FRIDAY FX: “Hey, What’s the Big Idea!?”

TGIF, fellow writers!

This generation has got it good. We’re living in an amazing era of technological advancement and innovation. <cue curmudgeonly mentor voice> Why, back in my day, we didn’t have this, this Google, you speak of. Ever hear of a library catalogue? Familiar with the Dewey Decimal System?

Between that and waxing poetic on walking 15 miles to school through three foot snow drifts uphill–BOTH WAYS–in the dead of an extended Indian Summer, you get the idea, right? Information, these days, is truly at our fingertips.

So when we’re not typing various questionable entries into our trusty search engine, or bombarding Siri or Alexa with weather updates or what to make for dinner, what other methods do you resort to for information gathering?

BG (Before Google)

We didn’t always have the world at our fingertips. We literally had to do our own legwork. Libraries were, and still are, our brick and mortar haven for knowledge. Speaking of legwork, as long as we’re social distancing, there are benefits of going to the library for research or leisurely reading. Writing challenges and other literary enthusiasts will tell you to get butt in chair and write. However, we need to take breaks to stretch because the sedentary lifestyle isn’t doing us any favors.

That’s not to say that libraries are there just for research purposes. They have activities, events, and rooms to rent for private use, group chats (book clubs, writing clubs, etc.) I used to tutor students at the library, conducted business meetings, and even had documentary screenings with college organizations. There’s way more to a library than its book aisles. It’s like the world is at your fingertips–AND you’re amongst likeminded creatives. Libraries are among my most favorite places to visit.

Eavesdropping/Peoplewatching

I’ve experienced the most intriguing, and sometimes intensely WTF moments, by being adjacent to, or in the vicinity of the strange and otherworldly conversations that happen around me. Thanks for the (sometimes mind-boggling) entertainment, humanity.

Start off small. Coffeehouses, on the bus, at the mall, during a walk in the park. You name it, there are seeds of a story waiting to grow once the idea reaches the earshot of a writer. You’re surrounded by diverse groups of people from every age group, or a combination thereof. Many of my story ideas have begun this way. However, set the bar low. It might be strange, at times, but never boring. There’s plenty to hear, but some situations aren’t worth repeating. But, boy, when you do find that nugget, it’s hard not to run with it.

And who knows? On the way to the library, that walk/commute/drive might provide you with the much needed insight you’d been looking for. Or, you might find inspiration in the change of scenery, versus staring at a screen most of the day.

Writing Groups

I may look to Google for an initial query, but oftentimes, when I know my topic could be tossed in a group post in a writing group, I look forward to that method of brainstorming. Give or take a few hours, to account for international time zone differences, there’s active real-time discussion that you couldn’t get from search engines or online wikis that are edited, at will. These discussions are shared amongst people with experience in that subject and who can add nuances to your topic based on their particular background and geographic location. Of late, my writing groups are online, but when it’s safe to do so again, in-person writing groups are fun and motivating, especially when you’re in exciting conversations or revved up to do writing sprints. Online or in-person, find your tribe.

Social Media

Whether you go to Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram. Ideas are everywhere. There’s tumblr, Reddit, random memes. I use these as story prompts all the time, and they’re fun. Heck, you’ve seen a cornucopia of memes that I’ve included in my posts since I returned to my blog. They. Are. Everywhere. Ideas a-plenty. If not for a story prompt, use the visuals as inspiration for settings or actor pics as your character inspo.

Of course, we’ve got the ol’ standbys of books, television, and film. There are great (and not so great) stories out in the universe. As the reader/viewer, that perception is, of course, subjective. As a writer, however, these are extremely effective tools, because you can see final products out there in the world. You have the ability, along with the rest of the world, to determine what worked and what didn’t.

Just because an idea has been done before, that a story’s been done before, that shouldn’t deter you. Your idea, your story hasn’t been told yet because that’s uniquely you. You add the flavor and nuances from your own life experiences and knowledge that another writer can’t offer. You bring something new to the table. Remember, the majority of plot lines found in books, television, and film are also found in the bible. Brother against brother, massive calamity, plague, public persecution and discrimination. It’s all been brought up before. How will you take these ideas, some old, some outlandish, and create a fantastic read to share with the world?

Stay creative, stay weird, be kind to yourself and others.

Until next time,

T out.

FRIDAY FX: Carving Out Some Time

With only 24 hours in a day, and a handful of those where you’re hopefully sleeping restfully, how well and wisely do you spend your time?

I watched a webinar recently and was reminded of something called the Pomodoro Technique. Of course, my first thought goes to food and how I could go for a nice angel hair pomodoro right now, but I digress. This post is about focus and productivity. This is a perfect example of how easy we can lose track of time, time we can’t get back, whether we have access to a TARDIS, or not.

Where did this idea come from?

Back in the late 1980s, Francesco Cirillo was working the grind as a university student. Just the thought of going back to a time where my love for learning was weighed down by the pressure of successful evaluations thereof makes me queasy. Cirillo also felt overwhelmed but figured he could at least try honing in on ten solid minutes of studying.

Why a tomato (which is pomodoro in Italian)?

He wanted to time himself. Decades before the era of “your phone can do almost anything,” he didn’t have a timer handy so he found a kitchen timer which happened to be in the shape of a, you guessed it, the beloved fruit. Yes, it’s a fruit. It has seeds. Fight me on this.

So what is this technique all about?

Cirillo fine tuned the process and the Pomodoro Technique was born. He shared it with the world, and has created a bit of a productivity empire from this simple, yet effective method of time management.

I take a look at this and I say to myself, Self? You can do this. It seems like a reasonable concept and isn’t asking for a blood oath or anything, so I decide to give it a whirl.

A girl could’ve been that Basic B and just used the iPhone timer, but noooo, I’m THAT B and looked up some apps in the App Store. I settled on two and, as I write this, I’m in my second Pomodoro using the second app I downloaded. I did a quick glance of the features and this one appealed to me more. I might try the other one tomorrow and to a comparison review. The app I’ll briefly discuss today is aptly named, Pomodoro. It’s labelled as a Pomodoro Timer & White Noise. I’m currently using the free features. I’ll post a review of the app after I’ve used it for a while.

Here’s an example of how I’m using the app:

  • 25 mins of dedicated research
  • 5 mins break
  • 25 mins of dedicated writing
  • 5 mins break
  • 25 mins of dedicated writing
  • 5 mins break
  • 25 mins of dedicated writing
  • 15 mins break

When I draft a blog post, I’m often writing and looking for images online. Every minute I’m not writing is a minute closer to the upload deadline. By organizing my tasks in manageable segments, I’m able to focus on the content. What’s great about this method is that you can tailor it to whatever you need to do. You can have more pomodoros, which are the focused blocks, less, longer or shorter pomodoros, and longer or shorter break times. It’s flexible so that if you’re hesitant to try it, you can ease into the technique and once you’re comfortable, you can increase the duration, as needed.

These focused blocks can be about whatever you want. For instance, if I’m working on my WIP, I can use the pomodoros for writing sprints. So for those tasks, they can be changed to 15 mins or 1 hour, depending on how you like to sprint.

I also plan on taking a scene and using each pomodoro to write it from a different POV and tense, or any combo thereof, as it pertains to my story. There are so many different ways you can use the app, and I’m digging it so far.

Use the breaks to reward yourself. Having a little snack near you. Take a stretch. The Pomodoro Technique also promotes health and wellness while on the writing journey. Not to mention the computer voice telling you it’s time for a break, or it’s time to get back to it. You end up feeling more motivated, and at the end of it all, you’ll really have accomplished more than if you approached this in a more scattered manner.

So, when we decide to carve out time for the things important to us, we do it because there are only so many hours in the day and a kazillion things to do, right? It’s interesting when people say that they need to take a break, get away and have some “me time.” What I’ve noticed is that all the time you carve out in a day, whether it’s to be productive, to play with the kids, to veg out in front of a good movie or book, that’s ALL me time. Every decision you make in terms of productivity is going to have a profound effect on your life, so if you think of it that way, you’ll value how you use your time a lot more. Eh, but what do I know from this technique anyway? Everyone’s got their own way of doing things. ToMAYto, toMAHto.

At the end of the day, the choice is yours. I’m the first to agree that there are some days when laying in bed for thirteen hours is exactly what you need. So, you do you. Just know that there are things that you can do to make that time go by more effectively. Whatever you’re doing after reading this post, I thank you, and I hope it’s time well spent.

Stay creative, stay weird, be kind to yourself and others.

Until next time,

T out.

WRITERLY WEDNESDAY: This One Time at NaNo Camp…

And a Happy Camp NaNoWriMo Eve to one and all!

After some self-reflection (read: tumultuous debate with myself, dry erase markers, and my mirrored closet doors that ended up looking like a scene from A Beautiful Mind), I’ve come up with a strategy for April.

Since Camp NaNo doesn’t have the strict 50,000 minimum word count to stick to, I’ve decided to track time versus words. They’re still working on the tech behind the tracker variations now that they’ve merged the Camp NaNo site with the original NaNo site, so in the meantime, I’m using their math to convert the word counter to represent time spent working on the project(s).

Reminding myself that this is a flexible plan, that wiggle room is allowed, accounting for wind chill, and carrying the one, I’ve set my sights on a minimum of six hours a day devoted to my writing projects which by conversion standards comes out to a 10,800 word (or minute of time) goal. I certainly intend exceed this goal, but I wanted to give myself something realistic to work with.

So, how am I divvying up the time? There’s a submission call out that interests me with a deadline for April 30. It’s a 5,000 word max short story submission, no fee (yay!), and I have the option of submitting up to two stories. I will begin with one, for now, see how that feels and go from there.

Here’s my tentative working schedule for Camp NaNo:

Week 1: Submission Call out entry, due April 30. Getting it done sooner will afford me more time for revisions.

Week 2: Read through/revision of a MG Fantasy WIP

Week 3: Read through/revision of a Grounded Sci-Fi Thriller WIP

Week 4: Buffer week for any of the projects.

Experience has shown me that taking time away from the drafting to the re-reading of my work can offer more insight than barrelling through each stage without pause. I’ve seen the evolution in my writing. I have the opportunity to adapt new techniques I’ve learned and improve the overall flow of the story. There are a lot of considerations now that involve current global events that might effect how my story is received, especially since some of them were first drafted more than a decade ago.

I still have my awesome writing groups that are always buzzing with daily activity, as well as some upcoming writing craft webinars I’m excited for, so those will be interspersed in the schedule.

If April goes according to plan, I intend to continue this method throughout the year in hopes that I’ll have a handful of polished manuscripts ready for the next stage of review, edits, beta reads, and *gasp* the foray into querying for a literary agent, mayhaps?

A lot of great apps and services are available to Camp NaNo participants at a discounted price. Winners often get an even bigger discount. What’s great about these offers is that some companies extend their usual free-trials so you can explore the product in depth during Camp, a few extend a couple weeks beyond, as well. This is the best time to try these products and it’s unlikely you’d get a better deal outside of this. Many NaNos ago, I bought Scrivener at 50% off it’s already reasonable price. It’s a robust writing software program that seems to be the go-to one stop shop for writers these days. I still haven’t explored its full potential. There’s a bit of a learning curve, but what it does, it does well.

But don’t wait too long, or even wait until the next NaNo comes along. I could’ve gotten a lifetime license of Campfire Pro with the World Building module free at a lower price point. I heard they were working on something called Campfire Blaze and it purported to be better than its predecessors. I took the gamble and held off on the purchase only to discover that Blaze was subscription based and they no longer offered the version I wanted at the price point I could’ve gotten it beforehand. They do have some discounts available during Camp, however, and I’ll do more research before forking over the dollars.

Last NaNo, I took advantage of their discount offer and finally joined Sisters in Crime. There was a discount for ProWritingAid and World Anvil, but I held off on those, at the time. I’m looking to explore these programs further. YouTube vids are helpful, too, both with reviews and tutorials. I’m tempted to get ProWritingAid. I’ve never seen a lower price than this. And let me tell ya, these prices are in American dollars and when you convert that to Canadian… I American’t sometimes, you feel me? It’s important to grab these opportunities before the prices go back up. For us struggling artists in the world, every penny counts.

Here’s a quick reference with links to NaNo Offers I recommend and that I’m also interested in (These are non-affiliate links and taken from the NaNo site itself.):

  • Scrivener – 20% off for all Camp NaNo Participants; 50% off for all Winners. CODE: HAPPYCAMPER (EXP: 05/07)
  • Sisters in Crime – 20% off the first annual membership (for new members). CODE: SINCCAMP21 (EXP: 08/01)
  • ProWritingAid – Save $200 on a Premium lifetime licence (pay $199 instead of $399). (EXP: 04/30)
  • World Anvil – 30% off 12-month memberships of Master Tier and above. CODE: CAMPNANO2021 (EXP: 06/01)
  • Campfire Blaze – 30% off lifetime purchases of modules (Pro excluded). CODE: CAMPNANO2021 (EXP: 08/01)

There are other offers available and they may still add more before Camp is through. When I first checked a few weeks ago, World Anvil had not yet been included in the offers, so be sure to have a look around and see what might interest you.

Whatever your plans for April, I hope it’s filled with writerly goodness. I’ll be checking in each week with the highs, lows, lefts, and rights, that I’ll be trekking through in hopes that this will be my best Camp NaNo experience yet.

Stay creative, stay weird, be kind to yourself and others.

Until next time,

T out.

FANGIRL FRIDAY: A Little Not So Light Reading

I’ve amassed plenty of writing resources, be it digital or physical. In preparation for Camp NaNoWriMo, I’ve curated an initial selection, keeping in mind some aspects I want to focus on in my writing project.

I’ve been a long time fan of K.M. Weiland. She’s an amazing author who’s active on social media and her website, Helping Writers Become Authors, is a treasure trove of information from story structure to character arcs. I recommend any of her books. I bought Outlining Your Novel and Outlining Your Novel Workbook years ago and last year purchased the software version of the workbook, as well.

I’ve been reading up on Deep Point of View. It’s a technique I’d already been doing, was eager to learn more about, but had no idea there was a name for it, as what I’d been doing is a sub-category of the more widely known Third Person Point of View. I read some articles by other writers on the subject, but still had questions. I decided to google “K.M. Weiland Deep Point of View” and wasn’t surprised that she had written on the topic. Reading through her explanations, examples, as well as the exchanges she has with writers in the comments section, was like I’d been sitting in a writing masterclass. Such a great writer and teacher.

Word choice for maximum impact can be a challenge, at times, especially if you find that you’re starting to sound repetitive as the story rolls on. Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi wrote the immensely popular The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression. I’m looking forward to adding more of their books to my collection soon. In the meantime, their website, Writers Helping Writers, is another writing resource gold mine.

Sometimes you need answers in real time. If a Google search turns up empty, I’ve discovered a game changer in research and it’s currently the primary reason I’m even on Facebook anymore. I can’t believe I never knew about these groups before, but once I started following along in a few writing groups I’m in, some fellow writers suggested the following groups, all of which I’m now a member of and I’m thoroughly fascinated by each post I read, and the comment threads that follow. I even had some of my own questions answered already in the short time I’ve been a member in these groups, and it’s remarkable and encouraging to know that my people are out there and they get me!

The members are comprised of writers and professionals in their respective fields that volunteer their time to help ensure scenes and situations are accurately depicted in our writing. You have to apply for membership and answer some questions prior to being approved, in order for them to weed out spammers and such. Here are just a few of the groups and the descriptions as written on their respective pages:

Trauma Fiction – Trauma Fiction is your resource for finding medical, trauma and illness information for your characters, plot and scenarios. Hosted by Emergency Medical Technician veteran, author Elizabeth Otto.

Legal Fiction – Legal Fiction is your resource for finding information about attorneys, the law, and the courtroom for your characters, plot, and scenarios. Hosted by attorney/author/editor at Twitching Pen Editing Jennifer Severino.

Cops and Writers – This group is dedicated to answering authors and screenwriters police related questions. Police procedure, equipment, police culture, and investigations are all fair game.

Authors Fire/Rescue – The Group is set up to help those write realistic fire/rescue and arson scenes.

I know there are so many more writing groups out there, especially on different platforms such as tumblr, reddit, and Discord, but with the high rate of activity I’m already getting with these ones, it’s better if I ease into these new communities.

I’ve gained insight into improving my writing, that’s always an ongoing process. There are such impassioned discussions, truly helpful approaches to tackling sensitive topics, and a dynamic group of talented people with common interests. You know how much I love infotainment.

What resources do you turn to when writing? Have you had a chance to immerse yourself in these various group threads? If you haven’t heard of these resources yet, do check them out and join in the conversation.

Stay creative, stay weird, be kind to yourself and others.

Until next time,

T out.

WRITERLY WEDNESDAY: Guess I’m a Prepper Now

No. Not that kind.

We’re just a week away from 2021’s first Camp NaNoWriMo and there’s still plenty to prepare for–even for those who are more pantser than plotter.

Here’s quick reminder of the difference between Camps and the main NaNo in November. The original beast of a challenge involves writing 50,000 words in a writing project. The Camps are more flexible and allow you to do anything from prepping, drafting, editing, rewriting previous drafts to writing blog posts, tracking time or page counts versus words, or doing other writerly projects for the month. It’s a more forgiving endeavour and a great introduction for someone who’s been considering jumping in to a NaNo challenge. There are plenty of people who still follow the 50,000 word count goal, while others can increase or decrease the goal to suit their individual needs.

Join me, as I gather my provisions in order to successfully make it through April’s writerly challenge.

We begin with the hardware. My primary tool of choice is my trusty (read: please don’t die on me Early-2015 Macbook Air 11″) laptop. I also have my Freewrite Traveler, along with notebooks, and writing implements. On standby, I have sketchbooks, coloured pencils (regular and watercolor), as well as alcohol based markers. These will come in handy for mind mapping, actually map creation, as well as a creative outlet when I need to take a break from the work itself. I also have my dry erase markers and my mirrored closet doors on which to brainstorm extensively.

Now, let’s add the software. Apps of choice: I’m still progressing with Plottr. Once I have a handle on it, I’ll do a full review, as with the other apps I try out. I’ve also got Scrivener, my old pal Google (for, you know, research), and I’m strongly considering looking into ProWritingAid (they have a Camp NaNo Offer that seems to be the best deal available for a lifetime license). Although not on offer for this NaNo, World Anvil has also piqued my interest, but I’m also considering the pros and cons of other map making software, as discussed on the World Anvil blog.

Other tools that might help in the writing process include music. Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube (for both audio and visual enjoyment) are just a few options to keep the creative juices flowing.

How about some extras? Nice to have, not all are entirely necessary, yet fully appreciated as we enter the “writing bunker” for the next 30 days. First up, we need to have sustenance. If we’re in the middle of something and can’t be bothered to get up from our desk (or wherever you plan on writing) for fear of coming out of writing mode, we need rations to sustain ourselves. Water, of course, is paramount. Other bevvies are great, too. For snacks, I’ve got Doritos, (Nacho and Zesty Cheese varieties), dill pickle chips (can’t go wrong with Lays, but I’ve been enjoying the Compliments brand, as well, from Sobeys. More chips for cheap), Milk Duds, Nerds, Gobstoppers–yes, I still eat these, what of it?–and whatever else I can socially distantly acquire before April. Bonus: take a mini-break after Easter and buy up all the Easter candy that’s gone on sale.

Now, some options on what to work on. Since Camp NaNo is more relaxed versus its big sister in November, the flexibility is both freeing and suffocating. I’ve been pondering which of my WIPs I might want to work on and in doing so stumbled upon a couple new story ideas.

Another goal that could be a ‘two birds, one stone’ perk is that I’ve been overlooking so many submission call outs and contests that have themes or genres that interest me. I’ve spent the last week or so, combing through these announcements to see what stands out to me. Anything that has an immediate deadline, I can keep as a story prompt for future writing.

For the rest of the week, I’ll review the top WIPs I want to tackle first. After all, there’s still another Camp NaNo in July. Oh, and the couple months in between.

I’m hoping that 2021’s global writing challenges are productive. I’m still in the mid-range of plantsing (the flexible hybrid of plotting and pantsing) so I know that I’m in for an adventure, regardless of which path I take.

Stay creative, stay weird, be kind to yourself and others.

Until next time,

T out.