My Crossword Obsession

Happy Labor Day!

In honor of our official workers’ holiday, I thought I’d share/confess my favorite form of relaxation/obsession – my daily crossword fix. It began as a hobby over a decade ago (I was never a huge puzzle fan as a child or teenager) and has now morphed into a bit of an obsession…one primarily focused on the NYT crossword, but which has spread so that I can no longer resist the temptation to try each and every crossword I come across – whether it be in an airline magazine or the local newspaper at a coffee shop. Nowadays, my handbag invariably has a folded, squished, half-completed crossword stuffed inside.

When I first started doing the NYT crossword, I could barely make it through Monday and Tuesday. Now, even though I might be tearing my hair out by Saturday, I’m determined to do it every day (as the NYT crossword gets harder as the week progresses, my success is measured by which day I can complete without any ‘cheating’:))

My boys have tried to encourage me to extend my crossword mania to other puzzles – and, although I enjoy doing word problems and puzzles (in Australia I loved doing the daily word Target puzzle), I simply can’t come at any of the mathematical ones like Sudoku or KenKen. I think my mind just doesn’t work that way, and the amount of frustration experienced always outweighs any satisfaction I might feel when completing these kinds of puzzles. One day I hope to challenge myself and face the dreaded cryptic crossword…but so far the ability to process any of those clues has eluded me…

As I’ve progressed over time, I’ve discovered that I’ve developed a few crossword tics. The first of these is that I have to do it on paper and always in pen, never in pencil. Although I’ve tried doing the crossword online, it just doesn’t feel the same. Ditto when it comes to trying to complete it in pencil – I just can’t do it. I have to complete a crossword in ballpoint pen, even though I hate writing with these kinds of pens as a general rule (go figure..). So my crossword on a difficult day looks like a mess of pen marks, cross-outs and (more often than not) smears of vegemite toast fingers and coffee drips…exactly how I like it:)

I’ll probably be catching up on Sunday’s NYT crossword as well as tackling Monday’s crossword this holiday weekend. What about you, TKZers, what’s your favorite puzzle? Are you similarly crossword or puzzle obsessed?

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Dear Diary…

The last time I kept a personal diary I was twelve years old. Since then I’ve kept various travel journals documenting trips and stays overseas, but I’ve never revisited the idea of keeping a personal diary. I know many writing teachers advise aspiring writers to keep a journal but, to be honest, I’ve never been very good at documenting the day-to-day. Recently, due to some health issues, my doctor said that it might be a good idea to journal but my immediate thought was ‘I’d much rather kill people off in a novel’…so obviously, for me, fiction is far more cathartic than diary entries!

In yesterday’s NYT Book Review there was an article about the German novelist, Christa Wolf, who kept a diary over 50 years recording the events of only one day each year – September 27th (the link to the article is here). Apparently she kept this diary until her death in 2011, jotting down everything she did and everyone she saw (even everything she ate) on that day. From the article, it sounds like she was a careful diarist rather than a confiding one – giving plenty of detail on the day, and some deep commentary on the meaning of time, but less in the way of sharing her innermost thoughts or emotions.

I’ve often wondered about writers who keep detailed journals or diaries and how they tackle the delicate balance of writing for themselves as well as writing in a medium that might ultimately be made public (especially if they become famous). I certainly admire anyone who has the discipline to keep a diary/journal as well as their other writing. I  would find maintaining a personal diary challenging – in part, because, I’d always feel a constraining hand, as if someone was reading the entries over my shoulder. I think I would censor my entries or indulge in creating a ‘fictionalized’ account of my life rather than being open and honest (this may also be why I find it hard to write anything in public areas like coffee shops – I need to have the absence of ‘others’ in order to write).

So TKZers, do any of you write a personal diary or journal on a regular basis? If so, how do you maintain the momentum for this? Do you censor or hold yourself back in any way? Do you find it helps your fiction writing? If, like me, you don’t write a journal or diary, why not?

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Welcome 2017!

Welcome back TKZers!

Hope you all had a safe and happy holiday season and are ready to tackle all your writing resolutions in the year ahead. As always, I have a few resolutions after all my holiday eating, drinking and writing slackness, but in 2017 I want to focus on what I’m calling ‘deep writing’. For me, 2016 was definitely the year of ‘distracted writing’. It may have been all the politics or just the overwhelming onslaught of news, social media posts etc.,  but whatever the cause, I have now (thanks TKZ’s own James Scott Bell) purchased Cal Newport’s book ‘Deep Work, Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World‘ and intend to fully embrace the concept of ‘writing deeply’ this year.

Rather than calling this a New Year’s resolution, I’ve decided ‘write deeply‘ will be my mantra for 2017. I will be chanting it in my sleep by the end of January and, hopefully, I will notice an improvement in focus, concentration and maybe even the quality of my writing (!) by the end of the year.

So what about you? Do you have a mantra you would like to adopt for 2017?

Also any tips on how I can ensure mine gets through the post-holiday thickness of my skull, will be gratefully received….

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The 5th Grade You

This week is my sons’ 5th grade continuation ceremony – an event that didn’t (at least when I was in 5th grade) have an equivalent in Australia – we simply said goodbye to primary school without much in the way of fanfare! Although, I didn’t grow up with this ceremony, I do appreciate the American way of recognizing milestones such as this, as it provides a  welcome opportunity for reflection as well as a celebration of all that has been accomplished (so far, at least…).

Marking the end of elementary school education is obviously a rite of passage and one that got me thinking about my own ‘5th grade’ self. What would I tell that girl if I had a chance to go back in time? I seem to remember that during my elementary years (primary school, as we call in in Australia) I was obsessed with becoming a scientist of some kind. I had chemistry kits, a microscope, telescope and various collections of minerals, stamps and coins. I adored animals, dinosaurs and couldn’t wait to learn about the stars…then came middle school and real science classes…which I loathed. So I guess the end of 5th grade was the end of that career dream! Although all through primary school I wrote stories and plays and poems, being a writer didn’t seem much like a career goal – more like a fun activity to while away the hours. Now elementary school is much more serious, with standardized tests, homework and far greater expectations than I ever had to deal with (we certainly had no formal state-mandated tests or homework!).

In some ways I mourn the loss of the elementary education I received – more because it seemed so unimportant at the time (I  never worried about report cards or grades).  If I could go back and talk to my 5th grade old self I would tell her to continue to enjoy the fact that school was something fun and (relatively) stress free – I would remind her how lucky she was to have the freedom to fail. I was fortunate I didn’t really need to concern myself with grades until much later in high school. I’m hoping to try to instill the same sense of perspective in my own boys but, sadly,  it’s a much more demanding world out there now.

As part of their 5th grade continuation ceremony, I was supposed to chose an appropriate dedication but, rather than embarrass my boys with typical ‘mum’ mush, I asked them to chose a quotation they thought was appropriate. Funnily enough they both chose a quote from Douglas Adams (author of a Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy). Jasper chose “The knack of flying is learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.” While Sam opted for: “I may not have gone where I intended to go but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”

I think my 5th grade self would have been pretty happy with either of these quotations!

What about you? What would you say to your 5th grade old self if you had the chance to go back in time? What quotation would you chose for your 5th grade continuation ceremony?

 

 

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Facing Fears

As writers we all have a number of fears about our writing – most especially when facing the dreaded blank page (which I should have been overcoming this week but procrastinated instead!). I’m not often crippled by writer’s block but I am most certainly stalled by many a fear. Mostly that fear centers around writing some truly awful rubbish but I think deep down, it’s probably more the fear of being exposed as a fraud (you think you’re a writer, hah?!). I often wonder if bestselling or famous writers experience the same degree of fear or angst but, unless they suddenly morphed into arrogant, self-aggrandizing idiots, I suspect that whatever deep-seated fears they had as newbie writers still secretly plague them.

This week I found my fears became paralyzing – I wasn’t able to get back into my WIP as I have a completed project that is being digested by my agent and so my brain seemed fixated on that. No matter that the rational part of that same brain told me to cease worrying about things out of my control and to seize the pen and get down to the business of finishing the next manuscript (which, after all, is all outlined, partially written and ready for completion!!). Despite this, however, the other part of my brain – the part that harkens back to my primitive, fear-driven, ancestors – kept holding me back. As of writing this blog post, the rational part of my brain has just about reasserted control, safe in the knowledge that since I’m traveling to London this week, little can actually be accomplished writing wise (travel being the perfect excuse for further procrastination in the name of research!).

Strangely, although (as this week proves) I still get beset with writing angst, most of my initial fears regarding my writing have all but disappeared. I no longer worry that I can’t actually write a complete novel (since I’ve managed to do so numerous times, my brain has finally accepted I will be able to do so again) and I am less concerned with the crappy nature of my first drafts, as experience has told me I can usually manage to improve them with revision (even if that process sometimes seems endless). Of course, replacing these fears are many others, but at their heart they are probably more about flagging self-confidence than true, gut-wrenching fear (at least I hope so!).

In the current environment, many writers don’t have to deal with the traditional fears of not finding an agent or a publisher. These can be bypassed if a writer chooses, and indie publication is a route easily accessible for most, if not all, writers. Nonetheless, I’m sure fear for any writer never truly disappears.

So TKZers, what are your greatest fears when it comes to your writing? Do you worry about the quality of your work or finding a market for it? Do you hate facing the dreaded blank page or, for you, is there some other nagging fear about your writing that keeps you awake at night (or, like me, keeps you from getting your writing done?)

 

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Have you got Focus?

Hot on the heels of James Scott Bell’s great post yesterday on the top ten events of the highly successful writer, I want to add to this by highlighting the downside of the digital age – its impact on both writers’ and readers’ ability to stay focused.

For writers, digital distractions are everywhere. At the moment my personal bugbear is my inability to wean myself off mindlessly checking the internet whenever I lose steam in my writing – the result? At least ten minutes of Daily Mail, Facebook and Gmail distraction resulting in – you guessed it, a complete loss of focus. Over the last week I’ve been paying greater attention to my writing habits (or lack thereof) and have realized that checking the internet has become a sort of ‘default’ setting whenever I’m stuck on a sentence or unsure of a passage of dialogue. I worry that my brain has lost the ability to focus for more than an hour at a time without craving some sort of distraction when the going gets tough. The answer to my problem is clearly weaning myself off the distraction itself but I’m surprised at how difficult this has become. I know I’m going to have to retrain my brain somehow as well as impose much stricter limits on succumbing to these distractions. My fear is that my ability to focus for long periods of time is already slipping away from me (can you hear the screams?…)

As readers, digital distractions allow ourselves to fulfill our craving for something new and more interesting whenever our focus wavers. Recently, I’ve found it is much harder to keep my focus on a book when my interest starts to wane. Whereas in the past I would plough on for a bit, hoping that a book would regain my interest, I now find myself turning to digital distractions much quicker than I ever would have put a book down before. It would be amazing to be able to create a safe room, look into options such as Soundproofexpert, and have that room as a digital hideaway, away from what ever distractions you may find on a day to day basis, or unfortunately even an hour to hour basis now.

I’m sure lack of focus has always been an issue for writers and readers, but I do feel that the increasing levels of digital ‘noise’ that surrounds us is making it much harder (at least for me) to keep the level of sharp focus I need on my writing. It certainly makes me less efficient and productive – although, thankfully, I still manage to pull off bursts of fear-induced focus which means I am completing my writing projects on time. I just feel that I need to develop techniques to sharpen my focus, increase my attention span, and spurn the digital ‘siren’ call that is all too easy to heed.

So what about you – do you find the digital world is making you lose focus? Have you developed strategies to overcome this while writing (or reading). Although disconnection is always an option for periods of time, it’s hard for this to be a permanent ‘default’ setting when so much of our world revolves around digital communications. So…any and all ideas on the best way to retrain my brain to maintain focus will be gratefully accepted…

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Farewell

Nancy J. Cohen

Dear Friends,

I regret to announce that I am leaving the Kill Zone. I’ve been blogging on this site for five years, and it’s gotten harder to think of things to say and to cover new ground. I have learned much from my illustrious comrades, and I’m grateful for the time spent in this writing community. To readers and my fellow authors, your feedback and responses have been highly gratifying and much appreciated. I wish you all the best and a Happy New Year. It’s been a blast.

Please note that you can still follow my posts at Nancy’s Notes from Florida. I’ll hope to see some of you there when I’m not popping in at the KZ to leave a comment. Blessings to you all.

Nancy

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