Category Archives: Writing Tools

Writing Tools: Zoho Writer

So the kids arrived, turned out to be pretty normal little boys, and we’re still settling in on some kind of routine, but all in all things are looking up for us in this foster care thing. More updates will no doubt follow.

But today that’s not what I want to talk to you about.

What I want to talk about is this: I’m always worried about my house burning down. Okay, maybe “always” is too extreme a word. Let’s just say it’s a frequently recurring fear of mine.

And when my mind flicks over to that image of my house devoured by flames, there is always one vital question that pops into my head. “What about my stories?”

Because it doesn’t matter how many backup hard drives you have if they’re all in the same house burning to the ground. Now I know there are programs like Carbonite that back up everything on your hard drive, and while I’m sure they are an invaluable resource, I’d imagine there are lots of you out there like me who simply can’t swing the cost.

If that’s the case, then I’d like to introduce you to a fantastic program I discovered a few months back called Zoho Writer. Zoho Writer is an online cloud-based word processor that accepts files in a variety of formats in sizes up to ten megabytes, a vast improvement on the ridiculously small upload restrictions imposed by Google Docs.

Now granted we’re not talking about a heavy-duty word processor here. This isn’t going to replace Microsoft Word or Open Office in terms of power, but if you’re just writing stories there’s no need for anything fancy. Give me a spell checker and a word count feature and I’m happy. Zoho Writer has both of them.

And while I started using Zoho simply to back up the work I didn’t want to lose it has become increasingly valuable to me of late, since I’ve started my collaborative project with fellow-writer, mom, and general producer of awesome Ellie Soderstrom. Zoho lets us edit the same document at the same time and see each other’s changes as they happen. If that ain’t awesome I don’t know what is.

I know I sound like I’m giving some kind of sales pitch here, but I really do feel strongly about this program.

Maybe it can help give you a little more piece of mind about the safety of your stories. Maybe you want to let other people edit your documents without worrying about sending attachments back and forth through email.

Maybe you’re sitting there thinking, “This is the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard.” That is totally fine with me. But it’s a great tool that I’ve gotten a lot of value out of and I wanted to share it with you guys. Give it a look and decide for yourself.

Say Hello to My Little Friend: the Wonders of the AlphaSmart 3000

There isn’t any special equipment required to be a writer. There’s no super secret pencil and paper combination that makes the best stories, no ultra exclusive word processor of the gods that you must use in order to craft a gripping tale.

But let’s be real here, you’re not going to be chiseling your work into stone tablets anytime soon, and neither am I. Few of us write our stories with pen and paper anymore, and the image of the writer hunched over his typewriter, keys clacking is largely an anachronism. We use computers for the most part, because they’re both versatile and powerful.

I’ve been writing on my laptop from the very beginning, mostly because it was portable and it served my needs well enough. But over the last couple of months I’ve had my eye on something a little different.

See, I like to take my laptop to work with me, so that I can write on my lunch breaks, but it can be a pain to lug it in from my car and then back out again when I’m done always slightly terrified that someone might crowbar open my trunk and steal it. I swear to you, every time I get home and open the trunk (that’s a boot for those of you who don’t live in Awesomeville aka America) there’s a tiny moment of terror when I’m sure it will have been stolen. Also, the battery life on that thing sucks. I get MAYBE half an hour out of it before it beeps at me once and promptly shuts off without giving me so much as the chance to save my work.

So yeah. Not the most ideal piece of equipment in the world. Well today I’m here to announce that my troubles are over, and to introduce you to my little friend:

Okay, okay, stop laughing. Yes, I know it’s like a ten-year-old piece of technology. My wife  told me she used to use one when she was in grade-school.

But you know what? This baby is AWESOME. Shall we go down the list?

How about a 72 hour battery life? Check.

Ultimate portability? Yeppers.

And the best part? The twenty-five dollar price tag.

I’m telling you guys, this is my new writing machine right here. I’ve been wanting one of these babies for years. Ever since I saw an article in Popular Science about how they were being used in the jungles of Africa by scientists who were away from civilization and without power for long periods of time.

But the best part about the AlphaSmart 3000 is this: it has no wordcount feature.

Now I know what you’re all thinking. “Albert, wordcount is essential. Wordcount is god. How will we ever be able to chart our progress without the manifold blessings of wordcount?”

Well believe me when I say that at first I saw it as a drawback too. And then I started writing on the thing.

And I’m here to tell you that knowing exactly how many words you have written isn’t nearly as important as you think it is. Because once you know, then you start to set goals, and once you start to set goals, you start to feel obligated to complete those goals, and once that happens there’s a hint of drudgery starts to sneak into your writing. Or at least that’s how it was for me.

But with the AlphaSmart 3000 I don’t have to worry about all that stuff. All I have to focus on is telling the story, and so far my daily wordcount hasn’t suffered at all. If anything it’s actually gone up a little.

Bottom line, if you write on the go, I’d highly recommend this little machine to you. If you do your shopping you can find a decent price for one on ebay, and it offers a convenient and distraction free writing experience.

Overall a super piece of equipment.

Prioritize Your Life: Hack Off a Limb

There’s a tree in my back yard.

Yes, I know. Riveting, right? Gimme a break. We’re going somewhere here.

See this tree is kinda funky looking. It has a bunch of branches at the bottom but the top is just this barren length of wood with a couple of leaves at the tip.  And why does this tree look like this?

Because it’s badly in need of pruning. See there’s only so much sap one tree can produce and all the little branches at the bottom sucked up all the sap that should have gone to the leaves at the top, so eventually the leaves at the top just withered and died.

I was looking at this tree the other day and it occurred to me that my life is a lot the same as that tree. Only instead of sap, I’m running short of time.

I find myself scrambling to fit it all in, and at the end of the day there’s just not enough room for everything I’d like to do. I have to prune some stuff. I have to make sure there’s enough sap left for the important stuff.

Because there some stuff that’s vital, utterly important. These are things that I absolutely refuse to let fall by the wayside. And before you get too far ahead of me, let me stop you and say this: writing is not on that list.

I’m not saying writing isn’t important, but it’s not essential. My family life? Now that’s essential. Keeping a steady job so I don’t starve to death? That’s essential too.

Writing is somewhere in the middle. On most days there’s plenty of fluff I can cut out of other areas of my life to make room for my writing time. But some rare days get filled up with the essential stuff and crowd out the writing to a bare minimum.

And that’s okay.

It doesn’t make you a horrible person or a terrible writer.

So sure, look for those lower branches that need to be cut off. Chances are there are more of them than you think. But don’t let writing leach the sap of time away from the things that are more important.

Never let the good things of life, take away from the best things in life.

This is the only time you get, so do your best to make the most of it. Because it’s running out.

The Beauty of the Blank Page: Tips for Defeating Digital Diversions

I have a lot of respect for the writers of the past. It’s not so much their style that impresses me, because, let’s face it, people in the old days produced plenty of crap too. But when I think about the fact that for thousands of years writers had to actually physically write down their words onto paper it makes me a little awestruck.

Can you imagine the editing process? Or worse yet, the rewrites? Having to physically re-copy the entirety of a manuscript by hand? Can you imagine the day when “cut and paste” involved actual scissors and actual glue?

So yeah, computers are awesome. But like most awesome modern things they come with a price.

Because in a way, computers are too awesome. Not only do they come with wonderful word processing tools to help you make your writing the best it can be, but they also can connect to a million different diversions and distractions through the internet.

Maybe you’re stronger than me. Maybe when you sit down to write your words for the morning, it never occurs to you that Linkara should have posted a new comic review today, and it’s only like, thirty minutes long, so you’ve got time to bop over there and see what’s going on with that. Okay, so that one probably hasn’t happened to you, but you get the idea.

Distractions are the curse of the internet.

So what do you do? Well of course there’s always good old self-control. You can tell yourself to wait for that reward until you’ve finished writing. You can even switch off your computer’s internet connections for a while. But maybe you need a little extra layer of protection from all those temptations. Wouldn’t it be great if you could shut out all the rest of that stuff and focus on the page?

If that’s your dilemma then it’s time for you to meet my good friend Dark Room.  Dark Room is a fantastic little program that completely fills your screen with nothing but the empty page, waiting for you to fill it with your words. Of course it’s still possible to minimize it and get to other stuff on your computer if you need to, but I’ve found that often, with the visual distractions removed I’ve been able to focus more on the words I’m writing.

Dark Room is a fairly minimalist program. It has no spell check function. In a way it’s like installing a typewriter on your computer. What you type is what you see and nothing else.

The color scheme is adjustable so if neon green letters on a black screen aren’t your thing you can change it to something a little different. You can even change the font to Courier New to give it a real typewriter look.

Overall this has been a fantastic tool for me. I don’t use it all the time, but when I hear the siren song of digital distractions I open it up and indulge myself in the decadence of a truly blank page.

If any of you struggle with the endless distractions of the internet I highly recommend you try this little program. It’s free and simple to use. And it may just help you accomplish something wonderful.

The Dark Room program can be downloaded here.

One Page Per Day

Writers are all about goals.  We have to be.  If we want to get anything longer than a couple thousand words written we have to budget our time and commit to a definite word count every day until we’re done.  That’s one reason why NaNoWriMo is such a great experience.  It’s all about setting a daily goal and meeting it for a whole month.  And at the end of the month?  Well, hopefully your hard work pays off and you get something that looks like it might be a book one day.

But NaNoWriMo isn’t the only writing resource on the internet.  I recently discovered a nifty online writing tool called OnePagePerDay.  If you can’t tell by the name, OnePagePerDay is all about writing one page per day.  That’s all.  You open up the site and have one page worth of whitespace to type in.  Of course you have the option to write more than one page if you want to, but I like to stop when I run out of space on that first page.  It’s fun for me leave a story right in the middle of an important scene and know I won’t be writing any more until tomorrow.

The layout of the site is simple and pristine so there are very few distractions to your writing.  The site also has a “glimpses” feature which allows you to anonymously share what you’ve written.  There is also an option to receive a “gentle reminder” to write your page for the day via email, which is nice if you’re a slacker like me and need a little prodding to get you going some days.  If you’re a writer I recommend you check it out.

And since it is the Christmas season, I am offering you all the gift of a link to a wonderful and uplifting blog by a beginning writer.  I hope you will all get as much enjoyment out of her writing as I have.  The Happiness Project.