Who Else Wants to Take Writing on the Road This Summer? (Part 2)


Inspiration Can Be Anywhere! (www.cherylreif.com)Best Practice #3. Find a writing app (or apps) that works for you.

I already covered the benefits of using a cloud service to help you keep documents easily accessible–but many cloud services only allow you to view files, not edit them. Editing files stored in Dropbox, for instance, requires opening them in another application.

In the past, I’ve had iffy success with iPad and iPhone word processing apps. Although great when they worked, they had the unfortunate tendency to crash unexpectedly. If (like me!) you’re used to the autosave features of your desktop machine, you might not remember to save as often as you’d like–resulting in hours of lost work.

It’s important to choose a program or app that works and plays well with your primary computer, your mobile device of choice, and the cloud service you decide to use.

Recently, Dropbox integrated with Microsoft Word for iOS. I’ve had a good enough experience with the iPad version of Word that it’s now my go-to app for editing Word documents. Unlike other iOS word processing apps, it doesn’t strip away or mess up formatting or Endnote codes–which means that files transfer seamlessly from mobile device to desktop and back again. (Note: that some functionality, such as Word’s Track Changes feature, are unlocked only if you have an Office 365 subscription.)

Simplenote, Evernote, and Onenote, mentioned last week, are also good options for writing and note-taking. Whatever program you choose, make sure you will be able to access files while offline. Some store files exclusively in the cloud, so you’ll need an Internet connection if you want to access previous documents.

This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, just a list of the apps I’ve specifically tried. You can find more great apps for writers here; the list is a few years old, but almost all info is still accurate. Definitely chime in if you have others to recommend!

Continue Reading

Things to Love in the Writing Life: Conferences

I’m going to a conference this week! The Pikes Peak Writers Conference, to be precise, where one of my critique group members took first place in the children’s division of their annual writing contest. I’m going to celebrate with her, attend an all-day writing workshop, hobnob with writing friends…can you tell I’m excited?


I mean, HOBNOB. With a word like that, what more could one want?

I wasn’t sure I was going to go until a few weeks ago, when a volunteer opportunity arose that will significantly defray the cost. In fact, I’d decided not to go. My logical, analytical mind reasoned that I’ve attended two other conferences in the past six months AND took a writing-related trip to Florida, so therefore couldn’t justify the expense of yet another conference. Besides, what would I get out of it, really? Much of the information presented would repeat things I already know. There’d be opportunities to make editor and agent, but did I really need those? And sure, I’d get some great time with writing friends, but wasn’t that just selfish?

Funny how we can talk ourselves out of things, isn’t it?

If I’d been more practiced at listening to my intuitive side—the side that was deeply disappointed when I decided not to attend—perhaps I would have chosen differently. The intuitive side of my writer-persona knew that there are other benefits to a conference, things like:

  • Creative inspiration: I will be attending an all-day workshop with Donald Maas, author of Writing the Breakout Novel and The Fire in Fiction. I’ve attended his workshops before, and always left them on fire with ideas for my work-in-progress.
  • Re-energizing: I find that conferences always leave me with more energy and excitement, but this one promises to be particularly energizing. This conference pulls in many of my writing friends from across the state, plus I get to celebrate my friend’s success.
  • Connecting: My recent foray into the book Imagine by Jonah Lehrer reminded me that we can’t underestimate the value of connecting with others in our field. In the chapter I’m currently reading, Lehrer cites several studies* that found a direct correlation between individuals’ creative success and the number of contacts/amount of communication with those contacts for each individual. Those who connect more are HUGELY more successful than those who do not. It seems that people who meet with, talk with, connect with, and interact more often with others in their field create a pool of talent they can consult when they need advice. I’m not talking about editors and agents here. I’m talking about the value of connecting with other writers.

I’ve heard both beginning and more experienced writers talk themselves out of conference attendance. There are plenty of reasons not to go. Conferences cost money. They take time, and we should probably spend that time working. The beginning writer might tell himself that he’s not advanced enough to take advantage of the conference’s offerings, while the more advanced writer might argue that she won’t learn anything she hasn’t heard before.

I know: there are times when going to a conference may not be the right decision for you and—as great as conferences can be—it would be silly to bounce from one to another all year long. But when you decide whether a writing conference is “worth” the time and monetary investment, make sure you consider the less tangible benefits as well as the obvious pros and cons. For writers, the inspiration, encouragement, and connections made at a conference aren’t a luxury. They are critical to our growth and creative success.

Besides, they’re a ton of fun!

Your turn: What’s your conference experience? Do you ever regret going? How do you choose which to attend and which to pass?

* Yeah, I love research studies—it’s the scientist in me…

How Dreams Can Inspire Your Fiction Writing

Laura K. Deal is both a wonderful writer and a graduate of the Marin Institute for Projective Dream Work, and she combines these two sides of her life when she teaches classes such as Writing and Dream Symbols, which I attended a few weeks ago. In the class, we performed a series of writing exercises beginning with images and dream symbols.

The experience was unexpectedly powerful. By beginning with a piece of artwork and a handful of symbols from others’ dreams, I was drawn into a waking dream. My mind pulled together these seemingly unrelated pieces to create a new image: a hilltop garden with five paths radiating outward, a silent woman standing at the garden’s center, a storm brewing in the background.

Strange as it sounds, this image led me to a new understanding of the magic system in the series I’m working on currently: relationships between races, key characters, magical rules—all of these stemmed from a twenty-minute free write that had nothing to do with my story problem. Or at least, I didn’t think it had anything to do with my story problem, which was perhaps the point. I’m supposed to be trusting my intuition. When I did, intuition led me where I needed to go.

But enough about me—Laura can do a far better job of explaining dream work and its power to inspire. Enjoy!

laurakdeal Could you explain dream work to the uninitiated?

The kind of dream work, or dream reading, that I do is consciously projective. I help people explore the meanings of their dreams and the symbols within them while staying aware that everything I see as a possible meaning for the dreamer is a possible meaning for me, as I imagine the dream for myself. What I say might or might not resonate with the original dreamer. Only the dreamer of the dream can say with certainty what her or his dream means.

However, we tend to be blind to some layers of meaning in our own dreams because dreams come to help us become more conscious about our own lives and motivations, and I might not see the deeper meanings of my dream precisely because that information is still unconscious for me. So when someone offers projections on possible meanings that I might not have seen, sometimes I will get an “aha” moment that indicates we’ve touched on some truth. The magic of working this way is that I can do much of my own inner work on the imagined version of other people’s dreams, so we all benefit and become more self-aware.

Why would one try to interpret a dream?

In addition to uncovering hidden motivations and unconscious patterns, I’ve seen dreamers perceive situations in their lives in a whole new way, which is the first step toward bringing creativity to bear to solve what might have seemed an unsolvable problem.

Dream work has uncovered physical health problems for many people. I had a short dream a few years ago that had a profound impact on my understanding of my relationships with beloved relatives who were reaching the ends of their lives. That dream is still yielding new information for me. I know dreamers whose life paths have changed dramatically for the better because they followed advice they found in their dreams. Also, nightmares usually lose their terrifying quality when the symbols are explored, so it can be of great comfort to the dreamer to understand the symbolic meanings of a dream that on the surface appears horrifying.

You offer a workshop that weaves together writing and dream work. Could you tell us a little about how that works?

I’ve studied both fiction writing and dream interpretation for many years. I realized that they have important elements in common: they both emerge from the same creative space in our minds, and both rely on metaphorical imagery and metaphorical thinking. It seemed a natural progression to bring them together.

I use the same kind of writing prompts that I use in my regular writing classes to tap into the creative well within, but instead of words and phrases pulled out of magazines or books, I have participants use several dream symbols to write a dream. It reinforces the similarities between the waking dream (the work of fiction) and the sleeping dream, and it takes off any self-editing pressure the writer may have since a dream doesn’t need to have a coherent narrative.

Writing Prompt

Sound interesting? If you’d like to try using dream symbols to inspire your own writing, Laura has shared one of the exercises from her workshop to get you started:

Jot down six dream symbols you remember from your own dreams or dreams of friends, or pick six symbols from a dream dictionary, then take 10-15 minutes to weave the symbols together into a dream. The more we play with dreams and metaphors and associations as writers, the richer our fictional characters and worlds become.

You can also learn more about dreams, dream symbols, imagery, and metaphor at Laura’s First Church of Metaphor blog—a great site for creative inspiration.

If you try this prompt, why not share your experience or part of your “dream” in the comments? This is an exercise best done in community, so please share!

Writing Tools: Cool Finds

Check out my favorite writing tools for the week—websites to inspire, encourage, and help you on your writing journey. Enjoy!

Written? Kitten! Type in your target word count (100? 200? 500?) and receive an oh-so-cuteee reward (to quote my 13-year-old). And big thanks to Lori Oster for reminding me of this fun site!


Autocrit Editing Wizard: Thanks for this great suggestion from Angelica Jackson, who says this software “analyzes your work for overused/unnecessary words, cliches, and so on. Won’t take the place of a crit group imo, but makes those passes for your tell words like “that” and “just” a lot easier. You can use the wizard on the site for free with some limitations”.


And the Plutchik-wheel, just because it’s so darned amazing—and I’ve never thought about emotions in this way before:


Finally, I posted earlier this week about ways writers can use Microsoft Word more efficiently—and I neglected to mention the time-saving advantage of learning those keyboard shortcuts. I have a friend who’s a wizard with Adobe Photoshop, and I swear he barely touches his mouse. He does most of his graphic editing via keyboard shortcuts. If he can do that in Photoshop, we should definitely be doing the same in our word processing programs! At least, if we’re professionals, right?

Thanks muchly to Russel V J Ward for this terrific link of Microsoft Word shortcut keys:



How about you? Any more amazing sites or writing tools to recommend?