Swag Review: The Amazing Story Generator

(Sorry this is so late. [It is still Monday, right? In… Hawaii?] For the last three days, literally every single time (until a few hours ago) that I sat down to work on a blog post- not writing, not art or reading or outlining; just blogging- my children would make some horrific mess. Blow out diaper on the couch? Sure. Spill an entire bin of Israeli couscous? Go ahead. Pull out every single puzzle we own and pile up all the pieces in the living room? Why not. Dump a pitcher of orange juice across the floor? Please do! Sigh. C’est la vie d’une mère.)

coverOne of the writing gifts I received at Christmas from my fantabulous in-laws was The Amazing Story Generator, a mix-and-match collection of creative writing prompts by Jason Sacher. And it is trés fun!

Fun for all ages, in fact. My kids spent literally hours making me read random mishmashes to them. It’s pretty entertaining to listen to my kindergartener chortling to himself in the living room and then shouting, “Moooom! What’s this word?” ‘Incessant’, honey. And the next one is ‘hallucinations’.

But entertaining my children isn’t the point of this book. Inspiring me is. So how does it stack up?

Truthfully, this book probably won’t become my resident muse and go-to idea handbook. For a couple reasons. First, a lot of the ideas it turns out are so off-the-wall goofy that I have no idea where to go with them. They’re good for a laugh but I wouldn’t know what else to do with them. And two, a good chunk of the partial prompts would fit best in genres I don’t typically write. This could force me to stretch myself as a writer, P1050330but typically I just move on to the next random prompt. I suppose I could rip out all the ones that don’t work for me, but I think I’d rather gnaw off my own pinkie than mutilate a book.

That said, it does have a few things going for it. It’s an easy thing to share with friends and get talking about writing. A good coffee table sort of book. It’s light-hearted and it’s goofy and I can count on it to pop out on ideas that I would never have come up with on my own. And every now and then, when the planets align while the seventh son of a seventh son goes adventuring, I dredge up something actually good, something I not only can work with, but something I want to work with.

But its chief virtue is that it gets me thinking. And me thinking is (almost) always a good thing. Even if the prompt is completely oddball and not at all my style, just opening the book gets me into a writing mindset. So even if I end up completely disregarding the prompt, I at least feel somehow P1050331magically more creative.

Just for the sake of pointless fun, and the illustration of a point, I had my three year old, ever eager to help, flip to a random triplet prompt, determined to write a short story for it. He came up with: “Upon winning the lottery, a reformed hit man meets the ghost of Ernest Hemingway.”

Um… right. I’ll, uh… get on that. Actually, maybe I’ll just get to work on something else I need to write. But the seed is sown!

All in all, this is a fun book and a good warmer-upper before writing, but don’t expect it to imbue you with cosmic literary powers.

Swag Review: Write or Die 2

WoD1

All screenshots used with permission from the inestimable Dr. Wicked, the evil genius behind Write or Die.    THE MAN IS SCARY.

My darling hubby purchased a copy of Write or Die 2 for me for Christmas and I’ve been dabbling in it ever since. (For anybody who missed it, this was one of the writing programs showcased in A Writer’s Toolbox from last August.)

As previously mentioned, I am a devoted user of Scrivener when pounding out rough drafts. Knowing this, Husband eyed the software list for the least-Scrivener-esque program there and, after a bit of investigation, settled on Write or Die. When I made the list, all those months ago, I admitted that the only Write or Die exposure I’d had at that point was goofing around on the online sample version with only the default settings, so I was eager to get to the meat-and-potatoes of the real deal.

Scrivener is fantastic for organizing my long projects and for storyboarding. However, when I’m writing in Scrivener, unless I’m really in the zone or know exactly where I’m going, I have this tendency to… dawdle. I think about it. Tap out a few words. Maybe flex my fingers. Snitch some almonds from the cabinet. And if I’m not careful, I’ll spend an hour ‘writing’ and find myself with a scant couple hundred words (as well as a slab of cake, a cup of mint tea, and a small army of paper cranes.) I have three kids. I don’t have time for all that jazz. If I’m really honest with myself, I can admit that, unless I’m engaged in a writing sprint with people who will mercilessly tease meager word counts, I’m an absurdly slow writer.

Enter Write or Die. Write or Die is like having a sprint partner living on your computer, ready to go any moment you are. This sprint partner accepts no excuses and gives no quarter, but doesn’t give a whole lot of childish taunting when you don’t hit your goals- it just calls you a quitter. (Which kind of counts. ‘Cause nobody calls me a quitter.) So when I’m having a hard time getting going on Scrivener and I just need some words on the page, it’s nice to have a program like Write or Die breathing down my neck at me. It’s pretty much the spirit of NaNoWriMo jammed into a computer program.

So peaceful. So stimulating.

So peaceful. So stimulating.

Write or Die has three modes, which are basically the ambiance in which you’ll be writing.

Stimulus This is nice. I get to choose a soothing background image that fills the writing space, and an accompanying background noise, such as heartbeats and ‘aural hug’s. So long as I keep writing, they remain in place. If I stop writing, they go away and I am less stimulated. It’s kind of like a cross between the Reward and Consequence modes like that. I do pretty well in this mode, and lean toward a forest background with a rainstorm.

D'awwww

D’awwww

Reward Anyone who only did chores as a kid when your mom was waving a bag of Skittles from the kitchen would probably do well in the rewards arena. Rewards are earned for writing a set amount of words and can be visual (cutesy pictures waggling in the background every however-many words, or even a customizable folder of your favorite images) or audible (I personally prefer kitty purring, but you can also pick Tibetan bowls or Pavlovian bells, if that’s your thing).

Consequence For those who like writing under duress (*raises hand*), there is the consequence mode. Not that I love having giant hairy chelicerae dangling over my fingers, but there’s just something about ducking punishment that gets my butt in gear. I find the threat of an alarm particularly motivating, since my writing so often takes place when I’m in a room with children who I dearly hope will soon be and remain asleep. And for when I’m really feeling some self-flagellation, I can step into kamikaze mode, which literally eats the vowels from my words if I stop writing for too long. Consequence is my most effective workspace in Write or Die.

Geh! Don't touch me!

Geh! Don’t touch me!

This isn’t to say that Write or Die is perfect for all writing ever. It does have some drawbacks that I’m still trying to work my way around. It’s not the best for longer stories that require a lot of continuity and I’m still working out if it’s even possible to do a whole book in here without just having an obscenely long block of text. So far, the best I can manage is to write it by scenes and paste the scenes together in another program (usually Scrivener). Likewise, editing is… yeah, I’m not even sure how this would happen in this format. Again, I usually have to look it over in a completely different program. And having the threat of horrible noises hanging over my shoulder, or the sudden appearance of puppies on my screen, doesn’t usually produce the most thoughtful of works. Sometimes I’m so busy trying to beat the clock (because DARN IT I want so badly for that wpm speedometer to be awesome) that I have a hard time really working out what I’m writing at all. Drafts written in this program require heavy editing. (And see above about that.)

But. Write or Die also has some fantastic things going for it. It usually helps me pick up the pace for action scenes and imbue a level of stress I can feel (because again, I’m all about the punishments). It’s really good for brainstorming and freewriting exercises. I’ve found that, even when I do pour a lot of thoughtless junk onto the page, I can almost always pick out at least one gem from the mess to polish up. Likewise, it’s pretty good for rough drafts on new short stories. And most importantly, it gets my butt in gear even when I open it not feeling like I want to write. In my opinion, these things far outweigh the shortcomings listed above.

All in all, if you find that you’re like me and can use the occasional kick in the rear (or kittens! or beaches! or rainstorms!) to get into your writing, it’s probably worth your $20 to buy the program, and it’s definitely worth your time to at least check out the online version for free (right here!). I doubt you’d regret either.

How about you folks?  Any readers have any Write or Die experience?  What do you love/hate about the program?  Let us know in the comments below!  Happy writing!

A Year of Rockin’ It

rockOkay, okay, “rockin’ it” might be an exaggeration. You may recall from one year ago that I had a few vague writing resolutions that rapidly morphed into several specific writing resolutions. I wanted to finish a book during each of the three NaNo months, as well as the third Star Daughter book on the side. I also wanted to send out at least two queries and two short story submissions per month.

I am proud to say that I knocked out four ugly (as in mega-ultra-ugly) duckling drafts: Crown of Shadows [SD3]; The Sad, Sad Tale of Dead Timmy [which I adore- def my favorite of the year]; Love Notes [which I am sadly dropping, but it was fun while it lasted]; and Blood and Ebony [still deciding what I think about this one]. Boy do they all need work, haha. Still, I feel pretty good about four first drafts. I knew it was ambitious at the start, especially with the baby on board, but I managed to pop ‘em out. I am a little less proud to admit that I only sent out about half the queries I intended to and about a third of the short story submissions. But both were still improvements on previous years, though, so win!

This year, I’m approaching things a little differently. I find myself with an abundance of unsightly first drafts cluttering up my laptop. None of them are fit to be seen and that’s a problem. So next year, I intend to switch my focus over from drafting to editing. Rather than writing four new books this year, I’d like to polish up three to four and draft only one. (Hopefully, the year after that I can settle into a nice 2/2 ratio.)

The second Star Daughter book, Goddess Forsaken, can probably stand to just be picked at, as far as editing goes, which will eat up most of my early year, I imagine. Crown of Shadows, however, needs to be rebuilt completely and so April NaNo will be devoted to a full rewrite, with further clean up bleeding out into June. Likewise, July NaNo will go to bulldozing another draft, although I haven’t decided which one yet. (Likely Blood and Ebony, but we’ll see.) The next three months will be given to polishing either Dead Timmy or BCS (both of which definitely merit some polish), or maybe Blood and Ebony if I can still stand to look at it. November will be spent on a completely new book (and what a relief that’ll be!), possibly the next Star Daughter book, or maybe even another stand alone- I have a contemporary fantasy idea I’ve been toying with as well. December will just be general wrap-up for the projects.

I know all my ultra-classy beta readers were probably SUPER BORED without all my doofy stuff to read through this last year, so start warming up those red pens now.

As far as querying goes, I’m considering a different approach. I think I’ll let City of the Dead rest for a while and start querying either BCS or Dead Timmy once they get a little cleaned up, which means I probably won’t be querying steadily for the first half of the year. Also, instead of submitting two short stories every month, I think I’ll do either that OR write and edit a new short story each month. I think the drafting of shorts will help me stay sane with all this editing business going on. ‘Cause I loves me some drafting, and darling husband got me a shiny new license for Write or Die 2, which I am super stoked to take for a ride.

So! That’s what I’ve been up to / will be up to! How about you? Did you have any writing resolutions from last year? Any new ones you’d like to share?