Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Tech Tools for Writers

Dr. Anastasia Trekles

Even if you are an author who abhors having too much technology clogging up your writing space – as many people do – we all know that computers, the Internet, and other devices can make our work a lot easier. What you may not know, however, is that there are some cool, specialized apps out there that can really save you time and effort. While there are literally dozens of products out there for writers, authors, and publishers, here are a few of my personal favorites that can address some of those troublesome writerly issues.

1.     Scrivener ($45 with a 30-day trial, Mac/Windows/iOS) is a tremendous app. You can write with it. You can arrange scenes and chapters with it. You can construct outlines, create character and setting profiles, and brainstorm with it. You can organize research with it. You can even work on the same file from multiple devices (like a computer and an iPad). Scrivener might stop short of cutting julienne fries, but it does pretty much anything you’d expect from a full-service writing suite. If you’re willing to spend a little money and are looking for something more than what a typical word processor offers, this is something to check out, particularly if you write novels or other long-form works. Scrivener is designed to help you sort out the chaos of developing things like books and dissertations in a relatively easy-to-use interface.
2.     Google Drive (free) is Google’s free set of office apps that includes Docs for word processing, Sheets for spreadsheets, and Slides for presentations. Now, while none of these apps has quite the same level of sophistication as their equivalents in the Microsoft world, they offer the ability to collaborate with other people very easily, and without cost. With Docs (or any of the other tools), you can share your document to others and allow them to add comments, edit, and assign tasks to one another. You can always track what changes have been made so that you can see how the document developed over time, and you can go back to previous revisions if needed. So, no work is ever lost forever in the digital abyss, even if your partner accidentally deleted those crucial last three paragraphs.
3.     Dragon speech-to-text products (pricing varies from free to $300 depending on product and device) allow you to boldly go where people in Star Trek and other sci-fi venues go when they work with their computers – speech-to-text. It’s a technology that’s been around for a long time and has progressed a lot over the years, yet outside of communities such as persons with disabilities, you still don’t see too many people talking to their computers. Maybe it’s because it’s still less than socially acceptable to have a conversation with your laptop in public. Or, maybe it’s because voice interfaces take a little getting used to. Either way, if you have trouble typing, don’t like to type, or just need to move around more when you have a really good idea brewing, Dragon NaturallySpeaking (PC/Mac, full-featured) or Dragon Dictation (mobile) can be lifesavers.
4.     Calibre (free, Windows/Mac/Linux) isn’t so much a writing tool as a formatting tool, but it can fit a special niche for many authors, especially those who self-publish. Calibre allows you to create e-books from any document in a variety of formats, including MOBI, EPUB, PDF, and Kindle, and gives you full control over all settings. You can set up tables of contents, manage your metadata, and even test everything out to make sure it works, all in a relatively simple user interface. I recently used Calibre for a textbook project I was working on, and it made short work of ensuring that the MOBI and PDF documents – with an extensive table of contents – were accessible to readers. A cool added bonus of Calibre is that it can read any e-book file, so if someone sends you a document in an unusual format, you can open and read it right there, no extra tools required.
5.     Grid Diary (free version or add Pro features like cloud sync for $4.99 – currently iOS only) came into my life recently when I was looking for a tool that would encourage me to write a little about something every day. Sometimes, looking at the expanse of my half-written novel in Scrivener is a bit overwhelming; on days like that, I need some extra motivation. Enter Grid Diary, a cute, innovative app that presents you with a series of blocks that ask you questions each day, such as: What are my goals for today? What would help me have a better day tomorrow? What am I grateful for?  You can customize your grid, or let Grid Diary provide you with a template for your daily diary, but either way, it’s extremely easy to use, and the unique configuration gives you a chance to step out of your normal “zone” for a bit and just write about whatever comes to mind in response to your prompts. Who knows, it might be just the thing to get you out of that pesky writer’s block.

So, there you have it, some neat tech tools that can ease the work of any author out there. Will they take the words out of your head and put them on the page for you? Nope, computers aren’t that smart (yet). But, even if you normally plug along with pen and paper – or a digital equivalent – these tools may help fill a niche. But keep in mind that these are just the top five that I use in my own work, so I can attest to their overall usefulness. There are many more out there that might be even better for your needs, and spending time doing a little research is highly recommended!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Getting Started

You have an idea for that novel or poem or short story or personal experience article, but you can’t seem to get it down on paper. Or you look at what you’ve written and weep because it’s so bad.

So do you give up?


Here is some inspirational advice from experienced writers.

On Writer’s Block

“If you’re going to be a writer, the first essential is just to write. Do not wait for an idea. Start writing something and the ideas will come. You have to turn the faucet on before the water starts to flow.” Louis L’ Amour

“Don’t think and then write it down. Think on paper.” Harry Kemelman

“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” Jack London

“There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.” Terry Pratchett

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration. The rest of us just get up and go to work.” Stephen King

“I don’t wait for moods. You accomplish nothing if you do that. Your mind must know it has got to get down to work.” Pearl S. Buck

“Perhaps it would be better not to be a writer, but if you must, then write. If all feels hopeless, if that famous ‘inspiration’ will not come, write. If you are a genius, you’ll make your own rules, but if not – and the odds are against it – go to your desk no matter what your mood, face the icy challenge of the paper – write.” J.B. Priestly

“The way to write is to throw your body at the mark when your arrows are spent.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

“If the artist works only when he feels like it, he’s not apt to build up much of a body of work. Inspiration far more often comes during the work than before it, because the largest part of the job of the artist is to listen to the work, and to go where it tells him to go.” Madeline L’Engle

“When the work takes over, then the artist is enabled to get out of the way, not to interfere. When the work takes over, then the artist listens. But before he can listen, paradoxically, he must work.” Madeleine L’Engle

“Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” E.L. Doctorow

 “I think new writers are too worried that it has all been said before. Sure it has, but not by you.” Asha Dornfest

“To write something you have to risk making a fool of yourself.” Anne Rice

 “If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.” Margaret Atwood

On Writing the First Draft

“You don’t have to be great to get started, but you have to get started to be great.” Les Brown

“If you don’t allow yourself the possibility of writing something very, very bad, it would be hard to write something very good.” Steven Galloway

“It is better to write a bad first draft than to write no first draft at all.” Will Shetterly

 “First drafts are for learning what your novel or story is about.” Bernard Malamud

 “I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.” Shannon Hale

“Every first draft is perfect, because all a first draft has to do is exist.” Jane Smiley

So start writing.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

2017 Steel Pen Creative Writers' Conference: Introducing Keynote Speaker Catherine Lanigan

As we previously announced, the Indiana Writers’ Consortium is please to have Catherine Lanigan as the keynote speaker for the 2017 Steel Pen Creative Writers’ Conference. She is the bestselling author of over forty published fiction and non-fiction titles, including the novelizations of Romancing the Stone and The Jewel of the Nile.

In addition to giving the keynote speech, Catherine will present a workshop based on her craft book, Writing the Great American Romance Novel. That book and several of her others will be on sale at the conference, and she will sign them during the cocktail hour.

The title says this is an introduction, and that’s all it is. Catherine’s accomplishments are too many and too varied to do justice to in a blog post. What follows is just a sample.

Catherine is the author of the novelizations of Romancing the Stone and The Jewel of the Nile. But what is a “novelization?” It simply means that the movie came first. Although Catherine didn’t create the original story line, few writers get the chance to novelize an award-winning movie. Just being given the opportunity is a great honor.

Some sources list the author as “Joan Wilder.” For those of you not in the know, Joan Wilder is a fictional romance writer who has the lead female role in the movies and is, of course, the female protagonist in the books. In recent years, however, Joan has shared the credit with Catherine, as she should.

Catherine is known primarily for her contemporary romance novels, which include the Shores of Indian Lake series for Harlequin Heartwarming. She also writes historical fiction such as Web of Deceit and Wings of Destiny and romantic suspense such as Friday Papers.

The Christmas Star, Catherine’s Vietnam war-based novel, won the Gold Medal Award Top Pick from Romantic Times Magazine, the Book of the Year Romance Gold Award from ForeWord Magazine, and the Book of the Year Romance from Reader’s Preference.

But Catherine doesn’t just write novels. Her non-fiction includes true stories in several of the Chicken Soup anthologies, a trilogy of books regarding angelic intervention in human life, and her craft book, Writing the Great American Romance Novel.

Nor is Catherine’s work limited to one medium. She recently completed a screenplay for the Oracle Film Group. Powder Pup Mountain Rescue will be aired on Netflix sometime this year, although the exact date is still to be announced.

There is plenty more, but it won’t fit here. For additional information on Catherine and her books, check out her website at You can also visit her on Facebook, LinkedIn, Goodreads, Pinterest, Google+, and Twitter@cathlanigan.

Better yet, come hear Catherine speak at the 2017 Steel Pen Creative Writers’ Conference on October 28. It will be held at the conference center at Fair Oaks Farms just off I-65 near Rensselaer, Indiana. Registration will open in June.

Additional information on the conference will be posted at  as it becomes available.

We hope to see you there.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Writing Success in Three Simple Steps

NOTE: Although IWC Intern Louis Martinez originally wrote this article for college students, it works for writers at all stages of their lives and careers. Even experienced fiction writers can apply it to their short stories or novels. So read it with your work in mind.

College Success in Three Simple Steps


Louis Martinez

Do you want to write decent papers but can’t seem to no matter how hard you try? Well, guess what? You’re in luck. It’s actually not that hard if you follow this simple, three-step writing process.
First things first, the planning phase. Otherwise known as “prewriting.” I don’t recall ever writing a great paper without thinking. It’s important to take some time to consider just what it is you want to say. You can’t put your thoughts into words before your thoughts even exist.
Now, planning doesn’t have to involve some extravagant web of ideas or a spiffy outline. Believe me, I never do that stuff, and I never get anything less than an A on my papers. What’s important is that you stop before you write. Stop, and take a moment to think. Think about what you’re going to write before you try and write.
What I normally do is just that, think. I think about what I want to convey, what I want to craft into an effective piece of written communication. And I think about it a lot.
I usually think about what I want to write for days before I sit down with my computer and start running that keyboard. I form connections with other thoughts and experiences I have throughout the day. I ponder the message when I’m in my bed, staring up at the ceiling while I wait for sleep to come over me.
I’m sure we’ve all heard some broken record of a person tell us to “think before speaking,” or something along those pestering lines. As obnoxious as those people can be, they’re not wrong.
Think before you speak. Think before you act. And, if want your writing to impress, think before you write as well.
Check out The Write at Home Blog for more strategic ways to plan your piece of writing.
This is the part where you create your rough draft, and the nexus through which I have seen far too many of my fellow college students convolute the writing process.
Drafting is simple. Just put your thoughts into words. Don’t worry about the finer details. That’s the next stage. Right now, just write down everything you came up with during your planning. Don’t stop and think too much about it or go back and change things before you’re done. Just write.
Do not attempt to edit while you draft. I’ve witnessed many students working on their drafts, then stopping to ponder if what they wrote could be said any better. Yes, it almost certainly can be, but if you stop to edit before you finish drafting, you cut off your train of potentially brilliant ideas before it gets to its destination. And the bad thing about losing this track is you may never get it back. Stay the course. Do not deviate, lest you derail the train.
In speaking with those around me at school and at work (I work at my school), one of the most recurrent topics of conversation is low grades on papers. A few questions later, the problem becomes clear, and all too common. People are submitting their rough drafts as final copies. Then they come to me wondering why they can’t seem to get a decent grade on anything they write, pleading for me to share my wisdom, as if I am some kind of literary guru.
Here’s the thing. Rough drafts are never pretty. Not even mine. They’re “rough drafts.” does a great job at spelling it out here.
If you turn in a paper you wrote the day it was due without a second glance, don’t bother contemplating why you received such a low grade. You submitted a rough draft, and you’re probably going to get a rough grade.
I say “probably” because I’ve gotten A’s on papers I wrote at the last minute. But hey, that’s just Overconfident Louis being overconfident. Don’t be like him. Be like me, Regular Louis.
Now for the last step, and the one many of my peers skip completely. Editing.
I’ve heard the excuses. Over and over, people tell me they write best when they’re under pressure, when they wait until the last minute to put anything down. That’s cute, but no.
You may work faster when you’re under that kind of pressure, but not better. Trust me, I’ve read the stuff some people turn in. It’s not pretty. Like I said in the previous section, it’s called a rough draft for a good reason. It’s rough, and it hurts to look at.
Please, after you finish writing your paper. Go back and rewrite it. Fix all the errors. Spruce up those sentences that just don’t sound right when you read them again and say them out load. Take out all the unnecessary filler that makes you sound like a rambling buffoon.

Give yourself ample time to go through the entire writing process: planning, drafting, and editing. Give each stage your full attention. Do not neglect this linear progression. Take it seriously, and you will find yourself on the way toward good writing.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Finding Inspiration in Nature

With the beautiful weather we are having these days, it’s a good time to take your writing muse outdoors. Even a dreary February day can provide sights like the one above, which resembles a child’s drawing but was actually created by Mother Nature.* The obvious way to use nature for inspiration is to write about it, but you can also take pen and paper or a laptop with you and turn the outdoors into your office.**

The Indiana Dunes top the list of Northwest Indiana nature preserves and hiking trails that can be used for inspiration. The National Lakeshore wanders along Lake Michigan in Lake, Porter, and LaPorte Counties. The Dunes even have a state park that interrupts the national one. The Indiana Dunes State Park is located at 1600 North 25 East at Chesterton, Indiana.

Heading from west to east, here are a few other places in Northwest Indiana that can give you inspiration.

·       Hammond Lakefront Park and Bird Sanctuary, 701 Casino Center Drive in Hammond. Although the park is small, the short trail from the Hammond Marina has several great spots to sit and write.

·      Gibson Woods Nature Preserve, 6201 Parrish Avenue, Hammond.

·       Lemon Lake County Park, 6322 West 133rd Avenue, Crown Point.

·       Grand Kankakee Marsh, 21690 Range Line Road, Hebron.

·       Taltree Arboretum, 450 West 100 North, Valparaiso.

·      Coffee Creek Watershed Preserve, northeast corner of I-80/90 and IN-49, Chesterton.

·       Creek Ridge County Park, 7943 W. 400 North, Michigan City.

·       Luhr County Park & Nature Center, 3178 S. 150 West, LaPorte.

So enjoy the weather, but don’t let it keep you from writing. Use it for inspiration, instead.


*   The photo at the top of this post is © 2017 by Kathryn Page Camp. It was taken from the bike path that runs along the old Monon tracks (the proposed site of the new South Shore extension) in Munster.

** Thanks to Gordon Stamper, Jr. for the idea behind this post.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Steel Pen Wants You

Indiana Writers’ Consortium is looking for presenters for the 2017 Steel Pen Creative Writers’ Conference, which will be held on October 28. We have a new venue this year, so join us at the conference center at Fair Oaks Farms just off I-65 near Rensselaer, Indiana.

This full-day conference provides educational opportunities for creative writers at all stages in their careers. Attendees will choose from a variety of workshops, panels, and lectures covering fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, and the business of writing. If you are interested in presenting, we would love to read your proposal.

When preparing a proposal, please keep the following in mind:

·       The actual schedule has not been set, but breakout sessions will be allotted somewhere between 50 minutes and 1 hr. 15 minutes.

·       This conference is aimed at creative writers, and all proposals should provide value for them. For example, a proposal by a visual artist could cover the relationship between author and illustrator, and a proposal by a storyteller could address ways to enhance the selling opportunities provided by school visits, library presentations, and book signings.

·       All presentations, including lectures, should provide opportunity for interaction.

Please note that presenters are responsible for arranging and paying for their own travel and accommodations and must pay a discounted registration fee of $35.

The proposal applications will be sent out by e-mail today and are due back by April 15. If you are not on the distribution list, you can e-mail and ask for the form.

Additional information about the conference will be posted at as it becomes available.

Please share this post with anyone who might be interested in submitting a proposal.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

How to Find Limitless Inspiration

Louis Martinez

It can be hard to write a gripping tale when you’re lacking inspiration, and at times, a reliable source can seem hard to come by.
Writing a story without inspiration can be like getting up at 5:00AM for a 15-hour shift at a miserable job. Believe me, I would know. I’ve tried both.
So how can an aspiring writer get around this dilemma? Is there a full-proof way to beat the struggle and get right back on track every time? Maybe, and maybe not. I know I’ve got a trick that always works for me, and maybe, just maybe, it might work for someone else reading this as well.
So, how do I conjure up my limitless source of inspiration? It’s simple really, but you have to be willing to try. What I do, and what always works for me, is to evoke an emotion pertinent to the type of story I’m trying to write. Most often, I use fear.
How do I go about this? There’s only two things needed: a wealth of riveting information, and a means to access it. And if you’re reading this right now, you have both. Human history, and the Internet.
Following in the footsteps of Wes Craven, the Master of Horror, the best inspiration comes from real life, and our past is riddled with dark tales sure to make anyone feel like they’re being watched. Try searching for “true horror stories from history,” and soak in all you can.
Then, as you find yourself alone in a cold, quiet room, let your mind wander into the abyss. Let the darkness consume you, and write down what you bring back. You’re sure to be pleased with the results. I know I always am.
The benefits of this go beyond simply crafting a great story. If you struggle with fear and anxiety, you might already be plagued by the darkness at all times. In which case, turning your real life horrors into works of fiction might help you cope. It could lead you to a better understanding of yourself and the struggles you face and even help loved ones understand your trials if you’re willing to share with them. And for some, putting your fears into words can help you gain the control over your mind that’s always seemed to be out of your reach. I know writing has helped me process feelings of despair, and I’m sure it could do the same for terror.
If you can learn to use your own mind to generate inspiration, you’ll never run out. I believe Wes Craven was a master at observing the dark side of this world and using it to spark his imagination. Learn to combine your own bad experiences with real life horror stories, warping them all into the twisted tales that haunt our dreams.
If you’re like me, and willing to embrace the horrors of this world and your mind, you’ll never find yourself wanting for inspiration. If you’re not, or if you’re simply writing a lighter tale, just switch up your search. Human history is also full of happy, heartwarming tales. Try searching for “uplifting stories from history.” You’ll find what you’re looking for and lots more to go with it.
Look to the world around you, and look within yourself. Do this, and you will find your own personal source of limitless inspiration.