Writing Tools

A Writer Who Moves, A Mover Who Writes

18 November 2015

From author Katy Bowman via author Sarah Selecky’s blog:

I write a lot, mostly about movement—how to move, and more specifically, the biological need for movement—nutritious movement. Nutritious Movement describes not just the movements we need, but also the frequency at which we need them—not for flat abs and a well-toned butt, but for our basic biological systems to function well.

. . . .

While I would never claim to be a good writer, I am certainly a very productive writer, and a successful one in terms of readers reached; my work has motivated hundreds of thousands of people to move. I believe this is because, whether good or not, my writing is authentic. I’m a so-called expert in movement science—our need for movement—and I believe my message is heard (and my posts are read, and my books are sold) because I haven’t decreased my own frequency of movement in order to write about the human need for it.

. . . .

Culturally, we still hold the belief “Nature” that the relationship between time and productivity is direct. As if writing consists solely of the output of words, your typing speed being the indicator of how long it would take to write a thousand-word word article (ten minutes) or a novel (one week). But of course, time spent coming up with ideas and themes, and organizing and reorganizing these threads in our minds, is also “writing.” The trouble is, we’ve come to see sitting at a desk as an integral part of the writing process. We imagine the mulling, the idea-forming, the organizing, the process—the creativity—can occur only when the butt–chair circuit is closed. I (and researchers) have found the opposite to be true: movement can be a conduit for creativity.

The chair, so intertwined with our humanness these days, has become, in our minds, tangled with our writing process. And so we sit and sit and sit, diligently attending to our process, when what we think of as our process is probably less tied to sitting, and more related to the passage of time. Sometimes you just have to wait for the next idea. While the waiting seems to be, at least for me, part of the writing process, sitting still while waiting doesn’t have to be.

. . . .

I’ve found that I’m not just passing time creatively when I’m moving,but that movement actively helps my work in two ways. Like you, I have many other obligations beyond writing. I have work and household errands, and a family to tend to. And so I’ve learned to accomplish some of my mindless tasks with movement—a walk to the post office to mail out review copies of my books, for example—during my work/writing time. The break from my screen coupled with movement-based tasks gives me both time to format great ideas and more time to write them down once they’re flowing.

But not only can you do much of the “background” work of writing while doing big movements away from the desk, you can also move while you write. I write every day, often for hours, and I know I’ll suffer some biological consequence if I keep still during my writing time. So I move in subtle ways that don’t require me to move away from my keyboard.

Here’s what an hour of me writing dynamically looks like (sped up because who has an hour to watch someone else work?)

Link to the rest at Sarah Seleky and thanks to Adrienne for the tip.

Here’s a link to Katy Bowman’s books and a link to Sarah Selecky’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

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5 Tips for Creating a Stellar Freelance Writing Home Office

24 October 2015

From The Huffington Post:

I stopped going to coffee shops to work on freelance writing projects after my laptop bit the dust, and decided to suspend disbelief and create a real home office. It was time. I’d been freelancing over a decade.

For years I’d been casually skimming blogs purporting home offices boost productivity, along with those who suggested organizational tricks such as the Pomodoro Technique where you race an egg timer to complete your work and seemed better suited to those with type a personalities than me.
When I wasn’t in the coffee shop, I preferred to sit propped up in my bed or on the couch or in my super Ikea Poang chair, and work wherever the spirit moved me.

I was silly to be an office hater, to distrust in the power of a designated writing space. After vacillating for a while, combing through articles and quite a few days of manic arranging and rearranging, I set up my home office. It took me a few days to get really comfortable, but after I did, there was no turning back.

. . . .

1. Be Zen. Start Clean. Start with an empty space. Clutter blocks creative and productive flow. Keep furniture to an absolute minimum. Sweep the floor ritualistically. Burn a candle or clear the room out with some sage. Take all the decorations off the walls. Leave what is only most essential.

2. Reinvent the Wheel. Know thyself. Try a creative alternative work organizing system. Whiteboards and bulletin boards aren’t the only ways to map out your working day, week or month. After much trial and error I learned how hanging a clothes line across my wall and hanging with clothes pins chapters of books, to do lists, reminders and payment schedules worked best for me. Everything is printed on the page and visible, can be easily rearranged, and viewed from the chair where I sit in the room. It’s a fun and different system. Highly recommended for writers juggling multiple projects (you can have multiple clothes lines) and those who suffer from even mild ADD.

. . . .

 4 Respect The Light. I have worked mad scientist schedules throughout my freelance career, but often find I am actually most productive when I work the same day lit hours as the rest of the world. It turns out there is a reason for this. A recent study from the University of Texas/San Marcos Nature Center suggest that people who work in daylight maintain better focus than those who work with ill-conceived lights (fluorescents etc). When choosing your office spot, make sure to choose one with enough windows to give you daylight.

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

Writing and Publishing a Book with Free Software

28 September 2015

Link to the rest at nhaines.com

Speak and Spell: How Dictation Software Makes Us Rethink Writing

19 September 2015

From Wired:

… But it’s also going to change the way we write. For one, it may make our prose more casual. One small study of correspondence between two academics in 2003 found that when one of them shifted to voice-dictation software, his sentences became a bit shorter, he used status markers like “sir” and “boss” less often, and he was more likely to use first-person pronouns. “People are more personal when they’re speaking,” says James Pennebaker, a social psychologist who coauthored the research.

This would continue the grand trend of digital communication: making our prose more colloquial, as Naomi Baron, a linguist at American University, has found in studying online language. One friend of mine, the designer Natalie Roth, has indeed noticed that dictation makes her sound like a slightly less complex thinker: “I simplify what I’m saying so the computer will understand it. It’s the way I speak to someone when I know that their English is a bit rusty.”

Then again, it’s certainly possible to be formal and stylized, if you try. Late in his career, Henry James shifted from typing his novels to dictating them, and his prose actually became more ornate in the process, not less. (“He luxuriated in fine phrases and he was exquisitely baroque,” his biographer Leon Edel told The Paris Review.)

Link to the rest at Wired.

Celebrities and Their Pens

14 September 2015

Fountain pens just won’t go away.  Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Arthur Conan Doyle, Anne Frank and many others appreciate the flow of ink through a nib.

This is my vintage Waterman.


Albert Einstein used both a Pelikan 100 N and a Waterman Taper-cap Fountain Pen which he used to develop the Theory of Relativity. The Waterman pen is on display at the Boerhaave Museum in Leiden.

Read the rest The Pen Shop

Posted by Barbara Morgenroth

4 Lessons in Storytelling from a Screenwriter Who’s Also a D&D Dungeon Master

2 September 2015

From Co.Create:

They say writers shouldn’t hesitate to kill their darlings. It’s not an invitation to actual homicide, but a plea for the willingness to jettison any element of a story, even if you love it like a friend. That’s just one of the many work-hazards writers share with those in charge of Dungeons and Dragons games—a dungeon master has to kill off his or her friends all the time.

Consider pouring out a flagon of mead, in that case, for poor Matthew Robinson. As a pro screenwriter and a recent convert to the world of Dungeons and Dragons, he is constantly deluged with decisions about character arcs and turns of phrase by day, and also responsible for the fate of those fellow D&D-ers whose weekly quests he architects. Naturally, he has found that there is some serious overlap between the skill sets of screenwriting and overseeing fantasy roleplaying games.

. . . .

After becoming interested in trying it out, Robinson found that gaming stores across the country have Wednesday night league events where anyone can find a group, join in, and keep track of his or her character’s fantastical conquests digitally. As a storyteller by trade, he quickly gravitated toward the role of dungeon master, the person in charge of planning out each week’s adventure, and executing it based on the roll of the dice. It’s his experience in creating movies and shows, though, that keep his gang of adventurers in a state of agitation as they await some kind of resolution.

. . . .


Don’t Be BoringDreaming up scenarios and envisioning outcomes is a helpful skill in the world of D&D—and any time you have an audience, really. But those scenarios better keep people’s attention.

“What D&D does best creatively is it puts the focus on being entertaining,” Robinson says. “It’s almost like having an audience in your house. I have five players, and I have to entertain them. You can’t just throw monsters at them and expect them to fight because they’re gonna get bored of monsters, they’re gonna get bored of fighting and they’re gonna want some interaction. But if you have only interactions, they’re gonna get bored of that and they’re gonna want to start fighting again. It really takes you back to the basic, bare bones storytelling concept of, like: is my audience bored right now? If so, what are they craving and at what point after I give them what they want, do I need to then give them something else?”

. . . .

 Anticipate Audience Reactions

With D&D, you’re playing a game, but the game is really just a means to create the best possible experience for your audience. In order to do that, you have to know who your audience is and use that information to play off their expectations.

“Most DMs work off a campaign book, which I do too. It gives you the guidelines of the story but you never want your players to feel like they are in a story that has a beginning, middle and end,” Robinson says. “You want them to feel like they’re telling the story and you’re just improv-ing wherever they go. If you play with the same group every week, you start to really know what kind of stuff they dig, and what they get bored with. My group likes combat where they feel like they’re not gonna necessarily win unless they really play it right. Also strange occurrences and weird mysteries—like, they’re just walking down the road and all of a sudden I’ll describe something shimmering off in the distance. They love just going off the path and seeing what will happen. You want to give them the illusion that the story isn’t on rails, when for the most part it is.”

Link to the rest at Co.Create

Character Names

11 June 2015

If you’re stumped over what name to give one of your characters, there’s a website for that.

Enter a few parameters, identify the gender (sorry, there are only two) and the names roll forth.

Mignon Esta Sechrist

Margaretta Annika Heng-Meas

Eugene Jonathan Myers

Daniel Joe Patterson-Stanley

Porter Hipolito Morris

Link to the rest at Character Name Generator and thanks to Joanna for the tip.

The Strange Rise of the Writers’ Space

10 June 2015

From The New Yorker:

An editor I know once told me that on a weekday afternoon, during a period when he was freelancing, he looked out from the rear window of his Brooklyn apartment and saw a burglary in progress, à la the Hitchcock film. He called the police. When two detectives arrived to take a statement, one of them asked, “What were you doing staring out your back window in the middle of the day?” A freelancer myself, I told my friend, laughing, that I would be wounded by this remark. “Oh, yeah,” he said. “I scuttled back to cubicle life pretty quickly after that.”

There is something embarrassing about working from home. You wonder what the UPS man thinks of you when he delivers advance copies of new books. So this guy just reads all day? You worry that the prominent figure you are interviewing by phone can hear the refrigerator door or the neighbors’ kids upstairs. (Skype video interviews are even worse; the trick is finding a camera angle that doesn’t reveal anything blatantly domestic.)

. . . .

A relatively new institution, the shared writers’ space, fills a niche so small that it isn’t covered in Saval’s book. At these urban oddities, members get access to a quiet room or two full of desks, often with an adjacent eat-in kitchen, perhaps a couch—in other words, an office. But without a boss. And you pay them, instead of the other way around.

Selectiveness varies, but at the one I belong to, in New York, no big-league credentials or book contract is required, only “serious intent and a strong drive to write,” though references are checked. Members don’t get dedicated desks, but enrollment is capped to insure that a free one can almost always be found. Lockers are available for an extra fee; some people keep their laptops and papers there more or less permanently. Wifi is, of course, supplied, as is a serious laser printer (B.Y.O. paper). Writers can help themselves to the coffee, the tea, and the bowl of candy, and read the communal copies of newspapers and magazines.

It’s a different beast from the “co-working space,” where, as I understand it, startups and entrepreneurs gather under the banner of cross-pollination and ideation and use whiteboards. My writers’ space, by contrast, sternly enforces silence in the main room. White-noise machines, earplugs, and cough drops are provided, and a sign advises, “PLEASE WALK SLOWLY & LIGHTLY.” (The library-like atmosphere does present difficulties for reporting; I have called sources from the stairwell, as others walked past, to discuss their days dealing cocaine.) Outside the inner sanctum, though, some networking and griping and encouragement takes place in the kitchen area, which also hosts events such as roundtables with literary agents. Replicating the water-cooler experience with ersatz colleagues is part of the draw, relieving the loneliness inherent in the job.

. . . .

At least nine cities, from Hamburg, Germany, to Charlottesville, Virginia, now have shared workspaces for writers. But New York is the capital. Founded in 1978, the Writers Room, near Astor Place, was the first in the U.S. and “most likely” the world, according to the executive director, Donna Brodie. Brodie boasted that she has shared with other workspace founders “the winning formula for success”: a 24/7 operation can support six or seven writers per desk and never experience congestion. Like Planet Fitness, a writers’ space counts on its members not to show up too much.

The analogy holds in other ways, too. As with the gym, at the writers’ space you feel less ridiculous spending your time on an activity with uncertain and elusive benefits: everyone else is doing it, too. It’s a cocoon that protects its inhabitants from a world where most people regard writing, with some reason, as a peculiar and dubious hobby. Inside the cocoon, a gentle sense of competition takes hold. You want your treadmill to be moving as fast as the next guy’s.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker and thanks to Dana for the tip.

The Enduring Genius of the Ballpoint Pen

6 June 2015

From The Wall Street Journal:

The battery never runs out; you never have to worry about getting a bad signal; it can’t get hacked. When this new device was launched, crowds lined the streets, desperate to get their hands on it. “A window-shattering, hell-raising, no-holds-barred fracas”: That was how Nation’s Business magazine described the American debut of the ballpoint pen in 1945.

At $12.50 a pen—around $160 today—the Reynolds International ballpoint wasn’t cheap, but that didn’t stop thousands from queuing up outside Gimbels department store in New York City on Oct. 29 of that year to buy this “fantastic, atomic-era, miracle pen.” According to the New Yorker, Gimbels sold $100,000’s worth of the pens—nearly $1.3 million today—on that one day alone.

. . . .

The ballpoint pen came to the U.S. from Budapest, by way of inventor László Bíró. Born in 1899, Bíró tried several careers—from studying medicine to practicing hypnotism to selling insurance—until he stumbled into journalism. That led to his great invention. One day, while visiting the printing room of the newspaper where he worked, Bíró grew frustrated when the heat of the presses made his fountain pen leak. He watched the machine cylinders apply ink to paper and wondered if he could develop a pen that worked similarly. He spotted one issue: A cylinder could only roll backward and forward, while a pen needs to move in all directions.

Bíró sat in a nearby Budapest cafe, trying to solve this puzzle. Looking out the window, he saw a group of children playing marbles in the street. It had been raining, and one boy rolled a marble through a puddle. As it rolled along the pavement, it left a line of water in its wake. With that inspiration, the ballpoint was born: By using high-quality ball bearings and creating minute grooves in the head of the pen to draw the ink to the tip (through a process known as capillary action), Bíró was able to create a reliable product.

. . . .

But it was a Frenchman, Marcel Bich, who truly perfected the ballpoint—producing an icon of modern industrial design. He dropped the last letter of his surname to avoid mispronunciation and called his new pen the Bic Cristal.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire) and thanks to Margaret for the tip.

How Typing is Destroying Your Memory

15 April 2015

From FastCompany:

Bad News: If you take notes in a meeting using your laptop, or if you create a to-do list using an app, you might be undermining your ability to recall the information later.

A recent study published in Psychological Science found that the pen is mightier than the keyboard when it comes to remembering what you just jotted down.

Princeton University psychological scientist Pam Mueller, lead author of the study, noticed the difference while she was a graduate teaching assistant. She normally brought her laptop to the lecture to take notes, but one day she didn’t have it. “I felt like I learned a lot more,” she recalls.

. . . .

“Students who took notes on the laptop were basically transcribing the lecture,” says Mueller. “Because we write by hand less quickly, those who took notes with pen and paper had to be more selective, choosing the most important information to include in their notes. This enabled them to study the content more efficiently.”

In the second study, Mueller told the laptop note-taking group to try not to take verbatim notes; however, students were unable to do that. “It’s an ingrained technique,” says Mueller.

. . . .

“People should be more aware of how they are choosing to take notes, both in terms of the medium and the strategy,” says Mueller. “There are times when taking notes by hand can be much more beneficial, and there are times when your laptop is the right choice.”

When you’re in a situation where it’s important to form a deeper understanding of the material, such as during a conference or workshop, taking longhand notes will allow you greater processing while you’re listening. When you’re writing, you’re thinking more, says Mueller, and you might have more insight about what is most important at the time.

Link to the rest at FastCompany

When PG thinks of the trillions of words he’s typed over the years, he’s surprised he can remember . . . uh, remember . . . .


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