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As you’ve probably figured out by now, I like data, especially data that shows me I’m making progress on my projects. So today we’re going to talk about your Scrivener Project History. It’s new since the software update and I totally dig it. (This post assumes you’ve already upgraded. If not, you can read my post about the new version here, and you can save 20% off the price of the upgrade if you use the code APRILDAVILA at getscrivener.com.)

Find Your Project History

This is such a simple little thing, but I just love it. Start by clicking on Project -> Writing History. Like this:

What you’ll get is a pop-up window like this one:

Now, I usually don’t share from my WIP (did you recognize the opening chapter of Moby Dick in the first image?), but since I don’t actually work on that mock-up on a day-to-day basis, I had to pull from my own work to show you the rest. Please be kind.

Day by Day

Start at the top with writing days. As it turns out, I have opened this project and worked on it on 42 different days. Funny. It feels like a lot more. And in truth, this count only goes back to the day I resurrected this project and uploaded it from Word, so I actually have spent a lot more than 42 days on it. But 42 since I got serious. Moving on…

Below that, you can see average words (and note that you can switch to characters by using the drop down menu at the top right there – and if you do, will you please tell me in the comments below why you prefer that? I’ve never understood why that’s a thing).

I deleted a lot when I first dug into reworking this project (thus the negative count on March 12), so my net word count is low, but I actually wrote about 700 words a day, which is respectable.

I also like to look at the dates lined up in the first column there. I try to write six days a week when I’m working on a draft. It would appear I didn’t quite hit that goal, but I was working pretty consistently. Yeah me.

The data at the bottom there is a summary of the highlighted day, March 14 in this case. I like that it also gives you the session target. If you’re not familiar with setting daily word count targets, check out my post on that. It’s SUPER handy when you’re working toward a specific goal. Cough*NaNoWriMo*cough.

Lastly, you can toggle from “Months and Days” to “Months Only” (on the right there above the chart), to get a wider perspective on your work.

Month by Month

Here’s what mine looks like:


March was a good month. Kind of made up for January. Stupid January.
Anyway, you can see how the data at the bottom shifts. Under “Words written” the first column displays totals. The column on the right you can change with the drop-down menu.

For this example I chose to show averages, but you can also do maximum in a day or minimum in a day.

So that’s it. Just a quick and easy way to review your writing habits and see the progress you’re making. Happy writing!

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Monday was my birthday. It’s funny how they keep rolling around. I’m 41. I didn’t plan anything, because 41 is one of those kind of nothing birthdays, but as it turned out, my mom was in town this weekend to teach a sculpture seminar at the American Museum of Ceramic Art in Pomona.

She works in clay (check out her online gallery) and she often travels to teach courses, but I’ve never taken one. Not until this weekend. I’m not sure what moved me to join her this time, when so many times before I’ve hugged her and sent her off to teach without me. Maybe it was the fact that it was my birthday. Or maybe it was that I’m in a strange place with my writing.

Writing Projects

If you follow along at all, you know my debut novel is in the hands of my agent, being shopped around to editors in New York. While that is a really fun sentence to write, it’s also a surprisingly difficult period of waiting.

So I’ve been writing on novel number two. After some (okay, much) focused work I hit 80,000 words. It is officially a respectable length for a first draft, but the project is a bit of a mess. I needed to put it in a drawer for a month and let it simmer. I needed a bit of distance from it.

While I have ideas for novel three, I’m not ready to jump into it yet, so I’ve been passing the time doing research, but it’s just making me anxious. I’m so freaking tied in knots about all things work related lately, and I’m finding it hard to manage.

The Solution

As it turns out, taking a day to be creative in a way that is completely unrelated to my writing was the perfect remedy for my anxiety. I was about ten minutes into the eight-hour class when I had the thought: I need to buy some clay to keep at home. This is awesome. I had no concern for the finished product and it was liberating.

We threw the clay against the table to create long slabs, then wrapped and layered the pieces. We explored texture and form, and just got messy. Then we got down to work creating a piece.

It was also fun to see my mom in teacher mode. She’s such a pro. She does figurative sculpture, which is really hard, but she walked us all through the steps, showing us how to build the base, work up from there, shape a convincing face, and build hands that are proportionate. The time flew by.

This is what I ended up with. My very first figurative sculpture.

It’s imperfect, but you know what, when I was half way through it I knew what I wanted it to look like and a little voice in my head said: that’ll never work, but I kept going and I got there. I’m really proud of this piece, even though no one will ever see it but you guys.

Get Creative

The experience reminded me that we are, as writers, creative people. And that creativity can come in many forms if we let it.

If you’re feeling anxious, or stuck with your writing, I highly recommend taking an art class. Just a one day thing, or maybe more if you’re feeling it. (If you’re near Healdsburg, CA or Sedona, AZ check out my mom’s upcoming workshops.)

It’s really remarkable how removing any concern for finished product really allowed me to play around. It was nourishing and just plain fun.

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A couple weeks ago I had the honor of attending the Pasadena Festival of Women Authors. If you follow along at all with my blog, you know I’m a big fan. This was my third year and each time I’m just aglow with bookish goodness for days afterwards.

If you’re anywhere near Pasadena, you should get on their mailing list so you hear when tickets go on sale – then you have to move fast because the event sells out in, like, a day. But it’s so worth the effort.

As always, every women who spoke had my full attention. There were so many little puffs of knowledge and insight that floated out into the air over the course of the day. But the author who really floored me, and I mean left me stunned, was Hannah Tinti.

Hannah Tinti

Hannah Tinti is the author of The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley, a story about a father who protects his daughter from the legacy of his violent past and the truth about her mother’s death. She also wrote The Good Thief.

She started off her time at the podium talking about some of the trials and tribulations she has faced as a writer. In the three years I’ve been going to the festival, this kind of don’t-lose-hope-even-when-things-are-bad narrative is pretty par for the course, but then… oh but then.

Facing Our Fears

She talked about the importance of facing our fears. She gave a point-by-point strategy for dealing with fears, which, as I look at my notes now, I realize I can’t do justice. In a nutshell she said we should name our fears, declare a place of sanctuary that we can retreat to, grab a broom and chase those fears, and sometimes just pretend we’re not afraid until the truth catches up.

But talk is cheap. It was what she did then that floored me.

She had the audience snap with her, in a rhythm. Once the whole room, hundreds of (mostly) women, were snapping in time she shook her head and smiled. “I can’t believe I’m doing this,” she said. Then, after one more deep breath, she sang.

She sang as beautifully as any jazz singer I’ve ever heard. It was like she’d been doing it all her life. It was a mournful song, full of longing. I looked it up later that afternoon. It’s called My Love Is by Diana Krall. It’s a beautiful song, but really, the recording I found didn’t have anything on Tinti.

That took some serious bravery. I was so impressed.

Find a Place for our Pain

Should COULD have dropped the mic at that point, but she went on. She told a story about a man who had once suffered from phantom limb syndrome. He had lost a hand in an accident and even though it was gone he could still feel it. It felt like it was clenched in an excruciatingly tight fist and he couldn’t let go.

Long story short, a doctor discovered that by using a mirrored box, he could make it look like the missing hand was there. The one-handed man clenched his remaining hand, put it in front of the mirror and then opened it. His brain saw two hands relax and suddenly, the missing hand didn’t hurt anymore.

Said Tinti: the only way to cure our pain, is to create a reflection of it in the world. That’s what our writing is, she said, a way of creating a reflection of our pain in the world. By doing so, we let it go. It’s cathartic for writer and reader alike.

Me: Floored.

In truth, before the festival, Hannah Tinit wasn’t really on my radar. But if her writing has a fraction of the bravery and truth that her thirty-minute talk contained, it’s gotta be good. I can’t wait to read her books.

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Writers read. It is one of the defining characteristics of writers that we love books. Love ’em. Can’t get enough. And those of us over a certain age have, in our lifetimes, witnessed a  total transformation of how books arrive in the hands of happy readers. It looked bad there for a while (for those of us who love bookstores), but it turns out independent bookstores are on the uptick.

The First Hit

In case you weren’t paying attention, neighborhood bookstores were hit pretty hard when big box stores (Barnes & Nobles, Borders) came onto the scene in the  early ’90s. Then they suffered again when (in the late ’90s) when Amazon exploded onto the scene. Between 1995 and 2000 our country lost 40% of its indie bookstores. Dang.

Paper is Dead (or Maybe Not)

But then Kindle came along (in 2007) and crushed the big box stores. Just left them in tatters. Everyone said “paper is dead.” But they were wrong. What happened was a bifurcation of book sales.

On the one hand you have Amazon, where you go if you just want something fast and cheap.

On the other hand, you have your local bookstore, where you go if you want to immerse yourself in books and book culture.

What a Bookstore Is

It turns out that there is a market for the experience of a bookstore (those of us who love books aren’t surprised) and the demise of the big box stores left a hole for the indies to grow into.

Since 2009, there’s been a 40% uptick in the number of indie bookstores. This guy from Harvard, Ryan Raffaelli, recently did a study of how that was possible and what he outlines in his project summary are three things: community, curation, and convening. In short, indie bookstores know their communities, they work hard to offer the kinds of books their customers want, and they host book signings and book clubs to bring people together around books.

Indie Bookstore Day

This Saturday is Indie Bookstore Day, and indie bookstores across the country are hosting events to celebrate the fact that a bookstore is more than just a place to get a book.

To join the celebration, find the store nearest to you and make a date to go wander the isles just for the fun of it. Buy a book, or three (or, you know, more). Check out their calendar of upcoming events. Seriously, indie bookstores are the best. If you haven’t been to one in a while. It’s time you did. Have fun.

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Today we’re exploring one of the coolest new features in the recent Scrivener 3.0 upgrade: custom meta-data. (This post assumes you’ve already upgraded. If not, you can read my post about the new version here, and you can save 20% off the price of the upgrade if you use the code APRILDAVILA at getscrivener.com.)

Okay, so, if you cringed a little bit when you read the term meta-data, don’t worry. It’s not quite all so scary as it might sound. In fact, using meta-data in Scrivener 3.0 is WAY easier than it was in v2.

In short, meta-data is just information about data. In practical terms, meta-data allows you to make notes about the parts of your project, and the fact that Scrivener allows you to set it up however you want means you have endless flexibility in how you use it. Here’s how it works.

Open the Custom Meta-Data Window

1) Make sure your Info Panel is open
2) Click the little tag icon
3) Click the settings wheel next the section heading for Custom Meta-data
You’ll get a pop-up window that looks like this:

Create Some Meta-Data

1) Click the little plus sign at the top to get a blank space where it says “meta-data title”
2) Enter a title. For this example I’m using “Ready for Editor”
3) Right below that window is a drop down box for “Type.” Choose “Checkbox.” (For this example, I decided to go with the checkbox option, because it’s nice and simple, but once you’re comfortable with it, you can play around with the other options, using lists, dates and text.)
4) Click “Okay”

Use Your Meta-Data

Okay, so now you’ve created meta-data. So what?
1) Click to view your project in outline mode.
2) Find the little greater-than symbol and click there to get a drop down of all available meta-data.
3) Find the check-box for the meta data you just created and check it.

Now your new header of “Ready for Editor” will show as a column header in your outline view. Click and drag it to move it left, and you get something like this:

Here’s what it would look like if I had set it up as a list of options instead of check box:

Custom Field Love

With that last example you can start to see the benefit of being able to set things up yourself. Because maybe you’re not interested in tracking whether each chapter is editor-ready. Maybe you are more concerned with mentioning Taylor Swift in every chapter. Or maybe you want to make sure your main character gets naked in every other scene. You could set up some meta-data headings like this:

There’s frankly no way Scrivener could predict all the possible meta-data tags we, as writers, might want. So it’s kind of awesome that they make it possible for us to create our own.

Have you played around with your meta-data at all? If you’ve devised any cool tricks, lay ’em on us. I always love to see how people make this software work for them.

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For some reason, I love reading self-help books when I travel. Whenever one of these get-your-shit-together kind of titles pops up I always hesitate to buy them because I don’t want anyone to see me carrying it around (because – embarassing). But there’s something about being in an airport, among the crowds of anonymous faces, that seems to open up space and compel me toward their bright covers.

Such was the case this last weekend in the Portland airport. The kids and I were coming home from a spring break vacation at my sister’s place and I was drawn to the bright yellow cover of “You Are A Badass.”

Apparently, I AM a Badass

I’ve been curious about the book, but every time I come across it I read the blurb on the back: “…the self-help book for people who desperately want to improve their lives…” and I put it down. I’m not desperate to improve my life. My life is pretty good, actually. So I don’t know what compelled me to buy it this time, but I’m glad I did. The plane sat on the tarmac for three hours before it took off – something about engine trouble – and I finished the whole book in one very long day of travel.

The general theme of the book is that you can change the things in your life that aren’t working like you want them to. You do it by looking really closely at your own relationship to those things.

The Scripts that Play

For instance, the author, Jen Sincero, points out that most of us have really conflicted feelings about money. We hate it, but we want it. We love having it, but it is the root of all evil. She encourages us to look at why we have all these conflicted emotions, and then change the script that runs in our heads. And thus… the affirmations.

Affirmations

The author proposes, and I agree, that the stories we run in our heads influence everything we do. And so, we need to be more intentional about the scripts we let play out. She suggested writing down affirmations, putting them somewhere you see them all day, repeating them in your head all day long as you go about your business.

As I read what she wrote, I was reminded of the time that I decided to take the word “aspiring” out of my description of myself. For years I had been writing, every day, on all kinds of projects, but still when people asked I would say I was an “aspiring” writer. What a bunch of BS. As writers, we know better than anyone how much words matter. So I stopped using that word.

I choked on it the first few times, saying “I’m a writer.” It was hard. But the more I did it, the more people saw me as a writer. The more people saw me as a writer the more I felt like a writer. It was just this wonderful positive feedback cycle.

Get Uncomfortable

That, Sincero says, is one of the most important features of a good affirmation. It needs to make you uncomfortable at first. It needs to feel almost like you’re lying to yourself. Or, if it’s easier, start with the word aspiring, then remove it. For example:

I’m an aspiring writer.
Make it: I’m a writer.

or

I’m an aspiring best-selling author.
Make it: I’m a best-selling author.

This second one is where I’m at now. That’s the actual affirmation I’m using. Of course, I’m not going to walk around telling people I’m a best-selling author. That would be lying (and frankly delusional), but I AM going to put it on a post-it in my bullet journal, where only I see it, and read it multiple times a day. What harm can it do, really? None. And there’s a chance that, as I reaffirm that idea over and over, I will be motivated to do the work that a best-selling author does, busting my ass every day to make my reality match up with the affirmation.

Wherever you are in your journey as a writer, I would highly recommend taking a look at the stories you tell yourself. For a more guidance, check out Sincero’s book. It’s a quick read, and totally worth the time, even if you’re not stuck on a plane for hours and hours going nowhere.

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I came across this video recently and, even though I’m not a big fan of the title (I’m skeptical of anyone who touts easy steps to a bestselling novel), it has some really good advice for those who are struggling to get words on the page. I also like that he breaks down his ideas into 7 basic steps, simple things we can all do.

If you’re having a hard time getting started with your writing, or sticking with it, definitely take 14 minutes and give this a watch:

How to write an award-winning bestselling first novel | Nathan Filer | TEDxYouth@Bath - YouTube

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We’ve got a pretty well-rounded line up for this week. There’s a little something most nights, and this weekend has some interesting events. On Friday there’s a PEN celebration at Skylight Books followed by some student readings on Sunday. Also on Sunday, Beyond Baroque is hosting a tribute to Charles Bukowski. All us LA lit lovers gotta respect the Bukowski.

MONDAY

Mohsin Hamid discusses his latest novel Exit West with Viet Thanh Nguyen

Buy the book
Monday, April 2, 2018
7:30pm (sold out, but there is often standing room)
Library Foundation of Los Angeles
Mark-Taper Auditorium
LA Central Library
630 West 5th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90071

TUESDAY

Lauren Grodstein discusses and signs Our Short History

Buy the book
Tuesday, April 3, 2018
7:00pm
Vroman’s Bookstore
695 E. Colorado Blvd.
Pasadena, CA 91101

Book launch for Abbi Waxman’s Other People’s Houses

Buy the book
Tuesday, April 3, 2018
7:00pm
Chevalier’s Books
126 N Larchmont Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90004

Amy Spalding reads from her new Young Adult novel The Summer of Jordi Perez

Buy the book
Tuesday, April 3, 2018
7:30pm
Skylight Books
1818 N Vermont Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90027

WEDNESDAY

Leah Stewart discusses and signs What You Don’t Know about Charlie Outlaw

Buy the book
Wednesday, April 4, 2018
7:00pm
Book Soup
8818 Sunset Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90069

The Difficult to Name Reading Series in LA

Samantha Culp (writer for T: The New York Times Style Magazine), Brittani Nichols (creator of Words With Girls), Wendy C. Ortiz (author of Hollywood Notebook), Dana Schwartz (author of And We’re Off), Edward Voccola (writer for The Last Man on Earth) and KK Wootton (wrote essays and fiction for the books Personals and They’re At It Again)
Wednesday, April 4, 2018
7:30pm
The Last Bookstore
453 S Spring St – Ground Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90013

THURSDAY Henry Turner discusses Hiding

Buy the book
Thursday April 05, 2018
7:00 PM – a “wrist-banded event”
Barnes & Nobel, The Grove at Farmers Market
189 The Grove Drive Suite K 30
Los Angeles, CA 90036

FRIDAY Celebrate PEN American’s Unification

PEN America has joined forces with the former PEN Center USA in California as one nationwide organization united under the PEN America banner.
Join us for an evening of drinks, appetizers, toasts, and surprises!
Friday, April 6, 2018
7:30pm RSVP requested
Skylight Books
1818 N Vermont Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90027

SUNDAY Otis College MFA Writing Students read from their work

Nicole Bradford, Heather John Fogarty, Newton Garner, Chenel King, Angelina Sáenz, Halley Sutton, Brittany Ambree Williams, and Olivia Batker Pritzker.
Sunday, April 8, 2018
5:00pm
Skylight Books
1818 N Vermont Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90027

Library Girl Presents: Raw With Love / A Tribute To Charles Bukowski

Co-Curated with S.A. Griffin + Honoring Beyond Baroque’s 50th Anniversary
at the Ruskin
Sunday, April 8, 2018
7:00pm
Ruskin Group Theatre
3000 Airport Ave
Santa Monica, CA 90405

The New Short Fiction Series

Sunday, April 8, 2018
7:00pm
The Federal Bar
5303 Lankershim Blvd.
North Hollywood CA 91601

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Welcome.

The LitLifeLA has changed!

Like a caterpillar crawling out of its chrysalis, this weekly update has taken on a new life, in a new home.

It is now called the LitWeekLA.

Check it out, and if you haven’t yet, sign up to get the weekly updates direct to your inbox.

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I recently had the pleasure of hearing the author Percival Everett talk about his work. The man has written 30 novels over the course of his career and he’s still going strong. Anyway, one of the audience members asked him if he outlines. He responded that he uses an atlas, not an outline.

What’s An Atlas

For those of you who have never experienced navigating a long trip without a GPS, an atlas is a book of maps. We used to take these books with us when we drove somewhere far away.

Every night of the journey, you would sit in your cheap hotel room or your tent and trace the road you had traveled that day. Then you would look at all the possible routes that lay ahead, turning to the appropriate pages to see more map when you got to the edge of the page. You would consider detours if you saw something cool nearby and debate the value of the scenic route vs the freeway.

Writing From an Outline

Writing from a strict outline is kind of like using a GPS to travel. TURN RIGHT, TURN LEFT, KILL YOUR MENTOR CHARACTER HERE.

But treating your outline like an atlas is really appealing to me. When I think in these terms, I see my outline as a map of the world I’m creating. I know I’m starting in one place, and I need to get to this other place, but everything else gets flattened out in front of me and I start to see things in a much more appealing, much more creative way.

My Story Atlas

The metaphor of the atlas is most apt when I’m actually writing. Because I do write with an outline (always will from now on), I start with a bullet point, something like “Tanya discovers her husband is cheating on her.”

I set out in my writing, heading toward that place, knowing that I will get there, but also open to possibility, and my route almost always changes as soon as words hit the screen. I find myself in that wonderfully weird place where your story almost seems to dictate itself. When I’m really focused, I discover story elements I never expected to find. It’s magical really. And somehow I do always end up where I intended, it’s just that the journey never looks like I thought it would.

It’s everything I always loved about road trips with my BFF, without my legs sticking to the seat of the car.

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