Goals for January: Writing by Checklist

As I’m balancing many projects, I’ve got to do some prioritizing in order to be sure that I’m making inroads on various projects.

I’m working on exploring new story-telling media, and I’ll keep you updated on how that’s going. Thus far, it’s going very, very slowly.

Also, I’m prioritizing two of my novel projects: an alternate history and a crime novel (this because I’ve had an insight into the sequel, so I’d better get on and finish the first one, hadn’t I?).

Other projects will plod along as usual, and whichever project is the closest to my heart in March will likely be my April Camp NaNo. After my sad failure of a showing for the November NaNoWriMo, I’m intent on actually accomplishing my Camp NaNos this year to the fullest.

I’m doing this in small pieces, focusing on a chapter at a time, with the attempt of accomplishing at least three chapters a week, knowing that during NaNo months I’ll be stepping it up to at least a chapter a day.

What are your January writing goals? Have you met any of them yet?

Cheers

C

Cleaning My Bookshelf

I have an important life philosophy, and it goes something like this:

If my room is a mess, I clean and organize my bookshelf. In the process, my room will become clean and organized.

How am I so certain this will work?

Because a stack of books already removed from my room for sorting and dusting takes up about a quarter of the living room (much larger than my bedroom), and it’s MAYBE a third of my books. Maybe.

Dusting books is very important, both for their health and quality and for my health and sanity. However, I’ve been putting it off for MONTHS, probably more than a year, now. This is because I know what an undertaking it is to get all my books on the shelf where they can be cleaned, and yet in the meantime, I keep collecting more and more books.

Even if your books aren’t taking over the entirety of your physical space, it’s important to keep your books organized, cleaned, and stored properly. Especially if you’re storing some of them horizontally, as you’ll need to rotate them to prevent warping. Allergies? Asthma? Make sure you’re dusting your books regularly with a clean, dry, microfiber cloth.

If you’re making the commitment to physical books, remember that it is a commitment, just like any other collection. And if you go through and realize you’ve got some books you don’t like, don’t want, or don’t read, perhaps it’s time to clear up space in your shelf for books you do want. Donate to a local library, or school library, or classroom library, or charity shop.

Cheers,

C

 

Dedication: A Three-Fold Word

We all like words, us writers. It’d be pretty tough to practice our craft without at least an affinity for them. But some of us LOVE words.

There are definitely words I try to use as often as possible: exsanguinate, mastication, things like that. I keep a list. But sometimes it’s the boring, everyday words we don’t give enough credit to.

Like Dedication.

Think about it: think of all the ways you do/might use this word.

  1. BOOKS: The first thing I think of with this word in this form is a book’s dedication. Sometimes, it’s a poignant thing. Sometimes, it’s a dangerous thing (like in an NCIS episode where a man gets his friends killed by dedicating his book to his lover).  Usually, it’s just a sweet gesture to family or friends, who made the process of writing the book bearable/quicker/pleasant/meaningful, etc. And for putting up with it all.
  2. PERSISTENCE: Someone once told me that persistence is an important leadership quality. Why is that? Well, it’s the people who dig their teeth in and don’t let go who find a way to get things done, where charm and panache and such won’t get you. Persistence earns respect, accomplishes things, etc. A friend of mine said she wanted to be an author, but she never took any novel project past chapter 5 before deciding she hated it and scrapping the whole idea. “That’s fine,” I told her, “but authors have to actually, you know, finish a project to be published.” That takes dedication.
  3. SET ASIDE: Kind of like a book’s dedication, I’m sure you’ve been told that it’s important to set aside time for writing. For many people, this is finding a set time every day to write. This works for most people, like finding time each day to exercise, or having a set dinner time. But if you’re at all like me, living in a world that requires change of plans and flexibility, with occasional and violent sparks of inspiration at the most inconvenient times, this kind of dedication might suit you: Dedicate a day. Yeah, I pull out my pen and scribble out thoughts when they come – and I’ve got notebooks dedicated to such things – and I do end up spending a bit of each day writing, but the bulk of my work is done on my dedicated writing day. One day a week, I take care of necessary things only (Bills to pay, emails that can’t wait, you know), and then I focus on one or more writing projects, immersing myself for long periods of time. I find this allows me to marinate in the ideas, and I don’t have the pressure of writing at the same time every day.

Dedication! It takes on all different kinds of forms. Try splashing some dedication into your writing, and think about those words you forget about.

What “ordinary” word is your favorite?

Cheers,

C

Writing Alternate History

In a new project I’ve taken on, working title The Time Tinker, I’ve been dabbling into some alternate history. This is something I’ve played with in the Fan Fiction realm, but never in real life.

Why?

Well, the history I’m most interested in isn’t what one might call ancient history. I’m particularly fascinated with people and events from the 60’s and 70’s, and forward from there. A historical “rule of thumb” that I feel too many people are ignoring these days is that history shouldn’t be written about until 50 years have passed, so you can gain perspective and have the most information compiled before passing any kind of judgment. You want a complete, unbiased picture.

Well, fifty years have passed since the 60’s, but beyond that? And writing alternative history often involves writing about high profile people, and in fiction you’re not really attempting to show them as they really were, necessarily, but a version that fits the story you’re telling. What if you offend their family, their fans, the actual people in question?

Some people? Not a big deal. But I’m going to write about the Beatles, Princess Di, Michael Jackson. Some of my artistic changes will be flattering, others not so much.

I finally decided, when the story wouldn’t stop unfolding in my head, that artists cannot be afraid to write the truth they see, knowing that it’s not going to be historical truth, and knowing that not everyone will be happy with it. The likelihood anyone actually related to these people will read my work is negligible, and if I am so lucky that my work would reach such heights, well, then it’ll probably have a lot of merit to back it up, won’t it? So they could hardly argue with the artistic vision.

And anyway, it’s fiction. Fiction isn’t about historical accuracy, or even accuracy of any kind. It gives us license to decide what details need to be correct and what details need to be how we see them in our heads. Sometimes, we need that house to be the actual house on the actual street in the actual city, right next to the river. Other times, the house is a fabrication of dreams and desires, in a hodge-podge of how the city should have been, with the river running around it in a curly-q.

You write the history you want to believe. Or the alternate history you want to believe. We are not historians.

Cheers,

C

Eyes Bigger than Your Pen

I have this problem, and I may have mentioned it before, but I always have had this habit of biting off more than I can chew. I have WAY too many projects in progress. I treat my writing as a second job (or rather, a first job, and my day job is second), and I happen to be sick right now, but I don’t take breaks unless my body is physically incapable of not taking a break.

Likewise, when I get an idea for a writing project, what starts as a couple of characters and a scene no sooner balloons into a plot than it does a multi-novel series.

And yes, the bug has bit me again. This time is an alt-history sci-fi series, and I don’t even know how long it’s going to be. LONG, okay, LONG.

I guess I could call this proclivity toward self-torture and tea-fueled sleepless nights (because I think I’ll be working on the first in the series for NaNoWriMo this year) a negative or a failing. That would be the easy thing to do, for sure.

I prefer to think of it as a good thing. After all, I never leave anything permanently unfinished, and the more irons I have in the fire, the less likely I am to be totally bored with all my work. Maybe the series won’t satisfy me in the end, but the things I’ll learn from trying to put it together will be valuable to my growth as a writer, as a person, as a consumer of literature and culture.

And it should give me opportunities to work through some interesting philosophical questions, which I think is what writing is for, really.

So take on the big things! Even if it doesn’t come out quite as you want, you’ll gain so much from having eyes bigger than your stomach (or pen?), and the next time that massive idea won’t seem quite so massive. You’ll have done it before!

Cheers,

C

Closing Up Camp

Good news and bad news.

Good: I’ve passed my Camp NaNo quota. Actually, I passed it early last week, but I kept chuggin’ along.

Bad: I haven’t finished the novel yet.

I’ve got two chapters and change to go, and I doubt I’ll finish it all today.

So what shall I do? Well, I’m putting it on high priority while I sort through stuff, but I’ll submit what I’ve got for validation. I mean, I won, right? I deserve to own it.

On the other hand, when I do finish I have to get into editing land, and I think I’ve decided a plan.

I put my work – all my work – through nine rounds of edits before I send it off to Natalie Cannon. Each time through, I focus on something different. I think what I’ll do this time, though, is get friends involved as beta readers. I’ll have a different friend read during each of the nine rounds, and I’ll task them to look at everything EXCEPT what I’m focusing on. So while I’m focusing on description, they can’t comment on description. When I’m scrutinizing verbs, they have to talk about anything except for my verbs.

My friend Sarah is going to start out, and she’ll have a free pass to talk about anything, since my first round is just me reading it out loud.

I’m sort of excited for this new method, and I’ll keep y’all posted on how it’s working out. I have high hopes.

Cheers,

C

Slow and Steady: Organizing Tools for Writers and Others

Alright, I’ve definitely done blog posts on my pen-and-paper methods, but now it’s time to get serious and talk about one of my five biggest love-hate relationships. Technology.

(Why Love-Hate? Maybe we’ll cover that next…)

I’ve gone through TONS and I mean TONS of methods to keep myself organized using technology. I mean, it makes sense, right? We always have phones, computers, etc. with us. And with so many services allowing syncing between multiple platforms, and some even allowing you to scan in stuff you’ve written by hand and digitizing that information to store in one place, you can cover basically all platforms.

But what’s the best?

I’ll start with my computer. I don’t use these things as often, but they’re tried-and-true, and I do use them.

Evernote

This is everyone’s favorite friendly accumulation resource, and I have it on my phone as well, so I can sync between the two.

There are tons of things one might use Evernote for, but I have essentially two uses for it. One is organizing snippets of writing that will be part of other things into digital notebooks when I’m out and about and don’t have the right journal with me. It’s also something I’ve used for notetaking, so I could use it to write in class and look like I was taking notes. 😉

The other thing is co-writing. Natalie and another dear friend have used this method to share back and forth documents, to look at things without using email, and we’ve used the Work Chat function to discuss and share whole notebooks at times. This is really the only app I’ve used for its collaborative features, and since nearly everyone has it these days, I feel it’s definitely the best choice.

Todoist

This one I’ve acquired more recently, but I’m still not sure if I want to pay for the pro one or not (I plan to make up my mind before the first paycheck at my new job). On the basic one, it works just fine. I love that I can label things effectively for a large number of different aspects of life, and that I can set lots of different kinds of recurring tasks quickly without scrolling through bunches of buttons. The quick add feature is wonderful.

It also has two ways of focusing your attention. One is to focus in on just today, starting with things that are overdue (I’ve got a lot of overdue, as always, most of them chores), then things that are fresh for the day. The other is to look at the week so that if you’ve got a bit of time on your hands, you can check forward to see if there’s something you have coming up that you can get some work done on early.

I’ve also got this on my phone, and it’s lovely. I use it when my computer’s charging and I want to see what I can do off the computer. Actually, just used it.

Trello

I’ve been using Trello very casually for a very long time now. This is a great little app that I now only have on my computer (I needed the space on my phone) and I use it solely for long-term lists. So, for example, a list of all the appliances and such I’ll need when I get my first place. A list of all the products for hair and beauty I would ideally have. A list of all the tech I would ideally own and use to keep my writing at full speed. To-Dos specifically for holiday planning. My long-term planning stuff. It’s really nice, and I used it a lot while in school to organize what I needed to do for courses so I could just plow through a course’s work and keep track of what I had yet to accomplish. It’s not perfect, but I really enjoyed it.

Glass

Now we’re onto things that I’ve only got on my phone. Glass is absolutely lovely, although I don’t use it as much as I should. It’s got two really useful zones (DISCLAIMER: I use Glass Pro, so I may describe features only available in Pro by accident – apologies): Plan and Act. There’s also Done, but I only use this to “undo” things I accidentally marked off. You get a scrolling calendar, as well as a scrolling list at the bottom of the list that goes from most recent/urgent to things due well far off. You can mark something as a basic to-do that can be done any time, a specific event or appointment that you don’t have to check off but it can remind you of, or specific To-Dos that you can (or can’t) make up. You can tag things, and even create project folders so that you can connect a bunch of To-Dos with different due dates to an overall project with its own due date.

Ready to start doing? Just scroll right to Act and everything’s in an organized list for you, starting with things that must be done now and scrolling all the way down to things that must be done later.

I use this as my calendar, primarily, and it holds critical tasks like my fan-fiction to-do list based on reader desires and backing up my files. All that glorious stuff. I’m not someone who checks digital calendars often, preferring my pen-and-paper planner by and large. But I like having Glass, and I really like that if you go pro you can get the dark background with light letters, which is really easy on the eyes before bed or first thing in the morning. Todoist kind of assaults my vision when I wake up.

Productive

This may not be the full name of the app – not actually certain – but that’s what it says under the little icon on my phone, so that’s what I’m calling it. This is a habit-forming app, and I use it CONSTANTLY. You can separate habits by things you do morning, afternoon, night (you set the hours), things you do any time of day, and even things you do multiple times a day or only once a month or whatever. There’s suggested things that other people have done, like drinking enough water, getting exercise, etc. I use it to organize my morning routine, so that when I have those absent-minded moments in the morning or before bed where I stand in the middle of a room and think, “Now, what I was I meant to be doing?” I don’t waste any time trying to puzzle it out. I have a checklist, and I can consult it any time to see what I’ve finished, what I’ve yet to do.

One of your things something you don’t do EVERY day, necessarily? Like, say you have brushing your teeth down three times a day (like me) and you are at work a certain number of days a week but don’t want to take it off your mid-day list. Just skip on days you have a very good reason for not doing the act! Skip sparingly, because it’s really easy to tempt yourself into doing it whenever you don’t get around to something, but I tell myself I can only skip when it isn’t possible or practical to do whatever it is, not just because I got caught up writing and didn’t actually think about having breakfast by lunchtime.

Hours

I’ve only just started using this app, but I LOVE it. So I might have mentioned that I write ridiculously quickly. So if I tell myself, “I want to write for an hour’s worth today,” because I do things in pieces and not always all in one go, I can’t be totally sure that the chapter’s writing took me an hour, or that the short story I just churned out was half an hour’s work.

With this app, you can make a list of projects to track time for. Right now, I have things like blogging (which I’m tracking right now), a general fan fiction timer, original works timer, and one for organizing my finances, because I use most of these apps for work and personal uses alike. Have a few minutes to go through receipts? Turn on the finances timer, and turn it off when you are done and moving on to something else. You can see a timeline of your day, color coded for easy reading, and also cumulative times for each project, and a cumulative time for the day.

So, yesterday, for example, it was my mum’s birthday, so I didn’t do a massive day full of work (frosting a cake takes time). I did, however, put in over three hours, with 35 minutes of blog writing, over two hours of fan fiction work, and about 20 minutes of original writing on my Camp NaNo Project.

You can also set reminders so that it harasses you if you haven’t started a timer by a certain time of day, or have one running at the end of the day, or haven’t had one running for a certain period of time.

Pomodrone

I’m a big believer in the pomodoro system of 25 on, five off. I first heard about this in high school and didn’t think much of it until grad school, where I got the first pomodoro timer for my phone and fell in love.

I’ve tried several, but this is the one I’m using now, and it’s lovely. I’ve not upgraded, and I don’t think I will because it functions as I need it just the way it is. This assumes eight 25-minute pomodoros with one long break smack in the middle and five minute short breaks otherwise. However, unlike other timers that have a set goal, it doesn’t stop counting when you reach that goal! This is great, because I can do twelve to sixteen pomodoros of this description in a day, and I want my app to keep going with me.

The design is simple, pleasant, and if you leave the app open, your phone doesn’t go dark like some pomodoro and timing apps do, which is one of my pet peeves. The sort of dark seafoam green background is soft, pleasant, and not angry, so I feel comfortable using it any light, any time of day without feeling assaulted by color.

Oh, one last thing – when you reach the goal, it gives you a new inspirational quote every day, which is pretty cool.

Cheers

C