Staying Organized and Creative

Photo credit: me!

Note: I received a free notebook from ColoringNotebook in exchange for writing this review. Nevertheless, all opinions are my own.

I’m as obsessed with organization as I am creativity. Growing up, I was led to believe—for a while, at least—these two elements could never coexist. Everyone who told me this was wrong. You know how I know?

For one thing, I just got a ColoringNotebook, and I think I’m in love. I found out about this beautiful product through the company’s Instagram account, and it was fascination at first like. According to the brand’s website, the ColoringNotebook is a “paper notebook with coloring pages for adults.” True to its word, the product features gorgeous, clean lined pages broken up with coloring spreads just begging to be filled.

I started bullet journaling not too long ago, and after running out of pages in my old notebook, decided to give this new notebook a shot. It’s great because it has plenty of room for me to write out lists, story ideas, blog posts, and more—all while allowing me to unwind and destress by coloring the interesting patterns, shapes, and objects scattered throughout the pages.

After receiving this notebook, I found out it also comes in dot-grid format, which would be absolutely perfect for bullet journaling! With thick, high-quality paper, a sturdy cover and binding, a ribbon bookmark, and plenty of inspiring images to color, this notebook is everything I didn’t know I wanted. The next notebook I get is going to be one of these. If you’re in the market for a new notebook, pop over to the website and get a ColoringNotebook right away.

Special thanks again to the ColoringNotebook folks for sending me such a sweet product!

What do you think of the ColoringNotebook?

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A notebook with coloring pages in it? @brianawrites shares info about her new favorite find. (Click to tweet)

Why I Love Scrivener for iOS

Photo Credit: Joe Flood on Flickr

I love Scrivener. I don’t know how I got any writing done without it. I used to use Word to write my novels, and that was all right, but I had to write linearly and sometimes had a hard time keeping my thoughts organized. With Scrivener, 90 percent of my problems have been erased. The only thing I ever lamented was the inability to write via some kind of mobile app.

Then, Scrivener released Scrivener for iOS. I teared up. Finally! Next, I discovered you could sync projects between Mac and iOS via Dropbox. I wept tears of unbridled joy.

I do a fair amount of writing on the go and love the idea of not being tied to my computer. With Scrivener for iOS, I can (and am right now, in fact) write by the pool or at the beach. I can write in the car (if someone else is driving). I can even write at the dermatologist’s office.

Before this app, I had to write in either the Notes app or Evernote. Once I got back to my computer, I had to transfer whatever I’d written into the Scrivener project. And I couldn’t access the whole project once I was out, which meant I could only really write one scene at a time. Annoying, to say the least. Scrivener changed all that, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. Now, everything syncs via Dropbox and I can easily pick up right where I left off.

Scrivener for iOS also includes a nifty word count feature, which is great because word counts give me such life. It’s nice to be able to look up and see how close I am to meeting my daily goals.

If you’re on the fence about shelling out $19.99 for the Scrivener mobile app, go ahead and take the plunge. I’m one of the cheapest people in the world, and I’m glad I made the investment. I’ve only begun using the new app and I still think it’s worth every dollar. I can’t wait to see what other cool things I can do with it.

How do you feel about Scrivener for iOS? What feature are you most excited about?

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How Writing REFLECTIONS Changed My Life

How Writing REFLECTIONS Changed My Life

As I edit, polish, and refine my manuscript for Pitch Wars (eep!), I can’t help marveling at how much this one book has changed my life. When I started out writing Reflections, I knew it was going to be important. It tackles several difficult issues that need to be addressed, and it has more than one personal connection to my own life. However, I never anticipated it becoming a kind of nourishment for me.

Writing this novel changed my life, and I don’t say that lightly. I learned so much while writing this book–about myself and the world around me–that it almost doesn’t matter to me if anyone else reads it. Of course, I do want someone to read it, and even better if they’re as effected by the novel as I have been so far. This book is more important to me than anything I’ve written. Writing Reflections changed my life because it allowed me to connect with victims, confront my own issues and experiences, and move through tough stuff toward positivity and acceptance.

WRITING REFLECTIONS ALLOWED ME TO CONNECT WITH VICTIMS

I know a lot of women who have suffered various kinds of abuse–too many women who have been hurt in ways non-victims can never understand. While I was in college, I was lucky enough to participate in a production of The Vagina Monologues. One of my favorite parts of the show, and arguably the most profound, happened toward the end. After a brief video conveying sexual assault statistics, the show’s director asked everyone who had ever been hurt or abused to stand up. The number of women rising to their feet was staggering. It hit me like a punch to the gut. These were women I saw on campus every day, women I had classes with, even women who had just performed onstage with me. It was heartbreaking, yes, but it was also powerful.

These women deserve to have their stories told. They deserve to know that what happened to them in the past does not define them. More than anything, they deserve to get a taste of what it’s like to be the hero. No matter how broken they may feel, they are stronger than they know. Writing this book–writing Rama–not only allowed me to grasp the truths I most needed to hear, it also allowed me to connect with other victims of various kinds of abuse, including physical, emotional, and sexual.

WRITING REFLECTIONS ALLOWED ME TO WORK THROUGH MY ISSUES

In the past, I’ve been betrayed by men. My trust has been destroyed more times than I can count. For the longest time, I thought I would never be happy. I had a hard time making peace with myself because of my extensive trust issues. After all, if I couldn’t get over myself, nobody would love me, and if nobody would love me, I couldn’t get married and then I wouldn’t have kids and then andthenandthen–

But that isn’t what matters. Ideally, I’d like to learn to trust the men I meet, but I recognize now that isn’t necessary for my happiness. I can still be happy and comfortable with myself, flaws and all, by embracing my lack of perfection. Sure, I’ve been let down, but none of that was my fault. At the same time, the fact that I’ve been a victim doesn’t mean I have no control of my life. Instead of focusing on the past, writing Reflections helped me forgive those who have hurt me and redirect my energy toward building the life I desire.

If I can be happy being alone–if I can accept myself fully for me–then and only then will I find any kind of peace.

Of course, this philosophy applies to physical features as much as it does emotional ones. Like everyone else, there are things about my body that I’ve often wished to change. As a teenager, I struggled to come to terms with my height, cystic acne, and the shape of my nose. I was even bullied because of the way I looked. Instead of considering all the things my body did for me and the aspects of it I actually liked, I dwelled only on the negative. My self-esteem eroded and dwindled down to nothing. Over the years, it has slowly improved, but while writing Reflections, it skyrocketed. I honestly can’t remember the last time I’ve loved myself so fully. I adore and appreciate every part of my face and body. Sometimes I have off days, but for the most part, I am now able to drag myself out of the funk and smile at myself in the mirror.

This post might be the longest on my blog to date, but it’s also the most important. While I am of course hopeful that Reflections will be picked up by someone someday, if nothing else, I can say it’s made a difference in my life. I should be so lucky if it helps someone else.

What do you think? How has writing helped you?

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Writing REFLECTIONS changed @brianawrites’s life. Read this post to find out how. (Click to tweet)

Going Beyond the Bechdel Test

Going Beyond the Bechdel Test

Most people nowadays have at least heard of the Bechdel Test. If you haven’t, here’s a primer: According to this website, the Bechdel test is a simple way of analyzing film, television, or literature using the following three criteria:

(1) it has to have at least two women in it, who (2) who talk to each other, about (3) something besides a man.

The test was popularized by Alison Bechdel‘s comic Dykes to Watch Out For, in a 1985 strip called The Rule. For a nice video introduction to the subject please check out The Bechdel Test for Women in Movies onfeministfrequency.com.

The aforementioned website includes a list of several movies that pass the test–for example, Captain America: Civil War, Finding Dory, and Ghostbusters. Some books that past the test include The Hunger Games, The Book Thief, and The Fault in Our Stars. As for television shows, think Orphan Black, Scandal, and Parks and Recreation. I could go on, but you get the idea.

Recently, there’s been a lot of talk about the way women are represented in the media. The commercial and popular success of the Ghostbusters reboot, as well as that of female-led movies like the Oscar-winning Mad Max: Fury Road, proves that people want to see women in more prominent roles. For decades, women have been shoehorned into one-dimensional, stereotypical roles that reinforce outdated perspectives and encourage sexism and misogyny. The Bechdel Test is arguably more relevant than ever.

But we should strive to write beyond the Bechdel Test. Instead of settling for the bare minimum–writing novels that meet these three criteria–we should work to surpass them. This means not only writing female characters that have conversations about subjects other than men, but writing female characters who are real, have hopes and dreams and goals and weaknesses and flaws; women with hobbies and careers and relationships and souls.

It’s not enough to write to appease the Bechdel Test. We have to move forward, rise above, do better. More than anything, we have to go beyond the Bechdel Test. We owe it to not only future generations, but also to ourselves. That’s what keeps me writing. How about you?

What do you think?

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The Best Thing You Can Do For Your Writing (Take Breaks!)

take-breaks

No one who knows me will be surprised to hear that I frequently work too hard. I’m a perfectionist and have a serious type-A personality. Combine that with an insatiable curiosity and desire to achieve my goals no matter what, and you’ve got a recipe for burnout. I’m notoriously terrible about taking breaks. It’s gotten me in trouble before. Still, I’m stubborn. I never learn.

Recently, I got sick. It was just a cold, but it absolutely drained me. I couldn’t stop coughing, I had a fever, and I was exhausted all the time. It was all I could do to get dressed in the morning, let alone go to work and then come home and do housework and writing tasks. It got so bad that I even went to the doctor to get checked for mono (which I didn’t have, thank God).

This bout of illness opened my eyes to a truth I’d been trying to ignore: I need to rest. I need to take breaks. Every once in a while, I need to make time for myself, spend a day on self-care, and things of that nature. I can’t spend all my time working or I’ll wear myself out. And if I’m worn out, I can’t be productive. To me, a lack of productivity constitutes a death sentence. There were no bones about it: I had to scale back.

Since recovering from being sick, I’ve been working on a plan to reduce my stress levels. I’m scheduling blog posts and bills and things as much as I can, and the rest of the time, I’m setting limits on how much I can work outside of my day job. While it’s still too early to have seen real results, I’m positive more breaks will make a difference in my writing.

Learn from my mistakes, people. Take more breaks. Go easy on yourself. Your writing will thank you.

What do you do to make time for yourself? What are some tips you have to help avoid burnout?

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Find out how taking a break made a difference in @brianawrites’ writing life. (Click to tweet)

What Ghostbusters Can Teach Us About Writing Female Characters

What Ghostbusters Can Teach Us About Writing Female Characters

I am a massive Ghostbusters fan, and I have been for quite some time now. When news of the Paul-Feig-directed reboot came up in the world, I had fixed feelings about it. However, when I heard that the reboot would include a star-studded cast of powerful ladies, I got a little more excited. I was optimistic, if not cautiously so.

You see, for the longest time–and I’m sure you’ve noticed this–women haven’t exactly had the most coveted roles in film and television. Maybe you’ve heard of the Sexy Lamp Test. Basically, what this “test” does is ascertain the strength and depth of the female characters in any given medium. If the character can be replaced by a sexy lamp with no real issues or effects on the plot, then the female character is considerably lacking in depth. Any women who do have some kind of depth are usually relegated to familiar, comfortable roles, such as the shopaholic, the ditz, the slut, the nerd, and the sexy sidekick.

Ghostbusters changes all of that. In the female-led, character-driven reboot, Feig puts Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones in positions of respect. Wiig, McCarthy, and McKinnon all play intelligent, capable scientists, while Jones’s character puts in hours as a long-suffering  MTA employee who works hard to do her job no matter what–even if that means confronting some ghosts. These characters are not only women I could see walking down the street day after day but also most definitely worth looking up to. I kept thinking, I want to be her when I grow up, even though I’m already (technically) grown-up.

Another thing I love about the film is its depiction of female friendship. Throughout the movie, the Ghostbusters develop a close, familial bond built on trust and mutual admiration. There are no love triangles, no catfights, no betrayals or name-calling. Instead, the woman cheer each other on, utilize each other’s strengths to work together as a team, and help each other out in every battle that takes place. I can’t remember the last time I saw female characters in a movie getting along like this. It is such a refreshing change of pace.

 


 

What I love most about Ghostbusters is its potential to change popular culture. If the film does as well as I hope it does commercially, it serves as a statement to Hollywood that people want female-led films. We want to be entertained, certainly, but we also want to see strong, capable female characters banding together to save the world. We want to see friendships, teamwork, and heroism. More than anything, we want to see women who are real.

When developing female characters, I hope to keep in mind the way I felt emerging from the theater after watching the new film, and that is triumphant. Ghostbusters succeeds not only at an entertainment level, but also from a cultural-critique perspective as well. It serves as the spark that could ignite the powder keg of traditional, male-driven filmmaking, and more than anything, I want to be around to witness that explosion.

What do you think? How do you feel about the new Ghostbusters movie?

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Who you gonna call? Check out @brianawrites’ take on #Ghostbusters and writing female characters. (Click to tweet)

TOUCH Audiobook Giveaway Winners

Photo credit: LoraxGirl on Flickr

I’ve been sick, but I thought I’d do a quick post today announcing the winners of last week’s Touch: A One-Act Play audiobook giveaway. Are you ready?

Wait for it…

The winners are…

JASON DAILING AND STEPHEN MORAN!

 

Woohoo! Congratulations, Jason and Stephen!

An enormous thanks to everyone who entered! And if you didn’t win, there’s always next time–more giveaways are coming soon! 🙂

 

How to Plot If You Hate Plotting

Photo Credit: horrigans on Flickr

The other day, I started plotting my novel Smoke and Blood, the prequel to my debut novel Blood and Water. If you’ve known me longer than a few months, you know I’ve never been a big fan of plotting. Heck, while writing Blood and Water I even wrote a post detailing why I don’t outline anymore. But that was quite some time ago, and a lot has changed since then.

The biggest change has been that I am now a fan of plotting. A few people have commented that it seems like I wrote the first draft of Reflections faster than they expected, and that’s mostly due to that fact that I had the whole thing outlined. I used to be a die-hard pantser, and this strategy made a significant difference in my writing productivity. After Blood and Water, I was so sick of struggling and slogging through drafts. I needed a change. That’s why I started plotting.

It all started when I read Libbie Hawker’s book, Take Off Your Pants!: Outline Your Books for Better, Faster WritingThis book changed my writing life. In a series of anecdotes and knowledge gleaned from personal experiences, Hawker provides tips for plotting a novel without losing your mind. That book, combined with this post by Rachel Aaron, made me view my process in an entirely different light. Based on what I learned from these wise ladies, here’s how I’m plotting my books going forward:

  • Take note of what you know already. Whenever I get plot bunnies for a new book, I make sure to write them down in Evernote. That way, when it comes time to start plotting, I’m not starting from scratch.
  • Find your characters. Rachel Aaron recommends, at a minimum, knowing your main characters, antagonists, and power players. Don’t get bogged down in character sheets right off the bat. All you need for now is names and some identifying details that are relevant to the story.
  • Figure out the end and the beginning. Try deciding them in that order. Once you’ve discovered the end, it’s a lot easier to get there from the beginning. If you know the end, all you have to do is figure out how you’re going to get there.
  • Determine the setting. Where and when will your novel take place? Consider some minor worldbuilding here, but like with the characters, make sure you don’t get too wrapped up in the specifics of this part.
  • Fill in the gaps. If you have the beginning and the end of your novel down, all you have left to do is fill in the gaps. of course, this is much easier said than done. Focus on moving from one plot event to another, building a compelling, believable framework. Connect the major twists, scenes, and climaxes until you get to the conclusion. If you get stuck, don’t panic. That’s totally normal!

There you have it! Whether you’re a full-fledged plotter or a pantser looking for a better way to write, consider giving some of these techniques a try. If you’d like more information, I wholeheartedly recommend reading Libbie Hawker’s book. She goes into much more detail than I have in this post.

What do you think? How do you plot or plan a book before starting?

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If you hate plotting, you’re in luck. @brianawrites has found a way to make plotting less painful. (Click to tweet)

How I’m Preparing to Write a Series

How I'm Preparing to Write a Series | Briana Morgan

Photo Credit: barnyz on Flickr

As the time this post goes live, I’ll hopefully have gotten through some of the plotting process for the Blood and Water prequel, titled Smoke and Blood. I’ve never written a series before–only standalone novels–but I’m optimistic. A lot of my readers have suggested I should make a series, and I do miss the virus-ridden kids in my debut book, so I thought it was a good idea.

Now, I’m a little anxious. I had no clue where to start. So, I sat down at my desk, drank some coffee, and make a plan. I felt better. I’m certain that part of this process will change, but it’s nice to have at least some idea where I’m going. Without further ado, here’s how I’m preparing to write a series.

    • Making timelines. I didn’t make one of these bad boys before drafting Blood and Water, and it came back to bite me. When revising, I wanted to tear my hair out because I couldn’t figure out what happened when and who knew what at what time. This time around, I’m making a complete timeline for the prequel and the sequel, as well as an overarching series timeline for all the big events in the trilogy. That way, I don’t have to struggle so much with that nonsense when I go back and edit.
    • Rereading Blood and Water. This one is a no-brainer. There’s so much information I dropped in that novel that I can use while drafting this one that it would be stupid not to go back and take some notes. While I am a little nervous (I haven’t read the novel since publishing it), it’s a necessary evil. It’s probably not as awful as I imagine it might be.
    • Picking relevant scenes. While not having a timeline made the flashbacks in Blood and Water confusing for me at first, I’m so glad that I wrote them. Not only did they add depth to the world of they story; they also made it easier for me to outline some important scenes in the prequel. For example, I know I’m including the scene with Jay and Melanie at the museum that I mention in B&W.
    • Reading The Hot Zone. Chris Mahan, among others, recommended this book to me. It’s about Ebola, which is fantastic, since that kind of hemorrhagic fever is what my virus is based on. I’m excited to dive in. I’m also taking notes, of course.
    • Outlining. In addition to making different timelines, I’m also going to make a loose outline for both the prequel and the sequel, so that I can ensure all my loose ends will be tied up in the sequel. Again, I’m doing everything I can now to make things easier on myself come revisions. I used to be terrified of outlines, but I used one while drafting Reflections, and it saved my life.
    • Drawing character maps. My writing is and has always been focused on my characters. With a series, one of the biggest challenges I’m facing is character growth. There’s no doubt in my mind that many aspects of these characters will change as the series progresses; I’m just not sure how much, in what ways, or why. That’s why mapping out some major changes in their personalities, goals, and relationships will help me so much moving forward.
    • Worldbuilding. Since nearly every part of the characters’ lives is affected by the virus, I need to make sure that I fully understand it. In order to accomplish that, I need to come up with causes, symptoms, incubation periods, and things of that nature. Good thing I’m not squeamish.

Feel free to steal any of these ideas if you think they could help you in your writing process. Also, please let me know if you have any links/resources that could help me with this stuff. I’m slightly intimidated, but I love a good challenge. I’m ready now. Let’s do this.

What do you think? What tips can you give me for planning a series?

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What tips do you have for planning a series? Take a look at @brianawrites’ preparation process. (Click to tweet)