Distractions – can playing games at work increase productivity?


Distractions.  We all have them.  Whether we work at an office or from home, we are distracted from our ‘job’ by ringing phones, meetings, the occasional thunderstorm outside, or someone dropping in to say hi.  Stay at home workers, I believe, are subjected to twice as many distractions, especially if you are a stay-at-home mom or dad.  Kids and pets have an uncanny way of interrupting the ‘work flow’.

But what about self-imposed distractions, like playing games at work.  For the last year and a half I’ve had the intense pleasure (and pain) of not working outside the home.  It’s not that I haven’t looked for a job.  Trust me, I have and still do.  Every day.  But seeing as no doors have opened at this point, I have been following my passion and writing my heart out.  During this time I have finished my novel, sent it out, received a request for a rewrite and finished it again for re-submission.   I’ve written several short stories, won a few awards for my writing, and am currently writing on books two and three in my YA fantasy saga.

But not all my time has been spent on writing.  Outside of my normal distractions  (kids, disabled hubby, animals, etc.), I have one self-inflicted distraction:

It’s not a difficult game but I like it a lot, for many, many reasons.

Wizard101 is a 3D massively multiplayer online role-playing game  Players take on the role of students of Wizardry to save the Spiral (which is the set of worlds this game takes place in), and battle a variety of creatures by casting spells using a turn-based combat system similar to collectible card . Players advance in the game by accepting quests to learn new spells, gain equipment, and collect gold.  Although designed for pre-teens, the game appeals to all ages.  Players can play alone but it really is a game designed to play with others, and in fact, many of the bosses you can’t beat without collaborative play.  During play, you can ‘chat’ with your teammates.  Many times, I don’t chat much at all.  I ‘listen’ to the conversations between the younger members.  Great fodder for a YA author.  Also, seeing that I write YA fantasy, this game is right up my alley for having fun.

But, how does playing games affect my writing ‘job’?  If I’m playing games, then how can I possibly get any work done?  Well, according to WorldWinner, a provider of online games, playing casual games at work can increase productivity.  The survey from their 2007 press release states (and I quote):

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The survey, which involved more than 500 players who compete at WorldWinner.com, reveals surprising new reasons workers take time out of their day to play casual games. Among them, more than 80 percent of respondents who play online games during the workday feel better-focused on work as a result of periodic mental breaks associated with game play, 76 percent report improved productivity, and 72 percent rely on game breaks to reduce job-related stress.Recent studies suggest that a growing number of workers are seeking alternate ways to reduce stress while on the job; and a great many of them are turning to casual word, card and puzzle computer games.

In fact, more than 60 percent of gamers who play games during their workday use “brain teasers,” including puzzle/strategy games (such as Bejeweled 2) and card games (such as Solitaire and Free Cell), as a form of therapy during the day. When asked how game play recharges their creative juices, the great majority of respondents answered that online games “take my mind off of work for a few minutes” or “calm me down after something has frustrated me.” An inference easily drawn from these findings is that casual game play may boost productivity by serving as a healthy way to refocus the mind in high-stress situations.

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I personally find this to be true with me and my writing.  Many times I’ll get to a spot in a chapter or a short I’m writing and my brain freezes. I don’t know where to go with it or what to say.  At that point, I either take 20 -30 minutes to unwind in Wizard101, or I go for a 20 to 30 minute walk.  Sometimes, if time and weather permit, I do both.  It’s amazing what that time away from the ‘job’ can do to revitalize the brain and the body.  After such a break, I am able to go back to several more hours of work.

There’s no doubt that everyone needs a break at work, but whether this calls for gaming stations to be implemented at workplaces across the country is another matter… Does your employer let you sneak in the odd game at work?  If you’re self-employed, do you play a game of Angry Birds or Solitaire every now and then?  If not, maybe you should.  It might just increase your productivity.

Review of the 3rd Installment of Henry Neff’s Tapestry Series – The Fiend and the Forge


The Fiend and the Forge (The Tapestry, #3)From the back cover:

The Tapestry series continues to weave threads of fantasy, mythology, science fiction, and mystery into a wholly original adventure that appeals to fans of everything from Harry Potter to Lord of the Rings to The X-Men. Genre-blending and fully illustrated, The Tapestry novels have caught the attention of middle-grade and young adult readers alike—and the series is only getting bigger.

Book One, The Hound of Rowan, was a boarding-school fantasy that School Library Journal called “a solid and worthwhile beginning . . . [that] should help ease the suffering once Harry Potter withdrawal sets in.” Book Two, The Second Siege, was an epic quest about which Kirkus Reviews said, “After devouring this title, young fans will clamor for more.”

Book Three, The Fiend and the Forge, is an unforgettable dystopian adventure across a landscape overrun with goblins and trolls. The world has changed almost beyond recognition, for with the Book of Origins firmly in his possession, the villainous Astaroth now has the power to reshape history at will. Plucking pivotal discoveries from mankind’s past, he has reduced the world to a preindustrial nightmare.

But while most humans toil as slaves within four demonic kingdoms, Astaroth allows those at Rowan to thrive in peaceful isolation. Theirs is a land where magic and nature flourish . . . so long as none dare oppose the new order.

That proves too steep a price for Max McDaniels. Unsure of his place at Rowan, Max sets out to explore the shifting landscape of the world beyond. In the course of his travels, he will become many things: Prisoner. Gladiator. Assassin. But can he become the hero that mankind so desperately needs?

In the third book of The Tapestry, author–illustrator Henry H. Neff takes the series in an exciting new direction, creating a fascinating dystopia in which myth, history, and monsters collide.

Visit www.rowanacademy.com for original content, exclusive artwork, and more!(less)

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I must say I’m not a HUGE fan of this series, but I have found it to be an entertaining read and I do want to find out what happens next.

The first book in the series, The Hound of Rowan, felt way too much like Harry Potter to me — a young kid, Max McDaniels, discovers he has magical powers when he receives an invitation to attend Rowan Academy, a secret school of magic.  The difference is that Max begins to learn other children with similar talents are disappearing, and that an ancient enemy may be reawakening and searching for him, to fulfill a prophecy, so they can re-enter the living world.  I almost put the book down because of its stark resemblance to Harry Potter, but I stayed with it because I wanted to find out what happened to Max’s mom.  That little nigglet wasn’t discovered until the 2nd book.  I also enjoyed Neff’s vivid descriptions, especially Max’s room at Rohan.  It was soo cool and I could see how a young boy’s mouth would just fall open in wonder if he had a room like Max’s.

The second book in the series, The Second Siege, kicked up the pace, and I have to say is probably my favorite out of the three books so far.  It is really ‘dark’ and Neff truly shines as an author.  It is an epic tale and the antagonists would definitely give Voldemort something to think about.  By the end of the second book, I was hooked on the series and definitely had to read the third book in the installment.

The Fiend and the Forge is probably Neff’s most ambitious tale yet and really puts this series on a scale that is equal to, if not better in many ways, to the Percy Jackson series.  The book is a virtual history lesson that presents a unique, imaginative view of what history would look like if it could somehow be seized, twisted, rewritten and then retold by a demonic, yet charismatic dictator (the demon, Astaroth).  Imagine a world where all modern conveniences never existed:  no electricity, no cds, no television, and all memories of them were erased.  This is Max’s world in The Fiend and the Forge, and he’s determined to change it back.

In the beginning of this book, we find that Max, the Rowan Academy and the world are inhabited by demons seeking to reassert their control over the world.  His roommate is not acting normal, and his friends are in danger.  Max becomes more determined than ever to protect his home and to seek revenge on the demon who murdered someone he loved very much.  Battling his impetuous instincts for revenge along with the deep forces of the ‘old magic’ within, Max sets off on a journey that takes him far away on a magic toy ship to Astaroth’s kingdom.  In spite of his own magical powers and the help of others, Max’s enemies recognize him and choose to provoke him in painful and personal ways, resulting in some highly poignant moments, life-threatening situations, and absolutely epic battles as he seeks to administer his own brand of justice.

The downside:  I felt some of the scenes should have been explained a bit more, like the child sacrifice scene.  I really wished Neff had explained the ending and the significance of that scene to Max a bit more.  I was left hanging.

I still feel like Max is much younger than he says he is in this book (he makes a comment to another character that he’s 16, 17, he can’t really remember).  His voice and mannerisms strike me that he’s no older than around 14.  This may not be a huge issue to the young readers, but adults might find it a bit annoying.

Neff has a highly visual writing style that pulls the reader alongside Max as he seeks the answers to life’s many questions.  He also doesn’t talk down to his readers, which I find refreshing.  We see Max grow, and we cheer him on and pray his ideas to cure the world’s ills work out.

The Fiend and the Forge is a stand-alone book but I really think you should read the other two books first so you know what is going on.  I am looking forward to the 4th and final installment in the series as I think it will be the darkest and most epic of them all.

Stars:  4 out of 5

Target age group:  10 and up.

I have a novel to publish, short stories to edit, and a new novel to write in 30 days. I’m swamped.


Remember this fantastic scene from the Princess Bride?

Swap the words for the title of this post and that’s me facing down NaNoWriMo which starts a week from today. Am I nuts?

Unlike Prince Humperdink, I am not a planner. I don’t outline, I don’t figure out my characters or what they’re doing. I just write. Now, I do have a plan in my head. I know where I want to start and how I want to end but that’s it. I guess you could say my writing style reflects my everyday look at life.

I don’t plan. In fact, I hate to plan because nothing ever goes right when I plan. The best vacations I’ve ever had were the ones where no plans were made except to say “We’re going on vacation to [fill in the blank]”. Once we got to wherever we were going, my family and I did whatever caught our interest. We’ve never had an itinerary to uphold.

One of our best vacations was the one we took two years ago to Key West over Labor Day weekend. It was literally a spur of the moment trip, completely unplanned. I told the boys we were going to the Keys the next day (you should have seen their faces! priceless!) and to go to bed early. I got online and made reservations for us and the pooches (they love traveling, too) at a fabulous Sheraton Hotel on Key West beach (at an AWESOME rate that I couldn’t even believe myself] and off we went. I even took 1 extra vacation day from work so we would have 4 fab days in the Florida Keys. I got to live out two of my dreams: to see Hemmingway’s house and stand at the southern most tip of the United States. Kewl!

Hopefully, NaNoWriMo will offer the same opportunity to fulfill one of my dreams: to write and finish the second installment in my 3-part saga. I have butterflies in my tummy, my nerves are starting to twitch, and my brain is gearing up to face the unknown. The trip is going to be a fantastic one and I’m going to learn a lot, especially about myself. Can I stay focused? Can I make and accomplish goals? I believe I can. What I am sure of as a writer, is if I can get through and succeed at NaNo, I can succeed at anything. Today – Little Town, Florida. Tomorrow, New York! Look out world! I’m coming for you!!!

(gotta love the ‘I am awesome’ message!)

Just finished writing death scene…


and let me tell you, it was one of the hardest scenes I’ve ever written. However, thanks to three re-writes and coaching from my super duper beta reader, I have written a scene that grips me and my reader to the point of tears, which is what I was going for.

So what held me up on this scene? Basically, I forgot to be the storyteller. I failed to get inside my characters’ heads. The basics were there, the movements were there but it lacked depth, persuasion. It lacked emotion. I mean, it was so close, but you know how sometimes you’re thinking of something and it’s right there on the tip of your tongue but you just can’t blurt it out? That’s how this scene was with me. It was right there. Right on the brink, but I kept missing the mark.

Until I listened to my beta reader, made myself uncomfortable and visited the spot where grief lives. I had to reach down deep inside of me and relive what I felt when people I loved died. What did I feel? What did I say to myself? What sort of bargains did I make? And then I had to transpose them onto a seventeen year old boy without sounding cheesy or overdone.

I can’t believe how many hours this scene took to perfect. Again, a big tip of the hat to my beta reader and her harsh, strong comments that forced me to dig up painful memories so I could make this scene shine.

I wonder if anyone else has written a death scene and if they had as much trouble to get it right? If so, what did you pull from for inspiration?

As a side note: there are three novels that come to mind with great, gut-wrenching death scenes that just turned me into a bawling baby: The Order of the Phoenix when Sirius Black dies, The Hunger Games when Rue dies and an old classic, The Miracle of the Bells when Olga Treskovna dies.

What are some of your favorite death scenes in fiction and what emotion(s) did they stir in you?