Monthly Archives: March 2012

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I recently read an article that said the weight problem in America (over one-third of us is obese and two-thirds are overweight) can be partly blamed on sedentary jobs. I guess I should consider myself lucky because I don’t have a weight problem and I’m a writer. Then again, I don’t really think it’s luck that puts me in the minority. Sure, I may be blessed with high metabolism, but I also have a few tricks up my sleeve that I would be remiss not to share. Here’s what I do to keep the weight off despite my sedentary job. It’s not rocket science, but it works. The key is, I do these every day, no breaks, no excuses.

  1. Snack smart. Snacks keep a lot of sedentary workers happy during the work day, but snacks can be a huge problem for weight control. Although I’m not a big snacker, when hunger strikes mid-morning I’ll answer with something really flavorful—without the calories. Pomegranate seeds (during the season) and spicy tea are two of my favorite snacks. Other good choices are carrot sticks, yogurt, apple slices, string cheese, popcorn, raisins, and almonds (but just a handful).
  2. Fiber up.Too much sitting isn’t good for the digestive system. What is, is fiber. If you don’t get enough fiber from your diet, a fiber supplement can help. But fiber supplements really aren’t necessary if you make a conscious effort to eat fiber-rich foods. My daily picks include high-fiber cereal, flaxseed, broccoli (see below), berries, and nuts. Oh, and don’t forget the water. I keep a glass of it at my desk and refill it throughout the day.

    Flaxseed, a Good Source of Fiber

  3. Shun the soda. Regular soda is bad news, but diet soda may be even worse. Its biggest problem is the artificial sweeteners, which can contribute to metabolic syndrome. Soda, especially the caffeinated kinds, can also be super addicting. If you drink it habitually (as many desk-bound workers do), do everything you can to stop, even if it means a week of headaches. If plain old water doesn’t satisfy your thirst, try unsweetened fruit juices, teas, or flavored water. Avoid the high-cal coffee drinks, too.
  4. Schedule exercise. I know from experience that writers have a hard time breaking away from their work, especially when they’re stuck on a sentence or paragraph. Fortunately, I have a dog who appears at my side at a certain time of day to let me know it’s time for his meal and walk. If you don’t have a companion (or the self-discipline) to nudge you off your chair, keep a clock nearby, set it if necessary, and take that daily exercise break. Go for a walk, head to the gym, or pop in an exercise video. Make the routine as important as finishing that paragraph.

    Schedule Exercise Daily (copyright Kenneth Allen)

  5. Veg out at meal time. No, not on the couch. In my lingo, that means eat lots of vegetables. At lunch and dinner, I try to fill my plate mostly with lettuce, beans, broccoli, carrots, mushrooms, etc. Why veggies? They’re low-cal, loaded with nutrients, and filling. Plus they make you feel good. Fruit, on the other hand, I limit. Although I’m a big fan of raspberries and blueberries, most fruit has too much sugar, which is not ideal for weight control.

So that’s it! Five easy tips. Give them a try. The only thing you’ve got to lose is a little weight.


With spring just around the corner, why not try something new and refreshing: enter a writing contest. Spring writing contests abound this year, and the offerings cater to a variety of writers. If you’re wondering why you should enter a contest at all, there are a number of reasons. For one thing, it’ll give you a specific project with a specific deadline. Sounds scary? Not at all. In fact, entering a contest will get you inspired to use your creativity—and you’ll probably have a lot of fun in the process.

Not only that, contests are a great way to get feedback on your work, reaffirm your role as a writer, and give you exposure. Of course, winning a contest brings all kinds of additional perks, like money, publication, personal satisfaction, fans, even fame. So give a contest a try, and get your writing off to a fresh start this spring. Here are some worthwhile options:

  • Writers of the Future Contest. If you’ve never professionally published a novel, short novel, or more than three short stories and you write fantasy or sci-fi (but not for kids), this may be just the contest for you. Cash prizes are large, and the contest runs quarterly. If you miss the March 31 deadline, you can enter the next contest beginning April 1. No entry fee required.
  • Writer’s Weekly 24-hour Short Story Contest. Limited to 500 entrants, this contest begins at noon on April 28, 2012, and runs for 24 hours. The fee is $5 for a day (and night) of fun. (Note: You must be entered before the topic is posted.) Cash and/or other prizes are awarded to winners and honorable mentions.
  • Children’s Writer Contest – Middle Grade Mystery. Think you can come up with a 900-word or less mystery story for 9- to 12-year-olds? If so, you’ll want to check out this contest. The deadline for entries is April 30, 2012. Children’s Writer subscribers pay no entry fee; all others, $15. Cash prizes will be awarded for first through fifth places, with first place earning $500 plus publication.
  • The Writer Short Story Contest. For $10, you can submit your original, unpublished short story of up to 2,000 words. Although the competition will be fierce, the first-prize winner earns $1,000, publication, and a free online creative writing workshop.
  • Writer’s Digest Writing Competition. This is a writing contest in 10 categories, including memoir, feature article, poetry, and children’s fiction. Entry fee is $25 for the first manuscript, $15 for the first poem. First through tenth-place winners receive cash and other prizes. Early bird deadline is May 1, 2012.
  • Fan Story Contests. For some great feedback and a ranking, you can enter any number of writing contests at this spring—for free. Topics cover the gamut, and many contests offer cash prizes, including the acrostic poetry contest, nonfiction contest, and horror story contest. Deadlines vary.
  • Women on Writing (WOW) 2012 Spring Flash Fiction Contest. Any genre and any style of fiction is accepted, as long as the story is between 250 and 750 words. The contest runs till March 31, but the sooner you get your story in the better. Only the first 300 entries will be judged. Entry fee is $10.
  • The Cheerios New Author Contest. To enter this annual contest, you must submit a story for 3- to 8-year-olds and be a nonprofessional writer. Winners get their stories published inside Cheerios boxes, cash, and a possible book deal. The contest is usually announced in March. Check here for updates. For more information, read my interview with former Cheerios New Author winner Laurie Isop.

(Image by Karen Blaha)



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(Note: This is a guest post by my husband, the biggest sports fanatic I know. I wanted him to talk about his thoughts on sports writing, and he had plenty to say. Though this post is aimed more at sports media, the takeaway for writers is clear: don’t let your desire to attract readers diminish the quality of your work. Enjoy!)

The beauty of a blog is that it presents a forum for a person to offer an opinion. Sports journalists have many outlets at their disposal—TV, radio, internet and, yes, even print—which are essentially no more than blogs since these people are really just sharing their opinions. Sure, they have facts at their disposal and they formulate their opinions based on those facts. But don’t we all do that when we express an opinion?

I am admittedly a sports enthusiast. Various sports outlets target people like me and our hunger for sports news. We devour all the little tidbits of information like a school of piranhas in a pond full of goldfish.This feeding frenzy continues relentlessly and yet the passionate sports fans are never truly satiated. As the feeding frenzy grows, the sports journalists and available media outlets multiply. Now we have a full-blown proliferation of relatively useless sports opinions. Nonetheless, we yearn for more. And how do the sports journalists respond?  In the true American spirit of competition: one tries to outdo the other in a game of one-upmanship--the first to break a story, the one to get the exclusive interview, the one to take the incriminating photos.The result? Hype is born.

There is a sports talk radio station in the Twin Cities called KFAN. One of the station’s hosts, Dan Cole the Common Man, created the “preposterous statement” tournament, with a bracketed format similar to the NCAA college basketball tournament. One preposterous statement competes against another. The preposterous statements are each uniquely ridiculous. When originally made, the sports journalist undoubtedly had the belief that the ridiculous statement he was bestowing on the world was profound and insightful. Yet, here it is vying for the most ridiculous statement of all. The overhyped opinion backfiring in glorious fashion. It happens.

Not to be deterred, the sports journalist carries on. The opinions must become bigger and bolder, more stunning and magnificent than ever. The hype leads to hyperbole. The sports journalists are intrigued by their peers, who have established a unique identity through outrageous behavior and their propensity for hyperbole. Dick Vitale is perhaps the most well-known color analyst for college basketball. He shouts at the camera and becomes animated as he spews out phrases like, “It’s totally awesome, baby!” and “it’s unbelievable!” Rabid fans can’t get enough of Dickie V., while still others want to say, “Calm down, Dick. It’s just basketball.”

What it all boils down to is simply a matter of scale. We should stop obsessing about what team is the best, what player is the greatest, or what Sports Center highlight is the most awesome. All of these are ultimately still just a matter of opinion. Whether it be yours, mine, or the partially informed sports journalist, one opinion is no more valuable than another. Larry David, the creator of Seinfeld, has a witty and clever show on HBO called Curb Your Enthusiasm. When it comes to sports journalism, I can’t think of a better phrase to recommend. Calm down and enjoy your sports for what they are: a diversion, a hobby, whatever. It’s not life and death—it’s just sports. But, then again, that’s just my opinion.