I’m happy to report that my less-permanent employment situation is becoming more permanent. As my time fills with put-food-on-the-table type activities instead of work-on-my-novel type activities, I’ve had to re-assess the way I approach writing. Rather than the long, luxurious stretches of production time in the morning, my fluctuating schedule is requiring that I write when I can, and write efficiently when I do.
There are a lot of writing tools and recommendations out there from what software to write with to what time of day is best to write. The tools I use to keep writing fit into three categories: ideas, practice, and organization.
…A Yellow Steno Pad
Many traditionalists believe true inspiration comes from putting pen to paper, and the focus of some writing advice articles becomes the pen. I’d like to make an argument for the paper: the steno pad. Here is a notebook where you can easily flip back and forth in a vertical, I’m-teaching-a-lecture fashion rather than the usual horizontal I’m-skipping-to-the-last-page style of journals or spiral notebooks. I would also emphasize the color specification. Yellow is a very first-drafty color. White gives the impression that the words on the page have to be perfect. Official things are usually white. Resumes are white. The double-sided medical history forms at the doctor’s office are white. Yellow is not a very official-color, except maybe for road signs.
I recently discovered this website in an article on fuelyourwriting.com (another excellent resource by the way). The main goal of 750words.com is content creation. It’s about hitting that word goal, or a “daily brain dump,” as they say on their website. No rules, no self-editing, no filtering, just putting words down.
The site has a gentler approach than other productivity sites and uses positive-reinforcement to get their users writing by giving points for when and how much you write. If you’re the competitive type, you can even enter their monthly competitions.
My favorite part of this site is the option to view your daily stats. After putting in your 750 words (or however many you write), the site will analyze your text and display charts and graphs noting the speed, content, and tone of your writing. For example, according to the stats on my first day I wrote affectionately about leisure (except for approximately 27% of my entry where I was “feeling” upset) in an extroverted voice while focusing on the future. It also includes a tag cloud of your most frequently used words (I used “like” a lot). If your daily brain dribble has any traces of genius, the site has an export function too, so you can begin the next important stage of writing: revision.
There’s a lot of love in the writing world for Scrivener and I’m joining the orgy. Scrivener is the single-most used software program on my computer–it’s that good. There is neither time nor space in this post to list all the amazing things this program can do, but what I appreciate most is the ability to view my story/novel/etc. in big-picture mode. I can move my chapters around like a story board, I can quickly revert between outline and full-text mode, I can view my characters sketches, setting descriptions, and research in the same file as my creative work without having to open multiple word documents. Scrivener keeps me organized–it’s that simple.
…and [bonus tool] duotrope.com
I’d also like to give a shout-out to Duotrope®, an amazing online database of literary journals complete with submission tracker to help me know when and where I’ve sent my stories. It also has a “favorites” option to help keep track of places I’d like to submit to in the future. Much better than a spreadsheet, in my opinion, the site negates the need for complicated formulas to determine how long your story has been sitting out in literary-journal-land. That’s the submission tracker’s job. All you have to do is keep writing. Just remember to update the tracker when you get a rejection, or (hopefully) a notification of acceptance.