Friday, June 27, 2014

Break It

Naturally the UCW has been all agog over WIFYR. And sadly, I was not able to attend this year (sigh). But it got me thinking about all of the inspiration I've received from writing groups and conferences over the years. One speech given last year at WIFYR by Stephen Fraser, a literary agent from Jennifer De Chiara Lit Agency, has really stuck with me.

What he essentially talked about was the importance of following your inner compass.

At many conferences and at many writing classes, the fear for most not-yet-published writers is to look like an unpublished writer. To look like an amateur. So a zillion classes are given about what the "rules" of publishing are: exactly how long each genre should be, exactly how it should be written, exactly what most publishers are looking for ....

I don't know about you, but I always bristle at these boxes and labels and rules. My hand is the one that shoots up every time with the every annoying "But why?" (Yep, I'm still that kid in class.) Why do books with beautiful illustrations have to be for three-year-olds? Why do characters in middle grade books have to use pop-culture vernacular? Why can't a picture book have 1500 words? Why ...? Why ...? Why ...?

There are many reasons to follow many of the rules. But the answer usually given to me is always the least satisfying: Because publishers know that X sells because that is what has sold.

But Fraser pointed out the importance of being the first. You never know if your version of breaking the rules could be the one that starts a new trend.

Who knew sparkly vampires would be irresistible until it was done? Who thought that mixing fairy tale archetypes into a hodgepodge world based on Greek mythology and Joseph Campbell-like folklore would capture the fascination of young readers in today's pop culture ... until it was done? Who knew that rewriting classics using monsters would be a "thing"? Who said Death could be a popular narrator?

And this viewpoint came from a well-known literary agent who had previously worked at such publishing houses as HarperCollins, Scholastic, and Simon & Schuster. In other words, a guy who is looking to publish rule-breakers. There are those in the publishing industry that can think outside of the highly organized, very rigid box of publishing.

And they are looking for writers like you and me.

This fact has probably given me more strength and determination to keep writing than any I've received.

So break it. The rule. The narrative arc. The law. The genre. The stylebook. The mold. The norm.

Take that idea of yours that just doesn't fit and run with it.

Write it from your soul. Be the one to do what hasn't yet been done.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Guest post: Sharon Mayhew on her writing process

Scott's note: I'm happy to introduce Sharon Mayhew. Sharon commented on one of the posts in my Mobile Author series about her not-particularly mobile writing method, which spawned a couple of requests for more information. I'm happy that she agreed to write a guest post showing her process in detail. And so, without further ado, here is a highly instructive post about one writer's process. I hope you find it as helpful and interesting as I do.

When Scott invited me to share my organizational system for writing, I was thrilled. I've been writing and blogging since 2007. I occasionally blog about writing, but usually my posts are about life, books and other writers. There are so many blogs doing a terrific job on the craft of writing that I thought I would stick to other things.

Some people say they are plotters and some say they are pantsers, to be honest I'm not sure what I am. Maybe you guys can tell me once you see my writing process.

For the historical fiction MG novel I just completed (well, until I hear otherwise), I started by listening to my grandparents tell about their experiences during WWII. I started taking notes and telling them why I was jotting down their memories. I took lots of notes and am so grateful they were willing to share what was a difficult time in their lives with me.

I also wrote letters and got letters back from other family members who lived during this time period.

Then I typed up notes and potential scenes to use in my manuscripts.

I read a lot, both fiction and non-fiction. Some books were for children and some were not, most notably I read selections from Winston Churchill's THE SECOND WORLD WAR series. (I have to quote him here, as his words were and are such an inspiration to me.) ~Never, never, never give up~ I realize he was talking about the war and the spirits of the people in England, but for me it took on a whole different meaning. Sharing my families and friends stories is something I have to do and I won't give up until it is published. It was my honor to fictionalize moments in their lives.

I visited museums and took lots of pictures, then organized them into envelopes, so when I started writing I could pull out photos for those scenes.

One museum I visited had replicas of government brochures, posters, and letters available for purchase. These items were extremely helpful for finding details about daily living. I also visited antique shops and purchased bits and pieces to inspire me. My grandfather gave me some documents from the war, too.

Then I organized all the research and books into files based on locations that they applied to.

I printed of a variety of different maps of England. I even found one that showed the railroad system during the war.

To my surprise, one of my blog friends, Gary at Klahanie Blog, told me he was from the village in England I was writing about. He sent me photographs, which was spectacular, as I hadn't been to Leek since I was a child.

Once I finished with my initial research, I organized and typed up my notes. Then I wrote them on index cards. It may seem redundant to write notes, type notes and then write them again, but each time I did this I was ingraining the research into my brain.

I kept a list of words and phrases that I liked and were appropriate for the time period. I mounted them on poster boards and then hung them up on bulletin boards in my office.

By now I kind of know where the scenes are going to take place in my story, so I mount the scene cards on poster board and then mount what could potentially happen in each location. I try to use the senses as much as possible in each scene. (ex: the sounds, the smells, how things feel and taste) 

Most of the poster boards  were hanging on the bulletin boards in my office, so I could glance up from my desk and review them as I was writing and thinking. I also used an easel for the scene I was currently working on close to me.

I didn't use all of my research notes in this manuscript, but I left the manuscript open ended so if I do have the opportunity to write a sequel I already have some starting spots.

I'm sure there are much better ways of organizing your research and thoughts, but this worked for me. I think you have to find what method works for you...

Thanks for letting me share my process with you guys. If you are interested in reading my blog it's called SK Mayhew, Kidlit Writer. I'm @SharonKMayhew on Twitter.

So, what do you think? Am I a plotter or a pantser? 

What are you?

Saturday, June 21, 2014


All work and no play makes Jack (or Jill) a dull boy (or girl). It probably makes for uninspiring writing, as well. 

WIFYR was, again, amazing. 

Ann Cannon is a great instructor, my classmates are serious writers. Carol Williams puts on this annual event and runs it to perfection.

It kicked my butt.

Thus, I’m going on holiday. I’m going away and am not taking my laptop, will do no writing at all. Not even for this blog for the next two Saturdays.

(This article also posted at

Friday, June 20, 2014

How Marriage is Like Writing

 This week I’m a little caught up in a very important milestone—my 30th wedding anniversary. First of all, I can’t believe I’m that old. And second, I’m pretty proud to have made it this far, seeing as how lots of my friends have been divorced. So even though I want to focus on writing, I’m distracted by this momentous occasion. So I thought, why not combine the two?

I've compared writing to gardening, parenting, and a host of other long-term occupations. Marriage has many similarities, as well.

Like, it’s hard. That’s kind of cheating; everything really worth doing is hard. But I think a lot of people enter into marriage in that deliriously happy stage of love where everything is sunshine and roses and they can never imagine how hard it will be at times. It’s all so easy in those new love moments. Writing is the same. I know hundreds of folks who think writing is the easiest thing in all the world. I mean, everyone does it, right? Facebook, twitter, everywhere you look, people are writing. Which is great. But they aren’t really writing that well, nor are they writing with a book length manuscript in mind. Nor do they have to revise (although sometimes they really should) or work with an editor or make sure their characters are consistent. Writing is just as hard as any other work, more so than some. No one would say playing the violin in the New York Philharmonic is so easy anyone could do it. Really good writers work equally hard on our craft as professional musicians or professionals of any kind. Because it’s hard.

Successful marriages don’t just happen. They are in need of constant attention and dedication. Same for writing (and any artistic form). You have to practice it, do it consistently, pay attention to it, and work on it. You don’t sit down, write one draft, and call it good. Just as you don’t recite your vows, buy a house, and that’s it. You have to think about it all the time. I’m constantly writing in my head, even when I’m not at the computer or with a pen in hand. I’m always asking my characters how they would react to a certain situation. I’m communicating with my work. Just as I communicate with my husband all the time about various things big and little in our lives.

Marriage is a partnership, and sometimes others are needed to help the marriage thrive: counselors, friends, family. Writing is a collaborative process, in the end. Sure, we all sit at our desks and write as solitary beings. But to bring that work to the world requires the help of critique friends, editors, agents, production staff, sales staff, etc. It may feel like a lone wolf profession, but even self-publishing authors should seek the help and support of all those people in order to produce the best work possible.

Delayed gratification is a hallmark of both a successful marriage and a successful writing life. Or, as the Rolling Stones sing, “You can’t always get what you want.” You know what I’m talking about. There’s rejection, over and over again. Even when your work is acquired, there are often years of work still ahead before it hits the shelves. Marriage works the same way. It’s not a finished product, ever.  It’s always in a state of revision or work in progress. You don’t just get married and have the white picket fence dream at once. Sometimes you live in your parents’ basement until you can afford a house. Or sometimes you put off having children until you are done with graduate school. Or sometimes you never get the “dream house” you have always wanted. Sometimes you drive a broken down car instead of a new one in order to send your kids to college. Life is full of delayed gratification in order to achieve a goal or a dream. I wish more writers understood this. New writers, myself included all those many years ago, are so eager and anxious to get published that they send work out that isn't even near ready for publication. Delay that gratification and work on the writing. The rewards are great in the end.

In marriage, as in writing, it is totally acceptable to celebrate every small step toward success. Our first anniversary, we celebrated enormously. One whole year. Wow! The first time I got paid to write, I was so happy. Yes, celebrate each milestone, knowing that many more will come your way if you keep working hard, putting in the time and energy, focusing on growth and renewal, and waiting for the right time to move ahead. 

by Neysa CM Jensen
(in Boise, Idaho)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Mobile Author, Part Seven: Managing Your Writing Life

Today,  I'll end the series with some tips for using your mobile office to help you manage your writing life. These ideas can help you work better so you can achieve your writing goals.

Make It a Habit

One common problem for those of us who try to work writing in with our busy lives is making the time to write. Unfortunately, nobody has made an app yet that adds a couple hours to the day or makes our day jobs go away or extends the kids' nap time. However, there is a class of apps that enforces good habits and helps to break bad habits. These can be used to remind us to write, and to check our progress against our goals.

Apps like HabitBull (Android, free) and Way of Life (iOS, free for three habits, $3.99 for more) let you set goals. These apps can be configured with whatever parameters you want. Use them to cut down your soda intake, or to spend more time doing something you love, like writing. For example, if you want to write three days a week, you can set a habit reminder that asks you every day if you have written. You wouldn't want to disappoint your tablet, right?

 The Habit Editor in HabitBull

In addition to yes/no goals like whether you wrote today, you can set number-based goals. Want to write 1,000 words a day? Set that up as a habit, then set a reminder each night that asks you how many words you wrote. 

Each habit app is a little different, so look for one that will suit your goals. 

Keeping Focused

To meet your goals, you need to stay focused.

One simple use for your tablet or, especially, your phone, whether you're mobile or stuck at the office is a timer. A timer can you keep you focused. Make a goal to write for a solid hour without checking Facebook or email or grabbing another root beer float at your favorite cafe, then set a timer and don't stop writing until it goes off.

There are tons of timer apps, and they all do what a timer does, so really it probably doesn't matter which one you use. Two I like on Android are Timers4Me+ and Timely Alarm Clock. Both support multiple timers, alarms, and include a stopwatch. Again, I'm not sure what to recommend for your iPad or iPhone, but it really doesn't matter much. A timer is a timer. You can make it pretty, give it fancy options, or whatever, but in the end, it keeps track of time and lets you know when time is up.

Track Your Progress

Anybody who has learned about goal-setting has learned that an important part of meeting your objectives is to make your goals measurable. The apps I've mentioned so far will help you do that. But another way to measure your goals is to track your progress.

The Writeometer app for Android helps you meet your goals. It includes a timer and a writing log, and gives you rewards (guavas) if you meet your goals. For every writing project, you can set your total word count goal and your daily writing goal, and you can set a deadline date. Then, you can set reminders to kick you in the pants. By gamifying your goal tracking, Writeometer keeps you more engaged, and helps you feel good when you accomplish what you set out to do.

Writeometer log

If your goals are fairly basic, such as writing 50,000 words in November, you might like an app like NaNoProgress, also for Android. The concept is simple: enter your wordcount for each session and the app displays a bar showing your progress toward 50,000 words.

Those apps are great for Android users, but what about authors who use an iPad or iPhone? They have options as well, such as Word Tracker. I didn't find anything quite as fancy or fun as Writometer, but all you need, really, is a place to enter your goals and measure your progress.

 Keep a Journal

Finally, many Utah writers come from a background where keeping a journal is encouraged. A writing journal (see "The Writer's Journal," a post on this blog from way back in 2009), helps you be accountable to yourself, and helps you vent those natural writing insecurities so they don't build up inside you. You can track your objectives, note ideas and problems that need to be fixed, and remind yourself where your next session is supposed to start. 

Writeometer includes simple journaling functionality, and the app stores include tons of journal apps. You can use one of those, or you can use the note apps or writing apps we've already talked about in this series. You don't need anything fancy. The only thing you need is something you like writing in so you are motivated to keep your journal.

And So...

There you have it, pretty much everything you need for the well-equipped mobile office. By choosing the approach that works best for you at each step of the writing process, you can easily break the chains of a desk and write wherever inspiration hits you best. Or, if you still do most of your writing in your office (I call my home office my Schreibwinkel), you have everything you need if an idea strikes while you are on the road. Your writing comes from your own brilliant mind, so doesn't it just make sense to have your office wherever that mind of yours happens to be? Even if you prefer the routine of writing in the same place every day, sometimes the best cure for writer's block is a simple change of scenery. If your computer screen becomes the intimidating monster that sucks your creative juices, get away from it for a while.

I hope you have enjoyed this series, and that it helps you to be more productive. The key to writing, it is said, is putting your butt in the chair. But nobody says it always has to be the same chair in the same place. It's 2014. You don't have to lash yourself to a desk anymore. Enjoy your freedom and let the words flow wherever they come to you.

Saturday, June 14, 2014


WIFYR season is upon us and there are 150 or so hopeful writers who are getting giddy about it. We’ve been waiting all year and now it is on our doorstep.

Critique is the main focus of the morning workshops. It is a critical process that every writer and every story needs. We authors get so close, too close, to our work we can’t see it objectively, the way others not as vested can. New eyes can provide a fresh look and clarity where we are unable. The story may be clear in our heads, but we need unbiased evaluations when it is not coherent in the mind of others.

Finding the ideal writer’s group can help you get the most out of a critique. I’ve been in a few, some that have worked and some that have not. Success may depend on organization of the group - convenient meeting times, driving distance, etc. I had a great writer’s group, but the drive from Salt Lake to Ogden was long and tedious and our meeting times were not ideal for me. The key ingredient in the success of a group comes down to the people. My new group is ideal. The logistics are fine, but mostly we’re a good fit, we mesh well together.

Critiquing at WIFYR is unique in that you are thrown in with a hodgepodge of people, most of whom you’ve never met before. Some are strong writers, others are still finding their way. Of course, we seek to improve our own stories, but through the appraisal of others, we enrich our own understanding. Our purpose is altruistic, we’re there to help each other out. Yet, we become better writers ourselves as we pull each other along. You’re only with your WIFYR new best friends for a week, but an intensive five days it is. 

I’ve read their incredible stories. I can’t wait to meet them. 

(This article also posted at

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The World Cup Post

Brazil 2014 starts today, and I admit, I'm happier than a kid on Christmas morning or my middle schooler on the last day of school. In my house, we breathe, eat, drink, and dream futbol (I detest the word soccer, sorry). This is the one time my two passions merge. Books and sports are beautiful. Sports inspire my writing, and writing has always been the medium through which I express myself, like a sport. It's no wonder my first "real" novel had a futbol soccer star love interest, and this one I'm working on is about an Irish dancer. Some say dance is an art, others that dancers are God's athletes. I tell you, my Irish dancers practice up to eight hours a day during the summer. They're athletes in every sense of the word.

If you're new to the World Cup but want to know more about it, this short clip explains how it works.

And here's a link that will tell you all the schedules, TV listing, etc.

Now back to books. Alex Morgan, the US Women's National Team super star and my daughters' heroine, has a series out. It's cute and fun and it's about girls being strong and wonderful!

There's also Hope Solo's bio for young readers.  

There's even a Magic Tree House: Soccer on Sunday.

Do you know of any books I can add to this small list? Name them in the comments! I hope you have a wonderful World Cup month, whatever you do!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Mobile Author, Part Six: Submitting

So far in this series about going mobile, we've seen how to set up your mobile office so you have everything you need wherever you are, how to use your mobile devices to organize your projects, plan them, and write them. But once you've written your work, it's time to submit. So, today I'm going to discuss how you can use your tablets and phones to track your submissions.

There are online submission trackers, such as The Writer's Database and Duotrope. They work well, but they are set up using somebody else's system. You are a mobile author. You are free. You can do what you want, where you want. So why would you want to use somebody else's system when you can create a system that works the way you like, and keep it in your pocket, purse, or backpack?

I'm going to suggest three options for doing it your way. You might have something else that works for you. Whichever approach you choose, the important thing is that you have it with you wherever you decide to work today.


The word spreadsheet causes fear and trepidation among my fellow office workers everywhere. But a spreadsheet does not have to be feared. Turns out, spreadsheets are actually a pretty good way to keep track of stuff. I use one to track my own submissions.

My submissions spreadsheet for each project is pretty simple. I have columns for the agent's name, the agency, the agency's website, contact info (the address or email address I used to submit), the date I submitted, the date I heard back, the date I (fingers crossed!) sent the partial or full, the date I heard back again, and a column for notes or comments. That's it. As I submit, I enter all of that info in the next available row.

Several rows below the submission records, I have a list of agents I might submit to in the future, with all of the info but the submission and reply dates. When it's time from the next round of submissions, if I don't already have somebody in mind, I draw from that list. If you like to sort your spreadsheet by different columns, you might prefer to keep your list of potential submissions on a separate page.

This is easy to do from your mobile office. You can use either a Google Spreadsheet or use the spreadsheet function of your mobile office suite. Google Spreadsheet was made even more viable on April 30 with the release of the Google Sheets app, which eliminates the requirement to be online. I highly recommend Google Docs for this task, but either option works.

Bulletin Board

Spreadsheets work great for tracking submissions, but they are not exactly a delight to use. You might prefer a more visual approach. For that, I recommend Trello, which I've mentioned before. Trello gives you a visual bulletin board where you can easily see the state of your submissions.

Dragging an agent record from "To Submit" to "Submitted" in Trello

I haven't used Trello to track submissions, but if I did, it would be pretty simple. I'd create a card for each agent I wanted to submit to. I'd sort the cards in stacks called something like To Submit, Submitted, Rejected, Requests, and Accepted. I could track multiple projects on one board by color-coding each story. That approach would give me a quick view of what's going on with my submissions. It might be a little harder to see whether I'd already submitted to a particular agent than a spreadsheet would, so I'd have to pay attention to that.

The card approach has advantages over the spreadsheet besides being visual. You could put all kinds of info on the cards, like snippets from websites or interviews you want to use to personalize your queries, or copies of the responses you receive. Bulletin boards are very free-form, so you can pretty much do whatever works for you.


If spreadsheet is a scary word, database might trigger a full-on panic attack. But it doesn't have to. A database is a good way to organize stuff, and once you set it up, can work very well. A database record is really just an index card or Rolodex card with the info you need to keep track of, except that your pile of cards is sortable by any piece of info.

The difficult part is setting up the database, but it's not that hard. If you are an uber-organizer, you might not find a better approach.

Android users who are into this kind of fancy-pants thing might try the free Memento Database app to set up a database. iPad users apparently don't have access to Memento, but they have other options. I didn't notice any obvious free choices in the App Store, but there are plenty of database apps.

Next Step

So far, this series has shown how to set up and organize your mobile office, and how to manage your writing project from the planning stages through submission. Next week, we will discuss some apps that will help you manage your writing life.

The Mobile Author, Part Seven: Managing Your Writing Life

Saturday, June 7, 2014

All the pieces

Writer’s should read and perhaps the most compelling reason is that reading good writing reminds us of what we aspire to. 

There are a few authors whom I want to write like. On is Matt Kirby after reading Icefall.  Gary Schmidt’s Doug character pulled me into Okay For Now. MG author Tom Angleberger impressed me the way he saved the final resolution of The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda until the last page. And John Green is John Green. Who wouldn’t want to write like him? 

Add to that list Carol Lynch Williams.

Carol is an amazing writer. I just finished The Chosen One for the second time and once again was blown away. Ann Cannon has assigned reading The Chosen One as part of our WIFYR workshop. I checked it out online through Overdrive and received both the audio version and an epub format.

There are number of elements key to a good book. These include compelling characters, dramatic events, believable settings, and a strong writers’s voice. Carol not only applies them, but squeezes the most from each. 

She draws you in immediately with her first line, “If I was going to kill the prophet,” I say, not even keeping my voice low, “I’d do it in Africa.” Thus begins the story of a 13-year old polygamous girl chosen to marry her 60-year old uncle. 

Most of us Utahans may have encountered polygamists on the street and peered curiously at them. Carol takes us inside an isolated polygamous community where we accept as normal the three wives of Kyra’s father. Carol enriches her setting with scorching heat, red desert dust, and Russian olive trees.

The Chosen One is character driven and Kyra is a compelling MC. She unquestioningly accepts the lifestyle yet does not fit the mold they have cast for her. Books have been banned as the devil’s words, yet she has a yearning to read. Kyra has an interest in a boy and wants to choose him to marry rather that have the prophet dictate who her husband is to be. 

Besides her incredible voice, a technique Carol employees masterfully, is the way she raises the stakes for Kyra. This poor girl not only must deal with her sins against the rules of the community and the approaching marriage to the uncle she despises, but faces other traumas. Carol perpetually ratchets the tension until resolving the story nicely.

Carol’s an amazing writer. She also puts on a great writing conference, coming up later this month. (Classes still open, more info here.)

(This article also posted at

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Life Cycle of a Book

When writers get together, sometimes we talk about which we like better: first drafts or revisions. It seems that most of us like revising more, and there are many good reasons for this. I personally have a "grass is always greener" response: I like whichever one I'm not doing.

Currently, I'm in the midst of a revision on one YA novel and the first draft of another. While it feels and sounds somewhat schizophrenic, it kind of works for me.

I really love first drafts. Maybe everyone does. I mean, it's usually a fairly new idea, which means exciting, intriguing, fresh, not yet muddied with many critiques and different ideas about where it should go. You can experiment with voice and format, structure and characters. It's play time. No one can take their first draft seriously. And that's why I like it so much. I allow myself to be completely free to write crap, to not make sense, to not censor my ideas, and to just let it all be so very messy. How much fun is that? I can leave large gaps in narrative with just a note to myself that I need to add a scene here that is interesting. I don't actually have to write the interesting scene. I am getting to know my characters and their back stories. I get to create the world they will inhabit.

The hard thing about first drafts for me is that you have to create something out of nothing. While I find this creatively fulfilling and stimulating, it's also extremely hard. It's like being pregnant. You have to create one cell at a time until the whole being is there. It's exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. Sometimes the creative spirit is there and the writing seems to fill the page almost magically. Oftentimes, the writing feels like concentrating on each single breath you take in  a day, as if you have to make yourself breathe instead of it being an involuntary act your body does automatically.

But when all is said and done, you have a mess of a first draft. Ugh. Now you have to make it into something that other people might want to read. This is really hard work. It's so natural to look at this beautiful baby we've created and think it is just perfect and needs no additional work. But we all know that's not true at all.

However, revisions can be a playful time as well. I love to get critiques from my writing group, from editors at workshops, from my daughters who are also writers. There are so many wonderful ideas and possibilities. I get to look at them all and decide which ones fit the story I'm trying to tell. It's a collaborative time for me. A social time.

The comforting aspect of revisions for me is that at least I have something already there to work with. However, much of it will be cut by the time I finish revising. I always save those sections, just in case I decide to use a certain turn of phrase or save the scene for some other book. So I never really delete things--just save them  for another day. For example, one of the characters in my current revision project came to me more than 25 years ago, and waited around patiently until her turn came. Sometimes I cut several chapters completely. Less experienced authors sometimes gasp when I tell them this, but I never regret having written those scenes--or having to cut them. They were a piece I needed to write in order to know something important about my characters or my story. It just doesn't work in the storytelling.

Usually, for me, the first draft is fast and dirty. I just want to get the whole thing out so it's all there on the page. I rush too much and don't include enough detail. Structure and meaning often fall by the wayside. And I skip a lot of internal and emotional plot in order to get the bare bones set up.

So revision is my change to go back and add the rest of the parts to that skeleton, the sinew and the connective tissue. The guts and the muscle. It's often a layering process. I usually end of up a layer of skin first to keep it all held together, and then I add the internal organs to keep the life force flowing. Bit by bit, until I get the teeny nerve endings in there in the final revision, the ones that help it all make sense and transfer imagery and meaning. This part is more like raising the child you gave birth to--it takes a long time and a lot of work (hopefully not 18 years, though). Eventually, you launch it into the world.

My favorite part of all is the having done it. Being done, knowing I put my best into it. It's such a satisfying feeling to see what I have made. Just like the baby I raised into an adult--it is so amazing, beyond my imagination actually, what came from my efforts.

What happens after that is out of my hands.

by Neysa CM Jensen
(in Boise, Idaho)

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Mobile Author, Part Five: Writing

Setting up the world's greatest mobile office, getting organized, and planning a story are of very limited value if you don't actually sit your butt in a chair and write. Only, for a mobile author, that chair could be a beach towel or a quiet corner in a cafe.

For most of the history of tablets, they were OK for writing, but not really that great. Recent advances in the tablet world have changed that. Now you can pretty much do anything writerly on a tablet, or even a phone (if you have the eyes for it), that you can do on a laptop.

As I did in the first article in this series, I highly recommend that you buy a Bluetooth keyboard if you're going to do any serious writing on a mobile device. You need real keys and something approaching full size if you're going to be typing for any extended period of time. Because there's such a wide range of keyboard styles, you'll want to find one you like at a store, if you can, even if you actually buy it online. I like my Perixx keyboard because it has full-sized keys and folds into a convenient hard-cased package that's great for a backpack or bag. And, it works with all of my devices.

You might prefer a cool keyboard case made specifically for your tablet, which essentially turns your tablet into a little laptop. Or, you might like one of the compact keyboards, trading full-sized keys for the convenience of a small package.

A keyboard is to the writer what shoes are to the runner. You want something comfortable and durable that's not going to kill your joints. If your feet hurt after typing, you're probably doing it wrong, but the hand is a delicate thing.

Once you have your keyboard, you're ready to start writing. When it comes to word processing, you have a wide range of options.

Note Apps

A note app like Evernote is great for writing early drafts. In the early stages of a project, formatting doesn't matter. Styles don't matter. All that matters is getting words on (virtual) paper. You could use one of the note apps we recommended in an earlier article, or you can download any of several distraction-free text editors that block out everything but the page. The app stores are full of note apps. Turns out that many classes that teach app programming include a notepad lesson, and many of those eventually find their way to the app stores. There's a wide range in quality and usefulness, so you'll have to find something you like. But if you followed the earlier recommendation, you already have Evernote. It's great, easy to use, and syncs everywhere.

Web Apps

There are several Web apps for writers out there. The best known (and for good reason) is Google Docs. Google Docs gives you a word processor with most of the features you'll ever need for all but the very final draft of your masterpiece. For that last draft, I still recommend Word or LibreOffice for final formatting. But when you're just writing, Google Docs is sufficient. As of April 30, Docs has become an even better option for writing. There are now apps for both iOS and Android that enable you to work in Docs right on your device, even if you are not connected to the Internet. When you connect again, your files are automatically saved online. These new apps eliminate the biggest obstacle to using Docs as your mobile writing tool, the requirement to be online.

As an added benefit, Google Docs works great for online critiques. Simply share a link to your document with your critique partners and they can easily leave their comments.

I love Google Docs. I was skeptical at first, but after I used it a few times for my day job, I recommended that my writing group start using it for online critiques. Now I use it a lot. The web interface is good, and there are apps to make it easy to use on any mobile device. One of these days, maybe I'll write a series of articles about using Google Docs and some of the cool tips I've picked up over the last couple years.

Office Suites

If you want to do some serious word processing, web apps aren't your only option. Full office suites are a growing category in the app stores.

If you have a recent version of Microsoft Office, you can use the Office app available for iPhones and Android phones. It's not yet available on tablets, though, so you'll have to go to your favorite app store to find an office app to your liking. 

A Microsoft Word file in OfficeSuite Pro 7

My favorite is OfficeSuite Pro 7 from MobiSystems. You can use OfficeSuite to create or edit Microsoft Word files. Other parts of the suite will handle your Excel and PowerPoint files. OfficeSuite integrates with several cloud services, including Google Drive, SkyDrive, and Dropbox, among others. That means you can edit files stored on those cloud services. As long as you're connected, anyway. Now, you can't really say it's fully compatible with Microsoft Office. If your document has complicated formatting, you might run into issues in OfficeSuite Pro. 

There is one other issue with this suite. It's not free, and I really love free. It is usually $14.99 on the Google Play store and the Amazon App Store, although both occasionally discount it and Amazon sometimes offers it as the Free App of the Day. On the day I'm writing this, the Apple App Store has it on sale for $1.99. But that's not the Pro version, which is, as far as I can tell, available only on Android. Fifteen clams is pretty pricey for an app, especially if you've never used it and don't know how you'll like it on your device, but it's not much to pay for an office suite that you'll use just about every day. On May 21, they released a free version that is missing a few less-essential features and includes ads, but it's a nice way to test it out before you buy.

There are several similar suites available in the app stores. I'm not as familiar with the offerings in the Apple App Store, so I don't want to sound like I'm recommending any of them. iPad users I know use Pages ($9.99 in the App Store), and seem happy with it. But on Android, I've played around a little with a few free apps, and they work, although I like OfficeSuite Pro for its syncing and its interface.

One popular free suite that's really pretty good is Kingsoft Office. It too can sync with popular online services and provides good editing tools on Android. Kingsoft has recently been released for iOS, but as of this writing it can only open and read Word files, not edit them.

Other free suites worth trying on Android are Google Quickoffice, Olive Office Premium, and Polaris Office. All three are also in the Apple App Store, but I haven't tried them so I can't recommend one as better than the others on that platform. 

One interesting Android App that I don't think is ready for prime time yet but is worth watching is AndrOpen Office. This is a full port of OpenOffice to Android, an idea that I love. But so far, I find it slow and awkward to use. It's promising, but to be worth considering as a daily writing tool, an all-new tablet-oriented user interface would be nice, rather than simply bringing the OpenOffice interface over to Android. This app is being updated, so it might become a better choice in the future.

To summarize this important category, I recommend OfficeSuite Pro for Android and Pages for iOS. But workable free options are available, at least for Android.

Next Step

Once you've written and revised your masterpiece, it's time to submit it to agents and editors. Next time, we'll look at using your mobile office to track your submissions.

The Mobile Author, Part Six: Submissions
The Mobile Author, Part Seven: Managing Your Writing Life