Category Archives: Organization

Top 5 Tools of the Trade

2013 RWA conference picPJ Sharon here. I’ve been taking an online course this month to learn how to use Scrivener. For those of you who don’t know what Scrivener is, it’s a software program developed specifically for writing. Scrivener puts everything you need for structuring, writing and editing long documents at your fingertips. It’s a way to organize your work into chapters, scenes, or sections so that it’s easy to move and manipulate them within your document. There’s even a place to keep all your research together in one easy to find folder. Think of it as one of those cool binders you loved to shop for when you were in high school…or maybe that was just me.scriv pic

Scrivener is available for Windows or Mac users and there are tons of tutorial videos out there. So why am I taking a course? Because I’m one of those non-tech-savvy individuals who needs my hand held whenever I’m faced with learning anything new on the computer. I’m convinced that this is why I married an engineer (aside from his being a sweetheart, a hottie, and a heck of a good kisser).

Scrivener is one of those writing tools that I can see has amazing potential to streamline my writing process. Once I’ve completed my manuscript, the program compiles it all into a professionally formatted document and even allows me to produce a .mobi file and an .epub file for upload to Amazon and B&N, respectively. I’m not there yet, but I’m pretty sure it will generate the appropriate file format for I-Books and Kobo as well. This would save money on hiring a formatter to do this for me, and I would continue to have complete control over making changes as needed.

If I were one of those folks who loves new gadgets, gets excited about the prospect of Windows 10, or one who can’t wait to buy the latest greatest I-Phone, I’d be stoked about learning Scrivener. Alas, I am not one of those people. Although I pride myself on being an intelligent person with a “can do” attitude most days, my brain does not appear to be wired for organization of files or the minutia of the not-so-intuitive Scrivener program. I’m more the absent-minded professor type who lives with piles of notebooks and file drawers full of things I’ll probably never need but can’t get rid of. Frankly, I’d rather be writing my stories than learning ANOTHER new computer program.

I’m hoping to feel differently after the course is complete and will report back as to its usefulness, or more to the point, my ability to adapt to it.

There are however, other tools of the trade that I have found exceedingly helpful. Here’s my top 5 list!

Authorgraph: Nothing to learn and everything to gain! Signing up for Authorgraph is free and easy. It allows me to digitally “autograph” my ebooks for readers who request it, and it sends me weekly updates regarding my books’ Amazon rankings. It also notifies me of new reviews. Great tool! http://www.authorgraph.com/

Canva: I’m new to Canva and will be attending a webinar to learn more about how to use all its features, but it appears to be user friendly and intuitive. It allows me to make my own graphic designs, has templates for Facebook and website headers, and offers a ton of royalty free photos to use for the designs. It’s perfect for creating graphics for Pinterest boards, blog tours, or events. I’m looking forward to letting my creative mind explore this fun new resource. https://www.canva.com/about

Drop Box: This is a “cloud based’ storage area for all of your files, photos, and documents. The free version offers enough memory for most of us to never run out of room (unless you’re storing tons of photos or videos which take lots of space). You can buy more storage space if needed, but the standard free 2 GB are plenty for my files. Drop box allows you to store, share, and work together on projects with others and syncs up to all of your devices so your info is always available. I use this as my back up to One Drive (which is also cloud-based storage). I also periodically back up my computer onto an external drive from Seagate.             https://www.dropbox.com

Excel: Not long ago, I recall saying the only thing I knew about spread sheets was how they fit onto a mattress. After a few quick tutorials with techno-hubby, I was able to reap the benefits of this most excel-lent tool. I use it for my list of websites and passwords, keep track of bloggers, reviewers, and promo sites, and compile my quarterly/yearly sales reports (when I get around to them), all done with excel spread sheets. I know only the basics of how to use it, but it seems to be doing the job for me just fine. Excel is available through Microsoft Office.

Hoot Suite: This social media powerhouse allows me to schedule tweets ahead of time. The basic program is free and user friendly. Again, I’m certain I’m only using the most basic features, but it does what I need it to. When I have a promotion going on, I can set up my tweets and schedule them to release throughout the day without having to be on Twitter all day long. It also allows me to group certain individuals, much the same way Twitter does. I can have bloggers and reviewers in one group, writers and publishers in another, and readers in yet another, so that I can target tweets to a specific audience. Very handy indeed! And don’t you just love their logo? (Casey Wyatt? I’m talking to you!)hoot suite image                  https://hootsuite.com/

So these are a few of my favorite tools of the trade. Have you used any of these? Love them or hate them? Any I’ve missed that you’d like to share?   

Advertisements

Focus is not a Four Letter Word

Hey everyone. Casey here.

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. And while in my experience that seems to be true, it’s not always obvious that a behavior has moved over into the “insane” column.

ClockHere’s an example of what I mean. Between my family and my writing career, I manage several mailboxes (five to be exact, six if I count the day job). For the last four years, I’ve been deleting annoying and unwanted emails.

Every. Single. Day.

It had become such a habit that I didn’t realize I’d entered the insanity zone. I mean, did I think that by deleting them they would magically stop coming?

I dunno. Maybe.

Like everyone else in the universe, my time is limited and very valuable. So is yours. The world is filled with miniature, time sucking vampires like unwanted, unneeded, unread email.

Of course this got me thinking. What other subtle activities are robbing me of focus? And what can I do to get rid of them?

Do you have the same problem? I bet you do. Naturally, I have some tips:

1. De-clutter your inbox – i.e. stop receiving so many damn useless emails. Do you find yourself deleting the same kinds of emails over and over. Magazine subscriptions, sales at every store known to mankind: Macy’s, Land’s End, Kohl’s – you name it. Go to the bottom of the email and click unsubscribe then follow the directions. See? Easy Peasy.

One word of caution. Do not do this with spam. No, no, no. Actual spam (if it’s coming into your inbox) should be ruthlessly marked a such and sent to the spam oubliette where it deserves to rot.

2. Go to your social media sites and check your settings and eliminate all the needless notifications. Many social media sites send these because you fail to notice all those little check boxes when you first sign up. Or they change policy (looking at you, Facebook) and decide you need to know all kinds of useless stuff. Unless of course you like to know that your brother’s wife’s sister’s cousin has a strange alligator rash on her skin. Ewww.

3. Be in the moment. What does that mean, Master Yoda? It means don’t multitask. GASP. I know. Crazy, right? Believe it or not, it’s not really possible to write a book, talk on the phone, and make dinner all at the same time. Multitasking is a myth people! Focus on the task at hand. The end result will be better.

4. Disconnect. Yup. You heard me. If you want to get in your word count and you can’t stop visiting the world wide web – then turn off the wi-fi. Duh. Don’t worry. Your brother’s wife’s sister’s cousin’s strange rash will still be waiting for  you.

5. Unleash the hounds, Smithers! If your significant other or family can’t leave you alone when you need to work, then sorry, you have to let them know to please leave you alone. If escaping your house isn’t an option, might I suggest a pair of earplugs? They got me through years of younger son’s Call of Duty shouting matches with his friends.

That’s all I’ve got for today. If you have other tips, please share.

Remember to take time to enjoy the flowers.
Remember to take the time to enjoy the flowers.

Funk-ytown

Hey, all. Suze here. Are you digging the new Scribes format? Personally, I love it!

th[1]So I’ve been in a bit of a funk for a couple of weeks now. I’ve got a very long to-do list, and a number of things on it are time critical (including an April 1 deadline to turn in book 2 to Berkley!). Yet I find myself procrastinating on even the simplest of tasks. Really, Suze? You can’t even pick up the phone and make an appointment for a desperately-needed haircut and color? (Okay, I promise to do that as soon as I finish this post)

Is it the weather? We’ve got a couple of feet of snow on the ground here in New England. I’ve never minded the snow or the cold (other than my heating bill), always thought it was beautiful. And since I’m fortunate enough to have a healthy husband and teenaged son, I haven’t had to shovel a single flake this year. But now that I’m working at home, some days I realize at dinnertime that I haven’t even left the house. Not good. Maybe I just need some sun. I vow to get some today, even if it’s not on the Aegean Beach where I’d like to be.

Anyway, my experience with funks is that there are two ways to get out of them. One, you can wait it out. If you’re not clinically depressed and you don’t have some chemical imbalance going on, they do go away eventually. (If you suspect your funk might have some physical origins, do see a health practitioner. Don’t mess around with this stuff, please)

Second, you can de-funk yourself. It’s gonna take some effort to get over the initial hump, but you can do it. Here are my methods for defunkification:

1. Get up a little earlier. If you find that you’re hitting the snooze button too many times, you’re going to be behind all day. I know it’s hard to leave a warm bed in the wintertime, but you can make it easier for yourself by keeping a warm robe and slippers near the bed to make transitioning easier. If you like your coffee first thing in the morning, like I do, set up the coffeepot the night before. If your machine has a timer, even better! It’ll be ready for you when you get to the kitchen, and the aroma may help you roll out of bed. Trust me on this one: you can accomplish a lot first thing in the morning in only an extra fifteen or twenty minutes.

2. Make sure basic housekeeping is under control. Now, everybody has to decide for herself what basic housekeeping is. For me, as long as the beds are made, the dishes are done, and the laundry is more or less caught up, I can live with some dust until I can squeeze in a few minutes with the Swiffer. Other people may have higher housekeeping standards. So determine what the absolute minimum is you need for your mental health, and make sure those things get done. In that extra fifteen or twenty minutes in the morning, you can easily throw in a load of laundry and empty the dishwasher. Most things take less time than you think they do.

3. Do you know what you’re making for lunch and dinner? I’ll assume you don’t need to plan out your breakfast since most people eat more or less the same foods (oatmeal, cold cereal, egg, smoothie). But especially if you work outside the house or have school-age kids, you need to think about lunch. And dinner. This is actually a step best performed the night before so you have less to do in the morning. Make a loose meal plan and try to stick to it. You don’t want to come home from work in a panic, staring at unidentifiable frozen lumps in the freezer and hoping for a turkey dinner with all the fixin’s to magically appear.

If you’re just getting started on your defunkification, it’s perfectly acceptable to plan to order a pizza or support your local grinder or Chinese take-out shop for dinner. You need some time to get things rolling and you may need to shop for groceries once your loose meal plan for the week is made.

4. Take a shower. Casey touched on this recently in her post on working from home. Shampoo, shave, moisturize, and put on some clean clothes (you know, the laundry you did?) and you’ll feel ready to take on the world.  Being IN a funk doesn’t mean you have to SMELL funky.

5. Make a list. Yeah, I’m an inveterate list-maker. I don’t always DO the stuff on my lists, though, and that’s where I start to get into trouble. I have both a paper list for daily stuff and virtual sticky notes on my computer screen for longer term stuff, like future writing projects, and things like investigating a new cable provider and shopping for a new stove.  But in that extra few minutes in the morning, or while you’re enjoying your first cup of coffee, take some time and look at your list. Determine which of those things is most important that you get done that day.

I recommend adding a couple of less critical tasks to your must-do list (such as making that hair appointment) and, if the tasks require only five or ten minutes, do them first. That’s right, NOT in order of priority or importance. Because the satisfaction of accomplishing even a five minute task (and making a hair appointment is more like a one minute task!) and crossing it off the list gives you confidence and momentum.  And those are the keys to breaking the funk-cycle.

6. Determine the little things that are driving you crazy and add them to your list in a different section. Example: my sock and scarf drawer is a huge, jumbled mess, resulting in my not being able to find the items I want. Or the plastic storage container cupboard is out of control, and avalanches every time the door is opened. See if you can take a few minutes a day to work on these small, nagging things (maybe while you’re waiting for your significant other to get out of the shower, or while dinner is in the oven). Fixing small problems like this is another great way to start feeling good about yourself and your capabilities.

7. Do something for somebody else. No, I don’t mean take on a bunch of extra responsibilities like volunteering to organize and run your town’s winter carnival–that’s the last thing you need right now! But reach out to a friend who’s in a bigger funk than you are. Bake some banana bread and take a loaf over to your elderly neighbor. Drop five bucks into the donation can the school kids are shaking outside the grocery store. Get outside of your own head and think about somebody else. Guaranteed to make you feel better!

8. Finally, eat healthy food (order yourself something healthy along with the take-out, above!) and get a bit of exercise. Seriously, nothing makes you feel better than putting nutritious food into your body and doing something as simple as taking a walk around the block (or around the mall, if the weather is bad). So veggies, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats like those found in olive oil, avocados, nuts and fish, lean proteins, and lots of water. And a walk. Keep repeating to yourself that it’s not that hard. It’s not that hard. And eventually, it won’t be.

How about you? When you find yourself slipping into a funk, what are your methods for getting out?

 

Tough Love

Hello, Scribes Readers, PJ Sharon here, and today I’m talking about tough love. This is the time of year that many of us are setting goals, working on business plans, re-evaluating our marketing strategies and generally attempting to lasso and tame this wild thing we call the “writer’s life”. Even with the best of intentions, most of the resolutions we make fall by the wayside and our ambitious goal setting can make us feel overwhelmed rather than hopeful for the new year.

Don’t get me wrong. I love goal setting, and my plate is as full of to-do’s as it ever has been, but instead of sharing my lofty aspirations with you all, I’d rather discuss how we go about sticking to our plan and meeting those goals. You’ve probably read a ton of blogs on goal setting, with such advice as making them manageable, measurable, and achievable. Great advice, for sure. But for today, I’d like to offer some coaching advice from an expert–no, not me.

Jillian Michaels (2013_06_02 01_59_31 UTC)My girl, Jillian Michaels, is one of the best motivators I’ve ever come across. I don’t often watch The Biggest Loser, but I know from personal experience that her training methods are effective. Through her 90 Day Body Revolution DVD set–which I bought last year around this time in hopes of shedding the weight I’d gained living the writer’s life–I was able to drop twenty-five pounds in about five months. Yes, I had to eat healthier and the workouts are brutal, but they’re only thirty minutes a day, five days a week…a small price to pay for a strong, healthy body, in my opinion. I figured I could do anything for thirty minutes a day and I knew the pay-off would be worth it. I reminded myself that I was worth it!

As a personal trainer myself, I quickly learned to appreciate Jillian’s tough love approach. Even when I want to swear at the TV, her passion and positive messages of encouragement continue to push me through every workout. Statements like, “Do your best,” “Just try one,” “Don’t you quit on me–don’t you quit on yourself,” “I know you can do this,” “Dig deep and find the strength you never knew you had,” and my favorite, “Focus on the why–why are you doing this?” She lists the common reasons why people want to be more fit, such as better health, longevity, skinny jeans, and sex with the light on, but the bottom line is that we all have a “why” when it comes to being driven toward a goal. If you focus on the “why”, you will tolerate any amount of torturous “how”.

Last week’s guest, Amy Denim, author of THE COFFEE BREAK BUSINESS PLAN for WRITERS, talked about creating a muse statement, a positive affirmation that sums up who you are and what you want for your writing career. (Here’s the link to the post if you missed it). I highly recommend that you start your new year by doing just that, and when you’re writing that statement, think about your “why”. Why do you write? What do you want to accomplish in your writing career? Why do you want it? How important is it to you? And what are you willing to do to get it?

Today’s Unlocked Secret: When you start to feel overwhelmed by the tasks at hand or are questioning if the time and work you’re investing in your writing life is worth it, read your muse statement and remember your “why”. Then, dig deep and find the strength you never knew you had, and tackle that next goal.

What motivates you to keep going when the going gets tough?

Updating Your Web Presence

As you read today’s post, I’m probably on a flight to Atlanta to attend the National RWA Conference this week. I know, I know…we’ve all been buzzing about it for the past several days, but the event is a big deal for writers. And this year should be especially fun since most of our Scribes will be in attendance.

Katy Lee, Vivienne Lynge, and Suzanna Hardy
Katy Lee, Vivienne Lynge, and Suzanna Hardy

PJ here, 30,000 feet up, and there’s something else I think is kind of a big deal.

Have you ever checked out an author’s website and found it terribly out of date? Most of us try to stay current, but with all of the responsibilities of today’s writers, keeping track of what needs updating can be pretty overwhelming. So I thought I would give you a list of sites that I go to periodically to make sure I do my updates, particularly after a new release or a big event (like a conference or a contest award). The links I’ve included below will take you to the site’s information page that will explain what you as an author can do to sell and promote yourself and your books on these venues (except for the ABOUT page, which is mine). If you keep the list handy, it’s really not so bad doing the occasional update. If you have to remember them all, it can be a bit of a nightmare, so definitely create a list of your own with links to your author pages or places you’ve posted a bio.

Website and Blogs-This is an obvious one.  Websites should be updated at least monthly. If you keep a calendar of events, make sure you have correct links and dates posted. And don’t forget to update your ABOUT page. You are constantly evolving as a writer and author, so be sure to share those changes with your readers.

Amazon Author CentralAlthough the benefits of even having an Author Central page are questionable, most of us who have books there are encouraged to create a page. It’s a place where you can list your books, book trailers, upcoming events, and connect your readers to your recent blogs and social media communications. If someone is checking out one of your books, they might want to know more about you. You can also use this as a landing page for your readers to direct them to all of your books available on Amazon, rather than the individual buy link pages.

GoodreadsYour Goodreads page is an important place for readers to connect with you. Here, you can do book giveaways, get onto listopias, and see your reviews. I’m still learning about Goodreads, but so far, I can see huge benefits in keeping current there so that readers can find and share your books with others. You can also join groups, be exposed to book clubs, and again, have your blogs, tweets, and other social media connections available all in one place.

BN (now NOOK Press) and Smashwords Author Pages-Don’t forget to update any other places you distribute your books. In addition to BN and Smashwords, you may want to create author pages for Kobo, Apple i-Tunes, Draft2Digital, or All Romance E-books (ARe). These are all sites where you can upload your self-pubbed titles and sell books! But just realize that for each distribution channel you choose, you’ll have more to manage. If you have a good system, it’s not so bad.

Pinterest, twitter, and FB profile pages-The main thing here is to change up your bio once in a while. Use the cover of your current or upcoming release as your profile picture, and if you have a “READ MY BOOKS” link on your FB page (check out “author app” for FB), make sure your books, descriptions, and prices are updated.

I realize this is a lot of housekeeping and busy work, and might be best left to a teenager in your house to do for a nominal fee, but it’s important to stay current so that readers can find you wherever you may be. Speaking of keeping you all updated, don’t forget to follow our tweets at RWA National by using hashtag #RWA13 or #RWA2013. You can connect with me on twitter @pjsharon or “like” me on Facebook at PJ Sharon Books for pictures and posts about what craziness is happening at the conference.

Have I missed any locations that you routinely find yourself updating? Any questions comments, or hair-pulling and screaming…now’s your chance!