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A winter without snow (finally)

dog in snowFor the first time in six years (minus the year in Alabama, where we did actually get a dusting), I’m not anticipating any snow for winter. Nor any below-zero, ice-particle-blowing, freeze-your-face-windy, shovel-till-you-can’t-lift-a-mug-of-tea days.

winter collage

I’m not going to lie, I’m pretty excited about it.

I prefer to visit the snow on my terms, and if I get the urge, Tahoe is only a few hours, some tire chains, and about 6000 vertical feet away. Yosemite, Shasta, and Mammoth are all fairly close too.

As much as I (yes, still) want to live closer to the coast, Sacramento’s location in the upper Central Valley is great because it has four distinct, but relatively mild, seasons. Summer gets pretty blazing hot without lasting too long, fall brings plenty of glorious, tree-turning color, and we can enjoy frosty nights and cool days in winter without having to turn out in twenty pounds of gear to stay warm.

And while the multitudes of deciduous trees are busy dropping their leaves, the fall and winter rains turn the wild grass emerald green.

red tree

No rush, but I’m looking forward to seeing everything blooming and unfurling in spring, even as the grasses fade to summer gold again.

Of the two countries, nine States, and 14 metro areas I’ve lived in, everyone of them has had a perfect time of year. What’s your favorite season where you are?

Great Gifts for Writers

typewriter pine boughs presents

The holiday season is here, which means you probably have some shopping to do. If you have a writer in your life—or you want a list to print and leave lying around as a hint—see if one of the following cool gifts fits the bill. There’s something for every budget.

  • Amazon Echo Dot, $49.99. I love the Dot! Sure, you can ask Alexa to order more sticky notes and colored pens, but there’s so much more. Stuck on a word? Ask for synonyms. Want some noise? Ask her to play music from your Amazon Music playlist or one of theirs. My personal favorite background noise is Ocean Sounds or Rain Sounds. She can set a timer (writing sprints, anyone?), tell you the news, and even control your lights. amazon echo dot
  • Philips Hue Light Bulb and Hue Bridge, $69.99. My husband bought me a Hue light for my office (we already had the bridge/hub). I can turn it off/on with the Echo Dot or my phone, dim it, and change the color. I like a blue tone for daylight or concentration, and a warmer tone for evening or relaxing. It even comes with color themes, like Tropical Twilight, Arctic Aurora, and Energize.
  • Fingerless Gloves/Mittens, $3+. Anyone who works on a computer a lot can attest to the struggle of cold hands, especially this time of year. Fingerless gloves are perfect and come in colors, styles, and price ranges to suit everyone. If you’re handy with needles, you could even knit them yourself. These are the perfect stocking stuffer. fingerless mittens
  • Body Blanket, $13+. Sitting or standing still for long periods of time can make it tough to stay warm while laying down the words. A soft blanket is great; a body blanket is even better.
  • Neck and Shoulder Heat Wrap, $33. Working on the computer for long periods isn’t great for posture, and writers especially hold a lot of tension in their neck and shoulders. This warmer helps loosen tight muscles and is really relaxing. I have the Sunbeam Renue Heat Therapy Neck and Shoulder Wrap. I love the soft material, the way it drapes, the magnets that keep it in place, and the choice of heat settings.
  • Bookstore Gift Cards, $1+. Writers are readers first. You can never go wrong with a gift card that lets your favorite writer fill up their tablet or bookshelf with their favorite books.
  • Coffee Shop Gift Cards, $1+. Unfortunately, working at your local coffee shop or restaurant isn’t a tax-deductible office expense (though it should be!). Help a writer out with a gift card for their hangout so they can keep the words coming.
  • IPEVO PadPillow Stand, $23.95. Great for anyone who loves to read, this lap stand holds a tablet comfortably in either orientation while sitting in a chair or on the sofa, or lying in bed. No more pillow-propping required. I use mine pretty much every day. padpillow
  • Scuba Slate, $4.50+. Know a writer who gets their best ideas in the shower? This one’s for them. 😉 Alternative: Rite in the Rain spiral notebook, $7.94. riteintherain

These are a few of my favorite gift ideas. What are some of yours?

The art of finishing

To do

At the beginning of the year, I was writing Blindsided, the forthcoming third book in my Men of Steele series (look for it in February!), while simultaneously creating a new training platform and expanding my Scrivener course materials to include more screenshots, more detail, and videos.

I set deadlines for both, happily announcing them to my newsletter recipients, thinking this would force me to meet them.

But my deadlines were unrealistic given the scope of each project and the number of significant events/changes going on in my life. I made myself sick trying to stay on schedule for both projects. If I was writing, I felt guilty that I wasn’t working on the class. If I was creating course content, I wanted to be writing.

It doesn’t help that I’m my own boss for both. I don’t miss working for someone else, but there are some advantages to the typical day job, one being that your non-writing work hours have already been prescribed to you. (Others include a steady paycheck and face-to-face human contact…)

Setting my own hours is the hardest part. I either don’t work enough or I never stop.

So, I was struggling until I read a short article that had a huge impact (I’m sorry I don’t remember who wrote it). The gist was this: You will never finish anything—at least not in a timely manner—if you constantly divide your attention. Instead, list your projects in priority order and work on the first one until it’s done. Then move to the second. Repeat.

Despite the fact that I knew this approach was more effective—and applied the same “single-tasking” idea to my daily priorities—I had rebelled against it because I didn’t want to stop writing for two months to update my classes.

But the reality was that if I didn’t, the courses wouldn’t be done before we moved to California, which meant they probably wouldn’t get done until fall, if at all. And the book probably wouldn’t be done either.

So I quit writing (so painful!) and focused on my class platform and lessons. Then I got back to the book. Now I have a new site and a finished manuscript, despite the huge distraction in the middle of my year where I accomplished very little.

Moving forward, I’m trying to set my schedule such that I can still work on training and writing, but one always has precedence. The other gets attention when I need a break.

Right now, my manuscript is with an editor, so my main focus has shifted to creating a Scrivener for iOS course. Research, craft reading, and fleshing out the next book are secondary activities that I do when I need a break. My plan is to finish the course before it’s time to work on edits.

The single-focus concept is simple, but my daily process is a perpetual work in progress, and I have to fight the urge to work on everything at once to feel productive. Occasionally I have to stop and ask myself which is more valuable: Many unfinished projects in various stages of completion, or a single finished project?

The answer is easy.

So, do you struggle to tame your project list? I’d love to see your tips for tackling it.

Choosing a Scrivener Project Template

windows project template screen
Windows Project Template screen

Which Scrivener template should you choose? That depends on what you’re trying to do and how you plan to set up your project. Here are some hints on picking a template for your next project.

(If you’re not sure how to create a new project, check out this post.)

What is a Project Template, Anyway?

A template is a framework on which something is based. A copy is made and then you can add your own elements. Most software works with templates. Even the blank document in Word or Pages is a template with properties like margins, font, font size, and spacing already set up.

All Scrivener project templates are based on the Blank template—which is nothing but the basics—and have additional files and folders, and different settings baked in.

The Blank Template

The Blank template is the most basic option for your project. Contrary to my examples in Scrivener For Dummies, I now think Blank is the best place to start for new users because there aren’t so many distractions and confusing files to figure out.

Blank comes loaded with the three core folders that can’t be deleted: Draft, Research, and Trash.

Blank project binder

To get you started, there’s an empty Document in the Draft folder. That’s it. Just click in the blank document and start typing.

The Compile format is initially set to “Original,” meaning that it will print everything as you have it formatted in the Editor.

I love starting here because it’s uncluttered, and I can add only what I need. (I’ve found that when people—especially less experienced users—choose other templates, they’re afraid to delete extraneous files which leads to a confusing mess.)

Other Templates

So, every other template is a Blank template with extra stuff in it. Like what? Things the developers thought might be handy for the type of work you’re doing.

For example, a renamed Draft folder (e.g. Manuscript, Screenplay, Short Story), additional folders like Characters and Front Matter and Notes and Template Sheets, each with their own special icon.

Scrivener project screen
A project based on the Novel template

Each template also comes with a format note, explaining how the project is set up, which compile preset is chosen by default, and how to make some key changes. There’s good stuff in here—worth the read—but when you’re done with it, you can delete it. Or move it somewhere else.

You can also delete the Sample Output documents in Research, if desired. They’re there to show you what you can create using the instructions in the format note.

Scrivener project screen
A project based on the Nonfiction template

Basically, you can move or rename anything you want, and you can delete anything except the three core folders.

The templates geared toward long-form writing are set up with the assumption that you’ll organize your work into chapter folders that contain scene/section subdocuments.

With or Without Parts

I see a lot of confusion around the templates that include “(with Parts)” in their name. Writers think, “My book has parts, I’ll choose this one.”

The only time I recommend choosing a template with parts is if you plan to organize your chapter folders into part folders (as shown below). It comes pre-loaded with that layout, and this often has writers thinking that they must work this way in Scrivener or they’re doing it wrong.

Binder
Project binder based on Novel with Parts

If you have Part folders, but every chapter is a single document (see below), don’t pick this template. Instead, choose the Novel or Nonfiction format and rename the Chapter folder to Part n, or use the Blank template.

Binder

What If You Pick the Wrong One?

There’s no way to change the template of a project once you’ve created it, so if you start writing and realize you’re unhappy, you can simply create a new project based on the template you want, and import your working project into it (File—>Import—>Scrivener Project).

Ultimately, It Doesn’t Matter

Once you get comfortable adding, moving, and deleting documents and folders, it doesn’t much matter which template you select. If you like the document templates in the Novel template but don’t use folders, simply delete the Chapter folder and start with a new document in Manuscript.

Or make your own document templates and Template Sheets folder.

If you want the project settings to be different, change them.

And when you have a better idea of what you like in a project template, you can create your own.

So, what’s your burning template question?

Need more help? Sign up for an online class, check out Scrivener For Dummies, read more Scrivener articles, or schedule a private training session.

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tea mug and chocolate barIt takes a lot of mint green tea and dark chocolate to fuel these posts.

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Author In Progress: your writing friend in a book

Author in Progress coverAuthor In Progress: A No-Holds-Barred Guide to What It Really Takes to Get Published is officially out today from Writer’s Digest books! This is the book I wish I’d had when I first started writing (and still need today). It’s like a writer friend in written form, always there with exactly the advice you need, when you need it.

More than fifty authors from the Writer Unboxed community contributed chapters to this book. Mine is called “Light It Up—Don’t Burn It Down: What to do When You Think You Can’t Write Another Word.” In it, I give you my best advice on how to keep going when you start to hate your manuscript.

Others—including James Scott Bell, Therese Walsh, Donald Maass, Heather Webb, Jane Friedman, David Corbett, and Lisa Cron—tackle topics like choosing your story, finding your process, productivity, characterization, writer’s block, critiques, conferences, revisions, envy, health, finding writer friends, perseverance, and publication.

There is so much goodness throughout Author In Progress that I hope you’ll check it out. Maybe add it to your holiday wish list, or put it in another writer friend’s stocking. 🙂

P.S. Several of the AIP authors—including me—participated in a Twitter chat earlier today. If you’d like to read back through the Q&A, just search for #WDchat.

What part of writing/writing life do you struggle with? Which writing books have become your virtual friend?

A day in Berkeley

Oxford St
Oxford Street across from the Berkeley campus

As a writer who works from home full time, it’s easy to let inertia set in and never leave my house except to fill my cupboards. But I’m an explorer at heart—as is my husband—so we made a commitment to spend at least one day a month sightseeing or hiking somewhere within a few hours’ drive of our house.

Last weekend, we chose Berkeley. A few years ago, when I was visiting to give a workshop to the San Francisco Romance Writers, I ran along the water to the Berkeley Marina—and had lunch and dinner…somewhere—but I hadn’t been downtown since I was seventeen.

It was definitely time to go back. The decision was helped by the relatively short drive—about 75 minutes when the traffic is good, which it happily was earlyish on a Saturday.

I’m certain there’s lots more to do in this fun, pretty college town, but we started and ended with food—there are plenty of options for plant-based eaters like us (we chose Saturn Cafe and Flaco’s)—and spent the time in between visiting UC (Cal) Berkeley’s pretty campus, and exploring Tilden Regional Park, which borders the campus up the hill along the east side.

The park’s botanical gardens have native plants representing California’s wide variety of climates, and lots of quiet, green spaces to wander.

These are a few of my favorite shots from that day.

eucalyptus trees
I love the colors on the peeling trunks of the eucalyptus trees! Blue and gold are especially fitting since they’re the University of California colors.
Sather tower
Sather Tower is hard to miss
view of SF
View of the East Bay and San Francisco (across the bay on the right) from Grizzly Peak in Tilden Regional Park
view of san pablo bay
View of San Pablo Bay from Grizzly Peak (facing NNW)
Gwen at botanical gardens
At the Regional Parks Botanic Garden
redwoods
Redwoods in the botanic garden
Found this guy hiding in the ferns at the botanic garden
Found this guy hiding in the ferns at the botanic garden

What are some of your favorite places to visit near you? (Or me, for that matter. I’m always looking for gems. 😉 )

Check out this page for more travel/road trip posts. Also, many of my small trips end up on social media instead, especially Instagram.