WFMAD Day 5 – Finding the Right Tool, Part 2


OK. I've meditated and thought very happy thoughts about how this WordPress blog will be completely cooperative today. Keep your fingers crossed!


Many of you have written to me with your frustrations about not being allowed to post your comments here because the Evil Capthcha will not let you pass. Others say the Captcha let them in some days, but not all. Please accept my humble apologies. My website has been hacked a couple of times this year so we've had to increase security and position archers on the ramparts to keep out the bad guys. Keep trying!

On to Tools – Part 2!


Scrivener is a WONDERFUL tool (for Mac and Windows) that allows you to organize the structure of novel, keep your research in reasonable order, and even write the book, if you want. (That's a really bad description. They do a much better job on their website.) I wouldn't have been able to write CHAINS and FORGE without Scrivener. (Note: I only use it for outlining and the early draft, then I shift over to Word.) Giant Hat Tip and hugs for author Holly Black, who turned me on to this very functional tool!

The same company also makes Scapple, a free-flowing mind-mapping program for brainstorming. I've tried it a couple times, but find I prefer a giant pad of paper and a good gel pen.


I'm kind of a ducky-bunny writer. I get most of my books done by bribing myself with popcorn or hunks of half-melted brie topped with apricot jam. But not everyone responds to that. Some writers require threats of hell-fire and damnation to keep their butt in the chair and their fingers flying across the keys.


You want Write or Die, the first draft tool that "puts the Prod in Productivity." You get to set the parameters about how long you need to keep writing and how long your pauses are allowed to be. You also choose the consequences that rain down upon you if you screw up:  a gentle reminder, an annoying noise, the words you are typed vanish – FOREVER, or a dragon shows up and eats your car. (I made up that last one.)

Even though I prefer brie and jam to battling dragons I must admit I am thinking of trying this with a few picture book ideas that have been kicking around my noggin.




Two more tools that work with positive reinforcement instead of dragons are Chains (built around the Jerry Seinfeld approach to life mastery, "don't break the chain"), and Lift, whose irresistable tag line is, "Build better habits. Change your life." I strongly suggest you check them both out. Writing can be lonely and uncertain. I find the tiny rewards these apps offer make the going easier.

In the past fifteen years, I've written seven novels, a series about a vet clinic for young readers, and a half dozen picture books, not to mention way too many posts on various social media sites and this blog.

Hello, Carpal Tunnel!



My lastest tool is Dragon Dictate, dictation software that allows me to speak into a headset and have the words magically appear on the screen, without causing the muscles in my forearms to shriek in pain and despair. I haven't been using it long, but I'm beginning to love it. You'll need the latest upgrades to your operating system and Word for it to work, and the instructions could use a little tweaking, but once I figured all that out, it was super-cool.

Are there other tools that you'd like me to feature here?

Non-fiction prompt – write about a time when you were injured or ill. Focuse on the adaptations you had to make to accomodate whatever the problem was; walking on crutches, writing with your other hand, only seeing out of one eye, etc. After digging out highly specific details, explore how the experience changed you.

Fiction prompt – write about a character who is slowly losing his/her ability to move her fingers, then arms, then legs in the middle of a world that thinks s/he is faking it. Great opportunities for dialog here!

Fifteen minutes.

Fifteen minutes spent writing today could change your entire life.

Scribble… scribble… scribble

WFMAD Day 4 – Finding the right tool, Part 1

Tool Time!

I'm not talking about craft tools, like secrets of great settings, or how to get through a revision without an emotional breakdown. (Do you want me to write about those, too?)


I'm talking about using tools that will help us acheive and maintain focus while we write, plus tools that can be helpful for things like unwieldly plots.

Note – I recommend these tools either because I use (and love) them, or because I know other authors who do. As with all things writing-related, your mileage may vary. Do some research before you plunk money down to make sure that the tool has a place in your toolbox.


A notebook, like the Mark Twain wrote in above. (See more writer notebooks at Flavorwire.) I use old-school composition books. No, I don't fill them with pages of my novel. But I always have one with me to capture those stray thoughts, bits of dialog, and descriptions that happen while I go about my life away from the computer. I think there is something magical that happens when you move your hand across the page with a pen or pencil instead of typing. These composition books fall apart in the shower, though, so that's why it's handy to have something like this.



Internet-free-writing space. I'm cheap, so I just turn it off on my computer. But if that's too hard, there are programs and apps you can use, like Freedom and Anti-Social (to temporarily get rid of the ability to check social media sites). Rescue Time will help you examine how you are actually using your computer time.



Distraction free writing space. I'll write another post about the need to have a regular writing space, but for now, I'm talking about the distractions on my computer and within arm's reach of it. On a good day I have the attention span of gnat, so I've tried every trick out there. What works best for me is this nifty feature in Word for Mac 2011 (I'm told that Word for Windows has a similar feature), that is called the Focus View. One click and every on my computer screen disappears, except for the document I'm working on. Genius!!

I also use the Comments feature in Word heavily. Whenever I think of something that I need to research on the Internet, or check at a different place in the manuscript, I simply add a comment in the right-hand margin and keep writing because I don't want to break my focus and flow. When the day's writing session is over, I scroll through the comments and do whatever research is required, then add in the required information, or make notes about how to add the new material during my next writing session.

Another thing that helps my focus is to guard the space around my computer. The only stuff I can see from where I'm sitting are books or notes about my WIP. And usually a mug of coffee or tea. When I get stuck for a moment and my eyes drift off the screen, I can only see things that encourage me to keep thinking of my story. Because my attention span is so short, I know that if I see anything else, I'm going to get distracted.


Stupid, freaking WordPress has been acting like a jackass this afternoon. (This is a Faulty, Unreliable Tool!) So far I've spent three hours on this blog because the auto-save isn't working and a couple of times (but not always) when I have pressed Save Draft, the stuff I wrote has vanished. This blog should be about twice as long as it is, but I still haven't taken my fifteen minutes yet (actually it's gonna be longer because I need to write five pages today) so this is what you get. Consider the topic of Writing Tools to be continued. Do you have any tools you'd like to share so I can blog about them? How about a chainsaw?


Today's non-fiction prompt: Write about the tools you wrote with in elementary school. Give details of your classroom, the people in it, and what kind of kid you were. Mix in action with the descriptions.

Today's fiction prompt: Two characters are trying to perform a simple task, like hammer a nail into the wall, or pick-up a soft banana that has fallen behind a stove that cannot be moved. Describe how they try (and fail) several different ways to do the job.

Fifteen minutes. More if you want, but just fifteen minutes spent writing today could change your entire life.

Scribble… scribble… scribble…



First, a standing ovation, please for the unfreakingbelievable Diana Nyad!!


After she swam 103 miles in 53 hours (without sleep or a shark cage or fins), Ms. Incredible said, "…you are never too old to chase your dreams."

That's why you're here. That's why you're trying to get into the habit of taking just 15 minutes a day, every day to write, Even if… no, especially if at some point in the last two days, you didn't write. 

I'm not going to scold you, but if you want, I can brew a cup of tea. And scones, they always help when you hate yourself for not-writing.


Doesn't that look nice?


OK, maybe that was a little over the top.

The point of these 15 minutes a day goes a little deeper than you might imagine.

1. It forces you to reexamine how you choose to spend your time.

2. It makes you be honest with yourself about how important the writing dream is to you.

3. It teaches you that you do not need 8-hour stretches of completely free time that magically coincide with an Internet outage and you feeling so inspired, you swear the Muse is nibbling on your earlobe.

4. By touching base with your creative self every single day, you make your life about one billion times easier in those precious, rare moments when you have an hour or three to focus on your story. 

Have you missed a day? STOP WORRYING ABOUT IT. We're not going to kick you off the team. Here, have some more tea.

Instead of freaking out about whatever it was that got in the way of your fifteen minutes, just start writing. OK?

Today's non-fiction prompt: If this is truly day 3 for you, write about what the last couple of writing sessions have felt like. Harder than you thought? Easier? Why? If you haven't quite gotten the hang of taking those 15 minutes, write about what got in the way and how you feel about it. 

Today's fiction prompt: Pretend your character is trying something crazy, something lonely, like swimming from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage at age 64. Alternate between the extreme physical nature of the challenge ans the character's thoughts. Change up the activity and character as you see fit.

Fifteen minutes. More if you want, but just fifteen minutes spent writing today could change your entire life.

Scribble… scribble… scribble…


WFMAD – Day 2 – Your Abundance of Time


You're back!!! Yay!

Congratulations to everyone who started yesterday and welcome to the newcomers. Thanks to all who took the time to post a comment or something that they wrote yesterday. Was it harder than you thought or easier to take those fifteen minutes? (Note: the first day is the easiest. But don't worry. We can do this.)




This is the problem, right? You want to write, you yearn to write, but there is never enough time. Your job sucks up eight hours a day minimum, and your commute, and then there is the grocery shopping, and the kids have to be picked up, etc., etc., etc. Or maybe you're a full-time student and all your teachers expect you to do 80 million hours of work every night. Or your family needs you 25 hours a day. Or you're already a published author and the need to stay active on social media and fuel the publicity machine and remind the world that you're alive steals every waking moment. (Yeah, that last one is aimed at me! Now you know what I allow to get in the way of my writing time.)

Blah, Blah. Blah.




Do you want to write that book or do you want to talk about writing that book?

Life is complicated and hard. That will never change, so save your breath and stop whining about it. I know that you're wasting at least fifteen minutes a day farting around on the Internet. How does reading improve your life and get you closer to fulfilling your writing dream? Did playing Candy Crush help you write any pages last month? 

Our brains are wired to enjoy the false sense of accomplishment that we get from clicking on things as we scurry around cyberspace like hamsters smoking crack. Our compulsion to click on listicles about cats is rooted in the same brain wiring that makes people play nickle slots at seedy casinos for hours on end. 


start today



I know you have fifteen minutes. That's all you have to do today. Write for fifteen minutes and promise that you will write for fifteen minutes tomorrow. This month is about putting your dream first and giving yourself permission to make it happen. TURN OFF THE INTERNET AND WRITE BECAUSE IT WILL MAKE YOU HAPPY!!

Today's non-fiction prompt: What is your favorite time waster? Be specific: write down the websites and what you get out of spending time on them. The television shows and movies that you've watched in the last movies. The phone calls, coffee dates, lunches, or evenings out that robbed you of time you'd like to have back. What time of day are you most likely to engage in these time wasters and why? THAT IS YOUR WRITING TIME!! When you're done responding to this prompt, set an alarm for tomorrow's writing time.

Today's fiction prompt: Write an internal monologue of a character in which s/he rationalizes and justifies which websites s/he visits. Start with websites that have a strong connection to the character's work and/or life, then follow the path down the rabbit hole until your character is doing something silly (like playing Candy Crush). Is change possible? What will it take for that character to change?

Fifteen minutes. More if you want, but just fifteen minutes spent writing today could change your entire life.

Scribble… scribble… scribble…

010512 - who controls your life

WFMAD – Day 1 – Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?






This is for you if you want to write.

If you struggle to find time to write.

If you want to get ready for NaNoWriMo in November.

If you are wicked insecure about your writing ability.

And if you are a gifted and skilled procrastinator.




The rules of the WFMAD Challenge are simple.

  1. Commit to write for 15 minutes every single day this month.
  2. Write, just like you promised yourself.
  3. There is no Rule #3. Life is already too complicated. Two rules are easy to remember. The point is to get you to write, not bog you down with silly regulations.



How does this work?

Things are going to be a little different his year. For starters, we're doing it in September, not August (which we started doing the year my mom died), and not July, which was the original month for WFMAD. This year's challenge was moved because a) I'm busy working n the next book (ASHES), and b) my new YA novel, THE IMPOSSIBLE KNIFE OF MEMORY comes out in January and I'm already busy with early publicity chores, and c) our son got married in August, so life has been more hectic than usual.

I'll post a blog every day. It will have some writing prompts and not-so-gentle reminders that you PROMISED to write for 15 minutes. YOU SWORE AN OATH! This is boot-camp for your writing discipline, my friends. There is no whining in boot camp. No excuses. Just writing. And random outbursts of dancing.



Where Do I Sign Up?

No sign-ups, although in years past, writers have double-dog-dared their writer friends to join them in the Challenge. I suggest a high-stakes bet with your friend, if you choose to do that.


Do I Have To Respond To Your Prompts?

Hell, no! Write what you want, write what the little voice in your head is whispering. But if you are stuck, try out the prompt.



How Can You Tell If I Am Doing It?

I can’t. It’s between you and your Muse, unless you tell your friends or leave a note in the Comments section of my blog. (I must admit, I like it when people do that.) Sometimes people post their day’s writing in the Comments section. (I like that, too.)

You are accountable only to yourself, ever, for the amount of time you choose to spend writing. Or if you blow it off. This is a good place to begin the daily discipline, and to get in the habit of that accountability. Here you are with friends who understand the struggle. Feel free to tell us all about your writing challenges, or ask me questions in the Comments section.


What if I screw up and miss a day? Or a week?

Then you start over! Don't waste any more time beating yourself up about lost writing opportunities. There are only three situations that should ever interfere with your writing: you have a new baby, you are sick enough to be in a hospital, or you are caring for someone who is that ill, and someone you love has recently died. HOWEVER…. all three of these situations evoke powerful feelings and if you could write even one sentance a day when you are in the middle of them, it would be awesome.




HELP! I'm totally blocked! I can't think of anything to write!

You've come to the write, I mean right, place.

Today's non-fiction prompt: Write about why you are afraid to write. What is your worst writing nightmare? What is the worst thing that can happen if you send 15 minutes a day, every day for the rest of this month, writing? 

Today's fiction prompt: Write a silly fable about two cows. Cow #1 follows her dream of being a performance artist. Cow #2 dreams of being a performance artist, but lacks the courage to try. You can see where I'm headed with this, can't you?

Fifteen minutes. More if you want, but just fifteen minutes spent writing today could change your entire life.

Scribble… scribble… scribble…