Just Call Me —?

I’m at lunch and I just glopped bean burrito all over my touchpad.  Yesterday a cracker crumb went into my keyboard.  If only I could work away from food.  Ah, the life of a writer with a day job!

Just when you thought you had your characters down, their quirks and habits and backgrounds and appearances all in line, it’s time to pick their names.  The process is as difficult for some as choosing baby names.  How do you know what the right moniker is for your heroine, your sidekick or your villain?  What if you can’t think of a name at all, or only ordinary, unimpressive ones?

I’m lucky, I guess.  Names aren’t difficult for me; titles are.  I’ll write a post about that someday, if I ever figure out a way to come up with a great one.  I used to use baby name books (although I’ve lost the book someone gave me) or the name generators on the Internet.  Numerous websites abound with all kinds of ethnic names, traditional, trendy or bizarre.  But how do you actually choose one?

Baby name books usually contain a name’s meanings and all of its derivatives, so that’s one place to start.  You might want your character’s name to reflect her personality.  So a brave character, defender of the downtrodden, could be Richard, Old English meaning “brave one.”  Or you could use a name to show ironic character traits.  Try a bitchy, selfish woman named Charity, or an atheist named Faith.  Pick something that hasn’t been used a million times.  If I see one more plucky heroine named Kate, I think I’m going to scream my lungs out.

If you want something different or unusual, try a man’s name for a woman (Blair, Morgan).  A boy named Sue would be hard to pull off, but in the right story, who knows?  It could be great. In fantasy or science fiction, you will have to think up entirely new names.  Tolkien’s Frodo Baggins has a name that fits him perfectly and is completely unique to the story.

Some names have acquired certain connotations.  We expect someone called Sheldon, Herb or Bernice to be nerdy.  A person named Alice, Johnny or Susie may not be childlike and innocent, but we think they will be.  Tiffany or Britney conjures up a post-adolescent mean girl or pop princess-type.

Very elaborate or difficult names make readers tired.  In an old Peanuts cartoon, Charlie Brown asked Linus how he could read Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, with all those hard Russian names.  Linus replied, “I just bleep right over them!”  Well, it works, but it’s tough to keep up with who’s who.   Keep it simple, if you’re writing plot-driven, genre fiction.  You don’t want to distract your reader from the story.

I’ve heard much advice about not choosing major characters’ names that begin with the same letter.  I did that in Rose’s Hostage.  The bank robber and serial killer’s names both begin with J:  Joshua and John.  I might have to change it later, but I’d rather not.  Those are the names I feel fit them best.  Sometimes the reasons for a name choice are not meaningful, but practical.  My heroine’s name is Libby Ann.  I had a very clear picture of her, but I couldn’t think of her name.  After making a long list, I chose it not as a permutation of my own name, not for any particular significance, but because it was easy to type.

I discovered an unusual names source at work:  spam email.  It had tons of names in all kinds of crazy combinations.  I copied the obviously-fake names and put them into a file on my computer.  I can mix them up later and come up with new pairings.  Also, keep your ears open when you’re in the mall, airports, anyplace people are talking, and eavesdrop a little.  You might hear a name that’s perfect for a new character.

Whatever name you pick, it should feel right for that person.  You can always change it later if you’re not happy.  But you’ll be more comfortable climbing inside your character’s skin if you know what she is called and how it relates to her vision of herself.

Get Off Your Tuchus!

Writing makes you fat.

Yes, it’s true.  Fat.  Corpulent.  Flabby.  Or rather, it can, unless you take steps to prevent or remedy the situation.   Think about it.  If you write during your free time, or full-time, your butt is parked in front of a computer for most of the day, right? Add a sedentary job to that, if you haven’t reached the full-time Nirvana, and you’re probably not getting a whole lot of exercise.

Everyone knows the basics of keeping healthy.  We’re writers; we can read, and we know how to look up information in the library, on the Internet, etc.  That doesn’t mean we do.  It doesn’t mean we take the advice we read, whether it’s about how to edit a paragraph or stay in shape.

Here are some ways writing can add bulk to your bod:

  • You’re sitting.  The only things moving are your fingers and your brain, and that doesn’t burn a whole lot of calories, even though it can take a colossal amount of energy.  I spent an entire day on the couch writing the very end of the first draft of my book and believe me, I was exhausted.
  • Sometimes people nosh when they write.  Even if you don’t write, if you spent any time in school cramming for an exam, you’re familiar with marathon study sessions accompanied by mounds of snacks.  I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t apt to eat a salad when I studied.  It was usually chips, pizza, sandwiches and sweets I could munch with one hand while I turned pages with the other.  Add a study buddy and the potential for fast food consumption rises exponentially.  Also, it’s easy to grab something junky if you’re anxious to get back to a chapter, instead of taking time to fix a healthy meal.
  • It does take energy to create.  When you get up after a long writing session, your bones creak, your muscles are stiff and you’re probably going to be tired.   The last thing you’ll feel like doing is exercising.  It’s much easier to not do it, so people don’t.

See how it’s easy for the pounds to pile up?

Hazards of being overweight include:

  • Low energy
  • A higher risk of disease such as heart problems and diabetes
  • Risk of blood clots from inactivity (I’ve had one, from a medication problem; believe me, you don’t want this.  It can kill you quickly.  Besides, it hurts like hell.)
  • Decreased mobility
  • Shorter lifespan
  • Depression
  • Breathing difficulties

Obesity is a huge problem in this country.  I’m not on a soapbox here, however.  I just want you to remember that not moving isn’t going to do you any good.

How can you counteract this?

  • If you have a regular exercise routine, good for you.  Don’t abandon it if you get deep into a project.  Exercise is great for thinking; Beethoven used to ramble for hours in the woods around Vienna, Austria, and he often said he was inspired by his long walks and the time spent communing with nature.  He certainly produced some of the world’s best music, so I’m inclined to listen to him.
  • If you start a routine, begin slowly.  You should always see a doctor before starting a fitness regimen, to make sure you aren’t overexerting yourself.  If you can only walk for fifteen minutes, or do a few reps of an exercise, that’s fine for a start.  Build up gradually.  You’ll get there if you just keep at it.
  • Get rid of the junk food.  Keep plenty of fruit and / or cut-up veggies (watch the dip!) around to munch.  If you have kids and you’re in the habit of making these for them, simply prepare extra for yourself.  When you break for lunch or dinner, have fish, lean meat or poultry, veggies, whole grains and drink your milk and water.
  • Eat regularly.  Don’t skip meals, especially breakfast!  People who eat breakfast jumpstart their metabolism in the morning and this helps them stay thinner than those who don’t.  It also helps you stay away from the crap food before lunch.  Three meals and two healthy snacks should suffice.
  • While you’re writing, get up and stretch every once in a while.  A good time to do this is when you take a bathroom break.  Take a few moments to reach for the ceiling, touch your toes, do a few jumping jacks or go outside for a moment.  Get the circulation moving and blood will not settle and clot.  Your brain and heart will thank you.  It will keep you awake too, if you’re working on something less than exciting.
  • Get plenty of sleep.  Learn to structure your time so you can fit a bit of writing into your day if it’s very full, or use your time wisely if it’s not.  Recent studies have shown a link between lack of sleep and weight gain, and it’s much harder both to exercise and think if you are tired.

All of the above applies to studying too, so if you’re a college student, remember to take frequent breaks, eat healthy snacks, and get plenty of rest.

If anyone has any tips on staying healthy for writers, please share them in the comments.


So sorry I made you wait for a new post.  It’s been a busy week.  Sad to say, I haven’t gotten a great deal of writing done, but Life intruded.

This weekend I flew out of state to visit a new friend.  Trying to save a little money and maximize our time together, I decided to leave from a larger airport and to do so very early in the morning.  I figured at five a.m. no one is likely to be going anywhere, right?

Wrong!  The line going through security was incredible.  It began at the bottom of the stairs and stretched around the corner and all the way down an interminable hallway, where it snaked back and forth for a few roped-off sections before spilling out into the security area.  I was frustrated beyond belief, glancing at my watch and shifting my feet, about to cry.  I had not only packed properly, but limited myself to one carry-on, my purse and a gift bag.  I wasn’t even checking a bag and still got caught in this mess!

I made it through security in thirty seconds flat, jammed my shoes and jacket back on and ran to my gate, only to find my flight had closed ten minutes before.  After a reroute, an extra changeover and a couple of infuriating weather-related delays, I made it.  I only lost four hours with my friend instead of the entire weekend.  That was a long four hours though, especially the last delay.

Patience is a great virtue for a writer.  You have to wait to hear back from a query (if you ever do), wait for research subjects to get back to you, fight the frustration of writer’s block or the race to finish a piece.  I hear tell money can be slow coming in.  Any freelancer knows about that one.  And then there is the long, slow slog toward being published.  For most people, it can take years.  That’s where patience really comes into play.  If you’re the type to give up easily, this is not the career for you.

I’m easily frustrated and impatient as hell, but when it counts I can stick to it like nobody’s business.  No matter what, I’ll keep trying.  If I truly enjoy someone’s company and the feeling is mutual, then I’ll hang through thick and thin.  If I like what I’m doing, I’m much more likely to keep doing it.  That’s not a problem here.  I love writing, so I do it even if no one reads it.  Of course, after years of keeping it to myself the time has come to put it out there.  And so another round of patient waiting begins.

Unlike waiting for a plane, waiting for a break in writing is an evolving thing.  While you exercise that patience there is much to do.  Practice makes perfect.  Your craft demands that you continually improve.  Lessons and exercises, journal entries and posts, editing and drafting and scouring agent websites and synopses and queries will fill your time.  And of course, writing.  Always writing.

Keep doing it.  As you wait and write, you will build an oeuvre, a body of work that even if unpublishable will show you how far you’ve come.  You’ll go back and look at your old stuff and laugh, perhaps cringe at an awkward POV or lack of scene breaks.  You’ll come across a phrase or passage so good it inspires something new.  You’ll read the work of others and growl jealously even as you feverishly thumb through white-hot pages, or laugh delightedly at a fresh turn of phrase.  Then you’ll hit the page again yourself in a frenzy of creation.  The wait is its own reward.