NaNoWriMo Tech Tips for Writing On the Go

This will be my eighth NaNoWriMo! Every year, I use slightly different technology. One reason is because I like writing on the go — I pull out my phone and write or make notes when I’m not near my computer. I know working on your novel on your phone sounds crazy, but so does writing a novel in a month! I don’t always have the chance to sit down at my computer, but my phone is always in my pocket, ready for action.

Here are the tech tips that have been working for me lately — and I hope will continue to work in November. Maybe they’ll work for you too!

Tip One: Use Headings and Multilevel Lists in Word

Yep, I’m using Word instead of Scrivener. I like Scrivener because it allows you to easily skip around within your manuscript by clicking on different chapters in the sidebars. But I never got into using Scrivener’s additional features, so the program always seemed too bulky for me. Plus, they have been slow to get into the mobile app game, making writing on-the-go tricky.

But guess what other program lets you click on different chapters in the sidebars? Microsoft Word! By using headings and multilevel lists in Word, you can navigate through your novel by clicking on the chapter numbers in the sidebar, and also hide the chapters you aren’t working on so that you can focus on one chapter at a time. You just need to set it up!

Novel template using headings in Word

A template for a novel I created using headings and multilevel lists in Word

First, make sections that can be expanded or collapsed (hidden) by setting your chapter headings as headings in Word, as explained here. This will allow you to only expand the chapter you’re working on, so working from a giant Word document will feel less distracting. Once you do this, Word will generate a sidebar with the chapter headings, so you can easily click from one chapter to the next. This is really helpful if you’re someone who likes to skip around as you write, and also in the revising stage.

Next, use multilevel lists to auto-number your chapters, as explained here. This is a tiny bit trickier and not necessary in the drafting stage, but I like to be able to insert a new chapter without fixing the numbers of my other chapters. Totally worth it.

If this sounds like too much work, you can download a template I made here. (Note that the template is just for drafting — you’ll need to put your novel in manuscript format later. Also, I’m using currently using Word 2013.) Good luck!

Tip Two: Work from the Cloud to Access Your Novel Anywhere

Having the ability to work on my novel on my mobile devices (phone or tablet) has been awesome for me. When I did my first NaNoWriMo in 2008, I wrote parts of my novel on paper while I was away from my computer and transcribed those parts into my Word document. It wasn’t a good process for me because transcribing made me second guess the choices I made, which can trip you up while writing a novel in a month! Since then, I’ve been working from my mobile devices while on the go.

In 2009, I would sync my novel from my laptop to my Palm Treo smartphone using Documents-To-Go so I could work on it while commuting on the metro. Now that cloud storage is an option, that seems totally old-school. But Documents-To-Go is still a decent option if you don’t have Word, and it now can work from the cloud (Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive, and iCloud). (Unfortunately, the app can be a little buggy, so proceed with caution.)

Last year, I wrote my novel in Google Docs (which saves to Google Drive) because I was working from three different devices (MacBook, Android tablet, and iPhone). That was easy and 100% free, but the actual writing experience was weird at times — there was sometimes a delay between typing and seeing my words appear on the screen, and Google Docs doesn’t really work when you lose internet connectivity.

This year, I’m writing my novel in Microsoft Word and saving to OneDrive. The experience has been the most seamless yet. The Word app on my iPhone picks up right where I left off on my computer, and I haven’t had any trouble with different versions of my novel on two different devices. However, I am paying for an Office 365 subscription. Since I use a number of features that come with the subscription, it’s worth it for me, but it’s a personal decision.

Pick whatever cloud storage provider works for you: OneDrive, iCloud, Google Drive, Dropbox, Amazon, etc. and try it! Even if you never decide to work from your mobile device, it’s comforting to know that you’ve got your novel in your pocket.

Tip Three: Write On-The-Go with Your Phone & a Bluetooth Keyboard

iPhone with Microsoft Universal Bluetooth Keyboard

My iPhone paired with my awesome Microsoft Universal Mobile Bluetooth Keyboard

I know this seems ridiculous, but I carry a full-sized keyboard in my purse. If I’m going to be working on my novel on my phone for more than a few minutes, I sync the keyboard with my iPhone and write on it. The keyboard I currently have is the Microsoft Universal Mobile Keyboard and it’s amazing. It’s small, slim and light, has killer battery life, and has a detachable cover with a slot that fits almost any phone or tablet (works with Windows, Android or iOS devices). Before that, I was using a ZAGG Pro bluetooth keyboard for an iPad, which was great because I got it for $18 and my iPhone fit into the iPad slot. I recommend keyboards with a slot for your device because they allow you to work from your lap more easily.

The nice thing about this setup is that carrying around a lightweight bluetooth keyboard is much easier than carrying around a laptop or tablet computer. The keyboard is smaller than a laptop and much less valuable. I don’t worry about leaving my keyboard in the car — if it was stolen or lost, I would be sad, but I wouldn’t be out several hundred dollars and a ton of data, or have any identity theft concerns. Not true with a whole computer. Plus, even though working on a tiny iPhone screen is not preferable to working on a laptop, it also allows more privacy when working out in public and it’s less bright if it’s dark and my kids are sleeping in the car (which is one time when I use this setup).

Of course, there are disadvantages to this setup — mostly the small screen and the weird looks you may get from strangers — but it works for me!

Bonus Tip: Backup, Backup, Backup!

This is obvious, but it needs to be said. Try to have your novel saved in at least three places. Currently, I save one to my hard drive, one to OneDrive, and email one to myself. Sometimes I save it to Dropbox or Google Drive too. And my phone is constantly backing up to iCloud. I also like to save new versions every few days (I add the date to the file name), just in case the file I’m working from gets corrupted or something. You never can be too safe!


These are just a few things that are working for me right now. I hope they’re helpful to some of you. If not, write however you want — just so long as you write!


Related Posts:
My “Special Snowflake” NaNoWriMo Prep
5 Silly But Effective NaNoWriMo Prep Tips

My “Special Snowflake” NaNoWriMo Prep

It’s been several years since I won NaNoWriMo. Admittedly, I’ve been busy — I’ve had two babies in the last four years, and (you may have heard) babies are rather time consuming. But this year, I really want to get a novel finished. I think I’m finally settled in to motherhood enough to accomplish a few things, and I have a novel in my head that is just begging to be written.

A Special Snowflake. By Flickr user Alexey KljatovUnfortunately, I have a million other things in my head, each struggling for a spot in my long-term memory. Writing a novel by the seat of my pants (i.e., “pantsing”) is even more challenging for me now than it used to be. So, I’ve been leaning away from pantsing and leaning towards planning for the last few years.

Once you delve into the world of novel planning, you find a million different strategies. I kept hearing about the Snowflake Method, which is a 10-step novel planning/writing process developed by Randy Ingermanson. A few years ago, this method seemed too intense to be practical. Now, after struggling with other outlining techniques and getting derailed while writing my most recent novel, I decided to give it a try.

The way the Snowflake Method works is by constantly building a more and more detailed synopsis/outline of your novel, alongside with more and more detailed descriptions of your characters — crystallizing your novel from a basic premise like the crystallization of a snowflake from water vapor.

The 10 steps are to write:

  1. A 1-sentence synopsis.
  2. A 1-paragraph synopsis.
  3. A summary sheet for each main character.
  4. A 1-page synopsis.
  5. A character synopsis for each main character.
  6. A 4-page synopsis.
  7. A detailed character chart for each main character.
  8. A spreadsheet detailing each scene in your novel.
  9. (Optional) A multi-paragraph description of each scene.
  10. All the scenes, resulting in a first draft of the novel.

As you can see, the first steps seem so simple and the later steps seem like so much work. I’m currently at Step 5 and I think I’m ready to skip to Step 10. Ingermanson says that the process can be modified depending on what works for you. For me, I feel like I have a handle on my plot well enough that writing a 4-page synopsis might just hammer the life out of it. But I’m so glad I did Steps 1 through 4. I found them immensely helpful, and they weren’t even that difficult.

So, I present my modified Snowflake Method — er, my “Special Snowflake Method” — for this year’s NaNoWriMo. Feel free to give it a try! Just write:

  1. A 1-sentence synopsis.
  2. A 1-paragraph synopsis.
  3. A summary sheet for each main character.
  4. A 1-page synopsis.
  5. Any other Snowflake Method or other outlining steps you want. (I think I will lay out my chapters ahead of time, giving them short titles describing what I think will be in each one.)
  6. A novel!

Easy, right? For Steps 1 through 4, I recommend the guidance from the Snowflake Method website, or the books (I bought this book of Ingermanson’s, which was cute and informative). For steps 5 and 6, go for it!

I’ll let you all know how my novel writing goes next month. So far, I’m more prepared than I’ve ever been — here’s hoping it works for me!

Image credits: First image is by Flickr user Alexey Kjlatov. Second image is a time-lapse video of a snowflake forming via GIPHY.

My Jurassic World: Why Jurassic Park is in my DNA

In an interview, Chris Pratt called Jurassic Park his Star Wars. I can totally relate. Except Jurassic Park was not just Star Wars to me in the sense that it was an endemic cultural phenomenon — it also influenced me in tangible ways well into adulthood. I read Jurassic Park (the book) several times before and after seeing the movie, which I also saw nearly a dozen times in the theater, thanks to its summer-long run at my local dollar cinema. The book and movie are forever merged in my subconscious.

The book was an introduction to genetics for me. The pages of genetic code, ATCG over and over again, were fascinatingly obscure (though I recently had a laugh wondering whether those parts are read aloud in the audiobook version). As an identical twin, I was predisposed to an interest in genetics — people were always talking about the science of twinning around me. So, the science in Jurassic Park (and Andromeda Strain, another Michael Crichton favorite) took it to the next level for me. When it came time for me to choose my major in college, molecular biology seemed an obvious choice. (Also: A family friend had an iguana named “Crichtey” — he is now a mathematics professor. I wonder how many other STEM careers Crichton has inspired).

Jurassic Park also influenced me as a writer. My first novel (a trial run, forever shelved) was an amateur hybrid of Crichton and Douglas Adams, featuring a rogue geneticist and a cadre of ghosts. I always admired Crichton’s ability to weave complex storylines and to make science interesting (although I lost some respect for him when he trivialized climate science in State of Fear, Jurassic Park-era Crichton holds a special place in my heart).

Not to mention the fact that Jurassic Park has DINOSAURS! I mean, c’mon — who doesn’t love some dinosaurs? Even Jurassic Park II and III, with their less-than-worthy plot lines, also had DINOSAURS. I can’t not enjoy that. I remember when King Kong came out I said to someone, “I will see any movie with realistic CG dinosaurs in it.” That is still true for me today.

So, I saw Jurassic World on opening day in digital 3D and it was AWESOME. It was everything a sequel to Jurassic Park should have been. I know, I know, it wasn’t PERFECT… The characters had some issues and the dinosaurs didn’t have feathers and whatever else. But it had science and dinosaurs and good acting and awesomeness (and the final fight scene — OMG!). There really isn’t much about it for me to hate on.

I guess you can consider this my review of Jurassic World — it rocked MY Jurassic World.

Five velociraptors (the big, scary, unrealistic kind) out of five.

Keeping Up with My Novel in 10 Minutes a Day

I’ve been working on the same novel for about two years. I also have two small children, one of whom is younger than my novel. I have a full-time job, an active social life, and a number of extracurriculars, hobbies and obligations. I’m busy.

So, it’s hard to keep tabs on my novel sometimes. I’ll take a break from it and then realize a month has passed. After a break, I need to do a lot of catch-up to pick up where I left off, and that means that I’m wasting time that I actually could have spent writing.

My Wonderful Goals App

A screenshot from the My Wonderful Goals app calendar.

I have a new strategy to prevent that. It’s called WORK ON YOUR NOVEL FOR AT LEAST TEN MINUTES PER DAY. And it’s totally working.

The key here is the AT LEAST. Ideally, I should work on it for at least a few hours per week, which I generally do. But, since I spend at least ten minutes on a day hanging out with my novel, I’m not always trying to catch up.

I found a great productivity tool to help me. It’s an iPhone app called My Wonderful Goals, and it reminds me every day that I need to work on my novel. I usually work on it at night, so I have my alarm set to go off at 11PM to ask me whether I worked on my novel yet. If I haven’t, I make sure to get a little noveling done before bed. The app gives me a star on my calendar every day I made my goal. (I only missed one day this month!)

The other way I’ve managed this is to make it really easy to work on my novel. I don’t need to be in my office or in front of my computer or even in a quiet place. I’ve put my entire novel on my iPhone for quick access. When I need to, I can literally work on it in the palm of my hand.

The next step is to add to my daily goal. I think I’ll add WRITE AT LEAST 1,000 WORDS PER WEEK as an additional goal in a month or so. The key is to have attainable goals that will enable me to slowly and steadily get my novel written.

I’m also planning to attempt NaNoWriMo next month by working on my existing manuscript instead of starting a new one. I’m just hammering away one nail at a time, hoping to have this novel built eventually!

So, there’s my productivity tool of the month — what’s yours?

5 Silly But Effective NaNoWriMo Prep Tips

This November will be the seventh year I’ve done NaNoWriMo — I’ve even won a few times! I’ve read all kinds of NaNoWriMo prep posts, but I have a few fun NaNo tips I haven’t seen elsewhere. Here’s my list of silly but effective NaNoWriMo prep tips:

  1. Shower Smart. The shower is a great place to get some thinking done. Instead of just zoning out while you wash out the suds, set yourself to the task of planning out your novel. Think about the characters as if they were real people — what kinds of things do they do and feel in the morning? Think about your setting or plot points that you haven’t yet decided on. The more time you spend focused on the world of your novel, the more comfortable you’ll be spending the whole month of November there.
  2. Trim Your Fingernails. It sounds silly, but it helps. Unless you trained yourself to speed-type with acrylics, fingernails that are too long will likely slow you down. If you’re not a nail-biter, trim your fingernails on Halloween for optimal speed when November 1st rolls around.
  3. Practice Word Processing on Your Smartphone. You would never write a novel on your smartphone, right? You say that now, but you might change your mind when you’re hell bent on hammering out 1,667 words per day and stuck on the slow train home, wishing you could figure out how to work on your novel on the fly. Trust me, I’ve been there.
  4. Practice Improv. Thinking on your toes is imperative to successfully completing a novel in a month. Remember that a skilled improv actor never drops an idea — he always asks, “Yes, and?” Learn some improv techniques to get your creative juices flowing.
  5. Study This Chart.

emotion wheel

It seems simplistic to resort to a list of emotions, but the more feelings you can empathize with, the more easily you can write about them. This chart (or anything similar) lists a full range of emotions, which you can use to narrow down a particular feeling. For example, if your character is angry, what kind of angry is it? Insecure and irritated are two entirely different ways to be angry. Thinking about the different ways emotion can manifest will help you to better understand your characters.

So, those are my unconventional NaNoWriMo tips — got any for me?


Note: I don’t know where the image above came from. If you do, please let me know so I can add image credit. Thanks!

Knock-Knock Jokes for a Two-Year-Old

That moment when you realize you should’ve taught your toddler something months ago:

That’s how I felt when I realized my two-year-old didn’t know any good jokes.

I decided to start with something basic. Something timeless. Something with puns. I decided to start with the knock-knock joke. (I’m assuming that knock-knock jokes are timeless, but I suppose a time could come when we no longer have doors, or knocking, or not knowing who’s there, or not asking, “Who’s there who?” I digress.)

But searching for “knock-knock jokes for kids” brought up some knock-knock jokes that were at more at the level of the three- to five-year-old. I was looking for something more basic. So, I pared them down and made up some knock-knock jokes for my two-year-old. Here are some of his favorites:

Knock, knock!
Who’s there?
Lettuce who?
Lettuce in!

Knock, knock!
Who’s there?
Orange who?
Orange you gonna open the door?

Knock, knock!
Who’s there?
Police who?
Police let me in!

Knock, knock!
Who’s there?
Leaf who?
Leaf me alone!

Knock, knock!
Who’s there?
Apple who?
Apple-ease a-let me in! [In a horrible fake Italian accent. On second thought, maybe this one is inappropriate.]

Knock, knock!
Who’s there?
Red, who?
Reddy to let me in?

Knock, knock!
Who’s there?
Ben who?
Ben waiting out here forever!

Sometimes I make them up as we go. And sometimes he has requests. “Who’s there? Purple!”, he’ll say. And I’ll be purpl-exed (get it?). He also says, “Who’s at the door?” instead of “Who’s there?” sometimes and I just melt from all the adorableness.

So, what I’m asking here is, got any good knock-knock jokes?


Awkward Moments in Breastfeeding

Before a woman begins breastfeeding, she wonders whether it’s going to be weird. Let me tell you, breastfeeding is totally natural and normal — it’s not weird. Except when it is. Below is a short list of some of these moments.

At birth: The early days. Learning to breastfeed is totally natural, right? Sure, nothing beats having a nurse grab your boob with one hand and force your tiny infant’s head onto it with the other, all while you’re caught in that giddy hit-by-a-bus-but-it’s-adorable post-partum fugue.

Month 1: Latching everywhere. “Latching” is the term for when a baby attaches his mouth onto a woman’s nipple. Or onto her chin, or knee, or husband, or mom, or colleague who dropped by with flowers.

Month 2: Accidental motorboat. A baby who is looking to latch may rapidly turn his head from side to side. This adorable gesture may result in motorboating mom’s brand-new, nursing-boob cleavage.

Month 3: Mis-latch hickey. By month three, a baby’s suction has improved quite a bit. Sleepy three-month-old + sleepy mommy can equal near-nipple hickeys you’d rather not explain.

Month 4: Distractosaurus. Your baby wants to eat. Theoretically. He also wants to look out the window, smile at you, practice rolling over, put the blanket in his mouth, and play with his feet. Unfortunately for mommy, that means popping off your nipple, often painfully, and possibly resulting in breastmilk shooting across the room.

Month 5: Nipple raspberries. Five-month-old babies love to blow raspberries. It’s silly. It’s funny. It’s adorable. When they do it to your nipple, it’s just weird.

Month 6: Grabby hands. Your little guy is learning the pincer grasp! He is grabbing everything with his thumb and forefinger and you couldn’t be prouder. Until he grabs your nipple between his little fingers. Then it’s time to start him on solid food.

Related posts:

Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease as an Adult — The Gory Details

Adults don't get HFMD, they said. It will be fine, they said.

I hadn’t even heard of Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease till I was pregnant the first time. Someone told me a friend’s baby had it. “No way,” I said. “Only cows get Foot and Mouth.”

It’s true — only livestock get Foot and Mouth Disease. However, Hand, Foot and Mouth is caused by different viruses and mostly affects young children. Adults don’t usually get it — so they say. This lulls you into a false sense of security. Adults can get it. And it sucks.

But HFMD causes a complex progression of symptoms that are a little different in everyone. Not to fear — I have four case studies right under my roof. Here’s the timeline of our outbreak:

Day 0 — Monday, June 16
Walking home from dinner, we decided to let our two-year-old, Max, run around the spray park near our house. He’s not that into the fountains, but we figure we might as well keep trying — the spray park is right near our house. This time, there was water pooling on one side of the fountain — likely because the drains were blocked. He splashed in the puddles, along with about a dozen other kids.

In retrospect, that pooled water was a public health disaster waiting to happen. You’ve got kids playing in the fountain, peeing and pooping in their swim diapers, which was rinsing into the puddled water at their feet. We even noticed a princess band-aid floating in the water. A little girl fished it out with her fingers. We gave Max a bath the second he got home — we should never have let him play there in the first place.

We’re almost certain that this is where Max got HFMD. He played with other kids the week before coming down with it, but we know all those kids and none of them got sick. If he got it from kids, this is where he got it.

[Click “read more” for the rest of the story.]

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In with the New!

So, I haven’t blogged in a while. My excuse is totally legit: I had another baby! He was born on January 5 and he’s wonderful. Beck is five and a half months old now and he’s an enormous baby. He wears 18-month size clothes. But he’s a gentle giant—he just likes to smile and laugh and grab everything. Here’s a photo of my two little sweethearts:


They’re the best.

In other news, I’ve been writing! I actually got back to writing after having the baby pretty quickly this time, but didn’t get back to my novel until the last month or so. I wrote a book for preschoolers about microbiology (admittedly, a tricky concept!) and a short story about a man who is haunted by imaginary whales (both are still in draft form).

Now, I’m gearing up to get serious about my novel and it’s going pretty well. I’m aiming to write for at least 30 minutes a day—which doesn’t seem like much, but it definitely helps to get the project moving. In July, I’m participating in Camp NaNoWriMo, which is a more flexible version of NaNoWriMo and happens twice in the summer. I’m planning to write 10,000 words of my manuscript, currently titled The Fortunes Market. I’m getting close to finishing the first draft—whoo!

I have some mommy blog posts coming soon. Bear with me—I’ve got two kids now! Other stuff is coming too. Someday, I’ll even finish this novel!

My Maternity Tower of Mordor Costume and the Tolkien VILLAINZ!

This was another pregnant Halloween for me! At almost seven months pregnant, I felt like my belly was big enough to rock a proper belly-busting maternity costume. I was only about five months along for my last pregnant Halloween, so I went another route that time.

I was trying to think of some kind of hilarious thing to do with my belly that I hadn’t seen before. Inspiration struck one day in the shower (doesn’t it always?) and I couldn’t stop laughing at the idea, so I knew I had found THE ONE: The Eye of Sauron. I decided that I’d frame The Eye with a Tower of Mordor-like outfit.

Since I was going to be The Eye, my husband decided to be Saruman the White and we dressed our toddler up as Smaug the dragon. We were Tolkien VILLAINZ!!

Family Tolkien Costumes: Eye of Sauron maternity costume, Saruman the White and Smaug the dragon

[Click “read more” for more photos and to see how I made my costume!]

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