Resolutions Review | Write more with fun (free) productivity tools: Pomodoro Challenge Timer, Write or Die, Camp NaNoWriMo & progress meters.

INTRODUCTION: A while back, I introduced this month’s series in a post called Resolutions Review: did you get control of your weight, fitness, money, and work issues? (Plus Power Poses.) Tackling this series a bit of a stretch for a paranormal-themed blog, but less so if you understand that I define the word paranormal broadly.

Para- / par-ə / Prefix. ”Alongside, near, beyond, altered, contrary to.” norma/ nawr-muhl / Adjective. “Conforming to the standard; usual; regular; natural.”

No matter how far I stray from topics like ghosts, cryptids and mysteries, I am always thinking about how to make life better and easier for my kindred. These articles will become part of a section of the blog I’m developing, dedicated to living a (moderately) paranormal lifestyle. body preservation There. That’s out of the  way.

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BREAKING THROUGH WRITER’S BLOCK

By now you probably know that I fell into a writing slump, in the wake of Halloween 2013, which inspired me to work on better managing other areas of my life.

Despite progress elsewhere, my writing recovery was admittedly slow as I trudged through this tough winter. Now, though, I’m happy to say that I’ve clawed my way up and out of the pit. I’m not yet  producing at full capability, but I’m getting there … partly thanks to tools I found on the internet which helped me improve my physical and financial well-being. (Click those links to see the previous posts in this series.) Getting a handle on those stressors freed up some energy and mind-space which I could then muster to attack my writer’s block.

To wage the battle, I again turned to the internet to search for tools and gadgets that would support my efforts and inspire me. I gathered all sorts of  things to try, rejected some, and settled into regularly using the best, most effective programs I found. Now, after a significant trial period, I can offer some recommendations to those of you who are looking for ways to streamline and smooth out your own routines.

If the advent of spring is inspiring you to revise, refine and recommit to your resolutions, check out the following list of work-management tools.

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OLD RECOMMENDATION: FOCUS BOOSTER

~ a simple timer widget for your desktop, designed to help improve concentration while working on a project.

docus booster screen shot

UPDATE: As of Aug. 2015, Focus Booster has been redesigned. (It now maintains stats and issues reports.) It has also been converted from free to paid by subscription. It has a 15 day free trial, after which it costs $2.99 per month or $29.99 per year. I have not trialed this new version.

NEW RECOMMENDATION: POMODORO CHALLENGE TIMER

~ a cell phone app with an attitude.

For some time now, I’ve been instead using a phone app called Pomodoro Challenge Timer. Toward the end of Focus Booster’s free version, it became buggy, so I went looking for something different. Most of the pomodoro technique apps I found were lacking personality. I very much appreciated the snarky attitude of the Pomodoro Challenge Timer when I discovered it. (You just need to read its description to understand.) As a bonus, it offered more tracking features than Focus Booster did at the time.

This app is free and can be upgraded for even more functionality with an in-app purchase of $2.99.

pomodoro

This timer was built to work with the Pomodoro Technique, which is really a complete productivity philosophy in itself. It involves dividing your work day into 25-minute chunks of focused time, each followed by a 5-minute break. This time segment is called a Pomodoro. After every forth Pomodoro, you take a longer break of 30 minutes.

To learn more about this effective time management system, visit: The Pomodoro Technique.

In short, Pomodoro Challenge Timer is a  fun, free app with a reasonably priced upgrade option. Go grab it and give it a try.

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WRITE OR DIE (NOT RECOMMENDED)

~designed specifically for writers who struggle with over-thinking and/or over-editing when they should be just getting words on a page.

Update: As long as I’m here in Aug. 2015, I want to let you know that I’ve given up on Write or Die completely. It has not improved since I posted the following review.

(WARNING: I am recommending ONLY the free version–and that halfheartedly.)

I’ve mentioned this program here at The Paranormalist before. When I found it, more than a year ago, I tried out the free version for a while, then bought the desktop version. I still use it on days when I just want to make a lot of words appear without worrying about editing. You can read about my first experience with the program in Write or Die – a productivity tool designed to overcome my personal writer’s faults.

write or die screen shot

I still believe The CONCEPT is brilliant.

Unfortunately, the execution of this program is less than stellar. I had to find work-arounds to make sure that nothing I typed got lost. (I have to remember to copy and paste my text into a WORD document before I exit the writing window, because I don’t trust the on-board save function.) The badge I referenced in my first article never did work properly. Otherwise, though, the program is both fun and effective so I knew I wanted to include an update and a cautious recommendation for it in this blog.

When I went to fetch the proper link for this post, I discovered that a new version, Write or Die 2, is available.

write or die

It’s supposed to have improved functionality and more options. The new version not only provides consequences  in the same way the original did, it offers two additional modes: reward and stimulus.

stimulusScreenshot

This is what it’s supposed to look like in stimulus mode.

Because I’m about to start a big new project, I was very excited. I purchased the desktop version immediately. (There was a code available for use by teachers, students and people who had purchased the first version, so I only paid $15.)

HUGE MISTAKE!

I should have read around the internet a bit before surrendering my money. This new version is not just a little buggy sometimes – easily half of the features don’t work properly or consistently. The good news is that I seem to be able to use it in consequences mode just about as reliably as I am able to use my desktop version of the first edition. (It seems to save a little better, though it won’t let me name the save file, even though it indicates that doing so is an option. I still don’t trust it.)

To make matters worse, it appears that the developer has abandoned both products – except for accepting payment, that is. It turns out that I’m a lucky one … most folks who are trying to purchase version 1 these days are not receiving their download links despite having made payment.

It’s a shame because, when it works, this program can help you generate huge blocks of text. Though I use it to create rough draft prose, I imagine it could be an effective tool for any kind of stream-of-consciousness brainstorming or journaling. I hope the developer decides to support his products and sends out bug fixes, but I’m not holding my breath. I will be staying on top of the situation and will update this post and make note in a future blog  if anything changes.

In short, DON’T BUY EITHER DESKTOP VERSION ON THIS PROGRAM, at least not right now.  In the meantime, it seems safe enough to use the program in its FREE, web-based incarnation. Go to writeordie.com, adjust the controls, and hit “try.” As long as you have internet, it works. To be safe, copy and paste your text to another program before quitting out of the writing screen.

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CAMP NANOWRIMO

~ a more flexible and self-directed version of November’s traditional National Novel Writing Month program.

This is great way to try NaNo if you’ve not had the courage to do it before. You set your own goal (between 10,000 and 100,000 words) which can be about writing a first draft, or revising a previously existing one. (Or about creating an outline for a new project, or anything, really, as long as you can figure out how to equate it to a goal word count in a way that makes sense to you.)

camp_moonrise_poster_main

The camp sessions happen in April and July. (This post was written when I was gearing up for the April 2014 session.)

Aside from the motivation provided by the word count graph that is integral to NaNo, there are other perks to becoming a camper. I’ve signed up to be in a “cabin” and I’m already enjoying the enthusiastic messages left by my camp buddies on our message board. (If you don’t want the distraction of social interaction, you can opt out of encabinment.)

camp tee

I know I’m not giving you very much any notice about this, but I would welcome companionship on this adventure. Because you can set your own goal, it’s entirely reasonable to spend the first several days of camp organizing and developing the project. (That’s what I’ll be doing.) If you want to see my camper profile, or check on my progress, you can visit me at: campnanowrimo.org/campers/theparanormalist.

I’ll be immersing in that project I wanted to tackle last November, before the slump set in so completely. (Yes, it is possible that the very contemplation of that project contributed to the writer’s block itself.) Now that I’ve had some time to think about it, and now that I’m doing better in general, and now that it’s spring, I think I’m ready to dive in.

2014-Participant-Twitter-Header-2

If you aren’t ready to do camp in April, but are intrigued by the idea, you’re in luck — there will be another session in July. Maybe we can meet up then.

In short, this is a fun, lower-stress introduction to the world of intensive writing and goal-meeting zeitgeist and you should come play!

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PROGRESS / WORD COUNT METERS

~  a fun way to visualize and acknowledge your accomplishments, and share information with supporters.

I’ll be doing A LOT of self-monitoring in this upcoming month and into the foreseeable future. It really seems to help keep me focused and on-track. I’ll be using both Camp NaNoWriMo and WriMoProg in April. Camp NaNo will help me with drafting the beginning of my new novel, and WriMoPro will help me with staying on top of my blogging and other writerly tasks. Each challenge has its own way of tracking progress, but it never hurts to add on a pretty graphic widget as well.

One particular progress meter –  the word count meter from Critique Circle – can be used for both challenges. This is another gadget that I’ve shared with you before, but it merits another mention for multiple reasons:

  • unlike other widgets, it can be displayed in a post or sidebar here at wordpress.com
  • it’s a beauty – simple, elegant and customizable
  • it’s easy to update, in that you click the image wherever it appears and update your count in a dead-simple form, then copy and past the generated code wherever you want it
  • during the month of November (but not during camp months) the meter can be directly linked to your NaNoWriMo graph
  • though it’s intended to track word counts, you can enter any number range which means it can be used to track hours

This is what my word count meter for April’s Camp NaNoWriMo looks like:

 

In short, if you have need of a progress meter that will work where others won’t, get it at Critique Circle.

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Now it’s time to get back to full-on writing. Wish me luck, Folks.


The wisdom of Stephen King: best quotes from Constant Writer.

For this week’s King’s March, I decided to share my favorite quotes from my favorite author. As long as I was at it, I turned some of them into a sort of quiz. I also created a list at a site where your can up-vote your favorite or add one that I missed. You’ll find all that below. Before we go there, though, I want to do a quick update on my experiment with this linky / bloghop.

KingsMarch_zps31f8f79e

BLOG HOPS / LINKIES

For those of you following along, this post is part of an experiment intended to help me learn about and understand blog hops, aka linkies. I revealed my confusion about the practice in the first post in the series. Now I’m starting to get it … and I am pleased. If you have a look at the comments thread on my second King-themed post, you’ll see that the hosts of this King’s March linky are keeping track of the participants’ entries on their blogs. (In the comments to my post there are two “pingback” notifications, which lead back to where they’ve mentioned my blog, as well as those of the other participants.)

The way it’s done – or at least the way these two bloggers do it – is to create a weekly post which summarizes the blogs created in honor of the linky in the previous week. They also put up a new linky widget where participants can add another link, to another post. That’s the best way for non-participants to gain easy access to all the themed posts … go to the scheduled update post at the host blog or blogs, and browse the links and / or take a peek at the linky itself to see what’s going up throughout the week. In this case, the update post goes up on Saturdays. (It’s not very different from my #NetNet posts, now that I think about it.)

Here are the links to last Saturday’s summary posts at Forth Street Review and at Wensend. If you go there, you’ll see the link to my post from last week among the others. If you click the “Mister Linky You’re Next” icon, you’ll see a list of what’s going up this week, including this post.

Pretty cool.

BACK TO STEPHEN KING

I’m obsessed with my fiction writing lately, and I’m STILL working on Christine. I wanted to contribute something fun to the hop this week though, so I’ve spent some hours hunting down my favorite Stephen King quotes. I’m cool with the time investment, because *I* am his number one fan.

Can you place the quote in the right book?
(Highlight the space between the parentheses to check your answers.)

1. “I am your number one fan.”
(Misery)

2. “The soil of a man’s heart is stonier; a man grows what he can and tends it.”
(Pet Sematary)

3. “Get busy living or get busy dying…..there ain’t nothing in between.”
(Different Seasons)

4. “It’s a Dance. And sometimes they turn the lights off in this ballroom.
But we’ll dance anyway, you and I. Even in the Dark. Especially in the Dark.
May I have the pleasure?”
(Danse Macabre)

5. “He thrusts his fists against the posts and still insists he sees the ghosts.”
(   It      )

6. “Anything with the power to make you laugh over thirty years later isn’t a waste of time. I think something like that is very close to immortality.”
(Hearts in Atlantis)

7. “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12 – Jesus, did you?”
(The Body aka Stand By Me)

8. “Calling it a simple schoolgirl crush was like saying a Rolls-Royce was a vehicle with four wheels, something like a hay-wagon. She did not giggle wildly and blush when she saw him, nor did she chalk his name on trees or write it on the walls of the Kissing Bridge. She simply lived with his face in her heart all the time, a kind of sweet, hurtful ache. She would have died for him.”
(It              )

9. “Sometimes being a bitch is all a woman’s got to hold on to.”
(Dolores Claiborne)

10. “The thing under my bed waiting to grab my ankle isn’t real. I know that, and I also know that if I’m careful to keep my foot under the covers, it will never be able to grab my ankle.”
(Night Shift)

11. “God grant me the serenity to accept what I cannot change, the tenacity to change what I may, and the good luck not to fuck up too often.”
(‘Salem’s Lot)

12. “True sorrow is as rare as true love.”
(Carrie)

13. “The place where you made your stand never mattered. Only that you were there… and still on your feet.”
(The Stand)

14. “In small towns people scent the wind with noses of uncommon keenness.”
(The Stand)

15. “God is cruel. Sometimes he makes you live.”
(Desperation)

16, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
(The Shining- thanks, Mark!)

HOW MANY DID YOU GET RIGHT?

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It’s like he’s talking straight to me.

Sometimes, I think I over-identify with King. Maybe we all do, and maybe that’s what makes him such a devastatingly effective author. It’s like he just “gets it” in a way that many others don’t.

I’m bipolar, so these resonate:

“I think that we’re all mentally ill. Those of us outside the asylums only hide it a little better – and maybe not all that much better after all.”

“There’s no bitch on earth like a mother frightened for her kids.”

“When his life was ruined, his family killed, his farm destroyed, Job knelt down on the ground and yelled up to the heavens, ‘Why god? Why me?’ and the thundering voice of God answered, ‘There’s just something about you that pisses me off.”

“Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.”

I’m a horror writer, so these resonate:

“I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out. I’m not proud.”

“Fiction is the truth inside the lie.”

“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. When you find something at which you have talent, you do that thing (what ever it is) until your fingers bleed or your eyes pop out of your head.”

“I never saw any of my dad’s stories. My mother said he had piles and piles of manuscripts.”

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So, what are your favorites?

Some of you may remember my Ranker list, Classic Trick or Treat Loot. Creating that and watching it take off as people shared their opinions was fun. I wanted to do the same thing with these Stephen King quotes, but it turns out Ranker makes terrible quote lists … ugly, just ugly. I found another ranking site called The Top Tens, which does a better job of displaying sentences in a pleasing way. Pop over and check it out. You can up-vote your favorite quote, add one I forgot, or even re-rank the whole set in a list of your own.

stephen king quotes

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wrimoprog 03/27/2014:  41 + 30 = 71/80


Imelda May Rocks MY World

Talented? Check.
Retro? Check.
Irish? Check.
Smart? Check.
Gorgeous? Check.

And now she pays homage to classic horror.

I am in love with this woman.

Here’s her website.
Here’s the wiki.

imelda may

Here’s more music:

Johnny Got A Boom Boom from Imelda May on Myspace.

Big Bad Handsome Man from Imelda May on Myspace.

Walking After Midnight from Imelda May on Myspace.

Kentish Town Waltz from Imelda May on Myspace.

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wrimoprog 03/19/2014:  32 + 22 = 54/80