Benefits of Measuring Word Count

For some time I only measured my word count when writing a piece of a specific length, or taking part in a challenge such as National Novel Writing Month or Book-in-a-Week. Recently I have begun to explore how measuring word count on a day-to-day basis encourages me to write more and better.

Measuring Word Count

There are many benefits to being able to track what you are writing and when, but here are the three which have proved most significant to me.

Motivation

I am not always a very visual person but when taking part in National Novel Writing Month I fell in love with the “progress bar”, a clever widget which shows your completed word count as a proportion of your target. Since then I have discovered an Android app called Writeometer which provides a similar function for the other eleven months of the year. The fun of watching the bar gradually approach the target encourages me to sit down and add a few more words on days when I might otherwise have set my writing aside altogether.

Time Management

Setting targets and breaking them down into a daily word count goal makes it much easier to know early on when you need to adjust your targets, or your strategies for meeting them. Again, I have found Writeometer very helpful for managing complete projects in this way, but I also use the excellent Write or Die desktop edition to track my word count across several writing sessions within a day. Using both together recently helped me complete a novella in just under two weeks, which was a record for me.

Knowing What Works

Time management is not always just about fitting everything in. If you record not only your writing goals and completed word count, but also some details of your writing sessions, such as where you worked and how long you wrote for at a stretch, it becomes easier to see what habits are contributing to your successes, and which are keeping you from peak performance.

Rachel Aarons has an excellent post about how she increased her word count from 2,000 to up to 10,000 a day using simple techniques which included monitoring word count. Her results, and mine, certainly suggest that measuring your output is an important part of writing more and better.

***
Topic Links
* Get the Writometer from Guavabot.
* Learn more about Write or Die.
* Read Rachel Aarons post on increasing your word count.

About Stephanie Cage

Stephanie Cage is a British romance writer with books published by The Wild Rose Press and Crimson Romance. She loves dance and musical theatre, and her first full-length novel, Perfect Partners, has a dancing theme. Learn more from her contributor page.

Creative Kickstart App Review

Creative Kickstart is the Android app equivalent of a book of writing prompts. If you are feeling stuck, the app will offer randomly selected ideas to get you started. The free version provides just a hero and a creature, with Creative Kickstart Pro adding a villain and a scenario.

One positive aspect of Creative Kickstart is the huge database, which together with the mix-and-match approach means there is a vast selection of possible prompts. Another positive is that since the app suggests concepts not plots, two people can take the same set of prompts and produce entirely different stories.

As apps go, it is very easy to use. Each screen (hero, creature, villain and scenario) features a number of different aspects.

The cover of the Creative Kickstart app.

For example, the hero screen includes a brief description of the character’s background, motivation, weaponry and character traits. For each of these, you can refresh your choices until you have a selection you are happy with, and then click on the star to save your choices as a “favorite”.

A sneak peak inside the writing app.

On the negative side, while the name Creative Kickstart suggests a general-purpose creative tool, the current version focuses only on the fantasy genre. A science fiction version, Creative Kickstart Space, is also available. So if you want to write about elves, fairies and magical peacocks, or about distant planets, spaceflight and transporter beams, the app is great. On the other hand, there is not much support if you are aiming for the next great American novel, or even for a bestselling romance or thriller.

I also thought the entries could have been checked more carefully. The odd typo is almost unavoidable, but there were more errors than I would have expected to find in an app for writers. For example, a surprising number of entries used “whom” incorrectly in place of “who”.

Sometimes combining elements of the database resulted in slightly odd statements. One test of the app produced the character of a female demon “who is armed with a pole-arm… that is naturally evil and selfish”. Contrary to the impression given, I presume it was the demon and not the weapon that was intended to be selfish!

These few glitches aside, the apps are entertaining, well presented and reasonably priced ($1.99). If you write fantasy or science fiction, it is definitely worth downloading the free version of Creative Kickstart, Creative Kickstart Space or both. You have lost nothing, and you may well find that they whet your appetite for the full version.

***
Topic Links
* Download Creative Kickstart App for Android

About Stephanie Cage

Stephanie Cage is a British romance writer with books published by The Wild Rose Press and Crimson Romance. She loves dance and musical theatre, and her first full-length novel, Perfect Partners, has a dancing theme. Learn more from her contributor page.

Scrivener Writing Software Review

Scrivener (pronounced in three syllables) Writing Software offers a neat way of solving the quantity vs. quality problem experienced by most NaNoWriMo participants. The volume of words produced inevitably leads to large sections that will never be worthy of publication. Scrivener’s “Dust Bin” file function lets you select offending text and save it to a Dust Bin document located below your draft where it will remain a part of your total word count.

The program’s Scrivenings mode lets you move between a part of your document to the whole for drafting and editing. The font and style you like for drafting and editing can be changed when the project is compiled for submission or publication. And everything you need is in the Binder at the left of the screen: Each scene or chapter document, all of your research, and templates about characters, settings, and more.

A screen capture of the Scrivener desktop view from my computer.

For planning and organizing there is a Corkboard and an Outliner. Both let you see the overview and detail of your writing project and make it easy to move parts around. Scrivener also provides the standard scriptwriting features and lets you export the script to Final Draft upon completion. The software even lets you use MathType equations and LaTeX documents with MultiMarkdown.

At the bottom of every screen is a live word and character count. You can set session targets for your writing as well as track overall progress toward the finish line. Every hour or before making major edits, you can take a “Snapshot” and use a split-screen view to compare before and after versions. And Scrivener offers a customizable full-screen environment to remove every distraction.

Scrivener’s feature set puts this writing software at the top of most lists for Mac and Windows. Normally priced at $40-45, it is available for National Novel Writing Month (NaNo) as a fully functional free trial version through to December 7, 2013. NaNo participants can purchase Scrivener for 20% off, and NaNo winners get 50% off.

This writing software offers everything the writer could desire. I have used Scrivener for years and have never been disappointed.

***
Topic Links
* Learn more from the Literature and Latte website

About Don Cram

Don Cram and his wife, Carol, live in a suburb of Albuquerque, New Mexico near their four adult children and the grandchildren. Don and Carol teach in neighborhood schools where they are known as educational innovators, Carol with iPad use in the classroom and Don with multimedia iBooks for his students to use. Don has written articles for education journals and has been a popular speaker. He is currently writing a series of fiction books based on the adventures of three sisters: the oldest in Romantic Adventures, the middle sister in Paranormal Romance, and the youngest in Young Adult Speculative Fiction. Don has degrees in science, theology, and education.

Computer Applications for NaNoWriMo

Your computer already has what you need to be a winner during November’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Use these six computer applications (apps) to keep your progress constant at about seven pages per day.

Spreadsheet

Use single spreadsheet cells to briefly describe each main event from your story. On the line below each event skip over to the next column and add any supporting details. Having a story roadmap is the best insurance against delays on your NaNoWriMo journey. OpenOffice has a free spreadsheet.

Text Editor

You probably have several word processing programs. For NaNoWriMo use the simplest among them especially if it offers full screen mode. Turn off the spelling and grammar checkers. Say no to touching the mouse or using the backspace or delete keys. You may see an easy edit that tempts you; it will be just as easy after November 30. If your simplest text editor does not have full-screen mode, pick up a free app like Isolator.

Notes

To remember that edit, use a notes app that resides in your menu bar like Scrawl or just off the side of the screen like SideWriter.

Calendar

Keep track of plot points by dropping new events into your calendar app, pretending that your story takes place this year. Use a calendar that resides on your computer instead of an internet-based app.

Backup

Find a way to keep automatic local backups of your November writing. If your computer or text editor will not do this, use a kitchen timer that will remind you to store a copy of your work every half hour.

Browser

Turn off your internet during November. The only time you should use a web browser or email is for daily check-ins on Book-in-a-Week days and for periodic updates of your word totals to NaNoWriMo. Facebook, Twitter, and the NaNoWriMo social pages can be distractions.

Keep up the momentum. Never look back. Make up any shortfall in your page goals on the next day. You are on your way to becoming a NaNoWriMo winner.

***
Topic Links
* Visit NaNoWriMo to sign up for November

About Don Cram

Don Cram and his wife, Carol, live in a suburb of Albuquerque, New Mexico near their four adult children and the grandchildren. Don and Carol teach in neighborhood schools where they are known as educational innovators, Carol with iPad use in the classroom and Don with multimedia iBooks for his students to use. Don has written articles for education journals and has been a popular speaker. He is currently writing a series of fiction books based on the adventures of three sisters: the oldest in Romantic Adventures, the middle sister in Paranormal Romance, and the youngest in Young Adult Speculative Fiction. Don has degrees in science, theology, and education.

Your Story’s Calendar of Events

Your characters remember their birthdays and when they faced all those conflicts you created. Your readers also remember and will spot any error or inconsistency in your story’s calendar of events. Aeon Timeline ($40 for Mac from Scribble Code) helps you plan and keep track of everything. A Windows version is in development to be released before November 2013.

Aeon Timeline handles anything from the tight plotting of a single evening in the mystery mansion to the vastness of a fantasy world over a millennia. If a science fiction world requires a calendar quite different from one of Earth’s, Aeon Timeline lets you invent your own time system. Its display is scalable, so you can see the broad sweep of history and the fine detail of hours and minutes.

The Aeon Timeline story and character timeline in action.

The application was created by a writer when he started using the Scrivener authoring software and found that it had no timeline function. His timeline creation tool can be used in science, education and business, but he made it for writers.

Each event or scene is dropped onto the timeline and linked to detail and research files on your computer or to the web sites you searched. The area below your actual timeline contains a list of your important characters. Every event can be linked to multiple characters, allowing you to visually track each player’s arc.

Aeon Timeline is another reason to consider Scrivener because all events, details, and character arcs in the timeline are automatically integrated into Scrivener. Having used the timeline seamlessly with Scrivener in recent projects, my future stories will definitely be built using Aeon Timeline.

About Don Cram

Don Cram and his wife, Carol, live in a suburb of Albuquerque, New Mexico near their four adult children and the grandchildren. Don and Carol teach in neighborhood schools where they are known as educational innovators, Carol with iPad use in the classroom and Don with multimedia iBooks for his students to use. Don has written articles for education journals and has been a popular speaker. He is currently writing a series of fiction books based on the adventures of three sisters: the oldest in Romantic Adventures, the middle sister in Paranormal Romance, and the youngest in Young Adult Speculative Fiction. Don has degrees in science, theology, and education.

Storyist Writing Software

Three Reasons to Try

Storyist writing software ($59 software for Mac) helped me produce a 320 page novel during July’s Camp NaNoWriMo. Storyist was one of the camp’s three corporate sponsors. With Storyist, I decided to exceed the 50,000 word NaNoWriMo goal and do 80,000 instead. And I did. Here’s how.

A screen capture of Storyist at work.

Everything in One Place

Storyist writing software has everything necessary to crank out any writing project. The typing area can be full screen but is initially bordered on the left by a collection of project tools. First among these is a set of bookmarks for quick access to any part of the manuscript or tools. Next, the manuscript itself is summarized into chapters and each chapter into scenes or other short sections, each with its own summary page.

Then come character and setting summaries. When I first started using Storyist, I put too much detail into the summaries. Now I include for each character only a birth date, full and nick names, a three sentence summary, a speech peculiarity to remember as I write, and a sketch of the character’s growth arc. For each setting I include only a single word for each of the six senses (including intuition) and an unexpected contrast that brings the setting to life.

The final two tools in the left-hand column are a collection of every image added to the project to help the writer visualize characters, settings, symbolic objects, and anything else, and then a collection of all research documents used in the project.

It helps to have all those tools just to the left of where you are entering text. Other apps for writers have similar arrangements, but few have the two little arrows that make all this work so well in Storyist. Like a web browser, a forward arrow and a back arrow reside at the top of every page. Not only can you avoid having half a dozen windows open on the desktop, but it takes only a single click to jump back to where you were working.

Planning Tools

Storyist has storyboard and outline views. However, the chapter and scene summary pages can also be used as an overview outline. And they are always available just to the left of the text entry area.

Probably the feature I most appreciate in Storyist is its ability to design and track the growth of any character. Every scene or subdivision provides a place to link to some milestone along a character’s arc.

Just Right

There are several other features described on the Storyist web site. Storyist has everything you really need without any of it getting in the way. I once told Steve Shepard, CEO and the developer of this writing software, “It is software the way I would have designed it: customizable to my way of working, not overly structured, and running the way Mac users would expect.” I still think that.

About Don Cram

Don Cram and his wife, Carol, live in a suburb of Albuquerque, New Mexico near their four adult children and the grandchildren. Don and Carol teach in neighborhood schools where they are known as educational innovators, Carol with iPad use in the classroom and Don with multimedia iBooks for his students to use. Don has written articles for education journals and has been a popular speaker. He is currently writing a series of fiction books based on the adventures of three sisters: the oldest in Romantic Adventures, the middle sister in Paranormal Romance, and the youngest in Young Adult Speculative Fiction. Don has degrees in science, theology, and education.

Which Software or None?

Successful writing means keeping your butt in the chair (BIC), your hands on the keyboard (HOK) typing away madly (TAM). For some projects one of the computer applications designed for writers can help you persevere to the end of a book, screenplay, or article. For other projects these software products might be a hindrance.

Software for writing provides a place to compose your draft, to brainstorm and outline the project, and to organize character descriptions, setting notes, and more. Available for the Mac are Scrivener (every tool you could want, and maybe more than you want), StoryMill (superb timeline integration), Manuscript (highly focused on the writing), and Storyist (perhaps the most balanced).

When an App Gets in the Way

Some published authors argue that a word processor like Microsoft Word or Apple’s Pages is all that is necessary. There is also much to be said for a sheaf of good paper and a favorite pen or pencil. The way to determine if your favorite writing software gets in the way is to focus on the “typing away madly” part of BIC HOK TAM.

Watch your fingers. If the app is helping you produce page after page, fine. Your fingers will fly over the letter keys. However, if you find your fingers frequently reaching for the mouse or the track pad to make some changes to character or setting notes, to rethink your outline, or to polish your time line, it may be that your software is a distraction. When the fun of using all the tools in your application crowds out the enjoyment of losing yourself in the creative process, it may be time to break out the word processor or the quill and ink.

An Alternative

If you want to use Word or a pencil and paper, there may still be a need to track characters, scenes, and notes. The Mac has an app for that.

Subplot ($20) by Craig Romans keeps character and setting notes, tracks scenes and their details, and helps you set writing goals. The app has helpful reports displaying character dossiers, progress toward goals, and which scenes include a certain character or setting. It can sit on your desktop in its own window waiting to provide needed information without making you close or leave the window in which you are typing away madly. It has an average user rating of four out of five stars at the Mac App Store.

Some of the reviewers gave Subplot fewer than five stars because the app does not do as much as Scrivener and the other full-functioned writing apps. But, that is the point. You might give it five stars because it does less.

How often do you need more than pen and paper but less than full-blown writing software?

About Don Cram

Don Cram and his wife, Carol, live in a suburb of Albuquerque, New Mexico near their four adult children and the grandchildren. Don and Carol teach in neighborhood schools where they are known as educational innovators, Carol with iPad use in the classroom and Don with multimedia iBooks for his students to use. Don has written articles for education journals and has been a popular speaker. He is currently writing a series of fiction books based on the adventures of three sisters: the oldest in Romantic Adventures, the middle sister in Paranormal Romance, and the youngest in Young Adult Speculative Fiction. Don has degrees in science, theology, and education.

The Artist Way Toolkit App Review

If you have ever had writer’s block, then you will be happy to discover there is now an app that can help solve your problem. If you have heard of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, then you are aware that the twelve week, freeing your creativity program is popular with writers, artists and other creative souls. In January, Penguin Group launched the My Artist’s Way Toolkit and App.

The Artist's Way Toolkit website

The App works with an iPhone or iPad, but is a bit unique because it is subscription based. Users can subscribe by the month for $4.99 or can sign up for a full year for $3.99 per month. That is a $12 savings over the course of the year. The app offers features such as daily affirmations and a digital notebook.

Artist Way Affirmation block

The affirmations can also be e-mailed to your friends and writing colleagues to provide additional support or simply to share the goals you hope to accomplish by following the Artist’s Way method. Stuck on an idea for an artist’s date? The app has solutions for that problem as well and all the tabs match up to the weeks within Julia Cameron’s book, so that the person following the Artist’s Way program has a seamless experience.

While it is not necessary to own the print copy of the book The Artist’s Way to use the app, it is nearly impossible to refill your “creative well” without understanding the concepts within the book. The app works best when used in conjunction with the book.

When you login from the main screen to access the program an interactive notebook lies to the right and to the left are tools like daily affirmations, inspiration, creative soundbites and daily meditations. There is even a blank area where you can jot ideas. Suddenly inspired to write a novel and want to get the idea down? Type it in this box and record it to come back to at a later time.

home page for the Artist's Way Tool Kit

On the right, where the journal is located, are also some tabs. You can access notes later by clicking on the appropriate tab. You can record artist dates, view ideas for artist’s dates, and find a place to complete tasks that match the week in The Artist’s Way that you are on. For those who have trouble seeing, you can personalize the app by changing the font size and shape or even the background color.

Pros

  • The program is easy to use and navigate through the different features.
  • The journal is saved so you can read back through it later.
  • The daily affirmations at your fingertips.

Cons

  • The journal is kept electronically and Cameron recommends the actual act of writing with a pen and paper in her book.
  • There is limited availability with some devices.
  • It would be nice to add a music feature to play while working on the morning pages or for added inspiration.

For artists who are trying to do The Artist’s Way while juggling a busy schedule, this app may solve the problem of getting in daily journal pages, weekly tasks and regular artist dates. It is yet another tool in the creative person’s arsenal to help unclog frozen creativity and solve writer’s block.

***
Topic Links
* Visit the Artist Way Toolkit online.

About Lori Soard

Lori Soard is a part-time freelance writer and part-time website designer/PR specialist. She works with more than 25 clients, overseeing their websites and promotional efforts. Lori's latest novel is Dear Viking, available through Amber Quill Press.

Ergonomic UGLee Pen Review

The makers of the UGLee sent me three of their pens to review for Book-in-a-Week readers. According to their literature the UGLee is a doctor created, doctor recommended, and doctor used writing instrument that is “mated with the smoothest ink system known, smoother than any roller, gel ink, fountain ink, etc out there.” It comes with a full size jelly like grip to “follow the anatomy of your hand”.

UGLee pen by Jason Lee, MD

I decided the best way to test the UGLee Pen was to use it to write three 8 1/2″ x 11″ pages — “morning pages” for those familiar with the Artist’s Way — every day giving both the pen and my hand a thorough workout.

UGLee Pens in pink yellow and green

The first time writing with the UGLee Pen I found it quite comfortable to hold as I tend to grip my pens on the hard side. The jelly was a bit weird to get used to as it is squishy but it is a nice comfortable pen. When it comes to “morning pages”, usually by the end of the second page I start to experience extreme hand fatigue but I did not notice it as much or as quickly this past week. If you do a lot of writing and/or editing and experience hand or wrist pain then this may be the option for reducing it.

sample of Uglee pen writing

The ink is smooth but it is a little thicker than I would like — I prefer fine. At one point I took apart the pen to inspect the refillable innards and got ink on my hands. I assuming from the writing tip as this did not happen while writing. Still I would be hesitant to put it in a breast pocket even though the tip does submerge into the pen when clicked. With continued use the tips seem to bleed a bit and get messy so it is definitely important to retract when not in use. I found with continued use I needed to avoid contact of the pen tip with my skin.

sticky pen tip

That being said, I did like the pen for doodling as it produces a good line and fills in well.

inked doodle image

Another issue comes with those of us who have pets (or pocket lint) — I do not like that fur (cat) occasional sticks to the jelly finger grip. It is easy enough to remove but still annoying and unattractive to loan to someone.

jelly grip covered with lint

The UGLee pens are fairly affordable at about $7 a pen (sold in packs of 3 of one color for $19.99) and are available in seven colors (red, pink, white, yellow, green, blue, and gray). Pen refills are sold in packs of 10 for $15. This is a bit strange but if you order two pen packs of red shipping is $3.95 no matter how many sets you order. But if you want to order one red, one blue and one green it looks like shipping is an additional $3.95 for each pack. Something to be aware of if ordering.

Overall, I like these ergonomic pens, mostly because they are so comfortable to hold during long hand writing stints. I wish I could get the jelly grip on every writing pen and art pen in the household. With all the writing over the seven day workout I actually expected the pen to run out but the ink line had barely moved on the cartridge. I hope in the future the company will consider a fine ink.

***
I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free using Tomoson.com created by WebBizIdeas.com. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commissions 16 CFR, Part 255 Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising. Tomoson Product review & giveaway Disclosure.

About Maureen Wood

M. E. Wood lives in Eastern Ontario with her husband of fifteen years. She has been moderating BIW for over nine years and works on the Internet. You can learn more about her projects on her official website.

Utilizing Facebook

Like Twitter, Facebook (FB) is another social networking site. It was recently reported to have 600 million users worldwide. It is a little more in depth than Twitter in that you can create your own profile which can include DOB, status (married, single, etc), level of education and where you went to college to religious and political views. You also decide who views your wall from FB friends only to all Internet users. Your wall is where you post your comments which can be from what you had for breakfast, to what you are currently reading, to posting a link. Most people seem to go by their real names rather than “handles” like on Twitter (although more and more people are using their real names on Twitter).

You can “friend” people  on FB and once they confirm you as a “friend” then you can post messages on their walls as well.  You will know everything from what charities they follow to what FB games and applications they are using.

Two years ago I attended my 25th high school reunion (I was 10 when I graduated ;)) and I reconnected with all those girls I went to high school with. We had such a great time that we all now keep in touch via FB.

If you want to keep your personal life separate from your written life, then you can create a “fan page” on FB. Once you have logged into FB simply go to the bottom of the FB page and double click the “create a page” icon. From there you will get step by step instructions of how to set up your own page as a writer. You will see different boxes to click on ranging from cause or community to local business or place to artist, band or public figure. Some of the writers that I follow then upload a photo of their book cover on their page. When FB users “like” your page (and they do this by clicking the “like” button on your page), it will appear on their own wall and that is how the word gets out.

FB like Twitter is a huge social phenomenon. I have to admit that I love both for the simple reason that as I live abroad it helps me keep in touch with my family and friends back home, if even on a peripheral level. It also keeps me in the loop of “what’s going on” culturally. Used wisely, it can be a great way to get your name out there. But it is a double edged sword: it can be the greatest time waster known to man with all the messages, links, games and applications. It is important to manage your time there and make sure you do not get caught up in all the bells and whistles. Approach it with an open mind.

***
Topic Links

About Michele Brouder

After living for seven years in Ireland, former Buffalonian, Michele Brouder now calls Florida home. Her first book, a YA paranormal, is due to be published sometime in 2014 for Harlequin E, Harlequin’s new digital format. Learn more from her contributor page.