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Embrace the Nonsense

Laboring on Labor Day Weekend with Dr. Seuss

Hopefully you’re taking a break to enjoy a few slow-paced days this holiday weekend.  Whether you’re lounging or laboring this Labor Day weekend, enjoy a few words of wisdom from Dr. Seuss.

Number 23 seems especially appropriate for a long weekend.  Get outside and enjoy the “opener” air!

Using Scrivener to Write a Novel

** I’m hosting a Scrivener giveaway.  You might want to check out the giveaway post and enter to win your own copy of Scrivener. The contest closes on Wednesday, February 22 at 8 PM MST. **

When I’m drafting my fiction or my long non-fiction projects, my go-to software is Scrivener*.  Let me preface this discussion by saying that I’m not perked in any way and I don’t receive any freebies from the people over at Literature and Latte, the company that created Scrivener.  I plunked down my own $40US (very reasonable in my opinion) to buy my own version of the program just like the rest of the world.  So no freebies – I just love the program, because it has brought a new level of organization to my writing life.

For a long time Scrivener was only available for Macs, and believe me I didn’t need yet another excuse to buy a Mac.  However, I use a PC and in early 2012, Literature and Latte finally released a full-version of the program for PCs.  You can bet I jumped on board.  Here are the top five reasons why:

1.  Brainstorming with the Corkboard: When I’m brainstorming for a novel, I have a million ideas jotted down on napkins, notebook, iPhone notes, etc.  Scrivener gives me one place to store all of them.  We’ve already established that I’m a visual person (I love Pinterest).  Scrivener’s corkboard gives me a visual way to see and rearrange my scenes and ideas.  I can include notecards, photos and sound clips, and rearrange them to my liking.

2.   Writing Templates: Scrivener comes with writing templates built in.  When I start a new project, I can easily pull up a template for a novel, short story, research proposal or screenplay, and be ready to roll in minutes.  You can even create a file of your recipes using Scrivener’s templates.

My favorite part is the ability to customize my own template.  Yesterday we talked about the 4-part structure which many people use when drafting a novel.  I’ve created my own 4-part Template complete with notes by famous writing craft-gods (like Larry Brooks and Anne Greenwood Brown) to give me reminders of things to think about when I’m drafting my scenes.  I also included templates for characters sketches, sheets on which I can trace my character’s arcs, and even a place for setting descriptions.

3.   Scene Ideas and Keywords: Do you ever have a brilliant idea for a scene, but you don’t know where it will fit in your story? In the Novel Template I created, I have a folder for Scene Ideas.  The folder has two sections: “Ideas to Be Placed” and “Ideas Not Placed.”  The Ideas to Be Placed are scenes that I know will appear in the story at some point.  I just don’t know when and where when I come up with the idea.  The Ideas Not Placed is the folder where I dump all of the other scene brainstorming that doesn’t make the final cut of the novel.  These scenes are sometimes useful during rewrites, might make their way into another book, or might never see the light of day beyond the “Ideas Not Placed” folder.  I can code the cards with keywords (which appear as color bars on the side of the notecards) so that when I’m searching for that perfect scene I dreamt about three weeks ago which applies to the romantic sub-plot, I can sort by keyword and instantly find the notes.

4.  Scene Manipulation: Let’s take the organizational function a step further.  Let’s say your scene ideas are fully fleshed out.  You’ve been hopping around, writing scenes that appeal to you when inspiration strikes – rather than writing in order.  It’s time to place one of your “homeless” scenes.  Open your Scene Ideas folder and drag the appropriate card to the right Chapter folder.  Rearrange your Chapter cards until the scene is in just the right place.  The brilliant part?  Scrivener reorders your manuscript for you.  If you were to print the manuscript, the new scene would appear right where you put it.  No cutting and pasting.  No copying and then hunting for the right spot in your 200-page manuscript to insert the new scene.  Drag and drop the card and the entire scene appears in the right spot.

5.  Research: I love Evernote and Pinterest and my Internet Explorer Favorites folder, but it’s tough to toggle back and forth between five things to find just the right fact or figure.  That’s where the Scrivener Research folder is helpful.  I can save images, PDF files, movies, web pages, sound files—right inside Scrivener.  The split screen option allows me to look at one file while typing in my manuscript simultaneously.  This was hugely helpful when I transcribed hours of interviews for my non-fiction book last summer.

I even have a Scrivener Project file for my Writing Project ideas.  It contains folders for Long Fiction, Short Fiction, Theatre, Children’s Fiction, Articles and Non-Fiction.  This is where I store all of my notes and ideas when I’m in the thick of a project.  Never fail, you’re hard at work on Draft #2 of a magazine article, and an idea for a new novel pops into your head.  I open the Long Fiction folder and start a new file for the novel idea.  I can spend 15 minutes jotting down notes and saving some research links, and I know it will all be waiting for me when my work in progress is complete.

If you haven’t tried Scrivener, Literature and Latte has a free 30-day trial.  Feel free to download my 4-Part Novel Template.  It might just give you the push you need to finish that novel you’ve been dreaming about or reignite your enthusiasm for a floundering project.

FYI – There are a few other free templates (here and here) out there for Scrivener.  One even uses the 4-part structure. Mine is a little different because it includes lots of writing tips from professional writers who are also craft gurus.  It also includes different scene cards, notes on scene development, etc.  Pick and choose the one that works best for you.  Or better yet, create your own to fit your writing style and brainstorming needs.

Click here to download the Scrivener Template zip file. You’ll be prompted to save the file.  Save the Zip file to your desktop or another convenient spot.  Unzip the file and copy the entire folder to the same location.  You must own a copy of Scrivener or have the free trial version to use the template file.

Open Scrivener –> File –> Open –> Open the Folder “Novel STM 4-Part Template.scriv” –> Open “project”.

Once the project is open, you can save it as a reusable template.

File –> Save as Template –> Name the file “Novel STM 4-Part” –> Select Category “Fiction” –> Click OK.

The next time you start a New Project, the template will appear on your list of template choices. Be sure to spend some time playing around in the template.  Expand all of the folders to see the built in options I’ve created (scenes, character sheets, plot point cards, writing tips, etc.)

Hopefully Scrivener will bring you as much joy and organization as it has for me.  Happy writing!

*Some images in this post are from the Literature and Latte website to illustrate the features of Scrivener.

What are you reading? January Books

Reading was my first love. Growing up, I spent hours holed up in my bedroom. I squeezed my tush into an old wooden rocking chair, planted my feet on the radiator and lost myself in books. On family vacations, the hours spent in the car passed quickly because I always had a book in hand.

When I’ve been writing non-stop (like November and December) I feel depleted. My brain gets tired and I feel like I can’t put together a coherent thought. When it’s all over, I just want to lose myself in mindless television… for a week or so. And then I start to get antsy. I want to be inspired. I want the words of other people to make me laugh and to make me think. I turn to books to fill me up – a grab-you-by-the-throat story that sucks me in or a brilliant turn of phrase that has me audibly saying “Huh!” is exactly what I need to fill up the well of writing inspiration.

January was a joyful reading month. I wrote just enough to squeak by on my writing commitments and I spent the remainder of my free time (usually an hour or two after my kids go to bed) reading. Here are the books I finished in January:

Looking for Alaska by John Green

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

Night Swim by Jessica Keener

The Illustrated Mum by Jacqueline Wilson (Don’t let the cover art fool you. This book is a tender and mature look at mental illness told from the point of view of a 10-year-old girl.)

Cracked by K.M. Walton

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (It’s was a John Green month for me!)

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff by Christopher Moore

I’ve gotten some great suggestions from all of you in the comments for books to add to my February list. I’ve added The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson thanks to Lorna’s suggestion. Check her out at Gin and Lemonade. I’m also adding The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco thanks to LoveofWords52.

5 Debut Novels on My List for February

It’s time to get your Goodreads accounts pulled up.  Here are five debut novels you’ll want to add to your February “to-read” list.  Enjoy!

A Good American by Alex George

An uplifting novel about the families we create and the places we call home.

It is 1904. When Frederick and Jette must flee her disapproving mother, where better to go than America, the land of the new? Originally set to board a boat to New York, at the last minute, they take one destined for New Orleans instead (“What’s the difference? They’re both new“), and later find themselves, more by chance than by design, in the small town of Beatrice, Missouri. Not speaking a word of English, they embark on their new life together.

Beatrice is populated with unforgettable characters: a jazz trumpeter from the Big Easy who cooks a mean gumbo, a teenage boy trapped in the body of a giant, a pretty schoolteacher who helps the young men in town learn about a lot more than just music, a minister who believes he has witnessed the Second Coming of Christ, and a malevolent, bicycle-riding dwarf.

A Good American is narrated by Frederick and Jette’s grandson, James, who, in telling his ancestors’ story, comes to realize he doesn’t know his own story at all. From bare-knuckle prizefighting and Prohibition to sweet barbershop harmonies, the Kennedy assassination, and beyond, James’s family is caught up in the sweep of history. Each new generation discovers afresh what it means to be an American. And, in the process, Frederick and Jette’s progeny sometimes discover more about themselves than they had bargained for.

Poignant, funny, and heartbreaking, A Good American is a novel about being an outsider-in your country, in your hometown, and sometimes even in your own family. It is a universal story about our search for home.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse. August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?
R. J. Palacio has written a spare, warm, uplifting story that will have readers laughing one minute and wiping away tears the next. With wonderfully realistic family interactions (flawed, but loving), lively school scenes, and short chapters, Wonder is accessible to readers of all levels. Age level = 8 and up.

The Golden Hour by Margaret Wurtele

In this stunning debut set in the summer of 1944 in Tuscany, Giovanna Bellini, the daughter of a wealthy aristocrat and vineyard owner, has just turned seventeen and is on the cusp of adulthood. War bears down on her peaceful little village after the Italians sign a separate peace with the Allies-transforming the Germans into an occupying army.

But when her brother joins the Resistance, he asks Giovanna to hide a badly wounded fighter who is Jewish. As she nurses him back to health, she falls helplessly in love with the brave and humble Marco, who comes from as ancient and noble an Italian family as she does. They pledge their love, and then must fight a real battle against the Nazis who become more desperate and cruel as the Allies close in on them…

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart–he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone–but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees.

This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.

The Darlings by Cristina Alger

Now that he’s married to Merrill Darling, daughter of billionaire financier Carter Darling, attorney Paul Ross has grown accustomed to New York society and all of its luxuries: a Park Avenue apartment, weekends in the Hamptons, bespoke suits. When Paul loses his job, Carter offers him the chance to head the legal team at his hedge fund. Thrilled with his good fortune in the midst of the worst financial downturn since the Great Depression, Paul accepts the position.

But Paul’s luck is about to shift: a tragic event catapults the Darling family into the media spotlight, a regulatory investigation, and a red-hot scandal with enormous implications for everyone involved. Suddenly, Paul must decide where his loyalties lie-will he save himself while betraying his wife and in-laws or protect the family business at all costs?

Cristina Alger’s glittering debut novel interweaves the narratives of the Darling family, two eager SEC attorneys, and a team of journalists all racing to uncover-or cover up-the truth. With echoes of a fictional Too Big to Fail and the novels of Dominick Dunne, The Darlings offers an irresistible glimpse into the highest echelons of New York society-a world seldom seen by outsiders-and a fast-paced thriller of epic proportions.

Happy reading and happy writing!

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5 Favorite Children’s Books

I mentioned in my post on procrastination how much I love to read to my kids.  I could while away hours snuggled under a blanket on the couch, one kid under each arm and a stack of books in our laps.

After reading this post by Kate over at Centsational Girl ( I was inspired to put together my own list of favorites.

  1. Little Pea by Amy Krouse Rosenthal


Little Pea wants desperately to eat his dessert (SPINACH!) but can’t until he eats his dinner (five pieces of candy).  This book is a great twist on the age old problem of kids who won’t eat their vegetables.  I love the illustrations, too.

2.  The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson

My kids know every word to this rhyming book by heart.  The gruffalo’s terrible tusks and terrible jaws and terrible teeth and terrible jaws are no match for the timid little mouse who doesn’t want to be anyone’s dinner.

3.  Perloo the Bold by Avi

This award-winning book tells the tale of Perloo, a quiet rabbit who loves reading his history books in his warm burrow.  Perloo leads a peaceful life until he is summoned into an adventure to faraway lands.  A great story with a great message.

4.  The entire Anatole the Mouse series by Eve Titus

I read these books as a kid, and my boys love them, too.  Anatole, his family and his mouse partner, Gaston, have adventures throughout Paris. Anatole is named the Fist Vice-President in Charge of Cheese Tasting at the Duval Cheese Factory, and must outwit a coniving cat, parachute off the Eiffel Tower and navigate the big city on his tiny bicycle.

5.  Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein

This books is great for teaching the importance of manners – Little Red Chicken can’t help but interrupt her papa during his bedtime stories.  She’s always offering up her two cents about how to save the heroines of his stories.  More importantly, the book is hilarious.  Kids want to read it over and over.

Here’s hoping that some of these inspire you to head out to your library and pick up a couple (or an entire totebag full) of books to share with your kids.  Some of my favorite memories as a child were sitting around the table listening to my mom read Winnie-the-Pooh.  We loved when she made up different voices for each character. I still use that same gloomy Eeyore voice when I read Winnie-the-Pooh to my own kids.  I can’t think of a better way to spend Thanksgiving than reading as a family.

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