Tag Archives: tools

Long time no see!

This is the first in what I hope will be a long string of regular blog posts. Of course I thought that a few months ago too and then didn’t have much (if anything) to say for the last 4 or 5 months. So no promises.

One of the main reasons for a lack of blogging has been dissatisfaction with my blogging software. To briefly recap, my old laptop was a Dell. It wasn’t good for much but typing my stories and when it started randomly pressing the control button while I was typing, it wasn’t any good for that anymore either. I replaced it with a lovely Mac machine, which I was extremely leery of at first. These days I’m happy to report I’m actually quite smitten with it and spend hours of every day doing pretty much everything on it.

One of the downfalls to switching OS was that I needed to replace Windows specific software, including the Windows Live Writer software I used for blogging. It’s free and intuitive and I love it. But how hard could it be to find something similar for Mac? Well, I wouldn’t know because I more or less gave up on it. I tried Qumana, but it didn’t click with me. Now I’m working with Ecto. So far so good.

I only tell that long and ultimately uninteresting story to segue into the real point of my post. Almost a year ago now, I posted about my go to software programs for my Windows set up. I’m still 100% supportive of those choices, by the way. It was hard to find replacements for them, especially Onenote. That one was tricky, but I’m so inspired by the replacement that I found that I overcame my aversion to finding a new blogging tool to just to be able to share with you.

Scrivener– This could very well be a one stop program because it has some pretty robust planning tools built into it, but I personally just use the word processing capabilities because I don’t care for Open Office (free). There’s a lot of positive things to be said for Scrivener that have been mentioned at length in the many reviews out there so I won’t restate them all. It’s worth checking out.

Curio– This is the only other program I use for writing these days. I tried several note taking/organizational programs before I settled on this one. It combines the mind mapping features I loved in Xmind (free) with the free form note taking capabilities of Onenote. It does have a pretty steep price tag. I bought my copy on “Cyber Monday” at 25% off and still ended up paying over $100 for the mid-grade version, but I feel good about it. I’ve posted before about my need for extensive outlining and prewriting so I get a lot of use out of the program.

As far as I’ve been able to determine, Curio does all the same things I used Onenote for and then some. It’s got all the flexibility to arrange text, images, and other media around on the page that I enjoyed with ON. In a writing context, I used that feature to arrange several pictures per page (I use pictures I find online as inspiration for characters or settings) and I like to write summaries in one column with annotations running beside it. I’ve tried other programs, but that’s a fairly unique feature, but one I really wanted.

Another improvement is that Curio supports more levels of hierarchal organization than ON. ON is committed to a notebook analogy, which is fine. I actually find it very attractive. But that seems to preclude very many levels of organization. Curio uses a combination of sections, folders, and workspaces to organize everything and allows folders within folders. I haven’t found a boundary to that yet, although I haven’t tried to go deeper than 4 or 5 levels at this point.

The visual tools in Curio are what really sets it apart in my mind. You can make mind maps and lists using several preinstalled templates and you can then further customize them with color swatches you can download from different online sites. That’s such an unnecessary feature, but one that I love anyway.

Here are a few screenshots of Curio in action with the story I’m working on currently.

Screen Shot 2011-12-13 at 12.23.32 PM.png

This is an example of one of my character’s mind maps. I have a blank template that I have saved and I just copy and paste it onto each workspace I create for a character. I customize the colors as desired, but otherwise the style information carries over from the original. This is also a look at the interface itself.

Screen Shot 2011-12-13 at 12.25.02 PM.png

This is just an example of how I drop a photo onto the workspace to use as visual inspiration. I either search Google for photos or look at stock photo sites. I don’t pay for the images since they are for my own personal use. I just ignore the watermarks. Sometimes I’ll add a paragraph of notes underneath if there’s more to say than what I can easily put into a mind map. Curio supports voice recording and other kinds of media, including handwriting using a tablet, so there’s a lot of room for building some truly epic notes.

Screen Shot 2011-12-13 at 12.27.17 PM.png

This is a grab of the list tool. It also supports color customization. These are just some notes I took while reading a book (“Story Engineering” (Larry Brooks) good book, btw. I’m enjoying it a lot.) the other day. **

Curio also makes tables and notecards, although I haven’t used those features at this point. You should truly take the time to look at their samples. If you aren’t totally impressed then I want to know what note taking program you use because I think I want to buy a copy.

That concludes my little essay on the reasons why Curio is a writer’s best friend and a viable substitute for ON. As far as the Ecto experiment, I haven’t tried to publish yet, but everything else has worked as good, if not better than, hoped. It even has an “Amazon Helper” tool that let me look up the link for the book I mentioned without having to leave the editor. Very cool. I think you guys might be seeing more of me around these parts real soon.

**Edit: I took new screen shots for this post since the old ones were too small to be useful due to my inexperience with Ecto at that time. The list is actually from “Story Structure Architect: A Writer’s Guide to Building Dramatic Situations and Compelling Characters” (Victoria Lynn Schmidt) which is another helpful book that I’d recommend.

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Using Xmind as a timeline

I was looking at search hits my blog has received and saw that someone was looking up how to use Xmind as a timeline. I happen to think that Xmind makes a really good timeline and here’s how I use it for that.

Step 1:

timeline 2

I change the default shape into a left facing Fishhead shape using the shape menu in the right hand box.

Step 2:

timeline3

Next I change the structure to left facing Fishbone.

Step 3:

timeline 4

At this point you just start adding topics like normal and they’ll automatically populate the fish in an alternating bone shaped pattern. I usually name them by date, but I’ve also called them by scene title if I’m not sure on the specific date.

Step 4:

timeline 5

Right click on one of your new subtopics. About halfway down you can select the option to make a note. The shortcut for it is F4.

Step 5:

timeline 6

Now you just fill in the details. When I’m doing my timeline I generally will post my entire scene description in there. When you’ve got a note on a topic you’ll see a little rectangular icon that you can click on to bring up your note at any time.

And that’s it. It’s really that simple to make a quick and dirty timeline using Xmind, a program I highly recommend to all writers.

In a completely unrelated note, I thought I’d share my numbers for May with y’all. I have a sneaking suspicion that my numbers are going to disappear on me tomorrow and I’d like to have kept track somewhere.

Thanks to a generous push last night, I was able to hit 100 sales (across all the stores). I was beyond thrilled since it’s so much better than I dared to hope I’d do by this point in the game. A huge thank you to everyone who’s bought my book or reviewed it or even just told a friend about it. You guys are making my dreams come true and I know that’s a huge cliché, but it’s so very true.

I know it’s early still and I still might make some sales today, but as of right now this is where I’m sitting. 94 US, 8 UK, 1 DE = # 14,815. I have 14 reviews on Amazon right now, 11 of them are 5 star reviews.

Since I love screen shots so much, I took one earlier today showing a graph of my sales over the last two weeks.

sales numbers 5 31

As you can see I was off to a great start all through the first week and things gradually started falling off during the second week. I feel really fortunate that throughout it all, I’ve still managed to stay in the top #20k for the most part. Considering that I haven’t done much of anything in the way of promotion since I released I Wish… the numbers become that much more impressive.

One thing that’s been consistent throughout is that readers are asking about the sequel. Originally I was planning to put it on hold while I worked on a totally different project and cleared my head of Thistle and the rest of Desire. The thing is that I already have an outline that’s probably 95% finished. Writing the sequel at this point would be really easy so I’ve decided that I’m going to switch around my projects and work on the sequel right now.

This is for two reasons. The main one is that if I have fans and they want something that I can give them, then why on earth would I deny them?

The second reason is more practical. I have sold 100 copies of I Wish… and given away nearly as many. That’s almost 200 people who have, for the most part, enjoyed reading my book. Several have taken the time to contact me to tell me how much they liked it and how much they are anticipating the sequel. It stands to reason that I can expect a big chunk of them to purchase the second book. There are no such guarantees if I publish something unrelated. On the one hand, they might enjoy it as much if not more and I might draw in a new crowd since it’s an adult rom com. On the other hand, it would be foolish to turn my back on the following I’ve managed to accumulate so far.

As always, I will post about my success, or lack thereof, as things develop.

There’s still time to leave a comment on Addison Moore’s interview for a chance to win free copies of Ethereal and it’s newly released sequel. She’s doing great on Amazon right now, guys, you don’t want to miss your chance to see why everyone is reading her books.

P.S.

This really doesn’t have much bearing on anything, but I was looking at my sales numbers in the UK and this is what I saw. Again, I’ve only got 8 sales there total so this is kind of insane to me.

UK sales

In the 6ks and the top 100 of a category? Really?

This does remind me though, I meant to tell you guys that I didn’t have an author bio in either the UK store or the German store. I had to go in there and add it to both stores (very tricky in the German store as all the menus are written in, well, German). So if you’re currently selling there it might help to do that. 2 of my UK sales happened last night after I set up my profile yesterday afternoon. Did my profile sell the books? It’s hard to tell, but I figure it can’t hurt.

And in case you’re further interested, here is what my German sales rank looks like:

german sales

Now keep in mind that’s with only 1 sale. Ever. I think I got that sale during my 1st week even. Is it too soon to consider myself an international bestseller? LOL!

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Where do ideas come from?

I came across a book packaging site the other day.  They, like other companies like them, will choose a writer to write a book for them.  They’ll give the writer an idea and the writer is then supposed to do the heavy lifting for a flat fee rather than a percentage of the royalties and in some cases without even having their name on the books they’ve written. 

Ideas aren’t hard to come by.  In fact, I’ve started a list that I fill out every night before bed.  I come up with 5 ideas (titles, characters, plots, settings, whatever) and jot them down.  The idea is that I’ll have a nice pool of jumping off points to choose from if I’m ever stymied. 

I thought I’d share my method of developing an idea into something workable.  With a diagrams!  I’m a visual person so any time I can come up with a visual aid, it’s a happy day for me.

I pulled an interesting plot idea off the take a plot idea thread in the NaNoWriMo forums a few months ago, but didn’t write down the details so I’m just going to go my own way with it.  A futuristic society has developed a way to add enhancement implants into humans, but the implants have some sort of awful drawback.  I like it for the purposes of this entry.  It’s pretty open ended.

The original idea could come from literally anywhere.  A newspaper story you read might spark some speculation, a movie you watched might have had an awesome premise, but you feel like the execution wasn’t what it should have been, maybe you pick it up from a site like the Nano forums… it doesn’t really matter where you get an idea as long as it inspires you to examine it from all sides and see where it might lead.

I prefer using a mind map for this next part, but I’ve also used bulleted lists.  I give myself permission to be as sloppy and cliché as I want.  That’s important.  Don’t be afraid to acknowledge even your dumbest ideas because, in my head at least, one thought leapfrogs to another until I’m thinking about something that has nothing to do with the original idea.  Besides, if an idea is really awful you just drop it.

I use a program called Xmind for mind mapping.  They have a pro version that costs money, but I’ve found the free version to be perfectly acceptable for what I use it for.  Try the herring bone structure for a time line… it works great.

Ok, so our central idea is Enhancement Implants.  Now I would start using a combination of things I “know” about the idea and W questions (who, where, what, why, how) to start filling in my map.  Whenever a branch forms I start asking myself questions about THAT.  By the time I’ve been at it for half an hour or so I can usually start the processes of world building, character creation, and outlining the plot.

I’m alternating between filling out my map and writing this post.  But I found my first interesting possibility for a story.

screen shot 1

I was exploring the idea that maybe these implants should be mandatory.  Which lead to some new questions. What happens if you don’t get one and what kind of a person would rebel against getting one?  I have a seed of an idea now.  A character lives in a society where it has become mandatory to get implants to enhance performance and correct any defects.  There are drawbacks, maybe widely known or maybe a closely guarded secret, but there are people who are in opposition to the mandate.  One of these people might make an interesting main character.

screen shot 2 

Ah, interesting.  What if the drawback was that the implants are organs and tissues taken from people who live in a “people farm”?  It’s been done before, sure, but it might be worth exploring further.  It adds some drama from the outset.  Especially if the penalty for crimes against the state would be to be sent off to one of the farms to be harvested.  And if refusing the implant was in itself a crime…

So now we have the beginnings of a plot.  We’ve got a scenario and some conflict.  We just have to ask ourselves what sort of character would live in a world like this?  Then we start throwing some of that conflict at them.  Maybe the MC is a member of the resistance or maybe their cherished brother was taken off to the people farms for a crime he didn’t commit.  Something has to happen that puts MC at odds with the rest of the world. 

Since this is me we’re talking about, I’d most likely end up going a paranormal direction with this.  Maybe the people farms aren’t made of people, but some kind of supernatural creature instead.  I don’t know. 

If this were a real project, I’d have several layers of sub branches fanning out, but this is the basic process.  Once I had a decent idea of where the story might go, I start world building, character sketches, and outlining though a series of mind maps and bulleted lists where I just pour out all my ideas onto the page.  I move back and forth between the three because an idea about one thing will often cause me to do a new chart about the others. 

I think the main thing about coming up with ideas is to let yourself be fluid.  Nothing is written in stone so feel free to go off on a tangent.  It might lead somewhere interesting. 

I’m uploading the finished map to Xmind.  You can find it here.

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Inspiration strikes again

I have a bit of process talk and an update on my story planned for this post, but first I just wanted to share the coolest date calculator ever.  If I could find a desktop version of this that I could carry around on my Flash Drive of Awesome I’d be ecstatic.  There might even be one on the site already, but I haven’t explored in depth.  Timeanddate.com Check it out, you won’t be sorry.

When a conversation starts with “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” in this house, it’s usually followed by some reflection during my off times (the shower, washing dishes, before I fall asleep).  Sometimes nothing comes of it, but other times I find myself intrigued with the idea enough to fire up OneNote and start making some notes.  Which is what happened this morning.

Last week I spoke those fateful words in a conversation my sweetheart doesn’t remember, but I didn’t forget.  It tickled the back of my mind where it was residing until finally I took the idea out and examined it from all sides and realized, that I might just have something here.  I’m excited to see where it goes.

That I’m excited about it wasn’t lost on my guy as I brought my trusty notebook to our lunch date and insisted on making him play what if games with me.  This story would be a murder mystery, but one that so far is entirely character driven.  That might work with something other than a murder mystery, but to write one of those I need to come up with a murderer and a motive.  Neither of those things is clear to me yet. 

Also noteworthy is the fact that I’ve never seriously thought about writing a mystery before and I haven’t the first clue how such a thing is done.  I might have to get a how to book or commit myself to hours of culling the internet for tips.  But that’s a project for later.  This month is devoted to finishing my current WIP.  I’ll continue brain storming when I have time and see where I am when I have time to devote to a new project.

Speaking of my current WIP… It is starting to seem like it’s going to be way short of my goal of 80k words.  When I plotted it out I was concerned that I’d be too wordy and I estimated my average scene length at 2k words and even then I wanted a buffer for going over, never imagining that my actual average seems to be between 1500 and 1600.  Add to that the fact that I’m just shy of 30 scenes and you can see that the math just come out to me having a manuscript that long. 

I’m not really sure how one pads a story.  I kept it sleek and added only the most important plot points.  It will all depend on the actual length.  50k is an acceptable low end count according to the publisher guidelines I’ve found.  If I’m extraordinarily low then I hold back on revisions until after I finish the other two and then work some sub plots throughout the series.  I just don’t want to write myself into a corner.

I haven’t done any writing today yet (I’m running way behind, I usually have written *something* by now), but I broke 30k yesterday.  I only have 10 scenes left to write as I’ve plotted things so far.  Unless I add more scenes as I write (which seems fairly unlikely as I’ve only added one extra so far), I expect to be done in about 5 days or so.  I’ve written around 2 scenes a day since I’ve started.  That seems to be in line with my spreadsheet’s prediction.  So I guess I’m shooting for my writing of this first draft to be done on Friday, Jan 28th.  Which is exactly 2 weeks and a day from when I started.  And just over 3 weeks since I started planning for it.  Wow, awesome.

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Tools of the trade

As someone with a serious interest in writing, I’m a very excited girl when NaNoWriMo rolls around every year.  It’s an excuse to talk about a subject I’m passionate about with other people who feel the same.  The playing field is leveled as everyone finds themselves in the same boat for at least that one month.  The mad rush to create a novel in an extremely limited amount of time bonds people like war veterans sharing harrowing stories from the trenches.  My favorite aspect of this exercise is the community that builds up on the forums around October and through November.  Everyone there is so helpful and quick to share tips and advice.  I’ve been turned on to several tools for writing that I never even knew existed due to my participation in those forums and learned how to use old favorites in new ways.  I thought I’d share what I use in my personal arsenal for writing.

Mead 5 star “hybrid” notebook

First off, I have to say that I adore the pockets in these things.  When I start the planning stages of a story, I find that I think better when I start pouring ideas out onto graph paper.  I alternate between pages of bullet pointed notes and mind maps.  Although I do have a netbook which, besides being adorable, is an extremely portable way to get words typed, I find that it’s a more effective use of my time to carry my paper notebook around with me when I’m waiting to pick up the kids or have arrive a few minutes earlier than planned to an appointment.  I later type all my notes into the various software programs I use for idea organization.

XMind

For the early planning this tool is a workhorse.  It’s a free mind mapping program and it’s not only easy to use, but easy on the eyes.  I use it for brainstorming everything in the early stages and even later in the story I have a template I use for characters as they develop.  I uploaded it to the site where you can download it for your own use: here.

A use that might not be as evident is using one of the several diagram structures for creating a time line.  I searched high and low for a free program that would allow me to create a simple chronology of the events of my story in relation to each other.  I’ve found that the fishbone structure actually works really well for my needs.  Generally I will list a date or event and use the note feature to add all the relevant details.  It keeps it looking clean and easy to find what I need at a glance.

MyHeritage Family Tree Maker

Not a lot to say about this one.  It’s another excellent free program.  Useful for the sprawling families that immortal creatures seem to amass after generations of humans have come and gone. 

yWriter

This is the last of the free programs I use.  It’s a great program for writing.  It lets you organize and rearrange chapters and scenes as you write.  I read some interesting things about the capabilities of Microsoft Word so for this go around I’m going to see if it works as good as the reviews have made it out to be, but if that doesn’t pan out, it’ll be back to yWriter for me.

OneNote

I can’t possibly say enough good things about this program.  The only drawback is the price, but even then when you consider all the use I get from this program it doesn’t deter me in the least.  I’ve even decided that I’d like to get a Windows phone when my current contract expires so that I can take advantage of the fact that it has portable OneNote access.  How handy for adding quick notes when they come to you while you are waiting in line at the bank or the grocery store?

I use OneNote for the bulk of my writing.  I use it for collecting research as well as for any and all information that pertains to my world building.  I love the wiki-like linking that’s supported between pages.  I also use it to accomplish a version of note card plotting.  Under a section I call “scenes”, I create a series of pages and on each I write as much detail as I know about the scene, including a date if I know it.  As I figure out more, I can easily add more detail to each page and it’s practically zero effort to reorder the pages in whatever order flows best.  Also nice is the fact that I can’t possibly drop them and mix them up.  If  you know me then you realize this is a very real risk.

Liquid Story Binder

I lusted after this program for years.  I finally bought it recently when it was on sale around November.  Unfortunately, I can’t figure out how to use it.  I think it could be very handy if you know how to use it, but the learning curve is steep and despite a number of tutorials, both on the site and floating around the internet, I still don’t have a clue.  Essentially, it does what everything else I use does, but in one place.  I can’t give any kind of review due to the fact that I have no idea whether it’s good or not.  Which, I suppose, is a review of a sort.

And that’s about it.  I have downloaded pretty much every interesting program even remotely aimed at writers, but these are the ones I can’t live without.  I hope that these links were half as useful to you as they’ve been to me.

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