LimebirdMichele, who writes for the Limebird Writers blog, put me onto this video by Ira Glass. I may have seen it before, and so might you, but it always bears revisiting. Michele’s own blog, Girl Walks In, can be seen here
Tools For Writers
We live in a wonderful world with full of ones and zeroes buzzing around the old internet. Are you taking full advantage of the tools available to you?
You might think: This sounds boring and dreary. I’m an artist, not an egghead! This kind of stuff isn’t for me!
Not for you? Read about the day that LimebirdKate lost her work in progress to see why this is for you.
And if saving your hard-earned words from being eaten by the void isn’t enough for you, maybe a few free tools for planning and organizing your work will get you interested.
If you take only one thing away from this article, make it this: DOWNLOAD AND USE DROPBOX TO BACK UP YOUR WORK.
Dropbox runs in that “Cloud” you might have heard about lately. Install it on your desktop and write a few great pages. Then head to the coffee shop and pick up where you left off on your laptop without batting an eye. Forgot your laptop? Guess what: use your smartphone.
There’s a web interface too, so you don’t have to install any programs if you don’t want to. This also means that anything you save to your Dropbox is available on any computer with an internet connection. Download your opus to your great aunt’s PC and get to work while the rest of your family sleeps.
Dropbox syncs your files between all your computers in addition to the Dropbox servers. So, if Dropbox disappeared tomorrow, all your files would still be stored on all your local machines.
Dropbox has a “Public” folder which can generate URLs for each file inside it for easy sharing with, well, the public.
Non-Public folders can be shared with other Dropbox users on a per-user basis. So if you want to share your “Family Vacation Pics” folder with just your mom and sister you can. Or you can share your “Rough Drafts” folder with all the friends you meet on Limebird for easy peer feedback.
Dropbox also keeps a history of versions as you change the files in it. So if, in a fit of trusting, you share your folder with an unsavory character who Replace-Alls “the” with “boobsLOL”, you can restore your files pretty easily. This may or may not have happened to me or someone I know.
As far as security goes:
There’s always a risk when storing your files online. But, as we’ve seen, there’s a risk to storing your files only locally as well.
Dropbox isn’t a no-name start-up company run by amateurs with the threat of going out of business overnight. It’s a fairly large and respected site. I think you can trust it as much as you would any other site on the internet.
It’s available for Windows, Mac, Linux, iPhone, Android, plus a browser-based interface. There’s no excuse not to be using this.
It’s free for 2 Gigabytes of storage, which is more than enough for any text files you want to store. Pictures and videos will eat up your space a lot faster. You can get more space by referring friends to Dropbox or you can just pay for it. You almost certainly won’t have to worry about that, though. Personally, I’ve been Dropboxing pretty liberally for over a year now and I’m using a little under 6% of my available space.
Go grab a Simplenote account here. Think “Dropbox Light”. It stores and syncs text files only. Simple text only, so no italics or bold allowed, sorry. But no frills means no distractions. Plain white space; you just fill it up with words.
I write just about everything in Simplenote to start with, including the rough drafts for NaNoWriMo, This year and last year.
Simplenote allows you to tag each note with multiple categories for easy organization. Make a tag for “Future Story Ideas” and never again forget a moment of inspiration. Tag your chapters with names to see a snapshot of your story by characters.
Simplenote.com is available anywhere you have an internet connection and a modern browser.
For fancy off-line solutions, you can download a number of front ends.
There’s something for whatever operating system you’re working on.
I can personally vouch for the official Simplenote iOS app and the Windows-only Resoph Notes.
The web app is free and most of the front ends are as well. The official iOS app and Resoph Notes are free for sure.
Where Simplenote’s beauty is in its simplicity, yWriter and Scrivener take the opposite approach: they do it all. Both programs allow you to organize your stories into chapters and scenes. Then reorder them easily. Then take notes, create an outline, get daily word counts and set goals. Tons of great features. Remember to save your working files in your Dropbox account so you can access them from anywhere.
yWriter is available for Windows and Scrivener works on Mac and Windows although the Mac version is more robustly developed at the moment. yWriter is free although you can register your copy if you like the program.
Scrivener: free…for 30 days. Then $40 US.
Check it out here. WriteOrDie’s tagline claims that it’s “Putting the ‘Prod’ in Productivity”. Write as fast as you can. Pause for too long and your existing words are slowly deleted. While I can’t vouch for the quality of the work it will produce, it will help you achieve your daily word count. This is another web app, available wherever your internet is. There are downloadable versions for Windows, Mac and Linux, plus apps for iOS.
The online version is free, so why would you pay for the desktop versions or the iOS app? Both are about 10 bucks US, though, if you’re interested.
How about you? Any helpful tools or tips that you’d like to share with us? Leave ’em in the comments!
I’m always keen to improve my writing, and with examples like the ones below, I shouldn’t have no problems…The first set of rules was written by Frank L. Visco and originally published in the June 1986 issue of Writers’ Digest. I found them on the Plain Language website, put out by the government to help its employees to write better…but I was reminded of the rules in the first place by my internet friend Lori Day
- Avoid Alliteration. Always.
- Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
- Avoid clichés like the plague. (They’re old hat.)
- Employ the vernacular.
- Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
- Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.
- It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.
- Contractions aren’t necessary.
- Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
- One should never generalize.
- Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.”
- Comparisons are as bad as clichés
- Don’t be redundant; don’t use more words than necessary; it’s highly superfluous.
- Profanity sucks.
- Be more or less specific.
- Understatement is always best.
- Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
- One word sentences? Eliminate.
- Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
- The passive voice is to be avoided.
- Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
- Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed
- Who needs rhetorical questions?
The second set of rules is derived from William Safire‘s Rules for Writers. Poor WS may be turning in his grave to see how the rules have been ‘derived’…still, here they are:
- 1. Parenthetical words however must be enclosed in commas.
- It behooves you to avoid archaic expressions.
- Avoid archaeic spellings too.
- Don’t repeat yourself, or say again what you have said before.
- Don’t use commas, that, are not, necessary.
- Do not use hyperbole; not one in a million can do it effectively.
- Never use a big word when a diminutive alternative would suffice.
- Subject and verb always has to agree.
- Placing a comma between subject and predicate, is not correct.
- Use youre spell chekker to avoid mispeling and to catch typograhpical errers.
- Don’t repeat yourself, or say again what you have said before.
- Use the apostrophe in it’s proper place and omit it when its not needed.
- Don’t never use no double negatives.
- Poofread carefully to see if you any words out.
- Hopefully, you will use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them.
- Eschew obfuscation.
- No sentence fragments.
- Don’t indulge in sesquipedalian lexicological constructions.
- A writer must not shift your point of view.
- Don’t overuse exclamation marks!!
- Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences, as of 10 or more words, to their antecedents.
- Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.
- If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
- Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
- Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular nouns in their writing.
- Always pick on the correct idiom.
- The adverb always follows the verb.
- Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors.
- If you reread your work, you can find on rereading a great deal of repetition can be by rereading and editing.
- And always be sure to finish what
Alex McNab has been a force for good in Fairfield’s writing circles for a number of years. The author of a novel and the leader of one of the (free) writing groups at the Fairfield Public Library, he also publishes the Fairfield Writers’ Blog. You can find it here: http://fairfieldwriter.wordpress.com/ Recently he wrote a blog about how he became converted to the e-reader. Read on!
One Man’s Introduction to E-Reading
Otherwise, that man would be unable to read The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life by Ann Patchett (State of Wonder, Bel Canto), a delightful “Original” from the digital publisher Byliner. It was the first work he downloaded and read on the Kindle Touch his household received for Christmas. It also was his first time reading Patchett, whose style as well as substance made that maiden voyage on an e-reader memorable.
Consider the charming way she describes the aspiring writer’s dilemma:
“Logic dictates that writing should be a natural act, a function of a well-operating human body, along the lines of speaking and walking and breathing,” Patchett writes. “We should be able to tap into the constant narrative flow our minds provide, the roaring river of words filling up our heads, and direct it out into a neat stream of organized thought so that other people can read it. Look at what we already have going for us: some level of education that has given us control of written and spoken language; the ability to use a computer or a pencil; and an imagination that naturally turns the events of our lives into stories that are both true and false. We all have ideas, sometimes good ones, not to mention the gift of emotional turmoil that every childhood provides. In short, the story is in us, and all we have to do is sit there and write it down.
“But it’s right about there, the part where we sit, that things fall apart.”
Byliner defines its digital offerings as running “at lengths that allow them to be read in a single sitting.” In that space, The Getaway Car blends Patchett’s personal development as a writer with astute advice in smooth prose. Here are two other for-instances:
“Novel writing, I soon discovered, is like channel swimming: a slow and steady stroke over a long distance in a cold, dark sea. If I thought too much about how far I’d come or the distance I still had to cover, I’d sink.”
“Although my [first] novel [The Patron Saint of Liars] was written in three separate first-person sections, I wrote it linearly—that is to say, page two was started after page one was finished. . . .Even if you’re writing a book that jumps around in time, has ten points of view, and is chest-deep in flashbacks, do your best to write it in the order in which it will be read, because it will make the writing, and the later editing, incalculably easier.”
I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of reading on the Kindle, and I certainly enjoyed paying only 99¢ each—at the time I downloaded them—for three titles about writing that are not available as printed books. Waiting (or is it still permissible to say “shelved”?) for later perusal in the e-reader are The Liar’s Bible: A Handbook for Fiction Writers and The Liar’s Companion: A Field Guide for Fiction Writers—from mystery maven Lawrence Block, whose trade paperback Telling Lies for Fun & Profit: A Manual for Fiction Writers has long been a favorite.
And for future consideration there is another Byliner Original, Sara Davidson’s Joan: Forty Years of Life, Loss, and Friendship with Joan Didion. What piqued my interest in it was an update Davidson wrote, which you can read at the Byliner website, answering the question, What’s the most important thing you learned about writing from Joan Didion?
“Anything can be fixed,” Didion told her. There’s more good stuff there, so follow the link above. But let me leave you with Davidson’s final thought for us fellow writers:
“It took me 30 years to have faith that this is true. Once you’ve got something on paper—anything, no matter how bad it seems—you can fix it, steadily, one word or phrase at a time. You can turn something awful into something reasonably good.”
Oh. One final note: The Fairfield Library now has a digital collection from which you can borrow eBooks and more. And at the time of this writing, at least, you can download the prequel to the opening sentence of this post, along with the rest of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, from amazon.com to your Kindle for free.
Write to Done, a writers’ website, runs a contest each year where people nominate their favorite writing blogs, and they publish a list of the top ones. Here’s last year’s list:
1. Storyfix: http://www.storyfix.com
2. men with Pens: http://menwithpens.ca/
3. Make a Living Writing: http://www.makealivingwriting.com/
4. Cat’s Eye Writer: http://catseyewriter.com/
5. The Renegade Writer: http://www.therenegadewriter.com/
6. Writer Unboxed: http://writerunboxed.com/
7. Word Play: http://wordplay-kmweiland.blogspot.com/
8. The Creative Penn: http://www.thecreativepenn.com/
9. Victoria Mixon: http://victoriamixon.com/
10 Courage 2 Create: http://ollinmorales.wordpress.com/
If you check them out, you’ll find that they’re all different in tone, in style and in what they’re trying to do. I’m not suggesting you nominate one if you don’t know them, but they might prove useful as a starting point for help with your writing.
If you do have someone to nominate, here’s where you do it:
Nominations are due by December 10th.
I loved this advice from Peter Carey – it makes me feel there’s no right way to start writing.
Q: What is your method for overcoming writer’s block ?
A: I have never suffered from writer’s block. This may have something to do with the muddy way I begin each chapter – a poorly typed incorrectly spelled mess of messages and questions to myself. For instance, approaching Chapter 1 of Parrot and Olivier in America:
Here he is in the chateau.
Everything, these horrors hanguing over him, blood death, deadly, deathly.
The stories of the royalist martyrs and how they died.
The mess, confusion.
The terror of centralized power.
How can you have writer’s block when you approach your art like this? In the two following pages I go on to wonder if Olivier is “shirt or tAll.” I wonder how a Chateau works. I draft a letter to Jean-Marc Devocelle, the French architectural historian. There is nothing to be blocked by, certainly not the prospect of a perfect sentence. Yes, I have written 12 novels, but now the inside of my head is like a teenager’s bedroom – paper, paper, paper scattered amongst the dirty socks. That’s me, the stooped and grey-haired figure attempting to tidy up, reading sometimes, tearing, crumpling, sitting with a grunt, gathering together a very small sheaf which will, at day’s end, be my night’s companion. I suspect I dream about those pages in their ideal form. In any case, I forget my dream on waking. Next day I begin to write again, although you could not call it writing. I follow what threads of thought I have gathered from the mess. I begin to clarify them. That day I will begin a chapter. That night I will have one or two pages written. I begin to imagine what I could not have imagined yesterday. Jean Marc writes back. He gives me a village road which I can use. On it goes, day after day. There is nothing I will not use, nothing I will not write down, nothing that is not liable to the most severe judgment, because – even if I did not confess this earlier – I also have an excellent large scale map. I know where I want to start and I never forget why I wish to take this journey.
Q: What are your favorite or most helpful writing prompts?
A: I don’t know what a writing prompt is, but if it’s something that lifts the level of your ambition to the heavens, if it makes you drunk with the possibility of making something that never existed in the world before, then any piece of great art will do the trick. Rembrandt and Van Gogh will do it, for instance. Long ago I read Faulkner in the morning. Now Thomas Bernhardt will keep my high going all day. For years I listened to Bob Dylan until I reached that dizzy place where I would rather write than listen. More often, of course, the situation is not at all ecstatic. It’s nine o’clock. I turn on my computer. It makes its distinctive appley sound, and then I start.
Q: What is the most valuable advice you received as a young writer?
A: There was so much advice. It fell like rain. The best advice is to ignore the advice. The source is Anon.
Learn more at petercareybooks.com
This first appeared in the Gotham Workshops newsletter: