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.


A ghostly event in room 566 at the new hotel.

Back in late November, I made the following excited post to my personal Facebook page:

I found the haunted room here at the new hotel!!!

Yes, there were three exclamation points. You’d think I would have immediately come here to the blog to share the story, but I was otherwise monopolized. At the time, I was deeply embroiled in my quest to complete 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo. When that was done, I was ensnared by my life – or rather the lives of my menfolk. I’ve been helping my husband get pysched up for starting his new job (which he begins tomorrow – praise all the saints) and helping my son get calmed down for his first *college-level finals (and his first real date – oh-my-God, how old am I?)

* Remember, he’s only just turned 17, I’ve still got some mothering to do.

For the last two days, I’ve been concentrating on preparing myself for the next phase of this new life we’re creating. I’ve organized & disciplined the HELL out of my calendar and my planner.  (When I listen carefully, I can hear them still whimpering faintly.) I’ve set new goals and recommitted to old ones. I’ve tidied up some of the pages around the blog.

I’m feeling organized, confident and hopeful. I know what I need to do next, and what I need to do after that. Soon I’m going to go get cozy, on this wintry night, with a horror movie. (We’re having the first snow storm of the season here in Minnesota.) There’s a little time now, though, to tell you my mini-ghost story.

In room 566:
Deep in the night, on a mid-week shift at the new hotel, I realized a particular room  – which had never before been available – was marked as rent-able. I had noted it on the list before, because it is labeled as a king suite. As far as I knew at the time, the hotel did not have any suites. When I had asked about it, I was told that I didn’t have to worry about it because a long term guest was in residence there.

Curious now that it was unoccupied, I set the back-in-five-minutes sign on the counter and went to have a look. I took the elevator to the top floor, then walked about half-way along the hall until I came to the correct door. I knocked – like I always do – waited, then let myself into the room. I located a single switch to my left, and flipped it on. A dim light from one wall-mounted lamp oozed out to fill the room, but it was weak, and it left soft shadows in the corners. Directly in front of me there was a living area furnished with a slightly shabby sofa, two matching side chairs, a scarred coffee table and a large television encased in an open armoire that stood against the right hand wall. In the middle of the big room, a writing desk pressed up to the back of the sofa. Beyond that, against the far left wall, a low king sized bed crouched between two night stands.

I stepped into the space and let the door shut behind me. To my left there was a small kitchenette, separated from the rest of the room by a wall of its own and narrow breakfast bar. I ran my fingers along the bar top as I crossed toward the desk. I was wondering where the bathroom was, and if it was any larger or grander than those in our regular rooms. I stood next to the desk’s bench for a moment, until I figured out that the bathroom was next to the kitchenette, and that it didn’t look like it could be very spacious.

It was then, when I was standing in the middle of the room, facing the bed, that the television behind me came to life.

I spun around, thinking someone had followed me into the the room and turned it on. There was no one near the television, except for the white-haired news anchor displayed on the screen. For a few seconds, I stood frozen, then I turned in a slow circle, scanning the room for any possible spot that could conceal a person. (I have a fear of letting myself into an occupied room. It’s been haunting me ever since the unexpected occupant in room 217 spooked me badly.) Finally, I thought to check the bathroom. It, too, was empty. Even though, by then, I was convinced that I was truly alone in the suite, I looked for the room’s remote control. It was resting on one of the night stands.

One part of my mind was scrambling for a rational explanation, but  it was having some trouble because another part was busy screaming, “Appliances that turn themselves on and off are classic signs of a haunting!”

At last my rational brain deduced a plausible answer: the television had to be plugged into a socket that was powered by the switch I had flipped upon entering the room. Without realizing it, I’d provided power to a television that had been left on.  There had been a delay simply because some TVs take a little time to warm up. (Later, of course, I realized that some TVs from the 70’s required warm-up time, but I wasn’t thinking about how old or new the set was in that moment.)

Since I had figured out the probable explanation, one thing remained to do: I went back and turned off the only switch I had touched since entering the room.

The room instantly went dark … except for the flickering, bluish light the television continued to pour out. I had to cross the suite to fetch the remote in order to kill it.

tv by Dfardin.

So what do you think? Faulty wiring maybe? Or some kind of reverse sleep timer?

Or just the way things are at:

~***~

photo credit: Dfardin Licensed CC BY-NC 2.0 (Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic)
It has been cropped to square.
NOTE: This post may have been re-titled and edited from its original form,
for inclusion on The Paranormal Hotel homepage.


NaNoWriMo – one day left.

11:58p, Thursday, November 29th, 46,889.

I’m done for the night. I wrote just over 7,000 words today. I have 3,000 left to go to hit 50,000, and I have until midnight Friday to do it. I’m not worried. I will dance a victory dance and marvel at the fact that I’ve done something that I thought was impossible, at least for me.

my writing space

Just look how close that bar is to the line.

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[NOVEMBER 30th UPDATE]

I did it!

I did it!

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But that’s not really the end of it, obviously. I mean, no one thinks they have a viable manuscript – as is – upon reaching the magic number. (Some folks, however, do seem alarming inclined to think they are close to finished though. I don’t want to be one of those people.)

After all my years of dissecting novels and studying the craft, I know different. I know that a salable novel in my chosen genre is somewhere between 80,000 – 120,000 words long. For this project I settled on a goal of 90,000 – 94,000 for the finished version. In a manuscript of that length, there should be roughly 72 distinct “sections,” divided between the viewpoints of 4 major characters, and including at least one separate but related subplot. (A section is pretty much what you think of when someone says “scene,” but there are few more guidelines that apply.)

Did you know that the books you read had such equations hidden within them? They do. I’ve checked. Even when the author doesn’t know the math, he or she ends up mirroring this classic structure. Apparently it’s as old as literature. Even avant-garde lit works both within and against these particular rules.

I started this project, on November 1st, knowing only the math. (isn’t THAT ironic?) … Well, To be truthful, I knew that, and the fact that it was going to be set in the hotel where I work.

Because I came in pretty much cold, I’ve been working up a section map, otherwise known as an outline, as I go. (The current word count on that, by the way, is 3,200 words.) Thanks to a couple of hours of intense figuring and brainstorming early on, I realized I could devote about 800 words to any given section before I had to move on, so that I’d get somewhere near the end of the story by the time the deadline came.

This is a my version of a quick and dirty section map. The stuff in red will need to be added or changed (I think) in the next draft.

This is a my version of a quick and dirty section map.
The stuff in red will need to be added or changed (I think) in the next draft.

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Of course that means I’m merely making a sketch of what will be included in the final section, but the process does three important things:

  1. gets the cliches out of the way
  2. builds the bones for the story
  3. occasionally results in a startlingly good shred of flesh to wrap around those bones.

I will hit the 50,000 mark somewhere within the 62nd section. The ending will be in motion, but I’ll still have 10 more sections to go before I can type ‘THE END (of draft one).’

So. Right now I’m trying to decide if I should push for that tomorrow, or if I should just enjoy the accomplishment of committing 50,000 words in 30 days to (virtual) paper.

I’m thrilled and proud that I know I’m going to do this thing, but I’m also sobered. This is what writing is. And, sometimes, I don’t know why I do it.

Do you have any idea how viciously I’m kicking myself for not doing this when I wasn’t working a full-time job?

I just realized I hadn't posted a shot of my "new" writing space. It's a little more cramped than the one I had at the house, but it works.

I just realized I hadn’t posted a shot of my “new” writing space. It’s a little more cramped than the one I had at the house, but it works.