A Writer’s Resolutions

You go, sloth.

You go, sloth.

I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions. They always seems like just another promise to break. I’ve never made resolutions for my writer side, though, and that’s what I want to try this year. These are my (hopefully reasonable) resolutions for 2013.

  • Write every day
  • Read at least one book a week
  • Keep sending stories out, despite my fear of rejection
  • Take risks in my writing
  • Care less about what other people might think about my ideas, and just write them
  • Be a better blogger (post regularly, read more blogs, get involved in conversations on other blogs)
  • Be a better literary citizen

So what about you? What are your resolutions for the new year?

Just One Thing: The Beginning

JustOneThingMECH.inddFor Christmas, my best friend Becca (who has a blog you should check out) gave me the book Just One Thing by Rick Hanson. Here’s the summary on the back:

You’ve heard the expression, “It’s the little things that count.” Research has shown that little daily practices can change the way your brain works, too. this book offers simple brain-training practices you can do every day to protect against stress, lift your mood, and find greater emotional resilience. Just One Thing is a treasure chest of over fifty practices created specifically to deepen your sense of well-being and unconditional happiness.

Becca suggested that, while the book says to do one a day, one a week has been working for her. I’m going to start out trying that and see how it goes. Every Sunday, I’m going to read from this book and do a practice and I’m thinking that I’ll post about my reflections here.

You might be thinking, “Sarah, this is a blog about writing. How does this fit in?”

I don’t know about you, but I have a lot of trouble writing when I’m stressed out and my depression is weighing me down. I become lethargic and I don’t want to do anything, much less spread my soul across a story. Writing takes a lot of energy for me. I’ve been struggling with getting myself into a routine of writing every day, which I think is vital. If this book can give me new perspectives and help me get into a more peaceful place with myself, it can only improve my writing. Maybe some of my reflections can even help you.

So, here we go.

Chapter One: Be for Yourself

This chapter happens to be about something that I’ve struggled with most of my life, and which I’ve gotten much better at thanks to therapy. It’s about being on your own side.

The book says that the best times to do the practice in this chapter is when you’re feeling bad, when someone’s pressuring you to do something, or when you’re not doing something for your own good that you know you should. When you face these situations, it suggests (among other things):

  • thinking of being with someone who cares about you, to help you feel like you matter
  • recall a time when you had to be strong or fierce on your own behalf, and call on that energy
  • ask yourself: Being on my own side, what’s the best thing to do here?

This can be harder than it sounds. I know that my problem was – and sometimes still is – having trouble telling the difference between being selfish and taking care of myself. I often sacrificed my own happiness to make the people around me happy, and I slacked off on doing things that would be good for me. I wasn’t really on my own side. As a result, I ended up surrounding myself with a lot of people who felt they could walk all over me.
I’ve gotten much better at this, and actually, it was using the same sort of tactics this chapter suggests. It took months and months before I got particularly good at it, and I know I could still use work, but I know that ever since I built that feeling of self-worth, I’ve felt so much better.

I think the lesson I want to take away from this and that I hope you take away from this is: It’s not selfish to be good to yourself.

Does this sound like something that could help you, or do you have more suggestions? What do you think of this new addition to the blog? Comment below.

Merry Christmas! Have Some Apps!

Before we begin this post, some updates. I changed my Goodreads goal to the much more reasonable 80 books since I have that whole holidays and Dell Award thing happening. The widget sucks at updating, but I’m at 70 books now so that leaves me 8 days to read 10 books. That’s not so bad.

Now, on with today’s post.
I said awhile ago that I’d talk about apps for writers, and then I think I got distracted. But here, now I’m posting just in time for Christmas. If you’re scrambling for a gift to get for the writer in your life here in the eleventh hour, consider an iTunes gift card and this list of apps. (Note: Not all of these are iPhone apps. Just a lot of them. Even if you don’t have a Mac or iPhone, it might give you an idea of similar apps to look for.)

Since I really love all of these and couldn’t decide on an order based on quality, I’m going with my favorite kind of organization: alphabetical. Oh yeah. Are you ready?

agent obviousAgent Obvious (iPhone)
Price: Free!
Are you at a point where you want to sell your book or you’re thinking about wanting to sell your book? Or maybe you’re just kind of baffled by the publishing industry in general. Agent Obvious is a good app to get. It offers tips on agents, editors, and publishers, and generally gives you a lot of insight into the industry and how to present yourself. Some of these tips are so obvious that you might not have even thought about it. Super useful.

Baby Names (iPhone)baby names
Price: Free!
There are LOADS of baby name apps and books out there. I just happen to have and like this one. You can search for names using a criteria like meanings, origins, and popularity, and you can keep a list of favorites. The part I really love, though? The list of 1000 last names ordered from most to least popular.

dropboxDropbox (multiple platforms)
Price: Free!
Oh, Dropbox. It took me a little while to discover how amazing this is, but once I got into it – ohhh. Oh man. I have it on my Mac, my iPhone, and online. I put files into it and then I can access those files in any of those places. This is especially great for a writer because it’s like an instant backup system. I just keep my entire writing folder in my desktop Dropbox and as I write, everything is synced online and with my phone. I also have shared folders with multiple friends, enabling me to easily share stories and critiques. And when something’s ready to print, I don’t have to worry about a jump drive. I just get on any computer connected to both a printer and the internet, sign on to Dropbox on their site, and there’s the file I need. You do get a limited amount of space, with multiple ways to get more both for free and at a price, but as a writer I use a very small amount of my 3 gig.

Evernote.175x175-75Evernote (multiple platforms)
Price: Free!
I’m actually using Evernote right now. It’s what I use for notes in class, and to keep all of my blog posts organized. You make notebooks and notes, and it syncs with pretty much anything you want it to. I just have it on my Mac and iPhone, but they have other options to check out. With this and the WordPress app, I’ve written and posted blog posts just from my phone. I kind of love it.

f-ing word of the dayThe F-ing Word of the Day (iPhone)
Price: $0.99
This is, perhaps, not for the little writers among us. It’s a pretty standard word of the day app, with a 6-day memory (though you can favorite words to keep them around forever). The difference is that the examples for the words are foul and often sexual. Fun way to learn new words, though.

goodreads_appGoodreads (multiple platforms)
Price: Free!
If you don’t have a Goodreads account, you absolutely should. And if/when you do, you should get the app. You can search for books, update your lists, check on activity, and even scan the barcode on a book to add it to a list.
My-Writing-Spot_iconMy Writing Spot (iPhone)
Price: $4.99
Yeah, yeah, if you have something to write on the go and you have an iPhone, you can just use the Notes app that comes automatically installed. But I really like My Writing Spot. You make a new document, write in it, save it. You can email it anywhere and, my favorite part, it keeps track of your word count.

3405-1-oxford-american-writers-thesaurusOxford American Writer’s Thesaurus (iPhone)
Price: $24.99
I know. Ouch. That price is going to be a bit much for most people to swallow for an app, but I’ll tell you why I was willing to spend that much, why I’m happy I did, and you can make your own decision. The Writer’s Thesaurus is like a regular thesaurus, but better. It gives you synonyms that work in the context you’re looking for. It helps you find the words that have the right feel. So basically you’re carrying around this amazing little thesaurus in your pocket with thousands and thousands of synonyms and, oh yeah, it updates wirelessly. You’d pay $25 for a hardcover thesaurus, so why not for this?

scrivenerScrivener (Mac or PC)
Price: $40 – $45
Scrivener is my favorite writing program. It used to be that I only used Microsoft Word and had a million different documents and had to scroll around in a whole novel. Scrivener lets me have one .scriv document per novel (at least, that’s how I do it) and then one for my short stories. One .scriv document holds all of my drafts, all of my notes, and all of my research. If you’re an organization junkie, this is the program for you.

self controlSelfControl (Mac)
Price: Free!
Do you ever have trouble concentrating on your writing because the internet is there, distracting you? You might try to turn off the wifi, but if you’re like me, you just keep thinking, “I can turn that back on.” On SelfControl, you make a blacklist of the websites that most tempt you, select a time from 15 minutes to 24 hours, and turn it on. Those websites are blocked, and I me Add Mediaan blocked. Turn off the program. Restart your computer. Hell, delete the program. Doesn’t matter. You’re not getting on those websites until time runs out.

word tyrantWordTyrant (iPhone)
Price: $2.99
Do you ever set writing goals for yourself? Like, 3000 words on short stories this month, 6000 the next, plus 2000 words of blog posts and 10,000 on that novel? Maybe give yourself a couple thousand for miscellaneous words? How do you keep track of all that? Easy. WordTyrant. You create however many projects you want, set your word goal, and it keeps track. There are graphs and everything. You can set goals months in advance, and go back to any month you need. It gives you the number of words you wrote every day you entered a count for. Totally worth the three bucks.

mzl.cmloraxx.175x175-75WriteChain (iPhone)
Price: Free!
This is another way to keep track of your words. It’s also a way to get yourself to write every day. You tell the app how many words you’re aiming to write a day, what grace period you want to give yourself, and then you start entering your word count every day. Every day that you meet your goal for the day is a link in the chain. If you go past your grace period, then the chain breaks and you start all over.

write or dieWrite or Die (multiple platforms)
Price: Free! – $10
If SelfControl isn’t working for you, this is something else to try. It’s especially useful for NaNoWriMo when you really need to up your word count. You can do this online for free, or download the desktop version for $10. Set an amount of time to write for, the grace period, and the level of punishment. My favorite way to do it is 20 minutes, maximum grace period, kamikaze mode. What this means is that if I stop typing for around I think 5-10 seconds (not sure), the program starts deleting what I’ve written. There are other punishments – annoying sounds, blinking – but the only one that works for me is kamikaze. It’s like capital punishment for writers and it keeps me going.

writing promptsWriting Prompts (iPhone)
Price: $1.99
Finally, an app for when you have no inspiration whatsoever. Grab this, and you get 60 sketches, 285 scenes, 600 text prompts, and 400 random word prompts. It will also randomly search for a news story. You can go for a specific type of prompt or go for random. You can favorite ones that you particularly like, and if you get inspired, there’s a place to write. If you need more, you can buy them.

Hopefully, some of these will interest you and help you with your writing. I know they’ve certainly helped me.

There’s not going to be a Tuesday Reads tomorrow, so I’ll be seeing you next week! Now go have a great rest of December, whether it’s Christmas or anything else.

Tuesday Reads: Blindsight by Peter Watts

I’m participating in Goodreads‘ reading challenge for the second year in a row. In 2011, I surpassed my 50-book goal, so I decided to shoot for 100 books this year. It’s December 18th, and I’m at 67.

Which means I have 14 days (including to day) to read 33 books.

That’s 2.35 books a day.

We’ll see how this goes. If you’d like to check out my progress on the 2012 challenge as well as the 2013 when it begins in January, check out the sidebar.

BlindsightIn the meantime, this is Tuesday Reads, and we’re going to talk about one of the two books I read yesterday and that is Blindsight by Peter Watts which, let me tell you, is amazing. It also broke my brain, which might be why the second book I read yesterday was a collection of silly and odd short stories.

I took a class on science fiction and sustainability this semester, and it made me realize just how little scifi I’ve really read. Until recently, when someone asked me my favorite scifi book all I could think to say was, “Well, I finally read Ender’s Game.” (I’m probably not giving myself enough credit, but that’s totally what it felt like.) So, my boyfriend came to my rescue and gave me a huge stack of scifi books to read, putting a barely noticeable dent in his massive scifi collection. One of them was Blindsight.

Blindsight is a first-contact novel that packs in about a million scifi elements that, quite frankly, I didn’t think could all be put together successfully. If you have too much going on, eventually the reader (and you) get tired. But, no, Blindsight pulled off the combination of interstellar travel, interstellar combat, body modification, mind altering via surgery and pills, virtual reality, the introduction of a new alien species, and scifi vampires kind of awesomely.

For some of you, the term “scifi vampires” probably had you running for the hills or had you really interested. Trust me when I say that it’s better than it sounds – yes, even for the people who were already interested, it’s better than it sounds. Basically, they’re a species that branched off from humanity at some point and can only survive on human blood. But the human/vampire population was pretty steady at the peak of vampire power, and it would have been easy for them to kill their entire source of food off. So, the vampires were able to hibernate/essentially die for decades at a time and then come back. This allowed 1) their food source to replenish itself and 2) their food source to forget that they existed and think of them only as myths. That worked for them for awhile, but they had this really tricky genetic glitch that caused them to go into grand mal seizures whenever they saw intersecting right angles. Like, you know, a cross? It’s the sort of thing that doesn’t appear much in nature, and then it started being all over the place, and soon the vampires were wiped out entirely.  Until, you know, some scientists in the distant future decided to clone them back into existence and use them for their greatly superior intellect. The smartest humans don’t get within 100 IQ points of a vampire. The vampire character in Blindsight is the one leading the interstellar journey to find aliens.

I don’t know if it’s because I don’t read a lot of science fiction or because science is just hard, but sometimes the really hard scifi definitely starts to hurt my brain and while I can mostly understand the scientific terms from context or Googling, I admit that when the jargon and scientific philosophy gets heavy, I’m prone to skimming. That was probably the only problem I had with Blindsight, and I’m pretty sure that’s a fault with me, not the book.

I’m also pretty sure Blindsight would hurt the brain of even science junkies because it has a lot of heavy ideas in it about humanity and reality that kind of left me doubting my own existence and the validity of everything I touched for awhile. It makes you think about how everything you do and see and touch and feel and taste is only the way it is because your brain is telling you that’s the way it is, and the brain is a powerful thing. It can convince you of just about anything and you’ll have no reason to doubt it. It can tell you that you’re dead when you aren’t, that you can see when you’re blind, or that you don’t exist even though you’re talking to people.

Kind of creepy, huh?

Favorite Quote: “If you do not exist, Amanda, what is talking to us now?”

Medium: Paperback

Stars: 4.5/5

Dell Award

He wins all the branch-crossing contests.

He wins all the branch-crossing contests.

Apologies for my couple weeks of absence. The end of the semester and finals sort of took over my life. Now that I’ve returned, why not talk about the next thing taking over my life? That’s the Dell Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing. Most of us just call it the Dells to make our lives a little easier.

It’s an annual award for – you guessed it – undergraduate students who write particularly excellent sic-fi and fantasy short stories of 1000-10,000 words. I’ve entered the past two years, and not even cracked the honorable mentions. I know a lot of the writers that have, though, so I’m not surprised. I have really stiff competition.

See, most of them are Alphans. I’ll tell you more about Alpha in another post, but all you need to know right now is that it’s a workshop for young writers of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Hundreds – maybe thousands – of writers between 14 and 19 apply every year but only 20 are accepted. Then they get to spend a couple weeks learning about the craft from amazing writers like, uh, Tamora Pierce.

What I’m getting at is that Alphans are a talented group, and every year for longer than I’ve been eligible, Alphans have tried to sweep the Dells. It hasn’t happened yet, but it’s hard to find a year where there isn’t an Alphan present in the winners circle. Even before Alpha existed, current staffers were submitting and winning or getting honorable mentions.

The Dell Award is something I’d be interested in even if I wasn’t an Alphan. The winner gets $500, an all-expenses paid trip to the IAFA annual Conference on the Fantastic, and generally gets to be in some really awesome company. But since I’m also an Alphan, it almost feels like it’s my duty to get in there and try to make our dream come true.

I have until midnight on January 8th. I can enter as many stories as I want, but each entry costs $5. They give a brief idea of what they do and don’t like in a story – “Those stories typically are “character oriented”; i.e., the characters, rather than the science, provide the main focus for the reader’s interest. Serious, thoughtful, yet accessible fiction will have the best chance of success.” – and it’s speculated that they seem to especially like stories with long titles, but ultimately it all just comes down to writing a really good story. I have three in the works, and it will be the first time I’ve submitted a science fiction story to them.

Alphans set up a group where we can all talk about writing, critique each others’ work, etc., etc. Come Dell time, it’s all critiquing of Dell stories, worrying that maybe we got our submission in a minute too late or oh god did we forget to take out that one shitty sentence? There’s a lull after the submission deadline, but soon enough, it’s all abuzz again with, “When will the results come out?” Entrants all obsessively refresh the Dell Award Facebook page, where they post announcements. Usually they’ll give an estimate on when the results will be in. Usually their estimate is off by about two weeks, and Alphans are left writhing and wailing on the floor.

And this is how I’m going to spend the next few months. First, the writing – which, wow, I’m running out of time, aren’t I? – and then the waiting. Maybe it will be just like the other years, and I won’t win anything at all. Maybe I’ll somehow get first prize. But whatever happens, I’m just thrilled to be participating in this and I’ll keep trying for as long as I’m eligible.