Don’t Talk to Me About Ideas

Quadrangle

Where do you get your ideas for stories? Do they come in the mail along with other assorted junk destined for landfills? Or maybe the muse's breath tickles the fine hairs on your neck with whispered inspiration? I've heard that some ideas are inhaled on the misty vapors of a hot shower. A man I knew in New York swore that he got his best ideas while eating big, crisp, dill pickles as long as his hand.

Don't Go Hunting for Ideas—Target Characters Instead

Ideas don't matter. An idea isn't a story. Here's an idea:

An asteroid hits the Earth.

It's happened before and it will happen again. Arthur C. Clarke used it in the opening of his classic book Rendezvous With Rama. Other writers have created numerous other tales about impact events in books and movies. It's an old, well-used idea. Does that mean you can't use it? Of course not!

Just decide who you want to write about because it's their story that matters.

Compare Seeking a Friend for the End of the World with Armageddon. Very different takes on the idea because the characters are different! The story emerges from the character.

Pick on Your Characters—It's Your Job

Characters exist somewhere, in a place. And they exist in some sort of situation. They have a life that exists before the first page of your story. That situation or problem may not (probably isn't) the main problem of the story. It could be related. Unfortunately for your character, things are about to get much worse. Almost as if there is someone deliberately making things hard for them. Oh, wait, there is! We don't read stories about characters where everything goes terrifically well all the time for the character. Things get worse for the character. They try to solve one problem and fail. That ‘try-fail' cycle repeats. Each time they do their best but things keep getting worse until they either succeed or fail for the last time.

Damon Knight describes the Quadrangle: Character, Setting, Situation, and Emotion in his book Creating Short Fiction: The Classic Guide to Writing Short Fiction.

Story Quadrangle described by Damon Knight

I like this visualization of the concept. It neatly captures the character, situation, setting and adds an important factor—emotion into the mix. He explores each of these factors (and much more) in his book. It's well worth reading!

Where do you get your ideas?

What do you turn to for ideas? Do you agree that ideas don't matter? Let me know in the comments!

5 Ways to Draw Readers Into Your Story or Novel

Apple drizzled with honey

“The air in the shop smelled of talcum, resin, and tissue, with a faint, almost indefinable undertone of pine and acid-free paper.” (“There is No Place for Sorrow in the Kingdom of the Cold” by Seanan McGuire)

Smell

Sensory details draw readers into your story or novel. Evoking one's sense of smell is one of the most potent ways to do this. Scents tie us to our memories and create a powerful sense of place. An opening of a story should draw the reader in and anchor them in the story. Scents can also substitute for taste, think of the smell of sugar when someone opens a box of fresh donuts. Or the way overripe apples smell almost like cider late in the season as they drop from the trees to rot among the grass.

“Humans called it the Medusa. Its long twisted ribbons of gas strayed across fifty parsecs, glowing blue, yellow, and carmine. Its central core was a ghoulish green flecked with watery black.” (“Hardfought” by Greg Bear)

Sight

As surprising as it might be, sometimes we forget to include sight in our story. Our characters appear, converse, and interact without any word of where they are located. Sensory details emerge through the character. All of the senses, including sight, are interpreted by the character. Your characters will notice different things about the setting and have different opinions about it. In the “Hardfought” opening, Bear shows the characters opinion even before naming the character by describing the nebula as “ghoulish green” and “watery black.” In the next paragraph, introducing the character Prufrax describes the nebula further as “malevolent” and goes on revealing character details. This not only draws the reader into the story, it also reveals character details.

“Rinna Sen paced backstage, tucking her mittened hands deep into the pockets of her parka. The sound of instruments squawking to life cut through the curtains screening the front of the theater: the sharp cry of a piccolo, the heavy thump of tympani, the whisper and saw of forty violins warming up.” (“Ice in D Minor” by Anthea Sharp)

Hearing

Sounds convey so much of the character's experience to the reader and provide another powerful way to anchor the reader in the story. In Anthea Sharp's story, the contrast in the first line with the second is interesting and tells us something is different about this scene. The sounds of the orchestra immediately provide a sense of place and tell us the character's view of the instruments. It also reveals that the character knows each of the instruments.

Often sound is coupled with other senses. Or the absence of sound can reveal details about the setting and the character. As with the other senses, it all flows from the character. To one character the buzzing of the fluorescent lights in the office ceiling, the flickering of a dying bulb, might drive them batty. The other person in the office doesn't notice the buzzing of the lights but does notice how the person sharing the office is always snacking on M&Ms, making smacking noises that drive them crazy.

“When he was very young, he waved his arms, gnashed the teeth of his massive jaws, and tromped around the house so that the dishes trembled in the china cabinet.” (“Dinosaur” by Bruce Holland Rogers)

Touch

Touch adds an additional sense of being physically present in the setting. It gives the character solidity. The character lives in the environment—they aren't a disembodied bundle of cameras, microphones, and other sensors. Touch links us to the character and setting. It's also overlooked. It might seem unlikely, how do you miss a sense of touch? Suppose that you write, ‘John picked out an apple from the basket'. There are no specific details in that description. It isn't filtered through the character's sense of touch, or opinions. ‘John plucked an apple from the basket, the skin giving beneath the gentle pressure of his fingers to reveal the worm-blasted rot inside.' Or, ‘John selected an apple from the basket and relished the crisp firmness ripe with juicy potential.' Two different experiences, sensations, and opinions of the apple.

“Cat waited for a moment as she stepped into the bakery, the bell dangling from the door announcing her arrival. Trays of baked goods surrounded her. Silver trays with goodies packed to the edge—baklava, chocolate sponge cake layers held by ganache and lemon cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, the lemon filling betrayed by the dollop of neon-yellow filling on the center right on top.” (“True Calling” by Irette Y. Patterson)

Taste

Patterson's opening evokes several senses. It also evokes a sense of taste simply from the description of the baked goods. The character pays attention to the pastries. She knows what they are and there's a sense of relish as she takes it in. Although the scents aren't explicitly mentioned, the description evokes the scents of sugar and lemon. Some words have a strong association with scents and taste. The two often go together. In this case, it's enough to make the mouth water. As the opening continues, the sense of taste is further utilized to ground the reader and develop the character.

Taste is one of the senses—like a sense smell—that has strong associations with memory. We associate tastes with events and times in our life. A character's sense of taste can also link them back to memories and gives the character a feeling of reality outside of the page. They came from somewhere. They didn't just start on the page.

Evoking All Five Senses Every 500 Words

Author Dean Wesley Smith recommends hitting all five senses quickly in each opening, whether the start of a story or a scene opening and again every 500 words. It grounds the reader and keeps them in the story. This is an area of craft that I plan to practice as I write my weekly stories. I also plan to go back to familiar stories and look at how the author used the senses in their stories.

Who Does This Very Well?

What writer, story, or book engaged your senses? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

 

Stranger Than Fiction: Learning Story Through Practice

Typewriter

I like the movie Stranger Than Fiction. I've watched it many times. It's fun, even though it shows an image of a writer as an eccentric, chain-smoking, and depressed person subject to the demands of a publisher, working in a spacious suite with marble floors. A literary author. It's an odd view of a writer, but one that reflects many of the stereotypes around writers.

“Sitting in the rain won't write books.”

Despite this, I really enjoy the characters in this story. Harold pulls me into the story. That's something that I want to do in my own work.

Learning From Story

What do you do when you enjoy a story, be it a movie or a book? Do you ask why? What did the story's writer do to pull you into the story? How did they do it? Especially when you come back to a story more than once.

We pick up story everywhere. Our whole lives we here, read, and watch stories. Our subconscious picks up on story. It filters through and comes out when we write. With focused attention, we can study works we enjoy to pick up techniques. Dean Wesley Smith covers this in his lectures on Practice.

My Plan

In coming at this reboot of my writing career, learning is key. I've spent many years writing and I continue to learn. After finishing my MLIS degree I realize that I need to focus much more on learning my craft as a fiction writer. I always want to get better. I want my writing to improve. This year is a year of reflection, planning, and rebirth.

I'm looking forward to it.

I'm writing a story each week and I plan to practice as I write those stories. So far I'm hitting each week this year (I started back in December). I create a card on my Trello board for each story which includes the deadline, target word count, and I've added a field for the technique I plan to practice.

Trello card with custom fields

This gives me an easy reminder each time I look at the card. I've added the word count and the topic using the custom fields power-up. I'll update the word count when I finish the story. And a title. When I finish the story, it goes out to a market following Heinlein's Business Rules.

How Do You Practice Writing?

What about you? What do you do to learn and improve your craft? Are there resources you recommend? Techniques that work for you?

 

Don’t Use Your Computer For Your Writing

Laptop with Scrivener

This tip comes from Dean Wesley Smith, as part of his Tip of the Week series.

Use a different computer for your writing, and only for your writing.

I've heard Dean and Kris say this many times over the years in different ways and I finally listened when I watched that tip. Go subscribe and get weekly tips from professionals. That isn't an affiliate link, just a great deal. I highly recommend listening to professionals further along the path you want to follow and their lectures and courses are worth your time.

The basic idea here is that you set up a computer that has nothing except your writing on it. No internet. No email. No games. Nothing. Back up your manuscripts on a USB drive and use that to transfer the files to your connected computer where you do everything else. Keep your writing computer strictly for writing. It will help your gray matter. When you sit down at that computer you know the only thing that you will do is write.

Setting Up the Scrivener Laptop

Laptop with Scrivener I like being mobile. I want to write on breaks at work. I want to write in different places. The trouble is that I have used both my desktop and my Chromebook for writing and everything else. The temptation is always there to check social media, email, read, watch shows, and everything else. I'm writing this blog post on my desktop.

I am rebooting my writing career this year. I'm focusing on learning and creating as much as I can manage. Dean's points make sense. When I finished listening to the tip I decided that this was something that I could implement to help me move my career forward.

What did I do? I bought a small, inexpensive Dell Inspiron i3162 Bali Blue laptop for $183. This is not a high-powered machine. It's a small 11″ Windows 10 device as cheap as my Chromebook. I only need it to run Scrivener. The laptop arrived yesterday.

After the initial setup, I removed all unnecessary programs that came preinstalled:

  • Office 365 (I'll be using Scrivener).
  • McAffee Security (Windows Defender works great, is free, and I won't be connected).
  • Games.
  • Miscellaneous Dell software cluttering things up.

Then I went to the start menu, right-clicked each tile and unpinned everything. I resized it to just the menu width. I don't need a bunch of tiles. I did install Scapple along with Scrivener and pinned both to the taskbar. I set the taskbar to autohide since I don't plan on using it either. I navigated in the Windows file explorer to Users > [User Name] >AppData > Roaming > Microsoft > Windows > Start Menu > Programs > Startup and added a shortcut to Scrivener. Now Scrivener launches automatically when the laptop boots up.

Wifi is turned off.

That's it!

Now I have a machine that just runs Scrivener. I plan to use it for my fiction writing. If I want to go online, I'll use my desktop, Chromebook, or phone. No lack of options there!

I have a USB drive I can use to backup and transfer files.

What do you use to get into that writing headspace? What do you think of having a dedicated device just for your writing?

 

Why you should let your computer read your novel

Earbugs

Self-editing a novel or story presents challenges for many writers. It is very easy to read past mistakes, especially when you are very familiar with your work. Listening to your work read aloud can help.

Why You Shouldn't Read Your Novel Aloud Yourself

You could read your novel or story aloud yourself to try and catch errors. It can help, but I don't recommend it. There are a couple issues with reading aloud yourself.

  1. Your familiarity with the story can still lead you to read past errors.
  2. When you focus on reading the text out loud your attention is split. You're trying read the words and also looking for mistakes. If you're looking for small errors like typos you might miss larger issues such as whether the sentence or paragraph makes sense. Focusing on the story while you read can lead to missing mistakes.

You could also ask someone else to read your story to you. I don't recommend that either. It might be very annoying for your reader if you're having to stop them and ask questions. Plus they're also likely to skip errors, unconsciously make corrections, or focus too much on looking for mistakes.

Fortunately, there is an easier (free) option.

Let Your Computer Read Your Novel to You

Most modern computers, tablets, or phones have text-to-speech options. That is, the device can read selected text to you with a synthesized voice. This key feature for accessibility also turns out especially useful for writers looking to self-edit their work.

  1. The device reads the text, one word at a time, as it was written. A spell-check won't catch it if you used the wrong word. Grammar checkers, such as Grammarly can prove very useful to highlight text with potential issues. It's another useful tool for writers self-editing. That's still different than your device reading each word of the text.
  2. The voices available don't sound human. They don't add emotional inflection to the text as they read. This makes it much easier to hear what is actually written.
  3. Easier to focus your attention. Since you aren't having to read the text, you can focus exclusively on listening for problems.

Since it is likely already available, it's just a question of how to turn it on and use it.

Editing Along With Your Computer's Reading

So how do I use this for editing? I open a Word version of the document, select a section, and click the Read Aloud button. (Check out my notes below for steps to enable text-to-speech options on your device.) I follow along as the computer reads, making corrections as needed. The control bar allows you to pause/play, and change settings, such as voices and playback speed. Do keep in mind that the software may also mispronounce words, particularly those you've made up for your latest alien language!

This still takes focused attention. Take breaks if you think your attention is going to drift from really listening to what the computer is saying. Sometimes you'll find that your eyes scanning the manuscript have skipped right over an issue and the computer's reading will catch your attention. If you need to stop and come back later, just make a note of where you left off.

What Other Self-Editing Tips Do You Have?

Are there other things that you do when editing your manuscripts? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Read on for tips on getting text-to-speech set up on your device.

How to Get Your Windows 10 Computer to Read to You

Quick Access toolbar

You have a few different options to get your computer to read documents aloud.

  1. Read Aloud in Microsoft Word. Add it to the Quick Access toolbar at the top of Word, then just select the text you want it to read and click the button.
  2. The Narrator (press Windows logo key  + Ctrl + Enter to start) provides many accessibility options. To read your manuscript aloud, start Narrator and then press Capslock + M to have the computer begin reading it back. Press ESC when you want it to stop.

Commercial text-to-speech options include programs like Dragon's NaturallySpeaking, NaturalReader, or free programs such as Balabolka. If you want to save audio files you'll want to use software that can create the file. I haven't done that because I'm typically going through the manuscript making corrections as the computer reads. You might also be interested in other software if you want to use text-to-speech in many different applications, or you simply want better voices.

How to Get Your Chromebook to Read to You

Chromebooks have a built-in screen reader and a select-to-speak option. Once enabled in the advanced settings accessibility section, users can hold the search button, select text, and have it read aloud. Another option is using a web-based service such as NaturalReader's online version, where you upload or paste your document.

How to Get Your macOS to Read to You

As with other platforms, macOS offers text-to-speech options under System Preferences > Accessibility > Speech. After enabling the option, select text and use the option+esc key to have it read aloud. Apple users interested in a commercial program may want to look at GhostReader. As a PC user, I lack experience with the macOS. If you do use text-to-speech on an Apple device, please share your experiences in the comments.

How to Get Your Phone or Tablet to Read to You

Just like computers, phones also offer text-to-speech capabilities designed with accessibility in mind (whether that's implemented effectively is another question). On Android, go to Settings > Language & Input > Text to turn on the option. On iOS, Settings > General > Accessibility, Speak Selection.

Talking Back to Your Computer

These days many systems also come with dictation options that you can use to transcribe your words into text on the device. Windows 10 recently added dictation with the fall creators update. Google Drive has a voice typing feature. While Dragon NaturallySpeaking has been the professional tool to use, the widespread integration of these technologies will hopefully spur improvement and use.

 

Using a Kindle Paperwhite to Review Your Novel

Kindle notes

Have you written a novel? Or a story? When you've finished the writing, what happens next?

A Rest Period

I like a rest period. I might go ahead and write something else. I need a break. I've spent many hours working on the novel and now I need to get away from it. How long? It depends on my plans. I took a 4-year break from my current project!

Let me explain. I finished my novel Stowaway to Eternity on January 18th, 2014. I moved on to writing Past Dark, the 4th book in my Moreau Society series. I finished that book March 26th, 2014. I turned my attention to other stories, and then another novel…time sort of got away from me. Then I decided to go back to school for my MLIS degree and my writing took a backseat to my library career.

You don't need to wait years. I wouldn't recommend it. Include the break in your overall timeline for the project. If you're moving on to writing another book, be sure that your plan includes time to review the book you just finished! You need time to get the book ready for publication. Otherwise, it'll do what mine has been doing and sit in a virtual drawer!

Approach Your Book As a Reader

The rest period helps you approach your book as a reader. You want to read for enjoyment. Don't look for mistakes—move past those for this review. You're trying to get a sense of the book (or story) as a reader. Picture someone reading the book for the first time—and loving it! Cultivate a positive mindset.

Sending your book to a Kindle e-reader like the Paperwhite helps you achieve this because you are reading it in a format that your audience will use when reading the book. It makes it feel more real. The analog version of this approach would be getting a paperback print-on-demand copy to read rather than printing manuscript pages. It's quicker and easier to read on a Kindle.

Why a Kindle? Why not another e-reader? No reason. If you prefer to use another device, that's fine. The instructions assume a Kindle but you could use something else. Just make sure that it is a format that you use when reading for enjoyment. You want that mindset. If you don't read on an e-reader this probably isn't for you.

3 Ways to Transfer Your Book to the Kindle

  1. Send to Kindle desktop app. The Send to Kindle PC or Mac applications make it very easy to send documents to your Kindle device or app. After installing the software you can right-click (PC) or control-click (Mac) a document to send it to your Kindle. Alternatively, you can print documents to your Kindle or drag and drop files.
  2. Email to Kindle. Your Kindle comes with an email address you can use to send books to your device. The address only accepts emails from approved addresses, so you need to set that up with the email address you plan to use. Then attach your novel and send!
  3. Transfer via USB. Lack a wireless connection? Transfer your novel via a USB connection. Before you do, convert it to a .mobi format using Calibre or other tools.

I typically use the first option. It's simple and works well. A quick right-click, fill in the title and author and then click send. Easy!

I've also used the email option to email novels to my wife so she can do her own review of the book.

Reviewing Your Novel

Okay, you've transferred your book. Read for enjoyment. Read the book as you would any other. Suspend your critical voice. It will get its chance! Right now you want to read and appreciate what you've created. It may have been quite a while since you read parts of the book, depending on how long you took to write it. This is your chance to absorb the whole experience of the book as a reader.

After you finish the book (not while you read), sit down and write a review of the book. That's right, I want you to write a product review. It might only be a hundred words, shorter is better than going on too long. Imagine again that you are a reader who has finished the book. Maybe you're posting the review on Amazon, Goodreads, or your blog. Did you like it? Overall, how well did it work? How does your reader feel about the book? This is a gut check. Keep in mind that you may be more critical than a reader. Writers tend to be hard on their own work.

The Second Pass on the Kindle

After you've completed your first review, you can go back in and do a more critical read on the Kindle. This time, make use of the highlights and notes features. Press and drag to highlight passages with your finger. Tap the Notes option to add notes to the selection. I keep this short and to the point, capturing key details. Typos and minor corrections just get a highlight.

Amazon's notebook page (http://read.amazon.com/notebook) provides access to notes and highlights in your books, but not your personal documents. I don't bother with exporting the notes or highlights.

Kindle with notes showing

 

  • Open my novel on the computer.
  • Go to the first highlight or note on the Kindle.
    • Tap on the menu dots in the upper right corner.
    • Tap on notes.
  • Search for the phrase on the computer to jump to that point.
  • Make whatever edit or correction is needed.
  • Go to the next note and repeat.

If you're interested in managing your notes, Clippings.io can help. The Chrome extension costs $1.99/month. Instead, I use the Kindle as an extra screen.

Here's what I do:

When I'm all done with that pass I delete the book from the Kindle. I don't need it any longer. This process could be repeated if you want by sending your book at any point to the Kindle to reread and review. Instead, I like to listen to my book. I'll cover that in my next post.

Editing Tips?

How do you approach editing your work? What works for you? Let me know in the comments!

 

Writing, Business or Hobby?

laptop showing stats

Are you an entrepreneur? Do you see your writing as a business? Or is it something else? Maybe a hobby. It's worth taking some time as you consider your goals to think about what you want to accomplish with your writing. It's up to you, there isn't one right way.

You Might Be An Entrepreneurial Writer, If:

  • You are passionate and motivated about your writing.
  • You seek constant improvement.
  • You want to make money from your writing.
  • You aren't afraid to take risks and try new things.
  • You find resources to help you tackle challenges.
  • You look for coaches or mentors further along the path you've chosen.
  • You thrive on hard work.
  • You follow changes in the publishing industry.
  • You enjoy networking.
  • You embrace marketing.
  • You plan to make writing your career.

It's okay if you struggle with some of these. In the past, I didn't embrace marketing. I didn't make any real effort to tell anyone about my books. I didn't see it as a way to connect with my potential audience. I'm constantly learning both my craft and the business of writing.

You Might Be a Hobby Writer, If:

  • You are passionate and motivated about your writing.
  • You seek constant improvement.
  • You aren't opposed to making money, but it's low on your priorities.
  • You aren't afraid to take risks and try new things.
  • You find resources to help you tackle challenges.
  • You look for coaches or mentors further along the path you've chosen.
  • You thrive on hard work.
  • You follow changes in the publishing industry.
  • You enjoy networking.
  • You look for opportunities to share your work.

We won't necessarily share all of these characteristics. Some writers might not enjoy networking. Or might have difficulty identifying coaches or mentors.

Not That Different, Are They?

Maybe you consider yourself an entrepreneur, in business, with a plan to make a living from your writing. Or you plan for your writing to provide a supplemental cash stream as a side hustle to your career. Maybe you don't think of your writing as a business. It's a form of self-expression. You write because you feel the desire or need to write and don't plan to make it your business.

It's a spectrum. Where do you fall?

Let me share a bit of my story. In middle school, I decided that I wanted to write and I planned to make a living at it. My grades turned around. My focus improved. I wrote my first novel. I wrote and submitted stories. I read Writer's Digest and tried as best I could to glean what it meant to be a professional writer. Undergraduate degree focused on writing and science, my first graduate degree, an M.A. from Seton Hill University, focused on writing popular fiction. By that time I had a supervisory position in the library.

If you'd asked, I'd have said that I was in business as a writer.

I sold a few stories. In 2009 I connected with professional writers on the Oregon Coast at a Master Class taught by Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Two intense weeks that showed me how much I needed to learn. Finding coaches and mentors, as well as fellow writers, turned things around for me. I sold more stories and started self-publishing my work. I started to understand what it meant to be a professional writer, to be in business.

I still have much to learn. That's what this reboot is all about. Improving my craft. Improving my business skills. Taking that next step.

For most of my ‘writing career,' I've acted as if it was a hobby rather than a business. Nothing wrong with that, except I thought I was treating it as a business. At the same time, I've enjoyed a successful library career. I didn't need my writing career to pay the bills. I made decisions that I wouldn't have made if I were dependent on my writing to bring in income. Now that I'm aware of that, I can approach this reboot of my writing career with a clearer picture of my goals.

What About You?

How do you see your writing? Share in the comments!

4 Techniques to Fit Writing Into Your Day

When did you last feel like you had all the time in the world to write? How long since you had a day free from distractions and demands on your time? Do you regularly find yourself in your ideal writing environment, with everything you need to be at your best and most creative?

I don't think I could answer those questions. I don't have days like that. I don't even know what my ideal writing environment would look like! I do, however, have four techniques that I use to include writing in my day.

1 | The 15-Minute Writing Sprint

As hard as it can be working full time at something other than writing, with a family and demands on my time, most days I can get fifteen minutes to write. The concept is simple enough. Set a timer and write!

It doesn't have to be fifteen minutes. Maybe you only have ten minutes. The point is to give yourself that small window of time to make use of it and write.

When to schedule it? You probably won't schedule it unless you're literally scheduling every block of time during your day. Instead, grab it when you have the opportunity. Look for moments you can seize—and seize them! You might snatch the time when you first wake up. On the way to work. When taking a break. If you need to get out of the workplace, go sit in your car or on a bench outside for your break. If you don't have a place to get away to, stick in headphones.

How much can you get written in fifteen minutes? That depends on your process. For example, I find it easier to get started writing when I have a work-in-progress. It's also easier with progress. Whatever your situation, it is still more writing than you would have done otherwise.

2 | Consider Hand-Writing

When trying to fit writing into the time available, the tool used may make all the difference between writing or not. As a teenager working at my first job in a local pharmacy, I strapped bound ledger books to my bike rack when I went to work. The 14-inch page length gave me more room to write. I'd take my break and write by hand.

Before you recoil in horror at the idea of hand-writing stories, keep in mind that I didn't have the options then that are available now. Writing in a notebook does offer several advantages.

  • No startup time. Open the notebook and start writing.
  • No connection issues. It's entirely offline.
  • No lost files. Every stroke is saved as soon as it is written.

If I'd known shorthand I would have tried that instead. Shorthand coupled with a smart scanning system might still be a viable alternative (80+ Words Per Minute), though I don't know if there is software available that could easy transcribe it.

When I wrote by hand the big disadvantage was retyping my work. That wouldn't have been so bad except I used a typewriter at the time and often had to retype stories more than once to make corrections!

3 | Use Anything Except a Computer

Try something other than a standard laptop. I use a very inexpensive Chromebook. It's small, light, and affordable. I don't have to wait for it to start up or wake up and the battery lasts all day long and then some. I don't have to worry about charging it at all. I plug it in at night and it's ready when I need it.

Another good alternative? Your phone. Whether you're using an Android or iOS device, there are many app options to help you write. Even the popular Scrivener writing program is available for iOS now. A phone has the advantage over a tablet because you usually have your phone with you. Using a phone means you can grab even a few spare moments waiting in line to write.

4 | Dictate Rather Than Write

Dictation offers similar advantages to using a phone or Chromebook and that of shorthand with automated transcription. With a small digital recorder (or an app on your phone) you can dictate when the opportunity presents itself.

A program such as Dragon NaturallySpeaking transcribes the recording into text, which you can then edit. There's also a mobile app version that provides transcription on your phone.

You can also use a free option with a Chromebook and Google's Voice Typing.

Monica Leonelle's book Dictate Your Book: How To Write Your Book Faster, Better, and Smarter covers many of the details if you want a guide to help you get started.

I've used dictation to write a number of stories and novels.

What techniques do you use?

I'd love to hear what techniques you use to fit writing into your life? Do you have something that works for you?

What Would You Give For More Focus in 2018?

Full Focus Planner

I think many writers suffer from a lack of focus. I know I do! My friend Kristine Kathryn Rusch calls this “popcorn kittens.” Ideas pop up and I'm immediately drawn to that new and shiny idea. As I came into 2018, after having finished my MLIS degree, I found myself chasing a bunch of different ideas.

Kill your darlings for more focus

You'll gain focus by killing your darlings. It isn't only self-indulgent writing that needs to go. You're a busy creative with many other demands on your time. You can't afford to chase every new idea—no matter how cute!

kittens on grass

You can't take them all. You need to pick which ideas will get your attention and time. An attack on my websites convinced me that I needed to not only reboot my writing career—I also needed to cut back to a single site with a specific focus.

Avoid productivity block by picking a system and sticking with it

You've heard of writer's block? Often it isn't writer's block that is the problem. It's productivity block. Have you experienced this? You sit down to write and end up checking email. Your kid asks a question. The dog whines to go out. Then you have to get lunches ready and get everyone out the door.

Writers talk about procrastination. Or distractions. Or the demands of juggling work and life.

This is a productivity block. You know what needs to get done but don't have a system for managing all the demands on your time. Without a system, things happen when they happen. I know for me this is often the case. If the stars align and the Moon is in the right phase, I get my writing done. Or if I have a system in place.

Saying that procrastination is the cause feels like blaming. “I procrastinated and didn't get my writing done.”

Saying I didn't write because of distractions feels like making excuses. “If I could get fifteen minutes to myself, I might actually get some writing done.”

Pick a system that works and stick with it. I've always seen success when I have a system in place. For this year, I decided to go with Michael Hyatt's Full Focus Planner (save 15% with the referral link before June 30th, 2018).

Full Focus Ahead!

The Full Focus Planner incorporates concepts that Michael Hyatt has taught in his courses and in his book Your Best Year Ever: A 5-Step Plan for Achieving Your Most Important Goals.

The basic structure Mr. Hyatt describes for setting goals works for me and is built into the planner. From annual goa , to details about each quarter, to the big three weekly goals, all the way to your big three daily goals.

Goals in Mr. Hyatt's system fit a SMARTER structure. Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Risky, Time-Keyed, Exciting, and Relevant. He also defines goals as either one-time achievement goals or as habit goals.

The planner helps with defining and reviewing all of these goals. It's a system that resonates with me. I like that he calls for risky and exciting goals. I found reading the book was a good companion to the planner and the tutorial videos that go along with the planner.

Find your system

I don't believe that there is only one system that will work for everyone. What systems have you tried? What do you recommend to others? Share your thoughts below.

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Nuke the Entire Site From Orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.

Space scene

via GIPHY

True words. Over the past few days, my sites came under attack from hackers. The code infested everything. No sooner would I strip it out and try to secure one site, I would discover it somewhere else. I decided to take Ripley's suggestion to heart. My sites might not be a multi-million dollar installation, but it's hard to do something like that after having spent so much time working on the sites. No doubt there were less radical methods that could have been used. I do have backups. I could restore posts. Only, I'm not going to. At least not right now.

Massive Reboot

I planned to launch my Massive Reboot of my writing and illustration career in 2018 after finishing my MLIS degree program. I'm currently working on my plans. This month is going to be a month of reflection and planning. Right now I only have two goals to focus on this month.

  1. Write a short story each week.
  2. Read.

That's it at the moment. I've ordered Michael Hyatt's Full Focus Planner and look forward to using it in my planning efforts. I first heard about it through Amy Porterfield's excellent podcast. I'm not adding more goals until I have a plan worked out for the reboot. I work as a full-time librarian and need to take that into account as well. For the moment that also means that I'm not going to work on restoring my other sites or the content that was on this site. I will work on the site deliberately, with a plan. I hope you'll check back as I work through this process!