Monday, July 21, 2008


Write Your Way To Your Desired Weight

By AnnMarie Kolakowski

I clicked on this news article after reading a teaser on which said “Study shows people who did this one thing lost twice as much weight as people who didn’t.” I was expecting a miracle drug or an amazing exercise machine to be at the focal point of this study. Boy was I wrong, and gladly!

The study showed only that people who kept a diary of their food intake were more likely to do something about that. It reaffirmed my belief that writing things down is the ultimate path to changing something about ourselves.

I anticipate some people, like me, will click on that article and at first feel a tinge of disappointment. Lots of people are looking for the holy grail of instant weight loss—myself included! It’s normal (if immature) for us to want someone to prescribe us a cure to things that ultimately can’t be cured away.

We don’t want to hear that our goals are completely a product of our planning and output. And writing things down shatters the fantasy world that would tell us our goals are only achievable with this substance or that equipment. But thank God for that! Writing has the ability to free us from our own chains and remind us that the only thing contingent on accomplishing our goals is ourselves.

The fact remains, those people who expect to change through some expensive new diet are not thinking hard enough for themselves and are putting their faith in solutions that somebody else tells them to try. If you want to pay someone to do your thinking for you, the only thing that’s going to get any thinner is your wallet! But the people who keep a diary of their food intake begin to take personal responsibility for it, and because they are more serious and thoughtful about it they are more likely to succeed. The only entities that are making a difference here are thought, determination and choice.

As writers, we know that writing things down produces awareness of ourselves and a sense of responsibility for what we see. It also generates ideas and inspiration for what we might do about it. Many times the simple act of writing one thought prompts another. It’s not just about watching calories; it’s about coming up with creative ways to change those habits. Maybe you wake up one morning with a better low-fat idea for cooking your favorite recipe. Maybe you begin to feel a greater determination to hit the gym. Whatever it is, writing will prompt creativity which will prompt change.

In the article, it’s mentioned that Weight Watchers has begun incorporating diaries into their program. That’s great, but again, you don’t have to join Weight Watchers to do this. And you certainly don’t need some Weight Watchers brand diary! But since I understand people’s need for special space and organization, here’s what I suggest: go to any grocery store and buy yourself a two-dollar pocket notebook.

This will be your goal notebook—for the goal of losing weight. You will probably only fill a page every couple of days so consider it a year’s investment. Keep it in your purse, take it out whenever you have a few minutes after lunch or dinner and scribble some notes about what you ate. Try to estimate the calories when you don’t have access to a nutrition guide, and then let your mind’s own creative process do the rest. Your own mind will then be your guide and your trainer to the best weight-loss solutions for you. You will want to try lots of things and experiment. And when you do, write those things into the journal too. Write about your goals, your dream body, your hopes for fitting into that stunning dress…

Be your own personal mentor; your journal will keep you on track. If you are honest with yourself in what you write, your writing will always be a mirror to show you where you are and where you need to be. Try it! Let your creativity take you to achievement and weight loss, totally free of cost.

Labels: ,

Thursday, January 31, 2008


Interviewing Your Characters

by AnnMarie Kolakowski

When planning a novel, how much planning is appropriate to go into it before you sit down and start spitting out dialogue and narration and description and rough draft? This is a question I’ve been struggling with lately. I once took a creative writing class where the professor absolutely firmly insisted that we not plan at all, that we let it be “organic.” However I’m sure many of you can attest from experience that it’s a lot easier to get where you want to go when you have a road map.

I’ve stumbled upon a couple of good ideas for effective brainstorming that I’m sure aren’t at all new—“there is nothing new under the sun”—but which I hope might help you in negotiating the need to plan and the need to keep your novel a natural, organic growing process.

Earlier this month, I began developing a character for a novel by “interviewing” him daily on paper. I called him Simon. I asked him questions about his life: things like who his favorite comic book hero was as a kid, and what he wanted to be when he grew up. I asked him about his hopes for this story, what truth he wanted to convey with it, and what he thought of some of the other characters in my developing hypothetical cast. Sometimes I couldn’t think of anything “important” to talk about with him, so I just shared whatever was going on with me. The hard day at work I had, the fears that lingered about my ability to write. Sometimes he comforted me, sometimes he laughed at me, but always he pushed me back into the writing seat and challenged me to do proper justice to his story. I became committed to him and to his story, by the simple act of keeping in daily contact with him on paper.

Now, I can’t yet verify all of the benefit of this approach. My focus actually shifted at some point to another character in the story and to his plight, and I think Simon may have to step back into a more minor role so that this character can be more central. But at least Simon is someone I feel like I know, not just a wallflower whose face I have to consult my high school yearbook for! And I’m confident Simon will continue to help me by pushing me to get this story out.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


Breaking All The Rules: Confessions of a NaNoWriMo Cheater

By AnnMarie Kolakowski

Every November thousands of authors, amateurs and wannabes gather together in spirit with a common goal: to produce a novel-length draft of fiction, 50,000 words, in thirty days. There aren’t many rules, but the main thing that governs them is stressed again and again: It’s quantity, not quality. You’re not supposed to edit. You’re just supposed to churn out your daily 1,667 words and never stop. Whether it’s “good” or not is none of your business.

I’ve heard about this program for years, and this year I decided to join. I entered a whole week late. And because I had some catching up to do, I decided to take matters in my own hands and break a few rules. I am here today to declare before all NaNoWriMo writers that I have received due punishment for my sins. I will not be entering the promised land with you. Cheaters never prosper.

First in the enumeration of my various transgressions: I did not start a new novel on my entry date of November 8th. I didn’t even start a new draft of a novel. I took an unfinished novel I had begun a year ago, and spent a week or so pulling parts that still worked and were usable, until I had a good 35 pages to work with. Twenty thousand words, free and clear. Surely I could hammer out another thirty before the month was over.

The first few thousand I wrote seemed a piece of cake, though they did go slowly. I didn’t have to develop new characters or worry too much about the plot. What I was more concerned with was the tone, the voice, and making things run smoothly. And, of course, the fact that I was shooting for something better than just a “rough” draft—I was going for gold, the brilliant and proud first novel I knew it was meant to be.

First I found I couldn’t sustain it. Every day when I sat down to write I’d strip half of what I’d written the day before and refashion it with something wittier or more dramatic. Eventually I got to where I had to read earlier sections over and over until finally sparking a little interest in where I was at that point of the story. Then of course there was the overwhelming desire to go through and hunt down every unglorious sentence, such as “He went into the kitchen” and “I turned around, and there she was.” A temptation I obeyed every time.

As Thanksgiving rolled around, other fears and issues began to surface. As I wasted time on the Internet, purporting to look for “inspiration” from other writers, I came across a lot of articles about the changing publishing scene and the growing distance between amateurs and “real” writers, those who write not only for fun but for pay. I started looking for freelance jobs—jobs I mostly couldn’t get. I pored over the careers of great novelists like Pynchon and Lermontov, who were already established geniuses by the time they were twenty-four…and my twenty-fifth birthday just around the corner… I began to examine my own brief career and play the mental recordings of all my friends and former teachers, who warned me that I was going nowhere.

I had a small nervous breakdown, and decided to take a few days’ rest to recover. A week later, I still had not cleared more than a thousand words of new ground. To those who reached the finish line, my congratulations to you. I truly do not know how you did it.

Perhaps you did it by following the rules, by not being snooty about how good or bad you were allowed to be. It seems that what’s really hardest about NaNoWriMo is the fact that we’re asked to break all the rules we’ve held all our lives regarding the process of creating literature. Instead of the usual exhortations to put out an artistic and valued product we can be proud of, we find ourselves urged by this program to rattle our keyboards and churn out page after page of prose that, well, can hardly be considered “good.” This is the problem. Sure, everybody would love to say on December 1st: “I now have a finished draft of a novel.” Of course nobody wants to say: “I now have a finished draft of a novel that isn’t really any good.”

And there it is: the part where I completely missed the point.

There’s nothing to be ashamed of in having generated a hundred pages of rough draft. How many people ever truly get that far?

I have learned my lesson, and when you have your celebrations, NaNoWriMos, I will not be joining except to raise my glass to all your hard work and to the hopes that it paid off in ways my miserly little soul was unable to imagine. Let my failure be a lesson to you humble, resilient writers: it is now December 5th, and I don’t have a finished draft of a novel at all.

But next year, I hope to join again and amass 50,000 words of unrefined, incoherent prose, stinking to high heaven in all its unadulterated glory.

AnnMarie Kolakowski

Labels: ,