Thursday, June 30, 2011

Blog Chain: Research

It's blog chain time and I'm a day late, thanks to some procrastination on my part and Blogger deciding to quit working as soon as I sat down to post this last night. *shakes fist at Blogger*

Michelle M chose the topic this round. She asked:

There are so many things we have to include in our storyworlds...characters, world details, settings, etc. No matter what genre you write, your stories are full of tiny details that help create your storyworld. I know that for me, at least, finding or creating all these details can sometimes be a bit tough.

Where do you go for help? And what types of things are you more likely to research/search for as opposed to making up on your own? Do you have any favorite resource sites? Share links if you have them!!

Honestly, the only thing I can remember researching for my writing is the moon. And then I just googled something along the lines of “how far is the moon from earth” and “what are the names of the seas on the moon.” Really important stuff. ;)

And once I knew how far away the moon is (225,622 to 252,088 miles), I got curious about the other planets. I didn’t get much done on my writing that day, but I learned a lot about distances and the way the planets move around the sun and other stuff I don’t really need to know.

Oh, and I searched on Google to find out if that old belief about only using a small percentage of our brains is true. Which, from what I could find, it isn’t true, in case you were wondering. And that warranted a small change in my ms.

For the most part, I prefer to make stuff up, which is probably why I write science fiction with elements of fantasy. It’s much easier to come up with my own reality that way.

Most of my “research” is about grammar and punctuation. And for that I use Google. You all know that one, right? So I don’t need to include the link? ;)

What about you? Do you do a lot of research? Do you have any favorite resource sites?

Be sure to check out Christine’s post from Tuesday and Sandra’s post today. :)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Guest Post: Rebecca Knight and a Giveaway!

Welcome special guest, Rebecca Knight, author of LEGACY OF THE EMPRESS! She has a great post for us today and we're having a giveaway, so stick around. :)

Take it away, Rebecca!

Staying Motivated When The Odds Are Against You

A question that I get a lot is what keeps me motivated, or rather what keeps me pursuing my goals against such staggering odds. Writing is such an emotional pursuit, that it’s difficult not to get discouraged or even depressed when there is a bump in the road. We often worry about every little thing. Do we suck? Is it all for nothing? Every word we put on the page is personal, at least to some extent, and the idea of putting it out there where people can judge it or hate it is terrifying. Plus, even if you do put it out there, the odds aren’t good that you’ll ever be a success.

So, why do we do what we do?

For me, it’s a combination of things. First off, I’ve always had a deep belief in my ability to make things happen. If I want it, and there is a tiny chance that I can make it, I’m all in, working as hard as I can to be in that top percentile.

My family didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up, so if I ever wanted to go to camp or do any special activities for school, I had to raise the money myself. I remember one year my school was taking a trip to Ashland, Oregon to attend the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. I was deeply into drama then, but the trip was over $200 and there was no fundraising set up by the school .

I decided that I was going to sell candy bars on my own to pay my way. My mom and I went to the store and loaded up on 50 cent candy bars, figuring I’d try to sell them for $1 each at school. Well, everyone is always selling candy bars for something, so pretty much everyone told me it was pointless to try to do it myself. “There’s candy in the vending machines for 75 cents!” my friend told me. “Why the hell would anyone buy from you?”

Well, I was just going to have to try harder and sell smarter than all the girlscouts and vending machines if I was going to succeed. I made two brightly colored signs and literally taped them to the front and back of my shirt each morning, advertising my $1 candy and describing the deliciousness of the bars I had. I asked everyone I talked to if they were in the mood for one, and had strangers approaching me because of the signs—people I’d seriously never spoken to before. I even wore the signs to my after school driver’s ed class and sold candy there to jocks who previously hadn’t spoken to me. I made it more convenient to talk to me than to walk down the hall to the vending machine.

I made to Ashland with money to spare and had an awesome time. If I want it, I work my butt off to make it happen. No excuses.

Secondly, it’s easier for me to stay motivated when I’m able to be agile. It’s so easy to think that there is only one way to do things or only one “right” path to meet your goal. Then, when that path hits a roadblock or you find that whatever you’re doing isn’t working out, what can you do? You’re stuck, and it can be a huge motivation drainer. What’s the point if you’re not able to do react?

When I thought that the traditional publishing route was the only way to have a writing career, I put all my time and energy into crafting the perfect query and doing things the “right” way. Then, when the recession hit and agents basically stopped taking on genre epic fantasy writers, I thought my only option was to wait for the market to change. So, I waited. I waited for an entire year, and basically took a break from the whole thing. It sucked to feel so out of control.

With the rise of indie publishing, though, I’m agile again, and it’s wonderful to have options. That’s all indie publishing is—an alternate path to meet your goals as a writer.

My sales recently slowed because of the summer season. Book sales are notoriously bad during the summer because folks are outside, going on roadtrips, etc, instead of reading. Because of this slow down, I’m trying something new and putting Legacy of the Empress up for .99 cents until Labor Day. I also released a new story so I’d have more writing out there in general. I have the ability to be flexible and experiment, and its incredibly empowering. I’ve already more than doubled my sales from last month, which just makes me want to write more and more and more J. Being able to roll with the punches is crucial.

A lot of this business is luck, but if you have the will to work as hard as necessary and are able to stay agile, you can make a lot of your own luck. And that is motivating as hell.

Good luck to all of you, and may you never lose sight of your goals J.


Rebecca's awesome ebook, LEGACY OF THE EMPRESS, is available for purchase from Amazon and Barnes and Noble, but she's giving away a copy to three lucky commenters!

To enter, just leave a comment on this post. Additional entries:
+1 Tweeting this post (button below) @abbyannis or @twoheadknight (one additional entry per day)
+1 Linking this post on Facebook (one additional entry per day)
Contest ends Sunday, July 10th, midnight PDT. Winners will be announced Monday, July 11th.

She's also having an awesome giveaway on her blog, including a $25 Amazon gift card. You still have a few days to enter. Don't miss it!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Word Tip Wednesday: Clipboard

Today's topic is pretty basic and I think most of us have had some experience with it. But I also think that most of us aren't aware of all the features of the Clipboard, so I thought I'd do a quick post about it. Well, hopefully it'll be quick. :)

The Clipboard menu is under the Home tab* (Figure 1).

Figure 1

The basics (or as I like to call them--The Essentials) are all there--Cut (Ctrl+x), Copy (Ctrl+c), Paste (Ctrl+v).

Format Painter is pretty cool too. Just highlight the text with the formatting you want to duplicate and click Format Painter . Your mouse cursor will turn into a tiny paintbrush. Use it to paint (select) the text you want to format and you're done. Simple, right?

You can view everything you have on your Clipboard (everything you've cut or copied) by clicking the tiny arrow in the bottom right corner of the Clipboard menu (Figure 2).

Figure 2

That will bring up this (Figure 3) on the left side of your screen.

Figure 3

This not only allows you to see everything you have on your Clipboard, but you can also select text you copied several copies back (by clicking on the arrow next to the text (Figure 3)) and paste it without copying it again. Or with this menu, you can delete text you no longer need from the Clipboard to free up space.

The Options menu at the bottom (Figure 3) allows you to change the way your Clipboard appears within Word.

Anyone else out there who can't live without these features? Anything to add? If you have any questions or need me to clarify anything, please let me know in the comments. :)

More Word tips posts here.

*Word 2007

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Blog Chain: Cursed

This chain was started by Kate. She asked:

Curses, you've been cursed! You can write no longer. The story well has run dry, and you can't even remember how to type. Now what do you do? Where do you channel your creative energies? And to what lengths would you go to break the curse?

That is a cruel, cruel curse. Though some days I think it might be a blessing. I have my suspicions that writing actually kills the sane brain cells and causes the crazy ones to multiply. Rapidly. ;)

Now, it doesn't say anything about my desire to write disappearing, so I'd probably keep trying. I feel like I'm deluding myself most of the time anyway, so I don't know that it would really be that different.

But if my desire to write just faded away, I have plenty of discarded creative outlets to fall back on.

There's sewing, which I still do once in a while. Sometimes I need a break from writing. You know, to rebuild those sane brain cells.

This is my latest project, a camping quilt I made for my husband for Father's Day. Yes, this is totally a bragging photo. It turned out exactly as I wanted it to. :)

Or there's digital scrapbooking. Along that same line, I'd love to go back to school to learn graphic design and web design.

And someday I want to learn blacksmithing and welding and all kinds of metalworking so I can be the crazy lady with all the metal sculptures in her front yard. ;)

What about all of you? Where would you channel your creative energy if you couldn't write anymore?

Be sure to check out Margie's post from Friday, and Sandra's post tomorrow.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Goodbye to an Old Friend

Terk aka The Best Dog Ever, November 2001 - June 2011

Goodbye, buddy. We miss you already. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Word Tip Wednesday: Macros

Update 6/7/13: There is an error in this tutorial regarding the highlight feature. There are notes in the comments on the correct way to do it. I will be updating the post soon. Thanks goes to Serena Yung for pointing out that it wasn't working. :)

Today’s topic will be easier if you’re familiar with  Find and Replace, since I will be using those as part of my example.

Macros might seem a little scary, but once you understand what they are and how they work, I think you’ll find they’re actually quite easy to use and very useful, especially during revisions. Basically, it’s a recorded set of steps that can be accessed by a shortcut key, a button on the toolbar, or by selecting from a list.

With this feature, I recommend reading through all the instructions before trying any of it. It will probably be less confusing that way.

The macro options are under the Developer tab.* By default, this tab is turned off in MS Word 2007, so first, you’ll need to turn it on. To do this, click the Office button in the top left corner (Figure 1).

Figure 1

Select Word Options at the bottom of the menu (Figure 2).

Figure 2

In this menu (Figure 3), select Popular in the left column and check the box next to Show Developer tab in the Ribbon. Then click OK.

Figure 3

You should now have the Developer tab in your Ribbon (Figure 4).

Figure 4

First, click the Record Macro button (Figure 5).

Figure 5

This menu will pop up (Figure 6). Enter a name in the Macro name: box. You can also add a description in the bottom box if you want.

Under Store macro in: you can choose to have it apply to all documents or just the one you are currently working with.

Figure 6

Under Assign macro to (Figure 6), you can choose to access the macro through a Button (Option 1) on your Quick Access toolbar or through a Keyboard shortcut (Option 2). If you don’t select one of these options and just click OK from this menu, it will immediately begin recording your macro. In this case, after you have recorded your macro, you will have to go to the Macros button (Figure 7) under the Developer tab and select it from a list (Figure 8) and click Run every time you want to use it (Option 3).

Figure 7

Figure 8

Note: This window (Figure 8) is also where you go to Edit your macros, but editing macros requires editing code, so unless you’re familiar with code, I wouldn’t attempt this. If there is problem with one of your macros, the easiest thing will probably be to Delete the macro and record it again.

Option 1: In the Record Macro window (Figure 6), choose Button under Assign macro to, it will go to this screen (Figure 9). Select the macro from the list in the left column, click Add>> and it will add it to the right column, which lists all the buttons in your Quick Access menu (this shows to the right of your Office button (Figure 1)). You can change the icon for the macro by selecting the macro and clicking Modify. Then click OK to begin recording your macro.

Figure 9

Option 2: In the Record Macro window (Figure 6), choose Keyboard under Assign macro to (Figure 6), and it will go to this screen (Figure 10). In the Press new shortcut key: box, press the keys you want to assign to the macro (pressing the Alt key at the same time as another key will enter “Alt+whatever key you pushed” and the same works for the Ctrl key). It will show you if that shortcut is already assigned to something else next to Currently assigned to:. Once you’ve chosen your shortcut, click Assign to begin recording your macro.

Figure 10

Now that you’ve clicked OK or Assign, you are in record mode, and it will continue to record until you click Stop Recording.

You can record anything with a macro. For today’s tip, we’re going to create a button to highlight overused words. So, using the Find feature, follow the steps to highlight any overused word(s) (Figure 11). See this post for more detailed instructions.

Figure 11
  1. Go to Find under the Home tab.
  2. Type in the word you want highlighted, check Find whole words only (Figure 11) and select Highlight All.
  3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 for any other words you overuse frequently.
  4. Click Cancel or the X to close the window.

At this point, all instances of overused words should be highlighted in your document. Now go back to the Developer tab and click Stop Recording (Figure 12). Note: It will continue to record until you click Stop Recording so it’s very important not to miss this step.

Figure 12

Quick review of the steps:
  1. Click Record Macro under the Developer tab.
  2. Select your preferred method to access the macro (button, keyboard shortcut, or list) and complete the steps to set up that method.
  3. Complete the steps for the function you would like to record—highlight words, format changes, font changes, etc. Anything that Word can do, you can record in a macro.
  4. Click Stop Recording.

    Now, if you chose the Button (Option 1) as you were setting it up, all you have to do to highlight all your frequently overused words in future documents is click on the button in your Quick Access menu (Figure 13). It might look different, depending on which icon you chose.

    Figure 13

    If you chose Keyboard (Option 2) as you were setting it up, then when you want to run the macro, just type in the keystrokes you selected. In this case, I chose Alt+Z.

    Now you’re ready to set up macros for anything you do frequently in Word.

    Anyone using this already? Anything you love to use it for?

    More Word tips posts here

    *Word 2007

    Tuesday, June 14, 2011

    Want to Win a $25 Amazon Gift Card?

    Of course you do. But before we get to that, a HUGE, but late congratulations are in order for my friend and crit buddy, Rebecca Knight. Her awesome fantasy, LEGACY OF THE EMPRESS, is now available in the Kindle store!!

    To celebrate, she's holding a contest with some pretty awesome prizes. She's giving away books (of course), chocolate, and a $25 Amazon gift card! There are lots of fun ways to get extra entries, but time is running out, so be sure to check it out. Contest ends 6/31.


    Word Tip Wednesday is returning tomorrow!! So be sure to check back. :)

    Monday, June 6, 2011

    yWriter Software Awesomeness

    About a month ago, I was directed to the yWriter site by a post from K.M. Weiland at Wordplay--if you haven't checked out her blog yet, you are missing out. She has a ton of great posts on writing, including regular vlogs. It's an excellent resource for writers.

    Okay, back to the awesomeness that is the yWriter software. As many of you have probably guessed, I am a hardcore fan of MS Word. That hasn't changed, but when it comes to organizing my story, yWriter is the first writing program to have all the features I want plus a whole lot more.

    One of my favorite features is that even though I don't really care for typing my story directly into the software (hardcore Word fan, remember?) I can copy and paste in what I've written for the day and it keeps a log of how much I write each day, so I can keep track of whether or not I'm meeting my daily goals, which helps me stay motivated. Pretty cool, huh?

    Best part about it? It's FREE!

    I considered putting together a Word Tip Wednesday type tutorial, but this vlog from K.M. Weiland does a great job of showing how simple it is to use and gives a good sampling of the features included.

    Anyone already using this software? Any other methods for organizing your stories that you love or can't live without?