Write at Night – Resources for Writing on the Night Shift

Writing, Publishing, Working on Your Craft – One Night At a Time

Big Magic – A Book for Creatives

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

I am a big fan of audio books.  It’s great for not only the commute, but also long walks in the evening.  Though I wasn’t the biggest fan of Eat, Pray, Love, I stumbled upon this gem and I recommend it highly.

If you don’t have an Audible account yet, I believe the first book is free and this would be the one to get!

Elizabeth Gilbert herself narrates it and her voice is warm and engaging.  She speaks almost conspiratorially to the listener at times, and you can imagine that you are in a lecture hall with her and she is laying down the words of wisdom.  Some of it is autobiographical, she discusses taking work as a bartender and jotting down notes from listening to human dialogue all day.  Most of it is a pep talk, but in the nicest way.

Perhaps the most interesting take away from this book is her theory that ideas are sentient and that they visit you.  If you don’t bring those ideas into being with your writing, those ideas move on to someone who will.  This really blew my mind.  And surely it will light a fire under you.

It’s not a long audio book, and I’ve listened to it twice.  Highly recommend.


Start From the End


NaNoWriMo was set to start on Nov. 1 whether I had a plan or not.  So I went over to my co-blogger’s house and sat at her cozy kitchen nook and jotted down some character notes.

A few minutes later, I had a vague plan.  Meet Anna, an aspiring Valkyrie.

Then, before I even had written a word of her story, I went to an artist and commissioned a cover.  Here it is, thanks to the talented artist Christa H. at Paper and Sage.

Despite totally pantsing it when I am by nature a plotter, this cover made it very real for me and when I complete my 50k words, I intend to buy a print to frame for my wall.

I started with a pre-made and it took 4 revisions to get it exactly right.  (The package came with 3 revisions.)  I love it.  The NaNoWriMo folks have all kinds of stats on who makes it to the 50k and one of the added factors to success is having a cover.  I think I can understand why.

“When you believe it, you can see it.” ~Wayne Dyer (sorta)

Day 2 of NaNoWriMo

I wrote over 3k words on Day 1, and it was easier than I thought with the help of dictation.  It took probably about just over two hours to do that.  I resisted the urge to edit, but of course cleaned up all the dictation randomness.

For the month of October, I had a thrice weekly fiction writing effort.  And my goals were modest.  I gave myself an hour and I tried to write at least 250 words.  The results were amazing.  By the third night of trying that, I was up to 1k words in an hour.

So as others have commented, “When you do the work, the muse rewards you.”

I knew Day 2 would be rough, as I had a lot of work at the office and a social commitment.  So I hammered out 500 words at lunch.  Came home at 11pm and hammered out 1k words until midnight.

With NaNoWriMo in effect, forcing the commitment of a daily writing practice,  I can only imagine the ways that it will improve all the participants’ writing speed and storytelling.

End of Day 2 – 4500+ words on less than 5 hours of writing.  Not bad.

Walking and Dictating Your Novel on Your iPhone

Stinson Beach, After Sunset

This morning I woke up earlier as part of my NaNoWriMo kickoff.  But not too much earlier.  Just 30 minutes.  Then I had a cup of tea to fortify myself, laced up my Kangaroo sneakers and off I went to start my great American novel.

I mean, I was armed with my iPhone 6 and the standard earbuds Apple ships with the phone.  I turned on Siri and started dictating the opening scene into the Bywords app.  I would hit “done” periodically and then start dictating again.  It was brilliant and it was FREE.  Most importantly, I had emailed everything to myself  (Bywords has an export feature) so I had a backup too.

You do have to look at your phone on occasion to make sure the dictation is actually on, as it will shut off after long pauses, or after you hit done.

20 minutes later, I had to return to make breakfast and wake the children.  But I had 600 words done on my word count and was back on my normal workday schedule.

Happy Writing!

PS – if you find that the phone method is too harrowing, the other method is to actually use a dictaphone which will save everthing to a .wav file or similar and then you can feed back to a transcription service.

How Do You Write? Podcast

I’ve really been enjoying Rachael Herron‘s “How Do You Write?” podcast.  It is relatively new, and up to 21 episodes.  I’m a knitter and had been following Rachael’s knitting blog for years.  In 2006, she completed NaNoWriMo and that manuscript was traditionally published in 2010.  It was with great pleasure that I attended her signing at Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park in 2011 (and we knitter fans brought our knitting of course!). Since her NaNoWriMo debut, she has gone on to publish 13(!)  books in six years.  Incredible.

Length: Compact, less than half an hour

Format: Interview style.

I have enjoyed the guests she has had on the show and the questions she asks them.  Her guests have included Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo (1999) and also Grant Faulkner, the current director of NaNoWriMo.  Her questions are writing related and the responses have been so interesting.  She asks “What is the worst writing advice you’ve ever been given?”  and my favorite, “How do you refill the creative well?”  The answers give insight to probably any level of writer (newbie to veteran).

I appreciate that she is organized in her interview, delivers the consistent questions and respects our time.  She has a nice rapport with her guests and the podcast is enjoyable.

Rating: 5 stars


No Plot? No Problem!

Author: Chris Baty

This little book is a powerful tool to help frustrated writers get past their perfectionistic, procrastinating tendencies using a secret weapon that works on most of us in our adult professional lives, a deadline.  If only we were 5, it would be candy…

But for all too serious adults who want to write a novel and who must be perfect at all times, NO PLOT? – NO PROBLEM! asserts that a deadline contains these potent tools to help writers find success:

  • Brings Focus
  • Forces us to make time
  • Reaches past our too conservative estimates of what it is we are capable and serves as a “creative midwife”

His recipe requires that the Novel be started on Day 1 and you can bring:

  • Outline(s)
  • Character maps
  • Friends – bring friends who want to write as well as
  • Commit to love ones who will ridicule you when you want to quit
  • Write a Magna Carta of the 10 favorite parts of books you love
  • Write a Magna Carta 2 of the 10 least favorite parts of books you don’t love

What you cannot bring… another novel.  Yes, writing prose for the novel before the starting gun goes off is forbidden!  OK, OK, if you read further, in the smaller print with less strong punctuation, he does ‘allow’ you to write an additional 50,000 words on an existing work, but he believes that in order to keep things fresh and exciting for you, that you should start with a blank slate.

How did this all begin?  Well, I’ll tell you.  In 1999, Chris Baty and a bunch of his writing buddies decided to do something silly like get together, drink lots and lots of coffee and write a novel.  No, I mean really.  And now.  So, to get some parameters, he pulled a small novel off his shelf, A Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley and found it was 50,000 words. That, then became the benchmark. Then he came up with a… you should know this one… a deadline.  50,000 words + one month = a novel.  Of the 21 people who started with him, only 6 finished. The rest were between 500 and 49,000 words, but they all learned something.  And a funny thing happened, a movement had been born. Since then, the challenge has a name “National Novel Writing Month” aka “NaNoWriMo” and it has a website and an international following.  One of my favorite Books, “Water for Elephants”, is Sara Gruen’s final draft of the novel she wrote as a NaNoWriMo winner.    Chris used his formula and actually wrote 8 by the time this book was published in 2010, and oh by the way, the little book he wrote “No Plot, No Problem” that just so happens to be about 50,000 words..

30 days is 1667 words a day.  He, himself, works a couple days a week and then puts in more time on the weekends. He said about three two hour shifts.  I tried it, it’s not easy because my perfectionist wanted to edit the unadulterated flow and I start cutting back on the word count drastically from the day before.  I re-read the book and found an answer to that for my next challenge, he said that if you feel you must edit, just put the words you want to take out in italics and come back to it when you finish the challenge, but in the meantime, keep your priority on building word count.  He said he learned this from finishing that first challenge:

“…we are allowed to begin a novel simply by turning on the nearest computer and start typing.”

He is not promising that the novel will come out fully formed after 30 days, in fact, he agrees it will pretty much look just like a newborn, bald, toothless and without working legs.  And writing experts he admires pretty much agree like Stephen King, Anne Lamott, and quoting Ernest Hemingway,

“The first draft of anything is shit.”

At the end of the day, he says that writing with an eye towards quantity (word count) instead of quality of writing, gives you permission to write with abandon and to stop being so hard on yourself.  In fact, my favorite quote from the book,

“The first law of exuberant imperfection is essentially this:  “The quickest, easiest way to produce something beautiful and lasting is to risk making something horrible and crappy.”

But on a more serious and adult-like note, he believes that,

“…the go-go structure of the event, the stultifying pressure to write brilliant prose had been lifted.”

And I agree, after creating some pretty interesting stories from a one sentence prompt that when you get out of your own way and push past the idea that the first sentence must be from the mouth of God to your ear, and instead get pressured by a deadline to turn something, anything in by the time the bell goes off, well, some pretty amazing things happen.

This book gets to the heart of writing.  You just have to do it, early and often and everyday and then, my friend, you will be a writer, as long as, according to Chris Baty, you do that while drinking lots and lots and lots of coffee.




Your First 1000 Copies Review


Your First 1000 Copies: The Step-by-Step Guide to Marketing Your Book

Author: Tim Grahl

Length: Compact, quick read but bonus content available online

If there were a theme to Tim Grahl’s book, Your First 1000 Copies, it might be “There is No Easy Button.” Either that or, “Slow and Steady Wins the Day.”


This marketing guru breaks down the Connection System he has refined to launch NYT bestsellers such as Charles Duhigg (The Power of Habit), Daniel Pink (To Sell is Human), and Hugh Howie (Wool).

So you’ve written your book and all you have to do is press the PUBLISH button and wait for royalty checks to roll in, right? Unfortunately it doesn’t usually work that way. Lots of thoughtful and systematic groundwork was laid for those NYT launches, probably nearly a year before the book was ever published.

So the Grahl lays out the step by step work authors need to do to in order grow their sales. He calls it the “Connection System” which is:

  • Permission
  • Content
  • Outreach
  • Sell

His writing style is direct, which I really appreciate. He gives concrete examples to demonstrate the principles he discusses. He concludes each chapter with a bullet point review list of concepts covered.

For example, in his discussion of getting permission from readers to contact them, he highlights the importance of building the email subscriber list. He tells you to give the reader a strong offer. Saying “Sign Up Here For Updates” is too generic to engage people.

When he worked with client Jean Chatzky of Money Rules, they modified her offer to “Jean tells you what the week’s headlines mean for YOUR wallet.” Powerful, personal, and very effective. Her subscriber volume that year jumped up 332% from the prior year.

Everything laid out in the book is logical and consistent with common sense. Grahl’s anecdotal experience in social media also validates a personal suspicion of mine – in the battle of Twitter versus the Email list, Twitter underperforms every time.

This book was published in 2013. In Internet terms, it is ancient and yet the system laid out here still rings true. If you visit his website, he delivers his video updates to walk you through the Connection System.

Rating: 5 stars



Using Dictation on the iMac to Write Your Book

As the old adage goes, “How do you eat an elephant?”

One bite at a time.

NaNoWriMo is 50,000 words in 30 days. How does one crank out roughly ~1700 words a night?


I had listened to a couple of podcast interviews where the guests had discussed writing fiction through the use of dictation, and even while they were out walking (!). This got me thinking.

I am used to using dictation at work. At the office, I work on a PC Windows machine, and have Dragon NaturallySpeaking speaking. In addition, I frequently use a Dictaphone and send .wav files off to a transcriptionist for my work product. However, reading reviews on Amazon reveals that dragon NaturallySpeaking for the Mac is far less accurate. So I never dictated at home on my iMac.

In recent years I’ve become more impressed with Siri. At first, I simply tested out short text messages on my iPhone. But this latest upgrade of the Mac OS with enhanced dictation has really been interesting for me. Tonight I decided to try out the enhanced dictation feature in order to write this blog post.

The greatest benefit of dictation is that you can simply get your thoughts out quickly. Then you can take a short break, and come back and revise. Dictation would not only save my wrists from carpal tunnel, but I would begin to chip away at my daily work count goal. Also, it’s FREE! Winning!

How to begin:

Here’s a link to the tutorial I used to install enhanced dictation on my iMac tonight.

It took less than 10 minutes to install Enhanced Dictation.

When dictating, there’re some protocols that have been used by lawyers in their transcription work for years, such as:

  • To obtain quotation marks, you must speak “quote happy day closed quote” and the marks will appear as “Happy day”
  • Say “next paragraph” to move the cursor to the next paragraph
  • Say “question mark” to have a ? show up at the end of your sentence

I tried the dictation without the benefit of a fancy microphone (though some recommend using a nice mike) and it worked just fine.

To turn on the dictation, you can program the keys of your preference. Afterwards once it’s on, you’ll get an icon to show you that it’s listening. Once complete, click “Done” and the dictation turns off.

Happy NaNoWriMo2016 Prep!






StoryShop Podcast

Winter Sun
Serene Lakes, California

In contrast to the Self Publishing Podcast, which features the same three writers, the StoryShop Podcast is a compact and helpful resource.

Length: 25 min.

Format: a 9 episode series, not including the intro episode.  I blasted through these in two nights of walking the dog.  All three of the authors contribute, and it is very interesting the way they discuss their collaboration.  I especially enjoyed the way they discussed their  “beats” process which is a writing term I had heard before but didn’t understand.

Another segment that I also found interesting is that when they build their character, they look through actors photos to find a starting point.  Not the same character, but that look and feel so that when Sean does the hand off of the beats to Johnny, Johnny has a sense of how to describe how that character moves and looks when he starts the first draft.

Rating: 5 stars

The StoryShop Podcast

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