Bells and Whistles: Fancy Tools to Encourage Writing

 Image from open clipart.org by Lyo

 

Looking at the path from spoken story, to recorded story, to printing press, and now to online and print formats, I can see that technology historically is huge for the aspiring writer.  It seems that as technology and communication improve, the different ways it can help writers also exponentially increases.  I’m awed and overwhelmed with the different tools at our disposal.  To help sort the varying tools, I’m creating a series that explores different services mean to help an aspiring writer.  This week we have tools meant to increase daily word count or to encourage a daily writing practice.  

750 Words is my favorite of these sites.  The purpose is to write 750 words or three pages every day.  Once you’ve created an account, it will provide a space to enter text and you just type.  When complete, send in your work and 750 will analyze the writing to see whether you were happy or relaxed based on keywords.  The site will break down when you paused and when you were in a hot streak. For those who like to compete, you get points and a score board if you keep to the daily 750 word assignment.  Best of all, all your writing is private.  First thirty days are free and it’s only $5/mo afterward.  

Write or Die is an software that puts pressure on the writer to produce text in a set amount of time or…consequences.  The most disturbing thing the software does: it deletes words if you pause for more than a few seconds.  Write or Die will either help you up your word count or obliterate every letter on the page. It costs $20 and I’ve often toyed with whether it might be worth the price tag to place my feet to the iron.  I’m afraid I don’t have the stomach for the software.

Word Counter does a lot more than count your words!  If you create a free account, you can create goals to work towards and the site will track progress for you.  The site is linked to Grammarly, so spelling and grammar can be altered through them. Beyond that, Word Counter offers stats similar to those available on Hemingway App.  It provides a reading level, how long it would take to read or speak, and it also offers a “word density” that may suggest whether you need to crack open a thesaurus.  For strict editing, I prefer ProWritingAid, but if I was looking for a hybrid motivational tool and editor, Word Count seems like a capable option.  It’s free to use.

Rescue Time, the wonderful Christopher Palmer mentioned this site to me, and I think it’s great for the aspiring writer.  The light version lets you set goals and tracks how much time you spend on the web and where.  It let’s you know how much time in front of the screen you’re wasting not writing!

What do you think?  Do you use any of these softwares?  Do you know of any other sites or apps that encourage word count or daily writing? What do you use to track your writing metrics?

 

Creating Aliens

Photo by Chris Palmer

I’ve read science fiction all my life and, while many of my stories deal with the out-of-the-ordinary in some way, my latest story, tentatively titled “Cold Water” is one of my first forays into aliens, alien planets, and space opera’ish settings.

The story started in a stupid way. One of my writing exercises if I’m stuck on something is just to write stream of consciousness drivel. On that day, I didn’t even write real words. I wrote a string of gibberish: Whee. Sallah-bwii. Sallah-boynda. Then I started imagining this as an alien language and the story started building in head. Of course, at some point, I had to figure out what this sentence meant.

Inspired a bit by the “Soo Soo Sook” line from the water seller in Dune, I decided it was an alien water seller. The line means: “Here! Fresh water! Cold water!” and with that, I started a small vocabulary for my aliens.

The aliens started taking form next. The Chirukh are about one and half meters tall. Imagine a cross between a bearded dragon and the Pokemon Sandshrew. Spiky skin, double-pupil eyes. They have two hands on each arm, a clawed overhand and a more delicate underhand because they evolved from creatures with eight limbs. They are venomous, ritualistically eat their dead, and have a weird defecation habit. Their world has been environmentally devastated and is a hot, radiation blasted semi-waste. But the Chirukh have a certain nobility about themselves and the universe, they are non-violent, gregarious, open to strangers, and believe poetry and mathematics are the same thing. To learn more about them, you’ll have to read the story, but I will discuss a little more about the bits and pieces of their language that I worked out.

Knowing the translation of the water seller’s call, it’s pretty easy to figure out what each word means and a little of their grammar. “Sallah” means water. “Whee” is “here”. “Bwii” is “fresh”, “Boyna” is cold. Adjectives come after the noun they modify.

I only had to create a few words and phrases. This isn’t like Klingon or Dothraki and I’m not a linguist. I just wanted a little flavor and to give a little insight into the alien’s thought process. Knowing they are mathematicians, the next line I wrote was “Gesta chi harra, sallah-boynda ges ii” – “The hotter the sun, the colder the water.” A direct transliteration is “Relationship between sun heat water colder implied causality will be,” which I think has a kind of mathematical notation to it.

One more: “Bu trosh agram-ii ayon mallah kham e” is “My honor it would be your flesh to eat.” I liked the idea that “sallah” is water and “mallah” is flesh because they would rhyme in the Chirukh language. “Sallah gi mallah” is “Water and Flesh.” That syntax is pretty close to Japanese.

All told, I only created a handful of phrases and less than twenty words in my Chirukh vocabulary and, whether the constructs are linguistically sound of not or whether the reader will dig into them, I’m pleased with the internal logic of them and they make my world feel more real.

The 10 Best of Dailyscienefiction.com’s February Stories

1. “Motherland” by Jasmine Ang started Feb strong.  Emotionally charged, the work explores the theme of separation.  The “science fiction” angle comes in, I believe, by providing an example of how technology both lessens the sense of separation and intensifies it.  Feb is the coldest month of the year here in Alabama so feelings of isolation and sorrow seem to dovetail my weather perfectly.

 

2. “Lingua Flanka”  by David M. Armstrong was heavy handed.  The opening and the middle felt intellectually insulting.  I’m including it because it covers themes that I think are important to discuss but even then, the work feels muddied.  Like Armstrong wanted to be controversial but didn’t understand how to do even that basic part well.  I appreciate the attempt for artists by interspersing different narrative elements, but the execution left a lot to be desired.  Great theming and ambition.

 

3. “Dispell” by Preston E Dennett was cute.  The fantasy theme was notable, and given my preferences, made me more likely to enjoy it.   There were elements that I found distasteful.  The female voice, in particular, felt stilted, as if the author had never spoken for very long with a woman or as if the author has only known and women in very shallow ways.  But I thought the punch line at the end was worth the read.  And I want to give the author some props for trying to explore an element of society it seems clear he doesn’t get.  There’s both a thoughtful and boorish execution to it.

 

4. I really love Mary E. Lowd’s work.    “Heart of the Gas Giant”  is a continuations of her other stories.  I’m beginning to see a larger picture where her characters go to the same places in space to achieve different goals, or where we will focus on a different main character but still get an update on the last main character.  Her ability to summarize the last stories in a line or two, are pretty inspiring.  I’d like a  collection of all her little works in a larger work.  She brings a childlike joy and wonder to the vast array and variation of space.  But her stories are written in a way I think all ages could appreciate them.

 

5. “Resolve, in Four Heartbeats”  by Kell Rajasalu is great.  The work is confusing in several angles, but by the end, I understood the basics of what had happened and felt like I’d read a longer arch than she’d offered.  She had deeper characters in her short than make authors achieve in novel length works.

 

6. I really enjoyed “Kicking the Football” by Margaret Sessa-Hawkins.  It’s sweet and very tightly written.  While it has a huge advantage because it’s about characters we are all largely familiar with, it still successfully captivates it’s own unique concept.  This to me, is the spirit of excellent fan fiction and what elevates something from copyright infringement to it’s own concept.

 

7. “The Ones Who Chose the Rain” by George Edwards Murray  was a sad story.  I don’t know exactly what I liked, possibly the genre, but the work struck me.  It’s filled with ennui and pain.  Don’t read if you’re depressed.

 

8. “Introducing Your Parents to the Spoils of Adventure” by Bryan McNab was funny, told in second person, and fantasy genre.  What more do you need?

 

9. “The Sword” by Mari Ness  was a fun update on a “classic” medieval scenario.  I didn’t love it, but it was a cute short story with a reasonable close.  There was a story earlier this month that I waffled on whether in include and ultimately dismissed it because there wasn’t enough going on and this one made it in because there was a “diverse voice” and I am swayed by scenes I see less if even when I think they lacked some indefinable element.

 

10. “Fight for the Stars” by Shannon Fay was a well constructed complete world.  She took a story that I’d have hated to see play out in the three hour movie and boiled it down to an enjoyable 1000 words.  The story kept me engaged in each word.  Instead of liking it “in spite of it’s length” as I do many short stories, I actually think the format os part of what allowed me to be taken in and really become enchanted by it.

 

Overall, February was an interesting month for Daily Science Fiction.  The works I chose were by authors who had a lot less on their resumes than last month’s authors.  I wonder if there is a trend to how Daily Science Fiction groups it’s works.  It has felt random as a reader, but collecting through collecting all the works I found value in, I hope to find patterns.  Impatience is a major fault of mine though, so I’ll have to see what next month brings!

 

Want to check out January’s Science Fiction picks?  Check it out here

New Year’s Resolutions and Writing

Did you set any New Year’s Resolutions?  If you haven’t there’s no time like the present to commit yourself.

 

I love new things.  They’re shiny, unassuming, and a perfect for a fresh start.  You can always “start again” on your journey to improve.  No need to wait till January.  March, November, or any other time of year works too as long as you’re ready to put in the work.  Still, there’s something about the crisp cold dry air paired with scales and exercise equipment hanging out in every retailer that just seems to beg of you to start a project now.

 

If you’re like me and over commit, you’re starting with a spreadsheet of some 30 odd goals to track with the silent prayer all those little measurements will lead to a larger goal down the road.  I was planning for March to see major changes when I wrote my resolutions, but two weeks in and I’m already pushing back to April.

 

Three paragraphs in and finally I’m ready to talk about my writing commitments for 2018.

 

  • Writing Daily.  I’m using 365 Writing Prompts to start each day.  I’d like to write at least 500 words per prompt.  Of this year I’ve missed 3 days so far, but I haven’t given up on writing most my days
  • Taking these prompts and creating at least one edited complete story with them a month.  This is a lot harder for me but is the logical conclusion with the goal being toward churning one full edited story every two weeks.  A June goal at earliest at this rate
  • Reading 36 books this year.  Need to look at the larger writing and publishing world around me.  Also I require full books to research elements of stories I want to write.
  • More consistently reading and providing candid, honest, helpful feedback to my writer’s group.  I want to take part more in collective writing efforts.
  • Starting up our North Alabama Writers  Group Blog.  Pushed the group to set this up over the summer and I’ve let it lay fallow.  No time like the present to force posts.
  • Not so secret yearly goal I’ve no way to measure my progress to: I want to be published and more widely read.  Words can’t contain my burning, heart pounding, chest expanding, all encompassing desire to have a readership—to share my words and know others look at them.  Don’t even care if people like them so long as they read them.

As an impatient person, progress is not going as quickly as I’d like.  Who’d have thought changing 30 points of your lifestyle wouldn’t lead to a seamless transition of success?  But, I am seeing marked progress improvement and I am moving closer to having a life more inline with what I wanted starting January 1st.

 

Our writers’ group also has goals for 2018.  As a group we’ve pledged to:

  • Have a more structured group meeting
  • Have a writing exercise every other week
  • Have monthly write-ins besides our standard weekly meeting
  • Increase our group size
  • Do something with the Group Blog (which I’m taking on as a personal crusade but I expect others to join as they are ready)

What about you, mysterious anonymous reader? We’re 1/24th of the way through the year, and no time like now to come clean regarding your declarations.  Did you make any New Year’s Resolutions?  Did any of them involve writing?  And how are they going?