Tag Archives: writing

Writer Duet: A Great (Free!) Solution for Screenwriting on a Chromebook

When I first got my Chromebook, one of the first things I wanted to do was find a screenwriting app that would let me write plays and screenplays as easily as Final Draft. (Final Draft, for my non-writer readers, is the industry standard for writing in either format.) While there were a few online environments that allowed you to write in screenplay format, they were a) expensive and b) unwieldy.

A quick refresher: because Chromebooks operate in an online, Linux-based environment, it’s difficult to find software that’s compatible with special formats. While most well-known screenwriting software has versions compatible with both Windows and Mac operating systems, so far there’s been very little in the way of creating specialized software for Chromebook. At one point I heard that Google was working to make any app available for their ultra-lite notebooks, but to date there doesn’t seem to have been much progress on that front.

Anyways. I’m working on a sitcom pilot, and one of the practical challenges I’ve had to work with is making my edits to the text. My Windows laptop, which is limping along with the help of both external mouse and keyboard, has my copy of Final Draft on it – but at this point, the program runs so slowly that it’s frustrating to use.

I printed out and edited my script the other day, and was dreading finding the time to break it down into manageable chunks to input the changes.

Enter this morning.

I decided it was worth taking another look for screenwriting software that was compatible with both Final Draft and Chromebooks this morning – after all, the software scene is constantly evolving – and after some searching, discovered two things:

  1. My initial Chromebook write-up is one of the first page of results on the topic of screenwriting on the platform (yay!) and
  2. There is now a workable – and highly functional – Final Draft alternative for writers who are familiar with how that software functions but want to write in an online (Chromebook-compatible!) format.
A blank template for screenplays on Writer Duet.

A blank template for screenplays on Writer Duet.

This alternative is called Writer Duet. And it’s unbelievably powerful, incredibly well-designed, and completely intuitive for anyone who’s already used to writing in Final Draft. It imports and exports to multiple standard screenwriting format, doesn’t require knowledge of markup or formatting, and best of all?

It’s FREE.

That’s right. FREE.

Sure, there’s a paid version (which, at $99 for a lifetime membership is a bargain) but so far the free version looks and feels just like writing in Final Draft.

This morning, while lying in bed icing my back, I was able to edit a 46-page script in a fraction of the time it would have taken on my laptop. There was no lag inputting or processing commands as the document got longer (which has been an issue in Final Draft), the formatting is highly intuitive (perhaps more so than FD), and the output is easily downloadable and back-up-able. Signing up took less than a minute. Imports of documents in .fdx were flawless (.pdf imports less so, but you shouldn’t be saving in-progress docs as .pdfs anyways). The program was so easy to use that I almost immediately recommended it to a friend of mine who’s taking his first shot at writing for the stage. (He was confused by it, but it took me a few tries to get used to FD, so I’m not counting that against Writer Duet at all.

If you’re interested in writing in stage or screen format, and don’t want to shell out $125+ for Final Draft, check out Writer Duet. If you’re on a Chromebook and despairing because you can’t find an elegant solution to the issue of formatting your stageplays or screenplays, check out Writer Duet.

I don’t think you’ll be sorry.

 

Please note, this is not a sponsored blog post, I am endorsing this program because it’s amazing and if you want to write in screenplay format for a Chromebook, it is far and away the best solution I’ve found to date.

Stalled, but only briefly

wpid-0626152133.jpgSo it’s been a minute or two since I last updated (ha ha). It’s turned out to be a seriously busy summer. So far I’ve been to San Francisco, NYC, Madison, Bar Harbor, Buffalo and coming up there’ll be a short trip back to NYC. There’s been a bit of life upheaval (nothing major, don’t worry) and as a result I’ve had to spend a lot of time and energy on things that aren’t what I’d like to be spending my time and energy on.

The result? Most of my personal creative projects – a TV pilot, a couple of ideas for plays, my Agent Carter suit, this blog – have been shoved to one side to make time for the things that need to get done. And even when I do think I’m going to set aside some time and dig in, something keeps coming up.

wpid-0712151318-1-1.jpgI spent a very large chunk of my writing life – which is now hovering around 20 years, if we go back to my first paycheck – adhering to the strict rule of writing every single day. Creative writing, every day. I gave myself deadlines, I banged out first drafts, I ran a successful scripted web series (back when everybody was on dial-up, so basically that meant managing eight or ten people, editing, planning plot arcs and then posting scripts on a regular basis), I wrote more fanfic than I can actually even remember…and I kept pushing myself to do more. And more. And more. This carried on into my late teens and then my early-to-mid twenties.

And then, one day, something changed. I think it was when I moved back from Scotland and down to New York City. I was going through a period where I didn’t feel particularly inspired, I was getting settled in a new place, and I decided it was time to refill my creative fuel tank, so to speak. It was a difficult choice, especially for someone who didn’t (and still doesn’t) believe in writer’s block. To willingly put down my pen and go out to experience life, instead, was a really difficult thing to do. But also a very necessary one. And I’ll never forget the time I was walking through Brooklyn with a friend and another woman (a friend of the friend), and we were talking about creativity. “Are you working on anything right now?” asked the woman, who I think was some kind of junior producer at a music television channel (not the two you immediately thought of).

“No,” I said, “I’m just absorbing life at the moment.”

“Oh,” she said, in a tone that let me know exactly how much respect she had (or didn’t have) for this decision.

The break ended up only lasting a handful of months, but when I went back to my keyboard it was clear that taking the pressure off had been a smart idea. For me. For my mental health. For my writing.

I’ve talked about the pressure writers put on ourselves in the past, and every so often I have to remind myself that those few months I took off from work resulted in some really great projects that I probably wouldn’t have completed without that time. I learned about myself, about my writing, about how to create the optimal conditions for creativity. Sure, I can still sit down and pound out 500 words if I have to, but feeling like you “have to” when it comes to creative writing is never a good feeling.

All that said, writing fiction is liberating (to me, and to at least a few of you) in a way that other writing and other activities aren’t. So I know it’s something I have to do and have to make time for. But it’s nice to have the confidence to put the pen down from time to time, as well, without the fear that ALL THE WORDS WILL BE GONE when I’m ready to pick it back up again.

So, while life at the moment has sped up and creative output has slowed (though it’s still trickling), I’m trying to feel okay about that, reminding myself that sometimes life takes the wheel and my plays and pilots have to ride in the way back for a while. At least we’re all in the same car. Though they are getting suspiciously quiet back there…

My guess is, they’re plotting against me. Or life. Or both.

wpid-0627152236j.jpg

FOMO, Writing & Creativity

FOMO, in case you haven’t heard the term, stands for “Fear Of Missing Out,” and I think it’s something every artist – every person, really – feels from time to time.

Back when I used to buy each year’s edition of the Writer’s Market, I would pore over its pages for hours on end, highlighting the magazines and publishers that sounded like good matches – thinking wild thoughts about how I could submit to each of those opportunities, but never finding the time to act on what I had selected. And meanwhile, the things I did write seemed impossible to match to a market.

wpid-img_20150110_011616.jpgThe internet has only intensified this problem. Along with constant updates of word counts and projects and successes from other writers (and I’m happy for them, don’t get me wrong) there’s a constant deluge of opportunity  – and without having pinned down a calendar of those opportunities that lets me plan ahead, it can be tricky to take full advantage of all the opportunities on offer.

Playwriting opportunities, calls for work with low pay but fascinating concepts – there’s almost never enough time between finding an opportunity and writing down (let alone revising) my work into something I can send out, which isn’t helped by the fact that I see most opportunities just days before their deadlines. And when I do end up with a workable idea, I’m just as likely to save it and self-publish (like with Short Frictions, purchase link to the right), which is a terrible habit that I need to break. At the very least, I should be sending those pieces out to online (and print, though it seems there are fewer of those every day) venues in the hopes of making sales before collecting pieces and publishing them. (For example, after sitting on Blutnacht for over a decade, I saw an opportunity it would have been perfect for…but it doesn’t accept reprints, so that’s that.)

wpid-img_20150222_092153.jpgPart of the problem is my attention span – which is, I’ll admit, woefully flighty at times. Part of my excitement over The Peggy Carter Project is that it’s going to stretch out over time, with enough small pieces, that I can flit from makeup to hair to sewing to shoes to lipstick to other details as I please, constantly working towards a cohesive, finished product.

wpid-img_20150110_181302.jpgBut part of the problem is that I have a hard time anchoring myself in one piece for as long as it takes to complete, these days. There’s so much I want to do. And recently my creative outlets have been non-verbal just as much as they have been about the written word.

I can stand in my kitchen and throw paint on a canvas for an hour or two and have a finished result that I can hang up to decorate the walls of my house. I can spend half an hour gelling and pinning up curls then laze around the house waiting for them to dry, then wet my hair down again and tackle the problem spots (which I’m still maintaining revolve around my hair being shorter than is ideal).

wpid-0217151935.jpgI’ve even started to resurrect my old interest in creating complicated, nuanced cocktails…even though these days I barely ever drink them.

I’m not complaining about any of this – not by a long shot. But it is a re-adjustment, to go from being creative with my words at home, at night, and feeling like a total zombie in my previous day job, to having a fulfilling day job with exciting projects that engages my creativity and then coming home at the end of the day and feeling like I’ve gotten a lot of words out, had some fun, and can explore other avenues of artistry. (Again – this is NOT a complaint – I know how lucky I am to have a job that doesn’t leave me feeling sick with dread every Sunday night, with colleagues who are engaged with what we’re doing, where I’m able to be a creative writer for a living every day).

wpid-0217152332.jpgAll that said, I have a writing project right now – a sitcom about expat Americans in Scotland – that is in desperate need of a rewrite and a second draft. So at some point this week I want to print that out, and that way when I’m practicing my pin curls next weekend I can double-task and go through a full rewrite on that. (Though it wouldn’t hurt to be working on a computer that ran at faster than a crawl to make that happen, quite honestly, since Final Draft isn’t available for Chromebook and I’ve yet to find a comparable program.

Anyways – more updates on pin curls and makeup tutorials coming soon – probably later this week – but I wanted to take a minute to pause and talk about the other kinds of creative work I’m up to just now.

How do you balance your creative outlets? If you’re a writer, do you maintain interests in other art and craft forms? If your “home” medium is more visual or tactile, do you explore other ways of expressing yourself? And for those of you lucky enough to be working on passion projects for your day job, do you get all your creative juices flowing at work or are there things you save just for yourself? Looking forward to answers in the comments.

The Inevitable New Year’s Post

First thing’s first:

HAPPY NEW YEAR! Thanks for being here, reading, clicking, sharing, generally being lovely, etc.

This is the time of year when I like to look back and see what I’ve been up to. So here goes, a list of my 2014 accomplishments and 2015 hopes, both professional and personal.

Professional Accomplishments, 2014

  • Became an admin for the site, Calming Brits & Irishmen, which my friend started in an effort to cheer me up after my back diagnosis just over a year ago.
  • Wrote ACE IN THE HOLE, a one-act play with an all-female cast, commissioned by Ingenius Theatre. (Available as part of Short Frictions – purchasing link to your right).
  • Wrote a first draft (which I’ve subsequently revised a bit) of a novella as part of a long-term project with @sareliz.
  • Created new cover art for a number of the books I have available on Amazon.
  • Completed a month of blogging every day.
  • Started a new job in a new city, with more creative freedom and more responsibility.
  • Started a writer’s group on Facebook with a group of very talented people who I’m looking forward to growing with over the next year.

Personal Accomplishments, 2014

  • Despite a bad back injury, I kept a (mostly) positive outlook throughout the year during my recovery.
  • Made some major strides forward in dealing with my own mental health.
  • Moved away from New York City (I KNOW!) and adjusted to life in the country (still in progress).
  • I HAVE A NIECE! (Okay, all I did to accomplish this was be born to the same parents as her dad and then wait around for 30 years, but still.)
  • Lost a bit of weight by making healthy life choices (and a bit by being in too much pain to move, during the first part of 2014).
  • Got my finances more or less under control.

Professional Goals, 2015

  • Revise, rewrite, and finish the aforementioned novella, which seems to be growing into more of a novel-shaped thing.
  • Finish my sitcom pilot and outline the subsequent scripts for the first “season”.
  • Write another play. No idea what. Just write another play.
  • Write three short stories…and send them to actual publications.
  • Stretch goal: experiment with YouTube/vlogging. (Ain’t gonna happen, but you have to aim high, right?)
  • See more theater.

Personal goals, 2015:

  • Maintain healthy habits
  • Travel more
  • Meet my niece (hoping to knock that off the list in a few weeks)
  • Pay more attention to my personal life.

And there you have it! What did you accomplish in 2014, and what are you hoping to do in the coming year? Whatever your answers…congratulations, and good luck!

Cleaning Up A Sweepstakes Mess

The first point where I knew something had gone wrong was when I signed into my email and saw a note from the winner of my Short Frictions/Think Geek giveaway.

After a brief sweepstakes entry period, I’d Rafflecoptered for a winner and sent a $15 gift code to a reader who’d faithfully liked, shared, tweeted and retweeted a brief message about the book almost every day. Now, she wrote, she was having trouble redeeming the code. The Think Geek site was telling her it had already been used. Which it hadn’t, because she’d been saving it to shop for the holidays.

My heart sank. I logged into Think Geek and checked the code, and sent it to her again to confirm there hadn’t been a typo, but she was right – the balance on the code was showing up as zero. I really didn’t know what had happened, especially since another code I’d sent out the same day had been redeemed without a problem.

Finally, I decided to check in with the Think Geek team. I’m always hesitant to start talking to customer service. I find it incredibly stressful and frustrating, particularly after some of the experiences I’ve had with other companies this year, but without getting in touch with them there was no way to figure out what had happened.

It took two tries to get a customer service rep to respond on the Think Geek site. I’m not sure what happened the first time, but I spent several minutes typing in an explanation of what had happened and waiting for a response that never came. I logged out, logged back in, and tried again. This time, after five or so minutes, a rep came online and asked me to describe my problem. After confirming she could read and reply to my messages, I explained, and she started to investigate.

My hope was to confirm with Think Geek when the gift card balance had been used, in case there had been some kind of technical glitch; I wasn’t sure if they’d tell me the date and amount of whatever purchase tracked back to the giveaway gift code, but I figured the best idea was to get as much information as I could before I sent the sweepstakes winner an update.

After five or ten more minutes, the customer rep sent a message that far surpassed my expectations: she had added the credit back onto the gift code. I’m not sure if she found a glitch in the sale or if there was some kind of error, or if Think Geek just decided that such a small amount wasn’t worth haggling over (which I’d already decided was going to be my approach if it turned out they couldn’t reinstate the credit, because the giveaway winner had put a lot of effort into spreading word of Short Frictions on social media). But I was relieved that the matter was resolved so easily.

Once I had confirmation from the customer service team, I emailed the winner and let her know that everything should be up and running and she could make her purchases; I haven’t heard from her since, so am assuming everything went well.

From start to finish, resolving the situation took about half an hour, but I was shocked at how stressful I found it.  As self-published authors, being in charge of marketing and PR is a huge part of what we do – and when something goes wrong, there’s no PR rep to hide behind, no publishing house to help defray the cost of issues like lost prizes and credits. Plus, it’s our name out there on the line. This contest winner was extremely understanding and patient as I worked to resolve the gift code issue, but just as easily could have been someone far less inclined to give the benefit of the doubt.

I’m lucky enough, currently, to be in a position where I could have afforded to replace the prize if need be – but what if I wasn’t? What if the prize was something bigger, or Think Geek had turned replacing the credit into more of a production?

When you self-publish, you’re taking control and ownership of every aspect of sharing your work. The buck stops with you. Making sure you’re mentally and financially prepared (not to mention knowing you have enough time on your hands) to represent your work to the best of your ability is an important part of being a self-published author. And it’s not something to take on lightly.

Thankfully, in this case, the mess that had to be cleaned up wasn’t a big one. Hopefully (knock on wood) it never will be. If and when future issues arise, no matter what area of self-publishing they might be in, I’ll handle them as quickly and smoothly as possible, and hope for the best.

Cleaning up when something goes wrong is something every self-publishing author has to be prepared for, whether the hitch happens in writing, editing, publishing, art directing or publicity. Be prepared, keep your cool, and think your options through, and hopefully your next hitch won’t throw you for a loop.

 

 

Buy your own copy of Short Frictions on Amazon or Smashwords.

Stretching Your Writing Limits

This is going to be a bit of a ramble. I hope you don’t mind, and would appreciate your thoughts at the end via comment.

For the last year or do, I’ve been working on an ambitious project: a series of novels spanning epic concepts of philosophy, religion and mythology, with my friend @sareliz. Both of us wrote first drafts of two chunks of narrative last November as part of NaNoWriMo, then earlier this spring I knocked out a 50K first draft of a third book. As I’ve chipped away at rewrites, however, I’ve become more and more aware of one simple fact: in order to be true to the reality of my protagonist’s world, things are going to have to get a lot darker and more brutal than I ever anticipated, which is going to require a metric f*ckton more research than I’ve done so far.

The book isn’t supposed to be gritty or hard-hitting in a way that features depictions of extreme violence or torture, so there’s also going to have to be a balance stuck between realism and the fantasy world of the series. The more I research, the more I question: can I do this? Have my ambitions gotten ahead of my ability?

This story story, currently planned as the first novel in the series, involves a reporter who travels to a corrupt county to look for a friend and colleague who’s gone missing. As part of my research I’ve been reading about reporters in war zones and oppressive regimes (which plays into another aspect of the series’ overall plot), and with each article I read I realize that the draft i have so far actually features what could be called “danger-lite.” Terrifying things happen to journalists who travel abroad to investigate corruption. They are beheaded, jailed, tortured, ‘disappeared’ and more. The citizens of the countries they investigate are far from immune to brutal treatment, too: look at the kidnapped/murdered Mexican teachers, girls kidnapped and sold into “forced marriages” by Boko Haram, and activists murdered by drug cartels. Even in America, police Senn able to act with near impunity when out comes to summarily executing American citizens in the street.

While there are certainly overlaps in how oppressive regimes the world over treat their citizens and their media figures, (Pakistan and Myanmar are currently in the spotlight on this issue) specificity is key in writing what you don’t know, perhaps top an even greater degree than when writing what you do know. After all, I might take poetic license if I’m writing about a bar in Buffalo or a subway route in New York City, but that’s an informed choice. Blundering the details in a novel about another country or another culture just comes across as lazy ignorance.

Even the small chunks of reading I’ve done so far have highlighted my own ignorance while at the same time pouting my research in stark contrast to lived experience. Reading books like THE BRIEF WONDEROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO by Junot Diaz, being immersed in a world where a revolutionary leader reigns over the lives of citizens with sadistic whim, is nothing like living under such a regime. ‘They’ say to write what you know, but what chance do I have (thank goodness) to understand the lifestyles of people in those circumstances with any degree of accuracy in fiction? How does someone like me write inclusive, relevant, diverse novels on topics like this without fucking it up royally?

The only answer I have is research.

So I’m trying. Really hard. I’m reading what I can, trying to get a feel for both the human, day to day lives of people living under the repressive circumstances the story needs to portray, but also trying to gain more knowledge of the truly horrifying acts oppressive governments can subject their citizens to. At the same time, Itry to find a way to retain the ability to see the monsters responsible for these reprehensible acts as humans, with motivations that made sense to their own internal logic, because it’s a rare human being who sees themselves as a villain, no matter how vile they might be. I try to think of ways i can portray the horror of human suffering at the hands of others while being honest but while avoiding graphic depictions of circumstances that don’t fit the tone of a series of fantasy novels. And then I question myself and start to feel paralyzed. And then i remind myself I’m still working on a draft. There’s always time for another rewrite.

There are bright spots in my research. My trip to St. Martin last year and the one i just took to St. Thomas both informed me on climates, terrain and cultures that will also figure in to the stories my cowriter and i will be telling. And I keep reminding myself of the importance of this, whole trying not to get to bogged down in the details. But when a simple hike through a national park demonstrates that you’ve completely miscategorized your story’s setting, how can you ever know when you’ve researched enough to get on with the writing? And even writing  this, I cringe, because I feel like I’m wading into waters where it would be so easy to give offense.

They say to write what you know, but it’s also critical that writers be willing to learn what we don’t know so we’re can write accurate, diversity populated fiction in terms of our characters, settings and cultures. Whether it takes the form of readings, conversations or traveling, the only answer to this conundrum is research.

Oh, and asking for recommendations. Anybody got any suggestions on trying material or media I can consume? Please leave them in the comments. Your thoughts would be very much appreciated.

To Use or Not To Use a Pen Name

I have never used a pen name.

There have been a variety of reasons for this. At first, as a teenager, it just didn’t occur to me. After all, I was a writer. Why would I want to make it harder for people to find what I’d written?

Much later, I learned that Joanne Rowling had been advised to use initials – J.K. – to obscure her gender, because “boys don’t read books by women writers.” Using my full name on my plays and published stories became tinged by a feeling of feminism, although (obviously) I sometimes use my initials and last name for the sake of brevity (for example, the URL of this website).

In the last few months, however, I’ve started thinking about writing non-fiction, and that’s made me start to consider the use of an alternative name – either a variation of my own name, maybe the initials, or more likely a different name altogether – because the topics I’d write about are sensitive ones and not necessarily work I’d want to publish under my full name. Since I’m not making enough money to live off my creative writing (yet) and I still need a day job, not revealing details of my personal life while connecting them to my name might be an unfortunate but practical decision.

Writing under multiple names isn’t new (for example, Nora Roberts writes under her own name in romance, but as J.D. Robb when she’s penning a mystery, and Stephen King flopped as Richard Bachman – not to mention Rowling’s own forays into assumed names), but I feel like the practice carries pluses and minuses.

One plus would be the anonymity it affords; one minus would be that it would require setting up and maintaining an entire separate platform as a “second” author. A plus would be that it allows for easy separation by readers – someone doesn’t download a title thinking they’re going to get the genres I write in creatively, and instead wind up with a how-to book on putting up a shelf. A minus would be that that makes it harder for readers who like my work and might want to put up a shelf to discover that yes, I have indeed written a how-to book on exactly that.  (And please note, this is just an example; I’ve never put up a shelf in my life)

I’m curious about how other writers make the decision to work under a pen name. Why do you use it? Or why don’t you? Or why do you do both? Are there reasons in favor or against either option that I might not have thought of? If you’re not a writer, what do you think about authors writing under more than one name? Do you prefer the simplicity of looking for one author, no matter what genre they write in, or would you rather be able to compartmentalize the writings of your favorite authors?

Looking forward to your answers in the comments.