Monday, March 31, 2014

Writing Tools Matter

From Kate's Writing Crate…


        Favorite and  familiar tools make writing easier. Once I pick up my blue, fine point Pilot V Ball pen and my sturdy spiral notebooks, I am in business. I start scribbling away. I stop and start as my thoughts dictate, but I never hesitate because my pen feels too heavy or scratchy.

        If I am working on my computer, I only require white pages and black type in the Arial font. For three days recently, I had black pages with neon yellow type. Not sure how it happened, but I am grateful I finally figured out how to reverse it because this change gave me a headache. I didn't—couldn't—write under those conditions.

        This doesn't mean you shouldn't try new tools. I write in different ink colors when I feel stuck, but I stick to the five colors of my favorite brand of pens mostly. For me, a V Ball pen just feels like an extension of my hand.

        Trying new computer equipment can make a difference, too. Visit any store that sells computers and try them out or, as I did, try out a friend's computer. While visiting her home for a small get together, I noticed she had a very large screen for her desk top computer—about 50 percent bigger than the one I have. A user can see two pages of text, full size, side by side.

If asked, I wouldn't have thought I'd like that—too distracting. It's also a lot of light coming at the eyes. But the more I used it, the better I liked it. I could read documents like books. It made me feel more like a writer which surprised me. It was a new perspective that felt comfortable and familiar quite quickly.

I am now saving up to get a larger screen of my own. Who doesn't want to feel more like a writer? Especially when you are a writer!


What tools make you feel more like a writer?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

4 Fun Apps for Writers

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

One of my favorite ways to stay motivated with my writing is to surf the web and keep up with the latest trends.  I find inspiration in articles saturated with tips on grammar, overcoming writer's block, advice from other authors on feeding the muse and much more.

I've recently been frustrated by computer issues, well, more specifically issues with computer viruses.  Within the last 6 months, my laptop has crashed four times.   I won't bore you with the details, but let's just say if I weren't so dependent on the cyber world for my work, I would've given up after the 2nd crash and gone back to my tried and true friend--my pen and journal.

When my laptop was down, I needed to find other avenues to keep up with the rest of the world so it was then that I began relying on my smart phone on a more regular basis.  Imagine my delight to discover an amazing assortment of writer's apps!

There are dozens of writer's apps available, but here are 4 of my favorites.


This virtual notebook keeper is essential for anyone who needs a place to store and organize thoughts, information, and media (including pictures, audio recordings). No scissors,glue, tape, or string required. The contents of EverNote can be synced across all devices, providing anytime/anywhere access. Timesaving functions include a search function for keywords -- even handwritten words or text within images. If there's a major due date in the future,set a reminder to be notified. Ready to share your masterpiece with the world? Quickly and easily post to Facebook, Twitter, Linkedln,or share the URL to Clipboard.

Since most people can think a lot faster than they can pound the keyboard, this app is the salvation for inspiration and ideas alike. Dragon Dictation is today's version of "Take a letter, Miss Jones", without Miss Jones. Just hit "Record" and diction instantly transforms into text. Hit "Done" and you are all set. Then copy and paste the text into any word processing program with a simple double-tap. Dragon Dictation even has a feature to put lengthy text directly into SMS or email. Publishing to social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter is just a few taps away.

Write or Die is a wicked blend of Creative Writing and Psych 101 (can you say Operant Conditioning?) with a dollop of Catholic School knuckle-rapping discipline for good measure.The idea is that the secret to learning to write well is writing a lot. Tell this web-based app how many words you want to knock out and over what time period. And start writing. If you stop or fail to reach your goal punishment will be meted out. The good news is that the user can set the level of virtual pain -- from a gentle pop-up reminder to an annoying sound to the really annoying disappearance of your work.Write or Die says they put the "prod" in productivity. It may be more like putting the "fun" in dysfunctional. Consider it boot camp for budding journalists. Now jump down and give me 300 words!


What's a good cure for writer's block? Put some spice in your life. Spice Mobile provides the inspiration when finding the right words is a challenge. Stuck at "It was a dark and stormy night?" Need to flesh out a character or scene?Let Spice Mobile tap into its comprehensive collection of famous literature to help put some mojo back into your manuscript.While directly copying the masters is a major no-no, there's nothing a little nudge from Will Shakespeare or Ernest Hemingway to break up the cranial jam and get your juices reflowing.
What writing apps do you love? 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Reads for Writers: A Day in J D Robb's Latest, Concealed in Death, Provides a Masterclass


From Kate's Writing Crate…


As a reader, I always love finding books that appeal to me. As a writer, I am twice as pleased when the authors also provide masterclasses within their books.

        Masterclasses take place when performance artists and musicians work one-on-one with students. Writers don't generally have this option, but I have found some books to be masterclasses for characters, backstories, plots, settings, voice, and/or creativity.


        How many pages could you fill describing only one day for a novel? And keep readers not just interested, but engrossed? JD Robb surpassed any guess I would have made in her latest book, Concealed in Death.
        First, the parameters of a day need to be set: From morning until bedtime or 24 hours?
From mid-morning when the scene of the murders was first discovered until bedtime, the action filled 134 pages. Recounting the entire 24 hours, over 150.
To be clear, I did not take notice of the page count while reading this book. The investigation was moving too quickly. This is a bestselling page-turner after all. But once I finished and realized the entire novel took place in three and a half days, I went back to look at this master storyteller's timeline.
The second bedtime happened on page 248. The second 24 hours ended about page 289—although a case could be made that they ended on page 304 as we are never given exact times.
Bedtime number three occurred on page 366. And the novel ends at dinner time the next day on page 402.
Making this timeline work takes real craftsmanship. Dialogue is a given in a novel, but what keeps readers engaged in this series is attention to details—murder is a messy business—and the constant action: not only visiting crime scenes and the police station as well as tracking down leads, but also seeing the city—lights, pickpockets, car accidents and all—while characters are walking, driving or traveling on public transport. Even when in her office, lead character New York City Homicide Lieutenant Eve Dallas is setting up the murder board, working on and/or slapping her computer, or replaying the crimes in her mind searching for clues.
The author always takes time to ground her work in reality. Her main characters have delicious meals described in detail as well as have sex, sleep, dream, shower, and dress. The plot still moves along as Dallas is usually, but not always discussing the latest case with her billionaire husband, Roarke, at these times.
Because the action is non-stop, I tend to read JD Robb's books in one sitting. Dallas always moves fast when it comes to tracking down killers. She knows her job. This is the 38th novel in JD Robb's In Death series after all. 
Dallas has a supporting cast that makes this possible including her aforementioned husband, her partner, Delia Peabody, the detectives working in her division and other professionals from medical examiners to computer geeks.
For an overview of the In Death series, see my post "Reads for Writers: JD Robb/Nora Roberts" dated October 22, 2012. And yes, I only recommend reading the books in order so you can see the growth in the characters and their relationships which makes this whole series a masterclass. WARNING: Please note these books contain violence and adult themes.
Time flies in JD Robb's books, but in a grounded, high action, well written way.
Can you create a day that takes you 134 to 150 pages to describe?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Supercharge Your Writing!

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

Happy spring!  Finally--the calendar says spring so regardless of what the weather is currently telling us, I'm going to embrace March 20th as the start to a lovely, refreshing, warm and sunny season of spring.

Truthfully, spring is not one of my top two seasons, but I do love all that it stands for--primarily new growth and fresh beginnings, and for me, part of those fresh beginnings means spring cleaning my life, not just my house.

As part of that process, I include freshening up my home, my garden, my recipes, my exercise and health routines, and of course my writing.  As you may recall from my post last week, I'm currently experiencing a very frustrating situation with my computer--more specifically our router.  I never knew that computer viruses could lurk about in this way, but I found out that it's not as uncommon as you would think.  Sigh!  So, while we await our internet company to rectify the situation, I'm focusing on other areas of my writing that I think could use a bit of spring cleaning.

This year, I'm getting back to basics and working on tightening up my content as well as paying better attention to my grammar.  Lucky for me, my colleague at Macmillan Publisher, Mignon Fogarty also known as Grammar Girl, has just the help I'm looking for--a webcast called "Supercharge Your Writing".  In this new series, you will have access to video lessons on tricky writing topics such as:

  • Me, Myself, and I
  • Lay versus Lie
  • How to Use Hyphens
  • Combining Quotation Marks with Other Punctuation
  • And much, much more!

I encourage you to visit Grammar Girl's website to learn more and while you're there, you are sure to enjoy dozens of helpful and interesting columns and podcasts relating to all things grammar and writing.  Now that spring is in the air, it might be the right time for you to think about freshening up your writing skills as well.

Do you have any spring rituals to transfer from one season to the next?   

Monday, March 17, 2014

A Writer's Ring

From Kate's Writing Crate…

        I love to write longhand. I love the way a pen fits in my hand. I even love my writer's callous built up over decades on my middle finger where my pen rests as I scribble down my thoughts.

        As I write, I see pages fill up with words as well as my hand holding a pen moving back and forth. It's a focused and familiar view, but it changed recently thanks to a "big" bang.

        Normally I wear a simple band ring channel set with small, but brilliant, flawless faux sapphires and diamonds on my ring finger. One day, I banged my hand on the corner of a bookcase and my finger began to swell so I removed my ring. The only other finger it felt comfortable on was my thumb. After a few moments, it felt like I had always worn my ring there so I didn't pay any attention to it again until I started to write later that day.

        Suddenly my hand holding a pen was eye catching. Glamorous. Special. Now I love seeing my ring as I write so much that it has reduced my resistance to start writing every day.

I recommend wearing a thumb ring to every writer. I really think I am onto something—and I'm not the only one.

A few weeks after I started wearing my thumb ring, or, as I now call it, my writer's ring, I watched an interview with Elizabeth George, New York Times bestselling author of 18 books in the Inspector Lynley series and Write Away: One Novelist's Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life. I noticed right away she was sporting a shiny gold ring on her thumb. Is it part of her success? I wouldn't have said so a month ago, but now I think it might be.

Join the club. Wear a writer's ring. Having something sparkling on your thumb makes working more enticing!

Does a writer's ring affect your writing?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Writing Around Computer Problems

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

It's Thursday and beside it being French Toast and waffle night in our house, it's also the day I happily post my blog entry for The Writer's Crate.

Though I always have great intentions, sometimes the "powers that be" have other plans for me instead, and this week, that plan was for my computer to have virus issues--again!

To sum it up--ARGHHHHH!

So, on that note--the French Toast and waffles will still happen this evening, but I'm afraid my post for today will be put on the back burner until my computer issues are resolved.

How do you handle interruptions in your writing routine due to computer and other unforeseen issues?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Reads for Writers: Still Writing by Dani Shapiro


From Kate's Writing Crate…

        Writers need support which we don't always get from non-writing family members and friends. They mean well, but it usually comes down to numbers: How many books, articles, etc. have I published? How many people read my blog? How much money do I make? They never ask if I wrote a great sentence today or if I solved a plot point.

        So when non-writers ask about my life, I usually say I'm busy writing articles or editing. Things they can see for themselves when the magazines I work for are delivered. I don't tell them I wrote six pages in my notebook yesterday and three more today that led to idea for a post that took me another four hours to write, rewrite, and polish.

        They're not interested in the details of writing and that's okay. I'm not always interested in their occupations, but as a writer I listen because I never know when a fact or incident may spark an idea.

        Usually writers have at least one writing friend because we need empathetic support. We discuss projects and share tips and ideas to keep ourselves going because writing is hard work.

        For more support, I love to read inspiring books about writing and the writing life. Most recently, I discovered Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life by Dani Shapiro.
Speaking of support, or in this case the lack thereof, Shapiro chose the title Still Writing because people who know her keep asking her if she is still writing despite being the author of seven books, a writer of numerous essays and book reviews, and a writing teacher.
In Still Writing, Shapiro shares fabulous thoughts on the habits of writers, the stages of writing, and the tools needed along with the daily schedule she keeps to reach her writing goals.
She also discusses writers and teachers in her life like Virginia Woolf who make her "feel less isolated in the world. Though we are alone in our rooms, alone with our demons, our inner censors, our teachers remind us we are not alone in the endeavor. We are part of a great tapestry of those who proceded us. And so we must ask ourselves: Are we feeling with our minds? Thinking with our hearts? Making every empathetic leap we can? Are we witness to the world around us? Are we climbing on the shoulders of those who paved the way for us? Are we using every bit of ourselves, living these lives of ours, spending it, spending it all, every single day?" (p. 71)
Yes, writers daily fight their demons and squash their inner censors all while feeling, thinking, empathetically leaping, witnessing, and then, hardest of all, sitting still long enough to write down all we observe in our own voices and styles.
Witnessing life and capturing it creatively on blank pages requires bravery, clarity, and endurance. No easy tasks so we need all the support we can find because we are still writing.
Who do you turn to for support?

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Joy of Letter Writing

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

Ever since I was a little girl I loved to run to the mailbox each day in hopes that I would receive a letter, a greeting card, even a catalog that was specifically addressed to me.  They didn't come often enough, but when there was a special, written letter of some kind it would make me jump up and down for joy (I kid you not!).  

A handwritten note was something exciting back then, because most kids just aren't accustomed to receiving mail, except for birthday and holiday cards.   To be honest, receiving personalized mail in this day and age is also pretty exciting--especially for adults who are used to only receiving bills and junk mail.  

I have always been enamored with sending greeting cards for every occasion under the sun.  I don't stop at birthdays and anniversaries--I love to send cards to friends who might be having a bad day, as well as congratulatory cards to people who have moved to a new house, started a new job or may have mastered a new skill like baking pastry from scratch or housebreaking their new puppy!  If there isn't a card for such a celebration, I grab a blank one and write my thoughts inside of it.

For years I had a pen pal that I met in Colorado when our first child was born, nearly 20 years ago.  For the first ten years after her birth, my new friend and I wrote one another letters at least three times per month.  I can still remember the thrill of heading to the mailbox and finding one of Amy's letters waiting inside for me.  We didn't just write short and sweet ones, either.  Sometimes we each wrote 10-page letters--full of details about everything from staying up all night while our babies were teething and how we would survive the next day operating on less than an hours sleep to our latest successes or flops with new recipes in the kitchen.  The content was important, but what really mattered was the intimate connection we felt from holding crisp pieces of paper in our hands that we had exchanged with one another about  all the happenings in our harried but precious  lives.

And now, over a decade later, snail mail is nearly non-existent.  Sure many of us still exchange greeting cards here and there, but truthfully, if you stop and think about it the days of writing and receiving letters and notes in the mail is practically a thing of the past.  Texting, e-mails, twitter, and other forms of social media have replaced the personalized art of writing to our friends and I fear it might soon be a thing of the past.

Because I've always been a fan of letter writing and exchanging cards and other written sentiments via mail, I did a little research to see how other writers felt about letter writing and I stumbled upon a wonderful article written by Mason Currey called "The Death of Letter-Writing".    Currey is the author of Daily Rituals, How Artists Work and shared some very insightful thoughts on how letter writing and e-mails just cannot be compared.

Here's a paragraph taken from the article that really got me thinking:

Is email really such a different beast? I would argue that it is. I recently compiled a book about artists’ daily rituals, and as part of my research I spoke to several contemporary writers, painters and composers about their working habits. Nearly everyone was wary of the distractive potential of email. The novelist Nicholson Baker, for instance, told me that he tries to avoid checking email too early in the day because “it just does change everything. As soon as you have a couple of emails pending, the day has a different flavor.”

If not careful, handwritten letters could easily become a lost art, that's why I'm challenging myself and you to pick up your favorite pen and pad and get busy writing a letter to someone who you'd like to communicate with.    Take this challenge even one step further and commit to writing letters to personal friends, family members, business acquaintances and even a letter to the editor or two.

Writers don't limit themselves to only writing short stories, articles, and books, they find ways to share their thoughts in as many venues as possible so why not incorporate more letters into your writing regime.  Not only will you satisfy your need to write, but think of how happy you'll make those who will be receiving your notes and letters!   Sounds like a "win win" to me.

When was the last time you wrote a letter?

Monday, March 3, 2014

Fill a Notebook a Month

From Kate's Writing Crate…

        Now is a good time to start filling a notebook a month as recommended by Natalie Goldberg in her book Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. Yes, it's already March 3, but writers need challenges and deadlines so pick up a notebook or a legal pad if that's what you have and GO!

        When I first started doing this, I was excited and nervous, but also committed. I wanted to be a writer and here was an easy writing project.
Yet there were still days I didn't write at all. And there were days that I didn't have any idea what to write about when I did pick up my pen. Sometimes I just started writing 'I have nothing to say' repeatedly until I did--and I always did.
I filled that first notebook in a month and continued filling monthly notebooks for well over a decade. All that practice is why I now write and edit for a living. And I still fill notebooks, but every other month currently.
Writers write if we give ourselves permission, time, and place.

As Goldberg states, "Give yourself permission to write the worst junk." The goal is to fill the notebook with ideas, observations, and thoughts. It's not meant for publication so you can relax and write what you want.

Since you MUST fill a notebook by the end of every month, you are forced to make time to write. Deadlines are a part of every writer's life. Get used to it now.
The place to write is in your notebook, but it's portable so you can have it with you any place you go. There's no excuse not to write in waiting rooms, on public transportation, if you arrive early and/or the person you are meeting is late, in between loads of laundry, during lunch and at breaks. A few minutes here and there add up and so do the pages.
There are many benefits to filling a notebook in a month and continuing to do so for years and even decades:
Practice makes you a better writer. The more notebooks  you fill, the better writer you will become.
Seeing  your stack of filled notebooks grow is proof that you are a writer.
The satisfaction of meeting your monthly goal is a driving force to continue.
You learn to jot things down to capture moments.
You can expand on your observations later—even turning them into poems, essays, short stories, books, plays, songs, and articles.
You learn to pay attention to conversations you overhear so you can improve the dialogue in your work.
You learn to capture details about characters, locations, fashion, cuisine, etc. to ground scenes in your work.
Deadlines are not so fearsome when you meet them on a regular basis.
It is fun to flip through old notebooks for writing ideas—and to see what interested you back in time.
But mostly, filling monthly notebooks keeps you writing no matter what!
        Writers write so start writing now!
How has filling a notebook a month improved your writing?