Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Well-Appointed Writing Space

To write well, you don't need much equipment. An inexpensive pen or pencil and enough paper to hold whatever you are writing, and you're good. However, the modern writer, if he hopes to publish, needs a little more. Today, I'm going to write a little about my writing space.

I love my writing space. I want to be in here. Loving that space is important, considering how much time I spend in here. I work from home most of the time in my day job, and this is my writing retreat for my creative time. I call my space my Schreibwinkl, or writing nook, and I've set it up to be a kind of refuge, which is not necessarily how we usually think of a work area. But if I'm going to spend a lot of time here, I want it to be comfortable, have what I need, and most importantly. be pleasant enough that I want to spend time in my room.

We all have a different writing space. Some write on the kitchen table, or a small desk in the corner. I'm lucky enough to have a room of my own. It's a small room, about 9x10 feet, which presents some challenges when making the room both functional and welcoming.


A shelf with books and toys can help personalize a room while being functional

No matter how big your space is, personalizing it makes it more comfortable. I need my own space, so making this little room my own is important to me. When I moved into this room, it had basic dark brown carpet and brown 1980s paneling on the walls and fluorescent tube ceiling lights. I lived with that for a while, but I got tired of somebody else's decor, especially since it was dark and dreary. I tore down the paneling (and discovered unfinished drywall with huge gaps behind it. I finished the walls, painted, and replaced the light fixture with bulbs on a dimmer switch. I gave one wall a half-timbered look, as close as I could come to the real thing because I've spent a lot of time in Germany and Austria, and enjoy medieval stuff, and I enjoy the kind of rough, rustic look I created. This summer, I finally pulled the carpet and replaced it with durable vinyl planking that looks like wood. Real wood would have been nicer, but I roll my chair all over the place, so I need something that won't easily scratch. Some people might hate this decorating style, but that's OK. It's me, and it's comfortable. You'll want to do your space your own way.

All of that's great, but this room is for working, and I need it to be a workspace, not just a place where I escape and hide out. For me, that means this is a TV-free room--but with plenty of music, thanks to a sizeable hard drive and decent-enough speakers--and it has plenty of work surfaces.

I have two desks. One is a large corner desk with my personal computer and lots of empty surface space where I can lay out notes or tablets or whatever I need at the moment.


Where the magic happens: the computer where I do much of my writing

The other is an old, small, inexpensive wooden kitchen table, just big enough for the laptop and two monitors I need for my day job.


Most of my day job duties are performed on an old table

And, being me, I also need plenty of technical gadgetry to improve efficiency and help me overcome my natural tendency toward clutter and disorganization. This is where Amazon has been useful.

For example, I have several tablets and other gadgets that I use as part of work and writing life. All of these gadgets need to be plugged in and charged, and that creates a spaghetti of tangled cords that takes up space and does little to add to the comfort of the room. So, I bought a 6-port USB charger that only requires one power outlet but can charge six devices at once.


Organizing cables makes the desk less cluttered

To further reduce the tangle of cords, I bought a pack of ten 7.5" microUSB cables. These cables replace many of my longer cables, and look about as attractive as you can make a cable look. For non-microUSB cables, like the one for my iPad, a simple twist tie helps keep the cable from taking over my desk.

Also, because I always manage to run out of USB ports, I found a monitor stand that has four easy-to-access ports right on the front, and allows me to tuck my keyboard away when I need empty desk space.


My monitor stand helps me free up desk space when I need it, and provides
handy USB ports and a headphone jack

Finally, because this is meant to be a creative space, I have little inspiration things wherever I look. Like my Goats In Trees calendar (hey, we're all inspired by different things) and objects that encourage me to be creative.


I've scattered objects around the room that remind me why I'm here

These are just a few of the things in my Schreibwinkl that help me make it my own and maximize my small space. Everything in the room is meant to facilitate work, make me feel creative, help solve my tendency toward clutter and disorganization, or help me enjoy being in the room. Writing takes a lot of time, and I need a space that is all mine, decorated my way (for better or worse), and makes me prefer to be in here doing what I need to do rather than Out There doing all the other things that compete for my time. Without this personal space that I enjoy, it would be difficult to keep my butt in my chair for the number of hours needed to live the writing life. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Benefits of Writing Groups

It took me a long time to get into a writing group. For too many years, I relied on the feedback of my friends and family who, as much as I love them, know little to nothing about writing and even less about critiquing. For a long time, part of me was scared of what an honest, qualified critique of my writing would bring. But now, I’ve seen that what it does bring is great improvement to my writing as I’m forced to face the hard facts of what I need to fix and what I need to cut, and as I’m motivated to keep going by other people who are in the same boat as me.  

So here’s what I’ve learned about the benefits of a small, consistent writing group:
1. They get used to your style and start catching the mistakes you consistently make.
2.  You get used to their style of critiquing and start to know exactly who to go to for the questions you have and the problems you can’t figure out how to solve in your writing.
3.  They know how many versions of your story you’ve gone through and what the old versions looked like and they can appreciate and celebrate with you the improvements you’ve made as you’ve gone along. 
4. They also celebrate with you when you achieve any level of success in your writing.
5. You can commiserate together over the struggles of writing and talk about how you get past resistance and writer’s block, etc.
6. After a fun meeting with them, you feel energized and excited about writing. It doesn’t feel quite a lonely as it did before. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Trello for Writers: Using Templates in a Project

Trello is as flexible as you need it to be. The way you set up your project really depends on the way you work. In this tutorial, I'll assume that one story or book is one project. I'll also assume that you've set up template cards as shown in a previous tutorial.If you haven't set up template cards, it's no big deal. Those templates make it so you don't have to re-create similar cards for each character, for example, or for each scene.

Create Project

In the previous tutorial, we created a Trello board to hold our templates. Because we want to be able to use those templates in multiple projects, we don't want to use that same board as our project board, so we'll create a new one.

  1. Open Trello.
  2. From your Boards menu or on the Boards screen, click Create New Board.
  3. Name the board. For this example, I'm calling the board for my project "Jack and Jill."
Create Lists


A story consists of several elements. For my Jack and Jill story planning, I want to create lists called Characters, Settings, and Scenes. Eventually I'll create another list to track submissions, but let's not get ahead of our selves.

On your new project Trello board, create a list called Characters. Conveniently, there's already a box to help you create your first list. Just type "Characters" and click Save. A new box automatically pops up for the next list, so call it "Settings," then do this one more time for Scenes."



Copy Templates to Project

The next thing we need to do is copy cards from our Templates board to our project board.

From the Boards menu, pick your Templates board. Next, click your Character template card, then click Copy.



Change the Title field to your character's name. Then, in the Board field, select your story project, and select the Characters list. Then click Create Card. This creates the card based on the template and puts in the right place. If you switch back to your project board, you'ss see the character card you just created in your Characters list.

Repeat this for each template you want to copy. Remember to set the name, board and list for each card. But if you forget, it's no problem. You can easily change all of that stuff later.

Edit Cards

Once the cards are where you want them,you can edit them.

For example, my Character card includes a comment with some basic info about thecaracter. In the template, I just have headings for the info, but I can go into the card and add the details now that it is is in my project.


Next Steps

That's most of the basics for creating your project and starting to plan your story. Next we'll go into some deeper information, like using Trello to manage actual writing.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

How to Get Motivated to Edit

At LDStorymakers this last May, my favorite workshop I attended was by the woman who actually put on the conference this year—Melanie Jacobsen. She talked all about how she makes herself be productive in her writing no matter how busy she is. It was really great and practical, and I came away ready to apply everything she said.
I didn’t. Part of my problem is I’m not actually in the writing stage I’m in the editing stage. I found myself wanting a follow-up class about how I can make sure I am productive in editing/rewriting, which in some ways is a whole different beast than writing your first draft.
Here are the ways I’ve applied some of her advice and also figured out my own:
1.       Have and update your outline. I’m a total pantser. All the way, 100%. But, even the most hard-core pantser needs to create an outline as they are writing the rough draft, and then update that as you edit. Otherwise you get soooo lost. And have no idea what’s going on. And your story will make no sense. Basically, organization has to kick in at some point. It’s still flexible. You can still change things whenever you want. You just need some way to keep track of what you’re doing and what needs to be fixed as you edit.
2.       Schedule time to write. This is basic, but I keep forgetting it all the time. I think I’ll just want to write, it will just happen magically because I’ll feel so inspired. But most of the time, I have to schedule it and I have to make an annoying reminder to beep at me in my phone over and over before I’ll actually get myself to write/edit consistently. Because it is a thousand times easier to write today when you’ve already written yesterday. Momentum is a big deal. Plus, I’m so Type A that I’m obsessed with checking things off my list—so if I put writing on my list every single day, I’m more likely to do it so I can check it off. And then I feel so good and productive that I want to do it again tomorrow. It works.  
3.       Write a blurb of what you’re going to write tomorrow. This is the one thing from Melanie’s presentation that I’ve actually been applying. It’s so helpful. Everyday once I’m done writing, I write a paragraph or so about what I’m going to write about tomorrow. Sometimes dialogue starts coming to me and I write it down. Sometimes I end up writing a whole page. Whatever, that’s great. That means I’ve already got the inspiration going for the next day without putting the pressure on myself for it to be “perfect” like I do when I sit down and write for real. If I’m not totally rewriting a scene but just editing it a little, I write down exactly what I need to go through and edit for. Then the next day I know exactly what I’m doing and how I’m doing it, and that makes it easier to start—especially since sometimes rewriting something can seem more overwhelming that writing it in the first place.
4.       Stop worrying about it being perfect. This relates to a point I just brought up in the last one. When you’re on your third or fourth or tenth draft, but you’re writing a whole new scene that you’re adding in or basically completely redoing a scene that was there before, you’re basically back in rough draft land for that scene and that can be frustrating. Because you’ve already gone over this thing how many times now? But it’s OK. It still doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s never going to be perfect. It just needs to be written and then you can look at it later and then show it to your critique group and clean it up. For the millionth time. I used to think that just writing a novel took patience. I’ve realized that’s nothing compared to the patience it takes to edit a novel. And I’m not even close to done. Sigh. Patience.
And all those things have helped me to be much more productive lately, which is great.


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Trello for Writers, Part 2: Templates

If you use Trello to manage your writing projects, you might find it useful to create cards that you can use for multiple cards.

STEP 1: Create a "Templates" Board


Let's start by creating a Trello board where you can keep the cards you want to reuse. Open up Trello and click Create new board. Give the new board a title, such as "Templates," and click Create.

That's it. That was easy enough, right? You now have an empty board, waiting for your cards.

STEP 2: Create a List

Now that your board is ready, it's just sitting there empty. An empty bulletin board isn't particularly useful unless you pin something to it, and the same is true of your Trello board. Unlike the blank slate of a bulletin board, though, Trello expects you organize your cards in lists. The kinds of lists you create on your template board depend on the types of templates you want to keep there. For this demo, let's keep it simple. You can always take what you learn and get fancy later. Let's create a single list.

That's easy enough. Turns out, your board is not exactly empty. Turns out there's a box waiting for you, where you can type a name for your first list. Let's call it "Novel Cards."


Click Save (or just hit Enter) and you'll have a list, ready for your cards.

Step 3: Create Cards


Your cards can be anything you want, but because we're keeping it simple for this demo, let's go with something high level, like the following:


  • Character
  • Scene
  • Setting
  • Submission
In your new list, click Add a card, then type the name of the card, "Character," Hit Enter, and type "Scene. Continue this process until you've created all four cards.


Step 4: Add Details

The point of these cards is to contain information that you want to reuse, so we'll need to add some details. Think about the details carefully, so you add what you want and don't have to go back and make changes.

Click one of the cards, and create a comment with the outline of the details you want. Remember, that hitting enter will save the current comment and create a new one. This is good if you want each characteristic to be its own comment, where you can add more details. If you prefer a lighter card, press Ctrl+Enter to move down a line in the current comment.

For example, for the Character card, you might want details like name, age, birthday, best friend, address, appearance characteristics, personally traits, and so on. What you include and the amount of detail depends on your preferences. Click outside the card to close it, then click on the next card.

For scene, you might want a name, summary, goal, characters present, conflict, resolution, and maybe a sequel if you write using the scene and sequel method. 

Do this for each or your cards, adding the types of information you are likely to want in each project. Once you copy the card to a project (we'll do that in another lesson) you can always edit the card to add any project-specific info that you don't necessarily need in a template, such as whether your character is on Team Zombie or Team Pirate.

Next Steps

As you can see, Trello is flexible enough to adapt to your style and preferences. 

After you've created your templates, we'll copy the template cards into a project and look at how to use them to plan your story. 



Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Trello for Writers

Lately, I've been using Trello a lot at work to track tasks and projects. As often happens when I'm using cool software, I automatically consider how it can be used to improve my writing process. Turns out that with a little creativity, Trello can easily be adapted to be anything you want.

I guess I should start at the beginning. What is Trello? Trello is a task management system, which is a fancy way of saying it's a way to manage your To Do list.

Trello is set up like a bulletin board where you pin cards with each task into a list. Typically, you might have three lists: To Do, Doing, and Done. When you start working on one of your To Dos, you move it to Doing, and when it's completed, you move it to Done.



Of course, the cool thing about cards on a bulletin board is you can make the cards whatever you want them to be, and you can arrange them however you want. That means the ways you can use it are limited only by your imagination.

Trello is very easy to use, but there are some tricks and tips that add extra power, which you can use to improve your writing processes. If it were just about making cards and moving them around on a board, this would be a short post.

In this series of posts, we'll look at ways to use Trello to manage a writing project. We'll use it as a kind of sketching tool to map out our plot, start developing characters, and build our fictional world. I'll also show you how you can use Trello as a way to organize your actual written documents, and to collaborate with others, whether it's a co-writer or your crit partners. And once you have everything written, you can, of course, use Trello to track submissions.

The first thing, of course, is getting it for yourself. That's the easy part. Go to trello.com and sign up. Trello is a web app, so you can use it anywhere you have an Internet connection. In addition to the web app, you can get free apps for iOS and Android. The mobile apps let you do almost everything you can do on the web, except for a number of customization options and some advanced management. You'll probably want to use both the web and the mobile apps.

Trello is completely free. You can create an unlimited number of boards and cards without paying a cent. There are a couple of paid versions, but you probably don't need them. The paid versions give you a few extra features, like emojis you can use as stickers on your cards and the ability to create more personalized backgrounds for your boards. The one bit of functionality that is nice in the paid version is that you can attach bigger files to your cards--the free version limits you to attachments that are 10MB or less--but unless you work with very large files, this really won't make much difference to you. Everything I will show in this series will take advantage of the standard functionality in the free version.

I recommend that you download Trello and get familiar with the basic functionality. Create a test board and some cards and lists. We'll start digging into the details in the next post.

But for now, I've finished this post, so I can move my Intro card to the Done list. Moving a card to Done always feels like a reward!



Saturday, May 23, 2015

Character Arc, part 2: the Lie, the Want, the Need

In a previous post, character arc was discussed. According to KM Weiland, gaining an understanding of how to write character arcs is a game-changing moment in any author’s pursuit of the craft. Weiland is the creator of the Helping Writers Become Authors blog, a deep well of information on the multiple aspects of the writing craft.

Weiland devotes over a dozen articles to character arcs, linked here. A story should begin with The Lie Your Character Believes. This lie is the foundation for the MC’s character arc. It’s his “normal” and is what is wrong in his life. Everything may be grand for the MC (or not), but festering just under the surface is The Lie.

People hate change. We hang out safe in our comfort zones and our characters are no different. They resist change just as we do. Weiland says that is okay because out of resistance comes conflict, and out of conflict comes plot. Plot is more than just a protagonist working toward an external goal. It’s about the MC’s inner goal, the thing he can’t get all because of The Lie.

A protagonist should start the story with something lacking, some way he is incomplete internally. He probably doesn’t realize it, or at best, has a vague understanding of it. He may not be affected by it or in denial of it until the inciting incident. Weiland compares it to a tooth cavity, shiny on the outside but decayed just below the surface. A writer should introduce The Lie early and show how the MC is deeply established in it through his “normal” world. In A Christmas Carol, Dickens sets Ebenezer Scrooge’s normal as one of work, work, work. There is no time for Christmas and other such folly. The poor and destitute have only themselves to blame and will get no help from him. This establishes his Lie: that a man’s worth is only measured by money. 

The next leg of the character arc is what Weiland calls What the Character Wants/What the Character Needs. It is related to The Lie.

Every plot line features a protagonist striving for a goal, something external. When creating character arcs there needs to be two, the surface goal and something that matters to the character on a deeper level. The Lie is at the heart of the secondary goal. The Thing Scrooge Wants - money and lots of it - bolsters his Lie of personal worth is measured by wealth.

At the story’s beginning, the MC doesn’t realize he has a problem. He believes chasing the Thing he Wants will bring fulfillment. Yet, pursuing it only entangles him deeper in his Lie. He can only find contentment in seeking the Thing he Needs. What he needs is the truth.

Your main character will spend the story unknowingly seeking the Thing he Needs, while in pursuit of the Thing he Wants. What he Needs is usually not physical. Often What he Needs is merely a realization, a new perspective that will change the way he views himself. He Needs the truth. Without it, he will not grow. He’ll either stagnate in the negative beliefs that’s holding him back, or he’ll digress even further. Ebenezer Scrooge Needs to see that true wealth comes not from money, but from a connection with his fellow human beings.

Characters are complex little creatures. They’ll lie to themselves, wish for things they think they need, and ignore the things they need.


(This article also posted at http://writetimeluck.blogspot.com)