Writing

5 Tools to Boost Your Productivity

After nearly 3 years of writing and working as a freelancer, I’ve found good tools that keep me productive are essential.  I think these tools can be helpful to just about anyone, from writers and artists, to people who work in a more traditional job.  Most of these are tools I have used for a time, and then I’ve gone on to modify them to best work for me personally.   I’ve written about some of them before, but this is an updated list that I think will be of great use to you!

Momentum

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Momentum is an add-on app for Google Chrome.  When you open a new tab on the browser, you are met with the beautiful Momentum Dashboard.  This is one of my favorite parts of the app, each picture is stunning and inspiring.  Way better than looking at a blank new tab page.  It has a place to list your main focus for the day, as well as menus where you can make a to-do list and store your favorite links.  For me, Momentum helps me remain focused on projects that matter, when I might be opening a new tab to do something that’s not quite as productive.

Strict Workflow

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Strict Workflow is another add-on for Google Chrome and it is honestly one of my favorites.  It uses the Pomodoro Technique, which involves 25-minute working sprints and 5-minute breaks, but it takes it a step further.  The little tomato on the upper right-hand part of your browser works as a timer, but it also blocks sites that might distract you while it is ticking away.  If you want to look at Facebook during those 25 minutes, you can’t, unless you want to disable the extension or uninstall it.  If I am struggling to focus, this app is perfect.  It blocks sites that might tempt me away from my work, but I can still access them once the break timer starts.  You can also edit the work and break times, according to what works best for you.

RescueTime

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RescueTime is an application that runs in the background of your computer and measures the time you spend on different programs and websites.  You can log into their website and monitor your productive time, see what distractions you’re spending the most time on, or see if you’re spending way too much time replying to emails.  They also send you a weekly email that breaks down all the time you spent on your computer for the week.

I love this app, because I can see exactly how much time I’ve spent writing and working for clients, based on the programs I’ve used and how long I used them for.  I can also see if I’m spending too much time playing games or writing emails.

Focus Booster

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Focus Booster works similarly to Strict Workflow, in that, they both make use of the Pomodoro Technique.  Focus Booster is not a free program, but they have a trial you can make use of to see if their program is helpful for you.  They also have a “Professional” option, which is about $5 a month and allows you to track your sessions automatically and compile a timesheet.  This is great for those of us who work freelance jobs, because you can seamlessly track the time you work on a particular job for a particular client.  You can also export a CSV report to use for invoices.

Bullet Journal

This year I’ve actually purchased the Ink+Volt Planner, but I use a lot of the functions I learned from 2 years of bullet journaling.  I loved using this method because it made it so easy to see what I had worked on and what I needed to work on.  It’s basically like creating a renewable to do list. You can check out the Bullet Journal website for step by step instructions on how to craft and create your own journal.  You can also check out the bulletjournal tag on tumblr to see how other users are creating their journals!

I hope this list helps you!  Do you have any awesome apps or methods I should check out?  Please comment if you do!

 

 

 

Writing · Writing Guide

Don’t Go Chasing Synonyms, Please Stick to the Words and Phrases You’re used to.

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of article writing and editing for clients.  I have been pulling out my thesaurus a lot, which always makes me think about times I’ve seen words in sentences where they don’t belong.

I have spent a fair amount of time in online writing communities and writing-based roleplay communities.  For some reason, in many of these groups, the need to sound “smarter” tends to become highly valued.  A lot of the writing eventually evolves into over-written, flowery prose that is both difficult to read and often the synonyms are used incorrectly.  Big words don’t always elevate the quality of your writing, and if they are used incorrectly, they actually might make you look more like an amateur.

This is why I advocate for using words you are familiar with when you are looking for a synonym.  There is something to be said for using a simple word, rather than a complicated one.

Good writing should be both descriptive and accessible.  Synonyms are often words with similar meanings, but that does not mean they are completely interchangeable.  So it’s something to watch out for, as you try to find the right words for your writing.  More flowery words, or bigger words, does not necessarily mean better.

If you do have a “big” word that you love, you can make it understandable by ensuring that the sentence it is in has contextual cues so that your reader can figure out its meaning.  Imagine if you read a book where you either had to constantly re-read paragraphs or pick up the dictionary every other paragraph.  It would take you out of the magic and deeply impact your love of the story.

By sticking to the words you know and trying to make your writing accessible, you will find you are able to offer a seamless experience to your readers.

 

Movies · Writing

Who Tells Your Story? Women in Media

As a writer, I spend a lot of time studying storytelling.  One of the main takeaways I’ve always gotten from many things I’ve read on storytelling, is that stories have to tell the truth in some way.  Usually, these truths feel very personal to the author, which means they also have the chance of feeling personal to the reader.

While our stories may be unique, our pain, our joy, generally isn’t.  That is why we love stories, because they often remind us we are not alone, while allowing us the chance to escape the mundane.  They make us feel like we are apart of something bigger, that we are not alone.

One problem we have in our current state of movies and media, often women don’t get to tell their own stories.  A recent study by the Sundance Institute found that only about 29% of filmmakers are women.  This includes writers, directors, producers, cinematographers; and editors.

You may be wondering why this matters?  Hollywood tends to have a bad reputation for underwritten or poorly written female characters.  In many movies, even very popular ones, there may not even be more than one female character, and if there is more than one, it may be rather rare to see her speak to another female character on screen.  This can be gaged using the Bechdel Test, which is admittedly a low bar for female representation.

I recently watched Dr. Strange and though I enjoyed the film, the female characters in it felt either stereotypical or underdeveloped.  While I liked Rachel McAdams’ performance as Dr. Christine Palmer, the character felt more like an accessory for Strange’s breakdown, rather than an independent and interesting character of her own. For those that know of characters like Clea Strange in the comics, Marvel may have missed an opportunity to include a dynamic and layered female character in their story.  Arguably, Dr. Strange is Stephen Strange’s story so it is expected that he would be the central figure in it.  But when Marvel has yet to have a movie led by a woman, and still only has one movie planned to be led by a woman, I think it’s probably okay to look at their female leads with a critical eye.

To me, this problem seems to be systemic.  If women aren’t there to write and tell their stories, then it seems to follow reason that we lack diverse and interesting female characters.  I am a firm believer that women have just as interesting and complicated inner lives as their male counterparts, but it is likely we don’t often see this portrayed because women are not allowed to tell their own stories.

The upcoming Wonder Woman film will be directed by a woman, but the writers are male.  It seems somewhat odd to not have a female writer involved in developing the story of one of the strongest feminist icons of the last century.  This is not to say that some men can’t write amazing, complicated and full female characters, there are many male writers that can and do.  There is still a certain authenticity when women are allowed to tell their own stories.  I think this goes for all people, that we are the ones most uniquely qualified to tell our own stories, in and out of fiction.  The problem is that women do not have an equal opportunity to do so.  I also believe that everyone can benefit from interesting, authentic and diverse stories.

 

 

Writing · Writing Guide

Story Brainstorming Worksheet

Today is the first day of NaNoWriMo and I’ve already managed to get my 1,667 words in for the day.  I hope that all of you are making great progress as well.  I wanted to share with you all a great way to get a story started, if you are stuck and lacking ideas.

A few years ago I attended a comic writing workshop taught by Kelly Sue DeConnick and in the workshop, she walked us through a writing activity where we started with a setting, created characters with basic traits, and figured out theme/world/plot from there.

Eventually, that exercise inspired me to create this worksheet, so that I could easily run myself through it.  I use it whenever I am trying to brainstorm a story, but I’m unsure where to start.  For short stories, generally, this sheet and a brief outline are enough for me to write a story from start to finish.  For longer fiction, this sheet tends to be the first brick in the wall.  I will have a link to the PDF at the end of the post, here’s a preview of the worksheet:

 

This worksheet can be used backward or forwards, depending on what kind of writer you are. I tend to start with a theme.  I figure out what kind of truth I want to tell in the story, and that helps me nail down what kind of characters I need, what the plot will be about, etc.  I also tend to write details about submission due dates, word count requirements and other details in the “Title” section of this sheet, so I can keep track of what I’m working on.

You can start with characters if that is how you prefer to write story, or plot.  Or if you have an idea for a story, but nowhere to put it yet, jot it down on the worksheet and hold onto it until you feel ready to flesh it out.  By no means do you need to start and work from top to bottom with this sheet, you can make the worksheet work for you.  

That’s probably one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in the last year of writing.  Make the tools work for you.  If outlining a certain way is difficult and you find you work better when you reverse engineer an outline, do that instead.

Story Brainstorming Worksheet Click Here to Download

Book Review · Writing

Review: I Am A Writer

This month has been filled with a lot of books about craft.  I’ve been reading up on self-publishing, blog writing and increasing my word count.  I stumbled across the book “I Am A Writer: A Story About Finding Your Inner Author” by C. G. Cooper and I want to recommend it, especially if you are starting out and still feel like you are suffering from impostor syndrome.

The style of the book is more like a short story, we follow Sherri, a character who wants to be a writer.  She is guided through the book by her would-be mentor Daniel.  Sherri shares the insecurities that a lot of new writers share.  She thinks there is some arbitrary finish line she must cross before she can call herself a writer. With each chapter, Sherri learns a lesson that puts her one step closer to becoming a published author.  The story is interesting and inviting, while also providing the reader with useful information about writing. After reading several stories on craft, it was kind of refreshing to read one that was actually written with a narrative, rather than being written like a “how-to” guide.

Many of the lessons shared are simple thoughts that I discovered as I worked toward a writing career, but the story and the lessons are written in a way that is easy to absorb and the book itself is short enough to be read in one sitting, as the book is only 74 pages.  Cooper covers topics like figuring out your voice as a writer, finding a writing group to provide and share feedback with, and getting in a consistent habit of writing each day.

At the end of each chapter, there is a “Practice.”  Each practice builds upon what you have already learned, and gives very practical advice about what it takes to be a writer.  Cooper builds you a step by step process for getting started, and though this book is by no means a comprehensive outline about writing a book, it would certainly be a valuable addition to any budding writer’s toolbox.  

Flash Fiction Friday · Writing

Flash Fiction Friday: Ghosts

Prompt: Ghosts

Word Count: 286

Kara wasn’t sure she believed in ghosts, until her favorite uncle, Robert, died.  He had been the person in her life to encourage her love of reading and the first person to tell her she should try to be a writer.  He gave her a copy of Frank Herbert’s Dune, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and Octavia Butler’s Kindred.  Books are precious gifts, because it is not only words and paper that are given, but entire worlds.  And Kara dove into those worlds, head first, traveling and teleporting between them.  Returning to the books she loved now and then, to visit the old friends and old enemies she had made in their pages.

Though Uncle Robert had never written a book, Kara still felt his spirit in her library or at the bookstore.  A book would fall from the shelf, or remind her of something she had read before, given to her by Uncle Robert. After awhile it became so commonplace, that Kara was certain it was still him, giving her books from the great beyond.

It was not quite the same, she still longed to call him up and tell him how much she had enjoyed his selections.  Sure, she could say the words aloud, but it was not the same without his own opinions and thoughts being said back to her.

Eventually, Kara decided she would make Uncle Robert immortal.  As she crafted her first novel she wrote a familiar character into the pages.  Now, Uncle Robert could share his wisdom and heart with anyone who flipped through the pages of her book.  He could be the friend of many other budding writers and novelists, a kind ghost of the written word.

Flash fiction is short fiction, often under 500 words and often written in a short space of time.  If you would like to do your own piece of flash fiction, feel free to put it in the comments or link me to the place you post it.  I would love to see what you come up with for the prompt.

 

Geeky Stuff · Productivity · Time Management · Writing

A Geeky Guide to Leveling Up

In a video game, when you gain enough experience points and you’ve fought enough monsters, you level up.  Leveling up generally means that two things happen: First, you get access to better equipment and new quests, and second, the quests also have leveled up and you face a new level difficulty.  So how do you level up your real life?  How does it feel once you’ve leveled up?  What do you do once you’ve leveled up?

Start from the bottom and break down big goals.

You may wander into a few caves where there are level 70 trolls and you’re still rocking your level 5 daggers, metaphorically, of course.

In normal person speak:  You may have big goals you’re trying to achieve or big obstacles to overcome.  Rather than running full tilt at these things, sometimes it’s best to break what you are doing down into smaller, more achievable goals.

If you want to write a movie and get it made, but have never written a script before, setting a 3-month deadline for that goal is likely to lead to some heartache.  That’s making your goal int a level 70 troll, and you’re not ready to fight that troll.

Instead, you might want to take a screenwriting class, or read books on screenwriting.  Maybe your 3-month goal is to take a class and have a rough draft of your script, by that point.  That’s more like a level 10 troll, and something you can definitely manage.

Leveling up takes work.

In lots of games, there are ways to grind and gain levels quickly.  The problem is, if you don’t put the work in, you miss valuable lessons and content along the way.

Most of the people you admire scraped and hustled when they started out.  Lots of writers worked a full-time job while writing their first novels, comics, etc.  There might be a few that got lucky and somehow got the maximum payoff for minimal effort, but those people are usually few and far between and they often had someone helping them along the way.

There are times that putting in the maximum effort will be frustrating and disheartening, but we don’t get anywhere by standing still.  Keeping going.  If you work strategy isn’t working and you’re not making progress, step back and re-assess.

How do you know when you’ve leveled up?  Things get harder.  But they also get easier.

You know you’ve leveled up with the difficulty of things kicks up a notch, but you also find yourself able to rise to the occasion.  You’ve worked hard to gain new skills and insight, and though the new challenges are unfamiliar or unventured, you still have a bit of inspiration to go after them.

I won’t lie, there are times “gaining a new level” fills me with worry and anxiety.  I wonder if I am able to face the new challenges in my life and still manage my time.  You can use that fear as fuel, take it as a dare to dream bigger and do more than you did before.  In many ways, our biggest limits are in our head.

NaNoWrimo · Writing · Writing Guide

Plotter or Pantser – Countdown to National Novel Writing Month

The first time I “won” NaNoWriMo was in 2013.  I read No Plot?  No Problem, created characters, and did my best to create a semi-coherent sci-fi book.  It was called “Equilibrium” and it was a meandering mess.  It was not a total failure though, I learned my first baby steps to writing a full-length novel that year.  I also learned I was a planner, not a “pantser.”

What is a Pantser?

A pantser is a writer who flies by the seat of their pants.  They don’t need an outline, they just write what comes next.  They start their journey at the beginning and they sail on until they meet their destination.

Even though I’m a planner, I do have pantser moments, where the characters go left instead of right, and I have to figure it out as I go.

What is a Plotter?

A plotter is someone who plans their story out in advance.  They might write it chronologically, or they might skip around, because they have an outline.  I love a good outline.  I like to know where my story is headed and what I need to write next to get it there.  There are lots of ways to outline a book, I tend to use Scrivener to do mine, and go scene by scene.  I try to hit major plot points, like the inciting incident, pinch points, midpoint and finally the climax, as I plot.

This year I’m going to try to plot out my story by “beats.”  It’s very similar to the way I’ve outlined in the past, and you can find lots of “beat sheets” online that give you an idea of when to hit what points in your story.

So, are you a pantser or a plotter?  Have you tried both, or only one?  

Flash Fiction Friday · Writing

Flash Fiction Friday: Refresh

Prompt: Refresh

Word Count: 197

 

“Come on.  Load.”  James said, as he jammed his finger down on the mouse, hitting the refresh button over and over.  He had spent months saving up, but he also knew this moment would come.  The servers were overloaded, everyone else that wanted tickets was probably doing the same thing he was right now.  Still, his brain did not want to believe that it was some technical error or too much stress on a machine somewhere.  He needed those tickets.

After the 27th hit of the refresh button, the page loaded.  James scrambled to fill out all of his information, checked his credit card number twice, and hit the “Purchase” button.  For a moment, the blue wheel at the top of his page spun, indicating the page was trying to load.  He resisted the urge to click his mouse again, for fear he would end up ordering 10 tickets instead of just 2.

James held his breath, waiting for the feared page that would tell him that his browser was unable to load the confirmation page…

And then it worked.  James had done it.  He was going to Comic Con for the first time in his life.

 

Flash fiction is short fiction, often under 500 words and often written in a short space of time.  If you would like to do your own piece of flash fiction, feel free to put it in the comments or link me to the place you post it.  I would love to see what you come up with for the prompt.

NaNoWrimo · Writing

Intro to NaNoWrimo – Countdown to National Novel Writing Month

The moment October 1st hit, the thought “You need to start planning for NaNoWriMo” hopped into my mind, because it confirmed that November is just around the corner.

If you are not familiar with NaNoWriMo, this post is a quick introduction to get you up to speed.  I decided I would post a blog each Monday this month to give my readers tips and tricks about participating in this event, based on what I’ve learned over the last three years.

I’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo, since November 2013.  NaNoWriMo is an annual event where writers commit to write 50,000 words in a single month.

First of all, head on over to nanowrimo.org and sign up!  The great thing about the website, is it will give you a place to keep track of your novel’s details and word count.  You can also add friends (aka Writing Buddies) who are participating and track each other’s progress once November starts.  I tend to be a competitive person, so if I am falling behind and my friend is killing it, seeing their word count grow motivates me to keep working on mine.  My screenname on nanowrimo.org is freudianslipped, feel free to add me if you are participating this year!

Every Monday for the next month, I’ll be covering topics related to NaNoWrimo, and here is what I’ll cover:

Oct. 10  – Plotter or Pantser?  Do you like to outline, or would you prefer to fly by the seat of your pants and make it up as you go?

Oct.17 – Writing Sprints.  What are they and how can they help you make that daily word count goal.

Oct.24 – Write-ins.  Whether you are going to a coffee shop, or participating on Twitter, these can be a great way to get writing.

Oct. 31 – Keep Going!  Ways to help you catch up if you fall behind in November.

 

Are you participating in Nano?  Is this your first year or are you an old pro?  I’d love to hear about it!