Monday, May 30, 2011

Reviving your writerly willpower

College students put off their short stories until the night before workshop. A lot of writers depend on their critique partners to push them to complete that next chapter. Even some published authors push the deadline when it comes to getting things done.

And, of course, there are the writing books, which urge you to finish things as quickly as possible. Your friends and relatives who want to know if you've edited your entire book in the last week because they want to read it. Even your blog readers can lay on the pressure if you set yourself a public deadline.

Seeing a pattern yet?

All of these are forms of external motivation, and writers are addicted to them like caffeine. While they're definitely effective, there is one fatal flaw: external pressure is always trumped by internal pressure. If you don't want to write, don't feel like writing, don't have the will to write, then nothing anyone says is going to change that.

And it's easy to lose the will to write. Maybe your story seems like such a mess that you don't know how to fix it. Maybe it's just impossible for you to write until you take the time to fit the puzzle pieces together. Maybe you just hate everything and it all seems like a waste of effort.

Not writing isn't a bad thing, but losing your willpower is.

It's obvious why. In order to write, to be successful at writing, you need to want to write. Sounds simple right? But you're always on your own with that. Those external sources might poke a finger or two in your direction, but none will break through unless you want them too.

My suggestion? Remind yourself why writing is wonderful. Read some books and focus on actually enjoying them. Write a short story or fiddle with a side project--don't go committing yourself to another book, but shape some sentences and play with some words. The idea is to get the juices flowing again so your current project will lose its nightmarish cast.

If that doesn't seem to help, go read Laini Taylor's delicious post on how to fall back in love with your story. The core of what she's saying is the same, but her method is a lot different. She'd rather you keep trekking with one story and hardcore brainstorm until things are brilliant again.

So what do you guys think? Supposedly everyone is either a drafting person or an editing person--are you partial to one step of the process and do the other steps eat your soul? Have you ever just lost the will to go on? If you did, how did you get it back? Tell me in the comments!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Yellowstone: Animal explosion!

Okay, here's the last of the three Yellowstone National park picture dump posts, and I promise I will get back to talking about writerly things on Monday. Until then, I'm going to throw some wildlife pictures in your direction.

One of the most abundant things you'll see in Yellowstone are buffalo (or, if you prefer, bison). They're everywhere. Seriously. Traffic has slowed to a drizzle? There be buffalo in the road. You look out into the distance and see some brown blobs on the hill? They're buffalo. And they look something like this:
Isn't the baby adorable? They get together in groups and frolic too. :)
After the bison, you'll probably start seeing elf everywhere. They're characterized by their white butts. The black blobs in the distance are pretty much always buffalo and the white blobs are usually elk butts. Of course, both elk and buffalo do hang out by the road, as evidenced in these pictures.
Lady elk chilling out in Mammoth Hot Springs.
Elk with antlers in velvet. They were GIGANTIC.
After the buffalo and the elk, the animal selection is free game. Somedays you can go to Yellowstone and see little to nothing. On other days you can turn every corner and find something new and exciting. One of those exciting things might be big-horned sheep, which aren't nearly as domesticated and dumb as the average sheep.
See that white dot in the center way at the bottom of the picture?
It's a massively pregnant bighorn sheep! That climbed down a cliff face!
And this was a bachelor herd, just chilling in the picnic area. 
Just look at the horns on this sucker. Holy crap!
Now, this next bit is something special because it's something that I've never seen in Yellowstone before: river otters! There are only three otters in the picture, but it was a group of four and they were porpoising upriver.
I cannot come close to quantifying how adorable the otters were.
Now, you might be wondering how I managed to see all of these different animals. Well, you can blame the wolves that were reintroduced into the park. My family is full of wolf people, and once you spend an extended period of time looking for one animal, you start to learn where everything else hangs out too.

While I did see several wolves, they were way too far away to get any decent photos. But to satiate your inner canine cravings, I present to you the less illustrious coyote:
He was just taking a stroll down the side of the road.
For reference, coyotes are a lot smaller that wolves and don't live in packs. They're also found all around North America, so if you're lucky, you can see one anywhere. Even in big cities.

Anyway, now to some birds, because birds are also pretty cool. I have several different bird pictures, but I'm only going to subject you to two. All you need to know is that one of them was crazy and would hang out at a specific window on a specific trailer in our campground for days on end. The other bird is just pretty.
Mountain bluebird--I love how bright they are!
Crazy Bird aka the red-shafted flicker.
Well let's wrap this up, shall we? It's time for the bears! If you were following my tweets, then you'll know I saw a ridiculous number of them. Unfortunately, I wasn't really thinking about taking pictures on the 12 bear day (I was too busy being excited), but I did my best later on.

Now what you need to understand is that most of the time when you see bears in Yellowstone, they're pretty far away. My parents both have spotting scopes, which definitely helps, but it's not too picture friendly. For example, check out these two grizzly bears:
There are some brownish dotes near the top of the left side.
Yeah. Not too great, hmm? However, there are other times which are a bit more exciting, so first, let's look at some black bears:
Black bear that was taking an afternoon nap.
A cinnamon colored black bear that was grazing on grass.
This was actually on a steep incline right next to the road. O_O
Aren't they cute? I love their round ears.

But I sense that you guys might be wondering something though. If some black bears can be brown, then how do you tell the difference between a cinnamon black bear and a grizzly bear?

Well, for one thing, grizzly bears are much bigger and they have a hump. They also like different environments. Black bears can climb trees and you can usually see them in wooded areas. Grizzlies, on the other hand, can't climb trees, and are often seen in wide, open spaces. Observe:
This is a female dubbed "Bling." She has a radio collar and two ear tags. :P
Another grizzly. Note the hump. Also, digging about for munchies.
So what do you think? My pictures aren't all that fantastic (animals don't necessarily like to pose), but I think some of them turned out okay. I also got pictures of a blue heron, a nesting sandhill crane, a female spruce grouse, a male spruce grouse that was in the middle of rutting, mule deer, and some pronghorn. However, I figured that this post was already long enough, you know? Either way, tell me what you guys think in the comments.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Yellowstone: Some geyser basins

Okay, so today we're going to cover geysers and hot springs and such because I'm saving the best for last. Not that the thermal features of Yellowstone aren't cool, but I was subjected to Yellowstone field trips for many years and the only thing we ever looked at were the thermal features. It gets old after awhile. So yes. Animals will be on Friday.

Anyway, the Upper Geyser Basin, which we didn't actually spend much time in. All of the Old Faithful pictures are in my last post, but we did get to see something else exciting:
Beehive Geyser, which I'd never seen erupt before!
Unlike Old Faithful, Beehive Geyser doesn't have a predictable eruption schedule. If you look in the picture, you can see this tiny spurt of water to the right of the geyser, which is the Beehive Indicator. Basically, whenever the indicator starts spurting water, you can expect Beehive to erupt soon after. It only erupts about once a day, so we were lucky to be there are the right time!

That's all I have for the Upper Geyser Basin, but after that we went to Midway Geyser Basin, which is one of my favorites because there's stuff that just looks cool. Observe:
Grand Prismatic Spring--most definitely my favorite hot spring in the park.
The other side of the walkway from Grand Prismatic Spring.
Excelsior Geyser Crater. It's huge and the water is boiling.
Yeah, there is colorful boiling water and crazy bacterial everywhere that makes everything pretty. Luckily the weather was relatively warm the day we visited, because otherwise my pictures would have been a waste. The water is so hot that on super cold days, all you can see is billowing clouds of steam.

There are a bunch of different geyser basins in Yellowstone, but we only visited one more during our trip: Norris Geyser Basin. It's regarded as the hottest basin in the park. Also, if the Yellowstone super volcano decides to explode, Norris is supposed to be where all of the action's gonna start.
Norris Geyser Basin from above. Unfortunately not much was happening.
Puff 'n Stuff Geyser. BEST NAME EVER.
Mini river that's crazy hot and filled with sulfuric acid and bacteria.
Echinus Geyser, which is foggy because of silt eroded by sulfuric acid. 
I tried to take you guys some epic scenery images, but despite mountains and waterfalls and such, they didn't really turn out all that great. What can I say? I was having some camera issues that I didn't realize. So instead it's time for the obligatory creepy tree pictures, because I couldn't resist.
The ground soil is so hot that it killed and then bleached these trees.
Casualties of the 1988 fire. And some tree babies. :) 
This tree is growing out of a rock. Seriously.
Now, have you ever seen some cool hot springs or just the ones for soaking in? Both are pretty sweet, but in completely different ways, you know? And what about those weird trees? It's starting to look like they're everywhere. What do you think? Tell me in the comments.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Yellowstone: Entering the park

So, if you follow me on Twitter, you definitely are aware of the fact that I was in Yellowstone National Park all of last week and that I saw a butt-ton of bears. I wasn't going to talk about it here very much, but then I realized that while I've lived within 100 miles of the park for most of my life, many of you have never been there. So I thought I'd play tourist for you guys and share some pictures.

Now Yellowstone National Park is a cool place. It's a thermal hotspot and a dormant super volcano. I spent a lot of my K-12 education learning about Yellowstone, so I can tell you a lot about these kinds of things. There are geysers and rare wildlife and all sorts of crazy stuff. If you ever get a chance to visit, go.

But until then, here's a small taste:
This is pretty self-explanatory, you know?
Heeheehee. Don't molest the animals. Please.
Now that we've "entered" the park, it's totally time to head towards one of the most iconic landmarks: Old Faithful.

For anyone who doesn't know, Old Faithful is a geyser. Geysers are hot springs where boiling water builds up pressure beneath the ground and then shoots a column of water/steam into the air. It's pretty cool. Old Faithful is unique because unlike most geysers, it has a decently reliable eruption timetable.
Old Faithful Inn, which is super historic. They have ice cream too.
Look at that cute red door!
And the gigantic fireplace of death.
For some context, here I am standing next to the giant fireplace. 
You should also know that the inn is very wooden.
The Old Faithful Visitor Center . . . buried in snow.
I love how the inside window is completely blocked. :D 
Another context image. Me, our truck, and a bunch of snow drifts.
And finally, Old Faithful itself.
See, wasn't that interesting? Now we're going to segway slightly to Gardiner, MT. The park entrance in Gardiner was actually the first one built, so it's a nifty little town. It's also quite close to the campground I stayed in, so I went there pretty much every day.
The Roosevelt Arch just outside of the park entrance.
Historic tour buses that convert into snow coaches, which is just awesome.
And a helpful sign for lost tourists.
Well that's all the pictures for today, but you will definitely get to see some more goodies before the week ends. Including bears. And hot springs. And maybe even a creepy tree or two.

Until then, how many of you have been to Yellowstone? Did you have a good time? Or is it one of those places that you plan on visiting in the future? Tell me in the comments.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Man Story

Hi. I have a question for all of you. But first, some background!

So I spent my college education primarily as a creative writing major. As such, I spent a lot of time in workshop classes. For anyone that doesn't know, a workshop is basically a giant critique group. There's kind of a debate on the net about whether they're a waste of time or not, but I'll talk about that some other day.

Anyway, there are two things to know about fiction writing workshops in college: 1) they're all about short stories, and 2) they strongly encourage that you write literary fiction. When you Take these two things and throw them at a dude, something exciting will happen. This is what we like to call the Man Story.

But let's cut to the chase and just define what makes a story the Man Story:

  • The author and narrator are both college males
  • The narrator's best friend is kind of a womanizing douchebag
  • But the narrator actually is a decent guy
  • They may smoke pot together at some point
  • The narrator doesn't know where he's going with his life
  • There is a girl who once had relations with the narrator or the douchebag
  • The narrator and the girl have unresolved sexual tension
  • There is usually some kind of mundane task involved
  • And a lot of the time said task doesn't gets completed
  • The narrator has an epiphany of some sort--usually that his life sucks
  • Nothing much really happens at all ... other than the mundane task

Does that sound familiar to you guys? It probably will if you've gone through college level creative writing workshops. Then again, maybe it won't. Which is why I'm posting this today, because I'm curious whether this phenomenon was limited to Montana people or whether this is worldwide sort of thing.

So really, tell me. Does this sound familiar? Have you read the Man Story before? Better yet, have you written a version of the Man Story? Tell me about it in the comments.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

World building is all about questions

I've been thinking about world building a lot recently. My lone critique partner, Brenna, has been brainstorming with me about the world building in her WIP and then followed that up with a series of posts on her blog. Then I was asked how I world build, which got me thinking, and I figured it was time to bring that up here because world building is one of my favorite things about writing.

For anyone who doesn't know, world building is the environment in your story and how your characters relate to it. It's super important for genres like fantasy, science fiction, and historical fiction because they all focus on different times/places than now. If you're in on the YA book trends, you probably have noticed that the quality of a dystopian is dependent on the world building.

Now, my current WIP is a YA fantasy that takes place in a desert, so I devote a lot of time to fleshing that world out. Which is good, because I love world building. As such, I've spent many hours deciding how weather patterns work and how people would build cities based on their surrounding environment. I also dabble with flower symbolism, city-state politics, and how my characters relate to death based on their culture. It's all sorts of crazy.

Why do I spend so much time of world building? Well, I'm a stickler for detail. In particular, detail that makes sense. If there's an issue of logic, I kinda shut down until I can figure out how to fix things. This is both a good and a bad thing because my world building gets pretty solid, but I can stagnate on one scene for days.

But this post is supposed to be about how to world build, not my issues. So if you have problems focusing on world building, then I have one piece of advice: ask questions.

Yeah, that's right. But not just a couple questions, as many questions as you can think of, from as many POVs as you can come up with. Why are your characters doing certain things? Why are they doing these things NOW instead of years ago? How did these events come to pass and why did certain people let them happen that way?

If you have problems asking yourself these kinds of questions, get someone else. Tell them to be super critical and super curious. You should be able to answer any kind of question they ask. Even the ones that seems stupid of irrelevant.

The result is that you'll end up knowing more about your world than will show up in your book. It kinda sucks that you can't share anything, and you might be wondering why bother knowing so much then? Because the knowledge shows in your writing. Hints of depth go a long way in world building.

So what do you think about world building? Do you enjoy it? Are you like me and think of it as your One True Love of writing? Or is world building like pulling teeth--the kind of thing that you avoid as much as possible? Tell me your thoughts in the comments!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Guest Post: What's in a critique partner?

Haha, so you don't know this about me, but I live super close to Yellowstone National Park. If you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed when I went on a day trip last Thursday because I was spamming you all with river otters, grizzly bears, and Old Faithful.

Well, then I found out on pretty short notice that I'm going back for a week. Yay! I also sent out this desperate plea for guest bloggers. Amazingly, someone answered. Yay again! So we're gonna start this week out with a guest post and then I'll follow it up with some posts I scheduled in advance. Unfortunately I'm going to be on an internet down low, so don't look out for too much activity on my part.

I'll see you guys next week though, when I may or may not be throwing pictures of wildlife and thermal hotspot goodness at you. Until then, enjoy Brenna's hot guest post on critique partners.



Hello again, people of Sarah’s blog. I hope you don’t mind me barging in again. Especially because I’m going to be talking about Sarah today. (Don’t worry, she totally read this before posting, so it’s nothing bad.)

Actually, we’re talking about critique partners. I know Sarah has dabbled a little about this post about editing and this post about talking to other writers. But I’m here to talk a little bit about what specifically Sarah does for me that no one else can. So, รก la Sarah, five things I love and adore about her.
  1. Trust: She is interested in the same genres as me (primarily YA sci-fi and fantasy, with a few contemporaries thrown in there for good measure). So when we talk about books, we talk about what we liked and didn’t like. I appreciate her opinions on my reading material because I trust her judgment. When she says something about my story, I listen and don’t automatically dismiss it. (Not that I ever do that with anyone else… *coughcough*)

  2. An Opinion: Just because we’re similar in those ways doesn’t mean we don’t have different opinions. She’s not into pithy romance like I am. I don’t share her obsession for The Lord of the Rings. We like and notice different things in stories as well, which makes us fantastic critique partners. We push each other to do better in our different ways. She has a better usable vocabulary than I do. We plot differently, and look at things differently. She gives me a varied opinion that I don’t have myself.

  3. Needed Competition: Yeah, we compete. Kind of. Sarah, as you well know, is in editing land with a finished manuscript. I’m currently reading it. Knowing that makes me want to finish my own draft sooner to catch up to her. Maybe she doesn’t know that we’re in a race, but we totally are. It’s the who-can-get-what-done-first race--or at least in my mind. She’s won the first round by finishing her manuscript, but there are many more to come. Having her in the lead pushes me to go farther. Having me closing the distance between us is (maybe subconsciously) giving her a kick in the butt to stay ahead of me.

  4. A Spaghetti Wall: You know that saying, throw something at a wall and see what sticks? That’s her (no actual objects are thrown--usually--though I do admit slamming her with a wallet once in college). When I’m having problems and come up with a possible solution (I’m world building right now, and coming up with character back-stories; i.e.--I’m in hell) I call her immediately and give her my idea. She tells me if it’s good or not. She'll rework it or offer suggestions to make it better. She indulges me when I’m calling everyday about some new plot point.

  5. A Rock: Not a rock like something to beat me with, although I’m sure sometimes she considers it. A rock like, “She’s my rock.” She’s my support. She’s there when I need her to be and can never be replaced. I get excited when she likes an idea of mine. I feel proud when she says I’ve done good (like when I started drafting again). She’s there to be a champion when I need one, a drill sergeant when I need a kick in the butt, and an ear when I need to talk. She’s what I need her to be when I need her to be it, and I couldn’t do this without her.
So, those are my reasons for loving my critique partner. They are more important than you’d think. They don’t just read your manuscript, edit, and go. They’re in it for the long haul, the ups and the downs, and Sarah has always been there for me. I return the favor by trying to be there for her. We both want the other to succeed, and believe that we can.

Today, for me, if you have a critique partner, or even just a friend who does these kinds of things for you, do something for them. Give them a hug or a phone call. Take them to lunch. I don’t care how big or small it is, just say thank you (hey Sarah: thank you).

So what are your CPs like? What’s the best thing they’ve done for you? Let me know in the comments!



BRENNA BRAATEN
Brenna has been a story maker-upper since she was very little and a writer since she was twelve. She is currently the city reporter for the Cody Enterprise in Cody, WY and trying to break into the publishing industry. You can stalk her at her blog, Brenna's Bookish Blog, or on Twitter as @brennabraaten.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Freaky Friday Blogfest

Today is Friday the 13th. Horrible, wonderful, hilarious things are known to happen on this day. Because it is magical. Or something. And this Friday the 13th is no slouch, as Kat Brauer over at The Flighty Temptress is hosting the Freaky Friday Blogfest! Because I find it terribly amusing, I am participating.

All we're doing is posting 500 words worth of old, unpublished work for critique. That's right, you're allowed to shamelessly mock critique the excerpt posted below. But it's really okay, because, it's hilariously bad. Really. My excerpt comes from the story that spawned the "Yikes-o-wowie!" line. Anyway, the blogfest runs until the end of May 15th, so hopefully a bunch of other people will participate and we can all giggle at our old, decrepit writing together!

So, onto my excerpt. It's from the first original story I wrote back in 2000. Entitled Rowin Warriors: The War, it took place in the future and was about kids in the military and they saved the universe . . . or something like that? Totally middle grade. There were also aliens and magical fighting powers and people who flirted through arguments. Yeah. I was 12. It didn't have to make sense.



Chapter One: Potatoes
POV: Kat
I opened my eyes as I yawned. A big yawn to be precise. I was tired. Now who wouldn't be tired after a meeting at twelve o'clock, midnight, extending to two o'clock, in the morning? A stupid meeting . . . oh dear, I snapped awake. I looked at the clock; it said 7:32. TGINL: Thank Goodness I'm Not Late. Then I saw the paper next to my clock. It said:

KAT
Read this paper
Change clock tonight
DO NOT FORGET
THE COMMANDER WILL SHOOT YOU AND THEN EAT YOU FOR HIS DINNER WITH A PETITE FORK IF YOU FORGET TO LOOK AT THIS LITTLE PAPER

I sat there blinking for a couple seconds, trying to comprehend what I had just read. Now you got to understand this, it’s not easy to assimilate things when you had, oh, two hours of sleep. Snap. Crackle. Pop.

"Ahhhhhhhhhhhh!" I yelled as I jumped out of the hammock. But failed. Instead of getting out of the hammock, I flipped it over and landed on my head, on the ground, in the dirt. So then I attempted to get up, but my foot got caught in the hammock, so as I held onto my bruised head, screaming, I fell again. So by the third time I had actually gotten out of the stupid hammock, but as I held my head in agony, something crawled over my hands. To be more precise, something with eight legs that eats bugs.

“Ahhhhhhhhhhhh!” I yelled again, and swatted at my head, and a big black spider dropped out of my brown and highlighted green hair. Now let me describe what make this arachnid scary. It was a giant black spider. A really, really big black spider. I am talking huge, gigantic, large black spider that was on my head. The freaking thing was as big as my hand! So, in a somewhat calm mood, I grabbed a comic book belonging to who knows, and smashed the monster spider screaming something similar to the words die, death, and get away.

So that matter was taken care of, now to the big problem.

“Bad morning. Really bad morning. Why can’t it be Friday?” I moaned. I was late for the Commander’s stupid talk that was supposed to take place at 8:00, in the morning, and a monster spider just tried to kill me. In other words, I’m seriously flirting with death.

To tell the truth, I could have gotten up on time, but I didn't look at the paper and I didn't change my clock. When I looked at my clock earlier it had said it was 7:00, so I believed it. It had been Daylight Savings yesterday and I didn’t bother to change my clock, so the alarm was wrong too. That was a little over half an hour ago and clock now said 7:43. But it's really 8:43, correction; it's now 8:44, or if you prefer, 7:44.



Please don't judge me. *cringe*

But yeah. It took 2500 more words for Kat to get to her meeting. 2500 WORDS. But that's why this is a Friday the 13th Blogfest, right? It's all about horrible, wonderful, hilarious things. Oh, and if you're wondering about the chapter title, Kat totally gets KP duty.

Anyway, feel free to give my 12-year-old self a critique. I remember being particularly proud of this opening at the time, even though now it makes my eyes bleed. Tell me your thoughts in the comments (and then go participate with your own post because I want to laugh at your stuff too)!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

To adverb, or not to adverb

Yeah, yeah, yeah. We all know about the evil adverb. It's a horrible part of speech and you should purge it from your writing as often as possible. In fact, Jessie over at Little Bonobo's Book Cafe has a fantastic post on the dos and don'ts of adverbs. It is far more intensive than I ever plan to be on the subject, so you should definitely go check it out.

Anyway, let's paint a special, adverbial scenario: Your sentence is sexy. Your verb is particularly sexy. You know what you're doing and the wording is strong. But there's still that pesky adverb and you're not sure whether it's good or not.

Well, 99% of the time, your adverb needs to go. There's a better way to phrase your sentence. Trust me. However, there's that pesky 1% left over and the only way to tell if your adverb is a lucky winner, is to start asking yourself some questions.

Is the adverb superfluous? Does it tell the reader anything new and fresh? Does it throw contrast onto the verb, or does it make everything super repetitive? Is there a reason that your adverb needs to be there?

Let's look at some examples and I'll show you what I mean:

    Bad Adverb: She hissed angrily.
    Why is "angrily" a bad adverb in this instance? Because the verb "hissed" already has the connotation of anger or displeasure. When you're saying that someone "hissed angrily," you're being redundant. Which is lame.

    Good Adverb: She hissed lovingly.
    Why is "lovingly" so much better than "angrily"? Because it makes no sense! While many readers can innately determine that a hiss is angry, that's not that case when your hiss is loving. A loving hiss is unique.

Hopefully I'm not talking gibberish here--I kind of feel like I am whenever I start babbling on grammar. What I'm trying to say is that the best thing an adverb can do is throw new meaning onto a verb. Make your adverbs work and put new meaning into your sentences. If your adverb is a contradiction, you have a good case for keeping it around.

So how do you feel about adverbs? Do you cut and slice them away at every possible moment, or do you lavish them on with loving care? Do you agree or disagree with what I'm saying? Tell me in the comments!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Writerly Tools: Dropbox

Writers like to complain about writing. We like to whine about how time consuming it is and how brain numbing it is. How cruel and efficient our critique partners are at ripping our hearts out. How we've re-written chapter eight four times and it's still not good. However, all of these things pale in comparison to one writerly woe: losing your work.

I'm sure we've all done it at least once.

You accidentally empty your trash before realizing something's wrong. Your harddrive undergoes nuclear meltdown and you never bothered to make a backup of your manuscript. Your flash drive gets run over in a parking lot long before you realize it's missing. Cue the panicking and the crying and the screaming and the uncontrollable self-directed rage.

Well, I'm about to show you a backup plan that doen't require a lot of effort on your part. Gone are the days were you need to remember to do a backup or you need to have an external drive plugged in so your backup can be underway. Because today is the day you learn about Dropbox.

Dropbox is an online file hosting service. In other words, it's a place where you can store stuff on the internet. What makes Dropbox so great in comparison to all the other online storage places? Simple synchronization. Backing a file up online is as easy as saving and keeping it in a certain folder. And that's why I'm going to share five reasons why you should give Dropbox a chance:
  1. Dropbox is super easy
    All Dropbox is, is a folder. You install the program and that sets up a folder to be automatically synced to a secure online server. That's it. If you want something backed up, you put it in the folder and Dropbox gets to work. No need to worry or fuss.
  2. Dropbox is a filesharing wonder
    Not only can you keep private online backups, but you can make public ones too. Dropbox lets you create Shared Folders, which are only accessible to the people you share them with. Keep your manuscript permanently in the Dropbox, and your critique partners can access it at any time!
  3. Dropbox works everywhere
    Like many programs, Dropbox is crazy compatible. This allows you to keep synced dropboxes on multiple platforms and access your files anywhere. Right now it's Mac, PC, Linux, iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry, and web platform friendly.
  4. Dropbox lets you look at old files
    Seriously. Have you ever edited something, waited a week, and then realized you need the unedited version? Dropbox keeps snapshots of every changed file for 30 days and it's just a few clicks to get the old version back. If you get the Pro Version of Dropbox, you can set it up so your file history is saved forever.
  5. Dropbox is free or paid
    The free packages is a sweet 2GB, which is fine if you use this for writing purposes. However, but getting people to sign up via referral link, you can up that to 10GB. Or you can pay upgrade to the Pro Version and get 50GB or 100 GB of space.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The great binder clip hunt

One of my favorite times of year is Back to School season. Not because I have an affinity for the moans of young children as summer's end draws near, but because cool office supplies are in abundance. Ha, bet I've lost you all now, since, you know, it's not actually Back to School season. Well, that's the reason behind this post, actually.

Now, I told myself a long time ago that when I finished a full-length manuscript I would do two things: 1) I would get said manuscript printed out so I could luxuriate in its papery goodness, and 2) I would hold that papery goodness together with big, sexy binder clips. For some reason, I have always associated manuscripts with binder clips, so this seemed like a fantastic idea.

Then, of course, I finished a manuscript in March.

So Boyfriend and I went to Office Max. There we printed my manuscript out and searched for shiny new office supplies. I felt like I deserved delicious new goodies in which to rip my writing to shreds. Unfortunately, I usually binge on such supplies during back to school season, where there's an actual selection.

We grabbed some Sharpie highlighters, but found that there were no boxes of red Bic pens. And the binder clip selection? Totally wussy. They were all small and black. They couldn't hold 20 pages when my manuscript was almost 400. It was a disappointment, but we left the Office Max in good spirits and headed towards our other options.

There was nothing promising at Fred Meyer but some cool Post-It notes. Staples was home to the rare and elusive box of red Bic pens, but their binder clip selection was just as weak as Office Max's. Maybe this should have been an issue--but I had seen shiny fleur-de-lis binder clips there just a couple months ago! Wal-Mart was the last option, and while there were colorful binder clips, they were still so small. My manuscript was three inches thick. Where was giant binder clip for which I was searching?!

Simply enough, it was nowhere to be found.

I know they exist. You know the ones I'm talking about. Those giant binders clips that, if necessary, could work like a tourniquet for a young child. I've seen them before. So have you. But their absence, plus the strange rarity of those red pens brought me to a conclusion: no one cares about office supplies in March.

The moral of the story? August and September are the blessed months of the office supply nerd. Go shopping then.

In the end, I bought a butt-ton of small and medium binder clips, which I've been using on individual chapters of my manuscript. Someday though, mark my words, I'll find the ultimate binder clip. The god of binder blips. And you can bet that I'll be scoping the stores come Back to School season.
Wow, my hand looks extremely deranged in this picture. Also, binder clips!
So what about you guys? Do you have a fetish for office supplies? Can you only work with a special writing pen or with a specific brand of post-its? Or is any old thing good as long as it works? Also, how do you feel about binder clips? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

30 Sarah-steps to editing

So, I've been doing a bunch of editing lately. It's had it's own, unique ups and downs, but I've settled into a relatively stable schedule . . . which I thought I'd share. Yay! So here we go, how I go about editing a chapter of my manuscript:
  1. Sit down at desk to start paper edits. This is a very serious process.
  2. Check email, Twitter, and RSS aggregator.
  3. Turn on appropriate music. Loudly.
  4. Doodle flowers in red pen on scrap paper.
  5. Make notes on manuscript in same red pen.
  6. Write out extended bits of dialogue on a post-it note.
  7. Highlight passive verbs because they suck.
  8. Chew on red pen while reading.
  9. Laugh hysterically and exclaim, "Now you're a horrible sentence!"
  10. Repeat steps 3-9 until paper edits are completed.
  11. Cheer.
  12. Move computer to bed because it's comfy.
  13. Look at email, Twitter, and RSS aggregator.
  14. Work through chapter and start implementing paper edit notes.
  15. Re-write some sentences.
  16. Delete giant chunks of unnecessary wordage.
  17. Glare at cranky paragraphs.
  18. Eat some Lifesavers.
  19. Re-work cranky paragraphs. Pages worth of cranky paragraphs.
  20. Exclaim to manuscript, "I hate you!"
  21. Look at Twitter.
  22. Look at manuscript for two minutes.
  23. Look at Twitter again. No one has said anything.
  24. Look at sleeping cat and exclaim, "You're so adorable!"
  25. Manhandle cat for several minutes.
  26. Sigh.
  27. Option 1: Have a meltdown and call critique partner for help.
  28. Option 2: Break for food or something mindless.
  29. Option 3: Suck it up and repeat steps 14-20 until chapter is done.
  30. Cheer.
And that's it! A lot of procrastination, yes, I know. But I still get stuff done in the end, which is totally all that matters. But now I'm curious about the rest of you. What is your editing process? Do you lock yourself away in a study, or are you at the kitchen table with everyone else in the family? Do you need silence? Can you edit and watch TV at the same time? Tell me in the comments.

Monday, May 2, 2011

April Book Roundup

Well, it's the beginning of the month and you all know what that means.

But if you don't know, don't fret, for I shall tell you. At the beginning of each month I do Twitter-length reviews of the books I read during the month prior. Genres are listed at the beginning of the reviews and my very favorites are marked with a star (). Yay!

Anyway, as you may notice, I read a lot of books in April. The reason? A combination of library books that were due and borrowed books that had to go back to their owners. This melted my brain a little bit (I officially do not get how book bloggers do it), and thus, May will probably tone it down a bit.

Also, in regards to comic books, yes, I know, I'm inconsistent. All six volumes of Scott Pilgrim were grouped together because they're pretty fluffy and were limited to one big story. But the two volumes of Fables are separate because they cover two different story arcs and are much denser than Scott Pilgrim could ever be.

I think that's it, so we'll get this show on the road.

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
YA Dystopian--Everyone's born "ugly," but 16 is the magic year where you get surgery and become "pretty." Interesting premise, but some elements fell flat.

YA Post-apocalyptic--Final installment from the zombie apocalypse trilogy. I'm pretty much speechless from glee. Gorgeous writing, world-building, and characters. 

Midnighters: The Secret Hour by Scott Westerfeld
YA Paranormal--There's a special hour each night that only people born at midnight can experience. Love the idea behind the crazy critters and everyone's powers.

Midnighters: Touching Darkness by Scott Westerfeld
YA Paranormal--Sequel to The Secret Hour. It's great how much these characters don't get along. Lots of dramatic developments and prickly histories unraveled.

Midnighters: Blue Noon by Scott Westerfeld
YA Paranormal--Last of the Midnighters trilogy. Lots of excitement and drama (and I love Rex)! Loose ends tied up nicely, but the ending seemed a bit abrupt.

Crobots: 20 Amigurumi Robots to Make by Nelly Pailloux
Crafty--Amigurumi crochet book with patterns to make tiny, yarn robots. Pretty much full of awesome. Featuring sequins, control panels, and plush goodness. 

Scott Pilgrim Vol. 1-6 by Bryan Lee O'Malley
Comic--Post-college action romance with a nod to both geek and hipster parties. Definitely a fun read since romance is the game and crazy is the norm.

Fables Volume 9: Sons of Empire by Bill Willingham
Comic--The drama of war picks up in this volume as both sides begin to prepare for the inevitable. Also, a cute side story with Snow, Bigby, and the cubs.

Fables Volume 10: The Good Prince by Bill Willingham
Comic--One of the best stories from the Fables series. Flycatcher gets his due in an epic story that's reminiscent of Arthurian legend.Truly delightful. 

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
Steampunk--Thanks to a drilling accident, Seattle has been flooded with noxious gas, populated by zombies, and walled off. Here's some steampunk that feels real.

Pretties by Scott Westerfeld
YA Dystopian--Uglies sequel. Complete turnaround from last time and it's sweet. The last book lets the rebellion flourish from within New Pretty Town.

Orphans of Chaos by John C Wright
Sci-fi/Fantasy--Five orphans who have powers and may not be human. Interesting read, but the prose was often confusing and several male characters were jerks.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
YA Historical Fiction--In 1941 Lena and her family are deported from Lithuania to Siberia. Heart wrenching, raw, and full of incredibly multidimensional characters. 

Ape House by Sara Gruen
Fiction--Conspiracies, bonobos, journalism! Also, scandalous reality TV! Everything is fun in this book. A bonus? Character development not sacrificed. 

So did you guys read anything good this month? Anything you definitely would or would not recommend? Tell me in the comments.