Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Slaying the Stress Monster

By: Barbara Nickless

If you’ve ever had stress kick on like a pilot light in the middle of the night, or felt it stalk you with twenty-four-seven persistence, then welcome to the human race.

The Oxford Dictionary defines stress as a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. The causes can be internal (fear of pubic speaking, worry about a medical procedure) or external (buying a house, taking a new job, suffering a loss).

So, yes, stress is part of being human. But in today’s hyper-demanding world of social media, twenty-four-hour news, and contentious presidential elections, we can find ourselves perpetually anxious. The flight-or-flight response that protected us from dire wolves has itself become a monster. Headache, chest pain, fatigue, lack of focus, depression, insomnia—these are only a few of the joys visited upon us by stress.

And, oh boy, am I intimately familiar with the havoc stress inflicts. A few years ago, a wildfire and other traumas kicked my personal anxiety into the stratosphere. After my life returned to some semblance of its pre-trauma state, my body didn’t get the memo. Even minor, everyday stressors like getting cut-off in traffic caused my anxiety to spike. This, I learned, was normal. The body holds onto trauma with the persistence of a politician with an applause-winning soundbite.

It was no way to live. I had to channel my inner Beowulf and slay the beast.

Enter hours of research and months of practice. Over time, I created a list of stress-busters that work for me. It’s an on-going effort—the struggle, as they say, is real. But now I have some tried and true tools to use the next time someone tries to take off my front bumper. 



If you look at this list and start thinking, yeah, that would all be great for people who have some time in their day, then recall the marshmallow story: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QX_oy9614HQ

The moral of the marshmallows? Save time for the important stuff now, and you’ll get back double the benefit. More than double. A few minutes a day could add years to your life.

·       Back off those goals. It’s all about the process. Google “process versus goals” and you’ll finds all kinds of helpful ideas about this. The important thing to remember is that while finishing a novel is a worthwhile goal, you’re more likely to get there if you focus on the pleasure you feel in the process of a daily writing habit. Loving the process = progress = less stress.

·       Work efficiently. Schedule intense work, like writing a novel, in twenty-five minute segments with a five minute “mind wandering” break at the end to serve as a refreshing reset. This gives your brain a break and helps alleviate built-up stress. It’s also easier to push through tough or scary work if it’s only for twenty-five minutes at a time.

·       Don’t multi-task. Don’t even try. Humans can’t. And trying to do so actually reduces your efficiency. If you’re like me, well, just call me Pavlov’s dog. Every time one of my devices lets me know I have an email, message, or phone call, I’m all over it. I finally learned to turn off those helpful little pings. Be cognizant of how much checking your email or engaging in social media fractures your attention. Fractured attention means accomplishing less in the time you have. And what does that do to your stress level? Rocket ship to the moon, anyone?

·       Recognize your limits. Being overscheduled is a major stressor. Work and family take priority. Beyond that, sometimes we have to just say no. If you can’t help a friend or a cause right now, it doesn’t make you a bad person. Promise yourself you’ll make time when doing so won’t hurt your health.

·       Find your tribe. Just make sure it’s the right one for you. People who have a support network live longer, healthier lives. Work, hobbies, church, and, yes, Pok√©mon Go—all provide opportunities to connect. Social media can be helpful, too. Just be aware that online communities don’t offer the same level of healthy engagement. Get out there in person and express—and feel—the love.

·      

Yoga
. Yeah, I know. Who has an extra hour in their day? Here’s what I read that made me
change my mind: People with some of the worst stress in the world—combat veterans—are finding significant relief with yoga. Some are getting better results than they saw with traditional therapy or medications. And even a few minutes a day helps.


·       Meditate. Another, yeah, yeah. You force yourself to sit there for ten minutes while your mind races over your to-do list and your body is in sprint mode, waiting for the alarm to go off so you can get to the important stuff. But here’s the deal—just five or ten minutes of daily meditation (more is better) literally changes our brains for the better. Google it.

·       Fight for your body. It’s the only one you’ve got. Eat right. Drink water. Exercise. It takes time now, but gives you more time in the future. ‘nuff said.

·       Keep perspective. If some of your stress comes from keeping up with the Jones’ (or Stephen King or Harlan Coben or the guy in your critique group), remember, this is your journey. Lately I’ve been freaking out over whether people will like my debut novel or if I’m capable of writing a respectable second book. I worry that I’m not as good a daughter/mother/wife/friend as I want to be. This is one of those middle-of-the-night monsters for me, and when it leaps, I take a deep, meditative breath and remind myself that I am on my path, not anyone else’s. That’s something I can own.
All of the above ideas take awareness, willingness and some time. But they translate into more time on Earth. Which, in turn, means more time to write our stories. And isn’t that what all of us want?

I’d love to hear what stresses you out and how you cope with it. If any of these techniques work for you, please share!

For every comment you make, you’ll be entered in a drawing for an ARC of my debut novel, Blood on the Tracks. Our esteemed blog master, Donnell Bell, will pick a random winner on August 31.




About the Author:  Barbara worked as a raptor rehabilitator, instructional designersword fighter, astronomy instructor, and piano teacher before turning to writing. Now an award-winning author, she lives in Colorado where she loves to snowshoe, cave, hike and drink single malt Scotch—usually not at the same time. She is the author of the Special Agent Parnell series featuring a railroad cop and her K9 partner.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Review of July Write Brain with Jason Evans

By: AmyBeth Inverness

I recently edited out a reference to one character’s brown fingers being entwined with another character’s black. The setting was SciFi, in a community where one’s skin color was no more notable than one’s eye color. It was completely irrelevant to the story. I strive for diversity in my fiction, but sometimes that means ethnicity doesn’t matter.

I write SciFi and Romance. When I realized that the descriptors of my non-white characters all depended on a mention of skin color or eye shape, that bothered me. There is much more to ethnicity than physical appearance.

That’s why I anticipated July’s Write Brain presented by author and teacher Jason Evans, on Writing Authentic African-American Characters with great eagerness.  I want my characters to be authentic, and to have agency, not just act as an entourage for the white protagonist. A character without agency is one whose every word and action is performed for the sake of the protagonist. They have no form of their own.

Jason Evans was very easy to listen to. He began the presentation with an overview of African-American history, which shaped the community and made it what it is today. Most people know the very basics; black Africans and other unfortunate people were brought to the New World as slaves. Eventually, many nations realized that slavery was inherently wrong, and outlawed the practice. In the United States, conflict over whether or not slavery should be legal led to the Civil War. After the war, the South faced great hardship, largely due to the fact that so much of their economy was dependent on the practice of slavery.

In one hour, Mr. Evans brought light to many important points. Although blacks were not the only ethnic group to be enslaved, the obvious difference in their physical appearance made it easy for any casual observer to identify an individual as a slave. Generations after being freed, the African-American culture remained entwined with the culture of poverty as not only was there a cultural and social bias against them, laws were enacted for the sole purpose of oppressing African-Americans as a group. The culture of poverty has intrinsic consequences. The hopelessness and helplessness causes a person to be concerned with immediate needs instead of long-term planning. Provincialism is prevalent; people in poverty congregate together. They trust the people close to them, and separate from people who are different.

Within the African-American community, there are terms for people who have made their way out of poverty. Some of these terms are slurs, intended against African-Americans who are seen as having “given up their blackness.” An Oreo is a person who is black on the outside, but white on the inside. A BAP is a Black American Princess. The Black Bourgeois (or Bourgie) are African-Americans who are leaders in the community, control property, and possess wealth. They may be reviled by other African Americans, but not necessarily so. They can be elitist and obsessed with materialism, or they can be admired as leaders in the community and the nation.

Many African-American stereotypes exist in literature and film. The Numinous Negro, Mammy, The Noble Savage, The Jezebel or Mandingo, and The Sapphire, a sassy, strong woman who emasculates the men around her. All of those literary stereotypes are perfectly fine as characters... just as long as they have agency. This means, as secondary characters, they must put their agenda, their desires, before those of the white protagonist.

We write what we know. But if we limit our stories to the scope of our own experiences and identity, we are handicapped as writers. It is possible to write a murder-mystery without killing someone. I can write about life on the moon even though I’ve never been there. And white writers, like me, can write authentic African-American characters. It requires an active, inquisitive mind. Do the research. Learn about the culture and how it developed. Observe people. Talk to African-Americans about their experience and identity. Read what you’ve written, and judge whether your character is just there to support the white protagonist, or whether they have agency of their own.

Sometimes, ethnicity doesn’t matter. J.K. Rowling recently shrugged off criticism that Hermione would be played by a black actress. The characteristics that made her who she was had nothing to do with her physical appearance. In television and film, it is easy to either sprinkle in actors who possess certain non-white features, or to completely white-wash the whole thing. In literature, the character’s appearance is completely up to the author’s description. The challenge for the author, when writing an African-American character, is to ensure that the aspects that make the character who they are, beyond skin color, are reflected in the things they do, the words they speak, and the lives they live.

This past Spring I returned to Colorado after spending twenty years in Vermont, a state with little ethnic diversity. It has been so enriching for my family, and for me as a writer, to be back in a community with a rich and varied conglomeration of traditions, skin colors, languages, and cultural systems. I once felt alone as a writer, doing the work with little support. With Pikes Peak Writers I feel lifted up, buoyed by the camaraderie and friendship I have found with my fellow writers.

Jason Evan’s presentation left me wanting more, in a good way. He encouraged us to do further research, and offered a list of recommended reading and viewing. Two hours does not make us all experts in African-American characters with agency, but it does give us a starting point regarding the formation of secondary characters who speak and act like real people, not two-dimensional stereotypes. I hope Mr. Evans will speak to the writing community again, expanding on this or other topics.

Editor's Note: To learn more about Jason Evans, www.jason-evans.net

About the Author:  AmyBeth Inverness  is a writer by birth and a redhead by choice, She is a creator of Speculative Fiction and Romance. She can usually be found tapping away at her laptop, writing the next novel or procrastinating by posting a SciFi Question of the Day on Facebook and Google Plus. When she’s not writing, she’s kept very busy making aluminum foil hats and raising two girls, a cat, a dog, and one husband in their Colorado home.

You can find her on Facebook, Google Plus,Ello @USNessie, and Twitter @USNessie or check out herAmazon Author Page.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Quote of the Week and the Week to Come

 “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” ~ Jorge Luis Borges


Source: Wikipedia

Jorge Francisco Isidoro Luis Borges (Aug. 24 – June 14 1986), was an Argentine short-story writer, essayist, poet and translator, and a key figure in Spanish-language literature. His best-known books, Ficciones (Fictions) and El Aleph (The Aleph), published in the 1940s, are compilations of short stories interconnected by common themes, including dreams, labyrinths, libraries, mirrors, fictional writers, philosophy, and religion. Borges' works have contributed to philosophical literature and the fantasy genre. 

This Week on Writing from the Peak:

Aug. 22    Review of Jason Evan’s July Write Brain by AmyBeth Inverness

Aug. 24     Slaying the Stress Monster  By Barbara Nickless

Aug. 26     Sweet Success Donnell Ann Bell & $1.99 book sale






Saturday, August 20, 2016

Raise your Hand: An Open Volunteer/Feedback Meeting

Want to be more involved with Pikes Peak Writers? We're looking for a few good volunteers, both conference and non-conference, from chair stacker to board member, and everything inbetween. We'll have specific roles we're looking to fill, and an overviewof opportunities. Pikes Peak Writers is an all-volunteer organization,and we need your help to fill these roles!


For the second half, we'd like to hear from you! What do you want from
Pikes Peak Writers? Aside from conference and non-conference programming, such as Write Brains, Open Critique, and Writers' Night, what would you like to see offered? What do you want from a writer's group? No idea too big or too small! Help us move forward and create new opportunities.

Meeting will be held on Tues., Aug. 306:30-8:30 p.m. at Library
21C. If you have any questions, please feel free to check the FB page
(https://www.facebook.com/events/545429112323823/) or contact your
hosts MB Partlow (programming@pikespeakwriters.com) or Shannon Lawrence (treasurer@pikespeakwriters.com). No RSVP necessary.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Sweet Success Barbara Nickless Signing & Reading

Pikes Peak Writers is pleased to announce that Barbara Nickless will be one of four featured authors at Tattered Cover’s Mystery Book Talk. She will read from and sign her book, Blood on the Tracks. Barbara said, “A dream come true: a signing at Tattered Cover. I won't have books yet, just bling and a giveaway of an Advanced Readers Copy. Hope to see folks there!”

Event Details:
7:00 PM August 19, 2016
Tattered Cover Book Store
2526 E. Colfax Ave.
Denver, CO 80206

Joining Barbara will be:
Cynthia Kuhn reading from and sign The Semester of Our Discontent.
Ann Myers reading from and sign Cinco de Mayhem: A Santa Fe Cafe Mystery.
LS Hawker reading from and sign Body and Bone



Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Ergonomics for Writers Part One: Quit Slouching!

By: Catherine Dilts

Writing can be a literal pain in the back. Or wrist. Or posterior. Don’t let bad habits ruin your ability to create. I am fortunate to work at a company that employs a full-time professional ergonomist. Mary Plehal kindly shared valuable information specific to writers. Your particular needs should be verified by your health care practitioner.

Perhaps your mother, or some other well-meaning person, urges you to sit up straight. Or outright nags you to quit slouching! Annoying though it is, your helpful posture "policeperson" is correct. Poor posture while you are writing can cause all sorts of problems.

How do you maintain correct posture, without the presence of the posture police?

Best Practices for Posture

While Sitting:

  • Your head should be balanced over your shoulders
  • Shoulders are down and relaxed
  • The low back has an inward curve
  • Knees are very slightly below hip level
  • Elbows are close to the torso and forearms are supported
  • Feet rest comfortably on the floor or on a footrest

I’ll bet just looking at this picture made you sit up straight!

Correct Adjustment of Your Chair

I know some of you are going to complain that you have no choice about your seating arrangements. You are a poor starving artist who only has a straight backed wooden kitchen chair, or who has to grab a stool at the coffee shop. Even under the worst circumstances, some of these hints can be implemented. Keep in mind that the goal is to adjust your seating to support good posture.

  • First Adjustment:
Raise or lower the height of your chair so that your shoulders are relaxed at your sides and your hands are slightly below your elbows when your fingers are resting on the keyboard.

  • Second Adjustment:
If your chair is too high, use a foot rest. The foot rest should be angled, especially if you wear shoes with heels. Knees should be slightly lower than hips. Very tall workers may need to raise their desk surface to accomplish this.


  • Third Adjustment:
The height of your back rest should place the forward low back curve (lumbar support) of the chair into the small of your back.  This is the most common chair adjustment error. Most chairs have the lumbar support too low.

  • Fourth Adjustment:
The tilt of the chair back should be in a very slight recline vs. straight up or tipping forward. This relieves pressure on the low back


  • Fifth Adjustment:
There should be a 3 finger width gap between the front of the chair and the back of the knee.  Too much of a gap decreases support for the upper body. Too little or no gap decreases circulation and causes workers to scoot forward due to pressure behind the knee

Slide the seat pan forward or backward (if this adjustment is an option)


  • Sixth Adjustment:
Arm rests. Typical problems:
Shoulder winging = Too wide
Shoulder elevation = Too high
Shoulder slouching = Too low
Forward leaning = Too far forward if they prevent you from getting close to your desk

Adjust armrests to eliminate these problems. If this is not possible, remove the armrests all together.



Best Practices For Standing

I am fortunate to have a sit-stand desk at work. I wish I could afford to have one at home! These desks allow you to raise and lower the surface. As you’ll learn in another installment of Ergonomics for Writers, changing positions is ideal to avoid fatigue. Consider standing while you write, if you have access to a stable surface of the correct height.

  • Head and shoulders are balanced over hips
  • Shoulders are relaxed
  • Feet are hip width apart
  • A foot rest is used intermittently
  • Shoes are supportive
  • The desk surface is approximately 2” below relaxed elbow height
  • A standing mat is used on hard surfaces



Conclusion

Good posture is the key to avoiding physical fatigue while writing. Keep these suggestions in mind as you are creating your next novel. Breaking bad habits takes time. I find it helpful to pin posture reminders near my work area.

Join me next month for a continuation of the series. We will cover topics including desk arrangement, eye fatigue, and stretching.

Thanks again to Mary Plehal for her professional advice and illustrations for Ergonomics for Writers!

About the Author:  Catherine’s fifth published short story appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine’s May 2016 issue. The second novel in her amateur sleuth murder mystery series, Stone Cold Case – A Rock Shop Mystery, is available on-line via Barnes & Noble and Amazon, and in e-book for Kindle. She anticipates a fall release for book three. With a day job as an environmental regulatory technician, her stories often have environmental or factory-based themes. Others reflect her love of the Colorado mountains, fishing, and running.

You can learn more about Catherine and her writing at: http://www.catherinedilts.com/




Monday, August 15, 2016

How Pinteresting! Pinning Down New Readers

By: KL Cooper, Social Media Coordinator for PPW

As a busy writer myself, I know about the need to spend marketing time as wisely as possible. We’re already overwhelmed with all the should dos. Blog more! Facebook more! Wait, what’s a tweet? It’s a wonder we don’t curl up into quivering balls of anxiety with all the things we SHOULD do besides actually writing our novels. So why would I want you to add another one?

I could throw a bunch of statistics at you that expound how many users are on Pinterest or what percentage of those users buy products they find there. It’s impressive, by the way. But, as I’ve already mentioned, your time is precious. So, let me quickly share what I think the value of Pinterest is, specifically for writers.



SUPERFANS!

Pinterest is the ONLY social media outlet that can find you those elusive creatures: the coveted, devoted, word-spreading… SUPERFANS. These are the readers who have no issues sharing the books they love. They devour their favorites and obsess over every detail. These passionate types of readers are heavy users of Pinterest.

Why?

People who use Pinterest are not there to be social. They are there to find images, references, and videos that feed their interests. They aren’t offended if what they find is for sale because they were hunting for it, and they WANT to buy it.

Reach

Everything you pin gets into the Pinterest feed of, not only all of YOUR followers, but the followers of those who re-pin your pins. That’s not even including the staggering reach accomplished when you participate in group boards. Below is a graphic of my reach from my Pinterest author account. I doubt you’re getting that kind of traction anywhere else on Social Media… for free.




Traffic

When you share or post a photo or video on Pinterest, the image itself can drive clickable traffic to your site or book if you post it correctly. Pinterest offers ads too, but its most powerful features are already free!

Longevity

Your pins don’t EXPIRE. People will find what they search for regardless of when it was originally pinned. Your comments also stay with a pin as it gets shared over and over again for the entire life of that pin.

So, how do you do it? How do you go about attracting those beautiful Superfans to your Pinterest activity?

Share

Share your passions and let people into your writer mind. Start by creating 10 boards with at least 3 pins each, which fills out the thumbnail for the boards. Ideas for your new boards could include: writing inspiration, character inspiration, story boards, genre related (TV shows, movies, and books), book research, cosplay related to your books, writing prompts, quotes, video shares, or art. Chances are, your fans like the same things you do. For example, I took a class on archery to learn about it firsthand for a book. You bet I have a board for that and linked it to my blog post about the experience.

Follow

Follow other boards and pinners that interest you. This will put useful pins into your home feed for you to re-pin. You can follow fans of your genre, as they will be pinning things of similar interest to you. And you will expand your reach exponentially if you comment, like, and post to pins and group boards. Incidentally, the followers of other authors in your genre are a great place to find some of your own Superfans.

Create

Create some original content. Though most of your pins will be re-pins, you can create your own and upload them. Try making quote pictures with artfully designed quotes from your favorite authors, TV shows, or movies. Canva.com – a free image tool, is a user friendly way to do this. Add these to your boards with links to your books or blogs.

Market

Market your work with original pins or by changing the details under SOME re-pins. Don’t abuse this last feature. Include the reason you like that particular pin using focus words and hashtags, a link to your work, and a call to action. This makes it easier for your new Superfans to find you and share their passion for what you’ve created.

Consolidate

Make Pinterest work FOR you. You can send your pin to other social media outlets by sharing it with them when you post. It’s just a checkbox or two and BOOM! DONE! You just saved some of that precious writing time. And to make things even easier, you can install a browser extension “Pinterest” button. Whenever you are on a site, and you push this button, your browser will display all the pin-able content, sending it right to one of your boards with the click of a button.

Rules

Follow the rules. You can’t market something without a business account. This violates Pinterest’s terms of service and will get you banned. Don’t worry, you can’t really tell the difference. You can still use your author name, and you get access to the analytics (like the one I included above) to see which pins and boards are serving you best. So make sure you open a business account. If you already have a personal account, it’s easy to convert.

The Best Part

You can turn off ALL your notifications on Pinterest!! Yep. I said it. You don’t need them, because Pinterest is not social and it’s not dependent on real time interaction. Go ahead! Disconnect. You don’t have to “be there” to be successful. Now if that isn’t a good reason to use Pinterest to become a more successful author with MORE writing time, I don’t know what is.

Final Thoughts

BE PASSIONATE. Pinterest is no place for beige. It’s a visual treasure trove that links to the highest level content on the internet. And although it requires some upkeep, pinning is one of the best ways to find devoted, word-spreading SUPERFANS!

Find me on Pinterest and take a look at some of my boards for inspiration or email me for more tips on using this powerful tool. Did you know that Pikes Peak Writers is also on Pinterest?

Pikes Peak Writers Account: https://www.pinterest.com/PPWriters/

Email KL Cooper: writeklcooper@gmail.com

About the Author: KL Cooper spends most of her free hours writing PNR, but when she’s not doing that, she’s rocking social media for Pikes Peak Writers or creating new graphics and book covers for other writers through UnderCover Press. You can connect with her anywhere on social media using these handles: @KLCequalsME @UnderCoverKLC @FleshandFeather