Posts Tagged ‘writing tools’

Thoughts On the Writing Journal

Well, it’s been about two months since I started my writing journal, and, as I know this is a recommended writing habit among writers, I thought it might help to hear how it’s going.

I’ve talked about it quite a bit lately, but in case you’ve missed it somehow, a writing journal is kind of like a normal journal, except you focus on writing-related things. A lot of people write a couple of pages in them first thing in the morning.

You can plot out bits of story, draw maps, keep track of bits and pieces that were interesting but don’t fit in what you’re currently writing, do backstory, etc.

I will admit to some trepidation about the idea, mostly because it’s on paper.

Story time!

A million years ago, I had a spiral-bound steno notebook that I used to take with me everywhere. I’d plot in it, write segments of stories in it, do worldbuilding, etc. Kind of like a writing journal, except I just kind of worked wherever and it wasn’t a consistent practice.

(Actually I had two. I still have one of them–I think–which is falling apart at this point and is covered with many, many years of Nano stickers.)

I used to keep it by my bed so I could write down dream ideas in it. One night, I had a dream that would eventually be turned into Shards. I woke up, and wrote down everything.

And the notebook went AWOL. I mean, I never saw it again. To this day, I have no idea where it could have gone. I thought we’d find it when we moved, that it would emerge from wherever it’d fallen or whatever, but nope.

It’s been over ten years since that notebook disappeared. I did go ahead and write Shards, obviously, but I’ve always felt that I missed something from the initial idea that would have been really neat.

(Not that I dislike Shards or its world at all! Just that I am aware that what I ended up with from the vague memory of the dream is not what I would have ended up with had I had access to my original notes.)

So the idea of having a notebook where important ideas are stored and which is not backed up elsewhere makes me a little anxious. But, on the other hand, I think much better on paper, and I have almost always plotted and worldbuilt on paper. There is something about drawing and writing things out by hand that gets my creativity flowing.

I will admit I am not using it consistently. I’ll go for a few days at a time then take a few days off, normally to catch up to where I’ve gotten idea-wise. But when I do use it…it’s amazing. Aside from the realization that I have been actively avoiding my main goal for the last five year, it’s just been great for figuring out the next bits on World’s Edge and working through other things.

So I guess I do recommend the practice, with the caveat that any really important things might be worth copying over to a back-up somewhere.

What do you think, squiders? Do you use a writing/creativity journal? What practices do you find work for you?

Getting Left Brain All Over My Right-Brained Activities

Have they disproved the whole right brain/left brain thing? I think they probably have but ANYWAY.

And I apologize again for the spate of writing-related posts lately. I’d like to do more reading/genre/media ones, but it turns out that, while I’m editing, it’s really easy to put together nice, well-thought out posts about high fantasy, or premise versus plot, or why it’s important to make sure your main character is an active character and why people hate inactive main characters (like Bella Swan, or Katniss in Mockingjay). I think it’s because I’m already in an analyzing mode because of editing.

And when I’m in the middle of writing (I’ve got FOUR projects to work on this month–two short stories, my high fantasy trilogy, and my scifi serial), all I can think about is how to explode my thoughts into my word processor in the quickest and most awesome way available. Quite frankly, you’re all lucky we haven’t devolved into alpaca haiku and drawings of plesiosaurs.

(That may yet come.)

ANYWAY CONTENT.

I spent some time this morning tracking down and then modifying a spreadsheet to work for April. So I needed one that kept track of overall word count and also could keep multiple projects going at the same time. (I need to modify it a bit more and add in something to keep track of total word count versus where I should be, and also add in some graphs, because GRAPHS.)

I am lazy and I prefer to track down spreadsheets on the internet and modify them versus making my own.

But the great variety of spreadsheets out there makes me realize that, despite writing being “right brained”, we do a lot of left-brained stuff to keep track of it. I don’t personally use Scrivener or any of the other manuscript organizers out there, but look at them–places to put plot, characters, scenes. Everything all nice and organized. A lot of people I know use spreadsheets, and a lot of people use calendars or timeline programs to keep their chronology straight.

Admittedly, if you don’t do a bit of organization to keep track of things, your manuscript tends to turn into an unmitigated mess, but pretty much every writer I know–and I mean the ones who are actually completing drafts and getting their stuff out there–has their own organization system.

Mine just happens to involve complicated spreadsheets, graphs, drawn calendars, and copious Google docs.

If you’re a writer, Squiders, what left-brained activities do you stuff into your writing process? (Do you have excellent spreadsheets to recommend?)

Writing Communities: Pros and Cons

I can’t help it, Squiders. I love bulleted lists. It is a horrible addiction, and I swear that I am searching for help so that one day, hopefully soon, I can be free of their indented glory.

If you’re a writer and on the internet, you’ve probably come across a writing community. They do tend to be everywhere, from social media such as LinkedIn and Twitter, to individual websites, to special “invite-only” communities where you have to meet some criteria to get in. You could have a different one for every day of the week–or month–if you really wanted.

It’s hard to know which one is right for you, and it’s entirely possible that you could belong to one forever and then realize, over time, that it’s not providing what you need anymore. So, is it worth it?

To the bulleted list!

Pros

  • Other people who understand you and what you’re going through
  • People who can offer advice and are willing to work through issues with you
  • Support system
  • May offer challenges and contests to help you practice and try new things

Cons

  • Can be highly distracting and a time drain
  • Like all organizations, there will probably inevitably be drama
  • May not get the support you need or may be at a different stage than everyone else
  • May find it hard to break into established groups

How do you feel about writing communities, Squiders? Are they essential or a distraction? Any that you’ve found useful over the years?

Submission Tracking and Why You Should Use It

You know how it feels.  You write something, you edit it, you polish it, and finally – FINALLY – it feels like you can let it go, let it out into the world to find its way.

Its horrible, dangerous way, filled with literary agents and editors and critics and…

But I get ahead of myself.

We’re writers.  We’re not necessarily the most organized people on the face of the Earth, but here’s the deal.  If this is something you want to do, if you want to see your name in print and maybe even get paid to put it there, you need to keep track of your submissions.

But Kit, you say, I’ve only got one story out, and I’m only sending it out to three people at a time.  Surely I can keep track of that.

Maybe.  But how do you feel when you’re 25 submissions in and looking for new agents to query?  Have you queried that person before?  What was their response?  Have you queried someone from that same agency before?

This is where tracking comes in handy.  At this moment in time I have one novel, two short stories, and a travel memoir in circulation at various places in the publishing world.  I can tell you where each of those are currently, where they have been, and where I will send them next if the current parties aren’t interested.  Not only does this keep me on top of things, but it gives me a pleasant little tickle of accomplishment as well.  (I admit that may just be because, as an engineer, I like things to be orderly – but I’m betting it works for you too.)

I keep my novel submissions in Excel spreadsheets.  Each line has an agent’s name, their agency and contact information, submission guidelines, any notes I have (such as specialized wants from their blogs), the date I submitted my query to them, the date of their response, and what it was.  (Some also have Partial submission dates and responses, and so forth, according to circumstances.)

But if you’d prefer a more interactive form of tracking, I suggest you use QueryTracker.  (You should be using this website anyway, submission tracking or not, because it’s a wealth of information.)  QueryTracker allows you to see which agents are good fits, talk to other people who have queried them, and determine how long a typical response wait time is, as well as other valuable tools and information.

For short stories, poetry, and things of that general length, I recommend Duotrope.  Duotrope tracks magazines/ezines and anthologies as well as giving you statistics on the percentage of submissions that are rejections/acceptances.  And how do they get said statistics?  By lovely people using their Submission Tracker feature, which is, in itself, very nice.  I use it for all my short stories.  With the Submission Tracker you can note which story you sent where and when, and then there’s a variety of responses you can put in when you receive a reply.  Those responses, in turn, show up as the statistics on a market’s page.

What about you, Squiders?  Any other tracking websites to recommend?  How do you track your submissions?

Using Google Docs as a Writing Tool

Each of us have preferred writing tools – Word, OpenOffice, a good old pen and paper, Write or Die, a typewriter (I love typewriters).  They appeal to different people for different reasons.  I prefer Word, for the most part, because it’s easiest for me to have things on the computer, though sometimes if I’m having writer block issues, they’ll clear up if I handwrite.

I’m here to offer you an additional tool for your writing arsenal – Google Docs.  As long as you have a Google account this is available to you and I have found it to be a huge help in my writing endeavors.

Why?  Let me tell you.

1. It’s on the internet.
This means you can access it from anywhere that has internet access.  I do most of my story outlining and plot rambling on Google Docs because if I have an epiphany, I can go to the closest computer – whether I’m at my mother’s or on vacation or at a coffee shop or the library – log in, write down my thought, and I’m good to go.  Everything stays in one place.  Gone are the days where I have story notes spread across post-it notes and the backs of envelopes where I can never find what I need again.  (Well, almost gone.)

2.  You can share documents.
I, admittedly, use this function a lot because I do collaborative work often.  It works well for that because, again, both of you can access the document from anywhere (and at the same time, if you’d like).  My partner and I use different colors when we’re having a discussion.  But aside from that, it’s an easy way to share your work.   You can share a document with a beta reader and they can add their comments directly on it.  You can get immediate feedback from anywhere.  Or, if you just want someone to look at it, you can make it Read Only.  You can have Google Docs email it as an attachment.

3. It helps with Organization.
I took a screenshot for you.

I have mine organized by the last time they were modified.  There are various other ways you can organize your files – last time you opened them, alphabetically by title, priority, etc.  I like the modification date because I can tell if they’re the most recent version.  (As with anything, I recommend you back things up.)

You can also create collections – you see I have one called “Writing.”  You can make as many collections as you like and put documents in multiple collections.  For example, on the bottom you see “Shards of Broken Wings plotting.”  It’s currently in the Writing collection, but I could make a separate collection called “Shards” and place that document and the two others I have (an outline and a research document) in it, and then I’d have another level of organization.  It allows you to be as anal as you like.

Now, it’s not perfect.  I had one computer that wouldn’t open more than the first page of a document, and I’ve found that sometimes it likes to put extra spaces or carriage returns when it autosaves.  But it’s been invaluable to me otherwise.

Have any writing tools you would recommend?