Thursday, May 22, 2008


Maven Lacey KayeWe all read blogs, talk with fellow writers, devour books on craft, and listen to RWA conference lectures over and over -- to name a few of the more obvious resources at our disposal. What I'm wondering is, how often does any of that affect our technique? Do we read others' how-tos and test out the ones that appeal to us, or do we mire ourselves in "I could never do it that way" and "that would make me crazy"?

(Un)specifically, my family recently had a huge email thread on exercise going. Exercise is one of those things we all know (and have always known) we should do, but most of us don't do it. I bet there are as many ways to implement exercise into one's regimen as there are people in the world. My brother pointed out that many of us benchmark what other people are doing and try to implement that routine with disastrous results. He hypothesized that it can be more self-defeating to try to do it someone else's way than to not do it at all. It's a matter of ownership. As long as I'm not trying to do it your way, I'm doing it my way (which may be not at all). But as soon as I try to do it your way, I'm inherently not doing it my way, and my brain (often) immediately starts fighting back.

He suggested it might be more productive to think about and truly understand your personal goal and your reasons for wanting to reach it than to ask around and find out what other people are targeting and how they are working to reach it.

Now, you may be thinking that this post is, in fact, yet another example of how someone does something in a way that doesn't feel natural to you...just sit back and enjoy the irony :-) I happened to think his opinion was an interesting take on self-improvement. Do you copy the NYT author who writes 4 pages a day, or do you seek out your own internal rhythm and work with it?

One last thing before I head off -- and this is totally unrelated, so bear with me, but it was a huge epiphany for me and I've been dying to post it forever: In the last month or so I realized something about losing weight. I'm serious here...even though it's simple math, the logic escaped me.

They say you need to burn 500 calories a day to lose a pound a week. That has always made losing 20 pounds seem insurmountable to me. But then I realized what was wrong in my thinking. You don't burn 500 calories a day this week and 1000 calories a day next week, i.e. keep off the 500 you lost last week plus take off another 500 calories this week. You just trend at -500 calories and the old calories never come back. Obvious, right? But if it were truly obvious, people might not have so much trouble keeping the lost weight off. In other words, you don't have to necessarily work harder to lose more weight. You just have to have patience...lots of it.

/End remedial anatomy lesson

YOUR TURN: Which do you prefer? Doing things your way or benchmarking others? A little of both? Do you like to have a starting place then adapt it to your personal groove? Am I the only one who ever made losing weight more complicated than it has to be?


Bill Clark said...

Great post, Lacey!

Speaking for myself, I have a voracious appetite (I speak metaphorically, at least for the moment) to learn about what craft techniques work for other writers. Exempla gratia, I emailed Lee Child yesterday to ask if he works from an outline, since he claims that he just writes straight through from start to finish. His novels are very tightly-plotted, but he doesn't use storyboards or CPs or any of the usual checks and balances. He just writes, and then sends it in to his publisher. And winds up with another best-seller.

So, naturally, I want to know if there's more to it than that. Because whatever works for him might well work for me, too. My own approach to writing is an eclectic hodge-podge of techniques that have worked for others (cue Stephen King) and things that work for me. But refining the hodge-podge is an ongoing process, and I'm always looking for new and different ideas.

To me, the important thing to ask is, does that make sense to me? If it does, chances are I'll try it. If not, chances are I won't. I delude myself that I am a rational being, and act accordingly.

As for the other, non-metaphorical appetite, my best mantra comes from a friend who lost about 50 pounds over the summer. I asked how he did it. "Simple," he said - "Don't eat." I think he then modified it to something like "Eat less", but the first words are the ones that resonate with me. Now when faced with a smorgasboard of delectable goodies, I tune in his voice and tell myself, "Don't eat". If one does this more often than not, the results can quickly become apparent.

That's my own story of how I uncomplicated the weight-loss process. And slowly but surely, it seems to be working.

Bill Clark said...

On a different note:

New book to share, just out: Novel Destinations by Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon (National Geographic, 2008). The subtitle, Literary Landmarks from Jane Austen's Bath to Ernest Hemingway's Key West, pretty much says it all. Chapters of note include "England's Best Literary Pubs", "Salem, Massachusetts", and "Concord, Massachusetts" - the latter being my boyhood home. Haven't read it yet, so I don't know if I got a mention or not. :-)

Jackie Barbosa said...

I probably do a combination of trending and going it my own way, be it writing or anything else in life. I know certain things work for me, but I also find it useful to know how other people achieved a particular goal. I don't always do it the way someone else does (for example, I've never been able to trend Maven Erica when it comes to the "scene a day" method), but it can help me to decide what does work for me when I see what doesn't.

Amy said...

I like listening to other writers because there's always room for improvement. Who knows what tweak to my adapted system will really send me in a new and exciting direction?

Keira Soleore said...

Lacey, you know I'm a fan of Curves, so I like doing a fixed program that doesn't vary day-to-day, other than intensity. The regular schedule is what keeps me going. Same for the writing. If I start messing with it (certain time of day is better, of my muse is having an off day, etc.), I lose the habit of doing it. Power to Muscle Memory.

(It's really me here, even though, I should've been on a flight on the east coast right now. Major gate fiasco. Will be leaving later. Ugh!)

Keira Soleore said...

Lacey, you asked on your blog what "vixenating" is. You gave the best definition yourself: the math thing and how you make it work for you.

lacey kaye said...

I totally forgot about my vixenating contest. I should promo that. Not sure what math has to do with it?

Sorry about your gate! We could've been writing :-)

Bill, you will have to update us on his response. I'm impressed you would email him. Must be the romance writing community's openess is rubbing off?

Jackie, Maven Erica is *cr-azy*. 'Nuff said.

Amy, hurrah for optimism! Maybe I should steal that from you.

Erica Ridley said...

A little of column A, a little of column B. I always like to know what others are up to. If it strikes me well, I'll try it. And if it works, I'll add it to my toolbox and/or tweak it and make it my own. I think that's really interesting what L said about exercise, though. Maybe that's why I've never been able to turn myself into a gym person...

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