Thursday, December 16, 2010

13 Ways Dieting Can Be Like Writing

Having a healthy body and writing a "healthy" manuscript may not seem to have that much in common at first glance, but here are 13 (15) similaries I thought up today instead of cleaning my house. By "diet" here I don't mean strictly weight-loss, I mean any change to your eating habits designed to make you healthier. And by writing I mean pursuit of saleable manuscripts and a publishing career, not just writing for your own satisfaction or your close friends.


1) Free yourself from any reliance on fast foods and drive thrus.
     Some folks may assume this means genre fiction, but what I'm talking about are the things that make writing feel industrialized, while possibly making it "easier" for writers to get the story on paper -- overdone premises and writing shortcuts that can result in an "unhealthy" manuscript. Conveniences, in other words. While sometimes you just gotta make a run for the border, it shouldn't be a daily dining experience.

2) Same goes for junk food! Bad...junk food bad.
     Again, not a reference to genre fiction, but to clichés. Note: chocolate is not junk food; nor is it a cliché. It's just awesome. But too much of it will make you puke.

3) If you are especially fond of "traditional cooking" that is generally laden with fats and cholesterol, try it with your own, healthy twist.
     So you really want to write a secret baby book. A big, juicy hamburger of a story. Cool. Sounds delish. Write it! But how about using a lean protein, some unexpected, savory toppings and a whole wheat bun? Add oven-baked, oil-lite fries, maybe a fruit salad, and you've got your secret baby and your health too.

4) Trim the fat from your menus.
     Every noun does not need three adjectives and every verb does not need an adverb. I promise your manuscript will be healthier if you reduce these fatty substances, but it will not lose scrumptiousness. Because you will in turn...

5) Eat closer to nature -- whole grains, raw or simple veggies and fruits, etc. Avoid processed foods when possible.
     Make up your own stuff! Your own similes and metaphors. Your own character types. That doesn't mean everything you "eat" has to be something nobody has ever thought of before (there are reasons people don't combine certain flavors, like liverwurst and, well, anything), but the more you write with a natural voice that is yours alone, the tastier your book will be.

6) Try some foods you've never sampled before, just in case you love it.
     Pretty self explanatory. The caveat being, the foods you've never sampled that you might love (premises you've never written...personalities or cultures you've never explored...) do not include the double-fried fries from that new burger joint or the weird looking holiday Twinkies. So you might usually write what you know, or eat what you know you love, but every now and then, you need to....

7) Change out your menu so you don't get bored eating the same things all the time.
     Avoid repetition of words and phrases. Or premises. Or character types. Mix it up! Even if you're not trying anything brand new, like #5, writing the same book over and over, with different character names, is not going to excite you when it comes time to cook, and it won't excite readers when it comes time to dine. The more excited you are about writing, the more exciting your finished product will be.

8) Cut down on salt.
     What is the salt part of writing? Depends. Is there anything you're sprinkling on gratuitously to cover up possible story flaws? Of course YOU don't think you're involved in any nutritional shenanigans like salting the hell out of mediocre ideas, but healthy writers allow that they might have stylistic tics doing their genius more harm than good. This one is pretty general, I know. It probably needs a little salt to bring out the flavor, which is to say, a few stylistic tics make your voice yours, but an overdose of them is not your friend.

9) Cheese is a tricky addition to the diet.
     With most healthy diets, full-fat cheeses are not recommended in great amounts. At the same time, OMG is cheese good, and OMG do humans seem to love our cheese. Sometimes, all you want is some damn cheese. A Hallmark-style story. A sap fest. So give yourself permission to write a little cheese, stir in a little sentiment, melt your readers with some mushy-touchy-feely HEA-ness if you are so inclined, but overloading on sentiment all the time will harden your writerly arteries faster than my husband can say "3000 calorie lasagna" or "cholesterol spike". Granted, you have a little wiggle room husband doesn't do anything fast...but constant cheese can be tricky for a writer.

10) Adjust portion size to the "smaller" range.
     This one is because readers currently prefer fast-paced, shorter novels, or at least that's what's selling to a measurable proportion of editors and agents. Ten-course meals of historical epics or family sagas with lots of information dumps and segues about secondary characters are not currently conducive to publishing health. Which isn't to say no writers get away with this -- see "cheese". But adjusting that portion size might increase the odds of a healthier manuscript. It's worth a try!

11) Chew your food thoroughly.
     Don't eat at the speed of vacation and bolt from the table like you can escape the calories if you run fast enough. You can't get away from the calories you just ingested. Revise your work or it could choke you.

12) It may help to have a healthy eating support group in which you exchange ideas and cheer each other on.
     Critique groups and friendships with other authors who really get what you're trying to achieve can be invaluable. Peer pressure to stick to your diet also helps :), as do the new shoes or other rewards you allow yourself when you reach certain milestones.

12.5) Don't drive yourself so crazy with the diet you become obsessive or begin to sicken.
     This sort of relates to 12, which is why it's 12.5. (Actually it's 12.5 becaue this is a Thursday 13 but I had 14 ideas.) Anyway. When pursuit of your goal, be it publication or lower cholesterol levels, starts to make you miserable, you may need to reconsider your strategy. Being eaten up with jealousy at the success of others, for example, can send you into an ice cream and adjective-laden binge that will not do you much good. Exercising all the time to beat the calories out of yourself--writing all the time to fulfill contracts or get contracts--may mean you neglect your family and other joys and responsibilities. 

13) When all else fails, it's okay to eat someone else's cooking.
     Read! That's part of why you're doing this anyway, right? Because you love to read. Noms you didn't have to make yourself are especially delicious and sometimes inspiring.


Jody W. *

15) I just thought of one more! You can't think of this as temporary. If you really want your diet to work, it's got to be a lifestyle change.
     Butt in chair, hands on keyboard. Keep it up or you'll undo all the good your diet has done. If this is what you want for yourself--a healthier body or a publishing career--your "diet" needs to be one you can really live with on a mostly regular basis. This is, of course, barring things like chocolate, the occasional holiday binge, broken legs that keep you from exercising, etc.


  1. Oh, I need this right now to try to avoid that holiday weight gain. Thanks.


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