Writing Tips

[Nanowrimo 2019] Week 2

Remember how I said last week that the new Nanowrimo website is great for catching up? Yup, as you can see from the gif above, I’ve almost hit the daily word count goal so far over the last 10 days or so.

That isn’t to say that the writing process itself has been great. Rather, there’s been quite a fair amount of slog. I estimate that I can possibly use perhaps only 25% of what I’ve written so far. Writing time has been extremely finicky – there’s been a lot of experimenting with what I can or cannot do thanks to the surgery, and there was also that day when just hitting the bare minimum was harsh.

After reaching a point in which writing about the story my character was reading was more interesting than the actual writing itself, I decided to just restart the entire thing. And this turned out to be much more interesting and easier to write. Things I learnt:

  1. My character has a very specific personality
    I know the kind of things I want my MC to go through, and I already have a glimpse of the people she keeps around her. The surprising part of it is that she has just told me her father is still alive, and we are still debating on whether he’s really the nice guy she remembered or if the time spent away from family has dehumanised him. There’s a lot to explore, and this isn’t even covering the reason why she ran away in the first place.
  2. The place where we began has a personality
    Turns out old buildings that have been bewitched and bespelled have a sort of sentient personality. Writing the openings and the way she interacted with the building was fun, and I look forward to her going back there again, though because I am a consequential style of writer, this may take some time.
  3. Establishing things based on previous knowledge
    Despite the fact that I kinda hated the way the previous story went about, I’m actually very happy with the trivia and nuggets we dropped earlier. As they say, you can’t revise a blank page, and even though I will be throwing away a lot of words, the knowledge I gained writing those is very useful.
  4. What is routine?
    I thought I had already settled on a routine but that turned out to be false. Instead I try to write whenever I can, using sprints to get started. Yesterday’s long word count was due to me sitting down and just writing out a scene that played out in slow motion before my afternoon nap – I didn’t expect to write that quickly to the point that after I’d hit word count, it was only 3pm in the afternoon. I had fully intended on leaving it as is, but it turned out I had a bit of fuel left after dinner, so I kicked out another 1k words to almost make that day’s actual wordcount.
  5. Music makes a whole lot of difference
    At the office I use to listen to those “chill lofi beats” as they’re great for just zoning out and relaxing. However when it comes to creative writing I’ve since learnt that they’re good for getting me relaxed, but not that great when it comes to writing. So far I’ve been jumping between Assassin’s Creed’s and since they announced, the entire Aquarion OST. There’s something really different about writing to an anime soundtrack instead of a generic cafe style.

And then I took a much needed break yesterday while writing this and broke my streak whoops. Turned out to be a good thing – while I’m still not happy with parts of today’s writing, I’m pretty happy with where the novel is going.

Writing Tips

Uploading gifs to Facebook natively

Native gif uploading for Facebook

Uploading gifs to Facebook natively has finally arrived for business pages! No third party linking required. All you need is to create your usual organic posts using the normal Facebook page status updates (tested only on desktop). Here’s how:

  1. Click and drag your gif as you would an image or regular video into your regular post update box. Alternately, click on the Camera/Photo upload icon and select your gif file.
  2. Add some text to accompany your gif. Treat it like a regular update.
  3. Click on Publish or if you’re a bit nervous, “Save as Draft.”
  4. Facebook will show you that your video is being processed. Refresh the page or check in your drafts, depending on where you save.
  5. Watch your GIF come to life natively.

A few things to note:

  • There is no preview for your gif before you press “Publish” or “Save as draft”. You’ll see just the film icon that indicates a video file is there.
  • If you upload it via the “Select File from PC” option instead of drag and drop, Facebook treats it like a video. You can actually title your gif and give it a description to make it searchable
  • Yes, this means Facebook now supports uploading gif natively and you will no longer need to upload it to a third party site like Giphy anymore.

Yes, this is very unintuitive, I know.

Writing Tips

[Quick tip] Changing fonts on Outlook 365 and Web

Updated as of 1 March 2018:

To change your fonts, signature and other settings in Outlook 365/Outlook.com email, follow these steps:

  1. Click the Gear icon and type Options into the search box.
    Start from search

  2. Select Message Options from the results.

  3. In Office 365, you’ll find your messaging options on the left. Click on Layout. Change fonts from the Email signature and Message format sections.
    how to select

  4. In regular Outlook.com (aka if you are not under a company account), Email Signatures are under the Personalization tab and the Compose tab.

Yes, it’s ridiculous that there’s no real way to access the settings except by going through Search. The even more ridiculous part is that these settings were so hidden in the first place. For goodness sake, Microsoft, I should not need to write a post just so I can remember how to change my signature!

Writing Tips

Alternatives to 750words

750words is a website dedicated to morning pages. These pages were first mentioned in Julia Cameron’s the Artist’s Way, as a simple writing exercise. You basically freewrite for 3 pages (I think it’s A4 or US letter) in the morning, which comes up to 750 words, more or less. In true Internet fashion, 750words.com is a minimal writing site that encourages and gamifies morning pages, helping you get started.

Now, first thing to note, I like 750words. I do agree that morning pages are better than meditation in a few ways. It acts as a confessional of sorts, focusing on stream of consciousness. Some people get emotional experiences. Some become more creative, and so forth. Me I find it useful when I wake early enough to type them, but this is not always going to be the case.

750words has a hidden subscription price which, while cheap, is not something I want to pay for right now. Especially not when there are plenty of alternatives, such as:

alt text

WriteaDay (Android only)

WriteADay is a wonderful and colourful tool to keep you writing.

It’s colour-coded by day, so the more you write, the more gradients you get. If all you need is just a quick app that motivates you to jot down thoughts throughout the day and you’d like to gamify yourself, this is an excellent tool. When you’ve written a few entries, you get a lovely streak of colour.

Bonus? You get free backup to Google Drive AND a Night or Day mode – the latter is excellent if you don’t like the blinding white background. You can also change the font to something a little more readable (2 options). Did I mention that these are all in the free mode?

Paying for the app gets you extra font options, password protection (PIN+Fingerprint) and one more viewing mode (Dusk). There’s also a pretty damn good range of affordable subscriptions: monthly is the cheapest at USD2 (cheaper than a cup of coffee!), yearly will cost you USD10 (one month discount) but I think the Lifetime is the best bang for buck at just a measly USD25.

alt text

Journey (Cross-platform)

Journey is a more feature-packed journal writing software compared to most others on the market.

In some cases you can think of Journey as the replacement to when Google Docs took out the option to publish HTML and other networks. It tags your entries by location, date and time. A snapshot of the weather is also attached.

There’s also the option to add photos (videos are a premium/cloud feature), your own tags and write from all devices. PC, Mac, phone… these are all enabled by default. Prices start at Rm7.99 per device but the Cloud price unlocks everything across all devices at Rm18.99 (currently on sale with a 20% discount).

Google Docs

Free, online, and easy to use. Just make sure you close all other tabs to prevent distractions.


Despite the fact that this software is more or less orphaned, I still love Baara’s Q10. I would not have written as much nor focus if it were not for this minimalist app.

You can still install it from the website, and here are instructions in case Windows10 or Win7 gives you issues. And yes, I’ve tried a few others but I love Q10 the most.

Putting it here because if you are the kind that likes an offline app this is most likely to fit your needs. Set the timer, and just write.

So what will you pick?

So many writing tools, so little focus to write, no?

Writing Tips

Using the Bullet Journal System for ideas

Wanna try the bullet journal system but not a person who needs a To-Do list? Here’s how I modified the system to store ideas written on paper!

How it began

Not too long ago, I bought a second-hand Hobonichi Techno from Rin. This purchasing decision was based on two factors, namely I wanted a nice, different books for writing story/blog/etc ideas in, and it needed to be functional for me to want to use it regularly. Rin was selling only the cover and did not include a planner; this suited me just fine.

To complement the cover and because I have itchy fingers, I made some additional purchases from Taobao. This was an excuse to complete my pen collection and try out the new Ezbuy service (affiliate link).

I ended up getting this notebook because it had a few features that I wanted.

Pre-printed features on my bullet journal

  • Day of the week, so I could at a glance figure out when I was writing in this notebook
  • Weather of the day which was a nice touch that ended up with me tracking whether the weather influenced me
  • Thick-looking paper, which was essential as I tend to write with gel pens, so it had to be bleed-resistant at the very least
  • Cheap enough that I wouldn’t feel too bad for not writing in it as often as I should

It took about one month to arrive as I had selected the option to buy straight from the page instead of getting ezbuy to assign an agent. On one hand, this automated the process so it was literally click and buy, on the other hand it took the longest route to get here. A fuller review of ezbuy will come later (I have it in my drafts somewhere).

Modifying the bullet journal system

While waiting for the notebook to arrive, I did some research on bullet journaling (because it came up as a cult joke on Productivity Alchemy) and realised I didn’t have to follow the To-Do format that’s so popular. I also didn’t need to follow the monthly and weekly planning. It’s an idea book, for goodness sake, I’m not going to need a daily/weekly/monthly agenda!

With that in mind, I was now free to focus on what I wanted the book to do. In the end, I kept the following components from the original Bullet Journal idea:

A table of contents to keep track of my meta data

  • Page numbering
  • Index framework

Then I modified this to suit my needs. As such, I proceeded to add:

  • A tags page aka what the entry is about
  • A financial goals aka a reminder of things I want to do and how much approximately it will cost
  • A habit tracker page, which quickly became obsolete because I was adding/removing habits

I allocated a lot of pages for the index because I knew how much I would use these kinds of books once I got into the habit. 4 pages were also allocated for the tags page. The rest received 2 pages a piece.

Page number gifs

The most tedious part was actually numbering the pages. I may consider getting numbered pages for the next book, but I just number as I go along now. This makes it easier to ensure I don’t misnumber a page too.

Then it was time to start writing in the book. Because I was organising according to project and platform, I needed to be clear from the start where the idea was going to sit.

Here’s how the book is organised so far. The Techno comes with 2 bookmarks, and the book itself comes with another. Techno’s bookmarks are placed on the index page and the tags pages which make it easy to flip. The one for the notebook is on the last written page. Small touches matter.

Inside pocket keeps the original insert and a tissue for the gel pens

I haven’t made full use of the inside pockets of the Techno but I inserted a nice decorative piece bought from CAFKL into the Cover on Cover pocket. It also informs me when I should clean the cover since it’s a white card. :p

Replaced pen

The other thing I love about the Hobonichi is the pen holder that also keeps the book closed. It’s a simple and ingenious solution, but I only wish my pens would actually stay inside – the holder is kinda snug but not fitting, and the pens don’t seem to stay unless they have a have a sturdy clip – which my Muji pen doesn’t seem to have. So I replaced it with a Pilot WINGEL.

So far the system is working the way I was hoping it did. I find writing with paper and ink forces me to be more aware of what I write and the kind of paths it can go down.

It also gives me a good way to focus on the sound of the story; otherwise I would have written down the first idea I thought of and its expansions but completely miss the nuances the idea may have.

Backing up the bullet journal

Habit tracker page

This is also probably the right time to talk about managing backups and archives. I actually have in the habit tracker a reminder to back up the notes in this book weekly.

Currently, I am backing them up in one of two ways: either by transcribing them into a Google Doc for easier search or simply taking a photo and uploading that into Google Photos. This makes backups somewhat hassle-free and simple.

Final thoughts

As I mentioned earlier, I am still struggling to get into the habit of writing ideas down. No, I mean I should actually get back into regularly thinking of writing in the first place. And writing based on said ideas.

This bullet journal does actually work for me… when I actually use it. That’s been the biggest issue I have with it, which is probably a story for another day.

So, what do you think about my system? Any thoughts on how to improve, or do you have one of your own? Sound off in the comments or let me know on Facebook.

Writing Tips

Half an art, half a science

Writing is half an art, half a science.

There are rules to follow, but when you know what you have to work with, you’ll know what you can achieve. This is where showing up comes to play.

There’s a theory that says that showing up is half the work. As Tchaikovsky says, the muse doesn’t always show up at your first invitation. You have to work at it, and sometimes it will take a while before it finally does show. Mastering your hesitation to work or create is part of the challenge and journey to mastering your craft.

It takes time for this to happen, and sometimes it takes a long time to happen. Practice, and setting a ritual for getting writing done, are training tools writers can use to get creative writing done.

Writing is half an art, half a science.

The science part is rooted in the process, in understanding what makes you love a specific piece, the choice of words, settings, ideas and expression. It is understanding how to improve the work you have or to refine it to tell your story better. It is the act of enhancing what you have, of taking a critical eye to a piece and pruning all the excess away.

The art part is learning how to write well. It is in learning how to put words together to make them speak, to make them sing, to make it pleasant for the reader. It is the part that involves pouring your heart and emotions out to onto paper and screen to make them feel what you are feeling.

Writing is half an art, half a science.

Everyone can read. Everyone can write. Hell, everyone “has a book in them.” But not everyone has the skill to bring that book to life. Writing to elicit emotions, to convey ideas, and to drive action, these take specific skills.

Remember, it is a skill. Not talent, but skill. Talent helps you master a skill quicker and more efficiently, but talent without practice is useless.

This is why showing up matters. Practising regularly, even when you are tired, demotivated, exhausted, turns even something like writing into muscle memory. Your body remembers and trains itself. Your mind is a muscle that can be stretched and expanded.

Some people go big, and then they go home. I used to think like that too. Over the years, I realise that celebrating the small wins, and keeping them in mind when I stumble, are far better than remembering the huge disappointments when I overextend myself. They keep me going longer and smile more, which is the most important bit.

Writing is half an art, half a science.

Put in the hours to write. Put in the time to learn what works best for you. But put in too, the time to care for yourself. If you find yourself stumbling when rambling, then learn to recognise it is an issue that affects you deeply. When you hit a block, especially if you are doing something like morning pages, respect yourself.

Take time to understand the person you view yourself as and the person you are confronting. Understand that the person in the mirror, on the page, in your head, is not your enemy (unless you have depression or have mental illness, in which case please know that I love you and I hope you find help or that you have a great support system because you are that kind of awesome person and many hugs but we’re digressing)… Understand that that person is another part of you and that person makes up the person you are.

You can either accept this person, work with them to sort out the issues in your life, or cut them out completely. Treat them with compassion, because they are a part of you, and if you cut them out, do it with kindness. Understand that loving yourself and being kind and open to yourself are not indications that you are fragile, but that you are strong and comfortable enough in your own skin like few ever are.

Writing is half an art, half a science.

Learn to enjoy the process of simply showing up to write. Be comfortable with the idea that no one else will ever see your writing. Learn to experiment with words, to change sentences, to play with different forms, all to understand what works for you.

Anyone and everyone on the Internet today presumably can read and write, but if you choose to be a writer, then own it. Write like an artist and pour your heart out onto whatever medium you want. Then write like a scientist and add or subtract to it until it says what you hope to say.

Writing is half an art, half a science.

Writing Tips

[Guide] Creating a Writer’s Portfolio

Note: This post may contain affiliate links.

So recently I had a chat with D about creating her portfolio. She is primarily a fiction writer, but the ideas and tips below can be applied to any writer. Having a ready-made writer’s portfolio serves two purposes:

  • Looks good on your namecard
  • Easy to show potential clients your past work
  • Bonus: Reminder that you can do great work

Making Magic Happen

Creating Your Writer’s Portfolio

The good news is that it’s 2017 and there are plenty of options for writers, but particularly for cash-strapped Malaysian writers, to showcase their work. The bad news is that there are plenty of options, which can make deciding how to showcase your work a daunting task.

Step 1: Defining Purpose

This sounds like the easiest step but you would be surprised at how many people often splutter about this. What’s the purpose of your site? Is it to:
* Find clients?
* Be a repository of your best work?
* Cement your reputation?
* Claim your internet “real estate” before someone else with a similar name does?
* Because your lecturer told you?

Each will have slightly different organisational requirements depending on your ultimate purpose. Yes, you can have multiple purposes, but all of the above is not the right answer (especially the lecturer one). So once you’ve decided, you’re ready to take the next step.

Creating Your Sitemap

Step 2: Sitemapping

I have to admit, this is my favourite part of the process. I like sitemapping because it’s putting order to chaos. It also makes you examine whether you have enough to launch or if you’ll need to create more content. I suggest creating your sitemap to fit your main purpose. This also helps in picking the best design/layout for your needs.

Choosing Your Platform

Step 3: Picking a Platform

Your platform choices are probably going to be dictated by these factors (and most likely in the following order):
– Money
– Time you can invest
– Your purpose

So what are your choices and likely investment?

Contently and other free portfolio sites:
These are specific sites dedicated to hosting portfolios. They’re like staying in a dorm. You can put up posters and decorate it how much you like, but there will be strict limits.

_Wordpress, Blogspot and other free CMS (Content Management System):_
This is more like staying in a rented apartment. You have more flexibility to do what you want but not massive renovations (unless you pay for it). Also you need to follow the platform’s TOS or they can kick you out and keep your things.

Like owning your own landed property in the city. You can do what you want but you need to obey the laws of the city, which is usually lax enough that you can get away with a lot of things.

Step 4: Execute!

The final step is usually to do the actual work. Once you’ve identified your purpose, your platforms and the materials you need to get things done, it’s usually pretty straight-forward to get everything else into place.

Unpopular opinion: Unless you have a lot of screenshots and/or the raw HTML files, I think writers putting their works on places like Behance is a waste of time. Those sites are primarily designer-based, and it’s hard to read long-form on it.

And yes, I know, creating your portfolio is damn terrifying. It only took me oh… two years and the threat of being without a desk job for me to actually get off my ass and create this site. However, I already used places like Contently to highlight my stuff before this, and that helped in getting my mind around the content I wanted to showcase.

Creating your own portfolio site, as I mentioned earlier isn’t just about people finding you. It’s also a reminder that you, as a writer, can do good work. Work that you are happy to say “I did that.”

As long, of course, that you actually did the work.

Writing Tips

WordPress and Google Docs Integration

Several weeks ago, WordPress broke news that they had a Google Docs add-on that would allow you to send your drafts right to your blog. This was big news, especially since Google Docs killed the “Post to Website” function back in 2010 (leading indirectly to the rise of Social Media but that’s another story).

So hearing that it was back got me excited. Of course the first thing I did upon waking the computer was to add the Google Docs add-on and then… nada. It kept asking me to log in when trying to authenticate the Google Docs WordPress plugin to the point I just gave up. I even managed to trigger my WordPress’ “are you human?” security check. All this was happening while I was technically still logged into my site!

After two days and an annoyed review later, I sent in a support request. Thanks to timezone differences, it took me about 2 weeks to fix the issue, and it’s actually a very simple one.

Solving Google Docs WordPress Login Loop

  1. Deactivate all plugins except Jetpack.
  2. Disconnect Jetpack by going to Left Sidebar > Jetpack > Scroll down > Disconnect Jetpack text link.
  3. Refresh. Follow the steps to RECONNECT Jetpack. Visit http://wordpress.com/sites to verify your new site is there.
  4. Go to Google Docs > Add-Ons > Get More Add-Ons (if you have not already installed the WordPress.com For Google Docs Add-on) > WordPress > Open. You should see a “Draft to WordPress” bar on your right.
  5. Tap “Add WordPress Site”
  6. Follow the instructions.
  7. ???
  8. Profit!

It’s actually a very straightforward fix but it just didn’t occur to me because I was doing it one step at a time and not connecting the link between steps 1 and 2. We’ll probably see how it handles media later. But yes, thank you Carolyn S. for helping me!

Writing Tips

Moderating tips

I had a blast at the All-In! Young Writers Festival last week held at *Scape from 10 March to 12 March 2017. That said, it was also my first time moderating a panel of speakers. I moderated a panel on experiential marketing aka advertising. It was a surprisingly easy panel to moderate, mainly because I had excellent speakers, but I picked up a few tips that you might want to consider if you are asked to moderate a panel:

1. Research, research, research
Find out who your panellists are. Read their works. Check out their stance on issues, if needed. Craft the questions you want to ask them based on what you’ve read.

2. Introduce yourself
Depending on your organiser, you may be able to meet your panellists beforehand virtually. Introduce yourself politely, ask them about their planned topics and discuss the topics you may want to cover.

3. Prep speech and questions
Check the festival guidelines before preparing your speech. Familiarise yourself with what’s required and practice saying them out loud a few days before your actual talk. If needed, get a notebook and write the speech instead.

Prep your questions too, in case everyone is too shy to do so during the Q&A session.

4. Settle on a cue
Your speakers may ramble on. Make sure you speak to your panellists beforehand about cues to warn them if they’re going over the limit. It can be as discreet as a cough or another small signal.

5. Thank your panellists and sponsors
This should be in your moderator’s guidelines, really. Thank them and your sponsors. And thank those who attended.

And that’s it. Have a tip/idea I missed out on? Lemme know in the comments!