Category Archives: Commentary

Editing Software Tools For Writers

Editing For WritersThere are many tools to help people with writing such as word processors, apps, pen and paper and more. Never has it been easier to record the written word into a manuscript. However, what do you do with your draft once it is complete? Until recently, you paid a high price for an editor to go over it for grammar, spelling, and content errors. Today, there are software tools to help bring down the cost of hiring an editor. I use some of these tools myself, going over my manuscript in layers, each program helping me locate certain issues that I want to address before I pack it up and send it to my human editor. By doing so, I save money since the final corrections that the editor makes are minimal.

All of the programs I review below have not contacted me to review them. I selected them because they are ones that I know about and use myself.

Hemingway
Price: $6.99

This is my new favorite editing software program. I use it on all my stories for editing after I’ve run them through Word’s spelling and grammar check. Hemingway is designed to help you write more like the famous author. Hemingway was known for writing short, concise sentences that got to the heart of the meaning like a razor. To use Hemingway the program, you either open your Word file in the program or cut and paste a passage into it. In a moment, Hemingway will show you a color coded version of your text. It will not change anything. You do that manually. Blue shows you adverbs, green highlights passive voice and prompts how to fix it, yellow is a slightly complex sentence, red is a jumbled sentence, and purple are words that you may wish to simplify.

Hemingway can be used as a writing tool. It will open a new document and save it like any word processor. It also supports Markdown. The program is available for both Apple and Windows.

Do I perform all the corrections that Hemingway prompts? The answer is no. However, seeing my words in a clear manner where all the adverbs and passive voice in the manuscript are highlighted is helpful. I’ve been referring this program to all the writers in my critique groups and everyone simply loves it.

Unsuck-it
Price: Free

As a writer, we all get in a rut and start to use terms that may be useful to only our particular field or genre of writing. These terms often are hard to parse out and state in simple words as you are writing. Unsuck-it is an aid that gives you alternate words to use in plain English. This is not just another online thesaurus. It is geared toward finding alternate words that would work best in a conservative business environment. When you are stuck….unsuck-it!

Creativity Portal’s Imagination Prompt
Price: Free

Writing prompts are always welcome, for writing blog posts, journal entries or using as story starters. This one is free. Just click the button and a new prompt will be shown to you. Keep clicking until you find one that works for you. What is more, the prompt portal is part of a writing community that could be fun to join if you are so inclined. It is worth checking out if you like using prompts.

The Readability Test Tool
Price: Free

Knowing the level of readability for what you are writing can be an invaluable tool. If you are writing YA, you don’t want the reading level of your work to go further than the age group you are aiming your book for. It is also a good test to run on your essays and short stories to find out their readiblity score. If your story reads for college level, it could be that you need to simplify your story. With the exception if it is an essay for a doctorate thesis or literary magazine. You will need to have your work online in order to input the URL for the engine to find it.

Portent’s Content Idea Generator
Price: Free

I have plenty of fun with this generator site. It develops titles for blog posts based on the ideas you feed into it. You only can do one at a time, but if you have a few minutes to spare, it is worth it to see what oddball titles it will come up with.

Wordcounter
Price: Free

This free website offers to find and rank the most frequently used words in your text. You use this to see which words you overuse and to find keywords in your document. It does have a few fillers to remove conjunctions and other words you wouldn’t want in the report. Since it is free, it is worth looking at to add to your editing process. I don’t use this one any longer because I have this feature in Smart-Edit, a more robust program that I purchased last year. However, if you prefer a free tool, Wordcounter gets the job done.

Sharing and Storage on the Cloud for Writers

Castles in the Clouds

Using the Cloud for storing or accessing files has become second nature to most people these days. We use it to back up our files, share photos and text with family, co-workers and friends, or even do our work there, using our devices as mere input hardware.

When it comes to using the cloud for writing, my first thought is Dropbox. It seamlessly integrates with a large assortment of programs on my android table and iPod Touch and can be quite useful when I’m on the go. One my main uses of Dropbox is to store manuscripts as a backup in case I have a hard drive crash. My Scrivener program is set to automatically create a backup on Dropbox at the end of each day. I also like the use the other popular document storage cloud storage, Google Drive. I use this to store manuscripts that I wish to have critiqued privately by a small group of people. Placing it online with a password makes the work easier on everyone.

However, there are more sharing and storage apps available on the internet and I thought that I’d review a few that I’ve tried over the past year. It could be that one of these services might work better for you than Dropbox or Google Drive and could be a great addition to your app arsenal.

Dropbox
Free basic account 5GB storage
This is the one that started it all. I have used Dropbox for many years as a place to store manuscripts and backups of work in progress. It works with Scrivener, my writing program of choice, and it can be accessed from all my devices. It is not quite as flexible as some of the newer services, but it is stable and recognizable.

Crate
The first month is free and then it is $10 per year.
This is a file sharing tool. If you need to move large files via email, for instance novel manuscripts or large book covers, this service will handle it for you. All you do is type in the email you want to send the file to, upload it to their server and they will take care of the rest for you.

Box
10GB available storage for free
This service is similar to Dropbox, but with more free storage. You store your content online and access, share and manage it from all your devices. It integrates with Google Apps. A great way to share manuscripts with an editor or beta readers or book covers with contributing artists.

Cubby
Free Basic Account with 5GB storage
Cubby is another service similar to Dropbox, but its share folders are more flexible. You can have a “cubby” folder in the cloud, or can set any folder in your computer to become a cubby shared folder. If you upgrade to the first level of pro, you can even transfer your manuscripts directly to your various computers without going into the cloud at all. It supports access via all devices just like Google Drive or Dropbox.

Google Drive
5 GB of free storage
I confess that I don’t use this service as much as I should, but most of my writer friends love it. I’ve seen Excel forms set up to track contests, sharing of manuscripts with beta readers privately or in a small group or using the text editor to work on a Nanowrimo project on the fly. You should consider setting up an account here if you don’t have one yet.

SugarSync
Basic Free Account with 2GB storage
SugarSync allows you to instantly save your photos on the cloud, transfer files of any size via email or shared folders and it allows you to set any folder on your computer into a shared SugarSync folder. You can use this service to backup your computer to the cloud and it works with a large number of third party apps such as Evernote, Gmail and Salesforce.

I’m sure that there are many more similar services out there. Is there one I didn’t cover that is a favorite? Let me know in the comments.

Journals: Tapping into the Creative Process

My Moleskine Pocket Notebook and Cross Beverly Fountain PenHandwriting is a skill that tends to be overlooked in our day and age. We spend much of our time typing on keyboards or poking at screens with fingers. The art of putting a pen to paper seems old-fashioned. Many people have given up on this quaint practice of putting pen to paper. Yet, many studies have shown that the human brain is more apt to remember details that are written on paper than on a computer screen and when we write by hand, the parts of the brain more connected with creativity are stimulated than by the act of keyboarding.

There is a real advantage for those who continue to use paper bound journals in their writing process. One of the first benefits is you will be practicing your handwriting skills. If you know cursive, use it! When I first moved to using paper bound journals, I noticed that within a month my handwriting became legible after years of only printing. My cursive is readable again.

Whatever you write with a pen stays in your memory longer. When I take notes at seminars or write down information in my pocket notebook on the fly, I remember where the information is stored and can find it easily based on knowing its place in my notebook. This is not true with programs such as Evernote or Onenote. When I take notes electronically, I must use the search functions because the information moves on the “page” to different locations.

Many studies have shown that when you write with a pen and paper, you tap more deeply into the creative places of your brain. This makes paper journals perfect for brainstorming ideas or even writing the first draft of your book. Writing by hand is slower than typing. It allows you to engage your thoughts into your writing more fully than if you are flying away on a keyboard.

There are many different ways to use a journal. Each type serves a different purpose, but all of them will help to preserve and improve your handwriting skills, offer a writer insight into their creative process or create unique archival opportunities. Below I will list a few of the different types of journaling you might consider.

Travel

When you travel it is always a good idea to keep your tickets, hotel information, travel documents and itinerary in one place. This is the first purpose of assembling a travel journal. Before you go, you can research all the fun things to do in the location and plan when you can experience all the region has to offer. There is a second function to a travel journal, keeping a record of what you did on the trip. Many people like to write down details of their day, take photos or sketch images of where they are, gather small tokens or papers along the way and store them all in the journal. Even if you don’t have time to write while on the trip, if you take a few notes, you can put together a beautiful presentation of the trip afterward with all the materials that you collected. It can become an instant art journal of your experience.

Dream

As a writer, your dreams are often fodder for future stories. There we develop places and characters that spring to life from our unconscious. Keeping a dream journal is a great aid for capturing this information. It helps to keep a journal at your bedside and to write down your dreams the moment you awaken. Don’t be surprised when a glorious plot you spent the night with evaporates with the dawn, but a dream journal is a way to capture that glory before it fades.

Daily

A daily diary is often the first form of journal that people think of when they consider journaling. It is the act of writing down what you did, felt and saw on a given day. Sometimes such journals are filled with emotions and angst, but when used correctly, a daily journal can provide much insight into your past and can evoke memories. When I write in my daily journal, I tend to be more factual. I try and record what I see and where I was. What thoughts and feelings the events provoked in me and who I spoke to, where I went and what sort of media I was engaged with. I make a point to write down descriptions of people and places in order to recall them more clearly at a later time. If I am trying to recall an event of the past, I can look back and see what thoughts were important to me at the time and sometimes this helps me remember more clearly.

Gratitude

Have you ever lost perspective on all the blessings in your life? That is an issue that a Gratitude journal addresses. The concept is to write down three good things that happened to you each and every day. Later on, when you look back at the positive things in your life, it can be uplifting to your spirit. This is a good type of journal to use a dated planner with.

Commonplace

The commonplace journal used to be a very typical journal style. It would be a book where the author would write down what they had learned and their opinions on the information. For instance, if the author was reading a book, they might write down passages in the book that they found interesting and then write their opinions along side the passage. This gave two benefits. First, they were copying work from the “masters” and getting these words into their minds via the process of copying by hand. Then they added the element of their own dissertation to add more meaning to the work. Jack London was known to use this type of journal style to improve his writing without the benefit of schooling. By exposing yourself to literature and copying it, you tend to pick up those writing styles into your own writing. These commonplace journals were great aids in the education of people for many centuries.

Morning Pages

The concept of Morning Pages was developed by artist Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way. The concept is to write three pages of writing in the first hour when you wake up in the morning. This is not to be confused with a dream journal. Your morning pages can be about any subject you choose, the writing doesn’t need to be proofed in anyway and in fact, writing in a stream of conscious manner is the idea. According to Cameron, the morning pages allow you to warm up your writing for the day and lets you dispel negative feelings or thoughts that might be accumulating within you. So it has therapeutic value as well as limbering you up to write your prose for the day.

These are only a few ways that a paper bound journal can be used to aid in the creative process. You can do any of these types of journals on the computer screen if you wish, but you will be missing out on the tactile sensation of handwriting, seeing your script improve, and losing the benefit of slowly down and giving yourself time to think more clearly about what you are writing.

Do you already use a paper journal? What sort of journaling do you do and what is your notebook of choice?

Lady Jane Salon Reader Series: Wendy Van Camp

Wendy Van Camp - Lady Jane Salon 2015All writers eventually go forth to read their work to the public. I am no different. In February of 2015, my first reading occurred at a funky cafe called the Gypsy Den. It is an artist hangout of the city of Anaheim, California. There are fun paintings on the walls, a wall of old books and heavy wooden tables and chairs. Outside is a cement patio where writers and students come to avail themselves of the wifi signal and cups of delicious coffee.

On the second Monday of each month, the Lady Jane Salon holds readings from four romance authors. The performance of each author is recorded for later podcast. The original Lady Jane Salon is in New York City, but there are various chapters of the reading series around the country. The book that I would read that night was “The Curate’s Brother: A Jane Austen Variation of Persuasion”. My novella is a regency romance, unlike most of my science fiction or fantasy based stories, and thus this novella fit their romance theme. It is my first published book on Amazon.

I arrived at the salon early. I wanted to find a table close enough to the front where I could get a clear view of the other readers. Some reading series have a stage for the authors, but this venue puts us in a chair next to a wall of old books with a large snowball microphone to record our performance.

I had been practicing reading from my book all afternoon. While I do have experience in public speaking and being in front of a television camera, I had never read from my novel in public before. I leaned on the advice my husband gave me to speak slowly and to remember to breathe.

The audience were other writers from the local Romance Writers of America chapter and I had a good time networking with them before and after the event. I had publicized the reading at various writing groups I belong to in the weeks leading up to the event. I was happy to discover that a small handful of listeners had come to hear me speak.

I was the second author to read that night. The moderator of the event introduced me and then stepped away. I started my set by greeting the audience, which surprised them and then read from the blurb on the back of my book. This helped to set the tone of the excerpt I would then read.

I read for around 10 minutes in total and afterward I asked if there were any questions. The direct and intelligent questions about the writing process that the audience asked astonished me. It was a true pleasure to answer. How often are we granted the opportunity to talk about the nuts and bolts of the craft with people that understood. Then it was over and there was a short break where I could chat with the audience and sell books.

Two weeks before the salon, a friend of mine had recommended that I bring printed books to the event to sell and autograph. Originally, since this book was a novella, I had not planned to create a paperback version of it. However, my author friend had assured me that the fliers I had planned to bring to showcase the ebook were not enough. People like to hold a book in their hands and to have it autographed.

This meant that I needed to create a back cover and format my ebook to a print version all within two weeks of the reading date. It was a hard scramble to get the work done in time. I decided to use the Createspace for my printed book. Fortunately, there were templates to follow and I was able to put the project together in only a few days.

I tried to place an order of 20 books on Createspace, but because of the press of time, the best I could do was to bring the five “proof copies” the publishing company allowed. The rest of my books would arrive via the mail after the reading, but in time for a science fiction convention I was attending as a dealer the following weekend.

I ended up selling two copies of my book and autographed them for readers for the first time. It was a wonderful feeling and I’m glad that I went through the extra effort to bring those five copies with me.

Lady Jane Salon was a wonderful introduction to participating in a reading series. It was a friendly audience of fellow romance writers that understand the genre. If you are an author, I recommend them as a venue if you write romance. It will prove to be a great way to meet new readers, to have a podcast record of your work and to sell a few books.

At the time of this writing, my podcast is not yet up on the Lady Jane Salon site, but when it becomes available, I will edit this post and include a link to it.

GypsyDenAnaheim

Steampunk: Learning the Genre

Nathan Fillion in Steampunk GarbA popular subgenre of science fiction and fantasy is known as steampunk. It features steam-powered technology with the decorative sensibilities of the 19th century Victorian era. Steampunk stories can also be considered a sort of alternate history where the British Empire continued on to be a major power in the world and their empirical style of culture and manners still hold sway in a future world.

It is often thought that the origin of steampunk as a genre began with H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. The stories of the adventurer explorer or the gentleman inventor who travels through the world or in time via their abilities and education and bring British culture to other peoples is a trope that is common in many steampunk stories. While Wells and Verne were certainly part of the inspiration of steampunk as a genre, they were writing alternate history or true science fiction of their times. In other words, looking to how the future may be based on the technology of their own times, much as science fiction writers do today.

The origins of steampunk was actually back in the late 1980s with a trio of authors in Southern California. Tim Powers, James Blaylock and K.W. Jeter were a group of friends that met to talk about their writing. They developed a style of science fiction that was influenced by victorian fantasies of the past and taking it to the next level. The name for what they were doing came about when Jeter wrote a letter to Locus Magazine in 1987.

Dear Locus,

Enclosed is a copy of my 1979 novel Morlock Night; I’d appreciate your being so good as to route it Faren Miller, as it’s a prime piece of evidence in the great debate as to who in “the Powers/Blaylock/Jeter fantasy triumvirate” was writing in the “gonzo-historical manner” first. Though of course, I did find her review in the March Locus to be quite flattering.

Personally, I think Victorian fantasies are going to be the next big thing, as long as we can come up with a fitting collective term for Powers, Blaylock and myself. Something based on the appropriate technology of the era; like ‘steam-punks’, perhaps.

—K.W. Jeter

If you look at the “gonzo-historical” books of these three authors, such as Power’s Anbuis Gates, Jeter’s Morlock Night, or Blaycock’s Homunculus, you will see that while all the novels are flavored with the Victorian era’s culture there is no fixed time period or even technology. Steampunk is not about the aristocracy, although they are often present and it is not always about steam powered gadgets either. Sometimes the Victorian idea of the supernatural takes precedence. If you tire of Steampunk stories that feature nothing but airships, goggle wearing heroines or characters that go around with steampowered batman belts, fear not. Look at the origins of the genre and you will discover that these conventions did not appear until much later.

Today, the term steampunk can refer to any of the clothing fashions, jewelry, and art objects that have a particular Victorian flair. Steampunk design emphasis’s a balance between the form and function, somewhat like the arts and crafts movement did, there is a blur between the line of tool and decoration. Examples include computers keyboards and electric guitars that are redesigned to employ materials such as polished brass, wood, iron and leather with Victorian conventions, rejecting the norm of current day industrial designs. Many of the costumes feature corsets and goggles, the color brown, or antiqued British military uniforms.

The best way to learn more about the genre is to read books by the three original authors and then expand out to newer authors of the genre. It will gain you a better balance about the genre and help you avoid falling into the cliches that have developed over the past ten years since the genre has gone more mainstream. Below are some of the places that I frequent to keep up to date with the steampunk movement.

The Steampunk Forum at Brass Goggles
This is an active forum where all aspects of steampunk are discussed. Clothing, art, music, writing and events. If you are looking for examples in costuming or simply want to know where the local steampunk groups hang out, this is a good place to start.

The Steampunk Empire
This online community is one of my favorites. The forums, photos and places to connect with fellow steampunk enthusiasts are many. I learn about new conventions from this site all the time.

The Gatehouse: Online Dieselpunk and Steampunk Magazine
I’m new to this magazine, but I like what I see. It covers more of the literary side of steampunk and goes into what steampunk and dieselpunk are. I find it a good resource for writers wishing to enter into the genre and for readers who want to learn more about the origins of what they are reading.