success.

Did you pass your goal? Likely you did, because you made the goal easy. Pass it handily? And you’re a superhero.

Sounds silly, but think of the ramifications of that for a minute.

Set your bar too high and you fail every day. How do you even start the next time? Why would you even write? If you fail every time you sit down, the only thing driving you is masochism.

Life is going to get in the way. There will be a storm that takes your power out. Your car will break down. Your kid will get sick. Heck, you’ll get sick.

Low bar? You still made it. And tomorrow you can be a superhero again.

Superheroes get more done in the end. They are more motivated. They are happier writers.

So go write.

Look back at what you’ve done and pat yourself on the back.

Set tomorrow’s goal so low that you know you can clear it handily! Succeed.

 

You’re a superhero.      Untitled12

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Defeating the Shiny Squirrel – A neuroscience approach to improving your productivity!

Written by admin on May 13, 2016 – 8:11 am

*This is a series of Neuroscience based exercises/experiments you can do to both find the things that best help your word count and to find tricks to boost it from there!

 

Episode 4

Fighting the things that slow you down.

We’ve worked on finding things that speed you up. We’ve worked on figured out what they are and how to implement them.

Now, let’s remove some of the barriers that are maybe a little more subtle.

You may not have any of these. You may have all of them. Let’s see.

 

1)     Clutter. Some people thrive on it (me—I can find anything on my desk. Usually.) Some people are so distracted by it that it stops them. If this is you—remove it. That’s the only solution. Don’t try to learn to work with it. I won’t try to learn to write prose while my faucet drips (I’m curious if that would be an adequate homicide defense?) and you don’t learn to work at a messy desk. Deal?

 

2)     Mucking around. Getting set up takes time. No, it really doesn’t. Making coffee takes time, that’s it. Are you missing your stuff? You were writing, but now you need your writing journal. Wish you had a highlighter. Ugh! Need batteries/charger/earbuds?

Get a writing bag. Put stuff in it—anything you might need. It’s probably worth the investment in a spare charger/mouse/set of pens/whatever.

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Mine has pens, highlighters, my writing notes (See Episode 1), headache and sinus medicines, clips, sticky notes, chargers, paper, and a $5 bill in case I’m out and I want a snack.

Once you have this set up, you grab your laptop and go. No excuses. Set your phone timer and write!

 

3)     Getting stuck. We all get stuck. So unstick.

Writing is a solitary endeavor that puts us on our butts a large portion of the day. Get a standing desk. Okay, don’t. But get active. It can be as simple as doing twenty jumping jacks before you start. I run the stairs in my house a few times.

Active brain uses as much glucose and oxygen as active muscle—that’s why you can be so tired at the end of a day of writing! But sitting (and slowly becoming the letter “C”) doesn’t help.

Activity helps get your heart pumping, which gets that fuel via the blood to the brain. You’ll literally write better after activity. Also, if you do get stuck, changing scenery, moving your muscles, pumping your heart, feeding your brain helps.

Don’t sit and stare. Get going!

 

4)     Be a pro! No one would fault a soldier who cleans his weapon every day. Or a gardener who wipes down his shears and oils them. You’re a writer. I don’t care if you’ve never finished a book. Again, no one would make fun of the gardener wannabe who keeps his tools clean and sharp. They’d say, look how dedicated he is. He’s going to go far.

These days, everyone ‘has a book in them!’ but if you really do, be a pro. Get your tools in order and take care of them.

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This is Squishy. This is my keyboard. It’s just how I like it. You probably already guessed that the keys don’t really click. Wanna know how I write so fast? Sometimes, it’s just because everything fits. I have the right cushion on my chair, the right wrist rest, and the right keyboard.

Laugh all you want, I know I’m a pro.

 

5)     Motivation. If you can’t find it on your own, get a buddy. National Novel Writing Month (in November) and Writers Conferences at various times of the year are great ways to get to know other writers. Can’t get out? There are lots of ways to connect online.

Do writing sprints together. Meet for coffee and a daily run down on Skype. Even if it’s just typing in your word counts from the day before, accountability is a big thing.

 

You can do it.

Find what’s bothering you and remove it.

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Defeating the Shiny Squirrel – A neuroscience approach to improving your productivity!

Written by admin on May 13, 2016 – 8:09 am

*This is a series of Neuroscience based exercises/experiments you can do to both find the things that best help your word count and to find tricks to boost it from there!

 

Episode 3

IMPROVING WORD COUNT

So now that you have a better idea of getting other things out of the way, how do you actually make your word count go up?

Everyone is different.

It’s time to do some experiments and you are the guinea pig!

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Things that affect word count, that you need to experiment with!

 

  • Time of day
  • With music / without
  • Longer v shorter sessions
  • Light
  • Heat
  • Crowd
  • Location
  • Physical wellness

 

BEFORE YOU COUNT –

Get a baseline. With your current setup, what are you clocking per hour on average.

Don’t go off what you think you do, actually test three times to get a true average!

(Most humans are terrible at estimating that kind of thing!)

 

Now, keep track, what did you change?

Did your word count go up or down?

Keep the things that increase your word count, ditch the things that hurt them.

 

Just for fun, here are mine:

Sunlight – Not direct, but an open window. I clock better times on sunny days!

Heat – I need to be warm. When I’m even just the slightest bit chilly, I’m not as good. (Turns out a $15 space heater under my desk made a ton of difference!)

Shorter Sessions – lately I’ve been coloring. But I write in a burst, take a quick break, color a few spots while I think, and get back to it! (These breaks are not included in my 800wds/15min number—those were during word sprints and publicly recorded. They are included in my daily totals in episode 1.)

 

So get your baselines and start playing around!

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YOUR NEW BEST FRIEND

Maybe surprisingly, it’s your cell phone.

You probably have it on you anyway, so it’s handy.

But that thing that interrupts you all the time can actually keep you on track.

Remember airplane mode from Episode 2? Well, use it!

Always put your phone in airplane mode while writing. If you’re writing on a computer attached to the interwebs (most likely) then turn off notifications, too, and shut those tabs!

Now, make your phone actually work for you.

Set the time for fifteen minutes, and put the phone face down. Write until it dings. That’s it. You can do it for fifteen minutes.

Before you start, make sure there’s nothing that can’t wait fifteen minutes then go.

There are only two rules:

1)     You can’t touch your phone until it dings

2)     WRITE.

Write in fifteen minute spurts. Check your word counts. Do you like them? Keep doing it.

Ready for longer times? Maybe. Try it. Does your word count stay as high? Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. Remember, I said you were going to be your own guinea pig. You may get more done at the end of two hours if you did 20min of writing + 10 min of returning emails, etc, for two hours straight.

 

So charge your phone. Start shaking up your environment. Test the things on the list and others that you come up with, too!

You’ve got this.

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Defeating the Shiny Squirrel – A neuroscience approach to improving your productivity!

Written by admin on May 13, 2016 – 8:07 am

*This is a series of Neuroscience based exercises/experiments you can do to both find the things that best help your word count and to find tricks to boost it from there!

 

Episode 2

Honestly, LOTS of things affect output (as measured by word count) and we can’t change them all. Some writers just have a slower speed. Maybe you only type so fast. That’s fine. The goal is for you to be faster than you were.

One thing that affects output time dramatically is how well you know the story.

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I know one writer who takes forever on the first three chapters while he figures out what’s going on. Me? I don’t write word one until I know how it all goes!

We won’t get into plotters v pantsers here, but these things do affect output time.

 

NEUROLOGICAL THINGS THAT AFFECT OUTPUT

 

  • Noise

Music? White noise? The coffee shop?

Some writers NEED music. Many of us use it, but shouldn’t.

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  • Distractions

Almost a definite no-no. We aren’t talking about the general goings-on of a coffee shop. We are talking computer/message dings, people at the door. Things that ask specifically for your attention.

TURN THEM OFF. Put your phone in airplane mode. Forward it to someone else if you’re concerned about emergencies. (Give them an advanced copy of your book as a thank you!)

  • Worries

This one’s rough. Small kids? Work that should be paid attention to? You NEED a workaround. Option 1- do other things while your attention is claimed and clear time for when the distractions are gone.

Option 2- set your phone timer and turn it face down. Just 10-20 min. Check in and be sure that your worries can be laid to rest when the timer goes off. Don’t look at it in the meantime! Just write.

  • Deadlines (or lack thereof)

Some of us just work better with deadlines. Some don’t.
If you need them, but don’t have them, get a pesky beta-reader. Feed them one chapter at a time. Let them give you a deadline, then harass you if you don’t make it.

*This is how I finished my very first novel. My sister set my deadlines. Then sent me nasty emails and texts if I missed. She even withheld a birthday present one year! She put it on the mantle and told me it was awesome and I could open it when she got her chapter. I finished that book!

 

LET’S GET BACK TO WORRIES—Are you still worrying about them?

Three ways to tackle them! (All of these are backed by studies that show they work!)

 

  1. Make a list – List people, I hear you.
    1. Cross items off
    2. Know what’s still waiting

*Simply keeping track of what’s still to be done should let you put them aside. Written tasks can’t go anywhere. You won’t lose or forget them. They are parked. Do a certain number before you write.

  1. Make a physical marker – Concerned you aren’t progressing on your book fast enough?
    1. Color a thermometer
    2. Move a chip from one side to the other

*We are often good at looking forward, but it’s just as important to look back. To pat ourselves on the back for what we’ve done. (But I’m still not finished with this book!–> OMG, I wrote almost a whole freakin’ BOOK!) Mark your accomplishments so you can physically see them.

  1. Set a reward system – Still need more motivation?
    1. Make a taunting shelf – get yourself a prize and place it somewhere you can see it, but can’t yet have it. You get it when you finish.
    2. Get some skin in the game – place a monetary reward with a goal. Make it? You keep the money. Miss? Send it to a charity. (May I recommend Camp NaNoWriMo?)

*Investment is the key to this set up. If you aren’t finishing, you may not be invested enough, or your fear may be overcoming your investment. Throw money in the pot? Science shows your odds of achieving your goal just went WAY up!

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Defeating the Shiny Squirrel – A neuroscience approach to improving your productivity!

Written by admin on May 13, 2016 – 8:04 am

*This is a series of Neuroscience based exercises/experiments you can do to both find the things that best help your word count and to find tricks to boost it from there!

 

Episode 1

Hi, I’m AJ and you may ask why am I qualified to write this? This is my info and my recent numbers. You be the judge.

  • BA in Psychobiology
  • MS in Neuroscience—with a focus on learning and memory
  • I can clock 800+ words in 15 min (routinely)
  • Jan 1st to April 7th (2016) (97 days) I did . . .
    • Edited from first draft to final 135k word manuscript
    • Full edits on 2 other 100k+ word manuscripts
    • Wrote 90K word novel
    • Recent 1 day totals come in at 4659 8319 5099

This all happened while I’m a mom of two teenagers (Who are really easy kids, I admit.) And I have a part time job every week. And I’m a full time grad student, on campus—one that’s two and a half hours away. So yes, some days I do get a big goose egg. But 18K ain’t bad for five days with two days off!

And if I can do it, so can you.

 

Onto the Neuroscience!

There are 2 major classes of neural activity (ignoring long-term/short-term memory, not that.)

INPUT and OUTPUT

Research/Studying/Reading to learn = INPUT

Word count = OUTPUT ß this is our focus

 

But an aside about INPUT – most of what you learned in school is wrong. (I’m sorry.) The whole “Study in the same place, at the same time of day, where it’s quiet . . .” may work for some. But for many, white noise is needed. If you really want to learn something, study in a variety of environments. Study at different times of day—we each have better and worse times for learning, and though there are general trends (early afternoon is usually bad), it will be individual.

HANDWRITING v TYPING NOTES

Also, handwriting notes on what you want to learn is best for retention! Handwriting lights up multiple portions of the brain like no other activity. It connects neurons in such a way that handwriting v typing increases retention by 3 to 5 times! (For the average person) This means: you would have to revisit the material ~4 times if you typed it, but only once to retain it if handwritten!

This is actually a really great tool for writers. If you need notes with high quantity of detail in a short time, typing may be faster/better. But if you are trying to build characters, keep a handwritten log. Here’s mine!

 

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Your information will come more easily to mind and you’ll have to look it up less often. Thus letting the story flow!

 

NOW OUTPUT – STEP 1

You can’t write or at least write well without the energy to get through the day. When the rest of the day slugs along, writing is often what suffers. So step 1 is a doozy, but when done well it will help all kinds of output in your life!

Sleep – Did you know that sleep cycles look like this?

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This means that if you wake up after 4 hours or 6 hours, you’ll likely be refreshed and feel alert.
If you wake up after 5 or even 7 hours of sleep, you’ll be sluggy all day.

 

NAP TIPS!

Notice from the chart that napping 20 min, 40 min or 1hr 40 min is usually good. (For me, it’s 15m, 40m, or just under 2 hours.)

The above chart is an AVERAGE number. Yours may not look like this. Start keeping a journal with these columns to discover your best sleep cycles.

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(Time to sleep should be your best guess at when you actually FELL asleep.)

You’ll learn in about a week or so what your good numbers are. This means that you can say “I have to be up at 7am and it’s midnight. Hmm. I’m better off staying up another hour, then going to sleep.”

You’ll get an extra hour tonight and feel MUCH better tomorrow.

CONGRATULATIONS—you just gained an extra hour of WRITING TIME!

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INERTIA

Written by AJ on July 29, 2012 – 3:08 am

I mentioned I was starting research for my next novel? Yup. I have a combination of computer and paper notes.

I have removed the ‘star’ icon from my Phoenix file on my computer. : (  And now have it next to another writing project!

Here’s a picture of my starter notes for my next novel, Inertia.

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Boxes

Written by Eli on July 27, 2012 – 4:38 am

It’s worth investing in a few different sizes of shipping boxes. You can use padded envelopes if your book is fairly lightweight. But if it has any heft to it at all, the post office is likely to tear your package apart and dent the edges. Read more »

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Editors – how to use them!

Written by AJ on July 23, 2012 – 10:30 am

Beta-readers!

It’s up to you when to hand your material over. I hand mine over chapter by chapter. I have two main beta-readers, but you may have more if you have a group. Mine are Eli—who gets first crack at things, tells me when sentences don’t make sense, says where it appears things are going, and suffers through not knowing when the next chapter is coming. Then Andrea, who gives me broad, general feedback, usually after the first draft.

 

Content Editors.

These people can be your best friend or your worst nightmare. First, as the writer, be sure you know if you are writing for you or to sell. These people know what sells. Read more »

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Typos are NOT Your Friends

Written by Eli on July 18, 2012 – 1:05 am

Before you send out any piece of marketing, make sure you proof read it. A typo looks beyond unprofessional and can turn people away from your book. Read more »

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Editors – a general Rundown

Written by AJ on July 14, 2012 – 8:02 am

At some point on the road to getting published, you will need to get an editor. There are a handful of different kinds of editors. Read more »

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