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Verb Synonyms — A simple writing exercise

A simple writer’s exercise — verb synonyms

One of the changes that I’m trying to make in my writing is to do some writing exercises on a weekly basis.

Here’s one I did this evening with verb synonyms.

Step One — Make a list of twenty verbs

Make a list of twenty verbs, but not just any twenty.

Pull out your latest work and go through looking for verbs you’d like to improve. If you can’t find twenty that you want to improve then backfill the list with common words that you think of off of the top of your head.

Make two vertical lines so that you’ve got three columns.

Step Two — Use your brain (not your computer)

Yes, I know that you can use google or or right click in your word document to come up with synonyms, but let’s get away from technology for a while.

In the second column, write down a synonym for each word. Bend the meanings a bit if you need to, but either way fill in the second column.

Step Three — Involve another human

Hit up your spouse, kids, roommate or call someone on the phone.

Read them the words in the first two columns and have them fill in the third with their input. Once they figure out what’s going on, it add some fun and lets you think outside the box because you’re using someone else’s brain.

No “He He He” — Writing is not a laughing matter

All authors have strengths and weaknesses.

I’m pretty good at story.

Description and grammer, on the other hand, are not definitive strengths.  Those are the aspects of writing that I work on day in and day out.

One easy trap to fall into as a beginning writer is to overuse sentences that begin with pronouns.  “He He He” syndrome hits me when I’m so excited about getting my thoughts down on paper (or into a word document as it were) that I forget that people don’t simply want the play by play but a story.

I noticed it in the first draft of my current novel as I was doing a re-write.  Every sentence started with “He” … “He ran there.  He shot someone.  He ran back.”

He He He.

Which made me laugh, but then I remembered that I don’t want people laughing at my writing (unless it’s a funny part).

Take this before and after example:

She switched to greens and yellows and some friendly blues this time using a mop to mix and create a weave of brighter hues.  I smiled as I watched paint drops wreck her trendy clothes but nothing could stop her enjoyment of this new world . 

She finally caught me staring.

She, I, She …. (we’ll ignore the other problems).  Not quite He, He, He but still not exactly a great variation.

The next painting was a mix of greens, yellows, and friendly blues slapped on with a mop to mix and create a weave of brighter hues.  Paint drops wrecked her trendy clothes but nothing could penetrate this new world. 

She caught me staring at her.

Much better.  Maybe not Pulitzer Prize material (though the short story from above is not likely win one of those), but at least there is some variation.

So when you sit down to re-write, remember avoid the “He He He”s, writing is no laughing matter.

A win from

One of the difficult parts of becoming a writer at a later age is the sound of the ticking clock when you finally decide, on your 39th birthday, that you ought to do that “writing thing” if you are ever going to do it.

Six and a half years later having written two complete novels (8 drafts each) and having submitted forty or so short stories and still not having won any contests or had anything published, you can start to question your sanity (yes I know … too late for that).

However, I am bouyed by two things — 1) My family loves my work (Don’t be turned off by this prospective agents … my point is that if the only thing that ever happens is sharing stories with my family then it would be worth it.  I’m not saying that’s how I think I write well) and 2) If we are to believe Malcom Gladwell, it takes 10 years or 10000 hours to become a real expert at something.

Still, after a while you wonder when things are going to give at least a bit.

Last week was my first contest win — something to put down on my writing resume.

My feeling coming away from it is one of great joy for a small victory as well as some well learned lessons.

1) I worked hard on that scene.  It’s actually a shortened version of the scene from my book.

2) I re-worked hard on that scene and frankly that makes me want to re-work harder than I already do.

3) Good stuff happens when you perservere.  It would have been quite easy to let that contest slip by but instead I jumped into it (much like my new full time job which I like).

4) Becoming an author is a process.

I’ve always called myself a “writer” instead of an “author” because I’ve never had anything published (not sure if that’s the official designation) and I’m not sure that a short/short contest is enough to move me from writer to author.

But who cares?!?!

I’ve got a win in my pocket and I’m more than happy to just celebrate that for now.

Playing Catch Up

I’m currently moving ahead with a very aggressive list of all the things I want to do — write, new job, spend time with family, get yard in better shape, get me in better shape, etc.

The problem comes up when something slips behind a bit and all of a sudden you are trying to play catch up on an already full schedule.

There are a few ways to attack something like this:

1) Don’t sleep for a few days and try to get caught up.

The problem, of course, is that you need to be awake to function and keep up with your overly aggressive schedule.

2) Pretend you didn’t miss those things and just reset them for next week (or whenever they would next come up).

The problem here is that you tend to miss the same ones over and over again.

3) Fix the problem by building in at least one slack day or some slack time for things that got missed.

The problem here is that I then begin to rely on this slack time and don’t do what I need to do on a regular basis.

4) Stop trying to do so much.

That would be the smart thing but that has never really been an acceptable approach.

5) Add MORE things to your to do list that you really want to do but make doing them contingent on getting caught up.

Well, of course, I’m doing #5.  Behind on novel #2? Not a problem — start novel #3 but you only get to work on novel #3 when novel #2 has been worked on.

It’s an approach and I’ll let you know how it works out in a week or so.

Perfect Execution … a day in the life

I mentioned that I’m currently using the phrase, “Perfect Execution,” to motivate and remind myself what I need to do.

It doesn’t mean that everything WILL be perfect or that I will fall apart if they aren’t perfect.  It is an attempt to encompass two ideas:

1) If I focus throughout the day and Get Back on Track after I get distracted, I will make progress on my to do list.

2) If I have a good to do list to focus on for any given day, I will make progress on my major goals.

Make a list

Regardless of how you make a list, you should make a list most every day.  In my case, I make two lists — one work related and one that is for breaks / lunch / before work / after work.

Today’s work list looked a lot like this:

a) read through and document at least five support cases in my new discipline.

b) check in with the contacts on all of my open calls.

c) spend an hour going through the introduction to my new discipline.

d) go through all of my email and either respond and file, file and add to do list, or read and file it.  Basically, clear out the inbox and get things onto the to do list (yes this is the remnents of my foray into GTD).

Non work list:

1) Breaks — pushups and pullups

2) Lunch — work on my novel

3) After work —

    Spend time with Logan if he wants to.

   Read Bible and pick a random facebook friend to pray for (Ms Horst as it turns out).


   Write an article here

   Take the trash cans out

   Take care of the cat litter

   Trim one tree in the yard

    Work on some gaming stuff that needs to be done by Monday

Sanity Check Your List

The sanity part of the check list is not whether or not you can finish the list by the end of the day. 

It is a very simple question:

  Does this list support my long term goals

So let’s review:

   My work list will help me learn my skillset (I’ve been in this job for about a month and it generally takes six months to come up to full speed) by looking at actual cases and combining that with general knowledge.

   My home list helps me stay connected to people (in this case Logan who I haven’t seen much of for a couple of days), connected to God through my quiet time, write, work on platform and online presence, and keep the house from falling apart.  Oh and the exercise part to get in “summer shape” a bit (although I need to put something in about not eating my weight in unhealthy foods).

Perfect Execution

Now, I would be lying to you if I said that I did those things straight through without interruption.  It’s just simply not possible (at least for me).  Here are a few things that got in the way today:

Kradan needed some extra help with dinner so I grilled and did dishes.

My favorite political websites mugged me and made me read ten or twelve articles.

I decided that I needed to call my Dad and chat about a few things (not bad, but not on the list).

Half an episode of NCIS interrupted as well.

Another of my games that I didn’t need to visit today got visited anyways.

However, the point of Perfect Execution is to not give up on your day or your goals for the day just because you deviate.  The point is to go back to the list and get on with the next thing as quickly as possible.

Today I’ve been able to do that.  Could I have done more?  Yes and I *may* do a bit more when I get done with this article, but even if I haven’t, I know that I’ve given it the best I could EVERYTIME I THOUGHT ABOUT IT.

At the end of the day, I can be happy with what I’ve done.

When I take checkpoint days (about once every two weeks) and look at where I am compared to my goals, I will hopefully see that the yard is looking better (okay not RIGHT now), that I’m more connected in life, that I’m getting it at work, and that I’m getting closer to my publishing goals.

Whatever your method, your daily activities should support your long term and lifetime goals and at the end of the day, week, month, etc, they should leave you celebrating, not sighing.

How do I get caught up on my writing?

You’ve set your goals, you’ve picked your story, and three weeks later, you’re desperately behind.

Okay, I’m desperately behind.

Let’s look at my problem.

1) I want to write a 330 page (or so) first draft so I can cut it by 10% and end up around 300 pages.

2) I want it done by June 3rd.

3) I’m starting it on April 1st.

4) I want to write 4 pages a day or up to six pages a day at the most.

5) I’m suppossedly good at math.

6) And I’ve missed a few days of writing.

April 1st to June 3rd is 63 days of writing.

Divided into 330 is about 5 days a page.  But I’m behind so I know I’m going to have to do 6 pages a day.  Doing the math at 6 pages per day, I should have finished yesterday on page 90 which would leave me about 64 pages behind since I was on page 26 instead.

Dont Panic — We’re Professionals

There are three possible courses of action.

1) I could move my finish date by 10 days which would be great if I didn’t have a real reason for the June 3rd deadline, but I do.  That’s the start of the family beach trip and want them to be able to read it even though I won’t be looking at it myself untill August 3rd.

2) I could take a day off and trick myself into believing that I’m going to get those extra 64 pages written today or tomorrow.  This might work.

3) I could plan to write two chunks a day for the next 10 days to catch up.

I will probably do some cross between #2 and #3 above.  I have a day off planned on May 8th for a Uverse installation that is going to take my work at home office offline all day so that is a good day to skip and write instead.  I also have a couple of weekend days that I can probably catch up a bit (including tonight.  I’m planning to write about 15 pages tonight and get myself rounded up from 26 to 30 and then catch up two days).

The important thing is still to remember to BIC HOK (Butt in chair, hands on keyboard) as my friend likes to say.

There is no shortcut when it comes to writing that staying off the web with the TV off and door to your writing place locked won’t cure.