21 iPhone Apps This Indie Author Uses All The Time (and a bonus item)

Writing and Technology ....

There are lots of writers and workshops and retreats that push writing without technology and internet connectivity, or with minimal technology and connectivity ... I am not that kind of writer.

I love being connected, and making full and effective use of a world's worth of computing power at my fingertips, both in my laptop (a Chromebook, if you were wondering) and in my iPhone.

I keep lots of apps open and running all the time, downloading new ones everyday, and ruthlessly weeding out the ones I don't love and use all the time. When I'm writing on my Chromebook, I usually have a couple of these same things open in background tabs, but to a lesser degree (both to reduce clutter and in an effort to reduce my demands on bandwidth and battery in my laptop).

Here's a list of my current favorites, somewhat in descending order of my love for them (in combination with the frequency of use):

Gmail - I love staying connected to my email, and also use gmail as a memo device to send myself (and other family and friends) reminders.

Facebook - When I'm writing, I enjoy keeping people who follow my writing involved in the process, and that often means posting about times and locations I'm writing, as well as progress updates on my current projects.

Twitter - I'm not at all sure that I use Twitter to its full effect, but I like to post fairly regularly with some bite-sized updates about what's going on with my writing.

Google Keep - This app is great for speech to texting ideas for any current or future projects I'm working on ... this is the one I reach for when I'm in the car and something comes to me.

Google Maps - A good feeling of location is vital (to me at least) in writing and reading and enjoying stories, and I use Google Maps all the time to remind myself and/or get a feel for a place as I'm writing.

Google Photos - My iPhone has limited memory, so I don't keep a lot of pictures on the phone, but I like being able to access my huge collection of picture, for either stories or SmartPig business.

This - A simple but amazingly useful photo-labeling app.

Starbucks - My Starbucks app and membership allows me to order ahead of time, skip the line, and get free refills while I'm writing there; since they've gone to free wifi, I enjoy spending serious chunks of time (but not serious money) in these writer-friendly spaces.

Music - One of the first things I do when I sit down to start writing, is open up one of my writing playlists. Depending on the writing I'll be doing, I have playlists ranging from super-mellow to seriously rocking.

Spotify - Recently, I've been exploring the wonderful world, and app, of Spotify more and more. With my membership I can make and save and share playlists of new and favorite music, share them with family and friends, and even try playlists that other people (other writers even) have generated.

Audible - On drives of any length, or flights, or just to calm down and reset from a long day, I enjoy listening to audiobooks. I've been listening to lots of fantasy books recently, gearing up for writing my first fantasy novel this coming year, and it's a wonderful way to explore other authors.

Flipboard - I can't remember the last time a day went by without my looking through gazillions of articles, sharing some of my favorites, and dumping others into my own "magazine". It's a great news aggregator that can be infinitely tailored to match your interests.

BlogPress - This is a great little app that allows users to post and edit their blog(s). I recently was travelling in Iceland, and able to post numerous blog entries on the road, with only my iPhone to work with, and it was super.

Layapp - I often use photos to communicate via FB or Twitter, and this is a fun and useful app for arranging pictures and text.

Invoice Maker - This app is relatively new to my iPhone, but is already easy to recognize as incredibly useful and easy and practical.

Spyglass - Hearkening back to my love or maps and geolocation, Spyglass is a fun tool to play with, integrating map and compass and GPS with an intuitive interface makes this a go-to app for finding my way in the world.

Moonphase - Although not absolutely necessary, I like to know when and where and to what degree the moon will be present in my writing; this app helps me manage all of these needs.

Sunset & Rise - As with MoonPhase above, the times of the sun rising and setting often play an important role in my stories, so it's nice to be able to access that information.

Sky Guide - Being able to know what celestial bodies, constellations, and satellites are passing overhead during my stories is fun, and helps me climb inside the moment.

Date & Time - I use this app when finding out birthdays/birthdates, elapsed time from certain events, and other date-related information in my stories.

Writer Lists - This almanac-like app has an incredible amount of useful information in it, that I should probably make better, and more frequent use of, but don't (which is why it is way down here at the bottom of this list.

... and my battery-pack ...

I use an Anker Battery Pack to extend the life of my iPhone while working. With a full charge, I can work all day (or longer), recharging my phone every few hours, and keep every app I want/need open and operating the whole time. Nothing is more annoying than running out, or even running low on, power when you're working, but with a big external battery pack you never have to worry about it happening.

Thanks for reading! 

I'd love to hear what apps and gear you find essential to your writing process, and to field any other questions you might have.



Recent Book Club Epiphany

{thankfully there are no rules about talking about book club}

I was recently invited to speak with a local book club about my first novel, Here Be Monsters, which they read for their March book. They all had enjoyed the book (which is always a good start) and had some great questions and observations about the story, the series, and maybe most importantly, about Tyler.

A couple of questions came up about why I chose to write the books through Tyler, and why (for the love of God) I wrote him with all of those backslashes and ellipses and parentheticals. 

At some level. I'd always known the answers to their questions, but I'd never worked through them out loud, with words, to people, before.

I've spent, or misspent depending on your viewpoint, most of my life reading mysteries; most of them filled with hard-boiled cops and detectives, all of them tougher than $2 steaks and more street-smart than Times Square pigeons. 

When I was starting to put together plans for my first NaNoWriMo, I did a lot of reading about how to write your novel; one of them said the world had absolutely seen enough hard-boiled detectives. I still like reading this flavor of detective, but it was an epiphanic moment nonetheless.

All at once, in an instant, it came to me that although I wasn't sure I agreed with the article, I didn't want to write my novel with a hard-boiled detective.

I knew, suddenly, that I was going to write the Tyler Cunningham Adirondack Mysteries, a series about a "soft-boiled" detective.
Where detectives like Spenser, Philip Marlowe, Mike Hammer, and Travis McGee bull their way through mysteries, relying on brawn and toughness and knowing their way around the mean streets to get them through another gin-soaked day and night, I wanted something a little different.

I wanted a detective who didn't understand the mean streets, who couldn't take a punch and had never been inside a boxing ring, who would spit-take a lowball of fancy bourbon, but knows his way around Canadian Coke.

Tyler Cunningham wasn't only going to be the opposite of most of the detectives I'd spent my life reading, he was going to be notably, interestingly, and sometimes dangerously different than the other people in the world I was going to build for him.

I'd been working with the most interesting people on Earth for the last two decades as a Special Education teacher, and I knew in a flash that Tyler was neurodivergent.

Once I knew that, I knew that I had to write him in ways that highlighted and communicated that neurodivergence; that's where the backslashes and ellipses and parentheticals came from, and why we've kept using them in all of the Tyler stories to this day. 

I didn't just want Tyler to be different, I wanted readers to be forced to climb inside, and do a ride-along with, his differences.

An added benefit of his differences is that although he is quite clever, he will nearly always make the same sort of mistake when it comes to trying to outwit, and even plan for, the bad guys that he runs into during his adventures.

Anyway, that's the story behind the birth of Tyler Cunningham, and the reasoning behind the ways he's been written all of these years.



What My Writing Year Looks like

It's the beginning of April, and if I didn't live in the Adirondacks, Spring would be in the air ... we may still be in for another big snowstorm.

My latest novel, Thunderstruck, has been out for a few months, and I've sold hundreds of copies here and there (mostly here, with a couple of exceptions in Australia and Canada and the UK).

I'm happy with the book, happy with the sales, happy with being able to share my stories ... and ready to hop back on the merry-go-round ... this seems like a good time to talk about how I do what I do to write a novel every year.

I will attempt in this blog to outline, maybe even detail, how and when and why I do what I do in my writing. Many of you have asked me questions about my process ... here it is.

If I leave out something critical to your explorations, or spark some new question in your mind, please either leave a comment or send me an email.

The annual writing pattern I've been following has worked for me for the last four years, and will (I assume) keep working for me this/next year ... with a few modifications made to accommodate my sabbatical and my next major writing project.

I'll describe the process as it progresses from the end of one year through the end of the next, looked at through the lens of my writing process.

As the year winds down, the editing process comes to an end (there's really no end in the editing process, but you have to pick a point, and after my copy and line editor has given it her final stamp of approval, we feel ready to go to press), and I begin working with CreateSpace and KDP to format the book for readers, design a cover,

Once the book is ready with CreateSpace and KDP, I hit the button, tell friends & family & FB, and take a nap.

Sometime after the book goes live, I begin to think about writing again, but long before that, I pick up a book (someone else's writing, not my own, I'm sick of reading my own words at this time of year), and start reading again. 

I generally slow down my reading when I'm writing and editing, and this is the time of the year when I start finding new stuff to read, or circle back for books I've already enjoyed, and want another crack at ... I think SK is 100% right when it comes to the link between reading and writing.
The other thing that happens once the book is published and I start to read and breathe and sleep (and drink reasonable amounts of coffee) again, is that I get out to enjoy the outdoors, and explore my world.

Just like with reading, spending time exploring the natural world gives me the tools I need to write. The same is true of my time in the classroom, but that's an inevitable outgrowth of my job (except for next year, but I have plans in place to deal with that, as well as two decades of stories/experiences crammed up inside my skull to keep me going during sabbatical).

I like to go camping, canoeing, and hiking, with family and friends ... it stretches me physically and mentally and is a needed change from my indoor life.
At some point, between napping and reading and teaching and camping and exploring, the next book starts writing itself. 

I generally start getting ideas in February and March, and making plans in April and May. 

If you subscribe to the Gardener/Architect theory of writers, I'm probably an architect who incorporates some green-spaces into his buildings. I like to plan my books out to a certain degree, having some idea of setting and characters and conflict and plot, but aim for more of a rough map than a detailed blueprint for my writing, as I like to wander where the words take me once the coffee and my fingers get rolling.

I keep notebooks and have an app (Google Keep, if you're interested) for thoughts that come to me in the months after I published the last book ... I also use a workbook that I developed a few years ago to help me force my squishy thoughts into a (slightly) more rigid framework.

For Between the Carries, I experimented with mapping a classic hero's journey, and covering the poster I'd made with sticky-notes in the story-appropriate spots ... I really liked it for BTC, but didn't use it (in this fully implemented format) for Thunderstruck. I'm still up in the air about whether or not to make use of this method for Oasis, my next novel project (a high fantasy).

Once the school-year comes to an end, and the warm months (weeks, days?) come to the Adirondacks, I start working to balance my time between reading and exploring and planning, and then select a month to add a writing-sprint to the mix.

NaNoWriMo made my novel writing possible, and I owe the completion of all of my novels to the concept put forward by this fantastic organization.

The basic idea of the program is simple: take 30 (or 31, depending on the month) days to write the first (and very rough) draft of your novel. They suggest 50,000 words as the baseline length for a novel, which works out to roughly 1600 words per day.

I've been successful writing my first drafts in my month-long writing sprints four out of four years (so far). They have been roughly 75k, 105k, 85k, and 95k, with significant pruning and grafting and moving of parts around between the end of the NaNoWriMos and the final drafts and publication of my novels:

My best writing hours are in the mornings of my summers, and I tend to be able to write between 2,000 and 5,000 words each day, with a few skipped days (for fun with family and friends) and the occasional day when I'm able to get as much as 7,000 to 9,000 words (with lots of coffee, and generally feeling pretty spent the following day).

The key, for me, is the feeling of pressure to write quick and rough, not worrying about getting it perfect, but just getting the basic framework of the story out of my brain, through my fingers and the Chromebook's keyboard. There's no way to write a finished novel in a sprint, and with that concern gone, I find myself able to write my books ... knowing that I'll fix the story later on, with the help of beta-readers and story/copy/line editors (and as many as a half-dozen, or more, rewrites).

To write thousands of words each day, I need a comfortable space to write, brain and finger fuel (in the form of food and water and coffee), my notes and maps and workbook, and adequate wifi and power to keep my Chromebook running for the four to six hours of writing that I do each day during my writing sprints ... it's got a ten hour battery life when fully charged, so this isn't a problem unless I forget to plug it in overnight.

The sprints are mentally exhausting, physically uncomfortable, and spiritually draining. I spend a lot fo the month with red/gritty eyes, sore muscles, eating too much easy comfort-food, and drinking gallons of strong coffee to keep the word-valanche rolling downhill towards the end of the final chapter.

Once the first draft of the novel is done, I save it in a couple of places (almost certainly wasted effort, since writing it in GoogleDocs means that it's saved everywhere ... still, I save it with Dropbox and send copies to myself via Gmail).

I put the project away for a few weeks, and try to forget the horror ... the horror.

In a couple of weeks, I print up a few copies of the book (as seen above, I clump them into 150-ish page chunks to avoid their being too big), and Gail and I go though them.

My first read of the novel is done without a pen ... I'm looking for readability and big-picture issues. I assume it's pretty much the same thing with Gail. After we've both taken our time getting through it, we get together for a SmartPig meeting, hopefully over drinks, to talk about what I wanted to say, what I actually said, and what we need to do to get from the latter to the former.

I initially dreaded this meeting, taking it somewhat (possibly unavoidably) personally, but over the years I've come to realize that nobody writes a great first draft (I wrote good, then went back and changed it ... apparently my ego is not fully hardened).

I chip away at the proposed fixes/problems/issues over the next month or so, always keeping in mind Neil Gaiman's thoughts on the subject (above). After I feel as though I've worked through my punchlist sufficiently that the story says what I wanted it to say in the way that I wanted it to be said, we take another look at it (this can sometimes take months, and multiple rounds of reading, rewriting, and reevaluating). This is the part of the process that I absolutely, positively HATE. I've told my story, and just want to move on to telling the next one, and Gail has to work hard at holding my attention through all of the various levels/flavors of edits (sorry and thank you honey!).

At this point we ship the book to the far coast to get my copy and line editor into the mix. This results in another few rounds of back and forthing and polishing, at which point we're likely into late November or December ... once we've hammered things out with my editor, and the book is in what we consider a final and finished form, we order proof-copies from CreateSpace.

I'm always giddy and giggly when I get to hold the first copies of a new book in my hands, after all the time and work and planning and writing and rewriting that has gone into it. Gail and I take our time reading through it, and despite multiple reads by all of the members of Team SmartPig, we'll always find things to fix (and there are always going to be one or two that make it through even that final check ... go figure, it's an imperfect world).

Once we've fixed what errors we find, we re-upload the files and hit the button.

I hope that this blog entry was of some use to you ... it was to me. I find value in contemplating process, and am grateful for the opportunity and audience (even if I created/took the opportunity and possibly imagine the audience).

There is no "Right Way" to write a novel; this is the way that works for me, and since that's what I've got, I'm happy to share it with you.

Please take what works, leave the rest, and feel free to get in touch with me if you have questions about writing, my writing, or me.