In my last post, I talked about apps that help you focus your time so that you can do more of what you love. Today, I’m sharing some easy, low-tech tips. These sound so simple but I always forget about them! Here are some reminders (or maybe even new ideas) of easy things to do to help you get more done.
Turn off the internet. Turn it off on your laptop, put your phone on airplane mode, unplug the router if you get tempted…just turn it all off.
Write in a notebook. This one is a personal favorite of mine. Sometimes the blank screen is intimidating and sitting down to put pen to paper is freeing. Sometimes, it sparks something that didn’t come through while typing.
Go to the library or a coffee shop. A change of scenary can sometimes spark something in you or provide some added motivation. This works especially well when you find yourself coming up with tasks to do around the house instead of writing. Bonus, don’t get the wifi password, turn off your phone, and don’t take anything else with you. Put yourself in a scenario where you have to write or just sit there.
Set a timer. Set a timer on your phone, your watch, the microwave, your stove, Alexa, an egg timer…whatever you have. Setting a timer is great for days when you feel too (insert adjective here) to write. Set yourself a timer for 30 minutes and see what you can get done! Even if it’s only 100 words, you did some writing, you engaged in your project, you did it! Yay you!
Next time you find yourself in a slump or just not meeting your own productivity goals, try one of these and let me know how it goes!
The thing I hear the most from people who want to write but don’t is that they don’t have enough time. Same thing from those who want to read but don’t. Here’s the thing: I think there are times in life when that’s definitely true. Say you’re a parent, working full-time, and going to school. Or your someone who works more than one job. Or you go to school full time and work full time…etc etc etc. You get the idea. There are people out there who have very limited free time and that time is probably needed to relax as much as possible or, I don’t know, to do laundry or go grocery shopping. I know these scenarios exist.
For most of us, though, it’s more of an issue of time management and focus. Sure, it might be that your free time is in the evening and you write/think/create better in the morning (hi, I’m describing myself) but you have free time and if you organize it effectively, you can use it to do the things you truly want to do.
I’m saying all of this just because I think it’s always good to sit down and prioritize what we want in life. Do we really want to write? Do we really want to read a book? Do we really want to learn to speak French? Make a movie? Learn to walk a tightrope? If the answer is yes, then a good hard look at how we manage and focus our time is in order. We have the time, we just have to claim it for our passion in life.
Here are the apps that I am currently using and loving to help me focus my time and my brain more efficiently.
I used this for the trial period and loved it. It allows you to block certain websites and decide for how long you want to block them. There’s a Hardcore Mode that won’t let you stop the timer. I love that you can say which websites to block so you can make sure you don’t check your email or social media out of habit if you do need to do a quick internet search to remember the name of some object that has left your brain. If you’d prefer you can use the internet at all, you can do that as well. The cost is $20 for the most basic package and you can add on fancy features for more expensive versions.
I haven’t personally used it, but there is a free, open source app called SelfControl with similar abilities.
Bear is a note taking app. You can use it in any number of productive ways. I love it for keeping track of characters, settings, random ideas, etc etc etc. For time management, I love it for writing when I get a sudden burst of inspiration and I’m not at my computer. If you use public transportation, are waiting at the doctor’s office, on break at work, then you have little chunks of time to think about an upcoming scene or issue in your manuscript. Sometimes inspiration strikes at these places or you just brainstorm some good ideas. Bear allows you to take notes on your phone that sync with your computer. There are plenty of notetaking apps out there, I personally love the aesthetic of Bear the most.
This app is super cute and fun. You set a timer and during that time, you don’t use your phone. If you don’t cancel it, you’ll have grown a pretty little tree while you worked on something truly important instead of scrolling through instagram for the tenth time that do. (Again, I’m talking to myself.) Honestly, I recommend putting your phone in another room while you write. You should just grow a little tree while you’re at it. If you stop the app before the time you’ve set, it withers and dies. SUPER SAD. DO NOT DO THIS. Bonus: real trees are planted on your behalf when you use the app! So open the forest app and set a timer before you leave the phone in another room.
While researching this, I found that Forest has a Chrome Extension!! How cool is that???
I know, I know. You know what this is already. But do you schedule in writing time? Do you send invites to anyone in your family who shares the app? No? Well, start! Block out that time. Mark yourself as busy. Reject any new calendar events during your writing time. This is your sacred time and you are the only person who can set up the expectations around that time. Maybe it’s just you and you alone who control your time. In that case, you should still do this! Make it your number one priority. Turn down other events. Tell your boss you can’t stay late because you have an important appointment because you do! (Unless you’ll get fired because it’s mandatory…use common sense here.)
I loooooove white noise apps. There are a lot of them out there. This one has long been a favorite. It’s free. It has “rain on a tent” and “crackling fire” which are pretty much my two favorite sounds. Find one you like and use it when you need to really focus on something. It’s enough to block out the ambient noise in your house but not enough to distract you. Instrumental music works well for this too.
What about you? Do you have a favorite app that helps you carve out some sacred time for your writing habits?
Aly and I, along with our friend Gretchen, drove down to the Tucson Festival of Books last weekend. The TFOB is a two day event that takes places on the University of Arizona campus and is free to attend. It doesn’t focus just on one genre of books (like Yallfest/Yallwest) but encompasses them all. They do a great job at bringing in a variety of authors for panels and workshops. (They even have indie authors present!)
The festival runs from 10AM-5PM both days and there are always a variety of things to do. Most times, I found myself having to pick between 2-3 panels I was interested in that were taking place at the same time. The best thing about this being on a college campus is that there is plenty of space so you can easily find a spot to sit and read or relax.
Festival Day 1: Saturday, March 2nd
When we arrived at the festival and headed to the first event, there was a sign pinned on the door that it was full. Luckily, one of our back up choices was close by and had just started.
New Voices, New Choices.
Daniel Gumbiner (The Boatbuilder), R.O. Kwon (The Incendiaries) and Joanna Luloff (Remind Me Again What Happened) made up the panel of authors.
I have to admit that R.O. Kwon and her novel The Incendiaries interested me the most and is now on my TBR. Kwon talked about how she grew up religious and lost her faith when she was a teen. Her novel subsequently deals with religion and I am eager to read it when I have a chance.
Razor Sharp Short Stories
Luckily, the second panel took place in the same room so I didn’t even have to leave. It featured Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah (Friday Black), Mark Mayer (The Aerialists: Stories), Aurelie Sheehan (Once Into The Night), and Nafissa Thompson-Spires (Heads of the Colored People).
It was interesting to listen to these authors talk about their works and how these collections came about. The only downfall for me was a personal one. At this point, my prior late night coupled with an early wake up was hitting me. I struggled towards the end to keep my eyes open, especially as the room was full and it was getting warm. It was kinda embarrassing and probably a good thing that I planned to walk around after this.
However, this did not stop me from purchasing Friday Black and Heads of the Colored People after the panel to get them signed.
(I am technically trying to be more aware and limit my book purchases. Mostly this is due to the fact that I bought way too much last year. However, most of what I still have unread at home is YA fiction so I decided other genres were ok to bend the rules for.)
We all met up afterward for lunch and wandered around a bit before splitting off again. There was a Noam Chomsky ticketed event that Aly and Gretchen were attending, while I was off to my only YA panel of the festival.
The Changing YA Landscape of LGBTQ+ Books
The room ended filling up fast so I am glad to have arrived early. Bill Konigsberg (The Music of What Happens), Anna-Marie McLemore (Blanca & Roja), and Susan Kuklin (Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out) talked about how much more diverse books have gotten in YA in particular.
The most interesting thing, to me, was hearing the authors talk about how much more open publishing is now. It is obviously not a surprise, but it’s positive to know that things are changing. It’s awesome, as a reader, to see the diverse world we live in represented more in literature.
This was my final panel for the day so I wandered around a bit more until we left. Yes, I will admit that more books were purchased. (I bought 7 books total. Oops.)
Festival Day 2: Sunday, March 3
Sunday was definitely a very short day for us. I don’t think we were eager to get home late because of work on Monday. There was only one event I attended on Sunday, which was actually a workshop. I really love that TFOB also does workshops, because of course, aspiring authors are going to attend a book festival. Last year, I went to two but I think this one was my favorite by far.
Writing Believable Characters in Unbelievable Situations.
Charlie Jane Anders (All The Birds In The Sky) hosted this workshop and she really broke down how to flesh out a character. I think that the most important thing I picked up from her was to ground your character with real details. If you can make the character believable, it makes the weird situation they find themselves in a bit easier for the reader to accept. This event definitely ended up being the one I took the most notes in!
I think that the Tucson Festival of Books will be my only book festival of the year (for financial reasons) and I am glad that we went. If you live in or around Tucson, I highly recommend checking it out next year. Even though it does get crowded, it is always great to see all the people that come out to enjoy and appreciate books.
I am hoping that in the future I’m able to travel to more book festivals/conventions. Besides TFOB, I have only been to Yallwest. If there are any other book conventions you think are worth checking out, let me know! It’s never too early to start planning another book related trip.
Happy President’s Day to those of you living in the US. I thought I’d see what sort of writing inspiration I could find from a former president and found this gem about how timey wimey writing is. Go make something to converse with the unborn through time and space today!
To set up my review of The Slow Novel Lab, I need to give you some background. I have no formal writing training. I learned a very tiny bit in high school and then a lot of un-useful writing tips for very tedious research papers in college. That’s it.
I read a lot of books about writing, took a few online classes, went to local workshops, etc etc etc. Overall, I gained the most insight from books. However, the trend in writing books tends to be geared toward the plotters of the world. There’s a lot of formulaic advice out there about how a story should be written. Some of it goes so far as to tell you on which page your inciting incident should occur and when the hero should decline their adventure. While I find there’s nothing wrong with any of that and I’ve read several amazing, inventive, and exciting books that probably could be broken into these formulas, they weren’t for me. My brain doesn’t work that way and trying to apply formula into my writing only left me feeling uninspired and confused.
I realized pretty quickly that I just didn’t write in that way. I decided to seek out the writing advice of people who are driven by character. I asked questions whenever someone who wrote those sorts of stories was open for them.
I got a lot of good answers. A lot of useful answers. But I still wanted more. I wanted a deep dive into character driven stories. A way to flesh out my ideas that didn’t leave me feel cold and uninspired. When Nina LaCour announced her class, I jumped at the chance and got into her first trial group. I knew that she wrote the kind of stories that I adore. Stories where maybe you have a hard time explaining what happens in them but you feel like the character is a close, precious friend. I also knew that she had a background in teaching an MFA program. Honestly, the whole thing felt like it was meant for me!
The Slow Novel Lab Breakdown
Here are the specifics: the course is currently $299. The meat of the course is a daily writing prompt. Some are for writing scenes, others are for diving deep into every aspect of a good novel: tension, time, tone, characters, even plot! There’s also a forum where students can chat with each other, and my favorite part: a weekly call with Nina and the rest of the group to discuss writing questions.
This was, by far, the best class I’ve taken. I had a beloved photography teacher in college who I thought couldn’t be topped but I was wrong! What I loved most about this class is that it wasn’t prescriptive. There wasn’t a single moment where I felt that a formula was being doled out for us to mindlessly follow. If anything, it was the opposite of that. It was a way of very thoughtfully and intentionally looking at our story and pulling from it the most meaningful work that we could. What I loved about this was that it didn’t matter what kind of story you were writing, this could be applied to anything. It lended itself incredibly well to character-driven stories. However, it would add depth and interest to any type of story.
The format is rather open-ended as well. Each assignment is meant to take about a half hour of your day but I found that several had me writing for much longer than that. I’d start thinking about the assigned topic of the day and end up writing a scene that inspired a whole new storyline in the book. One particular day helped me unlock my character and the story in profound ways. That particular exercise will be a go-to for me on every story going forward.
One thing I loved about it is that it helped me engage with my story every single day, sometime I’ve had a hard time with due to my current work schedule. The class work was the highlight of my month!
My takeaway is pretty simple. If you have a hard time navigating the waters of character driven narratives, are looking to be more intentional in your writing, and/or are feeling overwhelmed by the trend of fast drafting, this class is for you!