Useful Tools for Writers

When I first started working on my novel, I struggled a little as I was unprepared in terms of knowing what tools I may need to make the creative process run smoother. So to save some of you the hassle of having to run around in the world wide web searching for which sites, software and other writing resources you could use, I’ve made a short list of all the tools that have helped me ease into writing.

  1. Scrivener (~£43): I initially started on Microsoft Word, and although it gets the job done, it doesn’t offer as much as Scrivener does for book writers. It has all the typical functions of other word processors but it also does so much more. You can do away with your five binders filled with notes and keep it all organized within Scrivener. You can import all your research and plans, photos and other bits of whatever inspires your work and store it all in one place, which I find to be way more efficient. Plus, it has cool tools like a name generator and direct Google links for dictionary/thesaurus searches. However, I do have to point out that Scrivener takes some getting used to. Learning your way around all of its features and functions may take time and commitment, but once you get a basic handle on it, it becomes a lifeline for your writing. Well, it is for mine, but whatever works for you!
  2. Scapple (~£17): Scapple is basically a large, digital piece of brainstorming paper. It is a mind mapping tool for anyone that does anything writing related as it allows the user to note down their ideas and form connections. You can see how this could be useful for plotting a story or developing a character.
  3. Google Keep (free): Personally, I use the Keep app on my phone as a handy notepad to quickly jot down an idea or some other kind of inspiration, while I’m out and about. I’ve realized – the hard way – that my memory isn’t that good, and no, I will not remember that super unique name I just heard in the supermarket by the time I get back to my laptop.
  4. Quora (free): If you need a question answered by an expert on the subject, then there’s bound to be one in Quora. You can find so much random and specific information in there, it really is a little research haven.
  5. Behind the Name – Generator (free): A useful tool to generate a name for your character. You can choose to generate a first name, middle name, a surname, with options to choose gender and origin. It can even generate a life story if you’re looking for that extra bit of detail or inspiration.
  6. Ted Talks (free): You can find a lot of information from the huge variety of topics that Ted Talks covers. Plus, they’re really interesting and as a writer, I try to expose myself to a lot of different subjects. You never know when inspiration will strike.
  7. Grammarly (free/premium at monthly subscription): I’ve only recently tested out the free version of Grammarly and I think it can be a very useful tool for writers, whatever their level or platform of writing. It can check and correct spelling, punctuation and grammar (and more) and boost the users writing style by improving their knowledge of the English language.
  8. Books: Yep. Just books. Reading other books is one of the best tools a writer can use. Whether they’re related to your genre of writing or not, or books about writing, you really should read as much as you can. And it doesn’t have to be costly. There are plenty of options in second-hand stores, and public libraries are a great way to keep your shelves clear and your purse (or wallet) shut.

I’m sure there are probably hundreds of other tools out there that other writers have found useful, but the ones listed above are what keep me going in this endeavour. If you have any that you’d like to share with the rest of us, please drop it in the comments!

What I’ve Learned About Writing A Novel In One Year

It has been exactly one year since I started writing my first novel. I am currently 50,000 words into my first draft (which is roughly 49.5k words more than any other story I’d ever started and abandoned) and have another 45 to 50k-ish to go.

In 365 days there’s a lot to learn and discover about yourself, the type of story teller you are and the art of writing in general. I think it’s fair to say that I have changed and developed quite a bit since the start of this WIP.

Here’s a list of some of the things I’ve learned about writing and being a writer in the past year:

  • Whether you’re a planner or a pantser, the most important thing is to actually write and stick to it. It’s no use planning, planning and planning, or coming up with a hundred different ideas in the span of a minute if you never start writing.

I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum. You know I mentioned all the stories that I abandoned after a measly 500 words? Well, that was me being a pantser. I thought I could make it up as I go but I’d always give up at the first sign of a dreaded plot hole. And when I finally decided on what to write for my current WIP, I thought I had to plan every little detail in advance to actually be able to write coherently. However, the further into the story I got, the more I veered off the minor details and changed around some major events. Now I know that there’s a middle ground – for me, at least (writers work in different ways). A basic list of plot points, a quick timeline and very simple character profiles would have been sufficient for me to work off of.

  • Do writing exercises as often as you can, even if they’re completely irrelevant to your main project. They can help keep the creativity flowing and develop your writing skills.

When I joined Twitter shortly after starting my WIP, I stumbled upon #vss365. For 365 days of the year, a range of hosts provide a single word prompt that writers have to use to create a tweet-length story/poem/dialogue. This is one of the best ways I’ve kept practicing writing, even during breaks from my novel. I’ve learned a bunch of new words, tried out styles of writing that I hadn’t been too comfortable with before and even broken through periods of “the block”. I was more of a reader than a writer prior to the start of my WIP, but now – even with just doing simple writing exercises – I feel more confident in calling myself a writer.

  • Be open to the idea of finding other writers to talk to. Having a supportive community of writers is a fantastic way to keep inspired, motivated and it really can help boost your confidence.

I didn’t have any writer friends before I joined Twitter. The #WritingCommunity on there is something special. When I’ve had bouts of self-doubt or anxiety regarding anything to do with writing (whether it be about how long it’s taking me to complete the first draft or my capabilities), I can see that there are many other writers out there in the world who are experiencing the same things as me. It’s comforting to know that I am not alone and it’s normal to have spells of frustration and wanting to give up… but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Just ask my writer friends 😉

  • It’s okay to take a break from your WIP. You aren’t letting anyone down – or more importantly, yourself down – by taking some time away to refresh your mind.

I was scared to take a break from writing my novel because I thought if I stop I’ll never get back into it. But I got to a stage where I just couldn’t see a way through the scenes I was writing and both my mind and the story started to get very convoluted. I had to pause for a while, and when I got back to it, I felt ready and clear about where the scenes were headed. I’ve found that having small periods of time away keeps my writing fresh and me less stressed.

  • Write what you want to write. People will tell you what you should or shouldn’t be writing, or how you should or shouldn’t go about it. It’s up to you what you write.

Everyone has their own style and preferences, whether they’re the reader or the writer. Don’t force yourself into changing the stories you want to tell or the way you want to tell them just because it doesn’t appeal to or suit a couple of people that are in your circle. Keep true to you. If that means you want to expand out of your comfort zone and widen your horizons, then by all means, do it. Just don’t think you have to do it to make someone else happy; because someone will always be unsatisfied. Make sure that that someone isn’t you. It’s the best work you’ll do.

  • Setting yourself a daily word target is a useful tool to complete your project, but don’t freak out if you don’t hit it every day.

We all have lives away from writing. Responsibilities that take priority over your WIP, and unexpected events can make it hard to find the time to write every day. I set myself a word target of 1000 per day and there are times I’ve managed to keep to it. When I do, it makes me feel like I’m on track, I’m doing what I should be doing and like I’ve already accomplished something. I can almost see the end of it approaching. But then there are times that I don’t write for days, and it’s not because I don’t want to. I used to feel guilty for not reaching my target on those days, but I’ve come to realize that it’s just the way it is. Life gets in the way sometimes. Don’t give up just because there are days where you didn’t get to write as much as you planned to – or even at all. What’s important is that you keep coming back to your WIP. At the end of the day, I write because I love it. I don’t want to ruin the experience by pressuring myself day and night to get words out, especially if they’re not going to be any good.

  • Read. Expose yourself to different genres and widen your horizons, or keep to your favourite ones and learn from them. Whatever you read, just read.

I’ve loved reading my whole life. It’s what made me want to tell my own stories. But over the past year, I feel like I’ve not read as much as I wanted to or usually do. This disappoints me. When I read, my mind is overflowing with ideas that can be adapted for my current or future WIPs. Whether it’s real life events from the news, scientific or philosophic texts, or totally made up tales, there’s always something to be inspired and educated by. Also, I used to be terrified of not being 110% original but I realized so many successful books have recycled ideas. There are millions of books out in the world. How likely is it that you and someone else didn’t have similar themes and ideas? Once you accept that there may be a story out there that’s not so vastly different to your own, you can then focus on execution. How well will you tell your story?

  • There are no rules to writing.

If you’re serious about writing, you’ll find a way that suits you. Just grow into the writer you want to be.

Anything you want to add about your writing experience? Drop a comment below!

Music & Writing

When I first started writing I did it in perfect silence. Alone with my thoughts with only the sound of the keyboard click clacking, quiet worked for me.

But then I started to experience prolonged periods of being stumped, the words stopped flowing and it became too silent.

I’d read that listening to music can really do wonders when writing because apparently it works both the left and the right side of your brain, it helps you focus, aids creativity and imagination and can bring a variety of emotions to the surface (which is an essential part of telling a story, no?).

So, I decided to give it a try. I prepared a short playlist of some of my favourite pieces of music, put on my headphones and delved back into my first draft.

I soon realized that listening to music or having it play in the background really does make a difference. I was able to concentrate for longer, create more detailed scenes, write dialogue with enhanced emotion, and it generally just made the writing process more enjoyable.

However, it’s important that you choose the right type of music to really benefit from it. In my first playlist I’d included a mixture of songs with lyrics and orchestral pieces, but I found that lyrics were quite distracting as I’d end up singing along instead of doing any writing. Also, a few of the orchestral pieces didn’t fit the tone of my story so it was doing the opposite of inspiring me.

After playing around with the playlist and trying out different genres, artists and even volume, I finally have the perfect set of music for me.

Here are a few tracks from my list that put me in a writing trance:

  • Ludovico Einaudi – Walk
  • Ludovico Einaudi – Earth Prelude
  • Ludovico Einaudi – I Giorni
  • Adam Taylor – River Crossing
  • Adam Taylor – Applause for a Refugee
  • Bonobo – Kong
  • A selection of Hans Zimmer film scores

I have to add that even though music has really helped me during my first draft, there are still times where I prefer quiet; usually when reading over what I’ve already written or during edits. I think it’s really just about what works for you. Like everything else writing.

What do you listen to when writing? Or do you find music distracting? Share in the comments!

Writing a Novel: The Rules

“Beware of advice – even this.” ~ Carl Sandburg

How many writers out there have read through (or at least skimmed) dozens of books about the art of writing; looking for guidelines, rules and loads of other bits of advice on how to write the best book in the whole entire world, before finally putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard)?

I know I have.

I was so anxious for so many years about getting it wrong and being ridiculed by other writers, readers, publishers and, basically, just everyone, that I went on a mad search for all the highest rated novel writing books that I could get my hands on. I read through most of them trying to soak in all the do’s and don’ts and ooh’s and ahh’s of captivating a reader and publisher.

Here are just a few of the rules of novel writing I came across during this frenzied learning marathon:

  • Write what you know.
  • Write what you don’t know.
  • Write an outline.
  • Go with the flow.
  • Set a deadline.
  • Take your time.
  • Write everyday.
  • Only use “said” to carry dialogue.
  • Don’t start a book with the weather, or waking up, or looking at a reflection.

Boy, oh boy. As you can see, there are so many contradicting “rules”, that all I had achieved by the end of that information vortex, was giving myself a headache and piling on the confusion even more.

All I could really do at that point was to start. Just start writing. I started with an outline first; the plot, the conflicts, the character profiles etc. (Have I kept to the outline? That’s a different matter entirely. You can read about it on my previous post: Planner, Pantser… Maybe a Planster). Then I moved on to my first word, first sentence, first page, first chapter, and so on.

Then I realized…

There are no rules when it comes to writing. At least, not just one definitive set for every single writer in the world. Everyone is different, everyone has their own style, their own methods to keep motivated, organized, in control. By the time I was totally consumed in my story, I forgot all the rules I was supposed to be keeping to and just did my own thing.

I broke the “rules.”

  • I couldn’t only write what I knew. What I knew wasn’t enough to take my story to the places it had to go. So, I had more research and learning to do.
  • I wrote an outline, but ended up changing things around quite a bit. For the better.
  • I set a deadline (I set many), but disruptions in my schedule due to other responsibilities and unanticipated events forced me to put writing on hold.
  • That meant I couldn’t write everyday.
  • I use more than just “said.”
  • And, yes, I started off with the weather. Wanna know why? Because it’s crucial to my story, that’s why.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you’re setting off on this journey to writing your first novel, don’t worry about the rules. What works for 10,000 other writers might not work for you. Only after gaining some experience and practice, you can maybe set yourself some guidelines to keep yourself in check or to make the process easier.

Here are some tips that I think might be helpful:

  1. Write when you can. Forcing yourself to write (just to keep to schedule or hit your daily word target) when you have more urgent matters to take care of, will only lower the quality of your thinking and focus. You’ll probably have to change what you’ve done once you look back at it.design desk display eyewear
  2. Don’t neglect yourself. Sleep when you have to sleep, eat, drink, leave the house, meet up with friends or family, pamper yourself. Self-care is so important regardless of what you do, but especially more so when you’re writing a book. The countless hours you spend sitting down at a desk or with a laptop on your lap, straining your eyes on the screen, stressing out trying to get the words down on paper as you see the scene play out in your mind. As much fun, freeing and fulfilling writing can be, it can also be stressful and tense and lonely. DON’T FORGET YOU.backlit clouds dawn dusk
  3. When you get an idea, write it down. I can’t stress this enough. YOU WILL MOST LIKELY NOT REMEMBER IT WHEN YOU WAKE UP! Even if you are sure you will… Trust me.blur business close up composition
  4. Don’t let others get you down. Don’t let them stop you, or rush you. Do what you have to do to accomplish your dreams.man in red crew neck sweatshirt photography

The Ultimate Hero: A Debate About ‘Lord of the Rings’

**SPOILER ALERT**

… For anyone who hasn’t watched it… Seriously though, it’s been like 18 years…

I had just finished my 100th marathon of Lord of the Rings, and as per usual, I was frustrated that Frodo caved in at the last second and decided not to throw the ring into the fire.

So, I took to Twitter (as you do) to ask the opinion of my fellow tweeters, who they thought the real hero of the story was. I gave two options on the poll; Frodo or Sam. The comments section was used for any other choice of character/s or opinions.

First, I just want to say that I did not think this would get as many interactions as it did, but I am so pleased that so many people shared their thoughts because… Well, because I was curious.

Anyway, at the start of the poll (with my fresh irritation at Frodo), I commented that I believed Sam was the hero, 100%. My reason is below ↓

This seemed to have opened up a whole can of worms and my irritation quickly died down as I read some very reasonable points as to why Frodo was the hero, or why they were both the heroes; if not two of many within the entire story. (Scroll to the bottom for poll results.)

I’ll start with a few quotes from Team Sam:

Sean Astin as Samwise Gamgee, in Peter Jackson’s motion picture,
Lord of the Rings
  • “Sam saves Frodo from the spider and carries him up the mountain when he falls over. And that’s after he sent him away.”
  • “Everyone is giving Frodo a pass because he endured the ring for so long, but Bilbo had it far longer, and didn’t give half as much of a stuff about giving it up as Frodo did.”
  • “Frodo was just the ring box Sam carried.”

These opinions are pretty much reflective of what my own opinions were. Sam stuck by Frodo through it all, he stopped him (numerous times) from giving into the will of the ring, warned him about Gollum and even went back to save Frodo after he was told to leave. And not only that; when Sam believed Frodo was dead from Shelob’s sting, he took the ring but then gave it back as soon as he found Frodo alive. That’s something many of the other characters might have really struggled with.

Now, a few snippets from Team Frodo:

Elijah Wood as Frodo Baggins, in Peter Jackson’s motion picture, Lord of the Rings
  • “Frodo had to endure carrying the ring and had to keep choosing to carry it and choosing to leave people who could help him so it wouldn’t corrupt them.”
  • “Sam yes, helps Frodo, but he goes home. Frodo sacrifices everything. His home, almost his life, his very soul, to destroy the Ring. I got go with Frodo.”
  • “I see Frodo as the hero for he bore the burden of the corruption of his soul and the loss of his innocence.”

These reasons definitely swayed my initial 100% for Sam. The fact that Frodo decided to sacrifice his mind and body to the corruption of the ring so that nobody else had to, deserves respect. He was the first to offer to take the ring to Mt Doom during the meeting at Rivendell, which lead to the fellowship, and opened the way for all the other characters to begin their own heroic quests.

Team Aragorn:

Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn, in Peter Jackson’s motion picture,
Lord of the Rings
  • “Aragorn. Because he turned down the ring where so many others failed, fought off 5 wraiths alone, and marched to certain death trying to draw the eye away from Frodo and Sam.”
  • Aragorn. He was the symbol that kept everyone believing and who actually had the power to win in battle.”

Don’t hate me for not putting this as an option in the poll, I swear I was going to (along with Gandalf). I changed my mind at the last moment. I don’t think anyone can deny the importance of Aragorn’s role within the story. He saved the hobbits many times, he lead the way in battle and was victorious. And at the end, when he was willing to sacrifice himself to create a diversion for Sam and Frodo so they could destroy the ring, it was the epitome of heroism.

However, I was a bit annoyed when he yelled, “For Frodo!” before charging towards the Orcs. What about Sam, Aragorn? What about Sam?

And for TeamWork:

The Fellowship of the Ring,
in Peter Jackson’s motion picture,
Lord of the Rings
  • “Frodo carried the ring. But Sam carried Frodo. Without either one of them Middle Earth would have fallen to the darkness.”
  • “I don’t think Frodo or Sam either one would have succeeded on their own. LOTR is full of heroes, all fulfilling their roles in the bigger plan. Eowyn, Aragorn, Gandalf, and all the rest were integral parts of the salvation of Middle Earth.”

The Lord of the Rings is unique in the sense that it has so many strong, capable, and brave characters all doing their part to ensure the safety of their loved ones, homes and pretty much their entire world. First of all, Gandalf is just super cool. I wish he was my granddad. But all jokes aside, he was the first to sacrifice himself to save the others from the Balrog. That honestly could have just been the end of them.

Then Eowyn goes and kills the Witch-King of Angmar, saving thousands of lives on the battlefield (can’t forget her awesome line, “I am no man!”). And Legolas and Gimli are just always up for the fight, doing what they can to make a difference and supporting Aragorn throughout. Even Merry and Pippin contribute greatly by persuading the Ents to take down Saruman’s base, Isengard (and many more deeds follow).

Even Gollum scored some hero points:

Gollum, in Peter Jackson’s motion picture,
Lord of the Rings
  • “Neither would have made to that volcano w/o Gollum’s guidance. Plus, Gollum’s the one who took the ring to it’s doom, granted, it was unintentional.”

Yeah, I don’t like him. He was a villain from the moment he laid eyes on the ring, killing his own brother for it. He tried to be good for a little while but he was too selfish and gave in to the will of the ring. You need good intention to be considered a hero, and his intention was always to keep the ring for himself.

The results of the poll

Results: Sam was victorious by a long shot.

Out of 1,041 votes over a 24 hour period, 86% voted for Sam as the “real hero”.

And even though that was the idea I started this poll with, by the time of the verdict, my opinion had changed. Whether it was my annoyance at Frodo dying down or realizing a new side to the burden he carried, I can see now that all his whining, his inability to protect himself, and failing at the end, was all due to the power of the ring.

I also want to add that there is no one true hero in this story. It’s a weaving of heroic acts from many different characters that ultimately saves Middle Earth from the forces of Sauron’s army and the rule of the ring.

This poll made me realize that there doesn’t necessarily have to be one ultimate hero when writing a story. Every character can attempt their own small heroic deeds, which might eventually lead to a victory; whether it’s a side victory, personal victory or one for the quest of the antagonist or protagonist. It’s okay to share out the ‘hero’ title amongst your characters. If anything, it makes for a stronger story.

What do you think?