Yoga for Desk People

A couple of years ago, I started doing yoga. I didn’t have any real intention to start, but the opportunity came up and my friend was also going to the class so I figured I might as well go too. Between my office day-job and my evening and weekend writing time, I spend an awful lot of time sitting at a desk, so any chance to stretch and move needs to be taken.

I loved the class, and I’m still doing yoga a couple times a week now, two years on. I’ve even managed to reach a point where I can have a decent session on my own at home. (My previous attempts ended with my mind going blank on what poses to do after about five minutes). Over time, I’ve become stronger and more flexible – not that I’ll be doing any crazy pretzel moves, but I can reach poses that I couldn’t at first. I’m better at those long, slow breaths than I used to be.

But it’s the mental benefits of yoga that surprised me the most. I never thought I would be a meditative person. I’m always thinking of plot holes and making up dialogue in my head and wondering what to cook etc. I certainly haven’t perfected the ability to let my mind enter a blank, quiet state, but improvement comes with time there, too. I find that regular yoga practise helps me to stay calm and focused. It can also re-energize and help me to shift gears between the very different worlds of my office job and slipping my mind back into the historical setting of the novel I’m currently writing. As an added bonus, I’ve also noticed it’s easier not to stress out over little things, like traffic.

Since I clearly recommend yoga, I thought I’d share my three favourite gentle stretches here, which are particularly useful for if you’ve been sitting at a desk all day. I’m not a yoga instructor though, so I’ve kept it to fairly simple stretches. I don’t want anyone to get hurt! I included additional links for each for added explanation.

Photo via Visualhunt

Arms and Shoulders

Stretch your arms as if you’re a cactus. Elbows bent at ninety degrees, fingertips pointing toward the sky. Look upward, stretching your neck and taking a slight back bend if that feels good (only go as far as it feels like it’s helping, there’s no need to force yourself deeper). It’ll open up your chest by pressing your shoulder blades toward each other. It’s especially helpful if you’ve been hunched over a mouse or keyboard all day. Take a deep breath and feel how much more open your chest and lungs are. This link has some further description.

Next, bring your arms forward as if you’re hugging someone, wrapping your arms around an invisible person (keep hands about face height or a little lower), right hand stacked on top of left, and round your neck and shoulders forward as well. It’s a gentle stretch between your shoulder blades.

Repeat steps 1 and 2, switching with hand is on top during the ‘hug’ part. You could easily do this one at your desk, if you’re not shy about any co-workers possibly seeing you. (The next two are better to do at home).

Low back and legs

Stand with your feet about hip-width apart.  Bending at the hips, move into a forward fold, trying to press your stomach to your thighs. It’s okay to bend your knees – in fact, it’s easier to start that way to deepen the fold. It’s a good stretch for your low back. Do whatever feels comfortable with your arms; rest fingertips on the ground, gently grasp the back of your ankles, or clasp your elbows and rock gently from side to side. Hold for a minute or two, as long as it feels comfortable. If desired, you can gradually straighten your legs to extend the stretch into your hamstrings as well.

This link has a photo and some further description, while this one shares some more information on the benefits.

Legs

Lie down on the floor (use a blanket or a towel if the floor is too hard and you don’t have a yoga mat) and scoot as close to the wall as possible. You’re going to be lifting your legs up, resting them against the wall. It’s easier to start sideways, so your legs are parallel to the wall, and then inch closer as you lift the legs into the air, letting them rest against the wall. Feet can be touching, side by side, or you can stretch them further apart if that feels better. Keep your feet flexed so your toes sort of point toward your shins. Rest here for a minute or two, however long feels good. This one is also very nice to do before bed. It’s very calming.

More description and benefits at this link.

Bonus – eyes

If, like me, you spend way too many hours per day staring at a computer screen, it’s good to stretch your eyes once in a while too. Gentleness is the key here though. Let your eyes rest, unfocused, for a minute before starting the stretch.

Sit straight and raise your gaze upward, sweeping to the right, down, and back up, so that you do a full circumference of looking all around without moving your head. Try to move your eyes smoothly. Do this a few times, then switch directions, so you go to the left first for the second set.

Next, stretch your arm out in front of you, thumb up. Stare at your thumb while you slowly bring your hand all the way to touch your nose, keeping your gaze focused. Do this about ten times. Switch hands partway through if your arm gets tired.

Lastly, make sure you rest your eyes for a minute, letting them gently drift closed or stay unfocused before going straight back to another screen.

Check out this link for more details as well.

Happy Stretching! And make sure to do some deep breaths as well. Try to count to three for a big inhale, and then slowly exhale for a count of five. Doing that for even a minute really helps ease stress and reset focus.

Photo via Visual Hunt

 

And stay tuned for a new Bad Decisions in History next week!

 

A Beginner’s Guide to Avoiding A Writer’s Wrath

With a few exceptions, being the inspiration for a character in a novel isn’t usually a good thing. You know how writers get revenge? We turn you into a character in our book and then kill you. You rear-ended my car and were a jerk while we exchanged insurance? Great, you just volunteered your first name and strange eyebrows for the guy who gets hit by a train. Thanks very much. You tried to claim all the credit for my idea in that group project? Oh, good, I needed someone with speech mannerisms like yours for the character who gambles away a fortune.

careful or you'll end up in my novel

Just kidding. Writers aren’t quite that cruel. And of if some of us are, we’re still subtle enough that you’ll never recognize yourself in a book because there are still lots of differences. Once, I even used the name of one of my close friends for a good character in a story. I later changed it because it felt weird, but it goes to show that real-life inspirations aren’t always about revenge.

Anyway, this post came about because I was talking with one of my friends who also writes, and we started comparing comments we’ve received about writing that were really infuriating. A quick patrol of some writing forums showed that we aren’t the only ones to get these. So, here are some generic comments commonly made to writers that are guaranteed to make them gnash their teeth and maybe consider naming the villain after the oh-so-helpful speaker, and how I wish I could respond.

“I could be a writer too. I know what I want to say, I just don’t know how to say it.”

By all means, join the writing club. (Which doesn’t actually exist in a formal way). I’m not going to discourage you from doing something I think is amazing, but be prepared to stare at the blank computer screen for several hours while you slowly realize that you actually don’t know what you want to say. If you did, you’d know how. It goes hand in hand. Writing isn’t easy.

“I’m a pretty good writer, but my grammar isn’t great.”

 

Hate to break it to you, but grammar is an essential part of writing material that people actually want to read and are able to comprehend. If you have no clue about grammar, you’re probably not a good writer. This doesn’t mean you don’t have wonderful stories to tell, but in order to share them properly in a written format, you will absolutely need to improve your grammar.

“I have a book all written. It’s just in my head still. I only need to put it down on paper.” 

This one makes me just want to pat you on the back, give you a lollipop, and say “Oh, honey,” in well-meant but somewhat patronizing tones.

 “You’re such a great writer, why don’t you publish a book?” And then they stare at you like this:

the owl stare

If only it were that simple! Of course, I should just publish my book tomorrow. Why have I been putting it off? I could always watch Downton Abbey later, after the publication is complete.

To be fair, I don’t think this one is quite as common. In my experience, I usually get asked how one goes about getting published, and this is a very good question. I had no idea either, until I started out on this loooong journey to publication.

“I’d love to write a book, but I just don’t have time.” 

This one is particularly annoying for me. I don’t have time either. I work a full-time job, I cook dinner almost every night, I clean my house, I visit my friends, I actually do watch Downton Abbey and a few other shows, and I read lots, too. But I still find time to write, because it’s a priority for me. Unfortunately, sleep gets sidelined by this rather too frequently. (Thanks, friends, who don’t get offended when I fall asleep while we’re watching a movie! I can’t help it sometimes, especially if the couch is comfortable and you gave me wine).

“I have a great idea for a story, you should write it for me!”

This one is the WORST. Bonus points for atrociousness if also launch into suggestions of profit-splitting. I have enough ideas for my own books, thank you. Maybe we’ll talk in like fifty years, but I doubt it. Hire a ghost writer, or write it yourself since apparently the idea is half the work.

This kind of stuff probably happens in all fields. I bet lots of people get the “I’d love to paint a masterpiece/compose a wicked guitar solo/sculpt the next Michelangelo/save my company a million dollars/create a badass spreadsheet etc… if only I had time.” People have misconceptions about every job. I get them in my day job, too, but let’s not talk about that because it has nothing to do with writing.

This was a bit of a rant, and thanks for indulging me! If people often make awkward comments because they have big misconceptions about your job or hobby, feel free to share. I promise to sympathize whole-heartedly.

Constructive Criticism is Almost as Good as Coffee

My husband hates coffee, so I guess this title would mean for him that constructive criticism is terrible and smells too strongly. Please feel free to insert whatever beverage/food/scent/song that gets you through the day when you need a perk up to finish your tasks.

 

I've discovered there is a Grumpy Cat photo for every occasion.

I’ve discovered there is a Grumpy Cat photo for every occasion.

 

As a writer, you will get a lot of criticism and comment on your work. While it can be intimidating at first, it will get easier to read or hear, because you’ll learn a very important thing: criticism is a gift.

 

Just to be clear, this is only for constructive criticism. If you submit your query letter for review on a forum, and you get a comment like, “Your query sucks and you clearly have no idea how to write, I have never hated reading anything more, please go die in a dumpster,” you can growl a few times in justified anger and forget about it because that’s utterly useless, and the writer of a comment like that probably is just trying to provoke a reaction. A better comment would be something like, “This is an interesting premise, but I don’t quite understand Character X’s motivation…the second paragraph feels rushed and reads confusingly… ” This gives you something to work with.

 

Critiques on your manuscript itself are extremely helpful, too. Sometimes, the writer is too close to the story to see the little gaps. Of course everything makes sense to you; the characters live inside your head and you know things about them that didn’t even make it into the story. An outsider doesn’t know them as well (it’s your job to make the characters come to life for readers) and they might not understand why characters do certain things, and it could make the plot confusing.

 

Having someone else read your work can also show you what your bad writing habits are. We all have them, but they can be difficult to self-identify. I know of a few of mine, so now I can work on improving them. I sometimes use too many words ending in “ly” and I went through a pretty intense overuse of semi-colons as well. I also used to throw in a lot of unnecessary dialogue tags. Luckily, now that I know about these, I can work on fixing them in my writing. I’m sure other bad habits have cropped up, or haven’t been identified yet, but eventually I’ll discover and work on those too.

 

I think the main thing is to try not to be offended by constructive criticism. I follow a few writing forums, and I recently saw a posting where someone got very upset by critique notes on their query letter. The comments were fairly extensive, because the query needed quite a bit of polishing, but they were all constructive and not meant to offend. This person had asked for help, and then been outraged when they received the requested advice. If you only want your work to be lauded as a masterpiece without having to edit it, then show it to your grandma.

 

how-to-take-criticism

 

Even when you have become a master at controlling your emotions while reading critiques of your work, you’ll still sometimes get comments that you don’t know how to deal with. Maybe you can tell that the comment is well-meant and has merit, but it just isn’t right for your story. This kind of critique will almost always be about the plot or characterization, and you do not have to change it. Take some time to evaluate and do what feels right for your story.

Welcome

Aside

Hello everyone, and welcome to my first blog. I’m pretty sure that ‘everyone’ currently consists of my husband, my mom, and a few friends, but hopefully as my writing career progresses, a few more people may decide to stop by. Anyway, the quality of the people reading is just as important as quantity, and you guys are all fabulous, so I’ll never be lacking.

What can you expect from this blog? Mainly writing stuff, but I know I will wander off into random tangents sometimes too. For anyone who wonders what the heck I do outside of my day job, you’ll find out here! I will talk about my current writing projects – there are two, one that is currently out on submission, and one that I am still researching and writing. I’ll also chronicle the Incredible Journey toward publication (seriously, it’s long – if I somehow laid out the trail of emails and word documents involved, it would probably go for 300 miles, just like the delightful animal protagonists of the alluded-to story). I’ll talk about how I landed the most amazing agent ever, how I learned that manuscript revisions are almost never done, and how I discovered that I actually can cope with the submission process without chewing my fingernails down to the bone.

And just to mix it up, maybe sometimes I will write about random things like why mead will never be widely popular again outside of medieval times, some fun house rules for Prez, my favourite card game, and why Karl is the most interesting character in True Blood season two.

Speaking of random, I really never thought I’d end up mentioning one of my favourite childhood movies in my first post. I used to watch The Incredible Journey (the old Disney one) at my grandparents’ house all the time, but haven’t seen it in about fifteen years. So, yeah, I don’t know why that happened.

The hardcover version of The Incredible Journey

The hardcover version of The Incredible Journey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ll do my best to update at least once a week. Please be patient as I figure out my blog format, because I’ve changed my mind a couple of times already and am likely to again!

Next time I’ll write about the inspiration for my completed novel, Red Sky in the Morning.  This is the manuscript that’s out on submission with my agent, Carrie Pestritto, and will hopefully be coming to a bookstore near you someday!