Tag Archives: xmind

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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A real look at how I outline

I’ve described my outlining process before on the blog, but this time I’m going to show you guys real pictures of my notes. I can not stress strongly enough that these are my actual notes from the book I Wish. If you haven’t read it yet and want to, there WILL be spoilers. Avoid this post at all costs if that will ruin the experience for you.

The program I use is Onenote by Microsoft. I swear by it. It’s about the most amazing notetaking software ever invented. Do yourself a huge favor and get a copy.

The first thing I do is a brain dump on paper. These are some actual crappy cell phone pictures of my actual crappy written notes. Seriously. Nobody can read my handwriting. It’s like a blind gorilla wrote them with his stupid foot. But it’s just an example anyway.

paper notes 1

paper notes 2

I love bullet points. Some of the notes made it to the final version, some were changed until they didn’t resemble the original note at all, and some I just scrapped completely. I can’t stress enough how important it is to just let yourself go during this part. Sometimes if I piece of information or dialog occurs to me, I’ll write right up the margin or further down the page. I use a lot of arrows and underlines or boxes to link ideas together or emphasize some. It doesn’t have to be pretty. It’s just what makes sense to you later on when you’re reading over it. I’ve also been known to go over sections with a highlighter.

paper notes 3

A lot of times I’ll use Xmind for mind mapping (ooh, I’ll take a picture of that too!), but sometimes it’s just faster to grab a sheet of paper and make a quick diagram. This is one I made when I was brainstorming some new scenes to add length to the book. I think really well in this manner. That whole chart took me about 10 minutes to come up with and I had ideas for an extra 6 scenes.

It’s totally unrelated to anything, but don’t my fingertips look fat in that picture? I just got sized for our wedding bands and my ring finger is a size 4, which is pretty small. I had no ideas that fingertips could even look fat, but there we are. Ahem. Done now.

mind map 

mind map 2

So here are a couple of samples of different mind maps I made to get some ideas onto paper. Again, some were used in the stories, some weren’t. The process of brainstorming this way really unlocks a ton of potential ideas in my mind and inspires lines of thinking that I personally feel enrich my writing.

At this point I start plugging the ideas into Onenote.

onenote

This is an example of the summary I write before I start breaking my ideas into individual scenes. I write the summary as if I were telling it to a 3rd party. This is where I find out if I’m missing important information. It breaks down roughly to each paragraph = a scene. I leave myself notes on the side to remind myself to add more information to a a section when it becomes a scene or to make sure I don’t forget something that’s coming up. Also if you’re actually reading my notes, you’ll see that this was before I determined that Katie is an overused name and changed her to Krista.

ywriter

The last thing I do is write out a scene description. For I Wish… I used yWriter. It made formatting a bitch when I added new scenes though so I don’t think I’ll be using it this time around. But you get the idea. I wrote a couple of paragraphs of what was supposed to happen in that scene and then turned it into a 3000 word passage. Not a bad conversion, right?

I filled out each scene in the book before I wrote a word of it. Some descriptions are a lot more detailed than this one is. I included any ideas for dialogue or other phrases I liked and wanted to include. You can’t do yourself any disservice by being really wordy on this part. When I was ready to write every day, I knew exactly what I was planning to work on. I never had to spend any time trying to think of what came next because I already knew before I started writing what happened in what order.

There was one pitfall to the whole thing. My outline was TIGHT. I had every day accounted for, even if it wasn’t specified in the story exactly what day it was. It doesn’t matter if the reader knows as long as I do so that I don’t have my character in two places at one time. So when it came time to add more scenes it was like crap, where the hell can I fit that in? It took a lot of wiggling and a few serious rewrites at the beginning or end of the scene to fight them all in.

But that’s a minor problem and if I had a better handle on how long my average scene length was it wouldn’t have happened. The nice part about yWriter is that it tracks how long each scene is for you so it’s easy to do the math. Now I know that my average scene length is almost exactly 1500 words and I can plan enough scenes in advance to come out to where I need to be by the end.

Hopefully, this clarifies my process for anyone who was confused. Xmind and yWriter are both free programs and a lot of people have Onenote on their computers and don’t even realize it. If you have any questions you can leave it in the comments or hit me up on twitter @wrenem. I’ll be happy to help you out as much as I can.

Edit: Wow guys, totally didn’t expect this to go viral like this. It’s awesome, thanks for stopping by my fine little piece of web real estate. I’d love to have you visit again in the future. If you are interested to see what this outline and 2 weeks of 1st draft writing will net you, please consider buying a copy of I Wish… for only $.99. I’d sure appreciate it. Smile

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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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