Thursday, March 5, 2009

Writing Diets

Hello, Spring time! Breathe that clean, fresh air.
The longer days signal it's time to exchange parkas and mukluks for exercise shorts and sneakers. We hit the fitness trail with gusto, but unless we eat healthy, we won’t make the long haul.

Writing is much the same. New ideas bubble through our heads tempting us to haul over 50,000 words with vim and vigor. A time for new beginnings and new starts. Getting fingers and brains in shape.

Thinking about shedding a few pounds and cleaning out some cobwebs? Let’s see how our writing diets compare with our weight loss plans.

Wilstar's Low Carb Pavilion

Let's start with the perennial favorite. Stick to meat and use side dishes sparingly -- avoid dessert at all cost! This is an acceptable weight loss plan as long as the dieter doesn't exceed the suggested length of time. A couple of weeks at max. But during those weeks, your effort is concentrated and dogged, tossing all comfort foods and sweet rewards to the wind until you reach your goal. Then, with common sense and prayer, you begin sprinkling in all the starchy staples and sweet temptations until a happy medium is reached.

Does this remind you of sprinting through a rough draft? I applaud all the capable writers that can sit down and pound out a rough draft -- bare bones, unadorned meat -- and reach their goal of committing their ideas and concepts to paper. Slim, trim, and totally factual, this rough draft is the core, the skeleton, waiting for garnishment. A fine baseline. Then, with a critical eye, the writer eases in a bit of introspection, sprinkles in humor and tears, slices up some happy, intimate moments, plops a glob of whipped cream on top and proclaims it a size perfect.

Diet Tips or How To Lose Weight With a Spreadsheet and a Web Site

Here's an interesting web site I stumbled across as I was searching for diet plans. Very logical, very precise. It uses a spreadsheet to record progress. It breaks down dieting into chewable pieces. You track your food consumption and eat fewer calories, weigh yourself daily but don't obsess over it, learn the difference between *not hungry* and *full*.

A comparable writing diet would appeal to the systematic thinker in our long distance writers. Much like training for a cross-country run complete with terrain changes and level plateaus, our long distance writer calculates the best method of action, maps out the course, and records their progress. Spreadsheets help keep information organized. Columns and rows, a neat, symetrical package, easy to read, follow and understand. Unfortunately, spreadsheets give me the hives. This isn't the diet for me, but if you gravitate toward the orderly and precise, this might be the training program for you.

Weight Loss Wand

If you click on this site, you see a plethora of diet suggestions, how they work, and what you can expect. This specific link takes you to the diet pill page. Ahh, diet pills. The proverbial answer to prayers. Pop one pill and you'll be svelte before you know it. Want to stop eating? Want to flush unwanted fat from unsightly love handles? Want to rev up your metabolism and burn calories like a speed boat while you sleep? Does it work? Or course it does! The experts say so. Besides, they wouldn't run TV ads or create a web site the claims weren't true. Would they?

Warning lights blaze around this diet for the newbie writer. Not all critique groups are created equal. When I first started my Great American Novel, I was so excited to find like minded people who aspired to be published, I drank in all the words of wisdom these icons spewed. Writers who'd been creating much longer than I could grasp. They wore pins, buttons and nametags from conferences I'd never heard of, coming each week to our group with the latest and greatest techniques and methods guaranteed to get them published. These well-meaning mentors filled my head with new ideas and bled purple ink across my 10 pages. Much like the hazard of diet pills messing up your metabolism, these haphazard comments and styles peppering my manuscript pages destroyed my voice. It took me years to rediscover the joys of writing and recapture the talent the Lord had gifted to me.

Moderation is the key to healthy living and healthy writing. Much like the wise food choices we make for healthy living, we must also make sound choices for writing careers. Listen to trends, but be discerning. Live the book you're writing. Get excited!
Spring is upon us. Get out and smell the lilacs. Go to the market and buy some fruit.
Kick your shoes off and run through new grass.

Start a new exercise plan.

Start a new story.

Remember to balance your life in all you do. Ask the Lord to show you your path. Afterall, He's the One that planted the original garden : )
Blessings to you!!


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Audra, I love this! What a beautiful analogy of grasping a new start. You ought to be a writer, girlfriend!


Most especially I love what you said about being a newbie amongst the established. It's hard to know (and we chatted about this with both Wendy Lawton and Marlena Fortune) who to listen to and how to maintain your own voice amongst the constant advice and criticism.

Wonderfully put and you've added a breath of spring to Seekerville. Soon we'll see tulips. Daffodils. Hyacinths!

After four weeks of mud. :)

But I can slog through the mud to get to the promised warmth!

Okay, we've got a huge pot of Eight O'Clock coffee brewing, winner of not only the Indiana taste test but the Consumer Reports nationwide taste test. Great coffee. Seriously. And so reasonably priced that it may become the official coffee of Seekerville.

Unless you guys object, of course. Or have personal favorites.


And you guys cleaned up on the Danish, but there's a fresh fruit tray courtesy of Audra and a wonderful selection of breakfast treats from LaMar's Donuts. Those sweet, tender, melt-in-your-mouth glazed ones are wonderful.

And soooooo not diet friendly, but if you limit yourself to cyber food, you'll be fine!



Janet Dean said...

Audra, thanks for revving my motor this morning with your inspiring post! Balance is good. Love the reference to the original garden. Thanks to God for planting the seeds of talent and giving us all we need for a new start.

Eight O'clock coffee's in my grocery store, but I've never tried it. Thanks Ruthy!


Tina M. Russo said...

I too have a very difficult time with balance. It is generally all or nothing. Thanks for the reminders and the cool links.

Cathy Shouse said...


This is what I needed today.

Specifically, thanks for the reminder that writing fast usually means getting the rough draft down. Drat!

In trying to write fast AND polished I had gotten a bit discouraged.

The suggestion to protect voice while accepting crit comments is a good one but not easy.


Audra Harders said...

Ahh, Ruthy, thanks for putting on the first pot of coffee! In honor of new beginning, my buffet consists of fruit and smoothies, and whole grain muffins -- no enriched flour today!!

When you've been writing for as long as I have - ha! - you've been through all the critique groups and new, improved writing methods. How anyone writes a novel with turning to God for guidance is beyond me!!

Thanks again for the goodies, Ruth. I'm on my third cup of your great coffee!

Audra Harders said...

Morning, Janet! Balance is always good. But you know that! After months of Indiana winter, you get to thaw out in sunny Florida!

Luck bucket!

Audra Harders said...

Tina. You? Hard time balancing? I've never seen anyone handle so many tasks at once and be awesome at all of them!

Glad you liked the links : ) I loved reading about all the wacky diets out there : )

Audra Harders said...

Mornin' Cathy : )

The key to any problem is identifying it first. Hey I applaud all the sprinting rough draft writers! I'd love to be able to spew all my words onto paper quickly then clean up the mess.

You're on the right path!

Missy Tippens said...

Great post, Audra!! I love the comparisons.

And now I'm off to order a magic wand!! :) But not till I've had my coffee.


Julie Lessman said...

WOW, Audra ... this is brilliant!! And what incredible analogies that nail the ole appetite to the wall.

I did, however, discover another diet that works quite well -- it's called surgery.

Trims you down and leaves you starving to write so that when you do, NOTHING gets in your way ... not food, not sleep, not husbands ... :)

And you become a lean, mean writing machine who fatttens right back up on romance, tension and drama. Ahhh ... life is good! :)

Audra Harders said...

Missy, that magic wand has been caffeine for me more times than I can count!!

Go get'em, girlfriend!!

Audra Harders said...

Oooo, Julie, I'll bet that surgery made you a lean, mean writing machine! I remember the whinin--, er, enthusiasum you displayed wanting to get back to work.

Hmm, hate to say it, but the thought of surgery, specifically liposuction, has crossed my mind a time or two...what kind of writing is that??

Jessica said...

What a cute post! I'm so glad you gave a warning about critique groups. They can definitely dull a voice and when I crit people, I'm always conscious of not wanting to dilute or change the writer's style. It would be great if some writers started teaching classes on "Don't dull your partner's voice" and taught about looking at the big pic of a story, etc. I'd love to take a class like that.
Great post.
You did forget to mention one diet. It's the kind I'm on. You know, all carbs and some chocolate. How does that relate to writing? I don't know. :-)
Great job Audra!

Melanie Dickerson said...

Fun article, Audra!

For me, it's really hard to pull away when I'm in writing mode. But practice makes perfect, I guess. I have to pull away every day when my kids get off the bus. I force myself to go places when I'd rather stay home and write. I could so easily become a recluse! But balance is best. Thanks for the reminder. :-)

Rose said...

Hi Audra,

I enjoyed your post especially because I've had similiar experience with critque groups that you had. Usually writer's rave about their critque groups-and that's great-but it's also nice to know not everyone's experience is a good one.


Erica Vetsch said...

What a wonderful post! I found myself in the Magic Wand sector once, and you're descriptions of the pitfalls are spot on.

Weight loss and writing...both have to be lifestyle changes to see lasting results.

Thanks for this post!

Mary Connealy said...

Enjoyed the post, Audra. My writing feels thinner already.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Hi Audra, What a fun post and so appropriate for this time of year. It hits me also as I'm in dire need to start becoming a lean machine again and get back to serious writing. sigh. But the orange blossoms smell so good outside and the birds are twittering. Like Scarlett always said. Tomorrow is another day.

Gina Welborn said...

Last night as I was trying to watch HEROES On Demand with my oldest son, my 2-year-old climbed onto the coffee table and screamed.

Oh, not the screaming scream that makes you happy the child isn't yours.

Nor the crying scream or the I-want-your-attention scream.

Not even the my-brother/sister-is-annoying-me scream.

In that solitary moment, I had all the confirmation I needed that Niley is a girl.

"I. Need. Chocolate!"

Actually, it was more like...


She's a girl on the chocolate diet. No wonder she's so sweet and adorable.

Excuse me while I stroll across the room to convince her that Milk Bones are for the dog, not for little girls.

Gina Welborn said...


If you did today what you could do tomorrow, then what would you have left to do tomorrow?

Audra Harders said...

Jessica, carbs and chocolates are encouragement!! Don't view it as falling off the's more like food for thought : )

Crit groups have their place. Ruthy had a great response yesterday on Ms. Fortune's post about working with crit groups and partners. Go soak up Ruth's wisdom if you dare : )

Audra Harders said...

Melanie, you are another dabbler in many arts! Finding balance for master jugglers?? Tough stuff!!

Audra Harders said...

Rose, great to hear you have a level head! I'd love to surround and protect every new writer from the *best intentions* of every established crit group!!

Audra Harders said...

Hi Erica! Wouldn't you just love that magic wand for all aspects of your life???

Gotta find me a store that stocks those things : )

Audra Harders said...

Mary, your books have fluff in all the right places : ) Mine could use serious liposuction, LOL!

Oh man, Sandra! You mean you need to bicycle more in the spring?? You've already worn a rut around the island : ) Enjoy those orange blossoms!!

Speaking of oranges, I bought this huge pummelo(much like a grapefruit) over the weekend. I'm cutting through the rind and setting out a plate to share. Good stuff!!

Audra Harders said...

Gina, good girl!! You're teaching your daughter all about food groups!!

We have a bulletin board in the office for fraud alerts and other consumer notices. Our Nutrition Agent posted: *Put 'eat chocolate' at the top of your list of things to do today. That way, at least you'll get one thing done.*

Don't you just love the encouragement I receive all day??

Ruth Logan Herne said...


I'm eating a piece of your chocolate as I speak. Love it, girlfriend.

Sandra bestowed chocolate on me so she wouldn't eat it herself. I, as you well know, have no such compunction. I eat first, regret at leisure later.

But thank you, girlfriend! NOW:

Leave the flowers to the busy bees and get your butt into a chair and write something wonderful for me to read.

Good heavens, dear cakes (although I'm no help on her screenplays because it's beyond my realm, something I rarely admit) time's a'wastin'!

Oh mylanta, I might just have to go to Arizona and shake this girl up.

Or give her a big hug for putting up with me all these years.

Love you, Sandy. And the chocolate. I grab a piece whenever I get a mid-life crying jag going. Sometimes three pieces.



Ann said...

Eatin' chocolate chips outta the bag here. Sort of like main-lining, I think. Thank you so much for a steaming cup of 8 O'Clock Coffee. It washes (pronounced "worshes") the chocolate down so well.

As for my writing diet, I guess I'm going back to basic food groups. I have outlined (sort of) the sequel to the Great America Novel.

Spread sheets give me hives. I have to keep up a set for the farm books and yeesh ... I am behind already and its only March!

You all are so much fun :-)

Leigh said...

I have a terrible time making the editor in my head hush so I can just get things on paper (I think it's partly because I'm a non-fict writer/editor by day and am too used to that mode to switch). I'm getting a little better but would love to figure out a way to follow your low-carb, get-the-bones-down approach.

Some days are better than others -- and that's when Julie's surgery that helps me ignore everything else once I'm in the zone comes in handy.

Jessica - Carbs and chocolate fit in the diet because those are a writer's best choices of vices, right?

Ann - I'm so with you on chocolate chips straight out of the bag. Had some myself this afternoon!

Kids are home so it's time to hit the homework. Ah, the joy ...

Audra Harders said...

Oooo, Ann! Main-lining chocolate! Ahh, a woman after my own heart : )

I keep the books on my husband's painting business, and that's all done through Quicken, so no spreadsheets!!


Audra Harders said...

Leigh, you sound like a buffet to me, LOL! I can do low-carb for a weekend, but I'm too much a potato girl to go without for very long.

Donuts, I can walk by, but Yukon Gold Potatoes?? Eat'em by the bushel!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Leigh, you don't have to shut the editor off. I can't do that either.

What's in my head goes down on paper. That way I plug through whatever I get through that day. We're writers, right? So it's not THAT bad, just kind of quick and disjointed. Kind of like the first layer of mortar I put down when I lay tile. Then I come back and smoooooth it out, leaving little ripples to seat the tile.

So I write whatever and then think about what I wrote as work and family drag me away to the real world of gainful employment and responsibility.

Next day: (or later that day if I'm lucky enough to have time)

I start with what I wrote the previous day (or that morning, whatever) and smooooooth it out, which feeds me directly into the right frame of mind for what I want to move on to. Once this is habitual, the smoothing is quick and easy and feeds my brain with little hints of what could and should come next.

That's my transition and it's amazing how well it works for you if you want to be able to push a book along.

Once the concept's in your head, it's a matter of getting it on paper. But I CAN'T just dump it and not caress it a little. That helps me keep the story moving along briskly and building from each day's natural point.

It works. Promise.

Now I need some of Ann's chips. Mainlining is a good thing. Ghirardellis, Ann?


Leigh said...

Audra & Ruthy - I'm finally making peace with sometimes leaving blanks when I can't think of the right words or highlighting words I want to change later or double check research-wise. I'm learning it's OK to fill in some of those details later, but it's a constant battle because I want to have it the best it can be the first time. It's that strive-for-perfection girl inside who needs to be squashed!

So ... I'm definitely not the fastest writer in town. But give me some chocolate and a night when I'm going strong after everyone else is in bed and I just might make some progress. :-)

Audra Harders said...

Oh, Leigh! I don't know what I'd do if I couldn't xxx when I get stuck for a word! When I go back and just read the mss later, my mind fills in the xxx so smoothly, I'm glad I didn't waste the time knocking my head agains the wall!!

LOL! It gets easier with time : )

Cheryl Wyatt said...

Love this comparative analogy!

I only wish I could drop twenty pounds as fast as I drop down a chunk of words!

If ONLY typing would take those extra pounds off The End. LOLOL!

Cheryl Wyatt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.