Call me Martha Stewart (thank you!) but I have to start sharing with y’all some of the things I’ve discovered that I LOVE. I know I made a post a little while back on cool documentaries I think everyone should watch, and now I’d like to discuss two of the tools I’ve found on the internet these past couple of weeks that are AWESOME. Not just awesome, either: they’re also FREE.
I am terrible at outlining. It’s not that I don’t get it–I mean, I think I get it–I just have a really hard time taking a story I’m wanting to tell and breaking it down into EVENTS, especially when a lot of events happen internally. I don’t know why–maybe it has something to do with the reason why algebra took forever to click, because LETTERS IN MATH? is kind of like REMOVING SOUL FROM STORY? in my poor, tired brain–but I am envious of all you writers who just seem to know how to do it.
Part of my problem has always been in organizing the outline itself. I can ramble on (and on) about what happens in a story, but that doesn’t help me break it down. But then I discovered MIND-MAPPING. Mind-mapping is basically a way of spewing your thoughts onto a page, rearranging as you see fit, and nesting events within events. So I can write 1) Girl meets boy 2) Girl falls in love and then go back and add 1.a) Girl realizes she has no interest in boy 1.b) Girl realizes she has romantic interest in her lab partner Lizzy. And I can flesh it out even further.
For me, mind-mapping is the solution I’ve been looking for. It helps me dump my brain contents out into a digital page, chop it up into manageable, bite-sized pieces, and rearrange, expand, and delete as necessary. Mind42.com happens to be the program that I use. It’s free, easy to learn, and saves everything online so you don’t have to worry about losing it. I highly recommend it, especially if you have trouble outlining like me!
I’m not very good at working from home, even though I wish I was (much like I wish I was good at outlining, I guess, but you can’t always get what you want, etc.), because it’s cheap and convenient. But it just so happens that when I go out into the world and find a nook in a coffee shop somewhere, buy a hot beverage and open my laptop, I can bang out words like a freakin’ champ. I was a municipal liaison for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo if you’re cool, WHICH YOU ALL ARE!) for four years, and in those four Novembers alone I was able to write over 250,000 words (there was one year where I was feeling sassy and made a goal of 100k). I attribute that mostly to the fact that it was my responsibility to go to all of the write-ins hosted during the month, each write-in yielding me several thousand words.
See, there’s something magical about writing in a cafe, something that’s absent from silent libraries, from moderately quiet homes. It’s the magic of ambient sound. Studies have shown that the right amount of noise, loud enough to drown out details of sounds, quiet enough to think, enhances your ability to focus and makes you more receptive to creative insights! Unfortunately, we can’t always get to a coffee shop, or drop money on beverages to make us patrons instead of just loiterers.
But lo! Some saintly person(s) created a website with a looped recording of the sounds of a coffee shop that you can listen to AT HOME, to help drown out the neighbors kids or your kids or your husband’s video game sound effects, without giving you a headache. Coffitivity is that brilliant website. Since my career situation improved/I got fired, I’ve been using Coffitivity any time I find myself working at home, and the difference between before I knew about the site and after is astounding.
That’s all I’ve got for you today, but I’m sure more will come up as I expand my work-from-home routine.
What about you? What free tools do you use to increase productivity?