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February, 2011

Write Time, Write Place

When I tell people I write novels, I usually get this reaction: head cocked to one side, brow furrowed, they ask, “How do you have time?”

It’s a fair question. I have two young kids. I have a job I love. And for more than a decade, those two reasons alone helped me ignore that nagging voice, telling me to start writing again.

Then one day, I got this incredible story in my head and I just couldn’t let it go. So I started writing it down. And once I started, I couldn’t stop. I wrote in the middle of the night. I wrote in coffee shops between meetings. I wrote while I ate lunch. I became excited to hit freeway traffic so I could exit, find a quiet street, and pull out my laptop full of imaginary people.

It would be easy to say I regret all those years of not writing, but I don’t. Instead, I believe that this story came to me at precisely the moment it did for a reason. Not only I was I ready to feed my passion for writing again, but a more practical force was also at work: technology finally advanced to a point where I could write my way.

The advances in gadgets and software over the last decade–even the last five years–gave me ways to capture my thoughts on the go, organize volumes of writing, and conduct in-depth research at 3:46 a.m. There are a lot of wonderful writing tools and sites, but these are the four I rely on to keep my head from exploding:

1. My iPhone. My husband jokes that I’ve written most of my book on my phone. It’s not that far from the truth. My “Notes” are an odd collection of plot ideas, characters I want to create, elements I need to research, and sometimes complete scenes. And I’m not alone. Outstanding tools like Figment are raising a whole new generation of writers who create entire novels on their phones.

2. My Kindle. Only three years ago, we writers had no choice but to print out hundreds of pages, mark them up with a pen, and type changes into our manuscripts. But now, you can mark up an entire work with e-ink, capture ideas that don’t blow away in a strong wind, and save a few acres of forest while you’re at it. The Kindle’s not great for writing, but it’s my primary platform for editing.

3. Scrivener. I’m organized with my writing, sometimes to a fault. When I discovered I was spending more time reorganizing my documents—separating Word documents into “cuts” and “keeps”, putting all my browser-based research into carefully named folders so I wouldn’t lose it, and renaming my primary working files every day so I wouldn’t accidentally delete my whole book—I got overwhelmed and frustrated. I was wasting time. Scrivener is magical. It allows me to work from a living outline, and keeps all my ideas, research, locations and character profiles organized at all times. I have one file for everything, and I never waste time poking around folders and links trying to find what I need.

writing studio Write Time, Write Place

4. Wikipedia. For years, Wikipedia has been the go-to resource when my kids ask me questions I can’t answer. Like, how many marsupials are there in the world? Or, what causes brain freeze? But until I started writing, I didn’t truly realize what an invaluable resource it is. There are a lot of hard working volunteers at Wikipedia who make sure each and every page is accurate and comprehensive, and I’m grateful because I couldn’t have written MÖBIUS without pages like this one, or this one, or this one. I donate regularly so I can be sure Wikipedia will be around for all my future projects.

I have the time to write because I can now do it anywhere, any time, and on every device that lets me quickly dump information out of my head or fill it with something new. For me, all I needed was to stop and listen to that voice, and find a few handy gadgets to keep me sane along the way.

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