Secret emoji

Fine, this isn’t strictly a OneNote tip, but it can be kind of useful in OneNote as a form of tagging (if you don’t just want to use the normal tags).

If you use Windows 10, and you’re current on all your updates, you might find this to be a fun way to add color (and searchable conceptual tags) to your OneNote pages – or just to your conversations, emails, and Photoshop documents.

It’s a very simple shortcut: place your cursor in whatever text field you’d like to insert the emoji, then hold the Start button and press period (.) at the same time.

You should see this:

In-line emoji keyboard with spaghetti emoji highlighted.

Now you can either scroll through and find the one you were looking for, or you can search. Yes, search. Just start typing, and the emoji will be filtered down to anything that matches what you typed. Use the arrow keys to move to the one you want and press enter.

Voila! Emoji.

Learning from other writers

The first thing you learned from another writer, most likely passively, was by partaking in their unique way of telling stories. If you’re a writer today, you’ve spent your whole life until now learning from other writers.

Writing is about shared meaning — through the spoken and unspoken agreements humans have about how the components of language work, as well as through the cultural movements that impact many aspects of a writer’s voice and life. Although it’s vital to being a good writer that you go out and live a life full of details worth writing about, it’s also vital that you sit quietly and listen, one way or the other.

Here are some ways you can set out to intentionally learn from your fellow writers.

Actively

Ask someone to review your work. You may not want to reach out to your favorite bestselling author to request their time in this way; save your burning questions about writing in general for those interactions. This is for your fellow hard-working laborers in obscurity! Reach out to someone you know who writes and see if they’d be willing to do a feedback trade. You can gain so much by listening to someone else who understands how to craft stories talk about your current work.

If you want a real burst of motivation, collaborate on a shared story with a fellow writer. It’s weird. I’ll tell you, trying to write on the same thing with a brain you have zero actual access to is weird. But it’s fun! And it can give you a real kick in the pants to get moving and produce something. Plus, trust me, you’ll learn a ton from the other writer(s) you work with — about style, characterization, and process (both what you’d like to steal and do yourself, and what you’d like to avoid ever doing).

If you’re lucky enough to get the chance, take a class from another writer. Workshops are also weird, but they can be really amazing if they go well. If you don’t have the opportunity to take a class, there are some online resources for watching video series from writers with credentials, such as Masterclass. Videos are nowhere near as good as the real thing, but I understand not everyone will have that chance.

Passively

Re-type their work so you know how it feels to write well (and in their voice). One of Jake’s favorite stories about his favorite writer, Hunter S. Thompson, is how he learned what it felt like to write like the big guns. He would take a novel like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” and furiously re-type it until he had a sense of the “music” they were writing. You can do the same when you’re stuck on a certain passage or scene — find a writer you admire who has created similar scenes, and re-type away until you know what it feels like to write that kind of scene well.

Read their work critically. Instead of simply being entertained by a written work, a critical reader pays attention to what the writer left unsaid, and what is implied by adding up what they did say. The next time you want to learn from a writer, pick up something of theirs you’ve read before and go over it with a metaphorical fine-tooth comb.

Read what they’ve written about writing. Whether it’s King’s “On Writing” or Bradbury’s “Zen in the Art of Writing,” writing about writing has a storied (ha!) tradition. These days, a lot of authors write about writing on their blogs. I like to look at this kind of reading exercise as “curious consumption”: I’m open-minded, but I don’t let myself feel guilty if I don’t immediately click with another writer’s process. The point is to absorb a lot of different processes, and filter aggressively until I have my own system that works for me.

The twin moons

I flicker the weak beam against the corn
to find the moons, floating together.
I call, and the twin moons come.

The moons sail in to the ring of light
from the porch, a dock on a rustling sea.
When I see rolling tongue and happy smile
I call, “Good boy.”

Studiolog: Week of August 6th

Can I just brag about my lunches this week for a second? Oh geez. They were delicious. Little half-cups of this and that for a light, well-balanced meal. So much better than heavy Bellevue lunch food.

Uhhhh, OK, that was a weird aside. Anyway, what have the Shames been up to?

In some ways, it feels like hardly anything. It’s been really hot again, so we’ve all been trying to stay cool.

On top of that, my most favoritest car has taken a turn for the, well, needing to sit in the garage for a while. She’s fine, more or less, but she does need to stay there for bit, so we’ve not only been housebound but also unable to use our garage for guitar projects.

But, we have been making progress on other projects! While I was on vacation, I got the idea for a book about how to get better at writing short stories in 52 weeks (so I can have some sort of catchy “in a year” title). The heart of the idea is that if you follow along with this book, using my prompts, then no matter what you’ll get better because you’ll practice. It’s a lot like the philosophy behind why Jill and I challenge one another. In the book, I’ll take the reader through the building blocks and stylistic elements of building a good short story as the weeks go on and they write a bunch of stories.

Speaking of short stories, last night I did a five-minute bubble graph and ended up with a pretty cool outline for my next Accidental Magic short story. Hint: it’s about whales. That’s all I’m saying at this point.

Speaking of short stories, I decided recently to go back and revisit the 47 (!!!) short stories I’ve written in the past five or so years. I categorized them (because of course I did) into groups that had something interesting in common, like ancient prophecies or breaking curses. I’m planning on revising them (slightly at least) and then putting them up for sale in five-story anthologies. “Wishes” will be first!

I’ve bee playing around with cover ideas – here, I’m going for something that hopefully feels a little “Penguin Classic”:

On the collaboration side, I’ve been working with Nicole again, which I always love. I’ve set her on a couple of projects: one is our comic book with Alex, and the other is an incremental game called Feed the Wolves. (Nikki and I once planned to make it, but haven’t gotten around to it, and I suspect some art might motivate us again.)

Amy has been busy working on her song “Price Range.” She’s close to a melody and the final lyrics for what will probably be Not Bad‘s first single.

And, she and I have both been working on stories for a romance line we intend to develop through our publishing collective. We won’t be revealing those on this blog, as we’ll each be publishing under a pen name, but feel free to reach out for more information about those projects.

If you’re someone who writes collaboratively and regularly, and you’re interested in being a part of an author collective, please contact me! I’d love to talk.

Sprout

Gary wasn’t forthcoming with an explanation. I could hear him shrugging over the phone. “I mean…I guess we just wore out our welcome with each other. Y’know?”

I didn’t know. But I said I did. Gary waited a few seconds, said he hoped I got some sun this summer, and hung up.

I went outside and laid in the pile of potting soil on the front lawn, a seed waiting to sprout into something beautiful. I stared at the sky and I wished I was colorblind or that I heard flavors or anything more interesting than the boring, predictable human bean I was.

Caged tigers had more diverting routines than I did. I knew why Gary had called me instead of breaking up with me in person. He was sick of Rhodes’ Café, tired of the orange chicken at Egg Foo Yum, and probably never wanted to see a Saturn Coffee Company cup ever again.

I turned my head each way to look at my hands. I wasn’t sprouting yet.

Sighing, I rolled my head just in time to see Rufus and Yanna saunter up. As usual, a perfect leash-length separated them. Yanna yipped and scurried over to sniff the bottom of my shoes.

“Hi,” I said, barely raising my head.

Rufus stayed on the sidewalk. “What’s the matter? Your mom die or something?”

“Two years ago. And no. My boyfriend just broke up with me.”

I snuck a peek at Rufus’s long face. It actually fell a little. “Aww. Sorry to hear that. Yanna, get away from there.” Yanna’s snuffly pug nose was coming dangerously close to my mouth.

“It’s OK,” I said. “Gary was only alright. Dating him was like…sucking on an ice popsicle.”

Rufus chuckled. “Kinda thrilling, kinda boring.”

“Exactly.” I sat up on my elbows. “See, you get it! He wouldn’t have laughed at that. He probably would have looked down his tiny nose at me and said something like, ‘Nice one, wise guy.’ ”

“He was the, ah, muscley one, yeah?” Rufus gestured towards the driveway and Gary’s imaginary Mustang.

“Muscley. Yes. Apt description, if generous. Gary was the Crossfit bro who occasionally showed up in my driveway in a bus-yellow metal turd. Let’s not talk about him anymore.”

“OK,” Rufus said. “What do you wanna talk about instead?”

I rolled onto my knees and rubbed Yanna between her stubby ears before getting to my feet and facing Rufus with my hands on my hips.

“Cannibals,” I said. “Specifically, the presence of cannibals in our neighborhood.”

Some ways to write faster

Everyone these days wants to write more words. Or they want to teach you how to write more words. Either way, it’s kind of an ebook craze right now.

I’ve been reading a bunch of those “write faster” books lately – partly for research and partly because, well, I do actually want to produce more words – and I decided to put together a few of my favorite tips from what I’ve read. These are all really practical, and you can start doing them right away. As in, right now. Get to the bottom of this blog post and write, you animal!

Ahem.

Word sprints

Yeah, yeah, I know I harp on these a lot. But so does everyone else, because… they work. Chris Fox has it right: if you track your word sprints, you get a lot out of them. You start to really feel the progress you’re making, motivating you to keep writing, to keep sprinting. (Try out his tracking spreadsheet! I personally use something simpler, but he’s done a lot of work to make it easy.)

If it helps, challenge someone else – another writer or aspiring writer – to join you or participate in a friendly competition. NaNoWordSprints on Twitter is a great place to find strangers to sprint with, if you don’t personally know anyone who wants to participate in such chaos.

How to start: Set a five-minute timer, put yourself in a position to write using your favorite medium, and don’t stop until the timer’s up. Do this until you’re satisfied with your word count.

Invisible ink

As I wrote in a previous blog post, invisible ink is a tactic to keep you from looking at what you’ve been writing and therefore wanting to edit it.

How to start: Open your favorite word processing software of choice, and change the font to match the color of the window (in the case of Microsoft Word or OneNote, it would likely be white). Keep typing, because you can’t slow down to read what you just wrote!

The Parentheses Process

Another one I’ve written about before, the Parentheses Process basically goes like this: if you can’t think of it now, put brackets around the most useful description of what should go there, and move on.

How to start: Choose a piece of writing you’re stuck on, and use brackets right now to “skip past” the hard stuff. Keep skipping every time you reach something you can’t write right now, and you’ll get to the end faster.

Dictation

I’ve just started down this path, and I’m sure I’ll have updates for you soon. In fact, a good portion of this blog post was actually written with my voice! I’m lucky to have a very nice microphone, but you don’t really have to have a fancy setup to get started. All you need is a copy of Windows 10, a microphone of some sort, and a quiet room to talk to yourself.

I don’t actually recommend dictating everything. The system isn’t really optimized for fiction (not even Dragon Naturally Speaking, the industry’s leading dictation software). But this blog post, as mentioned above, was fairly easy to dictate. The style is conversational, and it’s not that hard to think about where I need to punctuate.

How to start: Make sure your Windows 10 computer is on (at least) the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update. Use the shortcut Start + H on your keyboard to open the dictation bar (it seems to work in Edge and Microsoft Office products for sure), and start dictating.

To make things a little easier, here is a starting list of phrases you’ll need if you want to punctuate as you dictate (full list of what the native Windows speech recognition can do is here):

  • “Period”
  • “Comma”
  • “Exclamation mark”
  • “Question mark”
  • “Open quote”
  • “Close quote”
  • “New line”
Cheatsheets

I’m working on a how-to book right now, intended to help aspiring short story writers get their sea legs, and the way I’m structuring the content, I’m going to create myself a cheatsheet, a tactic I’ve mentioned before. Content that is repetitive or structured in a certain way is ripe for this kind of “hack.”

How to start: Take note of all of the elements in the repetitive content. Are there headers, sections, common transitions? Build yourself an outline that touches on each of these elements, and save it somewhere for easy copying the next time you need to produce that kind of content again.

Setting your scene

I recently read a book called Novel Shortcuts, Chapter 4 of which was about setting up a scene before you start writing it. Whitcomb writes about three tactics she uses to ensure that she skips past a lot of “shitty first draft” problems, which I’ve found incredibly useful as I revise my novel “Portent.”

How to start: List out your scene’s physical and internal actions, beat by beat, including the goal, the conflict, and what is unresolved (whether or not it gets resolved in your scene). Next, write the dialogue version of your scene – “write out what has to be communicated,” is how Whitcomb describes it. (When you actually write the scene, this will likely get distilled down into just a few key crisp lines.) Finally, write the “heartstorm” version of the scene (instead of a “brainstorm”) – focus only on the sensory details the character(s) will experience.

Now, when you sit down to write the real scene, you’ll already have all of this raw material to draw from. This keeps you from going off track and keeps the scene moving in the direction the story needs to take.

Studiolog: Week of July 30th

This might be about the week of July 30th, but ’tis now my namesake month – my favorite, especially when everyone at work has to clarify that they didn’t mean “in August, in the month of August.”

Anyway. What have the Shames have been up to?

I just published my latest short story for The Accidental Magic Project: “Tea for Deux,” based very much on two of my dearest and oldest friends. This was a great example of a story that I’ve been thinking about writing for years; I remember my initial excitement when I first thought of it, and a flurry of note-creating as I explored the idea, and then it went dormant for a couple of years while I collected the necessary material. That’s pretty much how I write my best stories these days – pulling from ideas that struck me some time before and have been simmering on the back burner.

I haven’t been as steadfast about my 7:30 PM writing habit as I’d like, but part of that is having a vacation week this week and being out of town. Still, I’m tracking my word sprint counts using Chris Fox’s 5,000 Words Per Hour method (in an Excel document), and it’s cool to see that number grow so quickly.

I printed out a bunch of my inspiration pictures – art and photos I’ve gathered (mostly on the curated blogs I follow on Tumblr these days) that remind me of various aspects of Portent – and put them in loosely-related collections on the wall around my workspace. Like this!

Inspiration pics for my main trio.

No real movement for the Shames on the Star Citizen front – I’m going to get a sprint-focused start on my articles for the fall issue of Ships Illustrated, but otherwise, we’ve more or less let this avenue go dormant for a little while.

Four of Jake’s guitars are currently listed on Reverb; if you have any interest in a pretty cool custom axe, check his stuff the heck out!

If you’re someone who writes collaboratively and regularly, and you’re interested in being a part of an author collective, please contact me! I’d love to talk.

The writer’s guide to self-care

Writers are notoriously bad at self-care. Here’s a non-exhaustive questionnaire to get you on track to focus on getting the words out.

  • Have you brushed your teeth?
  • Have you had a glass of water in the last couple of hours?
  • Have you eaten today?
  • If you consume caffeine, have you had a reasonable amount of it?
  • Have you taken a walk today?
  • Have you stretched in the last 30 minutes?
  • Have you taken vitamin D supplements today, if it’s fall or winter where you live?
  • Have you taken at least five minutes to breathe deeply and meditate, if you do so?

Once you’ve brought your mind and body back into balance, this writer-specific self-care checklist can help you get past a block.

  • Have you read or watched something you enjoy?
  • Do you have a full glass of water nearby?
  • Have you skimmed Chuck Wendig’s self-care checklist lately? (It’s less tactical than this one, but good nonetheless.)
  • Have you warmed up by writing for at least five minutes about whatever’s on your mind?
  • Have you given yourself the freedom to spend some of your writing time on what you want to do, not what you have to do?

When a Dog Howls

Amy and I flipped through Black Cats & Evil Eyes to find headers that inspired us, along with my Story Cubes. This came out of a 5-minute sprint that combined the prompt, “When a dog howls, death is near,” and the image I rolled, “speech.”

Teddy is the worst.

I actually have the statistics to prove it. In the last year, I’ve dog-sat every canine within four blocks of my parents’ house, and I’ve kept a detailed journal for every obsessive, control-freak owner. For my own part, I’ve gotten ten stitches, about $3,000 in mad money, and a lot of data on the neighborhood dogs.

And, as it turns out, Teddy is the worst.

Today I’m keeping an eye on him because his owner Sarge is out of town, seeing his sister. I check the tracking app I created for my dog-sitting business. So far, I’ve suffered through one sneezing fit, three attempts to charge me out the back door, and two howl-fests.

Sarge claims Teddy hates being bossed around by anyone other than Sarge; I’m sure that what Teddy really hates is me.

He starts howling again, which I take to mean he doesn’t like me sitting in Sarge’s armchair. “Shut up, Teddy,” I snap without taking my eyes off the Cardinals game.

“Sarge may not be here, but Death will not simply skip his house,” Teddy shrieks back.

My finger is frozen on the Volume Up button. The announcers start to roar.

I manage to push my jaw closed and wrestle the volume back down. I turn to stare at the Chow-huahua in disbelief.

“Did you just…speak?”

“Death is near,” he intones.

Studiolog: Week of July 16th

The Shames had a heart-to-heart yesterday over the best tacos in town. We realized we’ve continued to try to do a little (or a lot) of everything — and while it’s nice that we can do whatever we want, we should probably focus (as I mentioned previously…but for real) on the things that will bring us comparable rewards.

What does that mean the Shames have been up to?

Jake’s team won the Roberts Space Industries 600i commercial contest with their fantastic cinematic entry! Super proud of Jake’s script and voiceover, and looking forward to collaborating with his team in the future, because with our forces combined

That said, we’ll probably take a short break from focusing on Star Citizen content, until the game is sufficiently ready for our filming endeavors. Even so, we’ll use video in support of what we really like to do: branding ourselves and others, creating music together, and publishing written entertainment.

Speaking of music, I’m on the lookout for some good resources for how to compose a song (not soundtrack music, but a pop-style song). If you have any texts or videos in mind, please send them my way! Amy and I would like to refine our songwriting abilities.

Structure is something we’re going to try out in this new Shames era. I want to be more disciplined about how often I’m writing, and when, and at least start with a small, doable everyday habit at 7:30 PM. (Even if I’m working late, I intend to set everything aside and write for 15 minutes. That’s time I can and should spare!)

I continued to devote some hours to reading this last week and plowed through “An Excess Male.” Very provocative topic and characters, with a strong writing style and four points of view that made for quite fascinating fiction.

Something about summer has brought my “Portent” characters to mind. I started re-writing the manuscript the other day, but it felt like a false start. I’m going to put my latest writing sprint tip into action and try to power through a few chapters to see if it feels right after a while. I know I’m rusty!

If you’re someone who writes collaboratively and regularly, and you’re interested in being a part of an author collective, please contact me! I’d love to talk.

Books and bytes