Gwen Hernandez

Author of romantic suspense. Scrivener expert.

Fall Scrivener online courses – Register now!

 

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As promised, registration is now open for the fall round of Scrivener online courses. Sign up today!

– Scrivener I: The Basics and Beyond, September 14-30, 2015
– Scrivener II: Intermediate and Advanced Concepts, October 19-November 4, 2015
– Scrivener Master Course: Compile, Dec 7-16, 2015

For more information and registration, check out the Scrivener Courses page.

Sightseeing in the suburbs: Thoreau-ly interesting

front of thoreau farm house

Thoreau Farm

Living in the Boston suburbs is cool because I’m close to the town of Concord—location of “the shot heard round the world” in 1775—which boasts the homes and gravesites of Thoreau, Alcott, Hawthorne, and Emerson.

Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

I plan to see all the authors’ homes while we’re here, but last weekend I visited Thoreau Farm. I had hiked around Walden Pond a couple of months ago—and visited the family gravesite last summer—so I wanted to finish the Thoreau “experience.”

walden pond

Walden Pond

Thanks to a very enthusiastic and friendly docent, I learned a lot.

Thoreau spent only eight months in the home of his birth, but Thoreau Farm is still significant because he was inspired by his mother’s stories of the place, and he returned often to walk the lands. It’s also the only Thoreau home open to the public, so there’s that. 😉

Thoreau Farm is not a typical restored homestead, but rather a place to learn more about the man, his life, his contemporaries, and why he’s important.

thoreau farm west side

Thoreau Farm-west side with kitchen gardens

You might be surprised by some of the people who were inspired by Thoreau, in person or in writing, whether with regard to the environment, or transcendentalism, or his thoughts on civil disobedience.

A few names you might recognize: Mahatma (Mohandas Karamchand) Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., John Muir, and Jack Kerouac. Not a bad legacy, eh?

Thoreau family portraits

Thoreau family portraits upstairs at Thoreau Farm

Some fun facts:

– Thoreau (along with his brother and two sisters) never married, though he and his brother both offered for the same woman. Her father turned them both down, deeming the family unsuitable for his daughter.

– He was born David Henry Thoreau, but switched his first and middle names after graduating from Harvard. Without a legal name change, of course.

– His careful observations about the weather and timing of various plants and crops have provided valuable historical data for the area with which to compare modern conditions.

– You can rent the upstairs room in the Thoreau house for a writing retreat.

thoreau farm writing desk

Be inspired by Thoreau

Quotes:

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from Walden (so far). [I’m reading in e-book, so I can’t offer page numbers, but all are from “Economy.”]

– “The great part of what my neighbors call good I believe in my soul to be bad, and if I repent of anything, it is very likely to be my good behavior.”

– “I also have in my mind that seemingly wealthy, but most terribly impoverished class of all, who have accumulated dross, but know not how to use it, or get rid of it, and thus have forged their own golden or silver fetters.”

– “And when the farmer has got his house, he may not be the richer but the poorer for it, and it be the house that has got him.”

– “…the principal object is, not that mankind may be well and honestly clad, but, unquestionably, that corporations may be enriched.”

If you travel to Boston, be sure to step off The Freedom Trail for a day or two and make your way to the suburbs!

freedom trail marker

7 reasons I read Kipling while brushing my teeth

drawing of Rudyard Kipling

I was drawn to the work of Rudyard Kipling after finding a reference to his poem “Tommy” in Karl Marlantes’ What It Is Like to Go to War.

I wasn’t familiar with the poem—which inspired the title of the movie The Thin Red Line—so I searched it out. Now, I’m working my way through Rudyard Kipling Complete Verse (Anchor Books, 1989), one poem per day, while flossing and brushing my teeth.

Much of his work was written in the late 1800s, and is set in—or influenced by—his time in India, which means I don’t understand every line. But I enjoy trying to figure out the gist of each poem.

Once I’ve read it through, I go to The New Readers’ Guide to the works of Rudyard Kipling, hosted by The Kipling Society, to get more info on the context and definitions of foreign, archaic, or slang words that aren’t footnoted in the text.

Understanding what was going on in the author’s world enriches my reading experience.

Here are seven of the reasons I read Kipling–and will eventually read other poets–while thwarting cavities.

1. Reading before bed is relaxing, but not if I get sucked in and stay up all night to finish the book—a common problem because I have no willpower to resist a good story. With poetry, it’s much easier to read one poem and close the book.

2. I hope that reading poetry will introduce me to new themes, as well as influence my more lyrical side.

3. Reading outside my genre, length, and style can only expand my skills as a writer, and the references upon which I can draw.

4. Poetry stretches your brain. Instead of speeding through the prose with a movie running in my head like I do with a novel or memoir, I’m forced to slow down and ponder each word. It’s like savoring a gourmet dessert rather than inhaling a plate of sugar cookies. Both are enjoyable, but in different ways.

5. By exploring the context of each poem, I’m also expanding my knowledge of history and the author’s life. Not all authors’ works are so intensely influenced by their personal experiences, but Kipling seemed to view his life and everything around him as fodder for his art.

6. I’m inspired by the wide variety of themes and moods one author can produce. Kipling wrote satire, humor, lighthearted verse, dark tales, and diatribes.

7. I like knowing things. Period. I want to learn as much as I can about art, history, literature, science…

Probably one of the reasons I’m driven to write is because I love the research. I’m curious at heart. What’s it like to be firefighter, sculptor, pilot, accountant, billionaire’s daughter, or pararescueman? My inquiring mind wants to know.

And I love the connections my brain starts to make when I expand my horizons, just like the connections that brought me to read Kipling while brushing my teeth.

Turn your phone into a distraction-free zone

Business man and business women walk among large screens displaying information. These screens forming a labyrinth.

Have you ever turned on your phone to check the weather, become distracted by another app—say, email—and an hour later when you turn it off, you realize you still don’t know the forecast?

But hey, you read your email, caught up on Facebook and Twitter, and read a bunch of articles about interesting stuff you don’t really need to know right now.

I do this all the time. (I’m guilty on my computer too, but there I’m less likely to open a program because there’s time involved in the process. To avoid temptation, I close the sneaky culprits when I’m done.) Phone apps open almost instantly, so there’s no psychological barrier. And the little red badge showing how many unread messages I have is like a tractor beam, sucking me in.

Woman mobile phone addicted

A few weeks ago I talked about the time wasted on multi-tasking. Distractions are another time sink/brain drain. Here’s my plan for minimizing my phone’s ability to take me down a rabbit hole.

Turn Off Counters/Badges

Except for my Reminders app—where I actually want to be “distracted” by the fact that I have something to do—I turned off all of the little number badges that pop up on an app icon to show me I have new email/Twitter mentions/Facebook tags.

If I’ve decided it’s time to check my email, I’m doing it deliberately, not because the unread messages tally has lured me in. (This works on the computer too.)

Excited man looking at computer screen

Move Distracting Apps Out of Sight

All of those apps that attract me like a dog to peanut butter? I moved them to another “screen.” (I’m using an iPhone, which supports multiple screen views. If yours doesn’t, maybe you could do something similar by creating a single folder to hold all distracting apps, thus minimizing their visual impact.)

Now, when I turn on my phone, I’m only faced with the apps that aren’t a problem for me. I have easy access to log my food/exercise, read a book, find a recipe, check the weather, walk me through meditation (yes, I really started doing it!), etc…

The only exception, again, is the Reminders app (and text messages, but I don’t get very many, so I don’t worry about it). I only create reminders for to-do items with a deadline. So, that’s one distraction I want.

My distraction-free screen

My distraction-free screen

Use the Search Feature

I’m trying to avoid the “hidden” Screen of Distractions, so I don’t want to swipe over to it. Ever. Instead, I’m training myself to use the search feature (iPhone users can swipe down the center of the screen to access Spotlight Search on the latest iOS) to pull up the app I want without ever switching views.

Distractions averted.

Develop New Habits

I recently read an article in the New York Times that discussed how habits are formed (and either scary or really cool ways retailers are using that data). The gist is that each habit is triggered by a cue, which kicks off the activity, for which you are rewarded.

For example, the email counter catches your eye and you realize you have new emails (cue). This triggers you to check your email and deal with it accordingly (activity). The empty inbox or zero unread messages count—or that little bit of social connection—provides you with a tiny thrill or sense of satisfaction (reward).

To form a new habit, you need to remove old cues. So, if you normally wake up and check your phone before you even turn back the sheets, try putting the phone somewhere out of reach.

man sleeping in bed with cell phone

Now when the alarm goes off, you have to get out of bed to check your email. If you encounter your work out clothes and sneakers before you reach your phone, who knows what wonders might happen? 😉

For more ideas to help you stay focused, check out Productivity Tools For Writers.

Busy brain: The problem with multi-tasking

man multi-tasking

Does your brain ever feel too busy? Mine does. And I’m guilty of never giving it a rest.

In my quest to be productive, I always seem to be fitting something in, and I think I’m suffering for it. Even reading is now an activity I squeeze in while on the cross-trainer. Rarely do I enjoy a relaxing hour perusing a book in my favorite chair.

Got five minutes while I wait for water to boil or a web page to load? I can make a quick phone call. Ten minutes waiting for my son’s next track event? Time to check my email/Twitter/Facebook/Pocket!

Through the wonders of my smart phone, I can access all of my social media and the entire wealth of the web anyplace/anytime. But that doesn’t mean I should.

And when I do, I don’t necessarily feel more productive, just more busy, more frazzled, more overloaded.

Part of my “problem” stems from being self-employed. When I worked full-time for someone else, work was at work, and when I left I was done. I could relax at home without guilt because my workday was over.

Now? Not so much. Home is my workplace, and my day is interspersed with activities from both worlds. I savor that freedom and flexibility, but sometimes it’s hard to set boundaries.

I used to enjoy downtime, sitting and thinking or noticing the world around me. It’s good to not be entertained or “productive” every spare minute of the day. I know this.

One of the reasons I like running so much is because I can’t do anything else while I’m out there except notice the world around me, and breathe.

Multi-tasking is a fraud. Apparently, we actually lose up to 40% of our productivity when we force our minds to keep switching gears.

I don’t know about you, but I’d like to get some of that 40% back!

My goals for the rest of the year are to cut back on multi-tasking and allow for those moments of downtime in my day. I’ll try to focus on one thing at a time so my brain doesn’t have to keep switching gears—Scrivener’s full screen/composition mode is great for this—and maybe even block out some time to sit, relax, and ponder. Heck, I might even meditate.

Can’t hurt.

Why I’m hooked on Bloodline

BloodlineSeason1The Netflix Original show Bloodline has totally sucked me in (I’m sure there’s a pun in there somewhere). This dark drama is absolutely binge-worthy with its slow-release tease of mystery, family secrets, lies, betrayals, and short flashes that promise a sordid ending.

The actors are excellent (Kyle Chandler, Sissy Spacek, and Sam Shepard to name a few), and the setting alone—the Florida Keys—is enough to keep me on the hook. Characters are multi-faceted and interesting and often straddle the line of good and bad. There’s no black and white here, only lots and lots of murky gray.

The show’s writers don’t tell you anything. They just roll things out as needed and let you figure it out for yourself. And I do mean roll. This is not a lightning-paced action show, but it’s absolutely riveting in both story and presentation.

Excellent cinematography rounds out the series into 13 episodes of quality viewing that gets better with every episode. And word is, there’s a second season in the works.

I don’t spend a lot of time in front of my television, but Bloodline has joined The Americans, House of Cards, Game of Thrones, Marco Polo, True Detective, and Sherlock—and a few more I’m forgetting—on my list of must-watch shows when I do take a break on the couch.

What’s your latest TV craving?

Cover quotes, Scrivener, snow, and Apples

So, I’m still kind of flabbergasted that it’s April already, cliché as that is. But it’s been a busy winter/spring, so it’s no wonder I feel like a raft in the rapids of time.

Here’s what’s been going on lately with me.

New book. Just in case you missed it, Blind Ambition released last month. So far reviews are (yay!) good, and I got this fabulous quote from New York Times bestselling author Laura Griffin!

Packed with action and emotion. BLIND AMBITION is a page-turner!

My first cover quote (though it won’t be on my cover right away). 😀

Blind Ambition cover

Guest post. Speculative fiction writer David McDonald asked me to visit his blog and share how I use Scrivener to write a novel. If you’re so inclined, check it out.

Social Media Connecting Blog Communication Content Concept

Snow. Yep, we had a record amount of it for my first winter in New England, and we’re getting more today. But this weekend is supposed to be fabulous. My weather of choice is definitely on its way.

crocus flowers in snow

Teaching. I’ve been crazy busy with Scrivener online classes and workshops this year. I’ve already been to blissfully warm and green Jacksonville, Florida and nearby Burlington, Massachusetts to present, and I have another workshop this weekend in New Hampshire.

I’m in the middle of my Intermediate/Advanced Concepts course right now, and the Compile class starts May 11th. The fun never stops.

OnlineClasses

New computer. My husband and I celebrated our 20th anniversary this year. Go us! 😉 Since I’m not big into jewelry—yes, I’m sure this is one of the reasons my husband loves me—I opted for an iMac. It’s my first Apple desktop and I LOVE it. The 21” screen makes working on class lessons a cinch, and has so much visual real estate that I never want to leave my desk. Good thing it’s a standup desk (though I do have a stool for times when I need a break)!

iMac computer

I hope your spring is going well! What’s new with you?

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