Tech Tricks for Writers: Voice Memos

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:

  1. How do the words sound out loud? Are they confusing? Do you stumble?
  2. Is there rhythm? Is there alliteration?
  3. 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?

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!

Tech Tricks for Writers: Looking for Comps

Here’s a tech trick for writers who are looking for comps.

When you are querying a book with an agent or editor, it’s important to have good comps for your manuscript.

What is a comp? It’s a book, movie, or story that is a good comparison for your story. It’s telling an agent or editor, “If you liked Star Wars, you might like Dune.” We do this all the time when we recommend books to friends. Why is it always so much harder with our own books?

A second version of a comp is the “X meets Y” combo comp. It’s a chance to use two or more well-known stories, movies, or TV shows to describe elements of your story. Maybe your story is “The Repair Shop” meets “90210.” (OK I would read that.)

One way to find good comps is to consume tons of media. Watch and read it all. Then record the themes and major plot points of everything you read and watch so you can create a database of useful comps.

But if you don’t have endless time, one tech trick I use is the massive database of online book selling. I look for what other customers liked when they viewed a book I think is like mine.

On the big online seller website, type in a book you think is similar to yours. Then scroll way down past the sponsored ads to “Customers who viewed this item also viewed.”

Another place to get good ideas for comps is on Goodreads. Look up the book that is like yours, then look for the “Readers Also Enjoyed.”

Your local library should also offer this feature when you look up books on their website.

Here is a big article called How to Find Compelling Comps from Jane Friedman that offers even more help on finding good comps for your next novel.

Practice comping some of your favorite books or movies in the comments below and share them!

Celebrate Leonardo da Vinci’s Birthday!

On April 15, we can say Happy Birthday to Leonardo da Vinci! Let’s celebrate by being curious. One option, if you live in Pittsburgh, is to stop by Riverstone Bookstore in McCandless for a Think Like Leo challenge!


If you can’t get to Pittsburgh, then get a copy of the book and try out some of more than 20 different hands-on activities in The Science and Technology of Leonardo da Vinci!

Tech Tricks for Writers: Apple Maps Update

Here’s another tech tip for writers!

Setting is so important to story. Are you writing a book set in a place far from home? Are you not sure what monuments or buildings look like as your character walks down the street? Apple Maps has a new update that gives you a 3D look at places, mostly populated cities, and can help you craft a more detailed story. Check it out! 

You’re Invited to my Book Launch Party!

I’m so excited to announce I’m having a book launch party for my new book Animal Allies: 15 Amazing Women in Wildlife Research (Chicago Review Press).

The party is on May 21, 2022 from 1-3pm at Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve. The address is 614 Dorseyville Rd, Pittsburgh, PA 15238.

We’ll talk about wildlife, science, books and more. I’ll be selling and signing copies of my book. And bring your binoculars or nature journal because you won’t want to miss a walk on the peaceful trails.

Here’s a link to the Evite invitation so you can RSVP!

What Would You Name Our Owl?

We first noticed our new neighbor in January. I mentioned it in my First Birds of 2022 post. We weren’t sure it would stay, but it seems to love the owl box we hung for it. We’ve seen it all through February!

So, now that it has stuck around, we think it’s time to name our eastern screech owl. And we’d like to hear your ideas!

What would you name our owl?

Do you want to hear the owl calling in the morning? Visit my instagram post here and turn your speakers up. 

A gray morph eastern screech owl


Tech Tricks for Writers: VRBO

Time for another tech trick for writers.

Where does your character live? What does their house, apartment, or room look like? There are lots of ways to get interior design ideas from Pinterest or Wayfair or Houzz. But what about VRBO? VRBO is an app that lets you look at the interior of a house or apartment. You can get a sense of the layout of a condo and what someone might see from a balcony or kitchen window. What does the driveway look like pulling up to a cabin the woods?

Try using VRBO to get ideas a sense of your character’s surroundings.

What would be your Color of the Year?

Every year, Pantone selects a Color of the Year. For 2022, the color is Very Peri. Here’s an image from the Pantone website:

I love the idea of a color of the year. I love the meaning that Pantone has ascribed to the color- joy, creativity, courage, and imagination.

We all need those qualities every year – not just after the difficult times of 2021 and 2020. So I’m embracing Very Peri and all of its feels.

I’m not a color expert. I’ll be honest – when I see Very Peri, I think “oh, purple!” Love it! But of course it’s so much more than just purple. It’s nice to remind myself that just as there are many hues and tones and tints and shades in colors, there are all of those same dimensions in people, too.

As they say, we contain multitudes. That’s important to remember when we have tough times. We have a deep well of strengths and experiences and wisdom and hopefully, love, that we can draw on when we need it.

Color has always carried symbolism. But the meaning have varied from culture to culture. In ancient societies, only royalty could wear purple. In American culture, white is for brides and black is for mourning. But in Asian cultures, white is for mourning, and red is for celebration. The gun violence prevention movement uses orange to remind us to save lives. Color can carry a message. What does it say to you?

I love all kinds of purple – including Very Peri. But I’d love to know what you think!

  • Does Very Peri make you feel more creative? More joyous?
  • What feelings or emotions or qualities do you want for 2022?
  • What color creates those feelings for you?