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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,

Tool Time Tuesday: 2018 Revision & Writing Tracker

Tool Time Tuesday

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

Today’s Tool: 2018 Writing & Revision Tracker

Platform: Any spreadsheet program

Cost: $10

What it does:

It’s a writing tracker! 🙂 If you’re a reader of this blog, and especially of TTT, you might recognize that I did a post very similar to this one about a year ago. There’s a new version of the writing tracker spreadsheet, so I felt that warranted a new Tool Time Tuesday!

As you might know from the post last year, I am a huge fan of this writing tracker. Not only does it allow you to track words of your first draft, but you can also track revision pages. And since revision is the biggest part of writing, being able to keep see how much you’ve done is critical to realizing your productivity. I’m not going to break down all the individual features, since I’ve done that already. But I will share a bit of how I use it.

Click to enlarge

New Stuff

Jamie has added the ability to track ten different projects within the spreadsheet over the course of the year, each with a column for writing and for revision.

I currently have seven of the projects labeled. I am tracking my blog posts, my pre-writing (for any and all stories), a pair of short stories (which I’m counting as one project, since they’re related), and four novels (one of which I’m only going to track revision pages of). I made my pre-writing a separate project, because I want to track how many words I create when I’m prepping to write my stories. I don’t necessarily need to track the pre-writing by story.

And that’s what makes this writing tracker so great. You can use it in whatever way works best for you.

Jamie even created a video to show how the tracker works. Check it out:

Motivation is created by action. When you look at what you’ve accomplished, it can help light a fire under your butt to get going. I’m writing this post on Jan 8, and (not counting this one), I’ve already written over 7000 words of blog posts and pre-writing. I haven’t even starting actually writing on the short stories yet (which are my first active project this year). I already feel incredibly accomplished and it makes me want to keep going.

The Writing & Revision Tracker is a big part of my writing process. You should check it out!

Where to get it: Jamie Raintree’s website

Have you tried the 2018 Writing & Revision tracker? Did you use the old writing tracker? Let me know what you think!

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!

 

 

 

Unless attributed otherwise, all images are courtesy of Jamie Raintree.

Happy Freaking New Year! :)

Blog news, Writing

Happy 2018!

Are you ready for the new year? I am getting back on track after the tail end of 2017 laid me out a bit. I had to have surgery in November and, man, it hit me a lot harder than I was expecting. I was pretty much in bed for a month. But I’m doing much better and getting back on track. This year, I’m going to be focusing on a few different things, but only a few.

My Writing

I’ve been editing for almost ten years now and one of the things I’ve noticed is that my writing skill has declined with the lack of practice. So 2018 is going to be the year of getting back to the words.

I’m going to be cutting back drastically on editorial clients (but I will still take some, so if you’re looking, be sure to check out my editing page) and will be focusing almost exclusively on my writing.

What will you be working on, Venessa?

Thanks for asking! 🙂 Some folks know, but most don’t, that in addition to speculative fiction, I also write smut under a pen name. I call it “smut” affectionately; it’s mainly erotic romance. The publisher has decided to close its doors, so I will be spending the first quarter of 2018 self publishing a few things in that genre.

The second quarter of 2018, I will be working on my speculative fiction stuff. Here’s what’s what:

1. Soul Cavern – This is a supernatural thriller that I plan to serialize right here on this website! I’ll be releasing it weekly, in small chunks, but will also self-publish for those who don’t want to wait or who just want to support the author. 🙂

2. Hovel Rats 1 & 2 – I accidentally wrote most of the second book before realizing it was a second book. Then I had to write the first. Both of these are currently in the rough draft phase and about 75-80% complete. They’re set in a post-apocalyptic world where all the adults have gone crazy — regressed to almost animalistic tendencies. Kids have to learn to fend for themselves and figure out how to survive. At least, until they start going crazy too.

I’ll be finishing up the first one…well, first. I’ll also be looking for some beta readers for this, so keep an eye out here come the spring if you’re interested in reading. Ultimately, I think I’ll be submitting this one around to agents and hopefully going the traditional route.

3. Short stories – I really want to kick out a few short stories this year, as I haven’t written any in a long time. These will likely be horror, since that seems to be what most my shorts end up being. 😉

I’ve got a number of other things in various stages of done-ness, but I think that’s going to be more than enough to take up three months!

So that’s what’s on deck for the first half of the year! Think I’ve bitten off more than I can chew? That might be the case!

I definitely want to get back to writing regularly here again too, so expect more blog posts! I might even post about things I’m reading, since that’s going to be another habit I want to get back into. I haven’t read for pleasure regularly in ages and I really, really miss it.

Oh and I’ll be hanging out a lot at The Writing Tribe. If you haven’t joined yet, you should! We’re a small group of writers supporting each other. 🙂

How about you? What are your writing-related goals this year?

 

 

 

Unless attributed otherwise, all images are CC0 licensed.

BackSpacing: Pulling myself up by my bra straps

Life Stuff, Writing

No Tool Time Tuesday this week. We’ll get back into it next week!

BackSpacing posts will be personal posts, just as a warning. Consider it me going, “Whoa. Backspace. Let’s figure some stuff out.”

I have been very bad about writing lately. I keep putting it off or finding other things to do that are “more important.” They’re not really more important, of course. They’re just a convenient excuse. But this is also why the blog has gotten off track.

Last year, I spent most of the year in a different state being one of the primary caregivers for my grandmother, who’d broken her neck the November before. Being a caregiver is a lot harder than you realize when you sign up. Not necessarily physically harder (though sometimes that), but definitely psychologically harder.

I spent two to three weeks of every month with her. I wouldn’t change that decision if I had to do it again. I would make the exact same choice. It was absolutely worth it. But the consequence of being away that long is that much of my life at home fell away. Drifted. My relationship with my husband is rock solid, so it wasn’t that. But it was more that my socialness suffered while I was away. And my ability to be social, the energy it takes for me to do that, suffered.

Generally, I’m a very outgoing and social person. But after last year, I found I had fewer spoons for socialness. (If you’re unfamiliar with Spoon Theory, check it out. It’s a very clever way of explaining energy.) My grandmother passed away just before Christmas and so this year has been about rebuilding my life here at home.

What does this have to do with my writing? Well, I’ve found that in times of high stress, I have a lot of trouble focusing on getting words on the page. I have little motivation to do it. And that makes getting anything done very difficult.

National Novel Writing Month is coming up. (We’re prepping at The Writing Tribe, if you want to join us!) So I need to get my crap together. This year I’ve decided that I’m going to be doing short stories, rather than a novel. My reasoning is that I need some quick wins. I have a number of novel projects in varying stages of completeness; I don’t need another novel right now.

What I do need is something that gives me a sense of accomplishment. Writing a series of short stories totally 50,000 words will also give me several pieces that I can submit to markets right away. I can get some wins under my belt. Because forward progress always creates motivation. I am in dire need of both right now.

So I’m planning my stories for NaNo and hoping for a few wins! How are you getting ready for Nano?

Okay, I lied! One quick post…

Writing

I know I said I wasn’t going to post til next week, but I just wanted to take a second to mention NaNoWriMo prep! If you’re going to be participating in National Novel Writing Month this year, come join us at The Writing Tribe for NaNo prep!

We just got started today. We’re talking about figuring out what we’re going to be writing and there will be a bunch of prep exercises in the coming weeks to get us poised to win NaNo in November.

So come join your tribe! 🙂

Tool Time Tuesday: Merriam Webster

Tool Time Tuesday

Every other Tuesday, we talk about the different tools available for writers to make life easier (theoretically 😉 ).

Today’s Tool: Merriam Webster

Platform: browser, Android, iOS

Cost: FREE

What it does:

You likely know Merriam Webster as a dictionary. As a writer, you should know Merriam Webster as a dictionary!

Words have meanings and MW can give you those meanings. It’s important for writers of all kinds to have a good working vocabulary and an extended writing vocabulary. Now, this doesn’t mean you should use a $50 word every time you could use a ten cent word. But we, as writers, should use the most correct word that will be understood in order to convey the idea we want the reader to have.

So having access to a dictionary is a no-brainer. And Merriam Webster is one of the longest-lived dictionaries in the US, having been around for almost 200 years.

Now, if you haven’t been to Merriam Webster’s website yet, you might be surprised. It’s for more than just looking up words!

You can see trending words that are being looked up, as well as the Word of the Day (as I write this, it’s “hebetude;” if you want to know what that means, I encourage you to look it up 😉 ). You can watch videos about different word-related topics. These are short, interesting little snippets of knowledge about English as a language, as well as grammar and correct word usage. Again, as I write this, the video for today is Words of the Year: 1066, which I also encourage you to watch!

Not only does MW offer lots of knowledge and word education, but there are word games available, such as the Time Traveler Quiz: Which Came First? and Typeshift, a mashup of anagrams and word searches. These and other games can help you burn a couple minutes of your day when you need a break and have the added benefit of making you smarter 🙂

As a writer, all of these tools can be beneficial to me. It’s not just about looking things up!

Where to get it: You can go to their website, or go to your mobile store and download the Android app or the iPhone app!

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!

 

 

 

Unless attributed otherwise, all images are CC0 licensed.

My Top 5 Most Useful Books About Fiction Writing

Craft of Writing, Writing

Let’s face it, writing a good story is hard. It’s entirely different from telling your best friend the story about what happened Friday night. Face to face stories are easier, because you have tone of voice and inflections, as well as body language, to help convey your meaning. With a novel or short story, you only have the words.

I am an addict. I admit it. I have more books on the craft of writing than my local library does, I’d bet. I use these books for my writing, of course, but also for when I’m editing or teaching other writers. I learn a lot from reading the stories of authors, but there’s also a place for an educational slant — for having an explanation of why something works.

To that end, I’m listing my Top 5 craft of fiction writing books. These books sit on the shelf right beside my desk. They’re always right there.

Now, these are the top 5, but they’re not in any specific order. You can’t really say that a book about creating character is better (or worse) than a book about writing a synopsis. They’re about different things. So while this is a Top 5 post, it’s not a ranked top 5.

Also, a while back, I wrote a post about my two favorite books on revision. Since I’ve already mentioned those, I’m not going to include them here.

And with all that said, here we go!

Writing the Breakout Novel

by Donald Maass

I got this book relatively early on in my fiction writing journey and it really opened my eyes to the idea that a book can be planned. Not in an outlining sort of way (which it can, of course, and which I was highly resistant to doing at the time), but in a larger-scale sort of way. From a 30,000 foot view, so to speak.

The purpose of the book is to write a novel that pushes past the mid-list and becomes a breakout seller. Think Harry Potter, The Martian, 50 Shades of Grey. A book that captures the minds of millions of people, rather than thousands or hundreds.

Donald Maass, who is a very successful agent who owns his own agency, identifies the things that he observes as pillars of a breakout novel. With section headings like Premise, Stakes, Time and Place, Characters, etc, this is a high-level view of story creation that every author can benefit from.

Beginnings, Middles & Ends

by Nancy Kress

What author hasn’t struggling with slogging through the middle of their novel? We’ve lost the bright, shiny feeling of the beginning and we’re not yet at the exciting, climactic end. There’s a reason many novels are abandoned in the middle. Fiction writing isn’t always easy.

Nancy Kress addresses all these things — the bright, shiny, the exciting, climactic, and the slogging — in her book. She gives authors tools on how to stay on track in their fiction writing, especially in the middle, which is arguably the longest part of a novel.

Each chapter ends with exercises designed to give writers practice in implementing the author’s suggestions. Some of the exercises involve reading and identifying things she’s discussed (such as reader expectations after the beginning), some involve writing, both new and assessment of current writing.

If you have trouble finishing your stories, you might find this book especially helpful.

Writing the Fiction Synopsis: A step by step approach

by Pam McCutcheon

If you’ve ever struggled with creating a synopsis, this book will be your savior! There are actually very few books on writing a good synopsis (compared to other writing topics). Mostly, writers are just expected to figure it out, maybe from talking to other writers, maybe by osmosis. In recent years, there have been a few more books (but only a few), yet this one, written almost twenty years ago and for most of that time the only book on synopsis writing, is still the gold standard.

McCutcheon takes you through the steps of writing a synopsis using three relatively well-known movies as her test subjects. She provides a number of worksheets to help you along, but that are also useful in the writing process, as well. She focuses not just on what should be in the synopsis, but also on tone and voice, as well.

This book also has exercises at the end of each chapter, but the result, if you do them all, is that you’ll have a synopsis by the time you’ve finished the book.

Characters & Viewpoint

by Orson Scott Card

This is probably one of my most recommended books. A lot of newer writers don’t understand the difference between omniscient point of view and 3rd person limited point of view, and so I often see a lot of what is called head-hopping: jumping from different points of view within the same scene, paragraph, or even sentence. This book explains those points of view very clearly, using a camera lens as illustration. I’ve seen more than one writer have an “Ah-ha!” moment after reading the section on viewpoint.


The guidance about character creation is also valuable, especially in conjunction with the character creation advice in the other books on this page. Card gives information about where characters come from and what makes for a good fictional characters. And then goes into more in-depth things, such as how the reader should feel about the character, what the stakes are for the character within the story, and transformations.

This is one of those books that I believe should be on every writer’s shelf!

Many Genres, One Craft: Lessons in Writing Popular Fiction

edited by Michael A. Arnzen & Heidi Ruby Miller

I’m a bit biased about this book, I admit, because I have an article in it called, “Demystifying What Editors Want.” However, even if I didn’t have work in it, I would still have this book by my desk.


It’s a collection of over eighty essays about everything about writing popular fiction, from craft topics to life balance topics to promoting and marketing. Contributors include authors from all over the genre spectrum, from smaller published authors to mid-list authors to heavy hitters like David Morrell (First Blood [Rambo] and others), Tom Monteleone (Borderland Books), Nancy Kress (her name should look familiar 😉 ), and Tess Gerritson (Harvest and others). I’ll sometimes pick it up and just choose an essay to read when I’ve got 5 minutes. There’s always something to learn.

I often joke that this is my MFA program in a $30 book (the Kindle version is only $10!). 🙂 This is a really comprehensive collection of experiences and advice from authors and editors working within the commercial fiction publishing industry.

Okay, so those are my Top 5 books for fiction writing. I’ve tried to choose books that run the gamut of information that authors need to know about, from character creation, to doing the writing, to stuff needed to get published.

What fiction writing books do you find indispensable? Drop a line down in the comments!

Keep writing!