Archive for November, 2015

Growing as a Writer Takes Time

Posted: November 28, 2015 in Writing Tips

Writing skill is like a fine wine, it only gets better with age.

Actually, that’s not completely true. Although age and
experience can help develop writing skill, it also takes the desire to learn and the courage to take the critiques you receive into consideration. You can’t grow if you refuse to see the need and the possibility to do so.

The other day, I pulled out my old hard copy manuscript of Darkness Falling. With highlighters in hand, my mission was to find gems in the old work to build into Book Two. I was essentially drawing myself a treasure map. Although I’d already been editing for Book One, this was a different experience. Perhaps it was because the farther into the old manuscript I go, the less editing it’s already received. It could also be because I couldn’t instantly see the troubled spots or delete the fluff.

What I realized is how much I’ve changed as a writer over the years, and those changes are for the better. The foundations of the story for Darkness Falling were there, and they were solid. The execution in the storytelling, however; needed work.

I am not classically  trained. In my short time at community college I didn’t take a creative writing class. I never went to university and I’ve never gone to a workshop. When I was younger I had the overconfidence of youth to thank for believing I didn’t need those things. Now that I’m older I face the constraints of time and money. Despite that, I’ve still changed and improved.

Where did this growth come from?

First of all, it comes from paying attention to the storytelling that is intricately woven into our society. BooIMG_5207ks are not the only place we can learn to tell stories. Film, music, video games, and journalism all have elements of story telling. By paying attention to them and the critiques they receive, we can also grow as writers as well.

Secondly, you can also learn from books about writing and also on the internet. Many writers take the time to blog tips and information for improving writing skills. Taking advantage of learning from peers and professionals is a great way to learn if you can’t attend a workshop.

Third, editing your own older work can actually be very beneficial. In  my mind, the old manuscript for Darkness Falling was an epic adventure expertly woven over years of hard work, it just needed some polish. The reality is, it’s a long and rambling story by a  young woman who still had a lot to learn. Being able to identify that within myself and edit it critically not only helps me now, but in the future as well.

Lastly, it comes down to practice and listening to the critique of others. It’s not easy to hear someone tell you that you fill your pages with run on sentences or that your main character seems flat and one dimensional isn’t easy. Getting to a point where you understand these comments are meant to help you improve rather than hurt is a big step in the direction of improvement.

I’m sure that in another eleven years I’ll be able to look back and see I’ve continued to grow as a writer.

In the spirit of being thankful for being able to publish my first book this year, and also in the spirit of kicking off the holiday season with a sale, Darkness Falling: Soldiers and Slaves is free for one day!

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Click Here for a Free Book!

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We’ve all heard the saying “write what you know.” That may be good advice in some respects but it’s not practical. There are always moments in a story when things come up which are just beyond our knowledge.

One thing that can really affect your work negatively is poor research. We all know someone (or are that person) who nitpicks a story when plausibility falls apart. It destroys the fourth wall, tears down the suspension of disbelief, and may even cause some readers to give up on the story all together. This is especially true of things which are easily researched.

Another thing poor research can cause, perhaps unintentionally, is spreading misinformation. It’s true that you shouldn’t use fiction books, television, and film as a fact source. The problem is, people do it all the time. When you’re reading a book by an author you trust, you’re more likely to believe what you read in their work, especially if it sounds plausible.

I’m going to use a television show as an example here. Before I go any further I’m giving a spoiler alert for anyone who hasn’t seen the episode of The Walking Dead on November 15th, 2015.

 

*Spoiler*  *Spoiler* *Spoiler*

 

In the November 15 episode, Daryl finds himself a prisoner of three people with a duffle bag, which contains his precious crossbow. After his escape we see the only other thing in that bag is a cooler clearly marked “INSULIN,” which he decides to return.

The information we learn about these people is limited:

  • They’ve been walking through the woods for at least a day trying to escape something and find someone.
  • They are not carrying any food or supplies in that big bag and have no other bags.
  •  One young woman named Tina passes out, labeling her as the person with diabetes.

The problem is, when Daryl returns the cooler Tina’s friend gives her a shot of insulin. This is a major problem because that young woman was most likely suffering from a hypoglycemic episode and giving her insulin is dangerous. She doesn’t need insulin, she needs sugar.

  •  Insulin, when properly refrigerated, will last a couple of years if unopened. After being opened it lasts one month. (So it’s plausible the insulin was still usable.)
  •   If insulin becomes too warm it goes bad.
  • Insulin lowers your blood glucose.
  • The three people didn’t have any supplies and they probably weren’t eating enough carbohydrate to raise Tina’s blood glucose to dangerous levels.
  •  Physical activity lowers blood glucose, and walking in the woods while fighting off zombies is strenuous activity.
  • If a person passes out from low blood glucose they are in danger of never waking up if their glucose drops farther.

You could argue that maybe they had Glucagon in that cooler as well. I would say it was plausible if the cooler didn’t say insulin in big red letters on the front. That prop was clearly set up for people to think “someone has diabetes and needs their insulin.”  If one of her companions had said something about giving her glucose, then maybe I would believe they had glucagon.

Some people will think: why does this matter? It’s a show about zombies which are not real. It matters because diabetes is real and it’s extremely like everyone watching the show will encounter diabetes in their life, either for themselves or someone they know. Also, people don’t understand how insulin works, but that doesn’t mean it is okay to use it incorrectly. People are afraid of insulin to begin with, and spreading misinformation doesn’t help.

What’s even more ironic is this episode aired the day after World Diabetes Awareness Day. Actually, it would be worse to learn it aired as an attempt to be part of teaching people about diabetes.

A show like The Walking Dead is being completely irresponsible in not doing simple, proper research. As I said, people shouldn’t use entertainment as a source of knowledge, but they do it all the time. It only takes one Google search to find out why people with diabetes might pass out. It only takes a second search to learn about insulin.

I know this isn’t the only place where poorly researched storytelling affects a story. If you’ve ever had a story ruined by poor research on a subject you understood, let me know in the comments!

Now that Book One of Darkness Falling is available on Amazon, I’ve started the editing and rewriting process of Book Two. This time, part of the process will be easier. For example, I already understand the formatting that will be required for publishing and am writing with the proper styles intact. I also already have a font for my cover for uniformity, although I’m still working on getting an image.

The editing process itself is a little more daunting. Cutting a single work into smaller pieces is not as easy as it seems, especially when many pieces have already been rearranged from the original. Parts of what was originally “Part Two” and even “Part Three” of the story now already appear in Book One for better continuity and character development. I’ve also reworked entire plot arcs.

Book One was very straightforward in that it has a definitive beginning, middle and end. Book Tow, however; doesn’t have a clear starting point when I look at how things were rearranged. That means, rewriting and adding what isn’t there and putting what is there in the correct order. Untangling the Plot

I envision it being very much like untangling a strand of Christmas lights. Each scene is like a bulb which either glows brightly or needs replacing, all the while you’re trying to get them to fall into the right order, (only to later wind them around and around the main themes of the story.) The goal in the end is to make a shimmering strand along which the readers are guided.

With the rewrite, I’ve also come to a point where I can make some changes that will build upon the world without over flooding the reader with an info dump. New questions and answers that will add to entire story are always a good thing. I’m looking forward to seeing how these changes effect my world in general and what new possibilities they will create.

Thank you for reading and I will see you next week!

November is National Diabetes Awareness month and November 14 is World Diabetes Day. Diabetes education is really important to me, so I’m going to step away from discussing writing today and discuss diabetes education, something that’s very important to me.

In 2013 there were 387 million people with diabetes worldwide, and that number is growing every day. The one thing you can count on to be true in the news is that diabetes is an epidemic. If you do not have diabetes, you probably know at least one person who does.Diabetes Awareness

Unfortunately, when you hear about diabetes in the news they generally only talk about type 2 diabetes, unless you hear them follow-up with discussing a cure. The cure usually only refers to type 1 diabetes. It would be great to have more education for all types of diabetes as well as a cure for everyone.

The reality is, so many people do not even understand the difference between the two. Also there are a lot of misunderstandings about both types. Diabetes is a very complicated disease and the best way to understand them is through proper education.

Type 1 Diabetes

It’s possible you may have never have heard of type 1 diabetes, and that could be because it used to be called juvenile diabetes. This was because people thought only children could contract it. This isn’t true. Even elder adults can be diagnosed with type 1, and it’s actually likely that they will be misdiagnosed with type 2.

Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune deficiency where the immune system attacks the pancreas. It is diagnosis by blood tests to identify the proper antibodies.

LADA Diabetes (Or Type 1.5)

LADA is similar to type 1 because it is also an auto-immune deficiency. The difference is, LADA is latent and slow to onset where type 1 can seem to happen over night. Although treatment of LADA is similar to type 1, being able to catch the onset in early stages could be beneficial to treatment.

Type 2 Diabetes

When it comes to type 2 diabetes, the majority of people are considered to be obese. Obesity is a contributing environmental factor to type 2, however; unlike type 1 the actual cause of the diabetes is far more complicated. It is also possible to be thin and be diagnosed as type 2.

In type 2 there are a combination of factors that contribute to high blood glucose.

  • Insulin Resistance: When your red blood cells no longer respond to the insulin your body produces.
  • Your liver produces too much glucose: Our bodies are equiped to survive when food is scarce. Our livers will produce insulin when we skip meals. Sometimes a person’s liver doesn’t know when to shut off, flooding the blood stream with glucose.
  • Exhausted pancreas: After years of producing excess insulin to combat high glucose levels, your pancreas can start to wear out.

Determining which reason is the cause of your diabetes is like solving a mystery. It can even be a combination of factors. Weight loss, healthy diet, regular exercise, and medications can all help in lowering blood glucose.

I think one main thing to mention here is that people with type 2 diabetes often need to go on insulin. A lot of people are afraid of insulin and many doctors use it as a threat.

“If you don’t do better, we’re going to put you on insulin!” This was a phrase my father faced every time he went to the doctor.

It’s the wrong approach to make people feel like failures. Diabetes is a progressive illness. Even if you do a perfect job with diet and exercise, it’s very likely you will require insulin. Insulin can save your life. High blood glucose tears up your body from the inside out. It destroys your veins, nerves, eyes, kidneys, teeth, and heart. Having sugar in your blood is like having daggers in your blood.

Prediabetes

Prediabetes is a phase of type 2 before diagnosis. It’s a stage in which a person is at higher risk of developing diabetes but can still make changes to prevent the diagnosis. I also think it’s one of the most underestimated disease states and many people do not take it seriously. People with prediabetes often vehemently and defensively declare “I don’t have diabetes!” While this is technically true in terms of medical billing, it’s actually very misleading in terms of actual physiology.

Prediabetes, like diabetes, is diagnosed with blood tests. One test is called the hemoglobin A1c and is an average result of blood glucose over the span of three months. The lowest A1c for prediabetes is 5.7% and the average blood glucose is approximately 117. However, the highest A1c for prediabetes is 6.4% and the average blood glucose is around 137. Two blood draws with glucose levels of 126 or higher is considered diagnose as diabetes.. Therefore, prediabetes isn’t necessarily “borderline” at all. It’s just a term for medical billing.

I personally believe diabetes should be diagnosed in a way similar to cancer. Prediabetes is more like stage one. Once your A1c is above 7% you are in stage two, and if you require insulin it becomes stage three. I think that this would be easier for people to understand and help people take it seriously.

Gestational Diabetes

Sometimes during pregnancy women develop diabetes or prediabetes, then once the baby is born they return to a non-diabetic state.Some women require insulin during this time as well. When your pregnant with diabetes it can be worrisome, because your blood glucose also will effect your baby. Getting proper support and education for the safety of both mother and child. Having gestational diabetes will also increase a woman’s chance of being diagnosed with diabetes in the future.

Get Tested

Even if you don’t think you have diabetes get tested anyway. Even if you haven’t heard of diabetes in your family, have your doctor draw a hemoglobin A1c and blood glucose level at your next physical. Diabetes is a tricky illness. You feel bad for so long you don’t even know you feel bad. If you have any of the following symptoms get into your doctor right away:

  • Excessive Thirst
  • Excessive Urination
  • Excessive Hunger
  • Blurry Vision
  • Rapid, Unexpected Weight Loss
  • Tingling, pain, or numbness in your hands and feet

If you have diabetes and you’re struggling for control, then try to find a Certified Diabetes Educator in your area. Having a good diabetes educator that you can relate to is like having a cheerleader on the sidelines. They can help you understand your blood glucose levels, how to properly count carbohydrates, and assist you in making the lifestyle changes you need. You don’t have to do this alone!

And if you know someone with diabetes, give them a hug and let them know you’re on there side.