Forgive Yourself

Let me say right up front this bit of advice is a tough one for the creative soul.

Forgive yourself.

You’ll need to get a grip on doing this because you’re bound to make mistakes along this writerly life. And do we all struggle with this one!

We all make mistakes that require forgiving, and we are our worst enemies when it comes to forgiving ourselves. This can cripple a writer, effectively stopping the flow of words. It’s not always the big things, it seems to be the smaller accumulated things that grind creativity to dust. So however you find the way to do this, whatever method you use, learn or do it.

Clearing out the accumulated debris of life, of forgiving yourself, allows other things to enter your mind and many of these “other things” are great ideas.

Consider this as an emotional housekeeping and do it regularly; it seems our mistakes and regrets only pile up otherwise.

This is an excerpt from my ebook Dear Elizabeth

Forgive Yourself – Easier Said Than Done

I note this is easier said than done (oh how I note this!) but it’s a skill to be practiced as assiduously as any other.

Forgive yourself. Everybody else has.

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Update: I note keeping a regular writing journal works magic at this task. The physical act of putting pen to paper makes a concrete connection that creates cracks in the dam holding back all those regrets and should-have-beens.

Writing only for yourself, you can afford a level of honesty and candor that would be incredibly tough if the work was to be published.

I destroy mine after filling them.

As an extra note, I use a fountain pen. It’s a relic from my youth and I’ve finally figured out why I kept it all these years. There’s something quite magical about slowing down and… but that’s a topic for another day.

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Ten Tech Tools I Use To Write

As a full-time writer for the past 30 years, I insist on software that works well and allows me to maximize the number of words I produce in a day. Here are the ten tech tools I use.

Dragon Naturally Speaking

My main desktop computer is an iMac but my laptop is a Windows system because I dictate my content using Dragon NaturallySpeaking. Note none of the links are affiliate links

I use this workaround because Dragon software has been discontinued for the Mac, but is maintained on the Windows system.

So I dictate using my iPhone and Voice Recorder Pro ( available for both Mac and Android) and upload to Dropbox. I can download that Dropbox file to my Windows system whenever I do a transcription.

I then use Dragon Naturally Speaking — the transcribe function to take the Dropbox file and turned it into text.

Evernote

One of the main tools I use is Evernote because it works across all the technology that I use. It syncs from my iMac desktop through to my Windows laptop, iPhones and iPads.

I take advantage of this transferring by uploading my dictated copy into Evernote and when it syncs to the Mac desktop, I copy/paste the copy into the Mac Scrivener system. (Note the newer Mac and Win Scrivener releases no longer sync. The Mac system can read the Win files but not in reverse.)

To answer a question about why I don’t just work on the Win system, it comes down to editing and second drafts that are not voice generated. My word processor (below) and ebook layout software (also below) is Mac based.

Scrivener

As a word processor, Scrivener is designed for writers by writers and it is the best in the business. Its strength is in the editing and organizing of long documents.

And while I use it for articles, it is amazing for writing long works such as books and the organization of those words.

The one thing that I would add is that I do not use 90% of the features of the software and I refuse to let it intimidate me. If you try to understand and use the depth of features right out of the box, you’ll be tempted to stop using it. Use it as a simple word processor and learn to add features as you need them.

Howler Timer

I also use Howler timer on my Mac system to keep track of the various exercises and amounts of time that I want to spend on individual projects in my day.

If I spend one hour dictating a story or series of stories, I set the timer. This allows me to set up 2 to 3 one-hour periods in a row and then take a break between them.

I find if I take breaks. I am much more productive than if I tried to ram through three hours of steady dictating and writing.

Pro Writer Aid

Once I have written something, the next step is to run it through Pro Writer Aid. This is a grammar checker that sits on my desktop and that I had the foresight to buy several years ago when it was first introduced as a premium model. It’s one of the best grammar checkers that I have seen.

Publisher Rocket

Publisher rocket is software you use for keyword analysis and discovery.

If you’re intending to write about a specific subject, you can discover the competitive nature of that keyword or topic. There are four things that it will do at this point — and I emphasize this software is under constant development.

The four things include:

*keyword search
*discover which books and authors are competing in that keyword. 
*category searches so you can identify and add the appropriate categories to your published e-book 
*an AMS keyword search function.

This is one of my key tools for my non-fiction writing and I am a big fan of it.

Dropbox

I have mentioned Dropbox several times in this note. I use it both for a remote drive and transferring files between my various computer systems.

This is a must have for maintaining and backing up files.

Scapple

Scapple is a free-form software graphics program put out by the Literature and Latte people — the developers of Scrivener. I use it for outlining books or with my current project, which is a multiple character and multiple book series, I use it to keep the stories organized.

Both Scrivener and Scapple are inexpensive compared to the value that they bring to the freelance writer.

Vellum

Vellum is a Mac based ebook layout and design software that works to produce excellent ebook layouts that are ready-made for updating to all ebook retailers.

Graphics

I use two graphics programs for all my work. The first is Canva for covers and simple graphics.

The second is the Mac-based Pixelmator which is an “rough” equivalent to Photoshop (but easier to use.)

And that’s it. I try to keep things simple when it comes to tech tools. The discontinuing of Dragon or Mac set me back a bit but the workaround still allows me to be productive. And yes, this note was initially dictated and then edited and transcribed.

You can read other blog posts here about my writing tools

The Meaning Of Life, The Universe and Everything In A Flower Bud

(With apologies to Douglas Adams)

Every nurseryman I know got into the business because they had an affinity for plants; and therein lies one of the great paradoxes of our trade. The best plantsmen, the great plant explorers of our age and indeed past ages have had an eye for a wonderful plant but generally a head full of compost when it came to making money with them.

The artist’s eye saw the soul of the plant and instantly understood how it thrives and enhances our lives. I have walked production and test fields with such people and have seen their scanning senses pull one plant from thousands as distinctive and worthy of attention.

I have similarly had people ask me how I could pick out one small plant from thousands while scanning greenhouse benches full of similar plants. How could I pick out the one sick one?

I would answer that once you’ve seen a million healthy ones, the sick ones stand out — in an attempt to say that I had absolutely no idea how that one plant would speak to me.

Our plantsman’s reality is that we operate in “sympatico” with our plants.

There’s an instant acceptance but never-ending wonder at an emerging seed and no matter how many millions of seeds I’ve started, I confess that wonder is still there for each and every seed. It’s the delight in feeling the wonder of thousands of plants about to grow again after being snow-covered for 4 months.

It’s the delight on an early spring morning of having thousands of nursery blooms and not having to share that sensation with any living soul. Indeed, it is one of absorbing the exuberance of nature unfolding.

There are no magic words to adequately share these “nurseryman moments”, those skills, the attitude, or involvement with the plant world.

You Get It Or Not

You look at pictures in a book and you either “get it” and know you are, as Canadian author Lucy Maude Montgomery described, a “kindred spirit” or you don’t.

Your sensibilities lie elsewhere and the pictures are simply gorgeous pictures.

But if garden pictures speak to you as they speak to me — the words aren’t necessary. You understand the seed emerging, the bud unfolding and the spirit that emerges to become a player on the universe’s stage.

And in the late stages of winter, this is enough.

22 Lessons I Learned From Painting My Office

I have just finished renovating my office, and there are a few lessons I believe I should share with you.

  • The first, is that I am a terrible judge of color in a room. This was pointed out quite firmly to me while a certain person I live with and I were in the paint department. Ahem…. she was right.
  • The second, is one we all know all too well and that is that things take longer than they should. So a project I had tasked for one week grew into a three week — and counting- project.
  • I am a chainsaw carpenter — close counts. Caulking and paint hide many sins.
  • I am not a painter. While I have excellent hand eye coordination, I do not have fine finger coordination and masking tape is my best friend.
  • I also learned that masking tape bleeds if it is not ironed onto the wall.
  • I have far too many books. (My favorite book this morning is an 1891 version of John Bartlett’s “Familiar Quotations”.)
  • After moving all of my books and furniture out of the office, I needed a chiropractor. I was slower and smarter moving stuff back in but…
  • Caulking floor trim is fraught with opportunities to make a mess. I have been told I never pass on an opportunity.
  • If you get white latex paint on your jeans, you can soak the jeans and then rub like crazy. If you get it early enough it all comes out.
  • I do not know where the three whiteboards and stands came from. Ditto the yoga mat that was never used and is still in its store wrapping.
  • So that’s where that box was!
  • My kids have brought back some very cool presents from their trips over the years. Between these and the ones they made as small children, there were some tears shed.
  • I did a little work on my laptops while all of this was underway. I have a Windows system and a Mac, and I prefer the Mac. Having said that, I am delighted to be back on my big office iMac. (I have the Windows system for dictation and the Macs for everything else.)
  • One really should throw stuff out rather than keep it, “just in case.”
  • So that’s where X went! I found several X’s
  • I’m missing one T. E. Lawrence book. It wasn’t stolen, I’ve just never bought it and this will have to be remedied. When one is moving books, one must investigate them thoroughly. Which may account for the one-week project being extended somewhat.
  • My rugs from Jordan and Timbuktu will have to get along with the smaller ones from East Asia. Color clashing is fine in my office.
  • Which leads me to the question, with that many interesting rugs, why did I lay a new floor?
  • My history book collection is now approaching the size of my old gardening book collection. Something has to give in the next few years As I have no more space for shelving. And yes, before you ask the rest of the house is fully shelved as well.
  • My Tom Swift Jr. collection only needs one more book to complete it and it really should be up in my office. As I told a friend, I could buy it from a bookstore but I’m going to find it “in the wild”. This gives me a reason to haunt old and used bookstores.
  • I found stuff! Now I know where that package of o-rings for my scuba gear went. This is only one example and I’ve put all these new-found treasures in a “safe place” where I won’t lose them. The challenge of course is remembering where that damnable safe place is.
  • I now firmly believe one should do this kind of cleanup exercise quite regularly.

Watch for my next update in 20 years when I do this again.

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Do you think you’re losing your memory?

A few weeks ago, I questioned whether I was losing my memory. I’d do a task on my website and the next day I’d take a look to do it again, only to surprise myself that it had been done.

This wasn’t good news and for a few days I was quite shaken., I have a family history of Alzheimer’s and this might be a warning shot across the bow. But then I read a similar story from Copyblogger about eroding attention span and thought about this.

Two days later, I ran an impromptu test by asking myself to name just two of the titles I’d just read through my rss feed not two minutes before.

I couldn’t.

Oh crap! (That’s not what I really said but this is a family friendly writer)

I thought about this for a few days. I made notes to myself about the kinds of things I remember and what I forget and thought about it some more.

Internet Attention Deficit Syndrome

The bottom line is I clearly have Internet Attention Deficit Syndrome. A condition caused by trying to jam far too many unrelated items of news and information into my brain on a daily or even hourly basis.

I’m not sure any of us are meant to emulate a computer with all that data going into our memory banks. And while I’m sure it’s in my head somewhere, the problem is that I haven’t related the new information to anything else so that giant connected 4-d spider web we call memory is not functioning the way it was designed to do. It’s filled with irrelevancies and single unconnected facts.

I have to remind myself, my brain isn’t an “it’s overloaded” but rather I’m overloaded”.

I’m not really losing my memory, I’m simply overloaded. (Yes, I do repeat this to myself when I start worrying.)

Research On Aging Shows

Aging research shows that adults only slow down in memory responses because we relate everything to everything else in our brains and there’s just that much more inside us to access. It’s not we forget, it’s that it takes longer for the processes to work. Dr. Michael Ramscar wrote this as part of the abstract for a much longer study report:

”Rather the results suggested that older adults’ performance might result from applying a strategy that may have been shaped by their wealth of real-word decision-making experience. While this strategy is likely to be effective in the real world, it is ill suited to some decision environments. These results underscore the importance of taking into account effects of experience in aging studies, even for tasks that do not obviously tap past experiences.”

Personally Speaking

From a personal point of view, this means I’ll remember better if I’m more selective about what I read. Rather than trying to inject it with a firehose, I’m working to set up a selective system with fewer but richer resources.

It might be compared to building rock walls. Instead of taking a full truckload of rock and gravel, I’ll only take the larger rocks to build my walls. I’ll let the gravel stay in the quarry (or Internet) rather than in my working space (brain).

Digital Minimalism

It’s called digital minimalism and here’s a quick primer on how to transition to it. (link is to blog post but the book — link on his site — is excellent)

After six months with increasing amounts of minimalism, I’m feeling human and competent again. I’m one of those works in progress we like to confess to rather than the painful truth of not having done anything significant.

I’m now quite selective about who I read and listen to.

Pruning The Voices

Slowly but surely I’ve been pruning out words and authors that don’t inspire me or that are repetitive in their work.

I’ve deleted paid memberships in three online sites. I have none left.

I only take courses with limited duration and the specific training tasks I need.

My RSS feeds have been decimated with entire sections deleted.

My email subscription folder looks like a ghost town.

Note this isn’t a one time pruning. I constantly find new authors and new inputs and my feeds slowly increase over time. But now, I take a few minutes every month to prune newsletters and rss feeds to focus only on those that meet my current needs.

Curated Newsletters

My preferred reading now is via a curated newsletter and I’m intrigued and interested in those. I take very few straight newsletters anymore.

I also have a stack of books (this is another addiction I’m working on and will report back about) on a side table in the living room waiting for me to read.

Bottom Line On Losing Your Memory

I’ll have to get back to you with more memory research you can use. Consider this a first step.

What I can tell you is I feel much better already with the reduced information flow.

My info-stream is a richer flow with more useful and interesting information and far fewer bits of flotsam and jetsam.

The effect of my meditations last longer before I feel my body ramping back up.

I’m not as stressed about current affairs (having stopped constantly updating the feed and avoiding the current outrage-du-jour.)

And yes, my memory is fine. Thanks for asking.

Click here to join me as I explore the Net and Aging (and anything else that strikes me as interesting)

7 Books That Made Me A Full Time Writer

My passion for collecting and reading books knows no bounds

My passion for collecting and reading books almost knows no bounds and my wife and I haunt used bookstores and antique stores looking to fill in gaps in my collections. I have entire bookcases of history and science fiction books, and I’m only missing one or two titles in both the Hardy boys and Tom Swift Junior series to complete both.

As a full-time garden writer, my collection of old and valuable gardening books allowed me to write an award winning book about older garden books and their advice. I note I started collecting when prices were more reasonable than they are today.

But as a full-time writer for the last 25 years, I only have 15 books on writing.

The 7 books below are the most read, reread and marked up.

“On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft”

Stephen King

This appears to be everybody’s favorite book for writers and prospective writers. I own a copy I’ve read it and yes, it’s motivating. It may not be one of my favorites and I can’t say my writing is better because I read it. But I’m drawn to it again and again and that may be its greatest benefit — an ongoing reminder of what it is like to be a writer.

Favourite Quote

“This is a short book because most books about writing are filled with bullshit. Fiction writers, present company included, little understand very much about what they do — not why it works when it’s good, nor why it doesn’t when it’s bad. I figured the shorter the book, the less the bullshit.”

I admire anybody who’d start a book off like that.

“Zen in the Art of Writing”

Ray Bradbury

This is an excellent book aimed at motivating writers and “how-to-be a better writer”. Bradbury’s use of the exercise of collecting words and making lists of them alone and in combination have driven some of his best writing. He describes taking several of these word lists as he combined words and produced classic stories. I note if you don’t want to collect the words yourself and do the exercise of associating them, you can download the app “Brainstormer” (to Apple App Store)

Bradbury is the writer I’d like to be ‘when I grow up’. He’s written everything from pulp magazines and books to movies and theatre and is likely best known for Fahrenheit 451.

Favorite Quote

“Thomas Wolfe ate the world and vomited lava. Dickens dined at a different table every hour of his life. Molière, tasting society, turned to pick up his scalpel, as did Pope and shop. Everywhere you look in the literary cosmos, the great ones are busy loving and hating. Have you given up this primary business as obsolete in your own writing? What fun you are missing them.”

“Creating Short Fiction”

Damon Knight

If you’re at all interested in writing short stories, this would be my most highly recommended book. Knight leads you through story building, situations, characters, and if you’ll come away from this 197 page book with a far better understanding of how to craft a short story.

Favorite Quote

“The most valuable thing you can learn is how to use your own experiences that help you project yourself in imagination into the lives of other people. Write what you know, by all means, when you can, but fill in the spaces by finding out what you need to know.”

“The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller”

John Truby

This is perhaps my most marked up book with a significant number of Post-it notes and do-not-lose-this page notes. The one thing that he does is give you a 22 step story structure and while this is essentially a movie structure it is easily adaptable for novels. I note other how-to-write authors are adapting what he’s written to their own how-to books.

Favorite Quote

“Remember the simple rule of thumb: to have a moral need, the character must be hurting at least one other person at the beginning of the story.”

Writing Tools: 55 Essential Strategies for Every Writer

Roy Peter Clark

Again I’ve heavily marked up and made notes in my copy of this book. I consider it one book you should seriously add to your library.

Favorite Quote

“Active verbs move the action and reveal the actors.
Passive verbs emphasize the receiver, the victim.
The verb “to be” links words and ideas.”

That pretty much sums up that issue.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print.

Rennie Brown and David King

This was one of the first how-to books on writing that a friend recommended I read. The highlights in this book are the numerous checklists and exercises. 
Before you get to your third and final draft, it’s an excellent idea to review this book and apply its lessons.

Favorite Quote

“So when you come across an explanation of a characters emotion, simply cut the explanation. If the emotion is still shown, then the explanation wasn’t needed. If the emotion isn’t shown, rewrite the passage so that it is.”

Techniques Of The Selling Writer

Dwight V. Swain.

From the back cover: “This book provides solid instruction for persons who want to write and sell fiction, not just to talk and study about it.”

This is an excellent book for structuring your stories and for understanding what makes a story and how you go about creating it.

Favorite Quote

“Actually, the happy ending is infinitely less important than the satisfying ending. Given reader fulfillment, you don’t necessarily have to close with a clinch, the Marines landing, or the villain snarling, “foiled again!”
Forget the phony, therefore. Distortion of reality will get you nowhere. What your reader seeks is less nirvana than the feeling, “this is as it should be.”

Again, while I have other books about writing on my shelves including Robert Mckee’s “Story”, “The Chicago Manual of Style”, and an old copy of Strunk and White, the seven books above have formed the foundation for my writing career.

I hope they help you as well.

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