How Google Drive Can Save Your Life (And Your Writing)

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It’s every writer’s worst nightmare: you’ve been slaving over a manuscript for days, weeks, months, maybe even years when something horrifying happens and you lose all your work.

Whether it’s due to an unexpected spill, power outage, or divine intervention, there’s no denying that losing your work is a demoralizing setback. It can cause cursing, screaming, and sometimes tears.

Surely there must be another way.

I’ll share something with you: Google Drive. Seriously, Drive is the answer to your prayers. This web-based program allows you to upload existing content or start a new project in less than a minute. The text editor looks and behaves just like Microsoft Word or Pages or what have you. But that’s not the best part.

The best and most appealing feature of Google Drive is the fact that it saves your work automatically. Every letter you type is backed up to the cloud. You don’t have to take any extra measures.

It is fantastic.

Since all of your data is saved to the cloud, you can also access it when you’re away from your personal computer. If I’m working on my novel at home and go to class without my laptop, I can go to the library between classes and access my work on one of their computers. I’ve also downloaded the Drive app to my cellphone and Kindle Fire in case inspiration strikes while I’m on the go.

Google Drive is spectacular. There’s nothing more I can say. If you’re lazy about backing up your work, it’s the absolute best way to ensure you don’t lose your work without you having to put forth any effort. Give it a try and let me know what you think. You can thank me later.

What the HIMYM Finale Can Teach Us About Writing

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I’ve been told a few times that I shouldn’t blog angry.

I’ve been sitting on this topic for a while, but I didn’t want to address it until my fury subsided. Since the How I Met Your Mother finale aired two weeks ago today, I think it’s time to write this post.

Some viewers enjoyed the HIMYM finale. An overwhelming majority did not. How can that be? It all comes down to writing–bad writing, really, with terrible choices. Die-hard fans of the show who had watched nine seasons of heartache, growth, and yearning felt betrayed to see relationships dismantled, plot lines overturned, and characters behaving inconsistently.

Clearly, the HIMYM finale has a lot to teach us about writing, especially what not to do. So, fellow writers, here’s a brief lists of don’ts, epitomized by the disappointing conclusion to a beloved comedy.

  1. Don’t dedicate an entire season to preparations for the wedding of two characters that end up divorcing almost immediately.
  2. Don’t force two characters together, spend one episode per season explaining why they aren’t right for each other, and then throw them back together at the end of the series.
  3. Don’t transform a womanizer into a monogamist and then back into a womanizer who doesn’t know the name of the woman who gave birth to his child (he doesn’t even make up a name, just refers to her as a number).
  4. Don’t kill the mother when the entire show is about meeting her.
  5. Don’t kill the mother.
  6. DON’T KILL THE MOTHER.
  7. While I’m at it, don’t build sympathy for a character and kill her offscreen as little more than a footnote. It’s cruel and will only make your audience resentful.
  8. Don’t have your protagonist continue to pine for the same woman even after he’s found the love of his life (he claims), married her, and lost her.
  9. Have a legitimate reason for the protagonist to divulge his past to his children.
  10. Don’t have your protagonist show up at The One That Got Away’s house with a nostalgic item to help win her back… and then imply that the woman will have him (of course). THEY ARE DIFFERENT PEOPLE THAN THEY WERE WHEN THE ITEM MADE ITS FIRST APPEARANCE. WHY WOULD YOUR PROTAGONIST TRY SOMETHING LIKE THAT?

Maybe I’m still blogging angry. I promise I’m not only trying to rant. I want you all to become better writers. You can do better than the How I Met Your Mother finale. You should.

After all, that show made it through nine seasons. Anything is possible.

Lovely Links – April 2014

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This post should’ve gone live last week, but it didn’t happen. Oh well.

Here are some cool resources I found around the Internet for this month:

What do you think? Do you find these links helpful?

Avoid Distractions While Writing

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One of the most difficult things about writing is avoiding distractions.

Sometimes the lure of social media is too strong to resist. For instance, while writing this blog post, I had to really force myself to concentrate on the task at hand instead of compulsively checking Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. I’ll be the first to admit – it’s tough to focus. Of course, the Internet is not the only evil in the world. When it comes to writing, you can also be distracted by a myriad of nuisances, such as pets, friends, family, the telephone, the television, and sometimes even the weather.

What’s a writer to do?

If you’re working on a project and don’t want to be distracted, consider these tips to help you stay focused:

1. Disable automatic log-ins. If you know you have a tough time resisting social media, make it a little bit harder on yourself by logging out of your accounts before sitting down to write. Human beings are nototriously lazy. If you have to log-in before looking your ex-boyfriend up on Facebook, it might give you a moment’s pause. Hopefully, with this added step, you’ll realize you shouldn’t be on social media and get back to work right away. But if not, you can always…

2. Block all time-wasting websites for the duration of your session. If logging out of your accounts isn’t enough to deter you, download an app such as StayFocusd or Strict Workflow for Chrome, Leechblock for Firefox, SelfControl for Mac, or even Cold Turkey. Once you’ve discovered your demons, add them to the lists of sites to block, set a time to block, and let the program do the rest for you so you can focus on writing.

3. Turn. It. Off. This tip applies mostly to the computer but can be extended to all manner of technology. If you don’t need it to write, power it down. If you write with pen and paper, you should be nowhere near your laptop. It shouldn’t even be on. If you use a word processor, go ahead and write on your computer – just make sure to switch off your wifi. That way, if you’re tempted to access the Internet, you’ll feel guilty when you see that you’re unable to connect. Sure, you could flip the switch back on just as easily, but for most cases, turning it off should be enough to stop you. The same goes for your cellphone – turn it off or silence it. Let everyone know how long you’ll be working and tell them to leave a message if it’s anything important. I promise you the world can do without you for an hour.

4. Write or Die. No, I’m not just being dramatic. Write or Die is a life-changing webapp that encourages you to reach a custom word count in a certain amount of time; say, fifteen minutes. If you slack off and stop typing for a long, the program punishes you with an unpleasant noise (such as “Mmmbop” by Hanson) and a bright red screen. Honestly that red screen scares me more than anything. I usually set my word count at 1,000 and the time period for an hour. I’m always amazed by how much I manage to accomplish. Check the program out.

5. Play some music. This tip isn’t for everyone, but I’ve found that tuning into Pandora’s “Classical Music for Studying” really does wonders for my productivity. If classical music isn’t your thing, try to stick to some kind of music without lyrics for maximum concentration benefits.

There you have it: a few simple solutions to help you overcome distraction and make some progress with your project. Once you’ve made some headway, feel free to reward yourself with a social media or texting break. After all, you deserve it. Just make sure not to cheat and reward yourself early!

What do you think of these tips? How do you avoid distractions?

From the Archives: Interview with Molly Ford, SP&A

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I’ve been following Molly Ford’s blog, Smart, Pretty, and Awkwardfor a few years now. I’ve loved every minute of it. The concept of the blog is simple: each post contains three bits of advice on how to be smarter, prettier, and (less) awkward. Since the simple things in life are often the most captivating, it is no wonder that Molly Ford is as successful as she is. Recently, I set up a couple of interview questions for Molly to answer. She was gracious enough to oblige. Here’s how it went:

1. In your guest post on The Future Buzz, you talk a little bit about starting a blog. What are some tips you can give about blogging?

Great question. My best advice that I often give is the Three Month Rule: blog for three months without telling anyone. This gives you time to find your voice in private and confirm that you really like blogging, and it also gives your readers a back log of posts to read and fall in love with for when you do start going public and promoting your blog.

I would emphasize the importance, especially in the beginning while you are growing your audience, of writing consistently. Everything else—the layout of the site, social media promotion, press outreach, etc. can come later.

2. In that same article, you say, “I honestly thought the blog would just be a flash in the pan, just something else I would try, but after a month or so I realized how much I was liking it and just kept writing.” What about blogging appeals to you the most?

I think what appeals to me most about blogging is the ability to share something from my heart to an audience that I hope benefits from my writing. I never write a tip that I don’t do myself or wish I had done, so everything I write feels very personal. I like that.

3. Also in the Future Buzz post, you discuss coming up with the idea for SP&A. Where did you get such a unique blog concept?

I honestly wish I had a better answer for this! I knew I wanted to write an advice blog because I don’t want to put super-personal information online, and because I enjoy reading self-help books. Just focusing on “How to be Prettier,” with beauty/fashion tips, was my first thought, but that type of advice wasn’t enough to cover all the topics I was interested in, so I added How to be Smarter. Then I wanted a third topic so the site name would flow well, so I added How to be (less) Awkward to round out the set. I was originally planning for the third section to be called How to be Awkward and have the tips be tongue-in-check and the opposite of what to do, but adding in the (less) made more sense in the long run.

4. Each post on your blog contains three pieces of advice and an inspirational quote. How do you usually discover these items?

I write down ideas for tips all day long. I keep a super long chain of notes in my phone, as well as in a physical notebook I carry around in my bag. I also usually keep a running draft email in gmail of links I’d like to use.

For the quotes, I usually search around for a quote either by a specific author or about a specific topic. Since the quotes are usually the most last-minute thing I include in the post, they are usually the most up-to-the-minute personal: for example, if at that moment I’m feeling happy about a good date or reading a book that references Eleanor Roosevelt, the quote will either be about happiness or relationships, or by Eleanor Roosevelt.

5. After reading the SP&A Press page, it’s clear you’ve developed a following. How has your Internet presence affected your life?

I think about this a lot. I think having an Internet presence has probably affected how new people interact with me, but not the people I’ve known forever. Everyone googles everyone before first dates or job interviews now, so new people probably relate to me differently based on what they have seen online, but not the friends or people I’ve met in real life first or had pre-blog.

6.Based on your blog, you must be a very dedicated individual. How do you stay motivated?

Probably my best tip for staying focused is: no fluff. It it doesn’t add value or make me happy, I don’t do it. There’s just not time.

Probably the best example of no fluff in my life is that I also don’t watch (hardly any) TV. I don’t even own a TV or Netflix account or anything. I know it’s not a popular opinion to say that you don’t watch television, but I really think that not having that in my life leaves me with more free time, which I try to then use wisely.

7. Your About page says that you live in New York City. What are your favorite and least favorite things about living in the Big Apple?

I will cross the four-year mark of living in New York City this year, and I think I love it more than when I first moved here, which is saying a lot because I cried from happiness on my move-in day post-college. New York City is everything, the good and the bad. And there is probably nothing I could say that would be terribly unique to my experience about living here: it’s wonderful, it’s cultured, it’s full of events, it’s expensive, it’s loud, I live in a shoebox. But to paraphrase an email I sent in 2009 to a friend justifying my decision to live in NYC, “I might have anxiety from living in New York, but I would have much worse anxiety about not living here.” New York City is just the place for me. But I also want to be careful about over-romancing NYC, though: it’s not for everyone.

But I would wish for everyone a place they love as much as I love New York. You have to find your New York.

8. Most of your quotes come from famous individuals. Who are your personal role models?

I love Becky Quick from Squawk Box, Bethenny Frankel, and especially Nora Ephron, who has always been my main role model. I also closely follow Sheryl Sandberg’s career and Lori Gottlieb’s writings.

9. It’s also clear that you enjoy reading. What are some of your favorite books?

I read mostly non-fiction, with a focus on business, pop psychology, and narrative non-fiction (memoirs, etc). Nora Ephron’s books have probably had the biggest impact on my life in my college and post-college years, but Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers was also a huge influence to me when I read it. I saw Malcolm working in a coffee shop on the east side once, that was awesome. And of course I love Gretchen Rubin…

10. Finally, since you and I both enjoy The Happiness Project, what habits or practices have you created after reading Gretchen Rubin’s book?

The Happiness Project was another total life-changing book for me, and I try not to use clichés like “life-changing” lightly. I just love the idea of small tweaks to make life better—that’s the sort of formula my blog is built around. One of my favorite quotes of the author’s, Gretchen Rubin, is that one of the Secrets to Adulthood is to “Be Gretchen.” I love that phrase: “Be Gretchen!”. She’s talking about it in the context of herself, obviously, but I love the idea of just doing you. There are many things I do that others probably would not enjoy, and vice versa. That’s okay. I just have to Be Molly. That’s really the only person that I can be realistically be 100% of the time anyway.

Molly Ford is such an inspiring woman. She’s creative, kind, and self-reliant. As a role model and a person, I consider her to be someone worth admiring. If you’ve never read Smart, Pretty, and Awkwardgo check it out right now. Thanks, Molly!

What do you think of Smart, Pretty, and Awkward? What writers or bloggers should I interview next?

Click to tweet: Read @thecollegenov’s interview with blogger @SmartPrettyAwk! http://wp.me/p2FPLe-EM

From the Archives: The 4 “A”s of Characterization

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Every writer understands the importance of creating believable characters. Story revolves around people–therefore, characters are arguably more important than plot. Whether you’re writing a novel, short story, memoir, or personal essay, it’s vital that you make your actors as three-dimensional as possible. Consider the following four “A”s of characterization:

1. Actions. What risks has the character taken in the past? How has he or she treated family and friends? What about enemies? What hobbies does he or she enjoy? What has your character done? What is he or she doing in the story?

2. Attitudes. How does the character feel about gay marriage, abortion, religion, and other  hot-button issues? What are your characters’ views on the world?

3. Artifacts. What are your characters’ prized possessions? What shelter do they have? What cars do they drive? What’s the first thing they’d save in the event of a fire?

4. Accounts. What are some noteworthy anecdotes about these characters? What do other people have to say about them? What rumors have been circulated?

This is a rough list of just a few questions you can use to generate information for your four A’s. If you want better characters, give this system a try. And good luck.

What do you think of this system? How do you like to flesh out your characters?

Click to tweet: Want fully-formed characters? @thecollegenov has some tips. http://wp.me/p2FPLe-EH

Said Isn’t Dead

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Photo Credit: notarim on Flickr

I love Pinterest for visual inspiration, but I saw something on there the other day that made me angry. I was searching through the “writing” tag, and saw a graphic with alternative to “said.” This list included words like “screamed,” “called,” “shouted,” “whispered,” and several others.

At the top of the graphic were the words, “SAID IS DEAD.”

And I got frustrated.

I don’t know what other people have told you, but to me, there is nothing more distracting when I’m reading a piece than seeing a dialogue tag other than “said.” It calls too much attention to itself. As a writer, you want your dialogue to stand out more than your attributive tags. You want the reader to skip right over them.

That’s why “said” is perfect.

It waits in the wings, sneaks onstage wearing all black, and does some heavy lifting without intruding. It’s the stage hand of the written word. Why in the world would you want to kill that?

As Stephen King writes, “All I ask is that you do as well as you can, and remember that, while to write adverbs is human, to write he said or she said is divine.”

Don’t even get me started on adverbs.

How do you feel about using tags other than said?

Click to tweet: Why @thecollegenov thinks said isn’t dead. http://wp.me/p2FPLe-Er