Saturday, November 28, 2015

Writing Tools - That Anyone Can Use

Writing Tools - That Anyone Can Use

Scrivener - $40
Scapple - $15
Aeon Timeline - $40

If you do a lot of writing, whether creatively, for a blog, for work, or for school, may I recommend purchasing the three programs listed above, all of which have free trial periods. I get no benefit from my recommendation. I do get the satisfaction that I may save you hundreds, no thousands, of hours in your life. They are that good. And totally worth the money.

Scrivener is produced by a company called Literature and Latte. The reason I say that anyone can use this is it has different modes for different types of writing - even academic. You have to use Chicago Style for your paper? It's in there. MLA? Yes. Novel format, Non-fiction, Blogging? All in there.

It takes a little while to learn all that the program can do, but there are You Tube videos that help with the learning curve.

I discovered just this morning another program that Literature and Latte produces. I was searching for a mind mapping program to help with my complex plot. Scapple is the name and mapping is it's game. It allows you to put all kinds of notes, color coded if you want, onto one big page that you can then move and draw lines between and otherwise have your way with them. It's very helpful for making sure your story lines intersect correctly and you don't have great big holes in the plot.

I can see this being useful for students who are trying to come up with ideas for a paper, writers mapping out plot and time lines, and event planners who need to have certain components come together at the right times.

As an example, here is this morning's play time with it so far:

There are notes and colors and moving them around is as simple as dragging them to where they are supposed to be. This was about 15 minutes worth of work and as you can see, quite easy to figure out. If I can do it, YOU can do it.

The third program is Aeon Timeline, a nifty way to put anything on a timeline - such as letters written from 1921 to 1951, so that you can track when they were written, by whom, and what other world events or personal events were going on at the time. This one is probably most helpful for writers who have time boundaries that their story follows. I would have loved using it for my school work many years ago. 

I get excited when I find something that makes life easier, like the robot who sweeps my floors so I don't have to. Indirect help, but nonetheless useful. I also get excited when others share a tool, a technique, or a product that helps me in my word production. The above list is meant as that, an attempt to share something useful for those of us who write, or for anyone who puts words on a page for any reason. Check 'em out.


Friday, November 27, 2015

Write Every Day

So I think I've figured out something about being a writer. You have to write. Every day. It's a job. OK, it's also pretty fun for me too, but it is entirely dependent on actually producing words. Lots of them.

November is National Novel Writing Month and I have been steadily producing words for 27 days in a row. They say (not really sure who "they" are) that it takes 21 days to create a habit. Since you probably should write every day if you are a writer (with a few days off here and there for good behavior) by my calculations, I should be habit - hardened.

If only it really worked that way. This morning I sat and stared at my current project, a historical fiction, a love story set during WWII (NOT a romance, I am not a romance novelist - it's a love story - there is a difference). No words could be added. Not that it's perfect, not by a long shot. It still has to be revised about 50 times before I even think about trying to shop it out. I just had nothing to say on the topic. Sometimes you get a little burned out.

I know a lot about getting burned out. I was an ER nurse for a long time and I felt it. I was pretty good at hiding it, but I used to get mad at those who didn't, or couldn't, and one day I actually listened to myself say, "If you don't want to be here, go somewhere else." I didn't want to be there any more. I had nothing left to give anyone else. So, I left.

Burn out for writing is nothing like burn out for nursing and I'm not really comparing the two. But both of them are a whole lot of staring and waiting for something to change. Sometimes water falls out of your eyes. But with writing, I've found that if I just work on a different project, the words come more easily and I still feel like I'm working towards a completed project, even if it's not the one I'm supposed to be working on.

For NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) the challenge is to write a complete novel of 50,000 words (this equates to about 150 to 200 paperback pages) in one month. Just because you wrote 50,000 words does not mean you are done, it means you wrote 50,000 words. Still an accomplishment. I've done it 4 times now and have 4 novels, none of which I've finished.

But this year is different. This year, I decided that if I was going to write, it would be a full time job and I would write, every day. I failed. But - I have so far succeeded in November. That's why some of these crazy participation events are worth while, even if others don't see the value in it. I made progress on a goal. And I will finish this novel in the coming year, then start all over again in November.


Friday, July 10, 2015

Becoming a Minimalist

I've become a minimalist in a big way in the last few months. We sold our big house and moved into a 500 sq ft cottage near the beach. None of my furniture (except the Queen size bed in Jake's room) fit, so we moved it, and stuff, and sold all of our other stuff and bought a couch. That's all I need. A bed, a couch, some stuff. Oh and a desk. That's all I need. A bed, a couch, some stuff, a desk. Oh and a lamp. That's all I need.

I feel like I have purged to the nth degree and now, I feel like I still have a lot of stuff. How does that happen?

I like the new place. We found this great rental (buying here would be above our means and we intend to always live below our means), it's a block from the beach, built in the 20's with hardwood floors, a great yard and an excellent vibe. I'm going to local shops, organizing the house, organizing my computer and generally settling in. It's weird to move again after 9 years. 9 years. That's the longest I've lived anywhere. Jake grew up in that house. It was perfect for that time in our lives, but I am ready to let it go and move on.

When I had to deal with all my Dad's stuff and then 6 months later, all the stuff that belonged to Jeannie, that experience set the tone for being done with managing stuff. I would rather have experiences and time with other people, and of course time to write. Not that I consider anyone else having stuff to be wrong - I just don't want it anymore.

My friend Paula told me about the web site and their message resonated with me on many levels. Kevin and I started having talks about being frustrated by having too much stuff. Having a big house makes it easy to have more stuff because it doesn't look cluttered. There were cabinets and space for everything. Some of those conversations led to talks of downsizing by selling the house, then to consciously getting rid of anything we didn't LOVE or NEED.

One of the novels I'm working on deals with our attachments to things and how it gets in the way of human relationships. My Dad was for sure a pack rat and Jeannie was as well. It took me over 2 years to completely dispose of their belongings and many of you have the same issues in your families. But aside from shows on TV like Hoarders that show the worst of these cases, we don't talk about it in polite society.

I just don't want my kid to have to deal with that in 20 years or so. Wait, let's make that 30 years. And - I'm happier with less stuff. I'm happy. That's what it's all about.

I wouldn't say I'm a hard core Minimalist yet and maybe I will never be, but I certainly like being able to sit in the yard, write a blog post on my computer, drink a beer and not have to do some house related project or work to earn money to spend on stuff. I recommend it. Becoming a Minimalist that is.

Sunday, March 22, 2015


So I've had a bit of luck this month with getting acceptances for publication. What really worked was that I actually sent stuff out. Most people know that novels get published by publishing companies, and are then for sale. You make money from publishing novels. I haven't done that yet.

What most people don't know, and I certainly didn't until I started doing it, is that there are literally THOUSANDS of online publications that publish short stories and poetry. You could read for free for the rest of your life!

Supposedly, the short story is making a comeback in a big way. People don't want to devote days and weeks to the same story (aw, that's kind of sad). If they would rather read something short, they don't have to skimp on quality. Sure, some of the bigger names like Glimmer Train and Tin House cost money, but I'm not kidding when I say there is something for everyone and most of it is free on the Internet. Oh joy!

When published work is free to read, that usually means the author didn't get paid anything. They simply got the joy of seeing their name in print (a profound and somewhat pretentious joy, but joy nonetheless). Due to my increasing name-in-print success, I've added a link list to the right of where you are currently reading. Some of them are accepted but not yet published and I will, of course, update those when they are published. Others are just a click away. I think this will be an easy place to steer people who are curious about what I am doing all the time.

I didn't send anything out for about five years after I started writing and even now, when something's gotten accepted I'll read it again and find a fault that makes me want to call the publisher and say, "Wait, I need to fix something!" My advice to myself and other writers is NEVER DO THIS. Just let it go. You will someday prove (to whoever gives a damn) that you can writer better. More better. Whatever. Really, I should just stop reading my stuff again after it's accepted. I think I understand why some singers can't listen to themselves on tape and why some actors can't watch their performances. We know the flaws, and now it's there FOREVER.

Bah ha ha. Forever. I wish.

But it is fun, seeing your name up there in lights. I mean on the screen in small font. I set a goal when I started writing in February of 2009 to be published. I realize now that it was a vague goal. So now, when I send out Short Stories and Poems, I make myself send to publications that accept a lower percentage of submissions than the last acceptance. I will slowly make my way to the more prestigious written word. That sounds totally snobby, but I only mean it as a challenge to myself. And if I put it here in black and white, it's easier to not let myself off the hook after 20 rejections in a row.

Writing is the easy and fun part (who am I kidding - it's hard work). Sending out work for someone to accept or reject is scary. I don't have to do this. I have nothing to prove. But I think there is value in continuing to set high standards and strive to accomplish goals, particularly when you don't have to. I'm lazy by nature and I could see myself living the slug life (it's like the thug life only slower), but something deep bubbles up to the surface of a long ago desire to be heard, to have something to say, to leave the next generation with something of import. I'll give it a try. You should too.



Thursday, February 19, 2015

How Can It Be 2015 Already?

When Back to the Future came out oh so long ago, Marty McFly was forwarded to the year 2015. October 21, 2015 to be exact. Seemed like soooo long away, and now, we are in it. Huh.

It's not that I'm just now having that realization in the middle of February, but I haven't felt like saying much of late (no, I'm not sick) and now I do have something to say. Huh.

2015 holds all kinds of significance for me. I'll be 50 years old. My son will graduate from High School and start College. My husband got a new great job in Montecito and to there we are moving when Jake graduates. Kevin's already moved and we've been readying the house to sell and generally being more slovenly than we would be if Dad were home all the time. Sorry honey, it's the truth. We are not as neat as you.

I loved being by myself for about 8 days and then I was over it. I miss my husband and I don't really care for FaceTime as the only source of contact. But if that's the worst thing this year has in store for me, I'll take it.

I imagined 2015 in my younger days as this far off horizon where I would be wise, have enough money, be living in a house where I'd been for years, married to a great guy, with one kid. That's about as far as I got when I was 20 (Back to the Future was released in 1985 - I was 20).

The real 2015 shows me that I'm kind of wise, at least about some things. I have enough money. A house will never be a place I stay - I'm a Nomad of the Nomad Generation (read Generations by Strauss and Howe). I'm married to a great guy and I have one kid. Huh.

Every time I look at Jake, he looks more and more like a grown-up. I don't notice time passing so much because I do see him everyday, but if I see someone else's kid that I haven't seen in a while, THAT's when I see the years speed by.

Why do we have this bias? To not notice time passing all around us until something happens to bring it into stark relief? Is everyone like this, or is it just me? I used to be annoyed when all the older people around me would constantly talk about how fast time passed. I never noticed it. I told my Grandma one day that it passed faster for her because it was a smaller percentage of her life. At 70, a year is 1/70th of your life. At 6, it's a much larger thing (yes, 1/6th, I can hear you all, you know). My point being that as you collect time, it does seem to speed up. I guess I was wise back then too.

The fourth dimension. Time. Such a weird construct. Can we really go Back to the Future? Maybe. Maybe time is just a human construct so that we can make sense of the world and it doesn't really exist at all, so it doesn't have to follow our rules.

My prediction: In 30 more years, in 2045, I'll be a bit more wise (even if I'm dead - I'll surely be more wise then), I'll have enough money, I'll not be living in a house I've been in for years, I'll be married to a great guy (hopefully the same one - love you honey :)), and I'll have one kid. America will be bigger, faster, stronger and time will not follow the rules. Huh.