Cool Tools for Writers

Object_White_Tool_261501_lA small round-up of items helpful for your writing...

I've been writing a lot, how about you?  But, um, you might have noticed I've not been blogging that much.  One problem is that I can't access Typepad from the Chrome browser on my computer, and that means I have to go open Microsoft Edge, which is kind of a pain.  And when I'm blogging on Microsoft Edge, my posts tend to get deleted for no known reason.  Neither of these are terrible, horrible problems, but combined, they are enough to deter me more often than not. But, I'm trying to get back into the swing of it, and I will.  I've been hanging out here for over eight years, so I'm not going anywhere now.  (This is what I tell my husband all the time, though I've been hanging out with him a looooot longer.)

Anyway, in my breaks from writing I always get up, stretch, walk around, take a bunch of deep breaths...oh who am I kidding? I do that sometimes.  But more often I screw around on the interwebs.  And I find things that I can share with you.  (See?  There's purpose to my farting around.)  So here are some of those things:

One Stop for Writers

I just found this yesterday, and it looks pretty cool--cool enough that I think I'll subscribe.  It is an online reference library for writers, comprising references, tools and downloads, and idea generators, among other good stuff.  It is brought to you by the people behind the Emotion Thesaurus,( and other thesauri of worth to writers), and Scrivener.  As far as I can tell many of the thesauri are included on the site, such as shape, physical features, weather, setting, and texture.  It is definitely worth checking out, and in my travels I found a coupon that is good for 50% off subscriptions (there are several plans) here.  It is only good until October 14, so shake a leg.

One Note

This is my new current favorite time-waster tool.  It comes free with Windows, or you can download it.  It is sort of like Evernote, only way, way, way simpler.  I had a brief fling with Evernote at the start of the year, but every time I went back on the site, I forgot how to navigate around, a sure sign that it does not work for me.  So there was nothing I could do but break it off with him.  Then when I was in France, my beloved writer friend J.D. Frost (who has his second book coming out soon which you should buy it and the first one as well) convinced me to try Scrivener again.  He graciously spent some time showing me around it and I dutifully downloaded the trial and started writing on it.  And lost my chapter not once, but twice.

In searching the web for some information about how I might have managed this feat, I came across a post by a guy (and I wish to god I could remember who it was so I could credit him) who wrote about creating story bibles for your novels on One Note.  (A story bible is a notebook or a file or a whatever that contains information you need to remember to write--details like when your character was born, his eye color, all the things that are really easy to forget.)  And I remembered using One Note briefly last year and liking it.

So now I have everything on One Note--story bibles, recipes, information I want to track for this blog, knitting patterns, everything.  I love it because it is simple.  It mimics a physical notebook in that you have sections and pages and you can add in links, and photos and all kinds of stuff.  But let me repeat--it is simple, and that's why I like it.  The forgotten person whose post reminded me of One Note made the point that its nice to have your story information somewhere other than Word, which doesn't really work all that well for this kind of thing, and I agree.  So go check it out.

And finally....this book:

The Write-Brain Workbook: 400 Exercises to Liberate Your Writing.

I have this sitting in my Amazon cart, waiting to press buy on.  I read a blog post about it (also lost in the cyber ether) and looked it up.  I like the looks of it because each exercise is short, and I plan to use them as warm-ups.  I do that with the Writer's Emergency Pack sometimes, and often I can't even finish the exercise, because it leads me so quickly into the work (which is another reason I like the idea of the One Stop for Writers site--I love me templates and worksheets).

Oh, and for the record--I ditched Scrivener again. It tempts me repeatedly, but the learning curve is just too steep at the moment.  I'd rather write.

 What writerly tools do you use and recommend?

Photo by levi_sz


Get Rid of Your Fear of Rejection Once and For All

Broken_cracked_glass_265858_lRejection.  It is a fact of the writer's life.

I wish I could tell you that this was not so.  I wish I could tell you that everything you send off would get picked up immediately.  But I can't.  It is just not the way the world works.  And so, alas, if you are a writer you will need to get used to rejection.

For some writers, the thought of rejection is so paralyzing that they simply won't send work out to begin with.  This fear or rejection is, um, counter-productive to say the least.  Because you know the old saying: nothing ventured, nothing gained.

To help you with this fear, I could tell you all the rejection--->triumph stories.  You've heard the one about John Grisham, who sent his first book out __ (the number varies according to the telling) before someone saw the brilliance of it.  And we know what happened to him: gazillions of dollars later, he's a happy man (or at least I damned well hope he is).

I've also often told the story of one of my MFA mentors who sent one short story out 34 times.  It got rejected 34 times.  On the 35th time, she got it accepted--and that story went on to win a Pushcart prize.

Or there's my own story, about my first novel, Emma Jean's Bad Behavior.  I sent queries to 60 agents.  Yep, 60.  Its worth noting that I was getting encouraging rejections (we love this novel, but...).  The 61st time I sent it to a publisher.  And they picked it up.

So, rah rah rah and all that.  I do know from personal experience that stories such as these can lift me up in the moment until its time to actually send stuff out again.  And then ... the voice of doom in my head begins.

But here's help.  Because I've recently realized we deal with our fear of rejection from the wrong end of the equation.   We deal with it when it happens, when the it has the power to lay us out flat on the couch sobbing for days.  A huge part of the reason we get so discouraged over rejection is because we have such high hopes for our work.  We are convinced that we will send the story out once, and sure enough, it will get picked up.  We'll contact an agent and she'll snap us before the book is even written.   We send off the query, and every time we think about the results of it--publication, fame, accolades--we get a warm, glowy feeling inside.

Okay, so I'm here to tell you: the easiest way to deal with rejection is to get rid of your expectations in the first place.  Instead of thinking about publication and how glorious it will be, let your work be the reward.  When you know its time to send your piece out--and you will know if you're honest with yourself--do your research and ship it out the door.  And then quit thinking about it and move on.

Cultivate an attitude of non-expectation.  Be Buddhist. Be Zen. Do not be attached to the outcome, period.  And get to work on your next project.

Let your work be your reward.

Then, when the rejection comes, it is far, far easier to shrug your shoulders and say to yourself, I guess it just wasn't right for them, and move on.  And by moving on I mean, send it out again.  Because you haven't put the weight of the world on your poor little query, it will be much happier to go out into the world and try once more.

Right?  So go send something out.  Right now.  I'm serious.  Do it.  And report back when you're done.

Photograph by Jfg.

Why Every Writer Should Travel

 20150903_124030I'm just back from three weeks in Europe, one week for leading a writing workshop, and the other two for fun.

However, I am a firm believer that even the two "fun" weeks contributed greatly to my writing career.  Yeah, it might have looked like I was lolling about in the south of France, eating tapas in Barcelona, or wandering the back streets of Montparnasse, but it was all in service to my writing.  Riigght, you are saying, very slowly.  So let me count the ways, and convince you.

1.  Travel inspires me.  Duh.  This is the obvious reason most people travel.  Immersing oneself in different locales and cultures shows us new things, fires new neurons, inspires new ideas.   And, of course, ideas are good.  They are our life blood.  Awriter can never have too many ideas.  Ever.

2.  I'm different when I travel.  I don't know anyone, other than the people I'm traveling with, so all bets are off.  I can drink all night, swing from the rafters act anyway I want--talk to people I meet on the street, stop and stretch in the middle of the sidewalk, gaze with obvious rapture at a medieval cathedral.  Nobody knows me so I'm free.  And isn't this what we long to be on the page?  Once I regularly experience the feeling of freedom in my regular life, it is much easier to translate it to the page. IMG_20150915_161410

3.  Travel sometimes makes me uncomfortable.  Okay, let's face it.  Most of our lives are not hard.  Well, my life, anyway, is not hard.  Mostly I sit at the computer all day long and convince myself, hand on forehead that I'm suffering.  But travel is a different thing.  There are times when I don't know what's happening, or what stop the train just pulled into, or what the person in front of me is trying to say to me.  There are times I've probably embarrassed myself.  But you know what?  This is good, excellent, even.  It is good to feel discomfort once in awhile.  Because, after all, isn't that what we put our characters through? Don't we always say, the more conflict the better? Yes, yes, we do.

4.  Travel is fun.  And I don't care if you're trying to write or become an insurance agent, fun is important.  We get veeeery serious about our lives most of the time.

5.  Travel makes me adventurous.   I've gotten obsessed with reading the blog of Eugene Kaspersky.  He runs some crazy big cyber-security site and spends tons of time traveling, some of it adventuring.  He climbs volcanoes in Kamchatka, treks across snow fields in Iceland, circumnavigates the planet, and so on.  I'm just going to say right now I will do none of these things, ever.  But I love reading about him doing them.  And when I travel in my own tame way, I step out of my comfort zone into my own adventures.  And there are always adventures when you travel.

6.  Travel makes me try new things.  Like the unknown shellfish we tried at a seafood dinner in Port-Vendres, or climbing the side of a mountain (I exaggerate a tiny bit here) to reach the ruin of a castle when my hips were screaming in pain (again, a tad bit of poetic license, but still).  It can be as simple as turning now a new street, or trying a different cafĂ©--things I don't do often enough here because I so easily get stuck in a rut.  Things that may somehow work their way into your writing.

7.  Travel lets me meet different kinds of people. There aren't a whole lot of French men or British women carousing down my street, for instance.  And it is relatively rare to even hear someone speak in a different tongue in my day to day life.  If there's one thing I love, its meeting people (I confess to a terrible extrovert streak--I'll talk to anybody, anywhere).  And one of the best things about travel is the different people you meet--the couple from Australia in Paris, or the nice lady from London who was toiling up the hill beside me.  Again, who knows what person might spark an idea for a character?

Okay, so I hear you.  You've got a newborn baby, you're in school, you have a demanding career.  And travel to Europe, or anywhere else for that matter, is just not on the horizon.   But, honestly, you can "travel" in your hometown.  Change up your routine, do something different, drive a new way to work.  Do something, anything to shake things up.

Last week, the morning after I got off the plane, my brain as foggy as a morning in November, and inspired by my visit to the Inter-marche Hyper (read=big, very big) supermarket in France, I went to the American version here that I usually avoid.  My shopping took me twice as long as I stumbled through the aisles trying to figure out where things were, but I discovered new products and chatted with an adorable, funny cashier.   One never knows when someone just like him shall appear in a book.

So, how about it?  How about we all spend the last three months of this year devoted to living with a spirit of adventure?  I'm in, are you?

Do you like to travel or hate it? Please leave a comment.


Ceiling of the amazing Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

Sideways (no matter what I do, Typepad won't let me edit) image of a stone face at the cloister in Elne

(Tons more images of my trip on my Instagram feed.)

5 Things on Friday: I'm Baaaaack Edition

Peyrlower3Where I've Been: Europe. Spain and France, to be specific. I was there for our annual Let's Go Write workshop, which this year focused on structure and was a grand success.  This year it was held in Collioure,  a lovely seaside town in the south of France.  And guess what? Despite a busy teaching, sight-seeing, and cavorting schedule, I wrote a whole chapter--5,000 words--while in Collioure.  So to those of you who have asked if we really get any writing done, the answer is yes.

What I Saw: An Asian couple falling prey to scammers near Notre Dame, houseboats I want to live in on the Seine, a huge un-neutered pit bull at a sidewalk Tapas bar in Barcelona (apparently neutering male dogs is not a thing over there), stone steps up the side of the hill in Collioure and another beastly set leading to an ancient castle ruin, a fascinating medieval cloister with old stone carvings, one of the most beautiful villages in France, the amazing Sagrada Familia, heated towel racks, a precious little needlework stor  in Paris, and more, much, much more. (I took tons of photos throughout the trip, and you can see them all on my Instagram feed.)

What I Ate and Drank: Orangina by the quart (funny--I don't drink pop here at all, ever);  red wine by the gallon (the wines of the Languedoc region are superb and cheap); a divine confit du canard (duck) our last night in Paris, tomato toast at every Tapas bar (they don't call it that but I do),so much entrecote and frites (steak and fries) I finally got sick of it, tons of pate, cheese, and excellent French bread.  Also amazing butter, tomatoes, radishes, and melon.  Oh! And the jamon (ham) and sausage in Spain.  J'adore.

What I Read/Watched:  I only read one book while gone--Splinters of Light by Rachael Herron.  I love her books but this one was my least favorite.  One reason I didn't get a lot of reading done was because I've learned that watching movies on the loooooong (11 hour) plane trip makes the time go faster.  Sort of.  On the trip from Atlanta to Barcelona, I watched Life Itself, the documentary about Roger Ebert, which I highly recommend, and True Story, which was a meh for me.  On the flight from Paris to Salt Lake City, I watched: Finding Vivian Maier, Before Sunrise, The Rewrite, and Still Alice.  I liked all of them.  And I think every writer should watch The Rewrite--its about a failing screenwriter, who, in desperation, takes a teaching gig at a small New York college.  And plus, its Hugh Grant! 

I am currently reading Labyrinth, by Kate Mosse, a book I bought at the gift shop at Perpeyteuse, and Big Magic, Elizabethe Gilbert's book on creativity.

What I'm Excited About: The CNN app on my phone.  I can stream news live while I cook! I watched coverage of the Pope in America as I made an Ina Garten Tri-Berry Crumble for my husband's birthday.  Its as good as having a TV in the kitchen.  And, most especially, meeting the new member of our family, who is not here yet.  My daughter is due to deliver her second boy any day now.

I'm also excited about fun, creative events coming up this fall, like a day-and-a-half publishing workshop Debbie and I will be putting on in November (dates TBA soon, we've had to change them rather abruptly), my novel-writing class, and more juiciness to come!

Image of Peyrepeteuse, home of the beastly stone steps,  from this site.

From The Archives: Why Writing a Novel is a Good Thing--Even If You Never Get it Published

And here's one final offering from the archives, back in September of 2012.

Yeah, so, you want to write a novel.  And you're even thinking of doing Nanowrimo this year. (Nanowrimo = National Novel Writing Month, just in case you don't know, and it's in November.) 

But then the voices begin:                             

The dreaded blank page.
The dreaded blank page.

You'll never get published.

Why bother?

It's a waste of time.

You could be doing other things.  Worthy things.

You think you can write?

Who do you think you are to write a novel?

And so on.  I'm sure you know the variations.

But I'm here to tell you otherwise.  To inform you that writing a novel, in and of itself, for no other reason than to do it, is a worthy activity.  It is.  Even if you never get published.  (Which, with all the publishing options we've got these days, you probably will, one way or another.) And here's why:

1.  It's a creative act.  And the world needs as many of these as we can get. Creativity breeds creativity, just as energy breeds energy.  Who knows what spending time writing this novel might lead to?  It might lead to a best-selling novel, or an amazing idea in another area.  And, it doesn't matter if that doesn't happen because the simple act of sitting down to create is important.

2.  Novels change the world, in big ways and in little ways.  Novels deliver stories, which we're hard-wired to accept, and stories change us.  Think of novels with grand, culture-baring themes.  Or remember how you felt the last time you read a small, intimate novel.  It changed you a little, didn't it?  And that's how changing the world happens--one person at a time.

3. Novel writing makes you happy.  At least it makes me happy.  I love it.  And I presume that it will make you happy, too.  Lest you think that happiness is an unworthy goal, remember that none other than the Dalai Lama says that happiness is the point of life.

4.  Writing a novel is an accomplishment.  The first time I finished a novel (it's the one sitting in my office cupboard)I was so amazed at how much oomph it took that I vowed to respect every single book ever written, even the crappiest romance novel.  And I do.  You should too--especially the one you're writing now.

5.  Writing a novel hones your skills.  And remember, getting better at one thing affects the way you do everything.  Improving your novel writing will impact your blog posts.  And your articles.  And your diet.  As the ancients used to say, as above, so below.

6.  Writing a novel helps you understand the world.  To write a novel, you must populate it with characters, and to create characters, you must understand people.  And, guess what?  People are what make our world go around.  Writing a novel helps you understand them.

7. It's your deepest, most heartfelt desire.  Don't let that desire go unanswered.  Go do it already. 

Here's what I recommend: create your own list of reasons to write a novel.  Name it the Novel-Writing Manifesto, or something a bit less grandiose.  Post it next to your computer.  Read it often--especially after something has shaken your confidence.  It'll snap you right back into a novel-writing space.

What are your reasons for writing a novel (or any project)? Do you use them to steer yourself back on course?

And if you'd like help with your novel-writing effort, remember my Get Your Novel Written Now Class begins in October!