Monday, March 31, 2014

Avoid Distractions While Writing

Weapons of Mass Distraction

One of the most difficult things about writing is avoiding distractions.

Sometimes the lure of social media is too strong to resist. For instance, while writing this blog post, I had to really force myself to concentrate on the task at hand instead of compulsively checking Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. I'll be the first to admit - it's tough to focus. Of course, the Internet is not the only evil in the world. When it comes to writing, you can also be distracted by a myriad of nuisances, such as pets, friends, family, the telephone, the television, and sometimes even the weather.

What's a writer to do?

If you're working on a project and don't want to be distracted, consider these tips to help you stay focused:

1. Disable automatic log-ins. If you know you have a tough time resisting social media, make it a little bit harder on yourself by logging out of your accounts before sitting down to write. Human beings are nototriously lazy. If you have to log-in before looking your ex-boyfriend up on Facebook, it might give you a moment's pause. Hopefully, with this added step, you'll realize you shouldn't be on social media and get back to work right away. But if not, you can always...

2. Block all time-wasting websites for the duration of your session. If logging out of your accounts isn't enough to deter you, download an app such as StayFocusd or Strict Workflow for Chrome, Leechblock for Firefox, SelfControl for Mac, or even Cold Turkey. Once you've discovered your demons, add them to the lists of sites to block, set a time to block, and let the program do the rest for you so you can focus on writing.

3. Turn. It. Off. This tip applies mostly to the computer but can be extended to all manner of technology. If you don't need it to write, power it down. If you write with pen and paper, you should be nowhere near your laptop. It shouldn't even be on. If you use a word processor, go ahead and write on your computer - just make sure to switch off your wifi. That way, if you're tempted to access the Internet, you'll feel guilty when you see that you're unable to connect. Sure, you could flip the switch back on just as easily, but for most cases, turning it off should be enough to stop you. The same goes for your cellphone - turn it off or silence it. Let everyone know how long you'll be working and tell them to leave a message if it's anything important. I promise you the world can do without you for an hour.

4. Write or Die. No, I'm not just being dramatic. Write or Die is a life-changing webapp that encourages you to reach a custom word count in a certain amount of time; say, fifteen minutes. If you slack off and stop typing for a long, the program punishes you with an unpleasant noise (such as "Mmmbop" by Hanson) and a bright red screen. Honestly that red screen scares me more than anything. I usually set my word count at 1,000 and the time period for an hour. I'm always amazed by how much I manage to accomplish. Check the program out.

5. Play some music. This tip isn't for everyone, but I've found that tuning into Pandora's "Classical Music for Studying" really does wonders for my productivity. If classical music isn't your thing, try to stick to some kind of music without lyrics for maximum concentration benefits.

There you have it: a few simple solutions to help you overcome distraction and make some progress with your project. Once you've made some headway, feel free to reward yourself with a social media or texting break. After all, you deserve it. Just make sure not to cheat and reward yourself early!

What do you think of these tips? How do you avoid distractions?

Saturday, March 22, 2014

From the Archives: Interview with Molly Ford, SP&A


I've been following Molly Ford's blog, Smart, Pretty, and Awkwardfor a few years now. I've loved every minute of it. The concept of the blog is simple: each post contains three bits of advice on how to be smarter, prettier, and (less) awkward. Since the simple things in life are often the most captivating, it is no wonder that Molly Ford is as successful as she is. Recently, I set up a couple of interview questions for Molly to answer. She was gracious enough to oblige. Here's how it went:

1. In your guest post on The Future Buzz, you talk a little bit about starting a blog. What are some tips you can give about blogging?

Great question. My best advice that I often give is the Three Month Rule: blog for three months without telling anyone. This gives you time to find your voice in private and confirm that you really like blogging, and it also gives your readers a back log of posts to read and fall in love with for when you do start going public and promoting your blog.

I would emphasize the importance, especially in the beginning while you are growing your audience, of writing consistently. Everything else—the layout of the site, social media promotion, press outreach, etc. can come later.

2. In that same article, you say, "I honestly thought the blog would just be a flash in the pan, just something else I would try, but after a month or so I realized how much I was liking it and just kept writing." What about blogging appeals to you the most?

I think what appeals to me most about blogging is the ability to share something from my heart to an audience that I hope benefits from my writing. I never write a tip that I don’t do myself or wish I had done, so everything I write feels very personal. I like that.

3. Also in the Future Buzz post, you discuss coming up with the idea for SP&A. Where did you get such a unique blog concept?

I honestly wish I had a better answer for this! I knew I wanted to write an advice blog because I don’t want to put super-personal information online, and because I enjoy reading self-help books. Just focusing on “How to be Prettier,” with beauty/fashion tips, was my first thought, but that type of advice wasn’t enough to cover all the topics I was interested in, so I added How to be Smarter. Then I wanted a third topic so the site name would flow well, so I added How to be (less) Awkward to round out the set. I was originally planning for the third section to be called How to be Awkward and have the tips be tongue-in-check and the opposite of what to do, but adding in the (less) made more sense in the long run.

4. Each post on your blog contains three pieces of advice and an inspirational quote. How do you usually discover these items?

I write down ideas for tips all day long. I keep a super long chain of notes in my phone, as well as in a physical notebook I carry around in my bag. I also usually keep a running draft email in gmail of links I’d like to use.

For the quotes, I usually search around for a quote either by a specific author or about a specific topic. Since the quotes are usually the most last-minute thing I include in the post, they are usually the most up-to-the-minute personal: for example, if at that moment I’m feeling happy about a good date or reading a book that references Eleanor Roosevelt, the quote will either be about happiness or relationships, or by Eleanor Roosevelt.

5. After reading the SP&A Press page, it's clear you've developed a following. How has your Internet presence affected your life?

I think about this a lot. I think having an Internet presence has probably affected how new people interact with me, but not the people I’ve known forever. Everyone googles everyone before first dates or job interviews now, so new people probably relate to me differently based on what they have seen online, but not the friends or people I’ve met in real life first or had pre-blog.

6.Based on your blog, you must be a very dedicated individual. How do you stay motivated?

Probably my best tip for staying focused is: no fluff. It it doesn’t add value or make me happy, I don’t do it. There’s just not time.

Probably the best example of no fluff in my life is that I also don’t watch (hardly any) TV. I don’t even own a TV or Netflix account or anything. I know it’s not a popular opinion to say that you don’t watch television, but I really think that not having that in my life leaves me with more free time, which I try to then use wisely.

7. Your About page says that you live in New York City. What are your favorite and least favorite things about living in the Big Apple?

I will cross the four-year mark of living in New York City this year, and I think I love it more than when I first moved here, which is saying a lot because I cried from happiness on my move-in day post-college. New York City is everything, the good and the bad. And there is probably nothing I could say that would be terribly unique to my experience about living here: it’s wonderful, it’s cultured, it’s full of events, it’s expensive, it’s loud, I live in a shoebox. But to paraphrase an email I sent in 2009 to a friend justifying my decision to live in NYC, “I might have anxiety from living in New York, but I would have much worse anxiety about not living here.” New York City is just the place for me. But I also want to be careful about over-romancing NYC, though: it’s not for everyone.

But I would wish for everyone a place they love as much as I love New York. You have to find your New York.

8. Most of your quotes come from famous individuals. Who are your personal role models?

I love Becky Quick from Squawk Box, Bethenny Frankel, and especially Nora Ephron, who has always been my main role model. I also closely follow Sheryl Sandberg’s career and Lori Gottlieb’s writings.

9. It's also clear that you enjoy reading. What are some of your favorite books?

I read mostly non-fiction, with a focus on business, pop psychology, and narrative non-fiction (memoirs, etc). Nora Ephron’s books have probably had the biggest impact on my life in my college and post-college years, but Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers was also a huge influence to me when I read it. I saw Malcolm working in a coffee shop on the east side once, that was awesome. And of course I love Gretchen Rubin…

10. Finally, since you and I both enjoy The Happiness Project, what habits or practices have you created after reading Gretchen Rubin's book?

The Happiness Project was another total life-changing book for me, and I try not to use clich├ęs like “life-changing” lightly. I just love the idea of small tweaks to make life better—that’s the sort of formula my blog is built around. One of my favorite quotes of the author’s, Gretchen Rubin, is that one of the Secrets to Adulthood is to “Be Gretchen.” I love that phrase: “Be Gretchen!”. She’s talking about it in the context of herself, obviously, but I love the idea of just doing you. There are many things I do that others probably would not enjoy, and vice versa. That’s okay. I just have to Be Molly. That’s really the only person that I can be realistically be 100% of the time anyway.

Molly Ford is such an inspiring woman. She's creative, kind, and self-reliant. As a role model and a person, I consider her to be someone worth admiring. If you've never read Smart, Pretty, and Awkwardgo check it out right now. Thanks, Molly!

What do you think of Smart, Pretty, and Awkward? What writers or bloggers should I interview next?

Click to tweet: Read @thecollegenov's interview with blogger @SmartPrettyAwk!

Friday, March 21, 2014

From the Archives: The 4 "A"s of Characterization


Every writer understands the importance of creating believable characters. Story revolves around people--therefore, characters are arguably more important than plot. Whether you're writing a novel, short story, memoir, or personal essay, it's vital that you make your actors as three-dimensional as possible. Consider the following four "A"s of characterization:

1. Actions. What risks has the character taken in the past? How has he or she treated family and friends? What about enemies? What hobbies does he or she enjoy? What has your character done? What is he or she doing in the story?

2. Attitudes. How does the character feel about gay marriage, abortion, religion, and other  hot-button issues? What are your characters' views on the world?

3. Artifacts. What are your characters' prized possessions? What shelter do they have? What cars do they drive? What's the first thing they'd save in the event of a fire?

4. Accounts. What are some noteworthy anecdotes about these characters? What do other people have to say about them? What rumors have been circulated?

This is a rough list of just a few questions you can use to generate information for your four A's. If you want better characters, give this system a try. And good luck.

What do you think of this system? How do you like to flesh out your characters?

Click to tweet: Want fully-formed characters? @thecollegenov has some tips.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Said Isn't Dead

[caption id="attachment_2515" align="alignnone" width="640"]9607784679_8b767e0b15_k Photo Credit: notarim on Flickr[/caption]

I love Pinterest for visual inspiration, but I saw something on there the other day that made me angry. I was searching through the "writing" tag, and saw a graphic with alternative to "said." This list included words like "screamed," "called," "shouted," "whispered," and several others.

At the top of the graphic were the words, "SAID IS DEAD."

And I got frustrated.

I don't know what other people have told you, but to me, there is nothing more distracting when I'm reading a piece than seeing a dialogue tag other than "said." It calls too much attention to itself. As a writer, you want your dialogue to stand out more than your attributive tags. You want the reader to skip right over them.

That's why "said" is perfect.

It waits in the wings, sneaks onstage wearing all black, and does some heavy lifting without intruding. It's the stage hand of the written word. Why in the world would you want to kill that?

As Stephen King writes, "All I ask is that you do as well as you can, and remember that, while to write adverbs is human, to write he said or she said is divine."

Don't even get me started on adverbs.

How do you feel about using tags other than said?

Click to tweet: Why @thecollegenov thinks said isn't dead.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Best Websites to Find Writing Jobs

[caption id="attachment_2505" align="alignright" width="405"]Photo Credit: Robert S. Donovan on Flickr Photo Credit: Robert S. Donovan on Flickr[/caption]

A while ago I wrote a post about finding freelance work online. Since then, however, I've realized just how much of writing work is really "feast or famine." In other words, sometimes it's easy to find writing work. There seems to be no end of listings and jobs that you qualify for. Other times (like now), you can't seem to find anything reputable or engaging.

Guess what: you can still find work even in the toughest times. How?

By utilizing one of these fantastic websites:

  • MediaBistro. The very best site for writers and other creative types. Seriously, go now.

  • LinkedIn. If you don't have a LinkedIn account yet, shame on you. It's one of the best tools for the modern professional. LinkedIn functions primarily as a networking site that allows you to apply for jobs while utilizing connections with people you may know in the industry or organization you're interested in. Check it out.

  • Indeed. This basic job search site has writing positions, too! Simply type "writer," "editor," or what have you into the search bar and see what comes up. Indeed is fantastic because it pulls listings from several different websites, including Craigslist.

  • Levo League. Although geared mainly toward women, this sophisticated site is a great place to find jobs and internships for every industry, including writing. Most of the applications featured here allow you to connect your LinkedIn profile or apply using a resume, making the process a breeze. Besides job listings, Levo also has tools such as articles and mentors to help you land the job of your dreams.

Armed with these sites, an up-to-date resume, and a polished cover letter, you'll be on your way to landing a new job in no time at all. Bookmark these websites and be sure to share them with anyone who might need them. Good luck!

Have you utilized any of these websites? What other sites do you recommend for job hunting?

Click to tweet: The best sites for finding writing jobs, via @thecollegenov.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

How Daily Writing Can Unleash Your Creativity

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="226"]desk Photo Credit: flaneuse on Flickr[/caption]

As writers, it’s important to write every day. Understanding this concept is one thing; putting it into practice, another altogether… especially when you’re struggling to come up with new ideas and push forward with your project

So you might be wondering, how do you come up with new ideas every day?

In The Writer’s Idea Book, Jack Heffron writes:
Fact is, there is no magic elixir we can brew to conjure ideas from the air, and though we’ve been told we’re ‘so creative’ since we were sucking on Tinker Toys, we often don’t feel creative at all. Our ideas seem stale. Or we feel stuck, unable to get a pleasing voice on the page. Or we feel blocked on a particular project. If only there were a real center for ideas in Schenectady. Oh, frabjous day—we’d write every morning and evening, pouring forth words of divine beauty.

Heffron makes an excellent observation. Given that there is no “magic elixir we can brew to conjure ideas from the air,” however, what can we do to keep our content fresh and our creativity flowing?

The first step is showing up. Create a routine. Come to your writing space no matter what, and sit down at the same time each and every day. This part is the most difficult. If you can show up every day, you've nearly won the battle. Granted, you don't have to write in your spot, but wouldn't you feel silly doing anything else?

By writing for a set time in a set location every day, you're training your mind to be more creative. It's only natural that you'll learn to generate new ideas. Try this one little technique and I promise: you'll start seeing some results.

How do you generate new ideas?

Click to tweet: Try this one simple tip to generate ideas according to @thecollegenov.

Friday, March 7, 2014

In Defense of Rereading

Photo Credit: Pestpruf on Flickr
Photo Credit: Pestpruf on Flickr
Recently I spoke to someone who doesn't believe in rereading books. "It won't be any different from the first time I read it," she said. "The material is the same. I don't get the purpose."

This sentiment, though shocking, is one I've heard echoed in previous conversations by a variety of people. The general consensus seems to be that once you've read a book, you shouldn't read it again.

This idea is nonsense.

When I think about the stories I've experienced in my life, it amazes me how some of them have changed with the passage of time. One of my favorite books, for example, is George Orwell's dystopian classic Nineteen Eighty-Four. I shudder to think what might've happened had I only read it once.

The first time I read the novel, I was thirteen. That's too young to fully grasp most of what happens in the book, primarily the political overtones and the implications of the society Orwell has crafted. The sex scenes and manifesto went right over my head. What can I say? I was naive.

Every time I read Nineteen Eighty-Four, I notice something new. I've read this book at least a dozen times and still I learn more with each reading. The material isn't changing (that much is obvious), but I certainly am. As I continue to change I'm sure I'll continue to get different things out of the novel.

If you've read something once, there's no reason you shouldn't sit down and reread it. If it's a book like Nineteen Eighty-Four, it should withstand the test of time. Whether it's The Great Gatsby, Harry Potter, or Crime and Punishment, there's something new to discover when you dip back into the pages.

Don't believe me? Well, there's only one way to find out.

How do you feel about rereading books? What books have you enjoyed rereading?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Software Review: Scrivener for PC

[caption id="attachment_2480" align="alignright" width="365"]Photo Credit: morstan on Flickr Photo Credit: morstan on Flickr[/caption]

I've always been an MS Word girl when it comes to writing. As long as I've had Word, I've never needed another program. It's easy to use, and after years of working with it, I feel an odd sort of attachment to it. As the saying goes, why fix what isn't broken?

But I kept hearing people rave about it, and curiosity got the best of me.

After winning NaNoWriMo this past September, I received a coupon code for half off the famed writing software Scrivener. I had heard nothing but good things about it. Although skeptical of its success, I purchased it immediately.

The program, at first glance, looks complicated. There are folders, files, templates, and so much more.  I wasn't sure where to get started. Luckily, Scrivener understands the learning curve. Upon opening the software, you can utilize the project wizard, which will set you up to write a novel, short story, or what have you.

As a self-proclaimed organization junkie, I love Scrivener. I can use the cork board function to outline my whole novel at once. The character and setting sketches help me get a feel for the world of the story. Similarly, I can click between scenes and chapters and move things around if I'm unhappy with the order.

Scrivener is awesome. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's necessary when writing a novel (because it isn't), but it certainly helps speed the process along. I understand if you're committed to Microsoft Word. That is understandable. But Word's organization capabilities are pretty limited. If you're anything like me, you should at least do the free trial. After all, you haven't got anything to lose.

What do you think of Scrivener? How do you use it? What other writing programs would you like to see reviewed?

Click to tweet: Should you try Scrivener? @thecollegenov weighs in

Monday, March 3, 2014

Lovely Links 03.02.14 - 03.08.14

[caption id="attachment_2477" align="alignright" width="259"]Photo Credit: ed_needs_a_bicycle on Flickr Photo Credit: ed_needs_a_bicycle on Flickr[/caption]

It's the first week of a new month, which means it's time for another round of useful writing links! Let's take a look at what I found over the past month or so:

That's it for this month. Keep your eyes peeled for a new post of links at the beginning of April! In the meantime, check these out, bookmark them, and share them with your loved ones.

What do you think of these lovely links?

Click to tweet: Check out these lovely links for some great writing tips!
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