Tag Archives: writing

Writer Wednesday: Helpful Software

Writing in this day and age requires computers. Yes, you can still write longhand or with typewriters, I’ve been known to do both myself, but if you’re writing for publication, word processors are a necessity. Fortunately, there are a number of great ones out there, some with incredibly helpful features. I’m only going to be talking about the software I have used myself but I’ll link to a few that I’ve heard good things about from some of my writer friends. I won’t put my personal stamp of approval on them because I don’t have any experience with them. It’s been a lot of years since I last used any Apple software so this list is all PC compatible. Sorry – we switched to PC after my Apple IIgs because the games were better for PC at the time.

Microsoft Word: While I’m not thrilled about the default format settings at all, Word is the easiest word processor. There might be frills and fancies you can use via Word but I’ll be perfectly honest, I just open the file, mess with the formatting, and put words down. I’ll use the spellcheck when I remember to and the edit function makes my life super easy. The best part about Word though is that it’s pretty universal. Every publisher I’ve worked with uses Word and edits and notes don’t always transition well to other universal programs. It is a simple, easy to use word processor program with a few bells and whistles and a good template library. I don’t like the default settings and it doesn’t want to accept my changes but that’s what templates are for! I don’t need a lot of bells and whistles to write. Sometimes they’re nice to have but I don’t outline, I keep my story bibles in spreadsheet form (usually), and too many whistles makes me want to play instead of work.

Open Office: I haven’t used this one in a while but before I was able to get Word, my budget meant that it was Open Office all the way. It’s budget friendly, full of all the same basic features of Word, can be tweaked to recognize all the edit/notes from a Word file, and is excellent if you’re working with someone with entirely different software systems. It’s pretty simple to use and figure out the features of and, like Word, has an excellent template selection. The defaults for Open Office were perfect when I was using it but it’s been about 6 years since I was a regular Open Office user.

yWriter: I was just telling someone about this one and redownloaded it myself. Years ago, I used this for all my zero drafts because it has a few features that the other software options don’t (or if they do, they aren’t nearly as user-friendly and I don’t know where they are). This writing software has some very specific bells and whistles that can be incredibly useful. Character profiles, chapter and scene dividers, easily accessible location notes, a daily word count function (very helpful for NaNoWriMo), a synopsis report (if you do description by chapter anyway), and item notes. The way it’s designed keeps all the information at hand when you’re working on the project. I tend to keep my series bible in my head but with the memory issues I’ve been having, I find myself looking up things more and more. Using yWriter, all of that information is right at hand. Another nice bit is that because it’s divided by scene, you can move scenes around if it fits somewhere else better or you find yourself restructuring your time line. No cut or paste or copy, just a simple move. This is the software I’ll be using for my zero draft this NaNoWriMo.

Google Docs: This one I haven’t used much except during the beta process – it makes it so easy to share files and comments about those files. It does require being online but it functions like Microsoft Word but it’s online and you can access it from any capable device without issue.

Grammarly: I am a comma killer. I can’t help it. Of course, I’m lucky if I remember to use spell check at all. Grammarly is nice because it just works while I’m working and I don’t even really have to think about it.

Scrivener: I haven’t used this but I’ve heard good things about it and I have writer friends who’ve recommended it in the past. This one seems especially useful for people who use extensive outlines.

FocusWriter: I haven’t used this. It seems like it would be very useful for someone who is easily distracted.

If you’ve got a favorite software that I haven’t listed, please share it!

 

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Good things, Better Things

This past week has been pretty interesting and even mostly good. A couple weeks ago I pitched a story for a project that got accepted, written, revised, tweaked, submitted, accepted, and paid pro-rates all in the span of three weeks. Sure it was super short but I had a really great time with it (and I’ll be sharing it all over the place when release comes lemme tell you). I pitched a few things for some freelance type projects and ghostwriting things but I’m not so sure about those yet. I got a release date for Christmas in Bear Ridge (December 4th people – remember it well, I’ll be doing something special that day!). And yesterday, I was able to run around all over the strip district and nearly keep up with everyone. I’m paying for it today a bit but it was mostly worth it, all the way up until the last fifteen minutes anyway.

I’m a little worried about next month. It turns out edits will be happening in November but it doesn’t mean that I’m giving up on NaNoWrimo, it just means that I’ll have a lot fewer days to do it in or that I’ll have to steal an hour from edits every day anyway. I made a post the other day about NaNo and how it really is possible, even if you have a full-time job, kids, and responsibilities. Guess it’s time to put up or shut up. I sort of want to do something completely different this year but I’m not sure exactly what I want to do yet. I have far fewer days to figure it out than I would like!

I made a sale over at the etsy shop and there’s a little part of me that was sort of sad to see it go, even if I did make one for myself too. I’m definitely going to be doing one crafty fair in December hopefully with copies of Bear Ridge to celebrate with but I know it’s pushing the timeline kind of close so we’ll see on that one.

Basically, I’ve had a really good week. I don’t know why it’s so much easier to focus on the awful ones or why they seem to count more. I know I’ve got good things going on but sometimes it’s really hard to focus on that when I’m obsessing over the latest rejections or inactivity or weigh in. I’ll figure it out someday. In the meantime, I’m going to try a little harder to remember how much farther up the goal staircase I am now than I was ten years ago.

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Writer Wednesday: Freelancing

Some writers just want to work on their novels or their poems and that’s it. Some writers just want to do whatever will allow them to both write and make money. The ideal, of course, is to do both but that’s usually a long, hard road. Freelancing can be fun, should be profitable, and is not that hard to get started doing. For myself, I tend to stick to the creative side like ghostwriting blog posts or doing specific fiction work (always my preference), but there are a lot of opportunities out there for the more technical side or copywriters.

First things first. How does a writer go about finding freelance work? There are a lot of job boards out there. I, personally, will advise against content mills and places like fivrr because they underpay and undervalue writers.

Freelance Writing has a decent job list, mostly on the copywriting side but there are a number of more creative endeavors also and their resource articles are really helpful. Freelance Writing Gigs is another job board with helpful articles on the site.  Indeed has a list that some of the other lists pull from. There are subReddits for it (where I’ve gotten a number of fun gigs) Hire a Writer being my favorite but there is a lot of competition and underpayment here so you have to watch for that but also Writing Opportunities, and Writing Gigs.

If you’re interested in learning more about freelancing, there is a lot of information out there and I will give you the ones I have found to be useful but this is by no means an exhaustive list – there is more available every day. The Write Life, Make A Living Writing, and The Freelancer.

If you’re a freelancer, do you have any favorite resources to share?

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Writer Wednesday: NaNoWriMo

It might be a little early to start posting about National Novel Writing Month, but November comes pretty quickly in my experience. The premise is this, sit down and write a complete 50,000 word draft of a novel in one November. I know, the idea of 50,000 words in a month is incredibly daunting but it is more than doable. I should know, I’ve done it successfully five or six times now (three of which are published and readily available after a great many rewrites and edits).

Recently I was asking other writers if they were planning to attempt this year and I had to explain what it was to some but others just scoffed at me because they have real jobs and don’t have time for that. Personally, I find that incredibly obnoxious and petty – to use that inflection on “real” that way. Maybe I’m the odd duck but I treat my writing like a “real” job because it is one. And to be frank, NaNo is a lot less daunting then you might think.

Let’s do the math! 50,000 words in 30 days is 1667 words per day. If you can find one hour in any given day – just one – you can do NaNoWrimo. So you miss your TV show or you go to bed an hour late for a month. Most people I know can find an hour. Not everyone can and I know some of those people too but most people. If you can write 28 words per minute, you can do 1667 words in an hour. The real struggle is finding the words you want to use at any given moment.

Time alone is not the big bad block people make it out to be, especially where writing is concerned. Time can be found, scrounged, stolen in pieces. I’ve been known to take a notebook into the kitchen while I’m cooking dinner to jot down notes or snippets. I’ve been known to wake up in the middle of the night and make notes on the pad beside the bed or on my phone. I might not always understand them the next day but they’re there. I’ve been known to write through whatever show everyone else is watching or stay up after everyone goes to bed.

Just remember, if you’re doing NaNo and the idea of 50,000 words feels daunting, break it down. 28 words per minute. That’s all it takes. You can do it!

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September Wrap up, October Goals

So I dropped the ball a little bit last month… ok, a lot.  I didn’t write nearly as much as I should have and I was really bad at keeping track of it. I sent out several submissions (haven’t heard back from any of those), got a few rejections from older submissions, sent a few queries and the like and just really didn’t do a whole lot of anything. And here I thought it would get easier and better when the kids went back to school. Nope!

I’m not going to beat myself up over it – I’ll make up for this month with November (hopefully). This month, my only real goal is to get back on track with my production and make sure everything is ready to go for NaNoWriMo, unless edits come up. If edits come up, NaNo takes a back seat, no question.

I did get an interesting freelance gig that I’m not sure if I can talk about or not but I’m having fun with. Of course, I’m also nearly done with it several months prior to the deadline. I’m just glad to be writing easily again. Sit down, open file, put words in it. For a while, that last part was more like pulling teeth than painting pictures so I’m definitely glad to have that back. Mosty, I’ll be very happy with myself if I get 30,000 words in October – mostly in short stories I think – and a handful of submissions. I’d be even happier to start getting some acceptances in the mix too but I have no control over that.

Health wise – I’m better than I’ve been in a LONG time. Maybe even before the first flare. My health goals are now less about pain management and more about the only thing really wrong with me – this mama has to lose weight, so sayth all the doctors. Now, if I could figure out how to do that without doing anything or eating less, that’d be perfect. (I know, that’s not how it works, I’m just wishing)

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Writing Wednesday: Reading

Today’s writing post is all about the reading. I have heard people moan and groan when they hear people say that reading is a hugely important part of writing but it is. It wasn’t too long ago I had a person who wants to write books honestly tell me they hate reading and I honestly don’t understand why you would want to create a thing you have no use for.

You could be technically the greatest writer to ever walk the planet but the ability to use your words to tell the story you want to tell takes observation, understanding, and practice. You wouldn’t expect to be able to compose a symphony if you’ve never heard one. You can certainly write a book without ever having read one but it likely won’t be a very good or very interesting book. Reading books is how we discover what language works, what doesn’t, how to pace a story, and what details we absolutely need.

Fiction isn’t like reality. When you’re writing fiction, everything you write has to make sense and be believable. As much as that sounds a bit ridiculous, given how many stories involve fantastic and amazing things that are nigh impossible, it’s the case. Within the world you’ve built, the things that happen must make sense. Suspension of disbelief is a powerful thing that allows us to follow the stories of wizards and brilliant space traveling warriors but, if you don’t know how to maneuver through it, around it, work with it, you’ll break the story.

It’s important to read things outside of your comfort zone – you shouldn’t only read the sorts of genres that you enjoy writing or avoid them either. I write and read a little bit of everything. I just enjoy stories in all their forms. I think they are the most basic, ancient form of comfort food there is.

With food, you can only learn what you like, what flavors work together and what don’t, if you try them. You have to taste ingredients. Cooking is always tasting – as you’re mixing, as you’re simmering, always tasting, until it’s good enough and right enough to share with someone else who might like the same flavor profiles you do. You go to restaurants and maybe take a cooking class and taste other people’s dishes to learn what tastes good, what looks good, and how things are put together. You experience foods from other cultures and maybe incorporate some of that into your own cooking. You find new styles of food, new versions of old classics, and all of it goes into your bag of tricks for your next big holiday dinner party.

The same holds true for writing – you read and discover what works and what doesn’t. You try books from other cultures, other genres, and get a taste for something outside your comfort zone. You read books like you taste dishes – finding the right ingredients to make something masterful of your own to share, to feed someone’s imagination.

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Shorts and Verses

I’ve read a few good books (Hex was awesome and Leverage in Death was a very solid outing for Dallas and Roarke) and flossed my brain a bit to get the cobwebs shook out. I have a few short stories I’m working on and a number of poems too. It’s good to take a bit of a break with the novels and work on some other things for a bit. I’ve also got a start of a few essays that will likely never see the light of day because I’m not fully comfortable sharing exactly that much of me. The writing of them is enough to shake things up a bit and put me in a new state of mind.

I’m straddling genres right now – one is horror, one is urban fantasy, and the last is more of a literary bent. Apart from poetry, I haven’t had much luck with the literary type work but there’s always a first time. To this point, all my more literary publications have included elements that are decidedly genre – ghosts and magic and mayhem, oh my! One of these days though, I’ll figure out how to not add those things to everything. Maybe. Ha!

I lost the thread of ideas I had for NaNoWriMo – all I have left is the title but I might try and make it work anyway. I am still planning on trying to do it this year though. I am also in search of community – the writer’s group is awesome and it’s led to some fun poetry but it’s really more of a support group. I’m more looking for a sounding board or a sparring partner to keep me moving forward and excited and what I’m doing. Someone who’ll pat me on the head and tell me I’m wonderful when I hit milestones that might not matter to anyone else but matter to me. Unfortunately, I suck at peopling and groups make me stupid and nervous so, until I get better at that, I’m not really hopeful I’ll find the other just yet.

But, I’m hard at work on stories of darkness and magic and heroes of questionable motive and I really ought to get back to it.

 

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200,000 words

I broke 200,000 words for the year today with a poem. It’s a good poem and I think it’ll find a home pretty easily (fingers crossed). It’s been years since I put up numbers like that. I feel like everything is getting back to what approximates normal in my craziness.

I accidentally took a month off – between strep and a decided lack of motivation, it just sort of happened. I noodled at a few stories and read some books – mine and others. I think it was needed time off and now, I’m back to writing. I am endeavoring to step outside of my comfort zone. Sometimes, writing should be uncomfortable. Writing should leave you feeling vulnerable and exposed. Sure, my comfort zone is full of monsters and mayhem and all my discomfort comes swathed in prettiness and delicate images that feel like blown glass. Right now, my discomfort and my vulnerability make for better words.

I don’t think I’ll be going this route for novels anytime soon (I am not done with my mayhem by a longshot) but for my poetry and the odd essay, it’s exactly what I need to be doing. Better out than in as they say.

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Writer Wednesday: Writer’s Block

The dreaded Writer’s Block. It comes for us all someday. Unless you’re one of the crazy people who doesn’t believe it exists. Writer’s Block isn’t just a lack of ideas, it can be a lack of motivation or a dearth of excitement. For me, it walks hand in hand with my depression. Even though I know in my head that writing tends to make those dark moods lighter, I can’t bring myself to open a file or do much more than a blog post or two. It happens and there’s no sense in beating yourself up over it. What goes up, must come down. Everything in its time. What’s old is new again. All those old phrases that mean the same thing.

There are ways to work around it and through it, even when it hurts. Sometimes, no matter how badly you want it, you can’t make the words work the way they should. I know a good chunk of what I’ve written in the last month will end up cut from various projects but there were still words, still new words, edits, and rewrites. I did, however, forget to count them the way I had been so my metrics for August and September are off. Getting in the routine of writing so many words per day is a good place to start to break the wall of writer’s block. Using prompts, pictures, writing to specific markets are all good methods also.

There are a ton of prompt sites out there – if you hit up “writing prompts” on Pinterest, you’ll have starts for days. Pinterest is a wealth of inspiration for writing – interesting images that could spawn any number of stories, writing prompts, writing advise to follow (and to ignore). I love Pinterest but it’s very easy to get lost there. Penguin/Random House has a long list of prompts by genre on the Writer’s Academy. There’s an entire subreddit devoted to prompts. You can also fall down the Tumblr hole.

Sometimes the key to breaking writer’s block is as simple as forcing yourself to do it anyway. Even 20 words is better than no words. Write down the weather, a sentence about your day, anything just to put words from your head into the world. I often talk about the old adage, fake it ’till you make it. It’s true with writing too. Pretend you enjoy ripping words from your head until you actually do again. Even in the darkest times, there is still light to be had eventually. It can’t rain all the time.

When it happens to you, don’t beat yourself up about it, just power through it any old way you can, it’ll all even out in the end.

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Writer Wednesday: The Submission Process

Submitting your writing to editors and publishers can be nerve-wracking and the waiting for a response can feel interminable but, unless you’re posting everything to your blog or whathaveyou, it’s what you’ve got to do. There are several things that can trip you up in the process and hopefully, you’ll find my post today helpful.

FINDING THE RIGHT MARKET

I’ve linked before to market finders and calls for submissions (here) so I won’t do that again but I will say this. If you’re really wanting to make a good impression, read some of what the publication has available and see if that’s the sort of thing that you think you’ve written. It’s not an infallible process but, if you want to have the best chance of getting that incredible acceptance and contract, it really does help. You don’t want to send a science fiction story to a strictly non-genre publication and vice-versa.

MANUSCRIPT FORMAT

While there is a “standard manuscript format,” not every publication follows that or wants that. Always make sure to check a publication’s guidelines and modify your file to fit those guidelines. A lot of publications will auto-reject a submission that doesn’t at least attempt to follow the right format. Pay attention to their guidelines and if you have questions about them, ask. If you’re not sure about sending an attachment or not, or if they don’t specify a preferred file type and don’t say embedded only, email and ask.

SUBMISSION TRACKING

Some of the market finders also offer a tracking software so you know where you’ve sent things and when to look for responses and the like. I started submitted long before there was such a thing so I use spreadsheets. I also like that I have a copy that I can access with or without Internet access. Really, I have three spreadsheets I use regularly the first being my word metrics spreadsheet that I use nearly daily, the second is my yearly spreadsheet where I keep track of what I send out every month, the potential vs actual income, all freelance, royalty, or crafting income etc, and the third is my very old, very wonderful market tracker. I have every submission I’ve sent out since 2004 in this file and let me tell you, it’s a LOT. I have a few older ones listed as well but not everything survived my early computer failure but most of the work I was submitting prior to 2004 is either published or trunked and I’m not really worried about doubling up and accidentally sending the same piece to the same publication twice (it really does happen if you aren’t paying attention). It’s an invaluable tool for me.

Mine is set up with several failsafes to prevent mixups. First page is markets which is ordered by name, date of submission, status of submission (out, accepted, rejected, withdrawn), form of submission (nonfiction, poetry, essay, fiction), title(s) of submission, response time, and notes (this space is especially useful for seeing when I get personalized rejections or notes or when an editor is particularly awesome). The second page is for short stories sorted by title, then noted each market it’s been submitted to, third page is the same for poems, fourth is the same for nonfiction, and the fifth is for novels and agents and publishers.

WAITING

The hardest part of submitting my work, for me, is the waiting. It feels like an eternity, the time between clicking send and opening a response email. It’s even harder when a market goes past it’s projected response time and you’re left trying to figure out whether or not to query about the status. I tend to err on the side of caution and give two or three months past the listed response time unless their twitter or blog has a note about it. I personally have never had a status query work out in my favor but maybe someday (fingers crossed that my luck changes as I have a status query out right now).

Mostly, once I’ve hit send, I step aside and start work on the next story or poem. It may be that I write more when I submit more because writing new, shiny things keeps me from obsessively haunting my email program…

Good luck with your own submissions and remember, rejections are not the end of the world – I’ve only got a 15% acceptance rate (when you factor by market, my by title rate is much better). I’ve had one short story that got 14 rejections before it got a contract. This is an incredibly subjective business. What I think is moving and new might be old hat to these editors who’ve seen nearly everything come across their inboxes but the next editor might agree with me. In truth, publishing is a lot like throwing spaghetti on the wall until it sticks.

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