Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Focus Booster: egging me on; Book review: "Autumn" by David Moody--zombies!

Decided to move on from flash drive disaster (still waiting for computer monkeys' final word on salvageability), but felt out of practice writing longer pieces. Then, this past weekend, with the beginnings of another novel swirling around my head, I sat down with no hopes at all of writing anything worth a shit. And just for fun, I decided to try a new app I'd downloaded: Focus Booster. I first heard about it last fall, then promptly forgot about it. Then a couple of weeks ago, Amanda Hocking said on her blog that she'd started using it, and she was rather... impressed. So I thought I'd give it another go.
I'd suggest you go to the site for a better explanation than what I'm about to give you, but here's the basics: once downloaded (free!), there is an icon on your desktop. You can click on it at any time. It brings up a bar with a timer set for 25 minutes. Once you hit start, the clock starts ticking -- literally, though the ticking fades out quickly. As it counts down to zero, the color of the bar changes color, and when it's at zero, an alarm goes off. Then it resets for five minutes, same thing, and then back to 25 again.

The 25 minutes are called "pomodoros," and this is all supposedly based on the research of a scientist who found that we work better and at higher capacity when we work for a full 25 minutes (no more, no less), and then take a mandatory five minute break, and continue on. You can use it for doing housework, working on your taxes, or in my case, writing.

So how did it work?

On a good day -- and mind you, I've got excuses aplenty, including working full-time and a house full of animals and blah blah blah -- I get out 1,000 to 2,000 words.

On Monday, even with work, I wrote 3,000. And I would've continued on if other things hadn't come up that physically took me away from the computer. Honestly, when I sat down, I had a vague idea of the opening scene and some other minor details. Nothing more, and I had ZERO expectations for writing anything at all. I learned a lot about how I write, which is where I will spare you the hum-drum details, but I can safely say that between yesterday and today, I've gone over 6,000, and I'm hoping to do more pomodoros tonight.

It's like magic. In a day, it changed how I see at least one facet of the writing process. Do I think you should try it? Hell, yes. For whatever you think it might be useful.

Amanda Hocking doesn't have a day job any longer, and she said she was putting out about 4,000 words a day, which she's doubled with Focus Booster. 8,000 words a day. I could easily see doing that if I didn't have to work. Amanda Hocking, for those who don't know, is the recent darling of the e-pub/self-pub literary world. Just writing her books and self-publishing on-line only to places like Amazon, she has become a millionaire. She's 23. She's the -- so far -- biggest success story of the self-pub/e-pub revolution. I'm not interested in her books, to be honest, but she's so down-to-earth and decent on her blog that I've been following her. And now I have her to thank for Focus Booster. And if you are interested, look her up -- her books are vampire paranormal type romances.

ETA: I wrote this yesterday afternoon. Last night, I did two more pomodoros and wrote another 1400. I'm sort of hooked now...


One more thing today: I finished reading David Moody's "Autumn," yet another book about the zombie apocalypse. This is actually the first book I've read, as I've only stuck with short stories about zombies in the past.

David Moody has a pretty famous story. He wrote "Autumn" on his website, chapter by chapter, and anyone could come along and read for free. After a few years and a few hundred-thousand downloads, a lot of folks were telling him he should get it published. He did, and now he's a successful print author as well, with a few books of the zombie apocalypse. "Autumn" is standalone.

"Autumn" covers what I think is probably the truest representation of what might happen if this sort of apocalyptic event occurred. The zombies are fairly slow and dull-witted and, obviously, rotting badly. But they are determined, and it's their numbers that make them so dangerous. Three people end up holing up in a farmhouse in the country, and the book follows their fight for survival.

There are no running zombies here, there aren't survivors in a mall, nothing out of the ordinary. And that's probably what makes this book so appealing to many. This is the fate of the majority of those who survive, told realistically.

While I enjoyed it, I finished the entire book easily in two nights. It was not exactly taxing reading. If that's for you, if you're looking for something light and fast-paced, then get "Autumn." But for me, I continually felt as if I was missing things. The lack of more detail than is absolutely necessary to tell the story led to it feeling -- again, just to me, probably -- hollow and unfulfilling. Any of our three main characters, for instance, could have been interchangeable. I couldn't tell them apart, even at the end and even with dialogue tags.

So it was a decent read, but not spectacular. This morning, however, I woke up to find that the Killer Chicks had blogged about "cutting the fluff" from your writing and moving the story along. As I said in my comment over there, it's a fine line. I've read books that are completely overstuffed and could be cut by thirty-thousand words, and then there's "Autumn," which I felt could've used another ten or twenty-thousand to make it a richer, more resonant read. How do you know, as a writer, what to include or not? I think it comes down to instincts, so do what's right for you (but always be willing to listen to those with valid critique). There is a market for those overstuffed books just as there's a market for fast-paced reads that cut the story down to the bone. I kinda fall in-between, I think.

Just went over to Amazon to read reviews, as I usually do after I'm finished with a book. They're incredibly mixed, from one star to five, those who hated it and those who loved it. Meh. If it sounds like your kind of thing, give it a go.


  1. As you say, it is a fine line. I've given up on more than a few classics because of the pages and pages of description. It's just a snooze, if there isn't some action or dialogue interspersed within. That being said, there are times when there isn't enough description, and it gives me the feel that it was just churned out without any thought whatsoever and no feeling on the part of the author for the character. I think it's important for the author to love his/her characters, and to convey that with words. If you don't care about your characters, then why the hell should I?

  2. Yes, I think you've got part of it right there -- the author must love their character(s). Perhaps Moody, for instance, didn't ever really care about his characters, which is why they remained cardboard in "Autumn." If one of them, or all three, went down, I wouldn't have cared.

    But it's such a fine line. The person who rec'd the book to me loved it, and I know he doesn't like excess baggage in writing. But what's "excess" to one may be just enough to another. Grr. Instincts.

  3. Just tried the "egg timer." Thanks for the rec! I broke out of my several night procrastination, and got some meaningful words in tonight!

    Good luck on the "big" ideas. :)

  4. That's awesome! I'm loving this thing.

    Someone elsewhere remarked that it's just like a kitchen timer, but whatever it is about this thing, it works!

  5. I'm usually not into zombies, but I know that you are. Have you seen this series on AMC called The Walking Dead? We've been watching season 1 on Netflix, and finding it really well-done. I find myself liking the characters, even redneck guy. Maybe ESPECIALLY redneck guy, which is very disturbing in itself. The season finale, set at the CDC, was especially haunting, and a scientist there explained how dead people became zombies without making me snort "Yeah, right!" Definitely worth watching, IMHO.

  6. Here are my thoughts:

    This is a review of TWD comics. I've read all of them to date. I've seen the series. My view on the series is at the end of the review. *coughIhatethetvshow*

    Having said that about the show (and there's a bit of reason why in the review), Daryl is not in the comics, but my TWD fellow fan, with whom I discuss everything TWD-related, absolutely loves the guy, as do I.

    It's hard not to go on and on here. To compare, the collected comics (in book form) take up the space of half the HP series on my bookshelf. That's a lot, right? So, there's a lot of story there, and it's a huge fandom. I'm fairly obsessed with it, so I'll just stop here. :) If you read the comics -- which I STRONGLY URGE you to do IMMEDIATELY -- email me. We'll be talking for days. It's an unbelievable experience.

  7. At one point I was kinda using a "pomodoro"*2 technique where I was writing for 55 minutes and taking 5 minutes off. I may have to try the 25 and see what happens. I tend to push myself to write the full scene, but it would probably be better for me to stop in the middle because I'm getting worse about getting started on fresh scenes.

    I can enjoy a light book during the read, but I want there to be more to it than just a quick read. (On the other hand, I'm currently reading the Passage... and there is a part of me that is jealous of the other books I could be reading.)

  8. Pomodoro 2, LOL. Well, I'll say this: I've been tempted to continue on, but I've been duly stopping myself for that 5 after the first 25, and I think it actually helps in a significant way.

    This whole thing is starting to interest me on another level. There's something here about how our brains process and work, and it's fascinating.

    I wanted to read The Passage when it first came out, but reviews have been incredibly mixed here, too. It sounds fascinating, and I heard it starts out absolutely terrifying, but then it drags on and on into something else. When you're done, if you do a review on your blog, great, and if not, drop me a comment over here and let me know what you thought, if you don't mind.

  9. Thanks for the mention re: Focus Booster. I remain chagrined about my less than 500 words a week. And I totally use my job as an excuse not to write, goddammit.
    (I also use everything from not wanting to clutter my computer files to cleaning. Which makes me wonder why I call myself a writer - throwing myself into a funk - which also stalls the process. It's turned to an elaborately painful plan over the years - if I give myself writing constipation, perhaps the words will come out more forcefully??)

    Bah. Good mention on the Focus Booster. Maybe my internet will be too slow to download it, thus buying me some more bitching time about how I never have time to write.
    Hahaha! That is my plan!

  10. Thanks for the letting me know about Focus Booster - I shall be giving it a go.

    The Amanda Hocking story is fascinating. I've bookmarked her blog and will be reading what she has to say!

  11. I'll let you know when I finish the Passage, but it will be a while; especially since I'm polyliber (or maybe polyga-bookish would be less cryptic) and rarely read one book at a time.