The TED talk all women should see

I try to start my workday with a TED talk. I wish I could say I do this daily, but sometimes I can’t. I usually do it when my work energy level is low or when I feel I need motivation to go with the work routine. Today I came across with “Why do ambitious women have flat heads?” by Dame Stephanie Shirley.  The title was enough to call my attention since sometimes when the talk’s title is too predictable, I might just pass it. But this one wasn’t and I’m glad I clicked it.

Dame Stephanie Shirley had it rough. She was one of the Jewish kids saved by being sent to families in northern England during the Second World War . She grew up in an era where women’s only objective was to get married and have kids. There were scarce work opportunities for them. I work in the software industry. Women in the 60’s didn’t just pursuit that area at all. But one woman did it. And this terrific woman showed nothing is impossible. Yes, there was a programming market in that era, believe it or not. If you want to know exactly how it worked, then you have to check the video.

Stephanie Shirley went through all the fights my generation didn’t have too. My generation won’t suffer that gender discrimination again. We have it easy. And what are we doing with our lives? We don’t aim high enough. We don’t dream big enough. We don’t do the fights for the next generations.

I invite you to watch the following TED talk (only 13 minutes of your time but worth your life change).

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When old habits are hard to abandon… I’m looking at you Procrastination!

Procrastination has been affecting my life since I can remember. Fortunately, these last couple of years, I’ve been suffering less of it or else I would’ve never achieved a novel’s first draft (it should be treated as an illness!). But I haven’t gone over it yet. I might now put a daily effort on my writer goals, but it’s not enough yet.

The one to blame, the Internet.

I could use the computer and disconnect, but I depend heavily on thesaurus.com I could get a physical copy, but certainly working with the website allows me to easily navigate from word to word’s synonyms and definitions in a matter of seconds, without losing the inspiration or the sentence idea that troubles my mind at that point. I’ve tried using printed copies of dictionaries and thesaurus, but they’re not meant to be used on every single minute. And yes, I still use it a lot. Especially, since English is not my first language, many times I just want to make sure I got the correct definition and that the synonym I’m choosing to use is accurate.

So if thesaurus.com wasn’t such a good tool and as dependent on internet connectivity as it is, I would probably disconnect from Wi-Fi. But if this website helps my writing, what is the real problem?

My mind is used to multi-tasking. As a result, thoughts, ideas, and hyperactivity flood my brain almost 24/7 (If mental hyperactivity could be translated into physical hyperactivity… I would be the best athlete in the world… but that’s another topic). My mind doesn’t really switch off until I go to bed. And sometimes, I find trouble sleeping trying to unplug my mind from its endless ideas, worries, etc. So while writing, it’s normal for me to get distracted by other websites; afraid (maybe an excuse word) that I will forget later what I wanted to buy in Ebay, that I will miss what’s going on Facebook, and that there are still tips, blogs, and websites I should be looking at for my next trip (in 2 weeks – Tripadvisor, I’m looking at you!),  I open the browser and proceed to search, look, and verify other issues while in the middle of writing.

The result: guilt invading me at around 10:00 pm when my eyes are starting to feel the burden of the day and I have to choose between:

  • Giving up and going to bed
  • Continue the writing until almost midnight or until my eyes are hyper red. The direct consequence: I cannot invest any more reading time in bed if I want to give my eyes a proper resting (after all, I spend the whole day in front of the computer)

Maybe I’m too anxious for vacations these days, and I cannot move forward without taking out of my mind all the issues that should be arranged or known before traveling. Maybe after my holidays, my mind will be clear enough to continue working. But who am I kidding? There will always be a next trip, a next activity, or a next excuse. If I’m going to take the writing career for good, then I’d better eliminate the word Procrastination from my vocabulary. Any advice?

 

 

Weirdness: Embracing it…

I always describe myself as “weird”. People around me hear “bicho raro” an expression in Spanish that would mean something like “weird bug.” Some friends are fast to point out that I’m not weird but “unique”. I appreciate their good intetions, but I actually don’t feel bad about being weird. I love being weird. I embrace my weirdness.

So what do I mean by being weird? I thought it would be to check up the exact definition of the word:

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/weird  says: involving or suggesting the supernatural; unearthly or uncanny. fantastic; bizarre.

http://www.thefreedictionary.com/weird says: Strikingly odd or unusual, especially in an unsettling way; strange. Suggestive of the supernatural.

But I like the definition of the Merriam-Webster: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/weird  :

  1. of, relating to, or caused by witchcraft or the supernatural :  magical

  2. 2:  of strange or extraordinary character:  odd, fantastic

And I’m almost sure the latter is the best reputable source as well.

When reading the first two definitions, one would see why people react to the word “weird” as a bad adjective. This word for them describes something  not very nice – an “unsettling” word. The expression “weirdo” is a commonly expression used to tag people in a despicable way. However, I insist on relying on the Merriam-Webster definition: “supernatural, extraordinary, fantastic, unusual… etc.” In this interpretation, I love the word; it describes how my usual perspective towards life is.

I always like to believe I don’t fit social standards as normally other people do. I love going against the trends and against the expected behaviors. Even the way I dress, reflects in some way, who  I am as a person. And if people expect you to celebrate a holiday, I do exactly the opposite. But for me this weirdness is not about being stubborn or trying to make a point, it’s only about behaving according to my feelings and without regard to social expectations. For me being weird is nice. It’s about expressing myself in the most extraordinary fashion, living my life defying any social foolish conceptions. It would be nice for a change people wouldn’t chastise or try to fix weird people.

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Writers do bend the rules!

I haven’t read Isabel Allende in a while. It’s my favorite Spanish speaking author. I remembered how I used to devour her books when I was a teenager. Her stories were so profound, her characters so alive. I haven’t read all of her books, and this reminds I might not be a proper author fan/follower. But I’ve always been into exploring new authors.

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Since she’s a Spanish speaking author, I read her books in their original language: Spanish. No translations. However, in my effort to improve my writing in English, I haven’t read books in Spanish for a while, probably for the last three years. It’s been hard to remain truthful to this objective. I could easily get Spanish translations from John Grisham, Stephen King, and other famous ones in the bookstores of my city, but my encounters with horrible translations have pushed me to insist in improving my English when possible. Now, I usually shop for books online or buy them whenever I travel. The effort has paid off. I used to read books in English with dictionaries searches every two minutes. Now, I don’t need need them anymore.

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Anyway, I was excited to read Allende again. The book I picked up was one of her latest ones: “El Amante Japonés” or “The Japanese Lover.”  I really enjoyed the book but it was a writing/learning experience more than anything. Unfortunately, I no longer remember enough to testify for other Allende’s books. But in this book, I found a couple of  writing style observations along the way that made me question the writing rules I’ve been learning lately. My reading perspective has changed significantly over these two years of reading books about writing, listening to webinars about writing, attending to writing online courses and even going to a writing conference in English. I would have never imagined these writing rules I’ve been following at heart could be non-existent in the authors I loved the most. It was an utter surprise.

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But what exactly were these rules I found non existent in “The Japanese Lover”? In fiction, I’ve been taught to write scenes from a single point of view. If you want to use other character’s points of view, then it’s better to do it in another scene or even in another chapter. In “The Japanese Lover”, Isabel Allende mixes multiple points of view from one paragraph to the other. One paragraph you are inside one of the main character’s head and the next one you are in another, in a blink of an eye. At the beginning, I found this quite off-putting. I was mad that one of my favorite authors was writing like that. I began to question, Was it always like that in her previous books? (I still need to check this out of curiosity) Was this something it didn’t bother to me before? Was it because I didn’t know of these rules many years ago? But I learned a lesson quick. The rule about not mixing points of view exists because we don’t want to confuse readers. But we must never misjudge readers’ reading capabilities. After a couple of lines, it was easy to realize which character were being described. And after the first chapters I didn’t find this annoying anymore. Sometimes as writers, we struggle too much in trying to ensure our readers won’t get confused. We write with such detail (succumbing to exaggerated description and slow flow) to ensure readers follow the plot line easily that we sometimes forget our readers are perfectly able to grab implicit details without the need of us describing them word by word.

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After overcoming my own self blocking rule in the fist chapters of “The Japanese lover” and forgetting about any other writing rules, I began to submerge into the story. I found out that Isable Allende is still one of my favorite authors. It didn’t matter she changed POVs every second; I read her book hugely entertained and finished it in a couple of days. Of course, the book is not perfect, there are other issues that bothered me at some level, such as the excess of themes in one single book and the highly dramatic backgrounds in each character – too much to be believable at some point. But the book had alive characters. That is something you cannot always achieve by following the rules.

As a result and as part of my writing improvement process. I’ve learned that bending the rules is not always bad. I still prefer to keep one POV for each scene, but now I feel myself free to break some rules and allow my writing to become alive.

 

 

That strange feeling at the end of they year

As the holidays are about to arrive and people start getting ready for the long holiday vacations, 2016 also strikes in. And of course, new year’s resolutions can be a common topic around this time. Many people here at my work are counting the days for the holidays to start. I’m not. Although, a rest is always well received, I still don’t want 2015 to be over.  I feel like time is going too fast. I still want to make the most of what is left of 2015, even if it’s only a couple of days.

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I know that age and time are just numbers, but in certain ways, they always tick and remind me of my goals in life. This year was intensive, and I did many things during it. I really wanted to have my novel done in 2015. But I’m not there, and I will probably work on it for a couple of months more. In some way, I haven’t met this year’s resolutions and I can’t avoid feeling a little bit sad about this. Moreover, I’m finding it difficult to go back to my book. As you know from previous posts, I stopped writing for more than a month, and now, I find it hard to get back into the writing routine again. If it were me, I would try to finish the novel in these days. But I’m aware it’s not possible.

Do you usually have this feeling when it’s nearing the end of the year?

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