Useful Writing Tools

Hello!

For those in Australia, Happy Australia Day!  Hope you’re all having fun in the sun!  For those of you stuck in the northern hemisphere winter, here’s a picture of Bondi Beach, near Sydney, to keep you warm:

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This is the second of my contributory posts to Ruth Snyder’s Blog Hop, where this time we’re exchanging our tips and tricks for recommended writing tools.  As a quick comic diversion however, another blogger I follow posted about her self-improvement resolution to metamorphose from a “jerk” into a “tool”, quoting the awesome track “Tool” by Forty Six & Two .  Funnily enough, in Australia the words “jerk” and “tool” are synonyms!  What transformation therefore, I wonder? :-)

Anyway, now to writing tools.  [Not writing jerks, of whom I have come across plenty during recent forays into the Twittersphere...  Perhaps that's a future post?]

(1) Brain (left) – by far my most useful tool, fast submitting to atrophy in these months of unemployment.  I am currently engaged in providing critical reviews of draft manuscripts for a couple of other authors, which also serves to hone my own composition skills.  Whereas most of my writing originates from another facet of my being (please see note 5 below), I strive to use the left brain’s analytical powers during editing and proof-reading, to eliminate as many style inconsistencies, typographical errors and most of all repetition.  That was repetition…  Did I say repetition?  Yes, I think that was repetition.  This is repetitive.  And annoying, huh?

I was lucky to learn from an extremely inspiring English teacher in high school, who by now I expect is a thoroughly decomposed writing tool.  Miss Baker (or “English Baker”, so as not to be confused with “French Baker”, who once told me that I’d better look for a job soon because I’d never get into university.  A less inspiring teacher I cannot imagine, but this BSc (Hons) graduate is anything but bitter…) forbade us to use a character’s name twice in the same paragraph, unless for specific emphasis or when it was the only way to avoid confusion.  Permission for this latter concession required pleading on several occasions, or much shorter paragraphs at the very least!!

This discipline does not seem to be widely followed, however.  Surely we can think of other adjective-noun combos which will both enable readers to recognise our characters and afford a little more insight into their personalities?

Vocabulary overuse is also easily avoided between similar scenes with a thesaurus, a vivid imagination and some extra effort.  I can’t remember how many times I flashed over “he found his release” when conducting my own research into what makes a mega-bestseller…  Come on, own up!  I’ll give you fifty guesses.

(2) Brain (right) – creative writing, IMHO, is an exercise in open-mindedness and perspective.  Using all five senses to describe a location or event using our emotional responses to these sensory inputs is common enough, but I prefer to be mindful that my characters, whether central or peripheral, would not necessarily react in the same way as I would.  This technique, with great fortune, also has a positive impact on repetition.  Doh?  There it goes again.  How repetitive!  Apologies :-)

(3) Tablet – and yes, I’m the first to admit that medication can attain tool status also…  My most indispensable physical tool would undoubtedly be my tablet computer.  Mine is an Asus EeePad Transformer Prime, running Android, for any fellow geeks.  The productivity and quality gains I achieve by saving drafts into e-books on a regular basis and then uploading them onto my tablet are enormous.  My shiny, silver friend allows me to behave like a reader, with my feet curled under me on the couch or outside in the sunshine (Oh, did I mention that it’s summer here?), rather than as a bug-eyed writer staring at a vertical workstation screen in pursuit of those ever-elusive bloopers.

I can’t tell you how many more errors I pick up in “reader mode”.  Using the annotation features available in most e-reading software, it’s a fairly painless process to correct these in the working document.  Having said that, I may well be disadvantaging myself by using Android, since there may be some other fruity tools available to automagically make amendments between iPad and Mac, or between Windows tablets and Microsoft Word.  Another option to investigate once I have an income…

(4) Social media helpers – I don’t know about you, but I never realised that authoring would entail so much manic manipulation of minuscule morsels of media material.  NOW THAT IS TRULY REPETITIVE.  Please, pleease, pleeease, Miss Baker, allow me this one…

“So you’ve written a novel?  Well, that’s the easy part,” the hero said with a sexy half-smile and a sly wink.

“Ain’t that the truth!” I groaned.

Never fear!  There are tools to help minimise our social media hours, if we abide by the maxim “Geeks to the rescue, caveat emptor”.  [Is it acceptable to attribute the word "maxim" to something one makes up on the spur of the moment?]

My favourites so far are Hootsuite, SocialOomph and RoundTeamIt’s probably overkill to use all three, but no one product seems to do everything I need.  These reasonably-priced tools allow us to combine the different types of feeds from Twitter, Facebook, our blogs and LinkedIn accounts into a single browser interface, from which we can schedule tweets to each social media outlet and make good use of Twitter lists for retweeting purposes.

  • Hootsuite‘s strength is the ability to communicate to all platforms through the same messaging function.  It’s weaknesses are the inability to tailor the post to the character limit, e.g. Facebook does not limit us to 140 characters, and that it forces you to log back in with frustrating regularity.
  • SocialOomph / TweetCockpit is great for scheduling a number of blasts at once across Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn only.  It’s better than Hootsuite in that, once created, we can tailor the number of times the message is sent per platform, i.e. we may want to tweet several times a day, but only once a day to our professional LinkedIn network and once-and-only-once to our fondly-held Facebook friends, who are undeserving of exploitation.
  • RoundTeam‘s all about re-tweeting our followers’ tweets, which increases the likelihood of them retweeting ours!  It’s all about community, folks!  [Essential note:  make sure RoundTeam's "Sensitive" and "Profanity" filters are set, because I've been caught retweeting some particularly unsavoury content without my knowledge.  Thankfully a friend notified me before I lost too many followers.]

(5) Heart – while I would credit my left brain as useful, without question my most valued writing tool sits within my ribcage.  If returning to my chapters after an absence doesn’t make me smile, cry, moan, gulp or rile to some extent, I am not satisfied with them.  In fact, one of the most pleasing aspects of reviewing old work is the element of surprise:  did I really write this?  This leads me to wonder if I’m simply the messenger, as does my equally cynical and irreligious protagonist.  Where does inspiration come from, given it’s oftentimes transitory and that we require a reminder of past thoughts?  If I knew, I might list a sixth writing tool.

Ruth Snyder's blog hop

Goals for 2014 – to finish what I started!

I’m delighted to be part of a blog hop run by Ruth Snyder. The group’s first topic is “Our Writing Goals for 2014″, so here goes!

I always hesitate to set goals, simply because experience has taught me to expect the unexpected. For example, when I moved back to Melbourne from Perth in September last year, I never imagined I would still be unemployed in January. My old dog has failed to keep me in the style to which I’d like to become accustomed and is also well past retirement age now. Hence, while I’ve put this extended “holiday” to very good use for my writing and building a social media profile, my priority must remain securing a PAID job!

Tiresome necessary evils aside, my goals for 2014 can be broadly categorised as “more of the same”:

(1) Having self-published the first two parts of my “A Life Singular” serial last year, I hope to finish Part Three in June and Part Four in December. I have abandoned the idea of using a self-publishing company in favour of Amazon’s CreateSpace after Xlibris Publishing censored my work to the extent that the whole premise of Part Two was negated. The CreateSpace experience was not only significantly cheaper but also allows authors complete flexibility with content and design.

[Note on Goal 1: as an e-chick with 28 years in the IT industry (and hopefully more!), receiving the first copy of a paperback with my name on it, my cover design and my words inside was probably THE most significant event of my life! My first e-book was certainly satisfying to finish, but I was totally unprepared for the pride and sense of achievement I felt when holding a printed book with physical dimensions and weight! So, to all authors hoping to publish in print for the first time this year, I can assure you that your soul will not be disappointed with its reward!]

(2) Consolidating my social media platform is high on the priority list too. Currently I run my own website, through which I sell books whole and by chapter and also post news about launches, trailers, etc. However, a recent invitation to renew my web hosting subscription has prompted me to take better advantage of WordPress’ features, which these days allow us to create almost fully-functioning web presences at a very low cost. This will cut down my e-maintenance effort considerably also!

2013 saw Twitter’s coming of age, and indeed it’s now considered the marketing tool of choice for many authors. I can’t help but think of it as spam though, given the volume of tweets that flash past and then disappear before we get a chance to read them. Despite the proliferation of retweets, follows, mentions and advertising clogging up my ‘phone, tablet and browser, I must get over this aversion quickly and worship the little, blue bird as my hero!

In short, the objective of Goal #2 is to find a more efficient way of optimising my time across Twitter, blog / website, Facebook, Pinterest and all the various services which promise to increase my reach. I am experimenting with SocialOomph and Hootsuite to accomplish this without spamming my friends to excess.

So far – and here’s where my cynicism refuses to let go – none of these endeavours has led to an increase in book sales. Perhaps this comes with critical mass, which segues perfectly on to Goal #3…

(3) World domination! No, I am not signing up to fight in Syria and indeed fervently hope for peace in the Middle East as soon as possible… I only seek to continue standing up for the rights of Australian and New Zealand writers. Living on a huge island continent with a tiny population and wishing to break into in the larger markets of the USA, UK, Europe and Asia, I am hopeful that 2014 will see a more integrated global market in Amazon, Goodreads and the like.

Amazon’s Australian outlet, Amazon.com.au, was “opened” a couple of months ago, before which time all Australian and New Zealand books were sold from the US “store”. Luckily, any pre-existing customer reviews were transferred into the Australian “store” with our books. Not so for our Author Profile however, which still needs to be set up for each regional site separately. This in isolation is not a huge issue and actually makes perfect sense for non-English-speaking markets, when it’s important to translate at least part of one’s profile into the domestic language.

However, the segregation of customer reviews is a HUGE issue and a grave disadvantage for new authors from smaller markets, who are more likely to obtain their early reviews from friends and family, who in turn are more likely to be local. Amazon does not make new customer reviews visible across all stores, and consequently potential US and UK readers are not aware of the quality of our work and we do not advance in the search rankings.

Mailing physical books internationally is prohibitively expensive too; it costs AU$56.55 to post one copy of my book to a US or UK address, which is obviously more than the book sells for! Many reviewers, giveaways and competitions are still only accepting books in print format, which I will also add to my campaign for this year!

(4) My last goal is to read more. Again, my unforeseen sabbatical has afforded me time to read as well as write, which I never could have accomplished while working my 50+ hour week. I aim to read a wide variety of books, both to support other independent authors and also to improve my own writing and general knowledge.

Four goals in twelve months is probably enough. Please visit the other blogs on Ruth’s hop and check out their writing goals.  Let us know yours too! Happy hopping :-)

Ruth Snyder's blog hop