My Month of Writing: a writing tracker

My Month of Writing

Gentle Readers, I have done a thing! I’ve created a writing tracker centered around setting goals, recording achievements, and making notes. The idea is that if you prepare the day before you’ll be able to start quickly the next day. Perfect for monthly challenges, with enough individual tracking pages for up to 31 days.

The tracker is available in paperback from Amazon.

How to Get Your Groove Back: Returning to Old Ideas

This essay was originally published to the writing community Get Your Words Out.

Returning to Old Ideas

Or, how to find motivation after a break

In 2005, I wrote the first draft of what would become my first published novel, Chiaroscuro. While rewriting it over the next year, I got ideas for a few other stories in that universe, centering on some major characters and some minor ones, for a series I named City by the Bay.  (Yes, as in, “I want to be there in my city.” I was really homesick for California, y’all.) The next story came easily, and was published in 2009 as Something Beautiful. I eagerly started the third story, which I called Cartography for Beginners. I got about 8000 words into it, and then…

Nothing.

For months. 

Every few weeks, I opened the file and reread what I had, hoping that an idea of how to continue would pop into my head. I knew how I wanted the story to end of course — I write romances, the ending isn’t the hard part — but how to get there just refused to … pop.

Meantime, I wrote other stuff, mostly novellas and short stories and fanfic. Readers and even my editor asked me if there would be more City by the Bay stories, and I talked about it sometimes in my chats on the publisher’s community page. But not matter what I did, Cartography for Beginners was stuck in a limbo of “I don’t know what to do next.” 

Then after three years, I was reading the file again, and like magic, I knew what should happen next. And what should happen after that. And after that. It took a few months of deep focus, but the rough draft was finally finished in May 2011 and Cartography for Beginners was published in 2012.

Currently, I’m working on an idea I originally got in 2016 from an incident between one of my role-play characters and his now-partner, that I’m calling Continuo. I’ve started over quite a few times, and put it aside quite a few times to work on other things–mostly Fidele, AKA the novel that ate my brain. (Fidele ate my brain so thoroughly that a year after its publication I still feel it echoing in my head.) Despite all the setbacks, I do want to write this story–I want these characters’ story to be told.

Sometimes an idea will strike like lightning. I wrote the first draft of Fidele in three weeks, for example. Granted, it was only 38K words then, but it gave me a solid foundation to work on. 

But sometimes an idea needs some time to find itself. I refer to it as the “percolating” period, when I set a story aside to let my subconscious work out solutions to whatever narrative problems sprang up. 

I don’t believe either method is better than the other — as with most things writing, you do what works best for you, or what works best for that particular story. But if you have an idea that’s been waiting for a long time, or a story that you started but don’t know how to finish, how do you find your inspiration again?

Aside from just waiting, here are a few things that have worked for me:

  • Write down your ideas, no matter how big or small. Keep an active, and detailed as possible, idea file, and write down every idea you possibly can. 
  • Write down the inspiration, the “what if”, and any snippets of dialogue or description or whatever that came with the specific idea. Attach pictures if it was a visual inspiration. 
  • Create a mood board or a playlist. Keep those in a place you can easily find them again — I bless Spotify for making playlists so easy that I never have to worry about losing a curated playlist when I change computers again. 
  • Research aspects of the idea, even if it’s something small like a period-accurate pair of shoes or how religious acolytes cut their hair. Research will help you get a feel for the world again, or help with your world-building by using real-world equivalents, and help you want to be in your own version of that world again.

Then, when you want to return to the idea, you have whatever inspired you in the first place in an easy-to-find location. If you’ve done several reminders, you’ll have inspiration for multiple senses to kickstart your creativity again. 

  • Reread what you’ve previously written. If you didn’t take notes but did write a few hundred or thousand words, reread them and write down any thoughts you have while you’re reading. 
  • Reread a favorite novel. When I feel like my creativity is waning, I visit my favorite books to refill the well, so to speak. 
  • Rewatch a favorite movie or TV series, go to a museum, go to a play or a dance performance or a concert (when such things happen again), go for a walk in the woods. As with books, a beloved piece of art (yes, nature totally counts as art) can clear your head enough to get some thinking done. 
  • Search for inspiration, in new places and in old.  I firmly believe that when you open yourself to new ideas, they will find you, but you have to do your part, too. 

Most of all, if you really want this story to be told, don’t give up. It may take time, it may take research, it may take the weirdest Google searches to appear in your history, but if you believe you can write the story, you will.

Two Productivity Apps: Notion and Moleskine Journey

This essay was originally posted to the writing community Get Your Words Out.

At the beginning of the month I downloaded a bunch of apps with the intention to test them out and offer brief reviews of each one. Then I got a new job and have been studying for license certification exams, and completely forgot about this essay until yesterday.

Oops.

So let’s talk about two apps on different ends of the productivity spectrum, Moleskin Journey and Notion.

Notion is available on mobile, desktop, and browser platforms, and is a product of Notion Labs. It is primarily intended for project management for schools, businesses, and personal use. The personal plan was recently changed to have unlimited “blocks” or individual pieces of information, meaning you can use it for all your everything without a subscription or flat fee. There are other levels to their pricing plans, of course, with more features, but a personal plan will probably be enough for most writers no matter how much mythology and backstory your story has.

As far as its functionality goes, Notion can:

  • store notes and documents
  • be a content management system
  • be a wiki
  • be a kanban board
  • be a gallery
  • all sorts of other functions as outlined in templates provided by Notion Labs and the Notion community.

If you want to delete apps on your phone and consolidate everything into one, Notion is a useful tool. You navigate using dropdown menus or breadcrumb navigation, you can use icons or graphics to differentiate different areas, and add colors or change fonts to personalize your databases.

But… since it’s intended for business, it’s a little bland. And for me, it made organizing my story notes feel like work, not something that gives me joy.

Since Notion didn’t suit me but I still wanted an app that would help me keep track of goals and tasks, I decided to give Moleskine Journey a try. Journey is made by the Moleskine company — the journal people — and tries to recreate that simple aesthetic digitally. Primarily, Moleskin is a journal app, so you can update your calendar, set yourself goals or reminders, and even have the app wake you up every morning.

Where the magic happens is the Projects tab. Here, you can create separate goals with their own lists of tasks, color-code them, set their own due date and reminders and so on, and set the tasks to be completed by a certain date or repeat every day.

Journey is intended for creatives, and allows you to create several projects or one big project with several related tasks, or whatever suits your needs. I find it a little more quirky than Notion, and a little more charming. You can keep it strictly business and fill your calendar with appointments, or you can remind yourself to watch your favorite Let’s Player every day. Not that I do that. That would be silly.

The downside to Journey is if you like organization, Journey doesn’t offer as many tools as many other apps. There isn’t a built-in priority system, for instance, so every task is given the same weight as the other. There’s no central section for notes and graphics, so repetitive tasks for a project have to be entered on each one. The navigation tends to be a bit mystery-meat in the name of minimalism, and I find myself saying like DeeDee on Dexter’s Lab, “What does this button do?”

So, my search for the ideal productivity assistant continues.

Any recs?

Character-driven vs. Plot-driven stories

This essay was originally posted to the writing community Get Your Words Out on April 23, 2020.

When I volunteered to write this topic, it was as much to learn as to teach. For years, my opinion has been character=plot/plot=character; basically, you can’t have one without the other. Researching this, though, has widened my perspective, and I’m excited to apply it to my next WIPs.

To start with, let’s define the difference between a plot-driven and a character-driven story. Plot-driven focuses on external events, a “one damn thing after another” kind of plot where the main character is working to achieve a want. Adventure novels like the James Bond series and anything by Tom Clancy fall into this category. Character-driven focuses on internal changes, such as a character learning to overcome their fatal flaw in order to achieve a need.

This is not to say that plot-driven and character-driven can’t work together — they can, and when they do it can create a rich, strong story. A need is what a character learns in order to fulfill their want. All of the rising action teaches the character about their need, which in turn gives them the power or strength or what-have-you to fulfill the want.

Take a basic fairy tale type of story: Jack the farmer’s son wants to see the big city. He sets off on the long walk and meets friends and enemies along the way. When he reaches the city, he catches a glimpse of the king’s daughter in a window and wants to meet her.

In a plot-driven story, Jack could do something like disguise himself as a footman and sneak into the castle to meet the princess. But in a character-driven story, Jack could have the need of proving himself to be worthy of a princess’s love. On his journey, he could learn how to show kindness or the inherent nobility of his nature. He would then use this insight into himself to earn the king’s favor and be invited into the castle, and win over the princess because of his moral character. Happy ending!

That’s a very basic example. A plot template like Dan Harmon’s story circle can help with working out a plot outline, with an eye toward fulfilling the need.

Something to keep in mind is that by the midpoint of the story, the character should stop reacting to the plot’s events and starts acting. The character transitions from being driven by the plot to driving the plot themselves.

Happy ending!

Below are some videos and articles I found helpful:

Structure in chaos

I’m going to try and use this site more as an actual blog. We all need something to read, right?

In the beginning of March, I quit my dayjob. (Rather abruptly, I admit.) I was aching and frustrated, and tired of trying to confirm to yet another office situation. (I’d left my previous job of almost five years late last year for this one, but it wasn’t what I hoped, and I didn’t want to go back to my old job, either.) I’ve spent the month working on freelancing: editing the old Torquere Press books, getting ready to work in voiceover, looking for something part-time that hopefully wouldn’t drain me body and soul like the last job.

Then real life got really, really weird.

To be honest, it hasn’t changed much about my day-to-day life except now I can’t go to a coffee shop or the library to work when I need a change of scenery. Except it kind of was: I was having trouble concentrating, or even focusing on a single project for more than a few minutes. This whirlwind in my mind was getting in the way of my goals. At the same time I felt excited and happy, because finally finally I was following my dreams. (Yes, sometimes I do wonder if I’m manic-depressive rather than just depressive, or if this the way people whose brains work normally feel all the time.)

So yesterday I decided I need to be better aware of how I spend my time, and set up my day to actually get some things accomplished rather than spend three hours watching Youtube and then deciding it was too late in the day to work on anything.

It wasn’t a whole lot yesterday: voiceover in the morning, study a language (I decided to learn Hawaiian for an upcoming story), two hours for a movie, writing time, make my mother a nice dinner. (Grilled cheese with bacon and tomato on sourdough bread, with salad and corn chips. It was a hit.)

Today I began the day with yoga, something I’ve been meaning to get back into for a while, and I feel wonderful: pleasantly stretched, and calmer in my mind. Shower’s been taken, and next is language study time, errand-running (my mother’s 80 and in poor health, so yep), then writing time for a contract job. Then a movie, maybe. Or two hours of Youtube.

Be well out there.

Photo by Startup Stock Photos from Pexels

#preptober number 3: eleven days to go

Welp.

I’m prepped. I mean, I can’t think of anything else I need to do aside from “start writing.” I’ve made a scene-by-scene outline. I’ve collected my visuals and notes. I’ve made character worksheets and story circles.

I’m ready for it to be November. Only, it’s not November.

I do have another project I need to finish by next week, so that’s something to occupy myself with for a week. But I’m waiting on a few things for that, too, so…

Now we wait. Waitober?