Category Archive: Time Management

#AtoZChallenge : Productivity + Theme Reveal

The April Blogging From A to Z Challenge is upon us, and for the third consecutive year, the Write On Sisters are doing it! Check out the tab above for a list of all our A-Z posts. In 2014 we didn’t have a theme; it was kind of a free-for-all about writing between four bloggers. In 2015 Robin and I focused our efforts on writing craft with the 3, 2, 1 BLASTOFF to Stellar Writing theme in which each post had 3 quick tips on an aspect of writing, 2 examples of good technique, and 1 resource for more in-depth help. And our 2016 theme is…


Actually, hold the curtains! I’ll reveal this year’s theme by the end of this post (promise), but first we need to talk a bit about writer productivity.

The A-Z Challenge is, well, a challenge. Blogging every day except Sunday is tough! For our regular schedule, Robin and I each used to write one blog post per week, but in 2016 we’re alternating weeks so we only have to write two blog posts a month instead of four. That leaves us with more time to concentrate on our novel writing.

But in April we’re both writing THREE posts a WEEK! Eek! How are we going to do it?

I don’t know about Robin, but I have a bit of an attention-deficit problem. Getting started and staying on task are daily struggles. Consequently, I am always trying new things to make me more productive. Here is a short list of my attempts:

How To Stay Motivated Without Deadlines or Money

Writer <3 Internet Relationship Woes

7 Tricks To Stay Off The Internet

4 Tips To Beat Mental Procrastination (aka Daydreaming)

Writers & Productivity: Do you need an Internet Blocker?

All of these approaches have worked with varying degrees of success, but sometimes I still stare at the wall instead of writing. So this week, in preparation for the A-Z Challenge, I downloaded this to my phone:


It’s an interval timer app. Most people use these to plan and time workouts, which is why the first round of my “Morning Write” routine is called “Warm Up” – but I’ve interpreted that as eating breakfast and warming up water for my tea. 😉 There are tons of interval timer apps available, but I’ll save you some trouble and recommend Round Timer. Others I downloaded were either too simple (i.e. the only sound available is an obnoxious buzz) or too complicated (I don’t need to select music playlists for each interval) or didn’t work (one app wouldn’t let me schedule anything longer than an hour).


So how do I use this app to stay on task? First, I schedule my time. I give myself 30 minutes to “warm up”, then I start writing in 19 minute intervals with a 1 minute break that I use to stretch or start a new pot of tea or go to the bathroom. Then I set the rounds to repeat 6 times, and end it all with a half hour “Cool Down” which for me means “eat lunch.” I don’t bother setting a warning time signal.

Sometimes I set specific writing goals for each interval, but often the intervals simply act as an audible cue to snap me back to work if my head wandered into the clouds. I chose the “Clock” sound for the start of an interval, and the “Bird Tweet” sound for the breaks.

RoundTimer-SetSoundAnd RoundTimer is working for me! I’m staying on task better and getting more writing done, which is great because I need to write a whole bunch of A-Z posts pronto! And now, as promised, here is this year’s theme…

Masterplots Theater(2)

Ta-da! Masterplots Theater will study core plot structures — one for each letter of the alphabet (such as Adventure, Buddy Love, Chosen One, etc) — and shed some light on what makes these stories so compelling. We’ll also provide some example books/films to study. And by the end of April, we’ll all be masters of plot!

There are lots of interesting bloggers taking part in the challenge, so head over to the linky list for other A to Z theme reveals. And if you’re participating, let us know in the comments!

See you in April!

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Trello Gold: Should Writers Upgrade?

Trello gold logoAs part of the Write On Sisters commitment to recommending all the best writing tools and apps, today I’m reviewing Trello Gold. Please remember Heather and I never take a dime from any of the product or book reviews we do. If we recommend something it’s because we use it and want to share a great product with our writer friends.

If you haven’t already heard of Trello, you are missing out. It is one of the best project management tools available. Best of all, the standard version is still free! I’m a huge Trello fan; I find the app vastly superior to using anything else on the market, even Scrivener’s Corkboard doesn’t compare. So when Trello offered their regular users a free Gold trial last month, an upgrade that normally costs $5.00 USD a month, or a flat year long rate of $45.00 USD, I jumped at the chance to try it.

According to Trello’s own data, you get 5 extra features with the Gold premier subscription. They are:

· More Stickers (premium sticker packs & the ability to upload your own designs)

· Custom emojis, because sometimes (according to Trello) a few emoji speak louder than words.

· Custom board backgrounds, so your board can reflect your style and/or branding.

· Larger attachments, Gold can accommodate 250 MB uploads, instead of the 10 MB in the free version.

· Saved searches.

Taking these features one at time:
Trello Gold Stickers #2

I’ve never been overly excited about using the 12 standard Trello stickers, so I wasn’t exactly salivating over the prospect of having more stickers. However, they are pretty darn cute. And I can see the value if you’re maintaining a large public Trello board. Creating your own stickers means you can brand a board with your blog, book and/or author logo. Also I think anyone teaching writing (particularly to kids) could find these stickers a good motivational tool.

With Gold you will get 16 Taco the Trello Dog stickers, and 15 Pete the Computer stickers.

Custom emojis
Because the world needs more of those. (Note my sarcasm.) I have no problems with emoji use, and I’m just as inclined to drop a smiley into an email as the next person. But since I’m not using the Trello stickers, I can’t think of any reason I would want to take the time to upload emoji images. However, if you’re sharing boards with a bunch of writers who thrive on the positive reinforcement, the ability to add some emoji hands clapping might be tops on your list of necessary features.

Board backgrounds
Oh boy, do I love this feature! It’s just absurdly visually pleasing to me. Trello Gold Main Board area

The new backgrounds gave my menu page a fantastic look (see above), but some of my custom images ended up being too distracting while I was working with my cards. The custom images seem to work best with a landscape where the focal point is placed in the lowest 1/3 of the image frame. I played around with loading my own images a lot! It was fast and super easy. If you’re the kind of person who craves pleasant visual stimuli, for example you always have happy pet faces on your desktop, this feature alone might make the upgrade worth it for you.

With Gold you get 9 new photo board options and 8 new textures. I’m less excited about the textures; wood grain was a hit with my husband, but several of the others too closely resembled the 9 standard backgrounds. However, custom images rocked! And I liked that I could use them as a single image, or in a tiled mode.

Larger attachments
Depending on your normal file transfer method, Trello should make it easier to attach notes, checklists and comments to your files. Plus you will get real time status updates when your critique partner, beta reader or editor makes changes to your checklists, responds to questions or adds new comments. All changes show up in the activity history. And since this can not be overstated, it happens in real time. No need to send an email asking if the other party received your notes. You will know the moment they start working on your project. And you will be able to monitor their progress remotely from anywhere in the world. I don’t know about you, but anything that saves me a few extra emails is a good thing!

You can attach files in the free version of Trello too, but with Trello Gold the file size jumps to an impressive 250MB per attachment. Much bigger then the ten MB a free account comes with. Do you need the extra MBs? That’s for you to judge. I just know writers are always moving data around. We send drafts to beta readers; we pass things back and forth with our editors! If you’re also working with a co-author or an illustrator, this feature gives you a fast and private way to work concurrently on the same project. Best of all, only the people you select will ever see your data, and you can modify the settings to control who can edit your data vs. just view it.

Saved searches
While I do enjoy using the search function, I can’t say saving my searches is a big deal to me. I guess it might save a few keystrokes, but not much else. It is an easy feature to use, and would prove helpful for someone needing to organize data over a huge number of boards.

There you have it, all the features in Trello Gold account. While Trello is a great tool, I don’t feel the upgrade to Gold is worth it for me personally. However, if you are routinely managing large files, working with a co-author or group, an editorial team or collaborating with a remote illustrator, this upgrade should help streamline your workload. Writers of picture books, cartoons or manga could definitely benefit from the larger file size and the seamless way an author and illustrator could exchange comments in real time on a page-by-page basis. Also, writing teachers and editors should find the Trello Gold features a nice addition and popular with students or clients who thrive on visual rewards and validation systems. In fact, everything about Trello Gold screams writing teacher/coach to me. So if you are a writing teacher, or someone running an editing service, and you’re looking for a smarter way to manage projects, you may want to get out your credit card.


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Deadlines: Helpful or Harmful?

September is always a time for self-reflection. In a way, the start of the school year makes it feel like the end of the year, though not quite. I find myself thinking of the goals and deadlines I set for 2015. Back in January I wrote a post called The 7 Deadly Do’s and Don’ts of Deadlines, and I created a calendar of writing deadlines for myself.

Now nine months later, how is that going? Was setting self-imposed deadlines harmful or helpful to my writing process?

Let’s get the painful stuff out of the way first: I have not met my deadlines. What went wrong? Looking back on my 7 Do’s & Don’ts, it’s clear that I didn’t do Do #2 and take enough time to learn what works for me. Consequently, my deadlines were uninformed guesses of how long I thought the stages should take. I should also point out that my guesses were based roughly on writing screenplays, which are hella short compared to novels. The big bad result of all this is that I’ve been feeling like a stinking pile of failure for months now. I tried to follow Don’t #5 (don’t dwell on missed deadlines), but when all deadlines are missed, that’s kind of impossible.

From that perspective, deadlines (at least the chronically missed kind) are pretty harmful to my morale. But on the flip side, these deadlines give me focus and get my butt in my writing chair every day, so they’re helpful from the perspective of time spent writing.

Despite the tears and disappointment, I really do find deadlines helpful, I just need a new approach. So for all of the writers struggling with self-imposed deadlines (like me), here are 3 simple ideas for making deadlines work for you, not against you.

Deadlines-For Not Against

1. Create short-term deadlines. Daily, weekly and monthly at most. In my first deadline calendar, I had deadlines for the whole year! And when I missed one it shoved the others out of whack until my calendar was useless and I was a snivelling mess begging for Father Time to just stop the damn clock already and let me catch up! However, if I set deadlines within just a month, I can adjust when I realize something is taking longer than expected. For example, I can make the decision to push back other work in order to meet a writing deadline, or push back the deadline so nothing else in my life suffers. In essence, short-term deadlines help me focus on writing, but don’t stress me out by screwing up my whole year if I need to modify them.

2. Set goals for the next day. I find if I just stop writing the day before with no plan of attack for the next morning, I will sit at my computer getting orientated for like an hour or two, rereading what I wrote the day before and wondering, “What now?” But if at the end of the writing day, I spend a few minutes considering where I left off and brainstorm a plan for how to start the next day, I begin writing much sooner. For some people, this is as simple as “end in the middle of a sentence.” The idea being that you know how to finish that sentence and will just pick up where you left off and keep writing. For others, it’s flushing out the whole next scene. For me, it’s often deciding what my next story development stage is. For example: write character sketch for villain, or start outlining Act II, or update the beat sheet to reflect the changes I made to the heroine’s inner conflict. If I don’t plan this the night before, I’ll wake up all foggy-brained and waste time trying to decide what to work on. I don’t make decisions well in the morning, so nighttime pre-planning is essential. Best of all, these next-day goals are tiny deadlines that keep the writing moving.

3. Track your accomplishments. In my deadline spreadsheet I now have a column for what I actually accomplish. So even if I don’t meet the deadline to finish Act I, I note that I did write ten of the twelve scenes. Not only does that note make me feel like less of a failure, it helps me see patterns in my writing (i.e. I can write 10 scenes a week, but not 12), so when I make deadlines for the next month or the next book, I have a better chance of accomplishing them because I know how long it takes me to complete various stages of a novel.

And those are my three simple ideas for making deadlines work for me, not against me. What about you guys? How do you make deadlines productive and not soul-destroying?


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5 Excuses to Protect Your Writing Time

One of the benefits of being a freelance writer is making my own schedule, and having the flexibility to change that schedule if I want to. For instance, I am not a morning person, and in fact joked that I’m part vampire in this post here because I write best after sunset and terribly at sunrise. Luckily, as a freelancer, I have the freedom to write well into the night and sleep in in the morning. My flexible schedule also enables me to take long lunches with friends, visit my parents mid-week when renting a car is cheaper, and enrol in a weekly trampoline class that starts at 4pm – all because I don’t have to complete my work during a regular 9-to-5 schedule. However, it’s important to note that doing these things means I have to make up work hours in the evening or on the weekend.

Now, when I’m working for a client, it’s easy to protect those hours. Everyone understands having a deadline and a boss. But when I’m working on my novel, not so much.

Protect Your Writing TimeJust this week, a friend called with an impromptu invite to the mini-fair on Centre Island. Her and her kids would be there in an hour! Fun, right? Sure, except I had planned to write that day. I offered to meet up for lunch or dinner instead because I didn’t have the time to spend ALL day on the island, but I could spare a couple hours (and catch up on my writing in the evening). However, after confirming with me that I had indeed finished the last stage of a script for a client, she asked, “So why can’t you come? What else do you have to do today?”

Now my friend knows I’m working on a novel and she meant no disrespect by this question, but as is often the case, people who are not writers or artists themselves don’t see your personal creative projects as real work. To her, I was free to hang out, so she was a bit miffed that I refused. And then I felt bad for being an un-fun friend.

Sigh. This happens a lot and I’m kind of tired of trying to explain that my writing really is work. So I’ve decided I need to come up with a plan for future invites to spare both my friends’ feelings and mine…


I’m chasing a deadline.

Just because you don’t have a paying client or a publisher (yet) for your project, doesn’t mean you don’t have a deadline. I like to call this excuse The Truth Edited, because, technically it is true (I am always chasing a deadline because I set goals for myself), but I leave the part out about me being the one who set this deadline. Sure, in an ideal world, I wouldn’t have to edit the truth, but in reality most people don’t respect personal deadlines as much as client deadlines. So sometimes I lead my friends to believe that someone else is waiting on that outline or draft. Even better is if someone is expecting it, like a beta reader or a critique partner.


I’m sick. / I have an appointment. / I’m waiting on a delivery.

These are go-to White Lies. Because they are common excuses, people might doubt them if you use them too much, so make sure the white lie isn’t the only excuse in your arsenal. Of course, to make it extra convincing, you could have sick photos on hand that you can text. And don’t hold back the fake gory details – that always make people stop asking questions. Though if you have one of those friends who is stuck in the 20th century and still uses their phone to make actual calls, have your best nasally voice or fake cough ready when you answer. Or try tip #5.


I can’t today, but what about this weekend?

If you’re not cool with The White Lie, The Deflection might be more your style. By suggesting another hang out time and making future plans, your friend should be distracted enough not to ask you to explain exactly why you’re not available at that moment. Note: this doesn’t work on nosy friends, so make sure you have another excuse as backup.


I’d love to, but I have to work on this top secret project!

This is totally true if you haven’t given out the details of your novel. The Secret also makes what you’re doing sound super exciting so that your friend is excited for you and less likely to be upset. This excuse has the added bonus of ensuring that you actually get stuff done so you really do have exciting news to reveal when you next see your pal.


“Hi, I’m unavailable until 6pm today…”

Set automated responses on your phone/email during your writing time to avoid distracting invites, and instruct friends to leave a message or call back after a certain time. I call this The Digital Secretary because I think of these auto responses as being like a bigwig’s secretary, keeping people out of the office and holding calls when they don’t want to be disturbed. The good thing about this one is if there is a bonafide emergency, you still get the message and can respond, but otherwise you can guiltlessly ignore all the non-emergencies.

Pro Tip: vary these excuses. I use 1, 2 and 3 regularly, but will add 4 and 5 to the repertoire soon.

Ideally, we should proudly protect our writing time and just tell the truth, but if you’re like me and have a rubber arm that is easily twisted into going out, or always feel guilty when you disappoint friends by refusing their invites, using these excuses just makes things easier. Writing is hard enough, so give yourself some leeway when protecting your writing time.

How do you protect your writing time? Share in the comments!


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Weekend Coffee Share – On Being a Vampire-Turtle Hybrid Writer

LeCoffee-1If we were having coffee, I’d meet up with you in the afternoon. This is unusual since I’ve always scheduled our coffee dates in the late morning so I can spend the afternoon/evening with my WIP because that’s when I write best. But do I really? I’ve been pondering that this week as I experiment with my writing schedule. Instead of running errands, replying to emails and managing Twitter in the mornings, I go straight to work writing.

So how did it go? you ask, with a hint of both skepticism and hope in your voice. You know I have never been a morning person. The rising sun actually makes me grumpy, whereas the setting sun perks me right up. Not for the first time, we both wonder if I’m part vampire. But as a morning person, you believe the crack of dawn is the best time to write. You get so much done before lunch! The feeling of accomplishment is amazing! I envy that. And that’s the reason I’m conducting this experiment – to try to get more writing done.

I never thought of myself as a slow writer, at least not when I’m hired as a freelancer and have a deadline that puts a fire under my butt. I can crank out those words when need be. But a novel is different. There’s no boss to give me direction and feedback, and that leaves me spinning my wheels sometimes as I try all by my lonesome to decide on the best way to tell my story. I attempted to push past that indecision and doubt and just write on, write fast, and that DID NOT work. I ended up scrapping everything I wrote in those moments. The takeaway? It’s not the writing I need to speed up, it’s the story development. So, maybe if I start thinking about my story earlier in the day, the breakthroughs will come sooner than midnight. Makes sense, right?

You agree it does. So have I been converted to the #5amwritersclub? I laugh so hard I spill my tea. 5am – as if! I’m part vampire. “Morning” to me is, like, 9am and not a minute earlier. Okay, fine, how’s 9am working? I admit for novel writing, it’s still very slow. My brain is seriously sluggish in the morning, even after drinking a whole pot of the blackest tea. It feels just like this moment in Orphan Black when Scott asks Rachel if she can go faster and she replies:


One thing I’ve noticed, though, is that I can write blog posts and freelance jobs at a decent clip in the morning — as long as I’ve planned them out the night before. This strategy doesn’t work as well with the WIP, but it helps a bit. What’s clear is that no matter how I try to trick my brain into writing in the morning, it simply operates best in the evening.

Basically, I’m a vampire-turtle hybrid writer.

Instead of crying into my tea, I’ve decided to capitalize on this by always brainstorming before bed what to write the next day. As I said, this works well for blog posts and paid scripts, but not so well for the WIP. If it’s a WIP day and things are not moving, I’ll read a book so I don’t waste time staring at the computer screen. Usually reading unsticks the brain anyway. And it’s productive.

You sip your tea and smile knowingly. You still think if I keep at it long enough I’ll become a true morning writer. But I know this will never happen. Instead, with some pre-bedtime planning and practice, I hope to at least become a vampire-hare hybrid.



If We Were Having Coffee is a blog hop inspired and run by the lovely and talented Diana at Part Time Monster. Please drop by her place for coffee. You can also see what other bloggers are up to by checking out the hashtag #WeekendCoffeeShare on Twitter.

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5 Life Hacks For Writers

Every writer I know is already working harder than they ever thought possible. They sacrifice evenings and weekends with families to make their writing dreams come true. Since we can’t work faster, we need to work smarter. Try one of these writer hacks–or try them all. Either way, you will enjoy a boost to your work output.

Mary Shelley's FrankensteinUse soundtracks to fuel your creativity.
(I’ve talked about this before.) Lots of writers create playlists for working on their novels, but I love soundtracks. Movie scores are expressly created by professional musicians to invoke a mood. There are years of research and experience behind these scores. Why not use all that science to spark your own writing? Since I’m in a gothic phase, it’s all about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein for me, but in the past I’ve used The Mummy and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and many others. Pick your favorite movies as inspiration, or find one that invokes the right mood for your project and get your grove on.

Dell Monitors with RotationGet a monitor with the portrait display feature. Even better, get two.
Yes, I know everyone is on laptops these days, but not me! I own a laptop for when I want to hit the road, but I will never give up my colossal Dell monitor with portrait mode or my full-sized keyboard. Both items are not that expensive and make a writer’s life so much easier. Portrait mode lets you see at least a full page of text on one screen, even at the 100% setting. Seeing huge chunks of text means you will catch more mistakes. The repetitive word uses jump out at you. You’ll see that 30% of your sentences all start the same way. We’re all in the habit of using landscape, but writing is one activity where a quarter turn make a world of difference.

Get a standing desk.
This one is easy for those working on laptops, just stand at a kitchen breakfast bar. Or buy yourself a nice patio bar and enjoy some fresh air while you work. According to the Harvard Medical School Review: Too many writers are risking their health by sitting all day. I have my desk set up with double monitors and keyboard tray so I can stand or sit depending on my mood. But I have my eye on a treadmill desk, that way I could walk my way to better heath and better writing. Increased circulation also boosts mental acuity and memory. Take a stand, writers. It’s good for you.

Use a split screen viewing feature.
This is a trick I learned years ago from my editor and it’s brilliant! Rotate your monitor back to landscape (don’t worry, it’s easy to change back) and configure your screen to show two files side by side. This feature works great for just about any type of revision work. It lets you compare two different documents, or two different versions of the same document. It’s perfect for comparing the feedback of two beta readers. Or you can put up the example of a successful query letter (there are tons of examples online) and compare it side by side with your own query letter. Comparing an old draft against your latest draft helps you track your changes and prove to yourself you really are making progress.


Trello-LogoFind great tools and use them!
I don’t know what you need to make your writing life easier, but I know you need something. And the chances are pretty good someone has already created that tool for you. It might be Dragon Naturally Speaking you need, a great voice recognition program for when your brain is going faster than your fingers.

Freedom ScheduleIt might be an internet blocker you need, like Heather’s Freedom. Or maybe you need help planning your projects. If so, grab my favorite tool Trello. If it’s a better word processing program you crave, maybe give Scrivener a try. If Twitter is getting you down, try a program like Hootsuite, TweetDeck or Buffer. Find your perfect tools and stick with them.

Do you have a writer hack to share? Or a favorite soundtrack you can’t live without? Please include them in the comments so other writers can benefit from your experience.

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Z is for Zymurgy

BLAST_ZThis is our last Blogging A from Z post. The mission was a success and soon the space capsule will splash down. Crowds will cheer and confetti will litter the web. But before we blow the bolts on the hatch door and get some much-needed rest, let’s take a moment to reflect on everything we talked about this month. Just let all that new data dart around inside your skulls like a bunch of zero gravity pennies.

Zymurgy is the term used for the fermentation process when making beer or wine. Today we’re using it as a stand-in for those times a writer needs to let a story rest for a while.

There are three critical times when halting writing might actually be a better plan then pounding away at the keys.

3 Tips for using Zymurgy

At the start: According to Stephen King, the projects he can’t forget are the ones he knows are winners. He reportedly let UNDER THE DOME ferment for decades, making not one, but two failed attempts before the time was right for committing it to print. If you’re sitting on a five-year-old story idea you can’t stop thinking about, that is most likely the story you should pick up next. And it’s okay to let that story bubble a little longer while you finish something more time sensitive. Passion for a great book idea builds and gets better over time, while the lesser stories will fade away and be forgotten.

Between revisions: Once a draft is done, walk away for a while. Take some time to read and relax. You might not be able to completely put the story out of your mind, but try to. Work on something different if you must keep writing during the break. Stockpile a few blog posts while you wait! Setting your work on the shelf makes it possible for you to see the words on the page clearly. You will start to spot all the mistakes you would have read over when what you intended to write was still fresh in your mind.

After feedback: Nothing good comes from attacking your work with a hatchet after a bad critique. Stop! Ask for clarification on the feedback. Talk about the critique with another trusted friend writer. I know critique is hard, and when harsh words come from someone you trust, it tempts you to cut to the bone, or to dismiss the criticism. Waiting helps you gain perspective. When you wait, sometimes what first looked like a condemnation of your whole book project turns out to be a few afternoons of editing. Problems look easier when you’re less emotional volatile. All revisions call for some zymurgy. By letting the feedback sink in, you can accept your own mistakes and take responsibly for fixing them.

2 Examples of wise Zymurgy

Zymurgy has many fine uses, for example, when you get a bad review or a few angry commentators invade your blog. Take a deep breath and count from 30 to zero backwards by 3s before you do anything.

Also remember, many wonderful, mind-blowing books were not written overnight. If the time and energy it takes for you to do your best work is slower then your fellow writers, so be it. You might be judged unfavorably in the short term against their speed, but in the long term, quality shines over quantity every time.

1 Link for more help

Since today is also the last day of Camp NaNoWriMo I going to end the Blogging from A to Z Challenge the way we started it, by sending out some love to our writer pals over there. Here is my reminder to everyone that every book is a journey and you need to enjoy the process:  NaNoWriMo Blues

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T is for Trello

BLAST_TWriting a book is not as labor intensive as, say, launching a space mission, but sometimes it feels like it is. I use Trello to keep my sanity in check. It helps me manage all my brainstorming, to do lists, blog posts, home repairs, work deadlines and even my kid’s schedules…all in one place. And best of all, the basic version is free!

3 More Tips for using Trello
I wrote about Trello a few months back in the post 5 Reasons Why Every Writer Needs Trello, but since I’m still learning new ways to use the program, it looks like I have a lot more to say on the subject.

Trello makes outlining easy. Like most writers, I keep a corkboard and it’s covered with plotting index cards, character relationship maps, blueprints of my settings, inspiring photos, etc, but it’s only for my current project. I don’t have the space to keep two or three project boards in my office. But I can keep 100 boards on Trello, one each for the ideas, inspiration, characters or plot notes of every writing project I’ve ever dreamed of. I used the 3 act structure to set up a my boards. First I created a basic template with a card for each of the common story elements. I also threw in an other card at the end of each column to catch any oddball items. I can always adjust the board parameters as my project progresses.

Full 3 Act Board Once I have a template board set up the way I like it, I can quickly create a new board for a second (third, fourth, fifth) writing project. This saves time and makes plotting a simple process. I love watching a plot take shape on Trello and I can’t miss any of the important story milestones (inciting incident, pinch points, or midpoint reversal) because the cards in my template keep me on task.

Trello is perfect for world building. When sci-fi, fantasy or historical fiction writers start to flesh out their worlds, it gets complicated. We need to keep track of all the aspects of the setting: the political system, geography, flora and fauna, social structures… it’s file folders and notebooks full of raw data. Some writers use spreadsheets like Excel to streamline the process, but with Trello I can see the data more clearly. Plus the entries click open for more options. I can add links, make notes, create to do checklists, and upload research notes and add photos for inspirations. It’s like having Pinterest secret boards, but with more options for storing written data. The flexibility makes it extremely helpful for planning a series. I can create one board for each book, or keep track of all the series threads on one board to make sure I’ve created a cohesive series.

World BuildingTrello streamlines the editing process. This is something I’d never thought of doing, but once I saw another writer doing it, I was convinced. Trello boards make an ideal place to keep my self-editing checklists and to track the revisions. As an extra bonus, I can upload chapters and invite other people to read and comment on them. This makes Trello perfect for online critique groups. I can sit back and watch as each beta reader marks the project read and adds their notes. Plus all the readers can have access to the comments leading to group discussions. The system makes it a great way to work closely with a remote editor or to get feedback from a writing partner or an agent. Best of all, I control who sees the boards on a project by project basis. I can set a board to unrestricted public viewing, or invite members into my group.

2 Examples

The Page Turners blog did a great job on showing how to use Trello with a remote editor. If you want to use Trello for an online critique group, I highly recommend this post.

If you want to use Trello for day-to-day management or just want a basic crash course try this How To Post from LifeHacker.

1 Link for more help

This is already a link-heavy post, but the last one you might need is the Trello Blog. This is the best place to find out what other users are doing with their Trello boards. It might surprise you. Everything from designing a book marketing campaign to planning a new author blog is easier with Trello.


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K is for Kittens!


Know what we need in the middle of this A to Z Challenge? A fun post full of cute kitty pictures!

Tigre & Spidey

But I also have some bonafide advice for writers with cats. Just this year we adopted a stray kitten from the shelter, and I’ve learned a few things about writing from home with a fuzzy feline…

3 Tips for Writing with a Kitten

  • Get a wide mug that cannot easily be tipped. This is indispensable. Even if your kitty isn’t the knock-crap-over type, she can still accidentally upend your coffee or tea onto your keyboard when she spontaneously jumps on your desk to say “Hi!” With that in mind, a keyboard cover is also a smart idea, just in case.

  • Create a cuteness blinder. I suggest wearing a hoody or hat or scarf that inhibits your peripheral vision so you can’t see your incredibly cute kitten during writing time. If you can see your kitten, you will be mesmerized by her cuteness! And you will stop writing to pet/play with her. This is a time suck even more powerful than Facebook! Wear a blinder until you develop the necessary resistance to her charms.

  • Get her a toy. If your cat has nothing to play with, she will want to play with you and doesn’t understand that you’re doing something very important in front of that glowing screen. We got our kitten balls and this cat dancer thing, but she’d never play with those on her own. Finally a friend gave us springs. Simple plastic springs, and she goes CRAZY for them, chasing them all over the house and entertaining herself for hours. Writing time secured! 

Tigre - my spring

“My precious…”


2 Examples of my kitten not interfering with my writing…

Nap time in the window beside my desk.

Nap time in the window beside my desk.

I totally need a cuteness blinder when she’s sleeping like this!


Tigre in her own desk space

Cats like to be near you, and if you’re writing, that probably means on your desk. To keep her off your stuff, give her a space to hang out in, like a box. The stereotype is true – cats can’t resist cardboard boxes!

1 Link for more help

For more tips to being productive during writing time, check out Writers & Productivity: Do You Need an Internet Blocker?

If you have any other writing-with-pets tips, please share in the comments!

And in case you’re just dropping in now, here’s our April A to Z list thus far:

A is for Antagonist

B is for Backstory

C is for Character Change

D is for Dialogue

E is for External Conflict

F is for False Stakes

G is for Genre

H is for Hero

I is for Internal Conflict

J is for Juxtaposition

Coming up:

L is for Laughs

M is for Midpoint

N is for Narrative

O is for Outlines

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Last Minute Tips for Camp NaNoWriMo

1425675574Every April, the WriteOnSisters take part in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge, but we felt it was important to support our pals over at Camp NaNoWriMo too.

For this year’s A to Z Challenge, everyday (except Sundays) we will be blasting our way through the alphabet by sharing our best writing tips.

These posts will be bite-sized and perfect for campfire side reading while you’re letting your laptop keys cool down.

To introduce our challenge theme and to help launch both events, we’re having a pre-flight checkout:




 3,  2,  1 … BLAST OFF!

Tips for Camp NaNoWriMo Success.




3 Planning Tips:
Create a project binder.
Don’t trust to memory and don’t leave your research on your computer. Once you start hunting around for files, or changing screen views, you are no longer writing. Print out everything. Research notes, character sheets, historical timelines and Pinterest photos. Load everything into your binder. Now use organizational tools like colored tabs, highlighters and folder pockets to categorize your notes. Turn your project binder into a powerful asset, one that will see you through a long hard month of writing and into the revisions stage.

Block out an activities calendar.
Whoever heard of a camp running without a schedule of events? Make a plan and share it with your support system. Ask family and friends to pitch in and help clear away those extra obligations. Remember to allow for downtime. You will want to hang out with you new NaNo buddies, gather fresh inspiration and seek craft guidance from other writers. However, once you’ve allocate time to writing, don’t change the plan. Set a timer and stick to the schedule. Don’t forget you can always get an internet blocker program if your bunkmates prove too social to get any work done.

Start today!
It takes a few visits to settle into the NaNoWriMo community and get comfy. Fill out your profile and stake out a sunny spot in the forums to call your own. Spend the weekend creating the perfect playlist, or cleaning up your work space. Shop for those extra supplies, index cards, gum, or a new stick-drive so you can back-up your masterpiece. Don’t waste a single moment. Jump into Camp NaNo next week ready for action.

2 Examples of Fast Craft:
There are several notable examples of quickly written books that have stood the test of time, Dr_Jekyll_and_Mr_Hyde_poster_edit2particularly novellas.
Confined to bed by an illness, Robert Louis Stevenson produced the first draft of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in under a week and finished the revisions some 6 weeks later.

Under the crippling influence of debts and already working on the book that would become his literary masterpiece, Fyodor Dostoyevsky hired a stenographer and dictated the semi-autobiographical novella The Gambler in just 26 days. He gave away the book’s royalties to clear his debts and married the stenographer.

1 Link for more NaNoWriMo help:
15 Story Beats to Keep Your NaNoWriMo Novel on Track
This post is one of our most popular and it’s the blueprint for any perfectly structured story. Plus, it’s packed with helpful links.

Lastly, an inspiring space quote to keep you going…

Mae Jemison

First African-American Woman in Space

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