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Save it for later

I constantly come across blog entries that I want to read, usually relating to writing, though not always. Often I don't want or have time to read them right then, but I don't want to forget about them. Nor do I want a bookmark for every entry I'd like to peruse. Plus, I don't sync my bookmarks to my iPhone, so if I'm waiting at the orthodontist, I can't easily pull up the reading I'd like to catch up on.

I used to end up with my browser open for days with numerous tabs open, “holding” those pages until I'd read them while eating lunch or something.

That is until I found (I'm sure there are other similar options out there, but I love this one.)

When you sign up, you download a “bookmarklet” (button link) for your bookmark toolbar that says Read Later. When you're on a web page that you want to come back to at some point, click Read Later and it will be stored on your Unread list at Instapaper.

The best part is you can access Instapaper from any web-friendly device like your iPhone, laptop, or the computer at the library. You can even download for reading on a Kindle or e-reader, or print.

Just enter the email you registered with and all of your saved links appear. Click on a link to read, then click your browser's back button to get back to Instapaper. The link you just finished should be moved to your Archives folder (unless you deselect this option).

I'd love to hear your thoughts. And tell me if you know of any similar programs out there. Happy reading.

UPDATE: Found another site called Read It Later that works in a similar way.
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Playing hooky

I've been playing hooky from serious writing this week. I need to make some plot decisions, but I was also starting to stress out a little too much. Normally, writing is fun. I love it.

When it stopped being fun, I decided to take a few days off from my manuscript. I read a couple of novels from my TBR pile, checked out episodes from a few shows I've heard about, and mostly ignored my MS.

That's not to say I'm not thinking about it. I am. A lot. And my next story, too. I just needed to take a break and quit associating my book with the negative feelings I was starting to have.

I also decided to simplify a bit. A year ago when I started writing, I didn't belong to RWA (no email loops, online courses, or volunteer duties), didn't subscribe to writing magazines or read blogs, or have my own blog. In essence I knew nothing of the industry. I had endless hours to write, and I wrote without self-imposed goals or deadlines, just for the pure joy of it.

Ah, ignorance is bliss.

Speaking of ignorance, it occurred to me recently that I'm spending too much time on the industry side of publishing now and it's sapping my creative juices. So, I made some cuts. Unnecessary blogs, unnecessary emails, gone.

And, while I'm still reading craft books, I'm cutting back so my mind doesn't get too cluttered while in the midst of writing.

I can breathe better already. Playing hooky is good for the soul sometimes. Better now than when (fingers crossed) I have real deadlines.

How about you? Do you ever play hooky?

Still in the ballpark

In an effort to stay positive, I decided to celebrate my writing hits for 2009. I took the misses into account when writing my daily plan and 2010 goals, but today's post is all about getting, and staying, in the game. Even if I'm not batting a thousand. (Sorry, I'm having too much fun with baseball metaphors…)

  1. Started writing in January! Joined RWA in March.
  2. Completed two manuscripts (When You're Not Looking and Counting on You) and started Floater. (Also wrote about 100 pages each of two others that may or may not be revisited. The characters, however, are eager for my return.)
  3. Entered Counting on You in three contests. Received helpful feedback, and took 1st place in one contest. Also entered it in the 2010 Golden Heart.
  4. Joined Southern Magic RWA chapter and met some great, helpful authors and aspiring writers.
  5. Met my great writing friend and most awesome CP, Christine, thanks to unlikely mutual acquaintance, Marie.
  6. Queried four agents with Counting on You. Got two standard rejections, one partial request, and have one still outstanding.
  7. Got my PRO status with RWA.
  8. Started writing romantic suspense–the genre I really want to write, but was afraid to try–with a little (friendly) push from Laura.
  9. Attended a fabulous reader's luncheon where I mingled with cool authors like Lynn Rae Harris, Christy Reece, Kimberly Lang, Anne Stuart, and many others.
  10. Started an almost-daily blog.
  11. Judged a contest for the first time and got all my entries done on time, complete with comments on the score sheet and the MS.
  12. Read eight craft books and took one online class.

It's been a busy and exciting year. I can only hope that with my goals written down, and the continued support of friends and family, 2010 will be even better!

Getting an agent would be a nice start, but first I have to finish the book, revise it, get my CP to look it over, revise it again, polish it, send out queries…

The Daily Squirrel: Eden, part II (a different coworker's viewpoint)

Eden really knew how to light up a room. She had a smile for everyone, and her colorful suits were a bright spot in a sea of gray and black. When some of us asked for help with our own wardrobes, she happily shared tips for dressing professionally without being boring.

During meetings, she had a way of keeping everyone on track without ruffling feathers, and always had a humorous quip ready in case the mood turned too serious.

Most of all, though, what drew me to Eden was her generous heart. When she heard my husband was in the hospital after a car accident, she brought over homemade dinners for a week so the kids and I could spend more time with Rob. That was even before we were friends.

Eden was a beautiful woman inside and out, and I always enjoyed work more when she was around.

The written word…without Word

You're probably intimately familiar with some sort of word processing software, especially if you're a writer. But, while Microsoft Word and similar programs are great for formatting a finished manuscript, business letters, and other documents, they may not be the best software for writing a story.

There are several programs out there for writers, and there's a good reason for it. Traditional word processors force you to write linearly, or cobble together multiple documents if you don't.  Good writing software can free you to write in the way that works best for you.

At a friend's suggestion, I tried Scrivener (UPDATE 1/13/11: Which now has a Windows version in the works) and ended up buying it well before the free trial ended. Each writing project is organized as a collection of files, all accessible from the same screen, much like being in Finder (or Windows Explorer).

I can write a scene–or an outline of a scene–when inspiration strikes, and save it for later (see Unused Scenes below). I can easily move scenes around, create scene cards for them, search for terms across all scenes, search by keywords, keep project and scene notes, import research documents and web sites, and so much more. I don't know how I ever lived without it!

I use the Resources section to hold links to research web sites, a file where I keep track of my daily productivity, a character list, photos of places or character inspirations, character questionnaires, and most important of all, a folder called Unused Scenes, where I store cut scenes to scavenge for useful bits, and potential future scenes.

For those who are easily distracted, Scrivener even offers a full screen mode. And, in the end, you can export the whole project to Word, or another program, either fully formatted, or ready to format.

If you're serious about writing, consider switching to software that works with your writing style, not against it.

The main writing screen…

Resources Section…

Happy Writing! (No Daily Squirrel today, this post is already long enough…)

Need more help? Sign up for an online class, read more Scrivener articles, or schedule a private training session. If you don't already have it, you can download Scrivener here.

Why computer monitors are like raisins

Just like two scoops of raisins are better in your bran cereal, two computer monitors are definitely better on your writing desk.

I used the two-monitor trick to great effect when I worked in the technical realm. Now in my ongoing quest to improve my productivity–and make use of that extra screen that's been lying around–I'm putting the two-monitor method to work in my writing life.

I use a laptop, but on my current desk (read: dining room table), I have a flat screen monitor at the ready that I can plug into my MacBook any time I want another screen.

Why would I possibly want another screen? How about this?

  • Instead of printing the comments your critique partner/contest judge gave you, just move that file to the extra screen and refer to it while you make changes.
  • Open your character profiles or other reference materials and move them to the extra screen so they're at the ready while you're typing away.
  • Open your Internet browser on the extra screen and you can reference your findings without leaving your manuscript.

The opportunities for multi-tasking, saving paper, being more productive, and procrastinating are endless!

Just today, I browsed the blogs while checking my Facebook page. Ahem. That is, I updated my query letter based on my critique partner's comments, without having to switch back and forth between the two documents, or waste paper by printing her file.

What's your favorite productivity trick?

My discipline needs a tune-up

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

According to success guru, Brian Tracy, it takes 21 days of repetition to form a good habit–although bad ones seem to require a much shorter period! So, how does one form a habit of excellence?

Discipline! I've heard that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to be an expert at something. But continued practice requires discipline. I think my discipline needs a tune-up.

Over the years, Brian Tracy's books (try Eat That Frog!) and seminars (Try Psychology of Achievement or How to Master Your Time) have helped me increase my productivity with effective time management strategies, ideas for overcoming procrastination, and goal-setting techniques.

I applied these ideas regularly when I worked in the business world, but somehow when I started writing, I threw it all out the window. Other than a to-do list with deadlines, I haven't been as disciplined or productive as I'd like.

Why? No clue.

So, after a less-than-productive day/week/month (although I did manage to pound out 1,000 words today), I've decided to make a daily plan/productivity strategy. It looks something like this…

  1. Write 1,500+ net words/day at least 5 days/week (I track this in a file in Scrivener)
  2. Finish daily goals on to-do list (e.g. write query letter or synopsis, submit contest entry, critique for partner, etc.)
  3. Only check email three times/day (mid-morning, lunch, before bed) unless daily goals are met
  4. Work out early, or wait until afternoon slump
  5. Limit Facebook and blog visits to once/day unless daily goals are met
  6. No reading for fun unless daily goals are met

I'm trying to pay attention to my best times of day to tackle different tasks. For example, I know I am better at writing before 10:30 in the morning, and again in the late afternoon/evening. Other things, like educational reading, working out, or running errands, are best handled during my less productive hours.

My daily plan is a work in progress–like my manuscript–but if I keep working on it, hopefully I can move closer to excellence.

Back to Work!

Okay, celebration over. It’s time to get back to work. (Productivity guru Brian Tracy would be so proud.) Winning doesn’t mean anything except that a few people liked my writing enough to vote for it. If I want to get that writing published, there’s work to do!

With helpful feedback from my awesome critique partner, Christine, I am working on a query letter to send to several agents. Writing query letters almost ranks up there with writing synopses on the list of Things Writers Hate to Do, but I’ll muddle through. It has to be done, and it makes sense to capitalize on my recent win and get those letters out ASAP.

But then what? Well, I need to keep working on the next book, of course. Even if an agent snatched up Counting on You and sold it instantly (insert wishful thinking here), one book doesn’t make a career.

Ultimately, I’m a writer–whether I ever sell a book or not–and writers write. Huh.

So, after the painful 20,000-word cut, I’m back to plotting, character development, and writing scenes for my next story, tentatively titled Floater.

Floater is a new challenge for me because it’s romantic suspense, something I haven’t tried before. Figuring out how to create an interesting suspense plot, plus weave in the sexual tension and keep it all moving, is a fun challenge.

Ask me how I feel about it in a couple of months. 😉