Weekly Musing: How May I Help You?

Writing, like any other career, has lots of information and resources designed to help. Information about the mechanics of writing, quotes from famous writers to help motivate and inspire, writing prompts for when creativity is low, etc. Various types of software, books (a gazillion it seems), websites (gazillions raised to the 10th power), and people are available for writers at any level. Since I consider myself a green writer, I’ll only list those resources I’ve found helpful so far for someone at my experience level.

People – One of the biggest sources of help for me has been other writers. Being part of my local writer’s group has helped my writing tremendously in the few months I’ve been attending. It’s a great mixture of published authors, those close to making the leap into publishing, people writing for fun, and optimistic beginners. The group works because of the supportive but honest environment. It’s also been a great information hub for informative books on all aspects of writing from The 10% Solution to character motivation and goals. And then there are the wonderful discussions about books read, favorite authors, and just life in general.

Another group that has been extremely helpful to me has been the local chapter of the PNWA. Each month we meet to discuss a variety of topics from character archetypes to upcoming conferences and to celebrate our successes. This group has provided me a much more formal type of education set in an informal atmosphere and also gives a glimpse into the career of a published author.

Websites – This is a tricky one for me. About 2 years ago when I more heavily considering becomes a writer I went overboard, I think, with bookmarking every website related to writing. But this year I’ve noticed I’ve become pickier about which websites I find useful.

The websites I keep going back to are Writer’s Digest (which I also subscribe to their magazine), Author Magazine , GoodReads, CritiqueCircle(I submitted work here first before joining my local writers group), and WritingForums. GoodReads I go to log what books I’m reading, write a review after I’ve finished reading one, and to see what other people are reading. I enjoy CritiqueCircle because of the daily quote they have as well weekly polls. The other websites I go to because of great information and that connection to other writers.

I’m also using a variety of websites like the local library, Amazon, foreign libraries, and museums for my research. Too numerous to list but as a beginning writer, these have been great tools for me.

Books – Oh boy, where to start on this one. There are the basics every piece of writing advice I’ve ever gotten have recommended: On Writing by Stephen King, The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, The 10% Solution, a good dictionary, thesaurus, and recently, a good synonym/antonym book.

In addition I’ve started a small collection of books on plotting, writing a novel, character development, a thesaurus filled with unusual words, books to help describe emotions and character traits, and a book to help flesh out descriptions in general. I plan to add more books as I pinpoint deficiencies in my own writing.

Software– This is one area I don’t use a lot of specially designed for writers software. I’ve heard of Scrivener, StoryCraft, MasterWriter, and others but those seem be above my current level of experience and goals. At this point, I’m content to use Word but I’m open to trying software that will make my life better.

What I’ve been using the last few weeks that is fun and helpful is EverNote. I’ve tried using OneNote and found it cumbersome. EverNote is great for me because I can ‘clip’ pictures from websites, individual webpages, as well as search terms I’ve entered in. Although I haven’t needed this function yet, I can also search everything I’ve already got saved. EverNote stores this information into different workbooks.

Another neat feature is I can insert notes into these notebooks. EverNote has been awesome to get a visual of whatever research I’ve collected and allows me to brainstorm. With saving search terms I’ve entered into Bing or Google, it makes it so much easier for me to go back to something. Personally it is beneficial to me to have a visual of a place or article of clothing so I can describe it as best I can. In the past, if I’ve found a picture, I could never remember the correct phrase to bring up the picture again. Thus the visual is gone.

Finally, a piece of software I’ve discovered recently is Google Earth. I stumbled upon this via an article I read by a historical fiction author who mentioned using Google Earth. He used it to get an overall view of an area he was writing about. He could zoom onto streets, jot down street names, and compare the current streets with historical documents to see if they were around in the time period he was interested in. If they were, then he could see exactly how streets intersected thus lending more authenticity.

What’s really slick about Google Earth is you can click on a city and get directed to Wikipedia with info about the city. What’s also nice for me since I need visual points of reference is I can map out the distance between two towns and see what the terrain looks like. This is valuable when terrain and weather will play a significant part of your story.

These are just a few of the resources I’ve found helpful so far and I’m constantly discovering more. When I first started writing, I had no clue how much information was out there. It’s still quite a bit to take in and I suffer frequently from information overload. While I’m getting better at weeding out what is useful the biggest challenge for me is getting my hands on those resources which are valuable for a historical fiction writer.

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