Tech that keeps me writing

Sometimes it’s hard to be a writer. Like most writers, I feel the imperative to write prolifically and write material people actually want to read.

This year I’ve surprised myself about how I’ve changed the way I write. I’ve adopted technology that, to be honest, I’d never have considered previously.

Today I thought I’d take stock and share some of technology that keeps me writing. I should add that this is the tech I use regularly. It’s not tech I’ve bought or downloaded and rarely (or never) used again.

Hopefully you’ll feel inspired to recommend some of your favourite writing tech too!

I’ve divided up my tech tools into two categories: writing helpmates and research tools. Tomorrow, I’ll talk about the research tools I use. So today it’s …

Writing helpmates

Two bits of technology that I use surprisingly often are both run-of-the-mill iPhone apps. The Notes app is great for jotting down ideas when I’m away from my desk. Admittedly, typing is slower on the touchscreen keypad. But I don’t always carry a pen and paper and always have the iPhone with me. I can email each note to myself so they’ll pop up on my desktop for later use.

The other iPhone app I use a lot is Voice Memos. I use it in a similar way to the Notes app. However Voice Memos is perfect for recording middle-of-the-night ideas. Speaking seems to require less thought than writing, and I only have to press a couple of buttons and voila! I’ve recorded my scintillating thought and can access it later when I’m more coherent.

Yes, I write sentence fragments occasionally. So sue me, Microsoft.

Unfortunately I’m one of those people who, unless the written note is in front of me, I tend to forget about it. Stickies is an Apple desktop app that allows me to post my ideas up on my desktop like virtual post-it notes. I use it for my novel to-do lists and delete notes as I complete each task. Stickies works for me because I’m fairly visual. I can change the colour of each note, alter the font size and add in little headings.

Another Mac application I’ve been using a fair bit for writing is GarageBand. I use it as an editing tool. I read aloud my stories and record them. This alerts me to text fragments that don’t read well, as well as redundant bits and pieces. I have to say, I don’t find this method good for creating. It may be that my inner critic is stronger when I’ve reading aloud.

Of course the juggernaut of writing helpmates is MS Word. I’ve been using it for years and this year went and bought the latest version for Mac (2011). (I can only feel sympathy for those writers grappling with Word 2007 – possibly the worst incarnation ever.)

The features I use a lot include styles, readability (I’m writing for kids at the moment) and word count. I’ve switched off the grammar checker. Yes, I write sentence fragments occasionally. So sue me, Microsoft.

Voila! I’ve recorded my scintillating thought and can access it later when I’m more coherent.

I also wanted to mention my most-used items of tech. They address an issue that hopefully you’ll never have to deal with: excessive noise.

Living in property-obsessed Melbourne, there are building construction sites on either side of my house. There’s continuous noise from 7am to 4pm every weekday and most weekends. Apart from fleeing to a friend’s place for a few hours, I’ve adopted two items of tech to keep me writing:

  • A set of quality headphones. These block out a little external noise as well as provide good sound reproduction of whatever music or audio I’m using to block out the rest of the noise (demolition dozers, dirt movers, assorted trucks, concrete mixers, etc). I tried noise-cancelling headphones but really hated them.
  • The best white noise app I’ve found is Relax Melodies. There’s a free version on the iTunes App Store, but the paid version (about $5 last check) was worth it for the extra sounds and music, as well as eliminating the constantly-streaming ads. I use this app every day. Best five dollars I’ve ever spent.

I guess this post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the computer I use. This year I moved from a desktop machine to a laptop. While the smaller screen was a downside, being able to take the computer out of the house to write has been invaluable.

While I don’t like using the laptop in cafes, I’ve used it in parks, libraries, friends’ houses as well as holiday houses.

So that’s it for the tech I find useful for writing. If there are writers reading this who use Windows or Android who’d care to share their suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

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How did you get published? Interview with non-fiction author, Julie Wise

Today, I’m talking to motivational coach, mentor and now non-fiction author, Julie Wise. Julie recently published her book, Dream BIGGER: Reclaiming a Life of Joy and Ease through iUniverse.com.

Dream Bigger, by Julie Wise

The cover for Julie's new book

Julie, why did you decide to write this book? How does it slot in with your work as a motivational coach and mentor?
Actually, Cathryn, I didn’t decide to write the book. The book itself made the decision! I was busy writing another book (about my three-month journey through Ireland) when the idea for this book came to me and wouldn’t let go. It showed me the title, gave me the outline and insisted on being written. So I set aside the time, and the content revealed itself, section by section.

The message is perfectly suited to the work I do as a coach because I help people navigate change in their lives and achieve their dreams. In the book, I write about what to do when the plan you had for your life falls apart and you’re faced with unexpected change. I also provide tips and tools for identifying your life dream and making it a reality.

How long did the process take, from planning, research and writing to holding a freshly-printed copy in your hands?
It was exactly nine months from inception to ‘birth’, just like having a baby! The writing came first, followed by a month of doing interviews with people I call Dreammakers in the book (inspiring people whose dreams took on a life of their own and had a community or global impact), and then the editing, cover design, final proofing and printing.

Tell me about your writing process. What obstacles did you encounter and how did you solve them?
Once I had the outline, I spent time filling in ideas for the content in each section. I knew I wanted simple exercises plus real life examples. I committed to writing at least 1000 words a day. I wrote 2–4 hours a day nearly every day for three months and the first draft was complete. There were days when I didn’t want to write, or didn’t feel inspired, but I sat down at my laptop anyway, and the words would come.

I also kept a writer’s journal – a file on my computer where I’d make short entries each day before I began to write. I’d put down ideas for that day’s writing, or mention that I felt tired and uninspired. It helped to be able to reread previous entries and realise that even on slow days, I was able to write 1000 words and feel energised by the end.

When I finished writing the first draft, I realised it was shorter than I wanted, so I needed to find something else to fill the space. That’s when I decided to interview the Dreammakers. I sent an email to six people whose stories I found inspiring (I didn’t know any of them personally), and asked for an interview. Even though they are all very busy people, they said ‘yes’ right away. I think their stories add a great deal to the book.

Why did you decide to publish with iUniverse.com? Did you approach any traditional publishers?
I didn’t approach any traditional publishers with this book because I wanted to get the book published and in readers’ hands as quickly as possible. With traditional publishing, there can be quite a time lapse. I published with iUniverse on a referral from a colleague who had previously published with them.

Did you get any assistance from an editor, proofreader or other book publishing professional?
After doing a thorough editing of the draft myself, and formatting it according to the required standards set by my publisher, I submitted it to an iUniverse editor for further editing. I did the final proofreading myself. I’m a professional translator, so I have a good grasp of language, punctuation and grammar.

How did you work out pricing for the paperback and Kindle versions of the book?
The prices for paperback, hardcover and Kindle were set by the publisher.

Tell me about your book promotion. You seem to have devoted a huge amount of time and energy to promoting Dream BIGGER: Reclaiming a Life of Joy and Ease. Did you make the book your number one priority?
Dream BIGGER became a full-time job for about a year, from writing to printing and marketing. I set aside three months last fall to focus solely on promotion. I hired a publicist for television, radio and print media promotion and a social media consultant to handle internet marketing. It was a very busy and demanding time, but I felt it was essential to getting the book out there and known.

Did you sit down and plan your promotional tactics? How did you decide what to do and what not to do?
My publisher required that I create a marketing plan. I was given a template to work with, but I developed my own and tailored it to my own needs and objectives. When I began to work with the publicist, we discussed a three-month plan based on my long-term vision for the book.

I’ll be posting the second part of Julie’s interview in a few days. In it, Julie explains how she’s been promoting her book.

Click here to visit Julie’s website, and here for her blog.