Posts Tagged ‘Mary Robinette Kowal’

Today’s Thing I Like is a way to make productivity easier and fun. Also? Guilt-free rewards for writing and lots else, always awesome.

Let’s see, how to introduce this idea?

If the only part of that sentence that made sense to you was “Christmas” fear not! Explanations forthwith.

Part the First: Mary Robinette Kowal

Mary is a terrific author and puppeteer with a string of quality novels and shorts under her belt. She’s the sort of person who suffers a puppeteering injury (yep, that’s a thing) and decides to get back into writing in her down time. And wins a Hugo. Then another one. And another one:)

For those of you interested in learning about writing, she’s also active in the Writing Excuses podcast (transcripts are also available for those who prefer the written word).


Part the Second: Habitica

This online platform helps you set up a to do list and rewards you in (fake, sadly, but still) gold pieces when you finish things. It’s free to join and while you can subscribe for things like avatar and quest extras, you don’t need to spend a cent to take advantage of the productivity options. There are lots of productivity and gamification platforms and apps and trackers out there, but this one is working for me.

This is my Habitica avatar, mount and pet, all decked out in rainbow fun.RainbowRumpus

Habitica lets you track what you need to do and, just as importantly, what you have already done. Then (and this is the extra fun bit) when you’re asking yourself if you’ve worked enough to deserve that double mochaccino half-caf* you’re craving, you can go over to your (fake, but still) treasure chest and cash in gold for a reward.

True, you still have to pay for that half-caf with real money, but! It is no longer a guilty pleasure, it is a well-deserved prize. Set up whatever rewards you like, from a trip to the cafe to a book-like object to dinner and a movie.


Part the Third: Ink Slingers

A Habitica guild or assemblage of people with similar interests, in this case, writing. You don’t need to join a guild but if you’re the sort of person who likes chat breaks with their productivity, consider it. If you’re the sort of person who wants to eliminate even the possibility of distraction on their way to accomplishment, well, don’t.

How Does This All Come Together?

Now, I’m not usually into apps for this and groups for that. I tend to just forge ahead. Even so, this  system works for me. Maybe it will work for you too, or maybe all you need is a handwritten list of your daily step count. Whatever works to help track measurable progress toward achievable goals.

I may still have a tiny touch of game/loot love left over from my time in Warcraft, and if it works for Mary, well. I asked if I could pretty please join Ink Slingers and then promptly became the walliest of wallflowers, but it’s still nice knowing that other people in my guild are working toward similar goals. It’s also nice to have a list that keeps me on track and lets me reward myself when I cross things off.

It’s even nicer to enjoy a tasty adult beverage (50 gold), guilt free. Now excuse me while I go check “blog post” off my list:)

* Ok, I don’t drink coffee, but the great thing about this system is that it lets you pick your poison. Hot chocolate with whipped cream and Bailey’s, anyone?

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Today’s entry for #ThingsILike is Impostor Syndrome. Let me be clear, I don’t enjoy feeling like a fraud. What I do like is that I’m not alone when I do. My advisor introduced me to the term in grad school and gave me a gift: he told me that practically everyone at our prestigious and accomplished institution had it. It just wasn’t something people talked about.

Ok, maybe what I really like is the fact that the today’s connectivity means I don’t feel like the only one, be it re: impostor syndrome or sci-fi fandom, POC or what have you. Still, today is as good a time for a pep talk as any. Let’s get to it:)

A lot of people feel like frauds at some point in their lives. The topic came up for me this week because Mary Robinette Kowal has a good piece about it on her site. (If her gaming analogy doesn’t work for you feel free to come up with your own.)

Have you ever felt like a fake, attributed your accomplishments to luck or some external reason, or downplayed your success even though on paper you might look pretty darn impressive? If you’re asking yourself “Who hasn’t?” well, you know about impostor syndrome.

(Quick, here’s a pretty picture to keep your spirits up. That’s you, taking in the view on your way to the top. It only looks like someone else’s behind:)

Impostor syndrome is so common that CalTech has a page on it for its students, and everyone from Forbes to Geek Feminism Wiki to the American Psychological Association wants to help people work through it. (And that’s just from the first Google search page:)

I like Mary’s take on impostor syndrome as a way to tell that you are making progress, working hard, and facing down problems that feel too big to handle. (The key here is “feel.” Feels are fine and all but emotion is interpretation, and not necessarily fact.)

Impostor Syndrome means that you are winning.

I think that’s great.

Speaking of progress and how to make more of it, there’s a great TED talk with relevance here. Rather than seeing challenges as a binary yes or no, can I or can’t I? Carol Dweck argues that it helps to think about targets as yes or not yet. That “yet” is the crucial modifier. The brain is built to learn, you just have to chill out, keep going and give yourself a chance.

Do that, and not yet can become yesterday’s accomplishment. Now I’m off to take my own advice:)

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Apropos of my recent comments about Miss Fisher I feel it only appropriate to link to new fan fiction by the esteemed Mary Robinette Kowal. Her short story is a delightful combination of Marie Brennan’s Lady Trent and Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries:
A Study in Serpents

“I’m dreadfully sorry to intrude like this, but we are in need of some particular expertise.” She turned, silk flowing around her and gestured to the Detective Inspector. “Would you mind terribly looking at a specimen, Lady Trent?”

While you’re exploring fanfic, you may also want to enjoy Marie Brennan’s take on Mary’s Glamourist Histories, in which she explores the uses of glamour for representing classical mythology and, well, what else? Genteel (very, nothing explicit to see here) porn, commissioned by none other than Lord Byron:
A Classical Education

“The delicacy is really quite remarkable. Just the faintest hint of a blush across her face and her — ah –” She faltered, then forged ahead, knowing there was more than a faint hint of redness in her own skin. “A student of lesser skill would have left her looking like a tomato.”

Both of these pieces were born with off-hand comments and laughter, followed by quick and gleeful explorations of another world. Delightful, and a good lesson for writers of all stripes.

Have fun if you possibly can:)

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I was pleased to see Mary Robinette Kowal’s recent recipe for dairy-free faux parmesan and thought I’d chime in. As a recently-discovered lactose intolerant, I’ve spent more time than I’d like looking for lactose-free recipes. Sure, you can take pills but isn’t it nicer not to? Instead of timing your medication precisely and watching the clock to make sure you haven’t over-eaten your lactase welcome, or realizing too late that you’ve forgotten your pills, avoid the problem in the first place.

Lactose-free options also make life easier for hosts. I still wince at a dinner party we gave in my pre-intolerance days, where a guest who accepted the invitation with a breezy “Oh, no, I can eat anything,” looked at her cream soup and asked if I had anything without lactose. Whoops.

This modified version of Mark Bittman’s Mexican chocolate pudding recipe is rich and creamy, flour-less and lactose free. This isn’t one of those good in an “I-have-to-eat-this-way” recipes, it’s just good.

If you’re avoiding soy this isn’t the dessert for you, but otherwise I recommend it without reservation. It is fast, easy and delicious.

* * *

Tofu Chocolate Pudding
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 pound silken tofu*
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted**
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt

1. Heat sugar with 3/4 cup water over medium heat. Cook until sugar is dissolved, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and let cool slightly while the chocolate melts.

2. Put all ingredients in a blender and purée until smooth. You may need to stop and scrape down the sides to combine everything completely. Chill for at least 30 minutes, although longer gives a denser final pudding.

Garnish with raspberries and fresh mint or eat directly from the container with a spoon, your choice. Serves 4 to 6. Or one very hungry writer.

* * *

Recipe notes:
* My grocery stores carry tofu in Tetra Pak boxes or water packed, but the important point is to find the silken variety. If you can only find 12oz boxes, I recommend getting two and increasing the recipe 1.5 times.
** Double boil if you like but I have good luck melting chocolate in my microwave at 20-30% power. I do this much chocolate ~three minutes at a time, stirring in between zaps. The chocolate taste is dominant so better is… better. While Valrhona is sure to be delicious I’ve had very good luck with a short ingredient list generic chocolate from my local grocery, so don’t feel constrained by the tyranny of premium labels. Look for one without added milk ingredients and off you go.

* * *

A final comment on lactose: I was surprised to find that a lot of the foods I thought were off-limits actually contain very little lactose. Imagine my joy to find that brie and many other aged or fermented cheeses are essentially lactose free, not to mention butter and long-fermented yogurt. Find your own comfort level, of course, but that was a game changer for me. A quick crib for cheese is to check the nutritional information chart on the label. Grocery chain Wegman’s put out a post on this, and also lists other cheeses with low lactose levels:

An easy way to check for lactose in cheese is to look at the Nutrition Facts under “Sugar” Since the sugar in cheese is lactose, you can easily see how much lactose the cheese contains. If the sugar is listed as zero, then the cheese contains no more than half a gram of lactose per ounce. Compare to 12 grams of lactose in an 8 ounce glass of milk.


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Mary Robinette Kowal, that font of wisdom and Regency fashion tips, has a nice column on bad writing advice.

There’s a bunch of aphorisms about writing that started as good, pithy advice in part of someone’s lecture. Then they got pulled out of context and then misapplied.

Mary breaks down the standards that every beginning writer hears and talks about what they really mean, and when they are useful (spoiler: not always!). Write what you know, show don’t tell, raise the stakes, and kill your darlings, all so often repeated as gospel.

If you’ve ever tried to merge the advice to “write what you know” with the burning desire to write about Martian ballerinas and the prospectors who love them, well, fellow speculators, this is for you.

/totally going off to write a story about Martian ballet… right after I finish my novel!

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Today we have helpful hints on reading aloud (and presentation in general) from Mary Robinette Kowal.

As an accomplished narratorpodcasterpuppeteer and author with lots of touring experience, she should know. And she does!

Check out her 17-part series for a plethora of detailed and useful suggestions for handling stage fright, phrasing, breathing, recording, what can go wrong (and how to cope with grace), and so much more. If you have a tour in the offing or, you know, you just want to be prepared for your future as a literary genius, this series is for you.

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