13 January 2010

Change it Up

This week we're talking about the things I'm learning about writing from my new work out program, P90x. Since this post is set for Wednesday, I'm driving back from my future hometown and taking a day off. But tomorrow I'm back at it!

So P90x's claim to effectiveness, other than its "extreme" regime, is variety. Tony (the speaker dude) says the cliche a few too many times--something about "spicy" variety. What he means is: "change it up".

The program itself is based on variety. For every video, there are four people on stage doing any of four possiblities for each move. Some are more difficult than others, but all of them work. I'm currently in Phase I, which means I do a specific schedule of videos in a seven day period. But next week is my "Recovery Week" and it'll be more stretching and cardio--not really resting because I'll have to do Yoga X twice! Then I enter Phase II, which has a completely different arrangement of videos. Tony says that by varying the workouts and changing them up just as our bodies get used to them, we'll confuse ourselves out of plateau-ing. They even have a nifty little graph to illustrate it, but you get the point. It's something exercise gurus have said for a while--don't do the same routine every day. Change it up. Push yourself. Don't get stuck in a rut--your body will too. If you want to see results, be willing to get out of that groove.

All I know is that three weeks in, I'm not bored. And that's awesome. Because while I used to have laser-like focus which lasted hours, I eventually went to college. And now I'm more ADD than I was going in. Still, it's getting to where I can quote Tony's bad jokes before he says them, which isn't the greatest thing in the world. Then again, I'm not particularly witty when I'm suffering either.

As it is with exercising, it's important to change it up when we write. Maybe we change our sentence structure, rebuild a scene, or subtract a character. Maybe we take the roundabout approach to a conclusion only to cut across at the last possible minute. Maybe a character says something out of the box, maybe a plot twist scatters everything to the wind, or we just need to re-think word choice. How can we make our stories the best possible? Often it means getting out of our own groove.

We're working with limitations: twenty-six letters...and few basic plotlines. But how we use those twenty-six letters, how we work the plot, and how all the other variables like characterization, syntax, dialogue, foreshadowing, etc., can make all the difference. Though cliches say it so well, we have the opportunity to make it new--and say it even better! Shakespeare was notorious for writing plays based on well known plots--even stories! I.e., Romeo and Juliet. What made his works so incredible weren't the barebones. What made R&J timeless was how he wrote the story. That doesn't mean we don't need to come up with stories of our own. Plagarism isn't cool. But it does mean we need to throw ourselves--and possibility--into every word. Though cliches say it so well, we have the opportunity to make it new--and say it even better!

Tolkien's a great example of this. He read Shakespeare's Macbeth ::swoon:: (I love love love that play--not so much R&J!) and was disappointed on a few points. Guess what came out of that? Ents. That's right, when he read Shakespeare's depiction of the Great Birnam Wood, he said, "I can write that better". So he did. And Eowyn's line in Return of the King: "I am no man!"? That too came from Tolkien's version of how Shakespeare should have written it. As much as I love Macbeth, I have to say, Tolkien did it better. He used every possible variable he could.

How do you change it up?

On Monday Elizabeth Spann Craig posted about the Basic Plots of writing. As always, a great post. And I thought it went well with the one I wrote last weekend for today. Great minds, eh?


  1. I'm so grateful to be working along side the best! Stellar post Kristen. Changing our thinking to resignate outside of the box is pretty critical with today's readership.

    Things are changing so fast, and creativity is at an all time high!

  2. Great post! I have no idea if I change things up! I'm still so new at this writing thing, I don't think I do anything the same...ever! lol Thanks for a very thought provoking post. :)

  3. I think I change it up. I know when I feel like I'm doing too much of something, I try to force myself to do something different. And sometimes I'll stop myself from using the first word or phrase that comes into my head and do something different.

  4. Great point, Kristen! And, did you notice that even though we wrote on the same type of topic that our posts were completely different? We both like changing things up! :)

    Mystery Writing is Murder
    Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen

  5. Wonderful post! I need this exercise program you mentioned; I'm bored with my treadmill.

    I change my writing time by blogging, reading craft books, reading great writing, and working on various projects apart from my WIP. It helps to have more than one project going at a time.

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  8. Short to long sentences. Play with POV. Read different genres.

    Work it on out, woman. You make me proud.
    ~ Wendy

  9. I'm giggling at the comments.

    Yes, I am SO trying to change it up!!! Lord help me change it up is my new prayer.

  10. I think our bodies respond better when we mix it up. Confuses the pounds into leaving! :O)

  11. I need some muscle confusion. Changing things that I write, different POV (gender wise). I tried first person this week as well.

  12. You guys make me wish I was working on a book! :)

    Kristen, You are one of my happy makers today. Pop over to my place when you get a minute...

    :) Bina

  13. Great analogy! I loved hearing where ents came from -didn't know that story. I agree that it's important to keep things fresh and alive. Our brains get mushy with nothing new to deal with.

  14. Your technology bytes are keeping this old dog hanging on!

    Hmmmm. How do I change it up? Putting the characters somewhere they don't want to be and having them do the opposite of what I think they should do (learned this from How to Write the Breakout Novel.)

    Wish it were my own idea!!!


  15. This is beyond true. I call this my "goin' George" persona. And she comes out when what I've been doing isn't working anymore. I then do everything the opposite of what I've always thought. And the results? I usually like them. :)

  16. Congrats on sticking with the exercise program!

    I didn't know that about Tolkien. Thanks for the interesting facts!

  17. My wonderful critique partner points out to me when I've started like four or five sentences in a row with the word "she." She usually tells me in so many words, "Change it up!" And I love that. Sometimes we get too used to doing something or too close to a routine to realize when we need to change things. Great post, Kristen!

  18. I like to change it up by doing different kinds of writing and activities (like writing prompts). I've always told my writing students that cross training applies to writing too:)

  19. My next project is going to be a different voice for me because the MC will be a boy. I'm looking forward to changing things up.

  20. Super-great post, Kristen! This is one I'm going to read many times. I change it up by writing something else for a while.

    I see you're almost at 100 followers! Woo-hoo! :-)

  21. It's something when you can top Shakespeare! Great post.

  22. Cool post. Changing it up is my biggest goal for writing this year. I experimented with it on my last manuscript, creating a character that was out of the box, and I enjoyed it. This year I need to take my writing to the next level and change not only one character here and there but make the plot incredibly unique and different.

  23. I need to get better at changing it up. I tend to stick to a routine to a fault. Same meals at restuarants. Same excerise. Same snacks. Same type of books.

    My goal - pick something different next time I go to Los Agaves. :)

    Great post, Kristen!

  24. I do that too, Katie! I choose my restaurants according to what I want to eat because I only eat one thing at each restaurant I go to. Ha!

    Good luck, Cindy! You can do it!

    I know! I love that story, Elizabeth!

    Thank you, Shannon! That's a good idea!

    Wow, I haven't had a male mc yet. That will be a very interesting experience, Susan! I wish you luck!

    Love that, Karen! What great advice!

  25. Hi Kristen -

    The idea of reading another author's work and trying to re-write a phrase sounds like a great exercise. I'll have to try it.

    I'm not good at "changing it up." I've lost track of how many years I've been eating the same breakfast cereal.

    Susan :)

  26. A great critiquer is priceless, Heather! That's awesome!

    Thanks, Jill!

    I haven't let my alter writing ego loose yet, Elana! Ooh--maniacal laugh. That will be fun!

    I haven't read that book yet, Patti Lacy, but I'd like to!

    Thanks, Deb! I love that story. Learned it in college and think about it whenever I see the movie.

    Thank you, Bina! That means a lot!

    I love first person, Patti! I guess for me I'd need to switch to third... Hmm...

  27. Ha! Neither am I, Susan! I eat a lot of the same things each day. Creature of habit I guess!

    Yeah, it's a great strategy, Diane!

    You can do it, T.Anne! I believe in you!

    Thanks, Wendy! I hope to keep it up!

    Great to meet you, Bubu! I went to your blog. You are very talented!

  28. Thanks, Jeannette! It's a lot of fun!

    Thanks, Elizabeth! You're right--so funny!

    "Waiting a beat" is a great idea, Stephanie. Sometimes I have to remind myself to slow down to sift through words.

    You can do this, Sherrinda! I believe in you!

    Thank you so much, Tamika!

  29. It's not really changing it up -- but deadlines seem to work best as my motivator. Even if it is just an upcoming conference or critique group.

    travel safely!

  30. Those are great tips for changing it up, keeping things interesting. I'm finding now I can't keep the voices in my books straight. I'm finding characters slipping in at all the wrong places. Guess I'm getting the workout without knowing it.
    PS Love the Ent stuff!

  31. What an interesting post! And great workout idea. I think it will work, for sure.

    Not sure I change things up with my writing as much as I could. LOL

  32. You're right--we don't want to get stuck in a rut with our writing. I think time away from a project followed by a fresh read is a good way to identify when things aren't "spicy" enough. ;)

  33. I need to change it up...I get too stuck and focused too much. Great post as always. Sarah

  34. I am so guilty of using cliche. In fact, I've even been known to invent cliches for other creatures in my stories. Hehe...no one can criticize your dwarvish cliche if they've never heard it before :)