Tuesday, June 26, 2012

writing: tips from a non-expert

Hey all! I've been away from blogging due to my internet, but it seems I've caught a decent wave of it (keep your fingers crossed).

I wanted to talk about something I do every summer, and have for as long as I can remember. I write. A lot. During the school year, I scribble poems quickly onto the backs of grading sheets and receipts, or I type a section of dialogue into a text message that I send to myself. These furtive writing spurts are all I really have time (or energy) for during the school year. Summer, though, is different. I put on my large pink headphones, block out the world, and write for hours every day.

It's refreshing to finally have time to write; it's as if there's been a flood of words inside me all year that is now able to be released. It's not particularly pretty; frankly, some of this writing is messy and all over the place. That's okay. I don't have pressure to write anything fantastic because I have so much time. I can edit later, there's always time to edit later. Writing is the part that takes up so much energy, and that's why I save it for summer.

I thought I'd do a little tips/guide of what I've been using to do my writing. I definitely don't aim to call myself any kind of expert, but I do write a lot (I wasn't kidding about that "hours a day" thing⎯right now I'm averaging about 4), so that has to count for something, right? If you're like me and get the word urge in summer, here's what I recommend.

1. Scrivener

I'm really cheap. Supremely cheap. I'm actually probably the cheapest person there is (I'm looking at you, Ebenezer Scrooge⎯you don't come close sir!). I hate spending money on things, and generally avoid it at all costs. That said, I paid money for this program. That's how good it is.

If you're a novelist, screenplay writer, or even the short-story sort, you should give this a try. Before, I found it unbelievably frustrating to keep all my notes organized. I wanted to be able to quickly (and easily) access plot notes, setting notes, character maps⎯you name it⎯while writing the main piece. Word didn't cut it. I tried some other writing software, but they just didn't feel right for me. Then I found Scrivener, and I fell in love.

Not only can you keep all your notes together, but you can easily outline and rearrange your writing. It is a God-send to me and my frazzled brain, I swear it. I have folders upon folders of notes, and Scrivener lets me access them in no time⎯and then tuck them out of sight when I'm trying to focus on the writing itself. Some other neat features are its full screen mode (because I am so easily distractible), the color coding features, ability to write synopses and notes on the movable notecards, and the easy export of your writing into a variety of formats. My all-time favorite feature? The statistics. I'm a freak, yeah, but I need to set quotas for myself when writing. Scrivener lets you set a project goal and a session goal. So, if you're aiming towards 50,000 words (nanowrimo is coming up, after all!), you can set your project goal to that and your session goal to, like, 500 or 1,000 words or anything else you'd like. It is so helpful and motivating for me to see the little blue bar move across, telling me that I am getting close to my goals.

Download a free trial to check it out here, and, if you dig it like I do, buy the full one after!

2. Freedom

I've said it many times, but I swear I have some sort of attention issue. God bless me, but I cannot keep away from the Internet; when it's working properly, I will have over 30 tabs open (no exaggeration) and will get sucked into Neopets solitaire an hour after I said I was just going to check the common locations of willow trees. It is a terrible affliction.

Luckily for me, I have Freedom, and you can too! It blocks off the Internet completely for an amount of time you specify. I usually put it for 2 hours at a time. (Brutal, I know). I'm pretty sure the only way you can get Internet back onto your computer before the time is up is by shutting off your computer and restarting it⎯and while I'm distractible and love me some Neopets, my laziness wins and I remain productive. It is seriously the best tool ever. If I ever publish a book, it will be thanks to this beautiful application.

Download Freedom here and watch your productivity skyrocket. You can thank me later. ;)

3. Nook (or other book/eReader of your choice)

"What?" you are probably saying to yourself. How is a book useful whatsoever when writing? Well, let me ask you something. Have you ever written for so long that you start hating everything coming out of your head and begin seeing red spots and are then overcome with an overwhelming sense of doom? (Is that just me?) When I'm stuck in the "this-scene-sucks, I'm-no-good, let-me-find-the-bleach-so-I-can-drink-it" mood, it's important for me to take a quick break before I throw my computer and/or myself out the window. I don't want to completely remove myself from prose/the written word, though, because I have a goal in mind to write and I can't just abandon that.

I find it refreshing (and helpful) to read when I get stuck in writing ruts. I let the prose wash over me. It sounds silly, but it really helps. Try reading aloud or copying sentences from your favorite passages. Get the rhythm of the language, the flow of ideas and syntax, into you. I like using a Nook because I can read parts of many books without having to lug them all around with me. Once you're feeling less suicidal, get back to work. I always find it a lot easier to carry on after I take a break and absorb other people's brilliant writing.

4. Sketchbook

Again, I'm not crazy. It's my belief that a sketchbook is a vital tool for a writer. Even if you're not artistically inclined, there's a lot you can do with one. I like to plot out scenes, drawing diagrams of rising and falling action so that I can get a clear picture of where parts are lagging or are going too quickly. I make maps and blueprints so I know exactly where everything is (I have horrible visual-spatial memory, so I need to make a hard copy). Sketchbooks are also useful for character maps and, yes, drawing scenes or people as you see fit. I certainly have tons of sketches of characters and the worlds they live in.

Sketchbooks are better for me than regular notebooks because they're such a blank slate. I can write all wonky and it doesn't matter. Carry around a small one and take notes about people's actions, clothes, colloquialisms, and mannerisms. These lists are awesome to go back to later when you're searching for ideas. I keep a pocket Moleskine with me so that anytime inspiration hits, I'm ready. 

5. Baby Name Books
yes, I own this.
It's been a joke for years that I'm expecting. I have a ton of baby name books. First of all, I just really enjoy etymology, and names are lumped in with that for me. But apart from that weird personal quirk, baby name books are quite useful. Names tell a lot about a person, but we often meet many people with similar names (especially if we're living in a very homogenous area), and you can't have everyone in your story named "Michael." When I'm in need of the perfect name for a character, I sift through one of my baby name books and take notes. Pick a good one with meanings and history, if you're a name-freak like me. You can also access sites online that are pretty sweet. Plus, when the time comes for a little bundle of joy to interrupt your writing life, you'll be totes-magotes prepared for it.


So there you have it! My little list of tools I dig when writing in the summer. Of course, you definitely need a bomb playlist to help you focus too (I'm currently listening to a lot of Florence and the Machine). I hope you find inspiration if you're looking for it, and put those ideas to good use!

As for pictures, the weather is starting to shape up a bit after days of torrential rain, so I should likely have photos for you all soon! The library has nice, normal Internet (not of the stolen variety), so I'll hop over there sometime and get a real nice post on here. Oh! And Henrik and I are planning to go to Copenhagen for the day on Thursday, so I will likely have some fun pictures from there as well. :) Yay for Scandinavian vacations! Hope you all are enjoying summer. :)


  1. I am also planning to spend all of summer writing. Baby name books have been my salvation since I was about 11!

    Thanks for sharing Freedom. That could help me a lot!



  2. These are some great ideas, dear! Now I need to go try them out! That software looks super neat.


  3. Your blog name is so cute!
    These are great ideas. Love your blog.
    Oh, Just Living the Dream

  4. I'm no writer but these tips seem so helpful - and I love etymology, especially with names.
    Your blog is lovely :) xoxo

  5. Amazing blog!

    Join my handmade cat pouch giveaway :

  6. Scrivener sounds like a Godsend! I have little pieces of paper with a few sentences scribbled on them, notes on my iPhone, bits of writing I've sent as emails to myself, proper saved documents in all different places, notebooks galore...you get my drift. Basically, that sounds like a program I need. It gets a bit intense when I'm trying to find that one sentence that I think would make a bit of writing work and have no idea where I wrote it down :P Thanks so much for sharing, and good luck with all your writing :D Rhi xx

    The Wildest of Dreams

  7. great blog! would you like to follow each other?
    visit mine and tell me i will followed back!


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