#30Skills30Days: Meditation

This blog post is a part of my #30Skills30Days challenge to learn 30 new skills in 30 days. 

You may not think of meditation as a skill, but it is. With all the busyness of everyday life and the constant connection to our social media networks and devices that tether us to work after hours, it’s easy to forget how to relax. Typically people go to yoga class or a Buddhist temple to learn how to meditate, but I’m a social media queen and literally found an app for that. Okay, full disclosure, my gym does offer yoga classes, but 1) I am too lazy to go there,  2) the hours don’t fit my work schedule, and  3) I prefer less human interaction.

In any case, I found this site/app called Headspace which teaches you “mindfulness techniques” or basically how to meditate no matter how much time you have or what your current skill level.

Here are a few quick facts about the online/mobile tool:

  • You can sign up for a free 10-day trial program and subscribe after that.
  • The 10-day trial gives you daily ten minute guided meditations with increasing skill level.
  • Once you get started, you can choose single one-off meditation sessions instead of a progressive level-up option.
  • There are also “SOS” bite-size meditation sessions for those stressful moments.
  • There’s a social network associated with it.
  • There’s a mobile phone app for most of the major mobile platforms.

The guided meditations are narrated (and recorded) by a guy with a British accent. In my first session he guided me through, what I assume, are a few typical rough patches for first-timers who might be easily distracted. He guides you, gently, through different mindfulness techniques to help stay focused on the task at hand: relaxing. There are a few seconds in the meditation session that you are allowed to let your mind run wild without focus, but it is very brief. He also gives you a pep talk at the end and encourages you to do your next level in the freebie series.

The great thing about this type of meditation guidance is that you can meditate anywhere. I chose to stay seated at my desk at home with my palms face-down on my thighs. It was a more relaxing position than the typical yoga meditation pose. Meditation is skill that takes time to master and helps you maintain some balance throughout your day no matter how busy it is. Worth the challenge.

Cost: Free 10-day trial. Monthly and yearly subscriptions are available.

Time commitment: This is an easy `ten minutes every day. Totally worth your time.

Rating: 1 + easy. I’m rating this skill learning activity a “1” because this activity takes little to no level of effort.

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#30Skills30Days: How to Write an Action Scene

This blog post is a part of my #30Skills30Days challenge to learn 30 new skills in 30 days. 

action-genre

In real life, I am a woman of action, I love action movies, I love watching gratuitous action scenes, but what I am not good at, admittedly, is writing action scenes. Somehow my action scenes always end up being about three sentences long and includes the character picking up their weapon, using it and then surviving without much effort or skill. When I reread my action scenes, there’s not much real conflict or internal dialogue throughout, we don’t get to visually see what’s happening around the characters, it’s just a cut and dry, two-minute street fight. So, needless to say, I’ve been looking to step up my game if I want impress my young adult readers.

For this skill learning activity, I wanted to learn how to write an action scene to improve my current work in progress, Worlds Apart 2.  This book is the second in what I hope to be a three-book series. Somehow I have managed to minimize my action scenes out of fear that I may not be doing it right.

The first place I went to for help was to Writer’s Digest to watch a video on How to Write an Action Scene that featured bestselling author, James Rollins. Rollins shared some good advice on writing the action scene, but the takeaway for me was his advice on adding layers of emotion through the point of view (POV) character.

Emotion was definitely the element that I was missing in my action scenes. To go through an action scene without sharing what at least one of your POV characters is thinking and feeling is an opportunity lost to the reader. How characters react when they’re faced with fear or danger is important to the character’s emotional arc.

Rollins suggests you show emotion in your action scenes by finding ways to make your character more sympathetic. Rollins shares a list of seven ways to do this, but really it could probably be more like six because one of them, I think, is optional. Some good takeaways for young adult (YA) writers like me to explore your POV character’s emotional arc through action scenes are to have established these traits through characterization:

  1. Demonstrate that they’re good at what they do.
  2. Demonstrate their humor.
  3. Show that they treat others well.
  4. Show that the character has undeserved misfortune.
  5. Show that the character has a physical or mental handicap = underdog.
  6. Have one character like another character, but perhaps one character doesn’t return the affection as much as they’d like.

This last tip is especially good for YA writers, because unrequited love is a typical trope we often employ in our stories. I can see how using it would amp up an action scene if, for example, your main POV character is in the fight of her life and also trying to save her unconscious love interest from being bitten by an evil vampire.

I also read a fight scene guide written by my fellow Seton Hill University Writing Popular Fiction program alum, Troy Bucher, called Ten Fight Scene Techniques for Science Fiction and Fantasy. This 12-page guide to writing fight scenes is a pretty exhaustive list of various fight scenes and includes examples, why each type of fight scene works or doesn’t work, etc. I decided that the fight scene skillset will take a bit more time and energy to do and should be an entirely separate activity that won’t fit on my #30Skills30Days list, but it is definitely worth it to pick up when I’m done with this challenge.

Cost: $4.99 for the How to Write an Action Scene video on Writer’s Digest University.

Time commitment: To actually watch the video is 20 minutes if you fast forward through the introductions and skip the Q&A at the end. It will take additional time to actually practice writing the action scene, but that’s a follow up activity once you’ve taken notes.

Rating: 2 = somewhat easy. I rated this skill learning activity a 2 since the video presentation by James Rollins is very easy to follow and take notes. Writing an action scene is something that takes practice, but once you know and understand all of the building blocks involved, you’re set.

#30Skills30Days Challenge

First, I’d like to apologize for taking nearly three months to write a new blog post. That’s just bad blogger behavior. In the meantime, I’ve lined up lots of new content to share with you over the next few days, months and year. One of those ideas is to create a challenge for myself (and you) called #30Skills30Days. Yes, I will force myself to learn thirty new skills over the next thirty days.

Now these are not skills that require days of research to learn and do them. These are skills that will take one day to learn about them and then commit to actually using what I learned sometime in the near future.

I divided the skills I want to learn into four categories: cooking, life/general, professional development and creative skills. Some categories might have more skills listed than others. That’s because I want to apply the skills I learn in those categories in my everyday life.

In my professional career, I want to stay current on cutting edge technology and thought leadership to remain relevant. In my writing career, the skills I want to learn are a combination of craft and interesting things I can use to develop my characters. For example, one of my characters likes to collect gems and precious stones because her hobby is jewelry making, so I’ve added jewelry making to my creative skills list.

You can do your own #30Skills30Days challenge too. You don’t have to use my categories or even use categories at all. Focus on learning some skills in a short amount of time and commit to doing them in the future. That’s all. Here are some things to think about before you make that list.

Cost: When I did my research, I found that the cheapest way to learn some of these skills is to buy a book, but I’m much more of a visual learner, so I’m taking online courses or video-on-demand lectures like the ones I found on Lynda.com or Writer’s Digest University.  I added up the potential cost of all of my proposed skills learning activities and, with the exception of cooking, each category added up to be between $30-50.

Time commitment:  Realistically, I don’t think I’ll be able to do all of these skills in 30 days’ time, but I can promise you that I will sit down and learn the skill. Even if I don’t try to implement what I learned immediately, I can still share my experience and offer some best practices or lessons learned.

Rating: No, I’m not rating how valuable each skill learning activity is, I’m rating how easy the skill is to learn in one day (in most cases, just a few hours).  The rating range is from 1 – 5 (1 = easy, 2 = somewhat easy, 3 = moderate, 4 = difficult, 5= not possible).  It’s important to know this rating so that you can decide if it’s a skill you want to add to your own list.

Without further ado, here is my #30Skills30Days list.

Creative Skills

  1. Master writing novel openings
  2. Learn how to write good action scenes
  3. Short stories: write and submit
  4. Fundamentals of poetry writing
  5. Weapons: from medieval to modern and beyond
  6. Formatting a manuscript for e-books
  7. Video game writing and design
  8. Jewelry making
  9. Screenplay writing
  10. Submission packages from query letters to book proposals

If time permits…

  1. Writing horror: write and submit a short story
  2. Learn to write an epic war scene

Cooking

  1. Recipe: Kabsa (Middle Eastern dish)
  2. Kuromame (sweet beans, Japanese dish)
  3. Peruvian chicken
  4. Pork shogayaki (Japanese dish)
  5. Slow cooker salsa verde chicken (Latin American dish)

Life Skills

  1. Meditation
  2. Homiletics: the art of preaching or writing sermons
  3. Gardening 101
  4. T25 exercise
  5. Stargazing/Astronomy

Professional Development Skills

  1. Tech Tool: Prezi
  2. iPhone and iPad Photography with iOS8
  3. Tech Tool: Storify
  4. Become a grammar and punctuation master
  5. Project management simplified
  6. Tech Tool: Creative GoPro photography and video techniques
  7. Web analytics fundamentals
  8. Adobe Captivate 8
  9. Grant writing for education
  10. Tech tool: Periscope and Meerkat

If time permits…

  1. Infographics and data visualization
  2. Online production for writers and editors