My Recipe for Triple Chocolate Chip Chocolate Cookies

Chocolate Cookies with Almonds (No Chocolate Chips were Available)What better excuse for procrastinating from your writerly duties than having to bake a batch of triple chocolate chip chocolate cookies for all the chocolate lovers in your circles? I have mentioned my affinity for chocolate before. The mere absence of the C-word will abruptly interrupt a thought and prevent me from completing a sentence. 🙂 (Okay, it’s not that bad… … Well, maybe it is.) What I haven’t mentioned is that I have a soft spot for good cookies too.

Because ’tis the season, and I’m in a giving mood. I have been baking cookies all week for the folks at work, family and for the fire in my belly that can only be appeased by four chocolates presented in the shape of a disk. So here goes:

Living in Cyn’s Award-winning* Triple Chocolate Chip Chocolate Cookies Recipe

  • 250g butter, softened
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1/2 cup of cocoa powder (I love Caotina’s dark chocolate cocoa. It has a really rich dark chocolate flavour.)
  • 1 tsp Baking powder
  • 1 tsp Baking soda
  • 2 small/medium eggs
  • 2 to 2.25 cups of white flour (up to 2 Tbsp more during mixing
  • 150g – 200g of assorted chocolates. (I get three bars of different chocolates: milk, dark and white and cut them into cubes and splinters.)
  • yields about 40-45 cookies

Quick & Dirty Recipe

Double Chocolate Chip Chocolate Cookie Batter Rolled up into Balls
These guys have chips and splinters of Dark and Milk Chocolate. (I was out of white chocolate for this batch.)
      1. Combine butter and suger in a large mixing bowl. Add cocoa. Mix thoroughly. Add eggs. Mix thoroughly again.
      2. Combine baking powder, baking soda and flower in a smaller bowl.
      3. Add flour mixture into butter/sugar/cocoa/eggs mixture (dry to wet) slowly, and blend until the batter is moist, but not sticky and gummy.
      4. Preheat oven to 160’C or 320’F
      5. Roll the batter into little balls (smaller than a ping pong ball), and distribute them evenly on a cookie sheet.
      6. Bake for 10-12 minutes.
      7. Remove and allow to cool. Transfer to a flat surface.

Long and Detailed Recipe

        1. LivinginCyn Recipe for Procrastination - Triple Chocolate Chip Chocolate Cookies
          This is the butter, sugar, cocoa and egg batter. You’ll notice how it develops a meringue-type fluffiness once the eggs have been added.

          Put the softened butter in a large mixing bowl. It must be soft enough for a fork to cut through it effortlessly, but not melted.

        2. Add sugar and mix thoroughly, so that butter and sugar are completely blended.
        3. Add cocoa powder. (If your cocoa powder is unsweetened, you might want to add another 1/4 cup of sugar, though it’s not entirely necessary. I don’t.)
        4. In a separate bowl, whip eggs.
        5. In a third bowl, blend flour, baking powder and baking soda.
        6. On a cutting board, select proportions of chocolate adding up to 150g – 200g, and cut with a knife into cubes.
        7. Add mixed eggs to butter-sugar blend, until no trace of egg is visible.
        8. Slowly sift flour blend along into the butter-sugar-egg blend. I use the same fork to mix it, but a mixer does a fine job, too.
        9. Once it’s blended, sprinkle your chocolate chips and try to get those chips and splinters evenly distributed through the batter. I use a fork or a wooden spatula (old school, baby!), but a Kitchenaid mixer would probably get the job done faster and with less strain on the wrists.
        10. Preheat your oven to 160’C or 320’F. (My oven dial doesn’t actually have the temperatures listed, so my dial hovers between 150 and 175. If you’re really a stickler to get the exact same results every time, I strongly suggest you get an oven thermometer.)
        11. Scoop out a little bit of the mixture with a Tablespoon. White Chocolate Chip Chocolate CookiesWith your hands, remove the batter from the spoon. (If the batter is really gummy and sticky, and you’re having a helluva time separating it from your hands, you probably need a bit more flour. Sprinkle more flour into the mixture in half-Tablespoon portions until you have the right consistency. The rolling pin principle applies here–which is, if you can roll out dough without it sticking to the pin, it’s good. Don’t add too much flour, or then your cookies will be doughy and dry. In the end, you want cookies that are chewy and moist, without being undercooked.)
        12. Roll small Tablespoon portions between your hands into little balls. (Mine are about 1.25-inches in diameter. Any larger gets difficult to handle.)
        13. Bake for 10-12 minutes. IMG_1113(I go with 10 minutes.)
        14. Remove the cookie sheet from the oven and let them rest for about 2 minutes.  Then, I pass a butter knife underneath each one to separate them from the cookie sheet and slide them on to a flat surface for continued cooling. They tend to need about 15-20 minutes at the low end.
        15. This recipe yields about 40 – 45 cookies.

*This is the only cookie recipe that has been commended with the honor of the “Best Excuse for Procrastinating” by LivinginCyn! Do you have any good excuses for procrastinating? Let me know! Comment below or though Twitter @cynthiatluna.

Triple Chocolate Chip Chocolate Cookie - LivinginCyn's Recipe for Writerly ProcrastinationDid you enjoy this little break from your writing? Living your best, most creative life is not doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result. Sometimes you need to switch things up a little. I write about my process (or lack thereof) 🙂 in a monthly email, and try to include an assortment of interesting writerly things. Sign up here — and as an added Thank You, anyone on my list will receive the advance release of my eBooks (fiction and non-fiction) free!

3 Ways to grow (double!) your Twitter followers in less than 90 days, spending 30 minutes per day

You’ve heard of Twitter. The micro-blogging social media platform where you can accrue followers with a few taps or mouse clicks per day. It’s an incredible way to get your 140-character message out to hundreds of people at any given time — if only it weren’t so overwhelming! It doesn’t have to be.

In this blog post, I wish to tell you how I managed to grow my Twitter followers from a measly 430 followers, to 1,000-plus in less than 90 days, and spending less than 30 minutes per day in the application.

But, first, a little back story! 🙂

Just as I completed the first draft of my novel in October, I started designing my marketing strategy. After a quick assessment of my contacts, I realized I had no author platform — no audience, beyond my friends and family — to whom I could market my work!

Having developed a rough outline of my marketing strategy (stay tuned and sign up for emails from me, because I am working on creating a free ebook on my design process to share with you!), one thing became really clear to me: I needed a system whereby I can grow my Twitter followers, quickly, using little effort and even less time! (I’m busy; what can I say?)

Twitter Followers from October - December 2015
Follow me on Twitter! @cynthiatluna.

So, somewhere around the beginning of October, when I had about 430 Twitter followers, I set the conservative goal of hitting 1,000 Twitter followers by December 31, 2015. On December 13, 2015, I hit that goal with 18 days to spare! (Thank you, Twitter Followers!)

Here are the 3 Things I did to grow my Twitter followers numbers.

1. Set a goal

Access Your Twitter AnalyticsMake sure your goal is SMART, too. In case you don’t know what SMART stands for: it’s Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timebound. As far as specific, attainable and realistic were concerned, I just took the number of followers I had on that day, 436; doubled it, rounded it off to a nice clean number (1,000), and set a time-limit (end of this year) on the goal. Voilà, goal set!

I also want to take this opportunity to share with you that you can easily measure a bunch of Twitter activities through Twitter Analytics — this is a free service (for now, anyway) offered by Twitter, so you can see how you’re engaging socially online. You can access Twitter analytics, by selecting the drop-down menu in the top-right corner of your desktop Twitter screen–or you can tap the URL in your smartphone.

2. Commit to two or three times in the day during which to visit your Twitter account.

Now that you’ve set a goal, you need to attain it, right? When I set this goal for myself, I thought it would be impossible to reach by the end of the year, but I also reasoned, I wouldn’t know unless I tried. The first couple days I visited my Twitter account, I read through tweet after tweet, and was overwhelmed with the sheer load of information. Much of it was pretty repetitive, dull or downright self-promotional. I decided to keep my visits short and frequent — two or three each day… and timed!

Here’s what I did daily, 5 – 6 days per week:

  • Visit 1: Conduct a few searches, based on hashtags: #amwriting, #amediting and #amreading (find the hashtags that work for you) to find Twitter accounts whose bios align with my interests. Read their top couple tweets, and if I enjoyed them, I would retweet them with a quote, a mention, a positive comment. Once 10 or 15 minutes were done, I’d sign out.
  • Visit 2: During the day, a tweet might come to mind. I would pop into my Twitter — not check any of the tweets there — make a comment and pop out.
  • Visit 3: At the end of the day, I would engage once again for a maximum of 10 to 15 minutes. This visit tends to be more engaging, but I also will repeat a hashtag search to find others to follow.

I strongly believe the staggered approach to engaging in Twitter is the difference between efficient growth (doubling your followers) and slow growth. I also think it’s a great way to find new/interesting people during their time zones. Maybe you have a different theory on this… feel free to comment!

3. Reply, Retweet, and Follow (#FollowFriday or #FF)!

On some level, I mentioned following other Twitter accounts above, but the acts of engagement in Twitter are critical!

Gaining Twitter Followers means Replies, Retweets and Likes, not just post, post, post
Gaining Twitter Followers means Replies, Retweets and Likes, not just post, post, post

Yes, it’s one thing to post, post, post on Twitter, but Replying, Retweeting and Following (generally acknowledging other Twitter accounts) shows that you are on Twitter to engage in two-way conversation. You’re giving props, encouragement, and sharing the wisdom that someone else took the time to compose and share.

Because I don’t spend my daily Twitter time acknowledging every follow I do get, I make sure to issue a range of #FF or #FollowFriday tweets weekly on Fridays. I go back one week and make sure to give mention to everyone who followed me.

What tricks have you employed that changed your Twitter experience?

Twitter Followers Thank You Card, Follow @cynthiatlunaThanks to these few tweaks, I now look forward to engaging with my Twitter followers, because the folks I follow are interesting to me. They offer comments that share value, and are valuable for sharing. I can also fit engaging on Twitter it into my busy schedule! My next Twitter goal was to hit 2,000 Twitter followers by the end of December 2016. (Maybe this was a bit too conservative…)

Follow me @cynthiatluna. Or if you get jiggy on any other social media app, go ahead and share this blog post there.

Take a snapshot of your words to clean up your writing

Several weeks ago, I pumped my Facebook page into a social word cloud website that tallied up all the words I used and formulated it into a nifty word cloud. I was heartened to see that “Thanks” was front and center and horrified that “like” and “just” were also prominently displayed. (Immediately, I vowed to use better words like “love” and “bedraggled” more often! After all, my image as a writer was at stake!)

Do I really sound like a teenie bopper whose vocabulary has been reduced to creative combinations of crutchladen utterances?

bracelets

After a few deep breaths, I reminded myself of the source of the words for the cloud: Facebook. A place where I engage in social dialogue with friends, friendly acquaintances, and family. A place where I will write “like” in the comments to underline how much I enjoyed a picture, a meme, a rant, whatever. But what’s the excuse for “just”? Well, there is none (especially since I’m pretty sure that I haven’t discoursed on issues of fairness, equity and honor–not that much, anyway). “Just” is a verbal crutch–like “well,” “so,” “still” and “y’know” (this last one, I use mostly in speech–not in my writing).

A fellow aspiring author* on the internet turned me on to the idea that these word clouds can be useful editing tools–a great way to get a snapshot of the words you use most frequently. She shared an online tool called Wordle, which I immediately used to dig up crutches in my writing. You can see her blogpost here.

I word clouded a chapter of the novel I’m editing these days…

Screen Shot 2015-12-05 at 15.13.10

And I was so relieved to see that many of the “crutch” words that plague my Facebook page aren’t as prominent in at lease one chapter (about 1,000 words) of my work. 🙂 In fact, I think the above word cloud, does a nice job of summing up a few elements of my story.

But if you really want to clean up your prose…

I’m thinking you might want to cut and paste smaller 300-word chunks of your writing from three different parts of your work into Wordle. Then, as you paste the terms into the Wordle field, try removing character names and other pronouns. (For example, the words “Little” and “Bit” above are actually pronouns, which is why they are so frequently used, and capitalized.)

Take a snapshot of your words and find your crutches! #amediting #wordcloud @cynthiatluna* This blog post idea was inspired by Sacha Black, also an aspiring author, working on dystopian fantasy novels — which I’m very much looking forward to reading upon their release! In her post, she pointed her readers to one of her secrets for the quickest edit one can do. Make sure you check out her blog and Wordle!

 

Five ideas to get your novel from “Once upon a time” to “The End”

Now that I have completed the first draft of my first novel, other writers are asking me how I did it — what I did to go from “just started” to “The End”. Here are five things that I did to go from zero to 70,000 words.

  1. Consistently scheduled, daily writing segments. I used to think I was a night owl, but really, I’m an early bird. Sure, I can write in the afternoon, or the evening, or even late at night — but my most productive, best copy happens in the morning. In fact, now that I have a first draft down, I can tell that the first third was written during any other time of day. (Basically, it needs work.)file2361274239655
  2. Go with the flow, and plot only when it’s time, and only as far as it feels right. (Trust me, you’ll know when this is.) When I started writing my story, I just started writing. I had a place, some characters and no real plot–hardly even a vague idea. So, I just started writing, not knowing where the story was headed really. This surprised a lot of my writer friends who always knew whodunnit from the get-go. So, they got me worrying. Too early in the game, the planner in me tried to figure out how it all would end — I wanted to force myself straight to the destination without taking the journey, and the result was something a bit too contrived. Doing that got me so confused I had to put the story aside for nearly a year, before I approached it again. When I looked at what I had written, the ideas started flowing so fast, I started to jot down bullet points of the next few moves/scenes in a clean Word document. (Read my blog post about plantsing here.)
  3. Don’t think about “The End” until you get to it. With my first novel, I managed to reach an end — but it turns out that it isn’t the end yet. I have tied up some loose threads, but there are others that will have to be addressed in newer stories. As it turns out, this story idea I had a couple years back is not a one-novel wonder. 🙂
  4. Ask for, and accept, help. Whether it’s talking to friends who like to read stories, watching movies in your genre, finding a book on writing, or taking a class — it’s all good. I’ve done all these things — and, mind you, the activity doesn’t have to address your story, specifically. Sometimes, I would help a friend edit her writing and provide constructive feedback over coffee. In fact, one time when I helped a friend in overcoming her writer’s block, I also stumbled on a solution for my own writing wrinkle. (Win-win!) Another time, I joined a class and learned so much from everybody else’s creative writing exercises.
  5. Commit to one 30-minute writing segment each day like it’s a religion. In a 30-minute writing segment, I can write an amount ranging from 250 words to 1,200 words. (I think once I even hit around 1,800 words — but I think I also think I lost track of time.) More importantly, 30-minutes is a short-enough time period to fit into a busy schedule. I tried scheduling one-hour into my day, but other priorities managed to take over — and I would postpone my writing for the weekend, or vacation, or whenever. This way, I always get some words on a page.
Getting to the end...
Getting to the end… (you’ll know)

When plotting turns to plodding…

It’s probably best for me to begin this blogpost by confessing that I’m not expert in the area of plotting. That’s because the writing style I employ is commonly referred to as “pantsing it”, which means, that I improvise, go with the flow, and I don’t look back. (The term comes from the expression “flying by the seat of one’s pants” — which, is totally comprehensible to me as a native English-speaker, but I would not be able to explain the origin of that second expression to someone learning English…)

I don’t look back… Until, that is, I don’t know what to look forward to.

pantsing it, writing, don't look back, Living in Cyn

It’s pretty common that once a person has written about 25 to 30 percent of her story, the writing slows down. This is where you start slicing into the main course of your story. At this point, writers should be pretty clear on the widget/problem their protagonists must find/solve in order to ensure order is restored after a period of page-turning entertainment.

If not, your writing is going to hit a productivity wall, and in little time, you will be stepping out of the marathon altogether, blaming writer’s block for twisting your ankle near the first water station.

plodding while writing, plotting, Living in Cyn, How I Write, Cynthia T. Luna

Turn plodding to plantsing!

For a writer like me — who gets so caught up in her storytelling, she becomes more of a documentarian of her characters’ actions — creating an outline is like burying MacGyver six-feet under in a water-filled coffin, and then emptying his pockets and making him spit out his gum. (Basically, you’ve stripped him of any chance of escapting a hopeless situation, you’ve stripped him of even the smallest details that make him MacGyver.)

But on the first day when I feel like my writing is going nowhere fast, I open up a clean Word document, write the title, “What you know is…” and start outlining what I’ve already written into the story. In bullet points.

It might look something like this:

  • Sidney St. Claire is a PR flack in Washington D.C. who is unlucky in love.
  • Her best friend Cherri tries to help Sidney out, but Sidney might be beyond help.
  • Sidney’s boyfriend is a hot, French journalist, whom she rarely sees because he’s presumably working the graveyard shift.

Doing this might be all I need to for new ideas to present themselves. And all I need to do is write the next couple scenes.

  • Sidney’s boss, Patti, gives her a project that will force her to put off the wedding plans for at least six months.
  • Her boyfriend has been busy lately. And then Sidney finds him cheating on her!
  • Cherri helps Sidney throw herself into her work and into the local bar scene.

running lucho-33

The next time I hit a wall, I will pull up the same Word document (the one with the outline), scroll down to the bottom, and in big bold letters I’ll write, “What you don’t know is…” 

  • Pierre is a spy who was trying to get his intel through tried and true pillow-talk, espionage techniques. He loves Sidney, but can Sidney live with his career?
  • Patti is part of an espionage intelligence-trading network.
  • Sidney has no idea how in-deep she really is!
  • There’s going to be a love interest for Sidney, but will she be able to trust him, or is his work at odds with hers?
  • Something serious is going to happen to Cherri.

This will usually help me round the corner. And it’s enough to get me writing more scenes. I don’t need to get too detailed with my outline, because my characters tend to take over the script. (You can read more about the term, “plantsing” on the blog of another fellow pantser-writer, Stephen D’Agostino.)

How about you in your writing? Do you pants it, plot it or plants-it?