Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Time to Write 3 - Be ready with your toolkit

This series wouldn't be complete without a mention of the tools that enable productivity. Sometimes this is as basic as having a pencil at hand when a great idea comes to mind during commercial break times. At others, it can be as complex as having color-coded Post-it notes set out and ready to be added to a three-panel display board during dedicated plotting time.

I've already connected tasks to different kinds of available time, so I won't make all the links here. Instead, I'll mention tools I use (which may not be the ones you would use) for tasks from beginning to end. You may want to map these to the times yourself.

Overall - My guide for writing and revision is a process diary -- a bound notebook with handwritten with details on tasks and the order in which I've found it best to perform them. This includes reference links, modifications (dated), and color-coded tabbing (so I can easily move to, say the revision section). My computer is a mainstay. Research is usually done with Web searches and using dedicated databases.

Information is captured using word processing programs, Scrivener, and three-corner text files (rtf). Text-to-speech is used to review and revise my manuscripts and to allow me to listen to articles as I do other work.

More and more lately, I find color has entered my creative world. I find myself creating, developing, highlighting, and sorting concepts using a rainbow of gel pens and Post-it notes.

Generating and exploring ideas - I rarely walk around without a pen or pencil and an index card or small pad of Post-it notes. Nothing bothers me more that having an idea escape. One author I interviewed keeps a wax pencil in her shower so she can capture ideas there. I have master a concatenation memory trick to do the same, taking care to get to a means of writing the ideas down as soon as I can.

One key part of my process is laying out a piece of flip chart paper on the kitchen table for a download of everything rattling around in my head. The concepts usually organize themselves into ad hoc categories, and, before long, I generally find myself doing mind mapping.

I also have a number of forms I regularly use to develop and clarify story ideas. (I'm a big believer in having a strong logline before beginning any work.) More often than not I "pants" a story rather than doing an outline before writing, but eventually, I develop clear beats and dig into plot ideas using forms, and the plotting board work referred to above. Something similar is true as I systematically work to know my characters. These forms usually end up in a binder, or a folder, with tabs for easy access.

Drafting - My main tool here is a timer. It is like a starting gun for me, and I keep moving forward during the assigned time (usually 40-50 minutes). The timer also tells me to stop and take a break so I stretch. (It's too easy for me to get completely lost in the work.) I alternate between typing and dictating -- to protect my body from repetitive stress.

Revision -- A calendar comes first. If possible, I mark a day six weeks in the future to begin rewriting.  My starting point on the work is always using a printer to create a hard copy. I can make basic notes on it using two or three colored pens. I listen to the whole story using text to speech. I use numerous forms to analyze what I have drafted. Scrivener shows its value as I move around sections, open up "to-do" scenes, add comments, and mark some parts as likely to be removed. (These last will end up in a discard file, not thrown away.) As I approach the finer analysis, spell check, grammar check, and Autocrit come into play. Many of the revision tasks are repeated, as necessary.

Review and submission -- Here, I send email to beta readers, editors, and agents, sometimes with files attached (in formats readers support). I may find markets using search engines -- including Duotrope (which I can also use to document submissions.) I may pitch using Twitter and blog posts.

Etc. -- The rest is essential, but it is business-oriented. Obviously, provisions must be made for keeping records on receipts and expenses and other accounting-related data. A calendar should be used to plan and schedule work, education, and meetings. In this day and age, I could do a whole series of articles on promotion, including planning, creation of memes, use of social media, and more.

I'll add two more things. First, don't undervalue the power of a library card. Spending time in a space dedicated to knowledge, with research experts available, provides advantages that the Internet cannot. It will save you money and time and change your perspective.

For those who are serious about a career, a pencil (or colored pens) and a big page of flip chart paper may help clarify what you want and the advantages and disadvantages of the many options a connected world presents. Big Five or self publishing? The next hot thing or the story of your heart? Short stories or screenplays? A five-year plan? Picturing your personal happily ever after? Education needed? Tasks? All of it can be captured, classified, connected and ordered. (A big whiteboard may work better for some people.)

This article is about tools, but people in different roles can make a difference it terms of brainstorming, beta reading, editing, encouraging, supporting, analyzing choices, mentoring, sharing expertise, and more. Do you keep track of contacts? Do you offer thanks, provide help, and keep in touch? Do you have business cards to offer? Do you shove a business card you receive into a drawer or does it become a treasure -- in personal and business terms.

If you gather the right people around you, you'll learn more, find shortcuts, challenge yourself to do better, uncover opportunities, and find the community you need to humanize your writing endeavors. I haven't found any tools that can do all these things.

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