Six Words & Phrases to Stop Using RIGHT NOW

WORDS&PHRASESRain teems down outside as you cozy up to the crisp pages of a new book, snug under your new fleece blanket and latest #bookish socks. You’re coasting along, line after line, eating up the words and losing yourself to the delicious story.

Suddenly, there it is. That word. Like nails on a chalkboard, the word comes screaming into your mind, like an unwelcome wild animal hissing and ripping up the furniture. There are certain words or phrases that just rub some readers and writers the wrong way. Some are overused, annoying, and totally cliché, while others just sound gross.

What is my word?

Glinted.

EVERYTHING is apparently “glinting” in stories. The moon, people’s teeth, glass on the ground, spilled water, you name it. I find it is a crutch word for some kind of light reflecting off of a surface, but it is so overused that when I see it, I am immediately taken out of what I am reading and thrown back into reality. Ew.

My solution? A $7.99 paperback thesaurus. Cheap, organized, and full of creative alternatives: Sparkle, flash, gleam, glimmer, shine, twinkle, shimmer…

A fantastic set of resources I have fallen in love with are the thesauri from Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman at Writers Helping Writers. I am obsessed with these, especially the emotion thesaurus, negative trait thesaurus, and emotional wound thesaurus. They all aim to elevate your storytelling and are absolutely worth checking out. Another resource I love to use when trying to drum up better descriptions and phrasing is a site called Descriptionari.

Here are a few more words and phrases to stop using:

Bile: There are apparently a staggering number of characters in books that have gastric problems since they all seem to be in need of an antacid, stat. Phrases such as “Bile rose in her throat” or “I tasted bile in my mouth” are popular. Please, just…don’t.

Releasing a breath: Not only do many characters have GERD as mentioned above, but also seem to be holding their breath. They will then release this breath that they weren’t aware of. Most characters don’t hold their breath, but this phrase is commonly used to show a physical representation of tension inside a character. Consider a switch to something more unique such as “I took a sharp inhale, then the tension in my chest eased as I finally let it go.”

Very: Very strong, very weird, very high, very wet, very gray, very tired…you get it. It’s boring.

Shaking one’s head: You see it everywhere, but most characters don’t really need to do this. In some cases, it may work, however, it may be fitting to re-word so it isn’t so cliché.

Clench: A lot of things clenching here, folks. Clenched jaws, hands, eyelids, fists… How about grasp, clamp, clasp, clinch (this is a real word, check it out), clutch, constrict, contract, grapple, grip, and hold? Or better yet, twist them into a more original, unique phrasing such as changing “My jaw clenched” to “The muscles along my jaw knotted.”

AN ARMY OF ADVERBS: (These are words that end with “-ly”). This isn’t a phrase per se, but rather a trend within a string of paragraphs. In a book I read late last year, I came across so many adverbs in the writing that it abruptly (see what I did there?) took me out of the story. A few dashed here and there are fine to sneak in, but please don’t let them build up.

What are your trigger words and phrases?

 

 

 

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Tackling YA Fiction Tropes: Too Cliché?

TROPES AND CLICHES

“He stands there, alone and silent, in the moonlight—tall, dark, and handsome. He pulls his shirt off, there’s definitely scars there, but he won’t tell me why. His crystal blue eyes peer through the part in his dark hair above his knitted brows—wet from the rain—and stare straight into my soul. If only I knew what he was thinking…or why he makes me feel this way.”

He’s mysterious. He’s a bad boy. He’s emotionally unavailable and SMIRKS A LOT. He’s…the brooding YA (Young Adult) male love-interest trope!

Does this character sound familiar? Anyone ever read Twilight?

What is a trope? A trope is a recurring literary device that may show common conventions and devices used within a story. Similar to the idea of a stereotype, these literary tropes become well-known throughout a genre. In YA (young adult), there are some common ones you will recognize. All stories have tropes in them. A good story depends on how they are swiveled to drive the story the right way.

What is a cliché? Cliche refers to an overused device such as a saying, idea, expression, or description such as a character’s eye color. They are so common or predictable that they lose meaning or novelty. Don’t use these when you write. NO ONE’S EYES ARE CERULEAN BLUE.

Clichés are tropes, but not all tropes are clichés. 

Carrie Ann DiRisio is the brilliant creator of Brooding YA Hero. You simply must check Broody out on Twitter and buy Carrie’s new book: BROODING YA HERO: BECOMING A MAIN CHARACTER (ALMOST) AS AWESOME AS ME.  Her book is a parody of YA tropes, perfect for writers wanting to dive deeper and learn how to twist them to their advantage.

Key takeaways from Carrie’s recent trope discussion webinar I attended:

-Tropes are the building blocks of a story. They are NOT necessarily a bad thing. Tropes are like comfort food: We don’t want to read the same story 10 times. We want just the essence of tropes in stories so that they are familiar.

-Clichés are done so many times that they aren’t interesting anymore. Cliches lose originality and lose readers quickly.

So what are writers to do? No one wants to fall into a cliché rut. They key is to be original and twist common tropes to work to your story’s advantage. Use them as a device to drive conflict and drama!

Here’s some top tropes you may recognize:

  1. FEMALE PROTAGONIST blind to her own beauty. Typically has “dark hair” and thinks she’s “plain”.
  2. INSTA-LOVE! “Their eyes met over a steaming bowl of pasta.” Ooh, pasta. Now that I can fall in love with at first sight…
  3. SUPER-PERFECT MODEL-HOT LOVE INTEREST. Flawless is BORING!
  4. BROODING MALE LOVE INTEREST. Perhaps closely related to Mr. Perfect, this guy has flaws, and he’s tight-lipped about his DTP (Dark Troubled Past)…and he’s bad for the protagonist…and it makes him SOOO hot.
  5. LOVE TRIANGLES! “They are both so hot, I can’t just pick one until the very end of the story (or entire trilogy)! Which leads to:
  6. …TRILOGIES! Why is almost everything YA in a 3-book series?
  7. PARENTS ARE JERKS! Or dead.
  8. INSTANT LEADER OF THE RESISTANCE. “Down with the king!”
  9. SUPER CLUMSY PROTAGONIST…but is amazing at fighting. Why? 
  10. UNDISCOVERED ABILITIES! “OMG, I’m a wizard?”
  11. SECRET ROYALTY! “OMG, I’m a PRINCESS?”

 

Do What You Love & Love Yourself For It

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“Don’t compare your Chapter 1 to someone else’s Chapter 20.”

I’ve been told this a hundred times.

Doing what I love—namely reading and writing—has made a big impact in my personal happiness and well-being. As an act of self-care, it has changed the way I see the world, opened my creativity, strengthened my relationships and friendships, and improved my perception of stressors within the world around me. When I let go of trying to compare my achievements and skill level to others, it completely liberated me.

It’s ok to love what you do. It’s ok to be a beginner. It’s ok to do something purely because it makes you happy. Don’t compare where you are to another’s success. 

On this Valentine’s Day, we are inundated with images of the L-word and what we picture it should be. Of course, love is romanticized through iconic images. Couples kissing, fuzzy stuffed animals, and mountains of chocolate and candy flood our Instagram feeds. What we forget, sometimes, is that love extends far beyond romantic love. Self-love, for example, is fundamental to the human condition. Self-acceptance, self-care, and the ability to embrace the things that drive us are what fundamentally let us celebrate being human.

Doing what you love not only improves quality of life, but there are literal changes in your body’s chemistry when this happens. In the presence of something perceived as “Good”, the brain releases four main chemicals, creating desirable states of the brain and keeping us coming back for more. I like to call these guys The Fab Four: Dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins.

  1. Dopamine motivates us to take steps toward our goals, needs, and desires, then gives a wave of supportive gratification when attaining them. Why do you think it feels so great when you hit your daily word count?
  2. Serotonin circulates when you feel significant or confident.  When Serotonin is absent, feelings of loneliness and depression appear. Being outside in the sunshine promotes Vitamin D and serotonin production, a bonus for us outside-loving readers and writers!
  3. Oxytocin creates strength and trust within relationships. Released during sexual intimacy, touch/massage, childbirth or breastfeeding, and eating food (AMEN to that), Oxytocin is also famous for lowering blood pressure, increasing pain thresholds, and lowering anxiety.
  4. Endorphins are released in response to pain or stress and help to relieve anxiety and depression. That feeling after a workout you get is thanks to the release of endorphins. Laughing will bring this same feeling. Remember that mountain of Valentine’s Day chocolate? Studies have shown that dark chocolate can cue the brain to release endorphins. Reading books? If you recall my recent post about Books vs Technology, you may remember the chemistry lesson about the beloved book smell, which included the scent of vanilla. Vanilla and lavender scents have actually been linked to the production of endorphins in the body. Bibliophiles, buying books really DOES buy happiness! 

So do what YOU love. Do it often. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else.

Create what moves you, and you will move the world.

With love on this Valentine’s Day,

Laura_Sig

 

Health & Wellness for Creativity

What is the greatest enemy of creativity? Stress! 

Like so many writers, I only have the opportunity to write part-time. My full-time gig as a veterinarian can be physically and emotionally draining, especially those nights with heavy caseloads and high mortality rates. Barricading this kind of stress from my creative side is a real effort, and it has taken years to develop the power to affect how my mind perceives and processes stress.

When the flow of creativity is imbued with a healthy mind, you can shatter these barriers. An unhealthy mind and body limit the capacity of your brain and ability to create. Stress makes your brain go into survival mode. Think about it: when you’re “running from a bear” (a fun mnemonic my physiology professor used to use in vet school), you need to GET OUTTA THERE, not write him a novel or paint his portrait. There is no space in your brain to create when you’re trying to stay alive and function. When we are stuck behind the glass wall that stress puts up, we see where we COULD go, but we can’t get there—we are “locked out” of our creative vision.

Everything I read seems to portray the goal in reverse: Creativity is needed for health & wellness, especially mental wellness. I don’t necessarily see this as a one-way street, however. Mental and physical health are what feed creativity in your brain, thus one being mutually beneficial to the other.

Increasing blood flow to vital organs (including your brain) can not only balance hormones, even out your sleep cycle, decrease anxiety, and strengthen your immune system, it can also create a healthier outlook, decrease your chances of Alzheimer’s, and allow wider creative impulses.

So how do you get to the overflowing wellspring of creativity? It’s simple: MOVE. Move your body, move your mind.

Here are some simple ideas to get your blood pumping or de-stress, and get your creative juices flowing!

-Use a fitness tracker. I use the Fitbit Blaze and absolutely love it based on my lifestyle needs. If I am sitting too long, it prompts me to stand and take a specific minimum number of steps per hour.

-Walk regularly, jog, run, skip, or ride a bike. I can’t stress this enough: walk regularly, even if it’s just 15 minutes a day.

-Regular stretching, focusing on the back, neck, and shoulders. Staring at a screen will wreak havoc on your neck. Consider a professional massage or even acupuncture.

-Yoga, Barre, pole fitness, or aerial dance (silks, hammock, or Lyra hoop). Download the MINDBODY app HERE to explore classes and pricing near you.

-Meditation, recite mantras/affirmations for writers such as WriteNow cards which you can purchase HERE

-Photography and Videography. Train a different creative channel in your brain. You’ll see the world in a whole new way.

-Voiceover, podcasting, songwriting. Hear yourself in a new way. Record yourself reading your writing—it’ll blow your mind.

-Listen to music, play piano, learn guitar. Have a playlist blasting while writing to inspire certain moods or emotions. Pandora and Spotify are a great start. Noise-cancelling headphones are a must if you’re in public.

-Art galleries, painting, drawing, quilting, knitting, ceramics, Paint & Sip classes.

-Live performances, dinner theater, bands, acting workshops or theater groups, Shakespeare festivals in summer!

FURTHER READING: Psychology Today:“Our study supports the idea that engaging the mind may protect neurons, or the building blocks of the brain, from dying, stimulate the growth of new neurons, or may help recruit new neurons to maintain cognitive activities in old age” (American Academy of Neurology, 2015).

Pick Your Platform: Paper, E-Reader, or Audiobook?

 

Printed Books: Have you ever walked into a second-hand bookstore, stood in the open foyer to shake the rain off of your umbrella, and drawn in a long, deep breath through your nose? That glorious smell lingers thanks to the slow breakdown of substances called lignin and cellulose, which are found in wood (and therefore, paper), releasing volatile compounds that we recognize as certain scents. These include vanillin (vanilla), benzaldehyde (almond), and even certain floral or sweet smells can sometimes be detected. The older the better.

Ah, but then there’s the new book aroma. *Inhales*. There is nothing like that smell, wafting through the crackle of the new book’s spine as you journey through the story. Ink, paper, and adhesives give off this intoxicating aroma and can vary book to book based on the products used to make them. Check out this useful printable infographic by Compound Interest for more on the chemistry of old and new books.

Pros: What’s not to love? You can twirl around with them in your arms like Belle and cross your fingers wishing for a giant palace library from a prince. You can visit used bookstores for the low prices and amazing aroma experience. Everyone, of course, loves a good #Bookstagram: Taking photos all day of your color-coordinated bookshelves, coffee mugs, and long socks (bonus points if you have a cat in the photo). The best feelings are the butterflies you feel when that beautiful rectangular package is awaiting your arrival, leaning against your front door, like a lone cowboy from a romance novel leaning against a fence, waiting for you and tipping his hat (shirt optional). Howdy.

Cons: Books are a guilty pleasure for many of us readers, however, the soaring expense of printed books can be staggering (especially new release hardcovers). The physical lack of room can become a problem when your little book collection overruns your spare bedroom (actual book walls were banned at our house, despite my creative suggestion). The gut-wrenching wait for Amazon deliveries hurts, but thankfully Prime has relief for that.

 

E-Readers (Kindle, Nook, etc): About 3 months ago I purchased a non-backlit Kindle. I was hesitant at first. There was no intoxicating book smell, no physical pages to turn. I tried to hold it in one hand above me as one would a beloved paperback while laying down on my favorite couch, but it merely fell straight onto my face and bruised my ego. It was a rough start to our relationship. But after I downloaded a few books and found the ease of the features, I absolutely fell in love with it. Its portability makes it perfect for my busy schedule and frequent air travel. It makes me go to bed at a reasonable hour as I can only use it with the lights on. When my husband and I are ready to fall asleep, I turn it off and can fall asleep much sooner.

Pros: Lower cost than printed books and most audiobooks. You can highlight important sections and make as many notes as you want while staying organized—fantastic news for Goodreads users! Immediate delivery of e-books (sweet satisfaction!) and very large amounts of storage space make it a great deal. Purchasing a refurbished non-backlit Kindle is very economical. And if you forget to bring it along, you can download the app onto your phone.

Cons: Some models are a bit of a budget squeeze. The backlight on certain models can induce eye strain and affect sleep patterns. The battery life may be a problem depending on your model. You also may accidentally drop it on your face. No judgment.

 

Audiobooks: My dad got me hooked on audiobooks a very long time ago. He would listen to them during his almost one-hour commute every day to work. Plowing through audiobooks, we would go to the library and check out even more. Back then they were all on cassette tapes in an enormous, squishy plastic case. The cassettes were a pain to cue up, typically more than seven or eight in a set. Throughout the years, audiobooks moved on to CD’s and finally onto smartphones and tablets, making them more portable than ever. The only time you won’t catch me with an audiobook is when I’m reading another one in print.

Pros: Perfect for people on the go, especially with long commutes. Very handy for multi-taskers as you can tuck your phone in your pocket and get your to-do list done. They also can be a fun book-club alternative—club members attend to listen together over a glass of wine or two. For individuals utilizing English as a second language, audiobooks are excellent practice. Some studies show that audiobooks can actually increase reading accuracy and fluency. If you are tired, have difficulty with vision, or experience frequent eye strain, audiobooks are a comforting alternative.

Cons: Expense can be an issue, however, there are memberships available that may decrease the cost. Audible offers a free book when you sign up, and you get to keep it if you cancel. Storage can be limited if books are kept on a phone app. Sometimes the story itself is awesome, but the voice acting is absolutely awful, thus ruining the experience. I recommend downloading the audio sample before purchasing (if they offer one).

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Books that are available in all platforms bring larger audiences as they offer more options for virtually all lifestyles and budgets.

At the end of the day, if a story is meaningful and speaks to your humanity, get your hands on it and hold on. Stories have the power to bring change to our lives, and that is the magic of books.

What’s your favorite platform? Take the poll above!

 

PRINTABLE: The Writer’s Daily Planner

Kick your creativity into high gear and get organized! This two-sided daily planner sheet is specifically aimed for writers. Integrating your creative goals throughout the day, this planner helps prioritize what you need to accomplish while keeping your everyday tasks on schedule. It even reminds you to hydrate, which is vital for mental acuity and to keep the creativity flowing!

For 50% off the download, enter WRITERS50 at checkout! (Not case-sensitive). Your contribution keeps this blog up and running, thank you for your support!
Get the Writer’s Daily Planner HERE

coffee and write

Write Now, Write Often

How do you quickly settle into “writing-mode” if you’re not a full-time writer?

As a full-time veterinarian, I don’t get much time off. When I do, I have to pack a lot of things into just a few short days before jumping right back in again. I find it challenging to make time to write, but I carve it out when I can. I need to write. It’s my escape into the other world—you know, the one where we tame dragons and live happily ever after? The world of endless imagination, where we can be anything or anyone, go anywhere, and our feet don’t even have to leave the ground.

Early to bed, early to rise? Forget it. I get in at 1:30am most nights from my daytime/emergency swing-shifts, throw some sweats on, and slink against the kitchen counter, petting my dogs and catching up on the day’s world events while the kettle heats up for a cup of tea. “Winding down”, we call it. Mentally, these shifts are often draining. Emotionally, they are exsanguinating.

So how do I come home and suddenly shift into writing-mode? How can creative flow just “click” into place? It doesn’t. I have to invite it in, one cup of tea at a time. One deep breath after another, a gentle neck-rolling, and eventually I’ll flip open my laptop.

Very briefly, I will shuffle through emails and any social media I need to respond to. I stay here no longer than 15 minutes. Once I am mentally warmed up, I find my spot on my chaise-style couch (think: giant, soft Ikea rectangle) where I can spread out all of my materials, blankets, a cup of something hot such as coffee or tea, and a stack of my current books I am reading. You know, for inspiration…or maybe they’ll just diffuse onto the page I’m writing. Hey—it’s only weird if it doesn’t work. 

Don’t laugh, but I use a curved nursing pillow on my lap to balance my laptop and keep my arms hanging at the right distance to prevent strain. It works great as a neck pillow too!

I use an ambient sound creator to add background noise in order to focus a scene towards a particular setting or feeling, such as Noisli (it’s FREE!) or Ambient Mixer.

Two apps remain open on my phone so I don’t have to switch screens around on my laptop: My Merriam-Webster dictionary/thesaurus app for quick word choice reference and The Brainstormer, a spinner-style solution for writer’s block that can quickly provide writing prompts and fresh ideas.

I write for 60 minutes at a time, averaging 3-4 hour sessions if it’s a day off from work, with a word goal of 500 words a day. Sometimes I reach this goal, sometimes I don’t. But I know I’ll never hit the end of my novel if I don’t keep going. If I have work the next day, I write only 25 words. Why only 25? Because at least that’s a couple of sentences I can get down on paper to keep moving forward, and it’s an easy goal to keep.

When I’m not writing, I keep a notebook and a pencil with me, including next to my bed, in case of emergency ideas popping up at 4am. They happen. Be prepared.

Where should I write? I find that sitting at my dining room table gives me about 5 minutes of functional work time…and then my seat goes numb and everything in my back aches. You can’t write when you’re uncomfortable. Find a spot that works for you—the floor, a couch, a hammock, a coffee shop, a large recliner chair, wherever fits your needs!

Dress comfortably. Avoid harsh waistbands or tight-fitting clothing, but don’t write in your pajamas during the day! Shower, eat, drink, and complete other tasks (laundry, dishes, you name it) before you start so they aren’t a distraction. Show up like it’s a job.

How much should I write? That depends on your goals. If you are writing a large piece of fiction (say, a 50,000-word goal), a daily goal of 500-1,000 words is a great place to start. By “daily word count”, this means only the days on which you write. This does not mean you literally have to write 1,000 words every calendar day. If you do, congratulations, you’re a full-time writer!

What if I just can’t get into it? If you just can’t find it within yourself to write, then read. If you don’t feel up to reading, then listen to an audiobook and set it to Sleep Timer mode to automatically shut off after a timeframe of your choice. Don’t fall into the video game or TV trap. Allow a quick lunch break for a single episode (no Netflix marathons!) if you must, then get back to it. Even better yet? Exercise! Go for a run or walk (bonus if you bring your dog). Increasing blood flow to your vital organs will increase oxygen and refresh your mind. Don’t sit there waiting for creativity to drop in your lap—it won’t happen. Go out and find it!

Happy writing!

How To Make Greek Coffee

Photo Dec 25, 2 27 22 PMThere’s an old joke I love to tell about Greeks: How many Greeks does it take to make a party? One.

My in-laws are loud, animated, lovely, talkative people. As an introvert, I was terrified at the thought of meeting so many people in my husband’s family at once. My first Christmas dating Steve, we visited his grandparents (and aunts, uncles, and countless cousins) in Tucson, Arizona. Instead of the anticipated social terror (common for us introverts with anxiety), I was met with warm smiles, kisses on the cheeks, and open arms into their loving homes. I did eventually get used to the lamb roasting on the electric spit outside—shots of Metaxa helped with that. photo-apr-16-1-36-23-pm.jpg

My Greek mother-in-law once said to me, “Anything worth doing is worth overdoing.” This rang true as I later learned about the culture I was marrying into once Steve and I got engaged. I remember as we were planning our wedding, we debated about having a traditional Greek ceremony.

“It would be a long drive for our guests,” I said to Steve as we contemplated how everyone would be able to get back and forth from Colorado to the traditional Greek church all the way up in Wyoming.  steve-and-laura-married-steve-and-laura-full-set-0264.jpgHe pinched my cheeks, pretending to be his yiayia (Greek for grandmother, spelled various ways) and said in a shaky, high-pitched voice with rolled R’s, “Laura, it is for the family.”

Shortly after, we got married in front of our beloved friends and family, carrying on the tradition in a Greek Orthodox church as so many have done before us.

Greeks love tradition. Through traditions, we can tell our story and pass it down through generations, with tales from our ancestors infusing the rituals of everyday life.

One such ritual is coffee. At Christmas last year, I spent time with my husband’s grandparents learning the Greek tradition of coffee-making on the stove in a briki—the traditional steel pot with a long handle used to make coffee.

As a coffee nerd—nay—addict, I wholeheartedly dove in to absorb the old ways of Greek coffee-making.

Photo Dec 25, 2 33 16 PMSteve’s grandmother, Helen, demonstrated the technique using two briki on her stove at home in Arizona. Savoring the aroma of the grounds inside the giant can of Venizelos coffee, we pulled out small cups called “demi-tasse” and measured enough cold water for the number of people to be served. Each cup held about 1/4 cup of water.

She asked us if we like our coffee unsweetened, sweet (glykos), or somewhere in the middle. “Metrios.” she said. “Not too sweet, and not too bitter.” We mixed one heaping teaspoon of coffee and a teaspoon of sugar into the water and set the heat to a low-medium, mixing it in until it dissolved.

And then we waited.

A few times, Helen added very small amounts of the ground coffee and gently stirred the top, creating a richer, thicker flavor. Just as in life, we can tailor the taste depending on what we put into it. And, just as in life, the more we stir the pot, the less we get what we want. “Let it simmer, the foam will rise,” Helen said. As it slowly came to a boil, foam gathered on the surface. “The more foam, the better.” Called kaïmaki, the foam is left to gather as the coffee heats up.  Just before it came to a boil, steam rose and a thick, delicate layer of foam crowned the surface. She poured the coffee into the small cups, with equal foam placed on the surface of each one.

Greek coffee is made to be savored, slowly, among friends and family. Afterward, it is a tradition to have the grounds in the bottom of your cup “read” by spinning the base in your hand, then quickly turning it over, revealing your fortune as the grounds dry in patterns over the walls of the cup.

My fortune, as told to me by Steve’s uncle, was that I am living a full, uncomplicated life. I hope that cup was right.

May your cup, as in life, be full and sweet.

Ya Sou! 

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