I have written a few novels now, some for NaNoWriMo, but many on my own schedule. I have learned a few things.
I think it’s really smart to start with my pitch.
I do better if I have the story outlined before I start writing.
I like to set daily word count goals.
I am someone who likes to measure my productivity in terms of steps per day, miles per week, books read per month – and definitely words per day. It helps me stay accountable and gives me feelings of success! Achievement! It’s setting a SMART goal. I can measure when I’ve achieved my goal. It also helps me be reasonable about predicting how long it will take me to do something. If I set goals too high, I won’t reach them, and that feels bad.
These tools are also useful to make sure I’m not writing too much or too little for the kind of book I’m trying to write. The publishing industry has word count standards for different audiences. I don’t want to be 35,000 words into my project but only a third of way into the story for a YA book. I need to make sure I’m at the halfway point by 35-45,000 words or else I’m doing something wrong – and I’d rather avoid those mistakes earlier than have to do some heavy lifting to correct them during my revision process.
I typically use my own homemade word count tracker in Numbers. It looks like this:
I like my homemade word tracker. I’m really comfortable with it. I color code the weeks and I didn’t schedule writing time on weekends. But, if I fall behind sometimes I will write on weekends to catch up.
But I recently found out about a new feature in Scrivener called “Writing History.” If you don’t use Scrivener, I highly recommend it. I’ve been using it for years, but honestly it’s so robust I have barely scratched the surface on all of the features. Sometimes I watch a video or read a blog post to try and learn about something I don’t yet know even exists – for instance, I learned how to switch to “compose” mode (that is a no distractions mode) and upload a custom background that helps set the mood for your story.
The new feature I just learned about is “Writing History.” I don’t know all of the details of how it works, but it shows my positive and negative word count for a project by date. Here’s a screenshot of Writing History (for a different project than the screenshot above).
I’m not entirely sure how it tallies words written and deleted, but if this is accurate, it’s a nice way to see how productive I am on certain days.
Here’s my homemade word count tracker for the same project. For a day like May 11, my word count and Scrivener’s word count are the same! But it’s a little different on some other days.
In the end, the word count tracker is just a tool to keep me moving and help me feel confident I’m making progress in my story. But, an outline is just as helpful in a different way. I use the two tools to make sure 1. I’m hitting the word count for each particular kind of book (YA, MG, etc.) but that I’m also hitting recommended plot points at the recommended number of words/pages into the story.
Some people don’t like thinking of books as projects where you want to be at a certain story spot within a certain number of words, but I don’t mind. I like having those guideposts, and these tools help me get there.
I’m so excited I was able to celebrate National Zookeepers Week with an author visit to the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium. I had a wonderful time reading and coming up with research ideas with the kids in their teen camp. I’m looking forward to my next visit. I’m planning to go visit my favorite animals after my next visit – the elephants! What are your favorite animals to see at a zoo?
Don’t get distracted by phone calls, texts, or other notifications from your phone when you’re trying to write in the zone. If you have an iPhone, go to Settings, then scroll down to the third block of options and select “Focus.” You can set up times that you do not want to be disturbed.
You can create a custom message so people know why they aren’t able to reach you – but you can also choose certain people to reach you in an emergency.
If you are working on a Mac (like a laptop or desktop or iPad) you can share these settings across devices and get those words on the page without getting interrupted!!
(Bonus tip: teenage drivers, heck ANY driver, can set a do not disturb on their phone to minimize distractions.)
Our family recently traveled to the UK and Ireland. It was a trip we planned back in 2019 to see family and some soccer (football) destinations, but we had to delay it because of COVID, of course.
It was wonderful to catch up with everyone and visit some amazing places – but it has been 8 years since we were last in Ireland. A lot has changed!
Here are some things I learned on this trip:
Contactless payment is everything. Get used to it and be ready to use it.
In Ireland at least, there are open-air pay-t0-use laundry facilities, so you can pack light if you plan time for washing.
Food trucks are big in London and very tasty.
Manchester has an amazing amount of bubble tea shops.
Liverpool has no bubble tea shops.
Halloumi cheese is the option for vegetarians, and we found some great ways to enjoy it!
If you notify servers of a food allergy, it will take much longer for your food. They will literally clean a preparation space and make your food separately. This is really helpful if the food allergy is especially serious, but you need to be prepared to wait.
We found more helpful info on TripAdvisor than Yelp. Places still listed on Yelp were often shut down.
Bring your own bags to shops and stores.
Napkins are called serviettes, and they aren’t sitting out for you to grab as they are in the US.
You’ll find many of the same chains as in the US, but menus will vary. For instance, no customized coffees at Starbucks.
Food is served very hot.
One thing that hasn’t changed – British and Irish candy is much tastier than American.
My kids felt the accents weren’t hard to understand at all, probably because they watch a lot of British YouTubers. But my kids did face a lot of questions about guns from some young people. It was a tough topic for my kids. My kids felt that the young people didn’t understand the real stress, anxiety, and fear they face here in the U.S.
My kids enjoyed the candy, snacks, scenery and of course the 99s, those are ice cream cones with Flake bars. And they all said they couldn’t wait to go back again.
Here’s another tech trick for writers! This one is about using Voice Memos. Voice Memos is an app on the iPhone. Other phones probably have a voice memo app, too. (I use an iPhone, so that’s the one I know!) I keep this app in the “Writing” folder on my Home Screen.
Voice Memos is hugely helpful for writers. One of the main ways I use Voice Memos is to quickly record thoughts when they are too long to quickly type.
Here’s another way to use Voice Memos, especially if you’re writing picture books. Picture books are meant to be read out loud. So when you’ve finished a picture book draft, open up that Voice Memos app and read it out loud.
Record yourself reading your manuscript. Then listen to the playback. As you listen, as yourself these questions:
How do the words sound out loud? Are they confusing? Do you stumble?
Is there rhythm? Is there alliteration?
How long does it take to read your story? Is it taking too long?
If you want to take this to the next level, get your critique group involved. It can be stressful and scary to have someone read your book out loud while you are face to face, in person or over Zoom. So try this. Ask someone to read your book on their own and record it on Voice Memos and listen to how it sounds when THEY read it.
Hearing how your book sounds out loud is going to help you create a better version of this book. Have you ever used Voice Memos?
What is No Mow May? It’s simple – don’t mow your lawn in May and give bees and pollinators a chance to find food. Grassy lawns are some of the worst things about habitat loss. So by not mowing we can give the non-grass plants a chance to bloom and nourish insects and birds.
I have a draft story about bees, and of course my new book Animal Allies is all about scientists who study wildlife with a goal of protecting different species. So it’s easy to see why we are fans of No Mow May.
Our family has decided to join in No Mow May to help bees and other pollinators. Want to find out more and mow less? Listen or read here!
Receive my author newsletter, and/or receive notifications when I post to the blog!