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Venessa

Tool Time Tuesday: NaturalReader

Tool Time Tuesday
NaturalReader

About once a month, on Tuesday, we talk about the different tools available for writers to make life easier (theoretically 😉 ).

Today’s Tool: NaturalReader

 

Platform: Online, Windows, Mac

Cost: Free both online and downloadable with some limits; paid downloadable tiers: $99, $129, $199 (one-time payments); paid online tiers: $59.88, $95.88 (annual payments)

What it does: NaturalReader is text-to-speech software that you can use for free, or pay for if you need additional features.

One suggestion that I always give writers is to read their work aloud. Your ear will hear what your eye doesn’t see. But one of the issues with an author reading their own work is that sometimes we see on the page what we have in our heads — what we meant to put on the page but actually didn’t. NaturalReader is a good alternative, because your work is read to you by “someone” else. The chances of hearing mistakes or just noticing inconsistencies is higher.

So how does NaturalReader work?

If you just want a passage read to you, you can use the free online version, which allows you to paste text in to have read to you. I had a lot of fun playing with this one, because they have many voices to choose from, including American and British English, as well as a number of non-English voices, all in both male or female. I admit to having a lot of fun listening to my stories read to me by a British dude. 😉

 

The voices aren’t bad, either. Some of them sound a lot like Stephen Hawking’s speech, simply because there is natural inflection in words and sometimes the inflections used when the words were recorded don’t match the cadence of a sentence. But it’s not terrible and is less pronounced with some of the voices than others.

One issue I did notice is that contractions are a problem. Apostrophes don’t seem to be recognized. The voice would pronounce we’re as were and would spell out contracted words that don’t make real words, like wasn’t. This could be more of a technical issue, because I can’t imagine they didn’t record the word we’re when creating the vocabulary database. My bet is that the typographical database either recognizes curly or straight apostrophes and whatever I pasted in was the opposite. (I’m too lazy to check and see if that’s true.) Other than this little glitch, I didn’t find much in the way of issues while I was testing it out.

Obviously, if you’re writing something that has a lot of uncommon names, foreign words, or fantasy type names, the program isn’t going to be pronouncing them. But it’s not terribly distracting to have things spelled out rather than spoken.

Where to get NaturalReader: There are two different pages for this program: the Online version and the Desktop version. The Desktop version is available in both Windows and Mac. You can toggle between them via a button on that page.

Do you have a writing tool that you absolutely can’t live without? Drop a line to me down below and tell me about it!

Looking for more helpful writerly stuff? Check out all the other Tool Time Tuesdays!

 

Keep writing!

 

 

 

All NaturalReader media on this page is courtesy of NaturalReader.

Quick Edits: Action Scenes

Craft of Writing, Quick Edits, Writing

Quick Edits is a short feature where I give quick editing advice on how to handle common problems in fiction writing.

Let’s talk about writing action!

What Is Action and What Makes a Good Scene?

Action scenes are any scenes that require high tension and lots of movement by the characters. Obvious sorts of action scenes are fights and chases, but they’re not the only types of action scenes. Sex scenes are also action scenes.

Clarity and high tension are the hallmarks of an effective action scene. The reader should have absolutely no opportunity to put the book down. She should be grabbed and pulled through the scene with so much need that turning the page takes too long.

Action Scene Toolbox

Clarity

The reader must understand exactly what’s happening in the scene, so clarity of language is very important. You don’t ever want him to have to stop and reread things in order to envision who is doing what.

You want to use concise and vivid words. No wishy-washy descriptors, like “fast” or “large.” Instead, use “breakneck” or “colossal.” While a thesaurus will be useful in the case of substituting a word, don’t limit yourself to that. Consider whether rewording the sentence altogether would make for a more exciting and memorable description. Stretch yourself. Don’t take the easy way out.

Active and evocative verbs are your friend, but don’t go overboard and use so many or so unusual words that the pacing of the scene gets bogged down.

High tension

Writers have much more in their tool boxes than just words. One of the most effective tools for getting readers to feel what you want them to feel is sentence structure. When writing action scenes, you want to use shorter, punchy sentences. Simple noun-verb-object structures with the occasional phrase at the beginning or end.

Why? Because shorter, simple sentences are very easy to parse, and we can read them faster. Complex sentences make us slow down to make sure we understand what’s being said. In an action scene, you want the reader to read faster and not have to slow down. This serves the purpose of raising the tension. Used in conjunction with your actual writing — ie, how you describe what’s happening and the words you use — you get a bonus on top of the natural tension of the scene.

As a writer, you should use all the tools at your disposal to get the reader to feel what you want him to feel. 🙂

Are there any editing issues you run into that you’d like covered in the Quick Edits series? Drop a comment below!

Keep writing,

Put On Your Unicorn Hat: How to Create Writing Boundaries

Writing

Are you constantly interrupted when you sit down to write? Does it seem like every time you try to get some words in, that is the exact moment that your spouse needs your input on something, your kids suddenly MUST have your attention, your mom wants to chat for an hour about her dog?

You’re definitely not alone. People in our lives can often be excited to hear that we want to write a book (or whatever we’re writing), but then when we try to do it, they want all our attention. It’s almost as if there’s now a subconscious competition with the writing.

It can be really frustrating, because of course we don’t want to hurt the feelings of someone we care about. And we definitely want to be there if we’re needed. But, in my experience anyway, the interruptions are almost always about trivial things, or things that could have waited an hour or two, til my writing time was over.

What makes the people who care about us subconsciously try to undermine our writing time? Who knows. And the “why” doesn’t even matter. What matters is that we are able to get our work done. So here are a few tips that might help with the “interruption-itis.”

Talk with your people

Help the people you cohabitate with to understand how important your writing is to you. Explain that this is a job for you, not just something you’re wasting time on, like when you watch television or play a game. If they can understand the importance of this, they will be more likely try to be aware of when they’re infringing on your time.

There is another side to this, though. If you tell them that this is important to you, that it is like a job for you, it needs to be those things. If you are setting writing boundaries for them, you must also set writing boundaries for yourself.

Don’t sabotage your work by constantly being on Facebook or Twitter during your writing time, or talking on the phone, or playing a game. Because not only does that undermine your own goals, but that sends a message to the people around you that even though you said you were serious, you’re really not.

So be serious.

Silence your devices

This goes hand in hand with not messing around with Facebook during your writing time. Turn your phone off, turn off notifications on your computer, close down your e-mail, your social media, and anything else that might distract you, like your mom wanting to talk about the dog. It’s surprising how often our concentration is stolen simply by a blinking light, a vibration, or a funny sound, even if we don’t respond to them. Silence the devices, turn them face-down so you can’t see the light notifications. Let your writing time be about your writing, not about everyone else.

Get behind a closed door, if possible

Being able to close a door in order to create your own writing space is incredibly powerful. If you have an office, wonderful! But if you need to close yourself off in a bedroom, in a laundry room, in a garage, or heck, even a bathroom, try to do it! And then teach your people to always knock when a door — any door — is closed.

If there are no closed doors in your house, create a symbol

Sometimes you can’t hole up in a room, such as if you have kids. In that case, create a symbol for your writing that other people can see. I have a friend who told her family that if they saw her sitting at the computer with her unicorn hat on, it meant she was writing and not to disturb her unless someone was bleeding or something was on fire. This was an excellent symbol of her writing boundaries and it was silly enough that it didn’t come across as pushy.

Maybe you don’t have a unicorn hat though. What else can you use? Here are a few suggestions:

  • A paperweight moved to a different location on the desk, such as the corner, where it is clearly visible.
  • A glittery sign on the back of your monitor (or the back of your chair, if that’s more visible) saying, “Writer at work. Do no disturb on pain of DEATH!” Or, yknow, use your own words 🙂
  • Wear a particular shirt or sweater or jacket that is your “writing attire.” Make sure to throw it in the wash regularly. Although not throwing it in the wash might also make an acceptable deterrence to interruptions!

Anything you can use to communicate that you are writing, without having to be interrupted in order to tell them that you’re writing, can often work.

Enforcing Writing Boundaries

So you’ve set up your glittery sign on your chair and your monitor and your Pennywise paperweight on the corner of the desk, clearly visible. But your spouse still comes in to ask you where the can opener is.

All the signs in the world are not going to help enforce your writing boundaries if you’re not willing to say, “No.”

If someone interrupts you with a non-emergency, point to your sign (or your paperweight or your unicorn hat) and make it clear that you are not open for questions at this time. Enforcing these boundaries is just as important as setting them. Because they won’t mean anything if you’re still answering the question about the can opener, even though you’ve said you need to be left alone to write.

If you’re not willing to respect your writing boundaries by enforcing them, no one else in your household will either.

Do you have some fun symbols to help enforce your writing boundaries? Let me know in the comments! I’m always looking for new ways to communicate with people around me.

Happy writing!

 

 

 

Unless attributed otherwise, all images are CC0 licensed.

Quick Edits: Distancing

Craft of Writing, Quick Edits, Writing

Quick Edits is a short feature where I give quick editing advice on how to handle common problems in fiction writing.

Distancing is when you are using 3rd person limited or 1st person point of view and then use language, usually in descriptions, that distances the reader from that POV. Here’s an example:

She watched Thomas get out of the car.

If we are firmly in our character’s POV, we don’t need to be told that she’s watching. All we need is:

Thomas got out of the car.

We will know she watched that happen, because if we’re in her head and she didn’t watch him getting out of the car, we wouldn’t even get the action at all.

Another example:

As he closed the car door, he felt the chill of the metal on his palm.

Instead, consider:

As he closed the car door, the metal chilled his palm.

The first sentence is the author telling the reader what the character is feeling. Do you notice how we are pulled out of the character’s head? It puts a degree of separation between the reader and the character that you, as the author, may not want. In the second sentence, we are invited to experience the feeling along with the character, which, in my experience as reader and a writer, is infinitely preferable.

Words you can search your manuscript for that might identify distancing sentences:

  • Saw
  • Watched
  • Heard
  • Felt

There are others, but that is a start. Now, of course, not every instance of these words will need to be removed, but they should each be evaluated individually. Push yourself to think outside the box, to think about how a sentence can be phrased differently.

Pulling these words out of your writing encourages you to create better, more vivid and interesting sentences. This will make you a better writer.

And isn’t that the point? 🙂

Are there any editing issues you run into that you’d like covered in the Quick Edits series? Drop a comment below!

Keep writing,

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes…

Blog news, Website Update

I’ve decided that I will be updating the blog bi-weekly, rather than weekly. I’ve been writing (mostly) consistently for a year and I still have no engagement on the blog, so I feel as if devoting writing time to a post weekly isn’t as good a way to spend it as I’d hoped. So I will be cutting down. Tool Time Tuesday will still be monthly, usually around mid-month.

However, beginning in probably April, I will be adding a Fiction Friday feature, which will be weekly, so there is that. 🙂

I will be using the extra time I will free up from blogging to work on my fiction, which is to be focus for this year anyway. So win-win! 🙂

I’ll still be here, of course. I’m relatively active on Twitter and I poke around on Facebook. You can find me most often at The Writing Tribe. Feel free to join up and hang out with us!

Happy writing!

 

 

 

Unless attributed otherwise, all images are CC0 licensed.

Tool Time Tuesday: Calibre e-Book Management Software

Tool Time Tuesday

Once per month, on Tuesday, we talk about the different tools available for writers to make life easier (theoretically 😉 ).

Today’s Tool: Calibre e-Book Management

Platform: Windows, Mac, Linux (+portable version)

Cost: Free!

What calibre does:

Calibre is open source software to manage your e-book collection, in ALL the ways.

As a reader, calibre is a perfect tool for keeping track of all your e-books. It’s not just a bookshelf, though. You can organize your collection in whatever way is most intuitive for you. You can create tags for all your books, download metadata (or create your own metadata), and sort and search by just about anything.

One of my favorite features (and what I originally downloaded it for years ago) is calibre’s ability to convert files from one type to another. Have an e-book in .pdf and want to read it properly on your Kindle? Convert from .pdf -> .mobi. Have a book in Kindle format and want to read it on your non-Kindle device? Convert to ePub. This is also a nifty feature for authors, if you want to see how your manuscript will look as an e-book (and when you’re ready to publish it too!).

Read on your phone? I use calibre Companion on my Android and it’s also available on iTunes for $3.99 in both places. Worth the money 🙂

Where to get calibre: Website

Have you used calibre? What do you think? Leave me a comment!

Do you have a writing tool that you absolutely can’t live without? Drop a line to me down below and tell me about it!

Keep writing!

 

 

 

All calibre images are courtesy ofcalibre ebook management.

Writing Groups, Critique Groups, & Masterminds, Oh My!

Writing

A couple weeks ago, I attended a new writing group. Not just new-to-me, but brand spanking, first meeting kind of new. Granted, I know all of the folks involved and call them all friend, but this configuration, this purpose, was new.

I’m always a little apprehensive of getting involved with writing groups or critique groups, because I’m often the one giving a lot more than I’m getting, simply because I’ve been working in publishing for a decade. But my challenges aren’t what I wanted to write about.

It used to be that the only way you really connected with other writers was by going to writing conferences or taking writing classes. And if you wanted to put together a support or critique group, you had to find a few people local to you. And just finding those people didn’t mean you’d have a good, quality group. There were still other obstacles, such as skill levels, personalities, scheduling, etc. It was easier just to find one writer and mail pages to each other.

But obviously now, things are a lot easier. There’s still the struggle of skill levels, personalities, and scheduling, but getting together as writing groups is a lot easier, because there are many different ways to “get together.”

Great Technology

I currently run a group called The Writing Tribe on Facebook (feel free to join, if you’re a writer who’s serious about your career 🙂 ). They don’t know this, but one of the things I want to do in 2018 is start a monthly chat (probably by video), where we teach each other things and have focused discussions and learnings about different aspects of writing.

And that leads us to one really powerful aspect of technology: the ability to communicate in real time over great distances. We no longer have to rely on whomever is in our area for writing groups. We can pick and choose the people we really want to work with, having regular online meetings and chats.

Not only can we get the support and camaraderie, but we can do critiques electronically, as well. And, really, electronic critiques and edits are the standard now, versus paper critiques. I don’t really know anyone who does paper critiques anymore.

How do you organize your group?

First, decide how often to meet. Once a week? Once a month? In person? Online? Some mix of cyber and meatspace?

Next, figure out what you want to do with the group. Will you just get together to work in the same room, everyone writing together and then taking short breaks to chat, get coffee, etc? Is it a focused critique group, where each person turns in pages well before the meeting and everyone critiques those pages? Is it a mashup with a little of both?

Our new writing group has decided that we will meet monthly and critique 2 people each meeting, and then use the rest of the time to write. However you choose to do it in your group is fine, so long as everyone is getting something they need out of the group. There’s no right way to do this.

What I’m kicking around for TWT is to have monthly online meetings and then planning a weekend retreat where people come in from all over and we learn, work, and play together. (This is all still in the very early stages of brainstorming, so don’t hold me to it! 😉 )

The biggest benefit to writing groups, whether they’re work groups, support groups, critique groups, or masterminds, is that it keeps us writing. It’s more difficult to “do it later” when we have a critique deadline coming up. We get inspiration from others of our tribe, which keeps us at the keyboard. The biggest benefit of a writing group is simply being among other writers. The automatic outcome is that we write more, we write better, and we achieve our goals.

In the end, how the writing group is structured matters less than the idea that everyone involved is getting what they need out of it.

Are you involved in any writing groups? How does it work for you and your peers?

 

 

 

Unless attributed otherwise, all images are CC0 licensed.

Garbage In, Garbage Out: What You Read Matters

Writing

In December of 2017, the publishing company where I did a lot of contract editing, Loose Id, announced their closure. The four women who own the company handled it very well, with much more grace and responsibility than most publishing companies that have closed in recent years. They made the decision to shut down before they had to shut down, well before things were in crisis. And so the entire situation is being handled smoothly.

The demise of the company isn’t what this is about (though we could probably fill dozens of blog pages about why smaller publishing companies are going under). What this is about has more to do with ten years of reading slush.

As part of my duties, as with all the editors, I read from the slush pile and recommended whether we should acquire or reject manuscripts. During that time, I’d also gone back to school for my MFA, which required additional reading and writing. For well over a year, I was reading, on average, a quarter of a million words per week. That’s 250,000 words a week. The equivalent of three full length novels. And that wasn’t counting my writing or my actual editorial work. Some of it was very good (the grad reading), and some of it was very bad (the slush pile).

As you might imagine, I was a bit burned out after that. I fell out of the habit of reading, except what I needed to do for work. If you’ve ever had the experience of reading a slush pile regularly, you may be able to anticipate where this is going.

If you’ve never had the singular joy cough of slogging through a slush pile, you don’t really have an idea of the dredge that lives there. Now, there are some gems and there are some diamonds in the rough, yes. Not everything in the slush pile is awful. But a lot is.

Much of the slush pile, though, is made up of authors who aren’t quite ready for publication yet. Not necessarily bad writers, but green writers. This isn’t terrible in and of itself. But remember when I said I had been burned out on reading? I was. And that meant I wasn’t doing any pleasure reading. So all of the input into my writerly brain was the stories of green (and bad) writers.

The result was that when I did finally get back to my writing, I found my words lacking. I would read the work I did in grad school and compare it to the work I was producing. There was no contest. It was easy to see which was which… which was better. And let me say, it wasn’t what I was producing currently.

All successful writers always advise to read as much as you write. My experience is an abject lesson in why that’s excellent advice.

I feel as if there are two things that writers need to do: write and read.

I’m not saying we must read Tolstoy or Faulkner. But we must read good, quality writing.

Writing hones the skill. Reading feeds the subconscious–not just the stories, but the style, the craft. Writers must read.

Writing hones the skill. Reading feeds the subconscious--not just the stories, but the style, the craft. Writers must read. #amwriting #amreading Click To Tweet

What are you reading right now? What’s on your To Be Read pile?

 

 

 

Unless attributed otherwise, all images are CC0 licensed.

Quick Edits: Word Echoes

Craft of Writing, Quick Edits, Writing

Quick Edits is a short feature where I give quick editing advice on how to handle common problems in fiction writing.

This week we’re looking at word echoes. Word echoes can be used as a writing device to emphasize some aspect of the scene, character, or plot. Therefore, you don’t want accidental word echoes. You always want echoes to be a deliberate choice.

There are a couple different types of word echoes.

One type is crutch words. These are words that, as a writer, you lean on heavily, usually in first drafts. I keep a list of my crutch words (which includes “actually” and “smile,” also “so,” among others) and when I finish a first draft, I search on each of the words to see where I can change them up. Notice I didn’t say “find a different word.” We’ll talk about word choices in a minute.

A second type is words that commonly connect with each other in some way. This is an echo I began to recognize as I edited professionally. Words that have a natural opposite, like “up” and “down,” “in” and “out,” often find their opposites within a few lines. In my experience, it’s very common that if I see “on” somewhere in a sentence, “off” shows up, usually within three lines of it (and vice versa). And that pairing is usually repeated two more times within the next page or two.

A third type is simply when we use the same word too many times in too short a span. I find that I do this most often when I’m not in the zone of writing and just trying to get the words down on paper. I will usually mark it and come back to it later.

But the bigger issue is when we don’t see those echoes on the page. This is where beta readers can come in. I wrote a post on how to best utilize beta readers. One of my suggestions is to give beta readers specific things to watch for or comment on. So you can task one of your beta readers with watching for echoes. That is probably the easiest way to catch them. If you hire a professional editor, they will definitely catch those echoes. (If they don’t, you need a new editor 😉 )

A word about word choices

See what I did there? 🙂

When looking at word echoes and deciding how to fix them, don’t always go for a synonym to substitute for the offending word. Look at the entire sentence. When we echo, it’s a good indication of sloppy writing. Not necessarily bad writing, but when we wrote, we went for the easy words, the expected words. That’s why we echoed.

If you look at the sentence and can work out a way to revise the sentence itself so that the echoed word is no longer necessary, I will bet that the sentence you come up with is much better than the original sentence.

Why? Because the sentence was built with intent, rather than just tossed together in the midst of a writing sprint. Intentional writing is almost always better than off the cuff writing.

My advice: try not to think in terms of synonyms. Think in terms of recreating the sentence to get rid of the echo.

~

Are there any editing issues you run into that you’d like covered in the Quick Edits series? Drop a comment below!

Keep writing,