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Writing in the Time of Corona: Resources

We wanted to create a resource list for all of the writers out there who are needing to redefine routines during these stressful and unfamiliar times. Becca Spence Dobias and Jacqui Castle jumped on an impromptu brainstorming podcast, which you can listen to here.

Below are a few of the resources mentioned, and we will also be adding to this list every time someone brings another resource to our attention. If you have something you want to add, either tag us on twitter – @writing_bloc – or shoot an email to [email protected]

We hope these resources prove useful, and remember that we are here to support the writing community in any way that we can.

Free Resources

Low-Cost Resources

  • Masterclass. Access to all of the resources on Masterclass starts at $15 a month. You can read some of our masterclass reviews here.
  • Online Tools for Learning a New Skill Resource list on All Connect “With many people looking to fill up their new-found free time productively, we created a resource that highlights the top sites and apps people can use to learn a new skill. From writing to photography, we outline which tools are the best to use as well as any deals or freebies on these classes.” – Communications Coordinator at Allconnect.com

*This list will be updated frequently. Check back for more.

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Fearless Self-Publishing Guest Post Self-Publishing Software Review Uncategorized Writing Help Writing Life

A Writer’s Guide to InDesign

By Kaytalin Platt – Cross-posted on Kaytalin’s website here!

I created the Author’s Guide to Typesetting in InDesign for authors who want a little more control over their book’s interior layout. InDesign can seem like a daunting program. There are a lot of tools and features, and many of which you won’t need for typesetting or layout. In this article, I’ll give you a step-by-step, start-to-finish guide on how to publish your book with a custom-designed feel. We’ll discuss creating a document, creating the rules which will govern your document, laying out text, and exporting for print.

InDesign is the leading program professionals use for book layout and production. It’s complex features make for high customization and professional quality. Mastering the program can give you a leg up in production and save you money.

Note: Before starting your typesetting in InDesign, you should have completed all rounds of editing in your Word document. Your manuscript should be as close to perfect as possible before laying it out in book form. 

Working with a Template

Amazon doesn’t offer InDesign templates, but they do offer Microsoft Word templates. This has to do with the fact a lot of people don’t have access to InDesign or know how to use it. You can, however, still layout your book in InDesign and upload it to KDP.  

For the purpose of this article, I created a template for myself using the methods I’ll outline below. I’m making it available for anyone who would like to use it as a branching off point to create their own. 

Tools of the Trade

As I mentioned, InDesign has a variety of options you can use to build out your document. These are separated on either side of the screen. We have Left Screen Tools (located on the left side of InDesign) and Right Screen Tools (on the right side of InDesign). You can add more tools to the Right Screen by going to the Window dropdown in InDesign’s menu bar. 

Left Screen Tools:

The basic tools you’ll need for working on novel layouts are below. If you hover over the tools, their names will appear. These are in order from top to bottom on the tools panel, but I’m excluding a few you might not necessarily need for your project.

  • Select Tool – Selects an object or group.
  • Direct Select Tool – Selects a single object within a group.
  • Type Tool – Creates text boxes, highlights text.
  • Line Tool – Create lines to add interesting elements to your page.
  • Rectangle Frame Tool – Creates boxes you can place images into.
  • Free Transform Tool – Changes the size of objects
  • Color Fill – Changes the color of objects. To change text, select the text box with the Select Tool, and click the T beneath the Color Fill section. This will allow you to change the text color. Another way to do this is to Select All the text, and change the color using the Color Fill box. 

Right Screen Tools:

If you look at the menu bar running across the top of InDesign (following along behind File, Edit, Layout, etc), and select Window, it gives you a variety of tools to add to your workspace. You also have the ability to select pre-organized Workspaces. 

I, myself, work in Essentials Classic. But, there are other options. You may wish to work in the Book workspace, but, for the sake of this article, everything I’m describing is found by navigating using Essentials Classic.

Right Screen Tools you’ll need:

  • Pages – You will have a LOT of pages in your book. This is a compact way of viewing and organizing them. The Pages panel also allows you to create Master Pages, which you can style and apply to hundreds of pages at a time, without having to add elements to each individual page. This becomes handy very quickly, and we’ll go into more detail on this feature later. 
  • Layers – You may not use this very much, especially if you’re utilizing the Master Pages feature. It allows you to put elements on different layers and turn them on or off. This feature is especially nice for placing a Template on an InDesign page and hiding it away periodically as you work. 
  • Links – Any images you add to the document will be found here, in list form. It allows you to see, at a glance, any altered or missing links you might have. An altered linked (signaled by a yellow warning triangle) means you’ve edited an image and haven’t re-synced it with InDesign. To fix this, double click on the yellow triangle. A missing link (signaled by a red circle and white question mark) means the image you placed in InDesign no longer exists in the folder you got it from. If you don’t fix missing link issues, you’ll have pixelated images when you go to print. To fix a missing link issue, you must put it back in the original folder, or replace it in your file from the new location. You can also click the “chain” symbol to re-link manually to the new folder.
  • Stroke – Allows you to adjust the thickness or style of the line you’ve created. You adjust the color of the Stroke in the Fill Tool section on the left. Click the hollow box behind the Fill Tool solid color and it will let you access the stroke color fill options. 
  • Swatches – Quickly access commonly used colors or colors you’ve saved as swatches. 
  • Effects – Adjust transparency, create drop shadows and other stylistic changes to objects. 
  • Character – Select your font, style, character size, spacing between lines, and more in this section. 
  • Paragraph – Adjust your paragraph text to left, right, centered, or justified.
  • Glyph  allows you to add special characters into your text. I usually manually add this tool through the Windows dropdown at the top of the program.
  • Text Wrap – allows you to adjust your text around any images you may have added. 

Creating a New Document

Depending on which version you have, your document setup screen may look a bit different. I work on InDesign CC at work and InDesign 6 at home (probably soon to change now that I’ve updated to IOS Catalina -_-). 

When you select File → New → Document, the New Document screen pops up. 

Width & Height

In the Width and Height area, you might see numbers displayed a bit… odd (unless your version of InDesign is already set to inches instead of picas). Change the unit of measurement to Inches. If you’re in America, you’re probably more used to working in inches. 

The most common indie published book is 6×9. For the purpose of this tutorial, this is the measurement I’ll be using. You’ll want to set your document to 6” wide by 9” tall. But, don’t get carried away and click Create. We need to setup your margins and bleed. 

Margin

Margin can be tricky, depending on the thickness of your book. You may want a wider margin for super hefty tomes. But, for the typical 6×9 book, you can use these measurements below.

  • Top Margin: 0.875” or 1”
  • Outside margin: 0.625” 
  • Bottom margin: 0.875”
  • Interior margin: 0.75” or 0.875”

Bleed

Bleed is the term used to describe the content that flows off the edge of the page. You may not need this feature, but set it up anyway. You’ll want to export your document with bleed settings at the end of this tutorial. 

Most people suggest 0.125” all around for bleed, but I like a lot of bleed. I usually set mine to 0.25” all around. Better safe than sorry.

Once you’ve adjusted your margin, and added your bleed, you’re ready to hit “Create”. 

Building out your Template

After creating your document, you’ll set all the rules the document will live by. This will help you streamline your layout process and save yourself time-consuming edits later. 

Take a moment to think about how you want the interior of your book to look. Grab a few books off your shelf and flip through them, maybe use one as a guide in setting up your design. 

  1. Once you know how you want the inside of your book to look, go to InDesign and select the Pages tab on the right side of the screen. It’s the first tab, and looks like two pages side-by-side.

The Pages tab is divided into two sections. In the first section, you’ll see a list  of two items: [None] and A-Master. Beneath that, you’ll see a single page, which is the first page of your document. At the bottom of the panel, right to left, you’ll see the trash bin icon (to delete pages), a + icon (to add pages), and an overlapping vertical and horizontal pages icon (change paper size icon). 

  1. Let’s go ahead and add some pages to our document. There are two ways to do this. The long way is to repeatedly click the + icon. But, our document will require a lot of pages, so right click on the gray area within your Pages tab, next to your one, lonely page
  2. Select Insert Pages and enter the amount of pages you need besides the one(s) you already have. Don’t worry, you can always add or delete pages later. If you’re unsure how many pages you’ll need, take your manuscript word document and multiply the page count by 2. This will get you close.
  3. After adding pages, go to the area above the page list, where it says [None] and A-Master. Right click on the area beneath A-Master.
  4. Select “New Master”. Hit Ok.
  5. Once your new master page is created (should say B-Master, but you can name it whatever you want), double click on B-Master. This will take you inside the master page, and allow you to edit it. 

Why are we editing B-Master instead of A-MasterA-Master is going to control the part of our document which should be void of stylistic elements like page numbers, title, or author name. A-Master is for the places you need blank pages, where you’ll be custom adding information, like the copyright text, dedication, and title page. 

B-Master Page Design

I like to add the stylistic elements which will carry through a majority of the book to the B-Master pages. Here, I’ll add my page numbers, title, author name, etc. 

Build out your B-Master how you’d like. Choose the font you want for your whole document, or use something a little different for this section. Be mindful of font and element sizing. I recommend going on the smaller side (but not too small) for these elements. Make it readable, but not distracting. 

Page Numbers

How to add page numbers to your document. 

  1. Create a text box using the Type Tool.
  2. Add a letter or number, it doesn’t matter which or what.
  3. Highlight the letter or number you’ve created, then go to the Type dropdown menu at the top of InDesign.
  4. Select Insert Special Character → Markers → Current Page Number

You should do this for both the left page and right pages. You won’t see a page number. That’s okay. This is just a rule you’re setting for these text boxes which will apply to all the pages you connect to B-Master.

Page Layout

Once you’ve created your B-Master page design, you’ll set it aside for right now. Click out of it by double clicking the first page of your actual document in the Pages tab. This will take you to the live section of your document. 

Use the Type Tool to do a rough organization of pages. Just create small text boxes for each page and write what will go on that page. You’ll typically need:

  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • Dedication Page
  • Table of Contents (if applicable)
  • Acknowledgements (if you want them in the front, typically go in the back)
  • Chapter 1

When you reach the first page of Chapter 1, go back to your Pages tab on the right. 

  1. Select the first page of Chapter 1, and all the remaining pages beyond it.
  2. Once they’re all highlighted blue, right click on one, and select Apply Master to Pages
  3. Select B-Master.
  4. Click OK. 

Now, the B-Master design you created earlier has been applied to all appropriate pages. 

Take a look at the first page of Chapter 1. You’ll notice Chapter 1’s page number doesn’t start with Page 1 (as it should). Don’t worry. We’ll fix this later. For right now, we need to decide how the text should be styled—type size, line spacing, font, etc. 

Text Styling

Font

The font you choose is extremely important. Different fonts work for different jobs. A serif font (fonts with little wedge feet) are best for print because they are the easiest to read. You rarely want to use san-serif fonts for novels. 

San-serif fonts work best for digital platforms like websites or mobile devices (but not e-readers). Choose your serif font wisely, but don’t go crazy. Sometimes the best choice is the most common one. I’m particularly fond of Georgia, Garamond, and Lora.

Font Size

Font size is crucial. Too small, and it’s hard for the reader to see. Too large, and you’re wasting space in your book (and it can seem unprofessional). My design professor used to say anything over 11pts was for geriatric people, and would be considered that on viewing. So, I usually like to stick to sizing fonts between 9pts and 11pts, depending on what font I’m using. 

Different fonts appear in different sizes. With Georgia 11pts and Garamond 11pts, one can appear larger than the other. The best way to judge the appropriate font size for your chosen font is to create a test page to gauge varying sizes and line spacing.

Let’s do that. 

Creating Test Page

I’m going to ask you to do this in InDesign and not in Word. InDesign and Word treat fonts differently, and, as you’ll be typesetting in InDesign, you’ll want to test your fonts there.

  1. Go to your Chapter 1 page. 
  2. Create a text box that stays within your pink margin box. 
  3. Pull a short paragraph from your story, one or two sentences or one long sentence.
  4. Paste it into the box. 
  5. Add a line of text above it which says [Insert Font Choice] Size 9
  6. Select your pasted text. 
  7. Change it to your font of choice using the Character tab on the right side of InDesign (A icon). 
  8. Then, change the font size to 9. 
  9. Choose line height (directly right of font size). Adjust until it looks good to you. 

For example, I chose Georgia as my font, and set the font size to 9pt and spacing to 13pt.

  1. Once you’ve made your selections, copy all the text from the Font Choice + Size title, down to the end of your paragraph. 
  2. Paste the copied text 3 times beneath your styled paragraph. 
  3. Now, for each copied paragraph, go up a font size and spacing. (10pt/14pt, 11pt/15pt, 12pt/16pt). Be sure to keep track of your chosen size and spacing in the title above each paragraph. This way, you’ll know what you’re looking at when you print. When you’re finished, you should have 4 different sets of paragraphs at different sizes and line spacing. 
  4. Print this page out. (ctrl+p) Select range of pages and enter the page number of your font test page. 
  5. Hit print. 

Once printed, sit down with it. Have a look. Analyze the sizes. Find a font size and spacing you think works best for your size book and audience. You’ll use that font size and spacing going forward.

Go back to your document and paste a page of text into the text box you were using. Style it with your chosen font, size, and line height. Now, play with the line spacing. Adding, subtracting, until you find the look you want.

Having a good amount of line spacing between sentences is nice. It doesn’t make the reader feel crowded and lets the book breathe. Too close together and things feel muddied or crammed. Too far apart, and you’re wasting space.

For me, I went with Georgia 9pt font size, and 13pt line spacing. 

  1. After you get this set up, Select All. 
  2. Click the Paragraph tab on the right side of the screen and uncheck Hyphenate at the bottom of the panel. 

Tab Indents

Next, we need to set our tab indent. Tab a few of the paragraphs, if you haven’t already. 

The space of a tab should be around 5 characters wide. It can be a little less, but shouldn’t be much more. 

  1. Create your tab spacing by Selecting All text. 
  2. Click the Type dropdown at the top of the program. 
  3. Select Tabs
  4. Align the tab box over your text so you can measure 5 character spaces. 
  5. Click on the ruler in the area you feel is around 5 character spaces (usually just past the 0.25” mark). Your tabbed text should adjust to match this rule. 
  6. Click out of the Tab box. 

Grids

I like to add grids to my document so I can adjust everything to baseline, helping all the text align from one page to another. 

For Mac users, this is in the InDesign dropdown to the left of File. For PC users, it may be labeled as a Setting or Preferences dropdown, I’m not sure. 

When you find it, select Preferences → Grids.

Set the following:

  • Color: I set mine to Charcoal. Just don’t choose blue (all element boxes are blue).
  • Start: 0
  • Relative to: Top Margin
  • Increment Every: [Chosen Font Spacing pts]
  • View Threshold: 75%

Save your settings. 

Creating Paragraph Styles

Now, let’s create a Paragraph Style which will carry throughout the document. 

  1. Click inside your text box. 
  2. Select All. 
  3. Look at the Toolbar running across the top of InDesign. You’ll see a dropdown menu which reads [Basic Paragraph]+
  4. Click the series of lines on the right of the dropdown. There are two stacked on top of eachother. You want the one where all the lines are matched up. This will line your text to the grid we created earlier.
  5. Next, on the left side of the dropdown labeled [Basic Paragraph]+, click the Paragraph symbol. 
  6. Select New Paragraph Style
  7. Name your Paragraph Style (I named mine Chapter Text). 
  8. Set Based On to Basic Paragraph
  9. Click OK. 

Now, your document is ready to begin layout. Let’s start with Chapter 1. 

Laying Out Your Book. 

Start with Chapter one. Determine how you want your chapter lead-ins to look. Grab a few books to flip through to get an idea of what other typesetters have done. Once you’ve made your choice, go to your Chapter 1 page and start laying it out. 

I like to create separate text boxes for the Chapter Header and Chapter Text

Chapter Header

Feel free to get creative with your chapter heading, change it to a different font from your Chapter Text or leave it the same. It’s completely up to you! 

  1. After you’ve styled your Chapter Header the way you want it, select the text. 
  2. Go to the paragraph symbol next to the [Basic Paragraph]+ dropdown and create a new Paragraph Style for your Chapter Headers. You’ll be able to use this to style your Chapter Headers moving forward.

Chapter Text

I usually start my chapter lead-in textbox about 5/8 to 1/2 down the page, and go to the edge of my margin. 

  1. Paste your Chapter 1 text in. All of it. You’ll notice, it won’t all fit. That’s okay. We will link text boxes across multiple pages. 
  2. Select All your text (ctrl+a). 
  3. Go to the Paragraph Style dropdown at the top and change [Basic Paragraph]+ to Chapter Text, if it doesn’t already say that. This will convert your text to the style we created earlier.
  4. Next, at the bottom of your blue text box, you’ll see a red + symbol. Click it. 
  5. Then, click at the top of the margin on the next page (pink line). This will create another text box, carrying the hidden text over. Repeat until Chapter 1 is laid out. 
  6. Repeat the above steps for the remaining chapters of your book, until you reach the end. 

The Finishing Touches

If you have extra pages after laying out your chapters, that’s great. You can easily delete them using the Pages tab on the right, and trash can symbol in the bottom corner of the tab. More likely, you’ve had to add pages. (And hopefully applied the B-Master style to them along the way). After laying out all your chapters, add the “closing” pages to your book: the acknowledgements page, glossary, etc. You can keep the B-Master styling or apply the blank A-Master styling, this is up to you.

Page Count

Look at your page number count. In order for your book to print, it has to be divisible by 4. If you can’t evenly divide your book by 4, you must add a few pages to make this happen. You can fill these pages with individual thank yous, sponsors, or a glossary of terms for your novel. 

Page Numbering

Earlier, we created our page number styling on the B-Master page and left it at that. To get the numbering to work as it should, we must return to our Pages tab on the right side of the screen. 

  1. Select the first page of Chapter 1, and then all the corresponding pages until the very end (or when you would like to stop tracking page numbers). 
  2. Right click on the blue pages and deselect Allow Document Pages to Shuffle. This will remove your ability to move pages out of order. It also makes it a pain to add new pages randomly. But, why would you want to do that? At this point, you shouldn’t need to. 
  3. Select the first page of Chapter 1 again. 
  4. Right click. Select Numbering & Section Options
  5. Click Start Page Number at: and set it to 1. 
  6. Click Ok. 

Chapter 1 should now start on page 1, and the subsequent pages should follow. 

Proofreading 

Once you’ve completed your layout, you should print a copy of your book to review and markup. Use the directions below to submit a PDF for print. This helps you spot any issues you didn’t notice through the seemingly hundreds of rounds of edits you did before in Word. It’ll also help you spot any styling issues or errors you missed during typesetting. 

You can have proofs of your book printed through your printer, or you can print the document in spreads on 11×17 pages from a local print shop. It will be costly, but worth it. 

Time to Print

Once you’ve “proofed” your book and corrected any errors, export your book as a PDF from InDesign: 

  1. Click File → Export
  2. Name your document.
  3. Select Adobe PDF (print).
  4. Click Save. 
  5. At the top, in Adobe PDF Presets, select High Quality
  6. On the General Tab make sure All pages are selected. Export as Pages (not spreads). 
  7. On the Marks and Bleeds tab, select Use Document Bleed Settings. Don’t worry about anything else. Most printers, unless you’re doing single sheets, don’t need crop marks for books. 
  8. Click Export

You’re book is ready to send to your printer. 

As far as your cover, I suggest hiring a designer if you can afford one. It’s relatively easy to find one that works with your budget using the internet. Covers can range between $50-$500 depending on the designer you choose. (I typically do them for $150). A professionally designed cover can add value to your book, make you seem more professional as a writer, and draw attention to your work. But, if you can’t afford a cover designer, most printers have templates you can use. I know KDP has a few. Just remember to stay inside the margins and input the correct total page count into the template generator. 

I know this post contains a lot of information, but if all else fails, feel free to use the template I’ve made available for you to download. I’ve also included this post as a GoogleDoc for your printing convenience. 

There are also a lot of YouTube videos available to help you more. 

For more author design and marketing tidbits, follow my blog or subscribe to my newsletter. If you’re looking for a designer or typesetter to help with your next project, check out Copper Owl Press

Kaytalin Platt is an author and graphic designer living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Raised in Deer Park, Alabama, a rural town north of Mobile, Platt enjoyed spending time in the surrounding woods and working on the family farm. Growing up on a farm gave Platt a peculiar set of skills, which she enjoys using on the random chance their needed–especially if it involves welding.

Platt’s mother contributed heavily to her passion for writing. They would listen to instrumental music, film scores mostly, and she challenged Platt to write down what she imagined happening as the music played. Platt’s love of music and writing only grew, and she began work on her first full-length novel during college. She worked on the novel, writing and rewriting, for nearly a decade before submitting it for publication in 2016. The Living God, Platt’s debut novel, was published in May 2019.

Currently, Platt is working on the followup to The Living God, and experimenting with stories on Wattpad, a reading platform home to over 80 million users.

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Author Interview News Promotions Reading Writing Life

Celia at 39 by Jason Pomerance- OUT NOW from Writing Bloc!

Writing Bloc is happy to announce the release of its first full length novel, Celia at 39 by Jason Pomerance. The book is a fun, fast paced romp through a woman’s journey to 40 and the surprises she finds along the way. Just like his beloved first novel, Women Like Us, the book features delectable food descriptions and poignant family moments. Barbara Abercrombie, author of A Year Of Writing Dangerously, calls Celia at 39 “wild, funny, and tender.”

We spoke to Pomerance about his new release!

What inspired your new book, Celia at 39?
A few years ago we were visiting my stepmother, who lives out by the beach at the tip of Long Island. Every year the little town library holds a book sale, and while perusing the stacks I found an old copy of The Gourmet Cookbook, which I know my mother had but the book had disappeared somehow. Anyway, I bought the library copy, and later when I leafed through it I noticed all these notations about recipes the former owner had written in the margins.  But the bigger thing was the note in an envelope tucked into the pages, from a daughter to her mom. I sort of obsessed about this note for a while and wondered about these two women, and somewhere around that time I read about a package that was mailed, got lost and then arrived at its destination like 40 years later. So somehow the two elements came together and became Celia At 39!


What kind of audience will it appeal to?  
I think women will take to it. But also hopefully men. The book is very much a romantic comedy, along the lines of something like Sweet Home Alabama or even Moonstruck (two movies I love) so if you liked those movies, I think you’ll like this book.


How does this book compare to Women Like Us?
Women Like Us was a bit more of a serious book.  It dealt with life and and death issues in some ways and this one doesn’t.  On the other hand, both are very much about family relationships. While the romantic stuff in Celia At 39 is important, so too is Celia’s relationship with her mom and two sisters.  I think anybody can relate to family members driving them nuts at times, and that’s what happens here — Celia’s sisters and mom and make her crazy but she knows she’s stuck with them for life.

 
Why did you decide to publish this book with Writing Bloc?
I had such great experiences with both the Escape! and Deception Anthologies that it just seemed logical to continue the relationship. And, frankly, I was humbled and honored that they wanted to publish it!  Everything about the process has been so great. Becca, Cari and Kendra were remarkably astute editors, and while it took us a while to get to the final cover, when I got the galley and held it in my hands for the first time, I couldn’t have been happier with the results.  Highly recommend Writing Bloc!


How was the process of writing a second novel different from that of writing a first?  
For me the process was pretty much the same — think about the story and characters endlessly until I can’t take it anymore and I just sit down and start writing.  I’m not a big outliner but more of a seat-of-the-pants style writer. I like to be surprised, and there were a few of them in this book, plot twists that even I didn’t even see coming  And then I’m a huge re-writer. I like to tinker endlessly until the book is finally ripped out of my hands and I’m told, “Stop! Enough!”


What advice do you have for people writing a second book?
I guess same advice to somebody writing a first book: write the story you want to tell. Don’t worry about anything else. Don’t worry if anybody else is going to like it, because there will always be some readers who like your work and some who don’t.  And just persist.  Writing, as we all pretty much know, can be heartbreaking and thankless, but somehow you just find a way to keep pushing forward. So that would be my best advice. Push forward and never give up.

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podcast Writing Help

Approaching World-Building: Featuring Author Rachael Sparks (Writing Bloc Podcast Episode 3)

The third episode of our Writing Bloc podcast is now live over on Podbean (or via the embedded player below). This time, the amazing Rachael Sparks, author of the hard sci-fi thriller “Resistant,” discusses the art of world-building with your hosts, Christopher Lee and AWARD-WINNING AUTHOR Jacqui Castle. There’s plenty in this episode to enjoy, from a discussion of different world-building approaches and resources to another appearance from the Writing Goat.

Resources/links

Digitized resources from the New York Public Library: https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/

The Novel Factory: https://www.novel-software.com/

World-Building Warrior: https://www.well-storied.com/worldbuilding-warrior

Get your own Writing Goat T-Shirt HERE: http://bit.ly/WritingGoatShirt

Continue the conversation!

Chime in with resources, tips, tricks, and questions on one of our channels: Slack, Facebook, and Twitter.

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Writing Life

How to Plan Your Own DIY Writing Retreat

You’ve probably seen the ads– Writing Retreat on Maui! Escape to a cabin in Vermont to write! It sounds amazing– a dedicated time and place to focus on your work in progress. Unfortunately for most writers, these retreats are inaccessible– they’re either too expensive, too far away, or too long to fit around other obligations.

I decided to plan my own writing retreat– one within my budget (thanks to a gift from my husband for mother’s day!!), 45 minutes from home (far enough to feel “away” but not so far that my whole trip was spent traveling), and for two days– long enough to get some writing done but not too long away from my husband and young kids.

Here are my tips for planning your own DIY writing retreat.

Pick a Cool Spot (but not too cool)
You know that place nearby that you’ve been meaning to check out but haven’t yet? That’s Temecula for me– Southern California Wine Country. Though it’s less than an hour away and people say it’s cool, I hadn’t spent any real time there. This seemed like a good chance to see what the hype was about. If I was a huge wine person, though, this probaby wouldn’t have been a good pick. This isn’t an ordinary vacation! Find somewhere you’d like to visit but where you won’t feel pulled to spend the whole trip sight seeing.

AirBnB is Your Friend
AirBnB is a writer’s dream when planning retreats. You can find much more affordable, much nicer accomodations, often in a unique setting. I stayed at the Rusty Fork Ranch, and it was absolutely perfect. The hosts were wonderful, the view was incredible, my room (The Cash Room– each room has a cool theme too!) had a comfortable writing desk, and there was coffee and tea available in the morning! Plus, there were real miniature writing goats!

Plan Your Eats Ahead of Time
You don’t want to spend hours pouring over menus and reading reviews when you could be writing. Scope out good food before you go. I ate at Gentle Grill, E.A.T. Marketplace, and a couple coffee shops.

Pick Goals Ahead of Time
I knew before I set off on my retreat that I wanted to edit and rewrite ten chapters. This was a big goal as I usually get through one chapter every two to three days. Big goals are good, though, as long as they’re realistic! Know when and how you’ll get your work done. I wrote up a schedule for each day saying how many chapters I would get through at the coffee shop, how many I would do after lunch, and how many I would do before going to sleep.

Move Your Body
Intensive writing marathons mean a lot is going on in your mind and your fingers, but not so much the rest of you. Take breaks to move! When I started feeling sluggish, I would stop for a few minutes and stretch or do some yoga. I also maaaaay have had a mini dance party.

Don’t Forget to Relax
This is about writing but it’s also about retreat. Find some ways to treat yourself and do nothing too. I tried to enjoy my yummy food, rewarded myself for finishing chapters by playing a little Harry Potter Wizards Unite, did a face mask, meditated before starting in the morning, and read a book before bed. Allow space for activities that will leave you feeling refreshed enough to be productive when you get home too!

Planning your own writing retreat? Tell us about it in the comments!

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Categories
Software Review Uncategorized Writing Life

Freewrite Portable Typewriter Review

When I first sat down to write this review, I pulled out my laptop. I know, I know. What was I thinking? But, habits are hard things to drop, which is why we all need a bit of help sometimes.

Luckily, I realized my mistake and quickly closed the laptop and grabbed the Freewrite. And that, my friends, is how I am writing this review. So, be prepared for a freeform, word-vomit salad of a review in the true spirit of the FreeWrite – a tool designed to help authors write without looking back.

I’m an author and freelance writer. I spend 4-6 hours a day writing. I also get distracted easily. I know this about myself, and yet I don’t always take the steps to optimize my writing time even when I know what those steps are. Close the tabs, don’t check social media, just get 1,000 words down without stopping to research when you get stuck. Just. Keep. Writing.

Enter the FreeWrite. The idea was instantly appealing, and I didn’t think long before I ordered one(thankfully for me, they have a payment plan). Since I received this marvelous little machine, I’ve found I can double or even triple my wordcounts during a writing session.

The FreeWrite is an electronic typewriter designed as a forward-momentum only, first draft writing beast. It’s not for editing. In fact, you can only make the minimal edits possible through pressing the backspace key. No highlighting, no cut and paste, no ‘let me just check one thing real quick’. Onward you must go. The small screen has enough room to display one to two paragraphs at a time so your mind is always kept in the present or future.

When you are ready to upload your unedited, free-form masterpiece, simply switch on the WiFi button and the content will sync to the cloud. This is where the Freewrite earns a big leg-up for me when compared to good old pen and notebook – no need to transcribe anything later.

Let’s see… what else do I like about it? Hey, I warned that you were getting a Freewrite-style review here. Though compact, it has a full, weighted keyboard that I find therapeutic to type on. The E-Ink screen backlight is optional, and so you can turn it off and can sit outside at a coffee shop or a picnic table and not worry about glare on your screen.

The entire thing is fairly light. I can fit it into my computer bag along with my laptop as long as I move a few things around. What else? Oh, there are multiple folders you can toggle through, allowing you to work on several projects at once if needed. Also, there are options for starting a timer, or tracking your word count if you are sprinting or are trying to achieve x number of words per a day(this would be a great tool for National Novel Writing Month).

The best part? When you find yourself distracted, when you otherwise would have started researching obscure facts from the 1940s or switched over to a social media tab for ‘just a minute,’ instead, you look up and take in your surroundings. You employ the far off gaze of a writer at work and you wait for the next spark of inspiration. Eh, what do I know? I’m mostly rambling. But, that’s the beauty of the Freewrite.

What can I say? I’m really enjoying it so far. But, I realize this wouldn’t be a balanced review without throwing in a few caveats. The keyboard could be a quieter. There is also a slight lag when typing quickly, so you will find yourself waiting a second for the words you just typed to appear on the screen. If either of those are deal breakers for you, then there you have it.

So, what are my final thoughts? I love my Freewrite, and the times that I remember to use it I am more productive, no question.

It is not for anything other than first drafts, so anyone who buys one thinking otherwise will be sorely disappointed. If you are a writer with excellent focus who can always keep their mind on the task at hand and who writes for hours a day with no thought of anything else, then congratulations, you win. Maybe it’s best to spend your money elsewhere.

So, in conclusion, if you find yourself craving a tool that allows you to type on a full keyboard, seamlessly send your work to your computer when you are ready for the editing phase, but otherwise devoid of other temptations and distractions then this might be the tool for you.

Cheers and happy writing.

-Jacqui

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Categories
Lists Reading Self-Publishing Uncategorized Writing Life

How to Write Great Reviews

As a librarian, I am constantly thinking about book reviews. I use them to select books for my library’s collection, as well as to decide which titles to hand-sell to my patrons. I review for Booklist and read reviews critically. I see a review as a tool – something to help people make decisions about a book before reading it. And it’s cool to give back to the reading community by creating those tools after I’ve enjoyed a book.

In my writer-life, it’s different. Reviews of my own work make me cringe. I cannot open the Goodreads pages for anything I’ve written. Better to remain in la-la land.

Because here’s the thing – reviews are for readers.

And every reader will have a subjective opinion. Whether you’re indie-published, trad-published, or in some little hybrid land like I am, your reviews are not all going to be five stars. Even Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the highest-rated book on Goodreads, has 4.62 stars. 

In library terms, we call that 1. Every book its reader and 2. Every reader their book. These are two of S.R. Ranganathan’s five laws of librarianship. Some readers will resonate with your work, and others will loathe it. That truth cannot be avoided, and it means that as writers, we must become comfortable with reviews that we don’t like.

OK. Now that you’ve sat with it for a while, we can get back to the task and art of writing reviews of other people’s work.

Some writers will give the advice that you shouldn’t review other people’s work at all. That’s a perfectly valid choice, and it’s your boundary to set as a writer. For me, it’s not feasible. First, because I’m a librarian, and second, because I just can’t stop reading books. Seriously. It’s an addiction.

So I have some Very Particular Rules for how I review and blurb. I generally do not rate anything lower than four stars. I figure, if the book was worth my time to read and I enjoyed it, it’s worth four or five stars. If I am sent a book for Booklist that I cannot review under this criteria, I decline to review it. But, like the decision to review or not review, your star-code is yours to set. Readers vary widely over this – some readers will give one star even if they read the entire book! This is another reason why the stars are so subjective.

A few other general tips:

  1. Don’t use the review as a platform.
    1. Remember – the review is for readers. Now, if you have some connection to the book, you may certainly state that. But the reader is not interested in what you have to say about your own work. They are trying to figure out if the book is worth their time investment. Also, this is not the time to be using writerly jargon, being overly critical, or give feedback the way you would in a writer’s workshop. The book is published. That time is over.
  2. Do comment on the very specific strengths of the book.
    1. What sets this book apart? I like to think of myself as writing a query letter for someone else’s book every time I write a review. I’m helping the author sell the book by pointing out its strengths. 
  3. Do focus on the appeal factors.
    1. If you are not familiar with appeal factors – brush up! We librarians use them to help match readers with books. These are the juicy characteristics of books which entice readers: plot, character, language, setting, and so forth. Here is a fabulous crash course which I use in my readers’ advisory classes for librarians (thanks, Molly At the Library!) 
  4. Do be mindful of the star rating.
    1. “But, Cari, you just said the stars don’t matter!” Yes, I did. But the overall star rating will impact how readers receive your review. I’m not saying you should change anything based on it – stick to your star-code. Just know that the star rating is there and it’s part of the package.
  5. Do acknowledge the author’s hard work.
    1. A thoughtful review helps the author know that it was worth it for them to put that work out into the world. Help keep the good karma wheel spinning.
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Categories
Fearless Self-Publishing Self-Publishing Software Review Uncategorized Writing Help Writing Life

Fictionary, a revolutionary developmental editing tool for writers!

Well, I’m a sucker for new toys, particularly when it comes to my writing craft. Anything that can help me wrangle the herd of cats within my wild imagination is a plus, especially when it comes to story structure. That is why when I came across the trail of Fictionary, I was instantly curious. I got an email with a package deal for another year license for ProWriting Aid, which I recommend to all writers, and with it was a new developmental editing software called Fictionary.

I signed up for a free trial and was blown away by the level of detail the creator and fellow author, Kristina Stanley and her team had created. Fictionary allows you to upload your manuscript from Word or Google Docs directly into their user interface so that you can take a bird’s eye or 30,000ft view of your story and its structure. What I was most amazed by was the simplicity of the surface of the program as well as how deep you could go.

Fictionary breaks your manuscript down for you!

There be a number of bells and whistles under the hood of Fictionary and I don’t profess to know how they work in full, but after inputting my old manuscript for Nemeton: The Trial of Calas, I was instantly presented with a visual element that tracked my story’s narrative arc against that of prototypical or common story lines. This was a super cool feature right off the bat that let me see just how far off my original vision really was. This was helpful in many ways as, I am currently in a revision or rewriting phase with my previously published work.

But, where Fictionary really shines is in the scene by scene evaluation. The Visual components allow you to track the primary story arc as well as different character arcs and subplots across your manuscript, and that can be super helpful if you’ve got multiple arcs.

The three core functions of Fictionary.

Fictionary breaks it down to three key pieces, visualizing your arcs, evaluating your scene by scene story structure, and then exporting the monster once you are done with it. You can make edits on the fly, or edit your work 100% within the Fictionary software, kind of like Scrivener, but with a simpler interface.

Visualizing your story’s arc.

When Visualizing your manuscript you can check the full story arc, the amount of words per scene to aid you in nailing down your pacing, and also track how many times characters are showing up on a scene by scene basis. Though these three features seem potentially slight, they are remarkably powerful, not to mention I’ve got it on good authority that soon they will be rolling out even more powerful features.

Evaluating your manuscript scene by scene.

When Evaluating your scene by scene, Fictionary aids you by dialing in your character, plot, and setting down to the real nuts and bolts. Each scene or chapter has an interface to the right that highlights a number of tabs under which there are a list of critical questions that you should have asked in your first draft, but most likely didn’t if you are anything like me. Beyond the questions, each field is complimented by an infographic tip that educates you on the precise reason for each question or field. This is where the real power of the Fictionary software resides.

The Character tab features a range of questions like what character appear in the scene, who has the POV, what are the internal and external goals, what are the stakes and consequences, and the impact on the protagonist as well as other characters. The list goes on including an entire array of illuminating questions that, at least I often forget to include in my first draft. Plot, setting, and additional notes further aid you in dialing in your edit.

Fictionary, is it the next big thing?

I can’t speak to that yet, as Fictionary is a relatively new tool and I know that many writers are super comfortable with Scrivener. But overall, I think the interface is much more user-friendly. The primary draw is for writers who have already finished a rough or first draft of their work and want to import that manuscript in order to take it to the next level. I found the detailed list of questions and fields aided me in further cementing my story’s structure, theme and message.

Fictionary offers a free trial so that you can take it for a test drive, but I personally recommend that after you do so you take the dive. A year-long license won’t break the bank and I know that they are working hard at rolling out some key features like multiple manuscripts and an autosave feature to prevent losing precious progress. Overall I think Fictionary is a killer tool for novel based writers to explore.

Writing Bloc has your back!

We have partnered with Fictionary to provide all of our members with a killer discount on your first three months or on your first yearly license!

Fictionary is offering Writing Bloc writers and readers a 50% discount on the first three months ($10 per month, regularly $20 per month) or 50% off Annual subscription ( $100 per year, regularly $200 per year)

Half off ain’t half bad, is it?

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Categories
Uncategorized Writing Help Writing Life

Packing for Camp NaNoWriMo July 2019

July is Camp NaNoWriMo, and here at Writing Bloc we’re using the month of June to pack for camp, and we invite you to join us!

Even if you are familiar with National Novel Writing Month, you might not know that the organization also hosts two ‘camps’ throughout the year – one during the month of April and one during the month of July.

via GIPHY

While National Novel Writing Month in November challenges writers to whip out a 50,000 word novel in just thirty days, the camps are lighter and breezier. Participants, or ‘campers,’ set their own goals and can track their progress through an online dashboard(much like they do in November).

I will be working on adding 20,000 words to the novel I started in November, but many authors choose to work on short stories, or other projects during this time – even skipping around from project to project with the goal of writing every day.

The second Camp NaNoWriMo of 2019 takes place less than a month away, and Writing Bloc wants to make sure you are ready! So, let’s dive into a few action steps you can take to prepare for camp.

Set Your Goals

Whether you are aiming for 1,000 words or 50,000 words, set your overall goal before the month begins. Look at your calendar for April and set aside time to write each day. If you have something that can be checked off your to-do list before the month begins to make more time for writing, do it now.

Next, you will want to set smaller daily and weekly goals. These can vary depending on your schedule. Maybe you want to hit a goal of 5,000 words a week, but you know you have the most time to write on Thursdays. You could set a goal to write 2,000 words on Thursdays, and 500 words the other six days of the week. Setting attainable goals will help with forward momentum!

Let your family and close friends know what you are working to accomplish, and accept their support!

Join a Cabin

Cabins exist within the Camp NaNoWriMo website and encourage groups of writers to support each other and also hold each other accountable. Writing Bloc will be hosting a cabin for Camp NaNoWriMo, and you can request to join us here(will add link here as soon as Cabin Registration opens up).

Prepare to Sprint

NaNoWriMo holds word sprints on their twitter account around the clock during November, April, and July. Sprints are timed writing challenges in which participating writers across the globe take off writing for a specified amount of time, and then report back with their progress. They are great fun, and a wonderful way to keep each other motivated.

The Writing Bloc twitter account will also be hosting sprints occasionally throughout the month, so bookmark both accounts and check in regularly!

Research and Outline

If you are a plotter, outlining ahead of time will get those words out faster.

If you are a pantser, then even jotting down a few plot points or scene ideas will come in handy.

While it is always a good idea to save the research and fact checking for the editing stage, sometimes we just need to “check one thing real quick.” If this sounds like you, you might consider having a bookmarked list of related websites prepared for speedier referencing during your writing time.

Have your Tool Box Ready

Do you have a list of tools that help you when the words aren’t flowing? For some writers, it’s a music playlist organized according to mood. For others, it’s having writing craft books handy to inspire creativity.

Whatever it is that helps you keep writer’s block at bay, make sure you have your tools within arms reach when you sit down to write. If you need a few ideas, you can check out this article we wrote last year on 6 Techniques for Busting Through Writer’s Block.


Check out our Handy Prep Week Calendars

As a gift to all of you Camp NaNoWriMo participants, we have these handy calendars from April’s camp for you to download, set as your desktop background, or print and gleefully cross out each item as you complete it. Basically, use it in whatever way will help you the most. Check back throughout the month as we add content each week!

 

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Categories
News podcast Writing Life

The Writing Bloc Podcast is LIVE! Listen Here!

Amongst all of our great goals coming to fruition, we here at Writing Bloc have officially launched a podcast! Our aim is to chat about all things writing, with us discussing everything from successes to struggles, answering any of your questions, and interviewing authors we think you should know. We will be updating our main page with an embedded player for easier listening sometime in the near future, but until then, you can hear our first teaser episode on the following outlets:

iTunes: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/writing-bloc-podcast-teaser-episode/id1465101906?i=1000439142232

Overcast: https://overcast.fm/itunes1465101906/writing-bloc-podcast

Podbean: https://writingbloc.podbean.com/

Pocket Casts: https://pca.st/8bLy

We call it a “teaser” episode, as this is mostly a pleasant conversation between four of the authors behind Writing Bloc: Jacqui Castle, Christopher Lee, Cari Dubiel, and Michael Haase. We stay mostly on topic, have plenty of fun, and discuss everything from typos in our anthology to making plans to rewrite Fifty Shades of Gray in the style of Stephen King. You know, usual writer stuff.

We had a lot of fun recording this, and we have plans for many, many more. The next recording session is scheduled for Wednesday, May 29th, and we will let you know as soon as it’s posted. The list of writers to be featured with interviews and discussions is growing, and we plan on taking over the world with this podcast, of course. (Isn’t that everyone’s goal with a podcast?)

There are great things happening around the Writing Bloc. Thank you for being a part of them. Stay tuned for more features, perks, and opportunities.

Happy listening!

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