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Guest Post Writing Help Writing Life

An Idea is Born: Guest Post by Author John Jamison

Good news! I am about to give you permission to sit down, watch movies, and spend time wandering around on the Internet. The best part? You can call the entire time “research.” And I am going to answer the question I am asked more than any other: “Where do you get your ideas?” It’s something anyone can do who is willing to spend that time watching movies and web pages.

Yesterday after lunch, I turned on the television and came across the 60’s movie, “Psych-Out”, featuring a very young Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern, Susan Strasburg, and Gary Marshall. Gary Marshall? Yeah, that caught my eye, too, so I opened the IMBD page on my iPad and started reading. One paragraph explained how Strasberg and Nicholas had been nervous about some of their scenes and calmed themselves down by discussing Reichian therapy which they had both experienced. Apparently, it was some kind of cosmic, bio-energy thing, but new to me. I opened a new window to the Wikipedia page for Reichian Therapy.

I read that William Reich was a student of Freud, but had then developed theories about a mind-body energy related to sexuality. My highly oversimplified understanding was that Reich believed that our mental and physical health was connected to a ‘cosmic’ energy that Freud called the libido, or sex drive. Repression of our sexual urges led to illness, mental and physical. It sounded like one of those things that would be in a 60’s movie. Reich built on his theory, identified that cosmic energy as something he called ‘orgone’, and created devices called “orgone accumulators” that would help us decrease our sexual tensions and improve our overall health. He also created a form of therapy called “Vegetotherapy”, which I’ll simply say violated the established ‘distance’ between patient and therapist. His work was banned in Germany, and in the U.S. he was eventually determined to be a fake, was thrown out of various groups, had his books and research confiscated, was arrested, and died in prison in 1957.

No, nothing much so far. Interesting stuff, but not the kind of material that great ideas come from. Then, I opened this morning’s New York Times obituaries.

I read that Mary Boyd Higgins died at age 93, after serving for sixty years as the Director of the William Reich Trust, the William Reich Museum, and the Orgone Energy Observatory that is on the National Register of Historic Places in Maine. As I read the obituary, I recognized things from what I had read yesterday, but there was more detail. For example, it explained that the reason Reich’s material had been banned in Germany was that he explained that Fascism and dictatorships were the result of sexual repression and not at all a healthy thing. Nazi Germany did not agree. And I read that, in 1954 in the U.S., after reviewing Reich’s 789 page FBI file, a Federal Judge wrote: “any journal or pamphlet that mentioned orgone “shall be destroyed,” that all orgone accumulators be destroyed, and that all copies of Dr. Reich’s books that mentioned orgone “shall be withheld” from circulation until such references were redacted.”

My neurons began to fire. I found it interesting that Reich was one of the few men I’ve heard of to be banned and have his books burned in both Nazi Germany and the United States. What bothered me the most was that line in the judge’s ruling that said any of Reich’s books that mentioned orgone “shall be withheld from circulation until such references were redacted.” One word? What was so dangerous about one word that might cause two groups who had completely different worldviews to link arms like that? What was it about “orgone” that made it so important that Dr. William Reich be silenced?

And then my mind said, “What if…?”

And that is how ideas are born. What if Reich was right, and the repression of sexual expression and ‘orgone’ does cause people to be less independent and self-actualized and more open to authoritarianism, Fascism, and dictators? What if encouraging sexual repression does help keep people under control, keep them weaker, more compliant, less likely to resist? What if there are groups ‘out there’ who know this secret and have been the drivers behind the cultural battles relating to sexuality and sexual expression? What if our entire medical health care system could be…What if…?

I may never know the answers to those questions, and honestly, I’ll leave that task to others. My goal was to find an idea to explore. My goal was to find a “What if…?”

Some may say that this experience was all a great coincidence, and I was just lucky to have the movie, Wikipedia, and obituary show-up like they did. Yes, it may well have been coincidence. But I am convinced that the more pieces and bits of information I pick-up and store in my mind, the more frequently those little idea-creating coincidences are going to occur.

Now, I need to go see what’s on television.

John Jamison is a life-long believer in the power of stories. First as a pastor, then educator, creator of Centers for Innovation at multiple universities, Director of a national Game and Simulation academic degree program, a consultant for e-learning and brand development, John has used the power of story to bring about serious change and have some fun in the process. John grew-up in a small river-town in Illinois, and describes his childhood as “kind of Tom Sawyer-ish with a blend of Wizard of Oz.” John says, “I grew up in a family of storytellers and liars, and I spent most of my time trying to figure out which was which.”

Mr. Jamison’s Website: https://pops.jamisonbooks.com/

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Writing Help Writing Life

Five Reasons To Power Through The Criticism And Just Write

So you’re thinking of writing a book, but you keep telling yourself that you shouldn’t. There’s always a thousand reasons not to, so I see where you’re coming from. Writing a book is hard, it takes a lot of time, it’s not a lot of financial reward for the amount of time spent, you most likely won’t get a professional publishing deal that will sweep you away from your day job, people will criticize your work, you might get writer’s block…the list goes on and on and on…

The criticism alone might stifle your first thoughts of writing and working through that story. The internet provides an endless supply of people “proving” how your favorite thing sucks. Heck, even J.K. Rowling gets dragged occasionally. Maybe you have a bunch of grammar Nazi friends who don’t realize language is ever evolving and that even emojis are an important aspect of language and communication. The world is awash with critics, and they are hungry to tear art apart. So, you might think it best not to feed them by either giving up on that story idea or not trying at all.

And hey, there is a chance that the book you’re either writing or thinking of writing is objectively terrible. But, even in this case, I am here to tell you to stop thinking that way and just get on with it. Write your book. Get your words down. Create those characters. Forget all the haters and just get it done. Why? I’ll tell you why.

1. Writing is fun.

Really, it is. And it doesn’t matter what you do with it. Want to find out how awful and agonizing the whole process is? There’s thousands of articles on that, but it’s simply not true. If you don’t like your writing, then maybe you’re writing the wrong thing. Try poetry, haikus, or FanFiction. Try writing a memoir of a favorite time in your life. There are endless possibilities, and all of them are equal, as long as you are having fun. It may seem like the novelists complain the most, but that’s only if you go searching for complaints. The trick is to just keep doing it. Don’t let the negativity stop you.

2. Giving up feels awful.

Let’s say you’ve written a few pages of something you like and you are so bold as to show someone else. And let’s say that someone else shows you all of your grammatical errors and plot holes, and even goes so far as to explain to you why your entire story won’t work and tells you to quit. Obviously, that person isn’t a friend. The truth of the matter is that your critic is trying too hard to make themselves feel better. All first drafts will have problems. All stories need editing. Every tale requires a lot of work until you “get it right.” But if you decide to give up just because it’s too hard or you’re afraid of failure, you’re forgetting that you’re writing for fun. Make your grammar errors and spelling mistakes, power through it all however you decide to do it, and get it done. Why?

3. Finishing a story feels amazing.

I wrote my first novel over the course of two months, and when I finished, I felt incredible – abuzz with the accomplishment. I told everyone I could that I wrote a book. And oh man, when I read it again, I realized how terrible it really was. You might think that discouraged me, but it did just the opposite. I tucked that book into a box and it’s still sitting in my basement, preserved. The story was so odd and convoluted that I decided not to rewrite it. But here’s the important part: I made that decision on my own, and the reason I made it was because I had another story idea I wanted to get started writing. And I started writing that story. And that story was much better and far easier to write because I knew, even though my last attempt wasn’t great, I could finish writing a novel. I got over that hump and knew I wouldn’t give up ever again. I realized that I had more to learn, but I was no longer afraid of finishing a project I started.

4. Perfection will never come.

Finding errors is easy, especially when you’re first constructing something. But here’s the thing: you aren’t writing something that has to be perfect the first time around. And what is perfect anyhow? Writing should be a freeing process. Look to the greats. Do they use sentence fragments? Run-on sentences? Odd spellings of words? Poor grammar? Sure they do. But because the stories were so great, these “errors” could be applied to that writer’s style. What would happen to countless stories if everyone obeyed the same rules and wrote the same way? As I’ve said, language is evolving. Write your story using as many acronyms and emojis as possible. If it’s what you’re feeling and what you want to write, just get it out. Story first, rules somewhere way down the line and definitely not second.

5. Because you can.

Seriously. You can do it. Don’t expect to have a bestseller float out of your fingertips on the first try, don’t try to impress anyone, don’t make the process something more than it needs to be. Just do it. You can. If you had the idea to write a book, it was because some part of your brain, a part you should listen to, said you can and want to. There isn’t something magical to it, you just have to keep at it, make it as fun as possible, and push those critics away – especially those in the other part of your brain telling you that you can’t do it. Show that inner pessimist who’s boss and get that story written, even if it ends up being terrible.

Why? Because there are no good reasons not to. Finish what you start. You’ll never regret it.

Need a little extra motivation? Check out the video below.

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Fearless Self-Publishing Self-Publishing Writing Life

Fearless Self-Publishing Part 1: Every Keystroke Matters

This article is part of a series by Writing Bloc written to help indie authors put their best work forward when self-publishing.

Disappointment with ebook appearance? We’ve been there.

When Writing Bloc released our first anthology, Escape!, on January first, I couldn’t wait to download the ebook to my Kindle and read the finished product. We had worked hard and twenty different people pored over the manuscript to produce the final draft, so it was time to enjoy the fruits of our labor. When we uploaded the finished product to Draft2Digital and Amazon, we were confident and proud of what we had accomplished. So many eyes, so many corrections. The final product had to be perfect. I was beyond excited.

So imagine my surprise when the first story looked all wonky on my Kindle. The cover, copyright, and table of contents pages were all fine, but the manuscript was the bread and butter, and it just looked odd. The paragraphs all started at different places in their indentations. The line spacing felt strange. The quirks and problems in this “final product” were off enough to distract from immersion in the story. What had gone wrong?

via GIPHY

The problems weren’t even consistent throughout the book. Some stories came out perfectly aligned. Others only askew in a few places. Then the last story was just as jagged-looking as the first. Seeing as how we all spent months making this book gorgeous in its editing, I was frustrated with this digital publishing experience. And honestly, I blamed the format. I’m not the biggest fan of ebooks. I will read them, but generally I much prefer holding a printed book in my hand. As our next step was to format the paperback version (which is available now!), my concerns hit a fever pitch when approaching formatting. If a print book comes out looking strange, then you really can’t blame the medium of delivery unless the ink itself is smeared across the page. I combed through the manuscript as I prepared the print version, and soon enough, I found that the problem with the ebook wasn’t the technology at all, it was the way we told the technology the book should appear.

Look out for invisible problems

Writing in the modern age is much more than the words and letters you put on the page. It’s actually a little more musical than that, if you’d like to think of it that way. Music isn’t just the sounds, it’s also the silences. Writing in the digital age is definitely not just the words, it’s all the keystrokes. A few extra keystrokes caused our ebook to look off in many places. The problem is now solved, and after I solved it, I immediately thought I should share what I learned with the independent author community as soon as I could. Mostly because I’ve seen similar problems in other self-published manuscripts, and like so many other readers, I blamed the ebook itself. No matter who is receiving the blame, the end result is that the reader experience is worse for each and every error in a final product.

Specifically to Escape!, the problem was all the different styles of writing. We had twenty different authors from varying backgrounds contributing to the manuscript, and as it turned out, we had many different styles of starting a new line and indenting a paragraph. First, let me tell you the “right way”. If you can get into the habit of starting each new line of your story by simply pressing ENTER-TAB, then you will save yourself a ton of hassle down the road when you go to format your manuscript.

via GIPHY

This might seem like a silly thing to worry about, but it will turn out to be a big deal when publishing your book. Ebooks are just mindless computers displaying information exactly as they have been told. To your e-reader, all you have written is a series of keystrokes. It doesn’t really care about words or grammar. It’s been told to display something based on the information it’s been given, and hitting the space bar several times is different than one tap of the tab key. Pressing enter when you just want the same paragraph to continue on the next line means something completely different than just writing your sentences back to back.

Your published ebook is meant to be dynamic

Despite my distaste for ebooks, I realize their benefits. They have the ability to alter text sizes for different visual abilities. They can change the font for reader preference. Links to websites, blogs, and other works with which the author wishes to associate can be plugged directly into the script. Pictures can change placement and size depending on screen size. And the final product can be read on something as small as a cell phone and as large as a television screen. With print, what you see is what you get.

So when you’re producing the final manuscript for your ebook, remember that you aren’t actually giving your publishing program of choice your final product, you’re giving it the starting point for how you generally want your ebook to appear when readers open it. You don’t have control over what words will and will not wrap around a paragraph because you don’t know how large every reader will make your text appear. You don’t have control over how far your paragraphs indent because you don’t know how large of a screen each user will have. While formatting, you will have access to simulators (most often displayed as a “Preview” button) that will give you a general idea of what your final product will look like, but these simulators don’t cover everything. The best thing you can do is make your manuscript as clean and well structured with as few keystrokes as possible. Make sure your links work. Make sure your pictures are the right quality. These are things you have control over. But also make sure your paragraphs are consistent in their formatting. And keep it simple. ENTER for a new paragraph. TAB for an indent. One space in between sentences. Nothing more.

via GIPHY

Another good, sneaky double-check is to publish your ebook and not tell anyone. Then, download it yourself, or better yet, get a few beta readers with different e-readers to download it, and then search for errors in formatting that would distract your reader. If you find nothing, then congratulations! Tell the world about your ebook! If there are errors, go back and fix them, repeat the process with your betas downloading an updated ebook (by removing the old version from their device and downloading it again). Once it looks great, then you can go on selling your ebook with confidence.

The video below is a great place to start with how to format and upload your book to Amazon, as it points out a few tricks for keeping track of your keystrokes and spacing:

No matter what, take your time. No one becomes a bestseller overnight, so the publication day isn’t something to rush. We here at Writing Bloc want to make the indie publishing experience as great and painless as possible. In that spirit, we will continue this series, giving you any tips and tricks we’ve learned from our own experience and mistakes. Is there anything you need help with or have questions about? Let us know in the comments.

Thank you for reading!

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Software Review Writing Life

Why I Love Using The Hemingway Editor App

We all need an editor. Sure, asking friends or family can help, but sometimes you need an impartial set of eyes to look over your work. Having someone else to catch those simple errors or mistakes in flow is necessary for any writer. Many apps have arrived online over the past few years to help. A mainstay has been the Hemingway App, and with good reason.

The homepage of hemingwayapp.com greets you with beautiful simplicity. Everything the app does is explained in neat text on one screen. Read everything there, and you know how to use the app. Proceed, and begin editing.

Hemingway Keeps it Simple

At its core, the Hemingway App is a simple word processor. You can turn off all its editing tools by clicking on “write” in the upper right-hand corner. Once you do, the app gives you a simple distraction-free place to compose. Simple formatting tools line up across the top of the screen, and the composition area is in the center. The simplest options are the only ones available, though. No extensive font choices, no limitless point sizes, no colors. If you want more extensive for your writing process, you are welcome to copy and paste the text from any other file. Once you do, though, your text will revert to Hemingway’s font and size. This may annoy you, but it shouldn’t. The editing process is about the words, not the frills. You can reinsert all the fancy stuff after you pass through this process.

Once you finish writing, no matter where you do it, it is time to click on the “edit” button in the upper right-hand corner of the screen. This will engage the real power of the Hemingway App.

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The Power of Editing Mode

With editing mode engaged, your text becomes colorful, and a stats bar appears on the right side. This area of the screen displays the value of the app. The first thing you see is the “readability” of your writing, measured in grade level. This is based upon sentence structure and level of vocabulary used. Contrary to what you might think, the lower the grade level, the better. Ernest Hemingway’s own writing and books have been analyzed, and the consensus is that his most popular works are at a 4th to 6th grade reading level.

Why is this important? Why not try to make your writing be at a 12th grade level? The answer lies in your audience. Just because you are writing at a simpler level to read does not mean that your message has to be simplified. For example, why say “I am attracted to you in such a manner that is virtually unidentifiable in description other than to say that I feel this way toward no other human being on this or any other planet in the universe, past or present,” when you can say “I love you”? Keep it simple. If more people can understand your writing, then more people will read your writing. It’s as simple as that. The app only gives you a warning when your writing is at the 12th grade level, which should be reserved for academic papers.

A Plethora of Useful Stats

Below the readability analysis, a drop-down box of basic stats appears. This gives you facts about your writing that you may or may not find useful. If you do not find these stats useful, everything but the word count can be hidden from view.

Below the stats area is the bread and butter of the Hemingway App. A legend of five colors appears, corresponding to the highlighted portions of your writing. These are five important areas to focus on when reviewing and editing. The app can discover adverbs, use of passive voice, phrases or words with simpler alternatives, hard to read sentences, and very hard to read sentences. These areas are highlighted in your text, and the color-coded boxes on the right display statistics with suggestions inside.

For example, the app is not telling you to cut all adverbs, but it will suggest that you bring your count of adverbs down below a certain number relative to the length of your writing. Sometimes, the app misses things. Other times, the app highlights words that end in “ly” that are not adjectives. It’s not quite perfect, but it catches at least 95% of these typical problems in writing.

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You Still Have Control

The app will not correct things for you. You still have to do the work, which is how it should be. It will suggest simpler alternatives for the words and phrases highlighted in purple, but that is the most direct way in which the app will intervene. Whether to take the app’s advice is completely up to the writer. But chances are, you will perform many edits based upon the Hemingway App’s suggestions.

The app can handle a tremendous amount of script, too. I’ve copied and pasted up to 75,000 words of text into the editor and it analyzed it in seconds. Quite impressive.

The online app is free to use, as well. The only drawback is that it will not save your work. To get that feature, you can buy the desktop version of the app, which goes for $19.99 and works for both Mac and PC. The desktop app comes with many benefits, including the ability to import and export to and from the most popular types of text files. Also, the app now has the option to publish your writing directly to your account on either Medium or WordPress.

With its simplicity and power, I find the Hemingway App to be an essential tool in my writing arsenal.

Here are before and after shots of this very article, as I used the Hemingway App to edit it:


Before

 


After

If you’re curious to learn more, here is an incredible video about Hemingway’s style and how it influenced the creation of the Hemingway App:

Related Links:

Hemingway editor App

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Writing Life

Writing Bloc’s New Year’s 2019 Writing Resolutions

It’s a new year, and at Writing Bloc we’re taking the opportunity to set some intentions for 2019, both as a group and individually as writers. Expect Writing Bloc to grow throughout the year as we continue to find additional ways to support the writing community. We checked in with a few of our contributors on what their goals are for 2019. Also, don’t forget to check out Becca’s Writers as Readers Challenge.

Becca’s 2019 Writing Resolutions

My writing resolutions are to finish the edits for Rock of Ages, do a second draft of my second novel or draft a third, and read– a lot. The edits bit is hard since it depends on pleasing someone else. It’s not something entirely in my control. And I know it will be hard to pull myself away from RoA to focus on something else but I’m sure it will also be refreshing. I learned last year how important keeping up my reading habit is for improving my writing, and I’m upping my goal to 24 books this year.
Having three big goals is a bit overwhelming, so I’m really just pushing myself to work every day, even if it’s just a little bit. I think (and hope) that if I just keep going, I’ll get to everything.

Cari’s 2019 Writing Resolutions

At the end of 2018, I learned that my adjunct professor gig for spring 2019 was going to a doctoral student. While I hope to be teaching again in the summer or fall, I’m trying to look at this as an unexpected gift of time. I am on my third draft of How to Remember, and I’d like to turn that in during the first quarter of the year. I’m also finishing the first draft of my second novel, The Enigma Variations. I signed up for a “Book in a Week” challenge – actually, that’s next week! So we’ll see how many words I can knock out then. I’m looking forward to editing another anthology with Writing Bloc as well. On a personal note – I’m kind of a workaholic, with a plate that’s more than full most days. My goal is to be easier on myself this year, leaving some space for discovery and wonder.

Jacqui’s 2019 Writing Resolutions

2018 was a big year for me as a writer. My first novel The Seclusion hit shelves, I completed NaNoWriMo in November, I started co-hosing WordPlay Radio in Asheville NC, and I teamed up with five of the most authentic, amazing people I’ve ever met to play a hand in starting Writing Bloc.  From beginning to end, 2018 felt like a whirlwind. A positive whirlwind, but still one that left me struggling to remember what routine looks like. In 2019 I would like to slow down, and bring more intention to my writing. I am going to aim to read every day for ten to twenty minutes before I begin to write, and write by hand every day. I’m easily distracted…. sorry let me log off of twitter here and finish this thought…. and I find that when I write by hand the words flow more easily. On a personal note, I’m also going to strive to cut down on the whole caffeine addiction thing.

Michael’s 2019 Writing Resolutions

After allowing myself a good reflection on 2018, I realized that it was an enormous year that started with struggles but finished strong (I’ve detailed it somewhat in my most recent blog post). The reason I finished strong was thanks to gathering a great group of positive friends and influences around me with Writing Bloc. Thus, my first resolution is to keep that momentum going. I will stay heavily involved in Writing Bloc and push this thing to be as big and helpful to other writers as I can make it. Of course, my major writing goal is to finish my novel, The Man Who Stole The World, and I’m pushing myself with that already. Otherwise, I will continue to read a ton, write even more, and push away the negative. 2019 will be a great year, I have no doubt.

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Lists Software Review Writing Life

How Learning Another Language Will Improve Your Writing

Want to improve your writing? Learn another language!

I know. You might be saying, “But…writing in English is hard enough. Why would I waste my time with any other language?”

It’s simple, really. Writing, as with any intense activity, is best performed after a good warm up. Your brain is about to produce a story, poem, or anything else creative from scratch. Your fingers need to warm up, your mind needs to get into writing mode, and your body needs to get used to whatever position it will stay in over the next few minutes…or hours.

I find it best not to launch right into my story or main project immediately after sitting down to write. It feels heavier and more like a chore if I don’t warm up with another activity first. Personally, I am focused on writing a novel, and I used to warm up with a quick poem or limerick – something to get the fingers moving across the keyboard and get my mind in the mood.

But now I’ve found that studying a language before writing is an excellent way to become a better writer, and here are nine reasons why:

1) It’s free.

There is a remarkable program online called DuoLingo. It is a completely free website for learning another language. Once you create an account, you can study anywhere at any time, as there is also a free mobile app. The languages offered include Spanish, German, French, Welsh, Russian, and a constantly grow number of other language courses. Users can even contribute to the construction of these courses (which is exactly why they have a Klingon course!) Each language course is packed with skills for individual practice, including writing, translating, and pronunciation (with your microphone on your computer or mobile device active). DuoLingo also offers comprehensive quizzes, immersion projects for translating articles on the internet, community clubs, and an extremely user-friendly interface.

duolingo mobile app interface, three screens

2) It will challenge your perspective on language.

Nvidia StoreWhat makes writing interesting and beautiful is how each individual author manipulates language. The rules of the English language can often seem restrictive. But after playing around with the different verb tenses and sentence formations of another language, your mind begins to accept the fact that there are nearly endless ways to express yourself. Plus, while learning another language, you begin to find the words that are similar between tongues, giving your brain quicker access to synonyms and other descriptors you might not have thought about otherwise. In a similar vein, some words are so completely different in other languages that seeing and hearing a simple sentence become something 100% new will challenge your brain to rethink the basics. Never let go of your appreciation for simpler words and phrases.

3) It will demonstrate new rhythms of speaking.

Rhythm is important in writing. If the cadence is too dull or repetitive in your work, then the reader will become bored and lose focus. Making the words flow in a pattern that is pleasing to read is a talent that must be honed in order to become a quality writer. Each language has its own natural rhythm and tonal structure, and learning another language is similar to learning an old song on a brand new instrument. Everything is suddenly brand new.

4) It doesn’t have to be difficult.

With DuoLingo, the lessons are already set out for you. You just open up the program and click on whatever skill you want to either learn or improve upon. The interface is extremely user friendly, and they have rewards and achievements to keep you motivated along the way.

5) It will train your fingers to rethink the keyboard.

This seems silly to say if you are a proficient typist, however, all skills have room for improvement. Typing letters in different arrangements with new punctuation and capitalization is a good way to make typing in your native tongue seem effortless. Face it, once you’ve mastered putting um lauts and tildes in their proper places, then typing a simple English language story will become all the more simple to do.

6) You will gain new perspective on old idioms and proverbs.

Every part of the world has a different perspective, of course. As a writer, understanding other perspectives is invaluable. When learning another language, you start understanding another culture’s perspective as you decipher their sentence structure and word choice. It’s quite fun, actually. For example, in Spanish, “Let bygones be bygones” is said colloquially as “Borrón y cuenta nueva,” which is closer to “clearance and new account.” Interesting, right?

7) It will improve your awareness of your own language.

The skills in DuoLingo are separated mostly into the the different existing parts of speech. Because of these divisions, the user gains an increased awareness of the different parts of speech of their own language. With skill divisions such as determiners, participles, future perfect tense, and modal verbs, the user indirectly gets lessons regarding the many pieces and parts that make up the English language as well.

8) It opens up the world.

As a writer, keeping an awareness and an appreciation for multiple perspectives is imperative. Language is the basis for all communication, and communication is the basis of world interpretation. When creating characters for a story, each character must have their own voice, background, and perspective in order to seem genuine. Learning another language is an excellent exercise in perspective that is not offered any other way.

9) You will learn another language.

With time and dedicated study, you might actually find yourself being able to communicate with millions of other people around the world. Americans are particularly bad about expecting everyone else to know how to speak their own language, and American writers could benefit from the loss of a comfort zone that comes with speaking in another language. As a writer, you should feel comfortable with words. To help this, try replacing your set of vocabulary with a completely different set. I’m betting that once you start, you’ll enjoy the challenge.

The video below introduces DuoLingo, for those who are interested.

Related link:

http://www.duolingo.com

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Software Review Writing Life

Review of Flowstate: “The Most Dangerous Writing App”

Writing and editing are two different things.

Writing itself should be a simple task. All you have to do is put one word after the other, form sentences, form ideas, and make everything you’ve done come together into one great work that is sure to express your heart and soul exactly as you intended. But that’s not really writing. That’s writing and editing put together. 

With all of the details, heart, emotion, ideals, characters, love, and everything in between that is invested in even the simplest of fiction pieces, sometimes the task of writing can feel so insurmountable that simply getting started can seem impossible. Other times, continuing an idea that has already been started is even more difficult. 

Some enjoy calling these difficulties “writer’s block,” and most proposed solutions involve doing things other than simply writing. What keeps those first few words, no matter how flawed they may be, from flowing onto the page is simple doubt. Doubt is the writer’s worst enemy; however, doubt is simply a large amount of misplaced energy. If the writer could take the energy being put into doubt and convert it into an outrageous stream of productivity, then that would be something. 

Getting the words out is the only true form of writing. You are either writing or you are not. If you are unable to write because you want the words to be perfect right out of the gate, then you are trying to write and edit simultaneously, and this can cause writer’s block, a lack of productivity, and doubt. Staring that blank page down and allowing doubt to wash over you prevents the all too essential first draft from being born. If only there were a way to force a writer to quit stalling and dish out that first draft without looking back…


Enter Flowstate.

Most writers might think it insane to use an app that erases everything you have written if you stop writing for five seconds. And at its core, that’s all Flowstate does.
That’s right: Everything you’ve written, no matter how long you’ve been writing for, gets permanently erased if you stop writing in Flowstate.

It might be disguised in what sounds to be an evil premise, but I maintain that Flowstate is the first draft’s best friend.

Flowstate is simple in both its layout and its function. Basically, it’s a basic, yet beautifully sleek, word processor. The program gives you five fonts to pick from and a blank page. No other frills or distractions. What makes Flowstate unique and, in my opinion, wonderful, is that there is only one other main function you must choose prior to writing a document: how long you will be writing for. The timing starts at five minutes and goes for as long as 180 minutes (for the truly crazy ones out there). So once you title your document, pick a font and a time, you are ready to go.

Simple setup, horrifying premise, but great results.

Flowstate gives you a blank page with the time you’ve chosen in the upper right corner. As soon as you begin writing, the timer begins counting down. Type away as quickly or slowly as you’d like, but if you stop making keystrokes, your entire document begins to fade away and will disappear completely if you do not press a key within five seconds. Let five seconds run out, and all of your work is gone. There’s no safety net, no autosave. It’s just gone. Forever.

Why would anyone in their right mind do such a thing? Because it’s brilliant. Do you need to write and you keep putting it off? Do you need to complete your first draft but you keep questioning your story? Are you easily distracted when you should be writing? Well, then Flowstate has a tremendously effective answer. As opposed to other software that simply attempts to block out distractions, Flowstate directly threatens your progress should you not keep going and get to your work. It forces you to focus by holding your work hostage. 

You earn the right to save and edit.

Once the timer runs out you can continue typing, knowing that all of your hard work will (thankfully!) be saved. You can then return to it and edit it, or export your work to another format altogether. Go on, you’ve earned it. 

Although being threatened while being creative might not be for everyone, I find it to be exhilarating. If I only have ten minutes to write, then I can set my timer in Flowstate and know that I will use that ten minutes to its fullest. 

The app is available in the Apple Mac Store for $9.99 or in the App Store for $4.99, and both apps synchronize together over the iCloud so you can edit any of your drafts anywhere. While $5-$10 can seem like a bit of money for a simple app, you are making an investment in your creativity that can certainly payoff quickly and change what you thought you knew about your writing process. 

Here is a helpful video that shows how the app basically works:



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Writing Life

Take the Money! Graciously Accepting Payment for Your Work

On Thursday, I spoke at a NaNoWriMo kickoff event hosted by the wonderful nonprofit, Inlandia Institute. People seemed to enjoy the workshop and I met some nice people! Afterward, I was surprised and humbled when Inlandia presented me with an honorarium. As a former board member of the organization, I guess I knew in the back of my mind that this was procedure. I just hadn’t thought it applied to me. Honorariums are for real writers, I thought. Professionals. I don’t have enough experience. I wanted to do the event. It was fun for me and a nice way to get my name out there. I didn’t think I deserved it.

                                

I toyed with the idea of just giving the money back. It was so nice, though– I spent money on my Rock of Ages campaign, and this was a way to recoup. I won’t get any royalties for the book until after it’s published, and I won’t get any for the 750 preorders I had to get to have it published. I could definitely use the money.

Eventually I realized I should keep the money, at least a good portion of it, and I shouldn’t feel guilty about it. I’m giving 10% back to Inlandia because I so value the work they do and I want them to know that. If you are lucky enough to get something like this honorarium for sharing your creative work, here’s why you should stop feeling guilty too:

  • Accepting money for writing, or for teaching people about writing, sends the message that writing is valuable. Stories enrich our lives.
  • Writers do so much work that is not paid. As I mentioned, I put money into my crowdfunding campaign. I don’t get paid to blog or send out newsletters. I don’t get paid to write the 1000ish words a day that I usually do. Getting paid occasionally for something isn’t just payment for that workshop or story or whatever. It’s payment, and validation, for that workshop or story and all the unpaid work you do. It’s a gesture from the person or organization paying you that they value all the creative work you do and how it enriches the world.
  • Just because you like doing something does not mean you shouldn’t get paid for it. Really, we know this, but sometimes think it doesn’t apply to us. If you do something because you want to, and then you get money for it, celebrate! That’s amazing!
  • You deserve it! Thinking you don’t is just another nasty way imposter syndrome tries to talk to writers. Whoever gave you the money thinks you deserved it. Believe them!

So send a sincere letter of thanks. Be grateful and gracious. And then keep creating!

 

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Writing Life

So You’re a NaNoWriMo Revision Rebel?

Though you’ve likely heard of NaNoWriMo, you may not know about NaNo Rebels. These are writers who participate in the month-long writing marathon, but don’t follow the rules. They may write essays or nonfiction instead of novels, they may set a word count other than 50,000. They may work on more than one project at once. Or they may revise instead of writing something new. Since I’m knee-deep in the edits for Rock of Ages, if I participate in NaNoWrimo this November, it will be as a rebel. I love the excitement of the month and the tools the program offers, but other than posts on the site’s forums and a few blog posts, I haven’t found tons of resources for participating as a rebel. If you’re planning to use the month to revise, read on for my plan.

Using the Word Tracker

This is the main topic of discussion amongst revision rebels. How do you translate 50,000 words into editing? People tend to do one of a few things:

  • Words processed- Count each word of your old manuscript that you go through
  • Words in the new version- Count the words in your revised work, even if some are copied and pasted or only changed a little bit. These first two are useful if you’re working on a new vomit draft.
  • Daily work- Some people aim to work on their revisions each day for the month. Each day you work, add 1667 words to your count.
  • Time- 1 hour= 500 words, 1 hour= 1000 words, 1 hour= 1667 words, etc. Since I’m trying to slow down and be more deliberate for this draft, this is likely the way I’ll go, though I haven’t decided my time to words ratio yet. A bonus to using this method is that you can count things like research toward your goal. It also leaves room to go over the same passage multiple times without hindering your word count.

Word Sprints

Word sprints are one of the most helpful tools for me when I’m aiming for quantity. These timed sprints often take place on Twitter, but you can do them with a writing friend, too! They help you circumvent your inner editor and get the words flowing. If you’re trying to summon your inner editor, though, you don’t want to suppress her. Here are some ways to harness the energy of a word sprint if you’re revising:

  • If you’re counting words processed or words in your new version, go ahead and race! You can always go back and edit your edits whe the sprint is done.
  • Use it as a focus tool. Ban yourself from looking at or doing anything else for the five, ten, or twenty minutes of the sprint. Even if you just sit there staring at your manuscript, don’t give in to distraction for the set amount of time. Maybe you’ll get something done, or maybe you’ll give your brain enough of a rest that you’ll be able to focus more afterwards.
  • Use it as a break. Give yourself the time of the sprint to work on something new or to do some stream of consciousness writing. You won’t feel guilty that you aren’t getting your revision done because, hey, it’s just a few minutes, and the excitement of writing will likely re-energize you when you return to your draft.
  • Use it for character or world building work. Use the time to write freely about a character’s arc, a scene from their childhood, or a discussion between two of your characters. Write a scene from your world that isn’t in the book. Describe how part of it looks, feels, smells, sounds, and tastes. Write one of your scenes without people. Write one from a different character’s point of view. All of this will help you shape your actual manuscript even if it doesn’t end up in the final version of your book.

Rejoice, Rebel!

Don’t feel guilty about being a revision rebel. NaNoWriMo is a tool to help with your writing. If it’s working for you, then you’re participating, even if you aren’t doing the classic 50,000 new words in 30 days. One of the best parts is the community! So gather your friends, attend a write in, enjoy the forums and the Twitter chat. Sense the buzz in the air that is the worldwide writing community feeling motivated and excited. Happy Almost NaNoWriMo!

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Author Interview Uncategorized Writing Life

Interview with Rachael Sparks: Author of Resistant

Rachael Sparks is the author of the hard science fiction novel Resistant, which Publishers Weekly called “a scientifically accurate apocalypse.” Resistant takes place in a near future in which drug-resistant bacteria are winning the battle over humanity. Rachael was kind enough to chat with me about science, character development, and writing habits.

In the final battle with drug-resistant bacteria, one woman’s blood holds a secret weapon.

Rory and her father have survived the antibiotic crisis that has killed millions, including Rory’s mother—but ingenuity and perseverance aren’t their only advantages. When a stoic and scarred young military veteran enters their quiet life, Rory is drawn to him against her better judgment . . . until he exposes the secrets her mother and father kept from her, including the fact that her own blood may hold the cure the world needs, and she is the target of groups fighting to reach it first.

When the government comes after Rory, aiming to use her for a cure it can sell to the highest bidder, she’s forced to flee with her father and their new protector. But can she find the new path of human evolution before the government finds her?

Your novel draws from real-world science. Tell us a little bit about your background and what the research process was like for you.

I’m a microbiologist by training, a transplant expert, and now I work in hospital infection prevention with a medical device startup. So my education and career has centered around public health and that experience was half a lifetime of research for several books! For this novel, the research I needed to do was easy in that it was mostly mining my own brain and then confirming my filed-away facts were not yet discredited. Knowing that several friends who are legit scientists would be reading, I wanted badly for them to be convinced.

When did the idea for Resistant first strike you?

I’d wanted to write a sci-fi novel that explored this problem[antibiotic resistance], but a dream of a scene in the climax really inspired the characters. A handsome guy with swaths of discolored skin. . . readers will know his disfigurement plays into the plot but I honestly couldn’t say whether that was already in my mind or came after the dream!

 

Tell us about your protagonist? Are they inspired by someone you know in real life?

Rory is an amalgam of a lot of wonderful people I’ve known. She’s smart and a little unfiltered at times, with a bravery that can get her into trouble.  I wanted her to be flawed, to make mistakes and be mature enough to solve them on her own.

Do you have a favorite character out of all the ones you’ve created?

Yes, I like Navy. He’s not an open book, not easy to read, so he was a challenge to write. I wanted him to be reserved but not aloof, to have integrity despite having made massively bad judgement calls in his past. He’s fun to get to know as I write more about him.


How important is research to you when writing a book?

It’s critical, in my genre. In retrospect I would’ve loved for Resistant to be longer, with more science background explained — an excuse for even more research! So aside from enjoying the process, translating the useful bits into my writing in order to create an absorbing, believable premise is important to me. Science can be unwieldy for some, but the best sci-fi makes it palatable and fascinating to any reader.

Do your novels carry a primary message?

I hope so. My goal is to entertain while also imparting a bit of knowledge that arms the reader, even if only for an interesting fact to drop into cocktail hour.


If given the opportunity to start over, would you change anything in your books?

Ugh. Who wouldn’t? I’d just do more backstory for everything and everyone.


Do your characters seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you keep a hold of the reigns?

When I’m writing, it feels like it! Even the end of Resistant surprised me, so I credit Rory for that. But more often I feel like I’m a director talking to an actor: “How do you think your character would react?”

Do you often project your own habits onto your characters?

Sure! Our habits are our expertise, too, right? Rory and her father brew beer, for example, and I sorely wanted an excuse to explain how they might have harvested and cultured their own yeast and scavenged ingredients. Alas, it had no plot value.



What other genres do you enjoy reading?

I love a good mystery fiction with a bit of adventure, action romance — couples in peril saving each other is catnip for vacation reading. Magical realism genre is delicious when the authors ground it in theoretical science. I’m still in awe of Deb Harkness’ use of genetics to plausibly structure a tree of life that could explain a vampire!

 

Tell us a little bit about your writing process. Do you aim to complete a set number of pages or words each day?

Oh hell no. When I sit down to write, I’ve usually been thinking about scenes for a while, and I first refresh myself on where I left off. But often I’ll also pick a random spot in my MS to re-read, as it helps me keep a consistent mood. And I turn on my playlist for each work in progress, and pretend it’s the soundtrack to the future movie. I don’t judge my progress on words — if it’s something I want to keep reading, I feel successful.

Some writers create a bubble around themselves until they finish a project – how true is that for you?
Gosh, that sounds lovely. I have a 4 year old, a husband I love to spend time with, dogs, career, and other relationships to nurture. Maybe one day I could do that! The closest I get to a bubble is a closed office door on an early morning.


If you were given the opportunity to join a book club with your favorite authors, dead or alive, who would you want to become a part of the club?

Michael Crichton. Emily Dickinson. David Walton. Nora Roberts. Katherine Howe. Jacqui Castle. Deborah Harkness. Celeste Ng. Emily and Anne Bronte. And I’d invite Andrew Mayne, if he promised to entertain us with magic tricks.

Anne and the Emilys would likely clique off, but maybe we could ply them with sherry and put them at ease.

Awww shucks. I would love to be in a book club with you!

What do you do to market your own books yourself? Any advice on that front?

I doubt I have some magical insight here, but I try to promote myself on all the normal channels: website, social media, Goodreads and other places an author profile can be added. Talking about yourself is the pits, so I just try not to take myself very seriously. I think being fun, informative, genuine and engaged is the best marketing.

For advice, specifically to new authors, I say: to make the most of social media as an author, I think you have to abandon rules about friends on platforms. When launching a new book, everyone is your friend. I also suggest they ask themselves before spending dollars in marketing (a website, for example) – how can I measure its return, so I’ll know whether to continue investing there. Analytics and data are your friend!

What is your preferred method for readers to get in touch with or follow you (website, blog, Facebook, Goodreads, etc.) and links?

I’m most active on Twitter and Instagram, but Facebook and Goodreads get a daily visit. My website is a great place and goes straight to my inbox!

 

 

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