28 December 2008

Back from Festivities, Still Writing

My holiday break from blogging was a bit more extended than I expected.  Hubby's family was in town from Chicago, so I was happily spending time with them and not writing.

To be honest, I needed the bit of a break, and now that I've had it, I'm going to be glad to get back to my regular schedule just in time for the New Year.  I've been working on CSW's 2009 business plan, and I'm excited about the new year, and what it's sure to bring.

Have you been thinking about your New Year's Resolutions?  I have.  I've also been thinking about what things I'll be glad to see go with 2008.  Are you leaving anything behind with this year?

20 December 2008

Writing Warm-Up

Spend 20 minutes writing a scene that involves two old friends unexpectedly meeting in a store.  Have them each shopping for an item that reveals something about their present situations.

Erin and Linda both drove ten minutes away from their hometown the first night of their reunion weekend to go to the Berry Brothers' General Store to pick up a few things.  They drove separately, of course, not realizing the other was on the same road at the same time, headed to the same store.  Neither woman wanted to run into any of the fellow alumni who were probably out buying cases of beer and bags of tortilla chips to share on the two floors of the local hotel that night.

It had only been five years since they'd walked across the stage with about seventy other high school seniors, accepting their diplomas, and preparing for the next stages of their lives.

Erin knew not much would have changed since graduation, and wasn't sure why she'd decided to attend the reunion.  She'd left her hometown for a reason, and for the four years she spent on the beautiful West coast, she was sure she would never return.  And yet, she was stopping at the single stop light to allow a single car to pass the intersection in front of her before proceeding down the main street and out of town.  She turned on the radio in her rental car, and a local talk station blared.  Erin turned off the radio.

Linda also knew not much would have changed since graduation, but she'd also stayed in touch with many of her fellow classmates in the past five years.  She was proud of graduating from beauty school, and had fared better than many of those she'd graduated with.  When the reunion invitation came in the mail, she was happy to RSVP right away, and was looking forward to seeing what everyone else hadn't done with their lives.  She waved at her neighbor, smiling broadly, who was walking along the main street, headed to his favorite bar for the night.

Berry Brothers' General Store was in a town as small as the one Erin and Linda had just fled, but being a rival town, was one rarely frequented by the Tiger alumni.  They knew they could get in and out quickly.

Both women spent several minutes perusing the aisles after filling their baskets with the few things they needed.  They were both in the produce section, nearing the lettuce, when they, quite literally, bumped into each other.  Both baskets fell from their hands, the contents spilling.

"Oh, excuse me," Linda said automatically, bending down to start picking things up.

"My fault," Erin said.  She, too, stooped down.

Linda looked at the other woman, and after a moment, realized who she was.  "Erin Colley?" she asked.

"Yes..." Erin looked at Linda.  "Oh, my gosh!  Linda Foreman?"

"Yes!  Well, it's Davis, now."

"You married Henry?"

Linda nodded.  "Oh, my God!  I didn't think I'd see anyone I knew here tonight!"

"Me, either!  That's actually why I came!"  They laughed.

They chatted a little as they finished picking things up.  Linda handed Erin a home pregnancy test, and Erin handed Linda an ice pack.  They smiled, pretending not to notice the items they passed back and forth and chatted about married life, careers, and life after Tiger football.

"It was nice seeing you," Erin said as they reached the checkout lanes.  "Will you be at brunch tomorrow?"

"Definitely," Linda answered.  "Henry will be there, too, of course."

"Good!  You'll meet my fiance."

"Great!"  There was an awkward moment.

"I'll see you tomorrow, then," Erin said, extending a hand.  Linda took it, and Erin saw the edge of a bruise under her sleeve before Linda pulled back.

"See you tomorrow."

18 December 2008

Call for Annoying Phrases

Last week, I posted Oxford's Top Ten Annoying Phrases List, and after adding a few annoying phrases of my own, asked you to think of your own annoying phrases you'd add to the list.

I got some good reader responses, and have decided to compile the 2008 Coffee-Stained Annoying Phrases List.  I'll already be including the comments from the previous post, and if you want to add any other phrases that irk you, feel free to comment on this post, and I'll post the list just before Christmas.

So think about those words and phrases that irritate you and share them!

Tantalizing Warm-Ups

There's a great collection of warm-up writing exercises in the January issue of The Writer magazine.  

The sets come from Naming the World by Bret Anthony Johnston (2008).  These warm-ups have me intrigued enough to run out and purchase this book!

I'd like to share a set with you that I'll be working through in my writing journal over the holidays.

Spend 20 minutes writing a scene that involves:
  • Two old friends unexpectedly meeting in a store.  Have them each shopping for an item that reveals something about their present situations.
  • An adult child trying to convince his or her 50-something mother not to adopt a baby.
  • Two lovers arguing about whether or not to terminate a pregnancy.
  • A computer disk.
  • An odd neighbor.
  • A man in a tuxedo walking barefoot on the side of the road.
  • An email sent to the wrong person.
  • A FedEx package.
  • An abandoned warehouse.
  • An annoying relative.
  • A discussion between a young couple standing beside a U-Haul in front of an old-age home.
  • A motel key.
I'll be posting these scenes on my blog as I write them.  If you feel inclined to try one of these exercises, please email it to me, and I'll happily post it on the blog, along with a generous plug for your own blog!

Happy scribbling!

16 December 2008

We've Relocated!

Coffee-Stained Writing is now enjoying a bit more work space in the same temperate geographical region.

Now that I'm getting settled (and still going through boxes to find the things I need), I feel like I'll have a much better set-up for what I need to do as the year draws to a close.

Next year is going to be quite exciting, and I can't wait to reveal some of what's going to be happening!

12 December 2008

Your Friendly Neighborhood...Ironman?

I know my blog usually focuses on things of a writerly nature with a sprinkling of caffeinated sweetness for good measure, but when I saw this, I decided to take a step in the Sunday Sensational Science direction to share this with you.

Since I'm not really science-y, I'll just let the video speak for itself.  Enjoy!

P.S. I want one.

10 December 2008

Oxford's Top 10 Annoying Phrases

For those who have been dying to know, the Top Ten List of Annoying Phrases has, in fact, been compiled by Oxford researchers.  (How many of these phrases have you used recently?)  The list is as follows:
  1. At the end of the day
  2. Fairly unique
  3. I personally
  4. At this moment in time
  5. With all due respect
  6. Absolutely
  7. It's a nightmare
  8. Shouldn't of
  9. 24/7
  10. It's not rocket science
There are several I could easily add to this illustrious list:
  • The use of "literally" to add emphasis (ex. "I literally died of shock!")
  • The use of "decimate" to mean "completely destroy" (ex. "I decimated that keg!")
  • The verbalization of "lol," "lmao," or any variation thereof
  • The use of "actually" in that incredibly patronizing way people so often use it (ex. "Actually, the pilgrims were not as strict as people think...")
What would you add?

08 December 2008

Holidays and Stress

Every year, blogs, magazines, newspapers, and even news shows run specials about how to deal with the stress of the holidays.  They offer good advice for every day people dealing with financial strain, familial drama, and how-am-I-going-to-stick-to-my-diet worries.  They give tips on how to save money, how to keep the peace with family, and what foods you can eat without worrying about fitting into your New Year's dress the next week.

However, they tend to overlook the additional stresses that just so happen to come with being a writer during the holidays, particularly if that writer uses writing as a livelihood as some of us do.  ::raises hand::

One of the beauties of freelance writing is that we can (usually) work from anywhere.  That means we can take a vacation and still be able to meet deadlines.  It's wonderful, in theory, but it also means we don't really get time off unless we're willing and able to not get paid for it.  So when the holidays roll around, you may not be able to take off a few days to spend with the family that's in town, which adds considerably to the stress that already exists.  (For advice on balancing writing and the holidays, check out my post from last month.)

One of the major stresses for (freelance) writers is the realization that if we don't write, we don't get paid.  So it's very tempting to write through the holidays to be able to have a little extra income available.  However, you run the risk of being more stressed with a crazy holiday schedule than you would if you took a few days off.

One solution to this is to plan ahead for taking a few days off.  See if you can get extra work between Thanksgiving and Christmas (or earlier) to make up for income you may lose at the end of December.  It may be a great time to pick up extra hours, as well, since other writers may be visiting friends and family, or scaling back their workload for the holidays.

Another source of stress for writers can be organizing financial records for the end of the year.  Self-employment can be a little crazy during tax season, and it's important to have everything organized to make the process a little easier.

To help keep yourself from worrying too much about your financial records during the holidays, try getting as much done early as possible, then working on it a little each day for the rest of the year.  I, for example, have an expandable file folder and each pocket is one day of the week.  I put the receipts in the folder, and then when I update my accounts ledger once a week, I initial and date the receipt, then move it to a set of file folders marked with the months of the year.  Staying organized is one way to help keep stress to a minimum.

There is always some stress that comes with holidays, especially if you're hosting or visiting friends or family.*  But if you plan ahead, take it little by little, and remember that you're really supposed to be having fun, you can have a happy holiday season, stress-free!

*NOTE: This isn't a comment about drama; it's a comment about how stressful it can be to keep a group of people happy.

05 December 2008

"How do you feel about the new words in the dictionary?" "Meh."

One of the beautiful things about the English language (and others, I'm sure) is its ability to adapt as society and culture change and develop.

Words no longer used have become considered "antiquated" or have been eliminated from common usage (think: "archiloquy," "skybosh," "stafador" ), while other words have been added as they've emerged (think: "computer," "Internet," "cable").

That said, I'd like to draw to your attention a few words that have been added to the dictionary.

Rachael Ray, the current darling of cooking, has popularized the "word" EVOO, which stands for Extra Virgin Olive Oil (though this acronym is not a Rachael Ray original and has been used world-wide by cooks to shorten the ingredient).  It was announced in 2006 that EVOO would be added to the Oxford American College Dictionary.

Some of you may remember that, way back in 2001, a catchphrase popularized by TV's dysfunctional family, The Simpsons, was added.  "D'oh!" (originally scripted as "(annoyed grunt)") first appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary in 2001 without the apostrophe (the word with the apostrophe is a trademark of 20th century Fox).  The word is an expression of frustration, pain, realization at having done something stupid, or other similar uses.  Though Homer Simpson is best known for using the word, it has also been used by numerous other Simpsons characters.

That leads me to another Simpsons-esque addition: "meh."  This word, an expression of apathy or boredom, has been added to the Collins English Dictionary this year.  According to the Yahoo! article on the dictionary addition:

The dictionary defines "meh" as an expression of indifference or boredom, or an adjective meaning mediocre or boring. Examples given by the dictionary include "the Canadian election was so meh."

The dictionary's compilers said the word originated in North America, spread through the Internet and was now entering British spoken English.

This is yet another example of the ever-changing nature of the English language.  These slang words--originating on TV, no less--are now in the dictionary and firmly in people's vocabulary.

I'm curious about additional words that may be included in dictionaries in the future.  After all, there are many, many famous people who have coined words and phrases that are used in common language now.  And I find myself adding "y" or "ly" to many words to make them a little more descriptive: writer-y, caffeine-y, etc.  Even whole words, such as literista (like stylista, but for literature), have emerged from my brain.  Will they someday be within the pages of the dictionary?

What words do you think should (or should not) be included?

02 December 2008

From Foliage to Flakes: a Writing Review of Fall 2008

This fall has been an interesting one.  It was my first full season as a full time writer, and I was able to concentrate my full attention on the business.

I spent a good deal of time tweaking my work schedule.  Being a new full time writer, I had to figure out what works for me, and work my writing projects into it.  At some points I felt better writing early in the morning, and at other points I felt better writing late at night.  I think, though, that I've figured out a pretty good schedule for me.

I've also spent some time building industry contacts (aka building my client base).  When I started writing full time, I didn't have any clients and applied for gigs as I saw ads for them.  At the beginning, I had some leads here and there, but nothing that really panned out.  Beginning in September, though, things started picking up, and now I feel much more confident about my skills as a writer, as well as my contacts.  As the days and weeks progressed, I found myself with busier and busier weeks, and with more things popping up during the week.

I'm happy to say that things are going well, and I have great hopes for the future.  As the year ends I'll be getting my financial records in order for tax season, and writing my 2009 business plan.  Then I'll be ready to start 2009 with specific goals, some wonderful clients, and a cozy office in central Florida!

Have fun with your snow, everyone else!  I'll be the one writing by the pool if you want to send me anything for Christmas.

01 December 2008

Winter Reading List

I've been falling behind in my reading lately.  November was a very busy month, and while December will probably be crazy-busy, too, I'm going to try and get back to my reading list and get caught up to where I want to be.  Here are the books on my list for winter (in no particular order):

Final NaNo Word Count


Writing Goals for December

We're coming to the end of the year, and there's a lot I want to do before 2009 is ushered in and I start a whole new list of things to do.  Here's (some of) what I want to accomplish in my writing life this month.
  • Go back to working on the coffee house book, which was on hold for November.
  • Continue writing articles for clients and (hopefully) increase the number of articles written each week.
  • Connect with at least one new client.
  • Set CSW goals for 2009 and write 2009 business plan.
  • Organize CSW finances in preparation for tax season.