… I know how hard it is to stay true to your paranormal self when you’re embroiled in the bright and shiny world of the normals.
(Note to the folks that have been here a long time: this is an addition to my Backstory page. I just found its draft in my files and decided to polish it up and include it. I could have backdated it, but I think it’s kinda fun, so it’s going up like any other post. I’ll eventually delete this little note and it will seem like it has always been here.)
I’m lucky. Now that my youngest child is 18 and going to college, I can afford to delve deep into the horror / paranormal world. I may not be eager to get arrested while doing a paranormal investigation, but having an encounter with a cop in graveyard in the wee hours would not disrupt the education nor destroy the social life of my spawn. These days, I could wear a pointy witch hat to the grocery store in April if I wanted … it’s even possible that neither of my kids would flinch if they happened to be along for the ride.
That was not always the case. For many years I was caught up in a lifestyle that demanded me to be bright, and shiny and proper. (Being a parent, especially a home school parent, will do that to you.) My true history, interests, and preferred pastimes had to be kept on the down-low.
Just about the time that my proper-parent persona could be retired, our life blew up. Though, by then, I had already created this blog – and started taking my writing seriously for the first time in 15+ years – I was suddenly plunged into an unexpected period of down-sizing, life-simplifying and working full time. Now, after a tumultuous two years or so, my family has come into a magical life-stage in which I am able to dedicate myself to writing full-time about dark and beautiful things.
A major part of my goal for this blog is to create a refuge for folks who aren’t as lucky as me just yet. It’s a love letter to people who can neither afford to spend too much time digging into the paranormal / horror world to find the good stuff, nor step too far outside the lines in their pursuit of dark and profound things.
I know that most of the readers that show up at my page in the middle of night, or on their lunch hour, are still deeply embroiled in the same kind of life I had just a few years ago. For some of those readers, life revolves around PTO meetings that need attending, scout troops and sporting leagues that need leading, and play-dates that need arranging. Others have jobs and careers that require massive amounts of time and energy to nurture. And they have employers and co-workers who will not tolerate overt displays of gothic or dark sensibilities on the sales floor or in the next cubicle.
On top of all that, some of my readers are also trying to fit writing and art-making around the edges of their work-a-day worlds. They come here to get a taste of the things that feed them and help to fill the creative well.
I’ve been there. And I survived it, but there’s no need for you to have to suffer a lack of eerie and interesting distractions and inspirations. I wish there had been a blog sanctuary like this one for me to read when I had limited time and energy, coupled with a deep need to retreat from the normal world for a while.
Now that I have the luxury of time, I feel it’s my mission to make such a place for you. Make yourself comfortable and let me know if there’s anything special you’d like to see, here in the sprawling haunted house that is The Paranormalist.
PS: Click the pic to go to a source site.
Resolutions Review | Write more with fun (free) productivity tools: Focus Booster, Write or Die, Camp NaNoWriMo, WriMoProg & progress meters.Posted: March 31, 2014
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.” normal / 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. There. That’s out of the way.
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.
FOCUS BOOSTER is a simple timer widget designed to help improve concentration while working on a project.
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.
Occasionally, I follow the technique guidelines, but more often I work in increments of 50 /10. The beauty of Focus Booster is that it can be used according to the official plan, or in any way you like. You can set the focused-time period to anything between 2-90 minutes, and the break period to anything between 1-30 minutes. Time elapsed is displayed in a color-coded progress bar which you can set to “stay on top.” If you like, you can choose to hear a ticking sound (like that of a kitchen timer) while you are working. An alarm sounds at the end of a time segment. (I do wish there was a volume control for both the ticking, which needs to be softer, and the alarms, which need to be louder.) There is no learning curve for this gadget.
In short, Focus Booster is a small, clean, free program that is easy to install and use. Go grab it and give it a try.
WRITE OR DIE is designed specifically for writers who struggle with over-thinking and/or over-editing when they should be just getting words on a page.
(WARNING: I am only recommending the free version.)
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
CAMP NANOWRIMO, a more flexible and self-directed version of November’s traditional National Novel Writing Month program, begins tonight at midnight!
This is great way to try NaNo if you’ve not had the courage to do it before. You set your own goal 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.)
April’s event has already worked to improve my March productivity because I’ve been tying up loose ends of other projects as I prepare to “go to camp.”
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.) I particularly love the art created to accompany this session, so I’ll be buying myself this tee from the camp store when I meet my goal.
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.
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!
WRIMOPROG, Writers Monthly Progress, is my own invention, inspired by NaNoWriMo and similar writing challenges. It’s based on hours dedicated to a writing career rather than the cumulative word count of a single project.
Of course, I’ve mentioned this creation before so I won’t spend time describing it here. All the information you need to get set up is available at the WriMoProg homepage, which you can always access from my header.
In short, if there’s something about NaNoWriMo that appeals to you, but you’d rather embark on long-term, sustainable, productivity-improvement journey, you might find WriMoProg more suitable for your needs.
PROGRESS / WORD COUNT METERS can be 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
For the purpose of this post, I have indicated that I’ve achieved about 25% of my goals, so that you can see what they look like in use. Of course, any meter you see in an April post will reflect my actual progress.
This is what my word count meter for April’s Camp NaNoWriMo looks like:
And this is what my hours-spent meter for April’s WriMoProg looks like:
In short, if you have need of a progress meter that will work where others won’t, get it at Critique Circle.
I have two more amazing writer tools to share in future posts.
The first one has been so life-changing for me that it deserves its own post. (Hint: it’s a free editorial calendar … but also so much more. And I don’t mean the on-board calendar that you folks with wordpress.org can install as a plugin.) Look for that post soon.
The second find will be getting its trial by fire starting tomorrow, so I probably won’t be posting about it until mid-month, but I’m eager to see how well it works in practice. I’m really excited about the program after exhaustively reading about what it does. (Hint: it will be taking the place of a TON of word documents containing plot notes, character sketches, orphan scenes, timelines, etc. At least I hope it will.)
Now it’s time to get back to full-on writing. Wish me luck, Folks.