Scrivener

I am so excited.

scrivener-512On Saturday, I am going to a full day Scrivener workshop taught by Gwen Hernandez. Gwen wrote “Scrivener for Dummies”, and teaches online classes. I’ve availed myself of both, but now am thrilled that I will be able to take a workshop with her. (There’s still some room, the class is in Burlington, MA, sign up info here.) I’m a fan girl.

What, I hear a few of you ask, is Scrivener? I’m glad you asked.

Scrivener is a great writing tool, developed by Literature and Latte. You can use it many different ways. For a plotter like me, I can create scene cards that are just like the index cards I create during my plotting process. I recreated them in Scrivener, and then lay them out. I can set up targets and goals for the entire manuscript, or for each day. I can use both to track my progress.

If I need to move a scene, I literally do just that, I move the card and everything associated with it goes with it. It is also really helpful that each scene card has the goals that stay in the upper right corner. Again, I am a plotter, so this really works for me. But even for a pantser, you can use the scene cards as reminders as you move forward.

I can also add research, character notes, place names, and other details I need in order to keep moving forward. All of that information is readily at hand, on the left hand side of the screen. Let me tell you, when you are on a roll, and you don’t remember Aunt Flo’s last name, this is worth the cost of the software. (Which is $40.)

I realize this makes the whole program sound complicated. There is a learning curve. BUT, it is worth it. And Gwen’s book and classes are really helpful.

I can’t wait to learn more tips and tricks on Saturday. I’ll report back. In the meantime, who uses Scrivener? Any great tips to pass on? Any questions you want me to ask?

Weekend Edition – Spring Cleaning Makes Writing Easier Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

How Spring Cleaning Helps You Write

She just wants a place for everything and everything in its place.

She just wants a place for everything and everything in its place.

So, yesterday was the first, official day of spring.

It didn’t much feel like it around here, with temps hovering around freezing and gray skies hiding the solar eclipse from view. Still, according to the calendar and the wheel of the year, the Spring Equinox had finally arrived. Hooray!

I unintentionally spent a good part of this week doing what I guess might pass as a sort of spring cleaning. I didn’t dust any drapes (I don’t have any drapes), defrost the freezer (I’m not even sure how to do that), or air out the linens, but I did make a dent in wrangling the frightening amount of administrative loose ends that had accumulated in my life.

You know the kinds of things I mean – returning calls, following-up on project statuses, figuring out your new insurance premiums, paying your excise tax, finding a new CPA, getting to inbox zero … stuff like that.

As a freelance writer, I am often swept up by the crush and hustle of needing to get the job done. Though I work for myself, in truth I have many bosses (even if I don’t include my cats, which I do). Sometimes, keeping everyone happy means that these small, household-type responsibilities fall to the bottom of the To Do list. Eventually, they pile up and pile up until what used to be a single, simple, five-minute task has mutated into a growing horde of could-become-catastrophic-at-any-moment chores clinging to my back like so many manic monkeys.

Perhaps I exaggerate, but not by much.

At any rate, this week, I shifted some deadlines so that I could focus on clearing out some of the physical and karmic debris caused by my long-term neglect of these clerical obligations. The work was tedious and without acclaim or monetary reward, but I have to tell you that I came away from the effort feeling refreshed and fulfilled and even empowered. There was suddenly more breathing room in my day. I felt lighter, and more optimistic than before.

I have long held that there is an important, if somewhat ineffable, relationship between The Maid and The Muse. My muse is fairly tolerant of disarray, but at a certain point, she takes in the scene, crosses her arms, and looks at me as if to say, “Seriously?” And, I have to admit, she has a point.

On the other hand, my internal maid can’t stand any amount of clutter, and the weight of things left undone is a heavy burden to her, indeed. Because of her slightly OCD nature, she tends to just vacate the premises when things start to spin out of control. It’s a matter of self preservation, kind of like how I’ve learned that if I’m going to make my deadlines, I have to compartmentalize my life a little.

But, eventually, The Maid and The Muse get together and stage an intervention.

I think that The Maid just reaches her breaking point. There is just too much clutter and too many things that should have been done weeks ago still hanging over our heads. She just can’t stand it anymore. The Muse becomes an accomplice out of necessity when the hand-wringing and griping of The Maid make it impossible for anyone to concentrate on creative endeavors.

So, I get to organizing, clearing out, and checking things off lists. Like I did this week.

Whether you realize it or not, having all those little tasks biting at your ankles takes a toll on your creativity. Even if you’re not actively thinking about them, all those worries linger somewhere in your consciousness and distract you from your work. They are like a shadow that you can only see out of the corner of your eye. You’re not exactly sure what it is, but it makes you uneasy.

When you finally confront that shadow, it’s not nearly as scary as you’d imagined. A few hours of focused effort, and – voila! – your head is clear and you’re ready to get down to your real work. I also believe (warning: woo-woo alert) that clearing your plate of physical and virtual clutter opens the way for new opportunities and possibilities. By creating more space, literally and metaphorically, you are free to invite more of what you want into your day and your life.

Ok, I’m stepping off my soapbox, but I do wish you a happy spring and (if the spirit grabs you) happy spring cleaning!

 

What I’m Writing:

nuthatchIt’s been a while since I’ve linked to a piece of my own writing, but in honor of the Spring Equinox, I’d like to share a recent column I wrote in admiration of our feathered friends and the way they help usher in the warmer weather and the new season.

I wrote Spring on the Wing after the phrase “held aloft on hollow bones filled with promises and sky” popped into my head just before I fell asleep. I’d been wanting to write a little something that expressed my love for and enjoyment of the many birds that frequent the feeder just outside my office window; and when I had that little piece of the puzzle, I knew it was time.

I hope you enjoy the piece and would love to hear from anyone who’d like to share his or her own piece on the arrival of spring.

 

What I’m Reading:

book bookmans taleJust  yesterday afternoon I finished Charlie Lovett’s novel, The Bookman’s Tale. I had three girlfriends coming over later and probably should have been running the vacuum or making some other domestic preparations; but I only had a few pages left to read, and I just couldn’t put the book down.

The Bookman’s Tale felt to me like a delightful mash-up of ages and genres. The story weaves in and out of four different time periods (Shakespeare’s day, the late 1800s, the mid-80s, and the mid-90s), and tells the tale of a recently widowed antiquarian bookseller who is drawn into a literary adventure when he discovers a mysterious portrait hidden in a book. There’s a love story, a mystery, and quite a bit of history. There’s a bit of the DaVinci Code’s intrigue and a bit of the gothic flavor of books like The Thirteenth Tale.

And, of course, as a lover of literature and books as works of art, this story held a particular allure. Lovett, a former antiquarian bookseller himself, clearly has a reverence for all aspects of the bookmaking art. Certain passages made me long to hold one of the literary treasures he describes in my own hands – a bit of paper and ink, but also a piece of history.

 

And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

Marketing & Other Business-y Topics:

Inspiration:

Craft, Process, and Productivity:

Just for Fun:

Bookish:

 

Finally, a quote for the week:

A twofer this week – to cover both sides of the clean desk debate.

pin tidy deskpin cluttered desk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy spring. Happy writing. Happy reading. :)  

.
Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
.
Housemaid Sketch Photo Credit: april-mo via Compfight cc

FRIDAY FUN: Favorite Sign of Spring

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: We have had a long, long winter here in New England. It isn’t over yet, but the season officially changes today! What is your favorite sign of spring? Or, put another way, when do you really know it’s safe to put your long johns away?

Lee Laughlin CU 7-13Lee Laughlin – I know spring is vewy vewy close when the “Road Posted” signs start going up. I live in a rural area and while the ground thaws no vehicles over 6 tons can travel on the dirt roads. There is too great of a chance the vehicle will get stuck in the mud and there is a risk the heavy load will damage the road itself. This concept of limiting access to roads amuses me. I guess it’s because I grew up in the suburbs and then lived in the city for 20 years before moving to the middle of nowhere. This is New England, I don’t put the long johns away until June 1!

headshot_jw_thumbnailJamie Wallace – Funny you should ask. I recently wrote a column about one of my favorite signs of spring – the return of our feathered friends. The view from my deck includes a bird feeder that attracts a fair number of winged neighbors. In recent weeks the frequency and variety of visitors has increased noticeably. This makes me very happy.

From the column:

Have you noticed the rising din of the morning chorus? Not long ago, the dawn hours were mute. But as we creep cautiously towards the elusive dream of winter’s end, we are cheered and encouraged by the unleashed trills, chirps, and whistles of our avian allies against the dark.

Whether returning from afar or revealing themselves after a season in hiding, these guardians of vernal transitions come winging to our aid, held aloft on hollow bones filled with promises and sky.

You can read the whole piece here if you like.  :)

hennrikus-web2Julie Hennrikus: I think it is going to snow on Friday and Saturday, so we’re not safe yet. And I am still wearing the long coat, hat, gloves, scarf. I know it’s safe to call it spring when I can wear the short coat and not regret it. I don’t wear my hat. The buds on the trees aren’t covered with ice. You know, the little things. Happy spring. Or, as we call it in New England, late winter.

Improvisational Writing

I took an improv class in Cambridge this winter. It’s something I’ve wanted to do since 2008, when I did improv during a Master Coach training. Since taking the class, I’ve been using some of the techniques I learned to get more words on the page. Here are two of the ways I’ve incorporated improv into my writing life.

Warm-Ups: Every week, at the beginning of class, we would do a series of game designed to warm us up; to get us out of our heads and into our bodies. I’ve started doing warm-ups at the beginning of my writing sessions. One (silly) warm-up I do is write a word that begins with each letter of the alphabet, relating each word somehow (even tangentially) to the previous word (not all the previous words, just the word before that word).

An example: Apples Bruise Colors Design Elements Forever Granite Houses Invite Jollies Kites Lift Metal Nails Overbite Perpetual Queen Red Shoe Trees Undulate Visually Wonderful X-Ray You Zephyr.

One of the first things you learn in improv is the idea of “Yes, and…” No matter what your partner in the scene says, you don’t disagree with them. You accept the reality of the world they have created (that’s the “Yes,”) and you expand upon it (that’s the “and.”)

If your partner says, “Oh my God, your head is on fire!” and you say, “No, it’s not,” you have completely negated the premise they gave you and now there is no movement, no energy. The scene is completely dead.

But if your partner says, “Oh my God, your head is on fire!” and you say, “Oh my God, it’s on fire and we’re standing in the middle of a match factory!” now you’ve got something. There’s energy and movement to the scene and the audience gets to see what these two characters are going to do next.

In my writing, I’ve started taking my characters and letting them do some unexpected things. Whatever they do or say, I respond, “Yes, and…” then I see where it takes me. Not every part of this exploration will make it into my finished piece, but I find it’s making my characters more interesting and giving me a lot more flexibility as to what happens next.

Once I expand my character this way, he doesn’t go back to the narrow person I first imagined. He doesn’t necessarily remain totally outrageous, but he definitely becomes more three-dimensional.

What happens to your characters when you say, “Yes, and…?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, mom, life coach, and family physician. I’ve also found the stories I tell my son are getting more fun and I find it much easier to find new ideas since I took that improv class.

 

 

 

 

 

 

First Quarter Review

A photo from Living in Place

A photo from Living in Place

As the first quarter of the year comes to a close, it’s time to review where I am with the three goals I set at the start of the year while I’m between books: launching my blog, increasing my work-for-pay, and completing some necessary administrative tasks.

I’ve been very successful meeting the first two goals, posting to Living In Place every Wednesday, placing my column about The Middle Ages in The Rutland Herald, and generally writing, publishing and expanding my state-wide and on-line audience with essays.

Then, while I was still thinking about contacting my former editors for

Traditional Ax Skills Class at Doe Camp. [photo by Deborah Lee Luskin for EasternSlopes.com]

Traditional Ax Skills Class at Doe Camp. [photo by Deborah Lee Luskin for EasternSlopes.com]

paying work, they contacted me. I just returned from one of my most fun assignments ever, attending Doe Camp for an online magazine I haven’t written for in three years. I’ve also completed other pen-for-hire work, which is satisfying both for telling other people’s stories and for boosting my bank account.

It’s the third goal, completing the administrative tasks, where I’m stuck. With the first quarter of the year nearly ended, I need to examine what’s made me stall and what I need to do to shift back into first gear.

I set three significant administrative goals. Of these, I’ve completed one: creating a better system for paying bills and tracking both my business and household accounts. The job of reorganization didn’t take nearly as long as I expected, and it has streamlined the bi-weekly tasks of accounting, bill-paying and staying on budget. Just acknowledging this outcome helps motivate me to advance the other two tasks: create a current curriculum vitae (CV) and bring my clip files up-to-date.

A CV is an expanded resume used in academic circles. It lists all professional positions held, all publications, professional associations, and public service. When complete, a CV can run up to twenty-five pages, though it’s not always submitted in its entirety.

The beauty of a CV, especially for someone like me who is not on a traditional academic career path, is that it can be easily edited to emphasize one’s strengths for a specific job.

I started gathering the information for my CV back in January, and listed all my publications through 2010, so I’m now only five years out of date.

I have to organize my papers, which I don’t seem to have filed for the last five years.

I have to organize my papers, which I don’t seem to have filed for the last five years.

I have stalled on listing all the different courses I’ve taught, and all the public speaking I’ve done. In part, because I’m stuck in one of those chicken-versus-egg conundrums: In order to update my publications and teaching credits, I have to organize my papers, which I don’t seem to have filed for the last five years.

When I think about these projects in their totality, I’m paralyzed with fear. Where do I start? How do I proceed?

It’s the same place I am with two book projects starting to percolate in my head.

But I know how to write a book: one word at a time. Words become sentences, sentences paragraphs, sections, and chapters until I’ve created an entire imaginary world.

And there’s my answer: chip away a little at a time, whether it be filing and documenting my professional life or writing character sketches for a new novel.

Just as I allow myself to write freely to start and revise as the arc of a story becomes clear, so I can allow myself to simply list my achievements and revise them as the logical order of presentation becomes clear.

As I know from experience, big goals are achieved with small steps. It’s consistency that serves inspiration and achievement, both in creativity and in ordinary tasks.

As the first quarter of the year draws to an end, which of your goals are you successfully working towards? If you have stalled, what do you need to do to restart?

 

Marketing is all about building relationships

You have a business and you want it to grow, so you know you have to make contacts and turn them into connections that lead to business growth. But thinking about the effort as ‘sales’ and ‘selling’ intimidates many, so try to think about it as relationship building.

Nurturing prospects and clients is important to retaining business – and retaining and building your business is your goal, right?

Here are some tactics you can try. Give any or all of them a shot to find what feels best for you and works best for your business.

Offer a perk to a returning client to make her feel special. Perhaps a discount on new work; a discount once a year to see if that encourages clients to hire you for new work. Perks don’t have to be discounts, you could offer a free marketing report for their area of expertise.

Keep in touch with your past clients on a regular basis – whether it’s an e-mail to touch base quarterly, or sending an article, or a link to a resource on a topic you think they might find interesting, having your name in front of them a couple times a year can keep you on their mind when they have a new project. Sending a short, personal note to a contact that shows you’re staying aware of their business in some way can go a long way in building that long-term relationship.

Meet for coffee. This could be with past, current, and potential clients that are local – meet to learn about each other’s businesses or to catch up. Don’t make it a sales-y type meeting, just a relationship building get together. With contacts further away, you could plan to meet up at a conference, when you’re in their town for some other business, or you find out they are coming near to you for some event.

Keep your clients smiling by meeting deadlines, staying within their budget, delivering what was agreed upon, and being available as they need you (within reason, of course!).

Treating new contacts as though they are friends you want to get to know better will keep your name at the front of their minds when they have a project come along. If you treat your current clients well, they will be inclined to come back. And all efforts can potentially lead to new work.

These are only a few ideas to help you build or maintain relationships.

How do you keep your name on your clients’ minds?

 

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with Lisa on TwitterFacebookGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

Weekend Edition – Be Your Own (Writing) Idol Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

Be Your Own Idol

idol joeyI have a confession. I watch American Idol.

There are worse things I could do, I know, but spending several hours each week plugged into my DVR definitely feels like a guilty pleasure.

My beau is my enabler. We’ve been watching together for a few years now, and have become self-educated aficionados on the art of the song choice, the correct way to do runs, and the fine balance that must be struck between a great vocal performance and mesmerizing stage presence. What keeps me watching the show is not, however, the display of technical vocal prowess or even the thrill of finding out who wins. What keeps me watching is the chance to witness the transformation of these young performers as they unfurl and stretch into being their own artists.

A couple of months ago, I shared my phrase for 2015: Believe in your own magic.  I think of this simple phrase often as I watch the American Idol contestants work through the sometimes arduous task of finding (and owning) their unique identities and voices And, I think of how it also applies to writers, from newbies to the uber experienced and successful.

Because art is art. Whether you are singing or writing, painting of dancing, sculpting or acting, or even throwing clay pots, art is only art if you imbue it with your own magic – that thing that is uniquely and beautifully yours. You have to give a little piece of yourself away with each creation. That is what touches people. That is what makes them want to be part of your world.

Having watched hundreds of American Idol performances, I have seen plenty of excellent performances that are technically impressive. I have heard immensely talented vocalists execute flawlessly on tough songs, hitting all the high notes and nailing each run. I have also learned that those performances pale in comparison to the not-so-perfect but deeply unique and heartfelt artistry of the singer who takes a chance on sharing her own magic, her own voice, her own true story.

I have a favorite this season. I have no idea if she’ll be able to take it “all the way” on with the fickle American Idol audience, but I will buy her album (there will be one) whether she “wins,” or not. Her name is Joey Cook, and this is her completely Joey-ized performance of Iggy Pop’s single, Fancy.

.

I couldn’t adore her more.

I love her style, but more than that, I love her courage and her willingness to be different. I love that she plays a squeezebox and wears 50s-style dresses and dyes her hair blue. I love that I can feel her emotions each time she sings. And, I love watching her gain confidence each week as she slowly realizes that people are loving her just for sharing her own magic.

What magic do you have to share? What’s holding you back from putting it out there?

singerIf you are grooving along with my American Idol/art/writing train of thought, you may also like this post I wrote back in 2011 (I told you I’ve been a fan for a long time!) about 15 Tips To Make Your Writing Sing – American Idol Style. And, hey, if you watch the show, I’d love to know who your favorite is. ;)

 

 

What I’m {Learning About} Writing:

Portrait from the BBC article.

Portrait from the BBC article.

Sir Terry Pratchett, the author perhaps best known for his unique and long-running Discworld series, died earlier this week at the age of sixty-six. The BBC News post announcing his passing gives a thumbnail sketch of his career (some seventy books written across a span of forty-four years with total sales in excess of $70million) and his very public battle with rare form of early-onset Alzheimer’s.

The only Pratchett book I’ve read is the one he co-authored with Neil Gaiman, Good Omens. It’s one of the few books that makes me laugh out loud each time I read it (and, I’ve read it multiple times). Gaiman and Pratchett were not only colleagues, but also friends. Last September, knowing that his friend’s death was imminent, Gaiman wrote an essay for The Guardian titled, Terry Pratchett isn’t jolly. He’s angry.

In the short piece, Gaiman writes about the fury that drove Pratchett to write so uniquely and prolifically,

There is a fury to Terry Pratchett’s writing: it’s the fury that was the engine that powered Discworld. It’s also the anger at the headmaster who would decide that six-year-old Terry Pratchett would never be smart enough for the 11-plus; anger at pompous critics, and at those who think serious is the opposite of funny; anger at his early American publishers who could not bring his books out successfully.

I was saddened to hear of Pratchett’s passing. The world has lost a great storyteller. But, I hope that maybe we can find some small lesson in the beauty of how he used his anger to create beauty and laughter and bring a little more truth into the world.

charging knightA while back, I wrote a piece for my business blog called Get Mad: Marketing From Your Dark Side. Gaiman’s essay about Pratchett reminded me of this piece and the power of giving ourselves a villain to fight … a cause to write for.

 

What I’m Reading:

book ueland want writeCaught up as I have been this week with the idea of excavating and sharing your unique experience and style, I returned to an old favorite – Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write. This slim tome is aptly (and, I think, beautifully) sub-titled, “A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit.”

There is hardly a page of this book that isn’t criss-crossed with pencil underlinings from previous readings. In some places, I’ve actually drawn hearts and stars in the margins. Originally published in 1938, this book is as relevant as ever, perhaps even more so. With a gentle, but no nonsense voice, Ueland quietly transforms the often overwhelming task of writing into a simple magic that feels simultaneously accessible and miraculous.

If you have ever felt daunted by writing or doubtful about your right to write, please read this book. I promise you that it will warm your heart, ease your mind, and stoke your creative fires.

 

And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

This week has an extra dose of crazy, so I didn’t get to spend as much time reading my favorite blogs as I would have liked, BUT here are a few reads that I enjoyed and thought were worth sharing:

 

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin no one is you

Thanks, as always, for being here. And thanks for being you and sharing your own magic with the world. Happy writing. Happy reading. See you on the other side! 
.
Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
.