This week’s Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge was about trying to make sense from the combination of two random well-known properties and write a short story about it.
In previous weeks we saw how you can use Google Analytics to set goals on your website or blog and get valuable information about your audience.
But if you want your analysis to be useful, you have to interpret the results, identify weaknesses and promote solutions. In this article I will suggest some improvements that can help you especially if you noticed a high bounce rate.
You have definitely heard about it before, but perhaps you had not imagined everything you can learn about perception, communication and visual culture from its study. On the streets, in the subway, in shops, and probably also at your home, every day you come across it many times, and yet, its presence will always go unnoticed.
However they are, each writer’s tools are forged for his personal use and will help him adopting a consistent routine after much testing and discarding.
In this article I will talk about the tools I use on a daily basis, hoping they will be useful for you too. You will notice that there is one tool (the most important tool for a writer) that is missing in this list, but I think it deserves a separate post.
If you already have or are building a readers base and you don’t use MailChimp, you are missing a great opportunity. With this application you can, easily and for free:
- Organize your contact lists.
- Create emails with customizable templates that adapt fluidly to the receiving devices.
- Get relevant metrics on the impact of your newsletters in real time.
- Promote opt ins for your contact lists.
And all this without forgetting the great golden rule of online marketing: SPAM, NO THANKS.
2. Keep Google
You may use Evernote or other similar applications to take and keep notes. But these applications allow so many editing and classification options that they may make the task more difficult than necessary, blocking the spontaneous process of taking notes.
That’s why I use Google Keep to take notes on the go. One new note, one click. And the notes just order in chronological order as post-its. There are only a few available options: adding an alarm (so that the device will remind you to review it), adding pictures, taking voice notes, creating item lists, and assigning colours to the notes.
In my opinion, the best part of Google Keep is that you won’t need to worry about classification when you take the note, which on the other hand forces you to review the annotations at some point afterwards. You can check your notes on the web too, so you can set aside a moment of your day to revise and develop them. It’s better to take a few notes and use them later than being thorough but never go back to that information again.
Google Chrome extension | Use: productivity
Have you ever found yourself in front of a Youtube cat video without even knowing how you ended up there? Or maybe you feel weak for some social network or website where you lose too much time?
At some point, you may want to consider regulating your own use of the web with an extension like Stay Focused, where you can make a list of “vetted sites” along with the maximum time you are willing to spend on them every day.
If you want to see a video on Youtube you’ll do it anyway (just disable the extension), but maybe, if something reminds you that you are about to waste your time, you’ll think twice about it.
4. Google Drive
For me, the most valuable aspect of Google Drive is that documents can be exported into universal formats and the cloud guarantees its durability over time (or at least, while this is possible). Plus, it’s just as versatile as a blank page, so you can give the documents any use you want.
I have some times used applications specifically designed to reviewing movies, writing a diary or saving drafts, but I came to realize that the easiest thing to do is creating a Google Drive document, formating it as you want and arrange it into folders. Thing about durability and information retrieval. What is easier and faster, classifying dozens of Evernote notes into dozens of notebooks, or just creating a document for each topic on Google Drive?
On the other hand, I’m not too sure if Google Drive is a great tool for writing long texts. I can’t tell exactly where the threshold is, but once I tried to finish a book (of about 50,000 words) in Google Drive, and it just collapsed. There comes a moment when you can no longer copy and paste large blocks of text without making the application crash.
desktop | Use: screenshots
If I see an image that catches my attention (a book cover, a website layout, an anonymous face that inspired me, a picture of a place…), I just click on the DuckCapture icon in my Windows taskbar and the screenshot saves to a file in the desktop. Then I can rename the file and classify it into the appropriate folder.
This method may seem impractical, but other ways to save this kind of materials on the go, such as copying URL links, may not be trustful. You have to take into account that many services you might be using today to save your bookmarks may stop working one day. Besides, a URL that works now may be removed by the web creator anytime.
I don’t see the point in taking time to saving and classifying things and then never going back to them. I want to have that information on hand so that I can make the most of it, and that’s why I like taking notes and screenshots and keeping them on universal formats such as jpg or txt.
6, 7. Sublime Text and Calibre
For me, this is an inseparable combination. I don’t need anything else to edit my stories in any format I want to let people read them on any possible device.
Sublime Text is a text and source code editor, which means you can use it to code a wide variety of things, such as webpages or applications.
Editing an ebook with html (and CSS for styling) can be a simple of difficult process, depending on how complex would you like your layout to be. Once you have your html file, you have to zip it with your images and then use Calibre to convert it into a mobi, epub or pdf file, ready to be read in any device.
Calibre has a lot to improve, notably in relation to usability, but once you have practised and got used to it, the number of configuration options will amaze you.
As a writer you will need a good dictionary on a daily basis, but also a good tool to resolve grammatical doubts while you are writing.
If you don’t find a quick answer at the dictionary, you can check the reference pages at WordReference or start a discussion in the forums yourself.
It involves very little effort, and even if you need the information immediately, you’ll soon see many kind users involving in the thread and trying to clear your doubt.
9. 99-cents store notebook
In my experience, you won’t need to spend twenty dollars on a Moleskine to write a book. Just take a walk to your average stationery shop around the corner and you’ll be surprised by the amazing range of notebooks they have. And the next time you are about to download the next trendy application for writers… resist the temptation!
Don’t obsess over trying everything. Too often new applications happen to be rehashes of things that already exist (and that you are probably already using), and they will provide little value and will only make you waste your time. The most important thing is choosing tools that will help you in your work.
Share your thoughts! What tools are useful for you in your daily work as a writer?
This time, from Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction Challenge, our mission is to create a short story containing two random elements of two really eclectic lists.
- A monster
- An infernal bargain.
And to make the challenge even more exciting, I added my own two random elements:
- A vintage car
- The rainbow
HARD TIMES FOR BOGEYMAN
The boy’s breathing was deep and sweet when a gust of wind entered the room and touched his eyelids. He got stuck for a moment between wakefulness and sleep until he remembered he had not left the window opened that night, and his eyes opened wide. He reached for the nightstand and put his glasses on.
He sat down on his bed and peered into the darkness until his eyes got used to the lack of light, and then, he saw them: two specks of red light right in the middle of the room, suspended in silence.
First the Shadow purred gently so that the boy felt his presence, so that his blood began to flow into his head like an avalanche and so he could feel the taste of fear. Then it took a step toward the bed and something sharp and frightening as jaws sparkled and opened wider and wider, and then the figure grew and rose to the ceiling, and the purr became a roar and the red capillaries inside the eyes beat violently, and then… then the boy said:
“Good evening, how I can help you?”
There was a slight hesitation in the Shadow, and for a moment there was no sound at all, no movement, no air stirring the curtains, and absolutely everything in that room kept its breathing.
“Can I do something for you?” the boy insisted.
And then it seemed that the two round and sinister eyeballs looked sideways to one way and the other, and the roar became a sort of questioning grunt.
The boy’s eyes examined the Shadow eyes, raised his eyebrows as if he had suddently noticed something, and spoke in a condescending tone:
“Oh! Sorry, I thought you would be a friend of my father.”
By this time the monster had shrunk to its original size, and it happened to be not much bigger than a ten year old girl, although it has to be said that its eyes remained considerably terrifying.
“Bggrrrr,” it said, or what is the same (in the language of the Bogeymen): No, I’ve come to take you! And he stretched out the last syllable, but even though the voice was creepy and the acoustics of the room even gave it some extra reverberant quality, the exclamation broke at some point and the result was actually sort of clumsy.
Sometimes, things just won’t work.
“See,“ the boy began, in an explanatory tone of voice. “My dad’s a publicist and I’m so used to seeing all kinds of people around… I’m really sorry, it was my mistake. Anyway… With whom do I have the pleasure of speaking?”
“Grrrrr,” meaning: I’m the Bogeyman and I’ll eat you. And this time it really tried hard to sound scary, and apparently it worked, because the boy actually moved back when he felt a shady puff of air in the face.
“Oh,” he said. “Sure. And that really pleases me, but… excuse me again, what do you exactly do?”
And when they heard this, the eyes frowned as if they had felt a stabbing pain (or they would have if they had had face).
“Oh, that certainly looks interesting,” the child said, vaguely.
The Bogeyman blinked and opened and closed his mouth several times (if he had had one of those).
“I… well, I must apologize…” the boy said. “Something tells me I should recognize you, but… I’m sure it’s just me. Yes, it’s just I’m a little distracted…” he tapped his head. “However… May I ask you… Do you possibly have some kind of positioning trouble issue?”
The Bogeyman grunted in doubt.
“Yes, I’m sure your service is excellent and you are so passionate about what you do, but sometimes that’s not enough. This is such a competitive market, with so great guys out there, you know, like Freddy Krueger, Slender Man… all kinds of scary ghosts and clowns and monsters under the bed and so on and on (and I’m not even considering local figures). In my opinion, you can’t just settle for anything: you have to shape a strong profile, capable of competing with the best” The boy took air before continuing, “Bad news is that the situation can worsen pretty fast.”
Something held its breath.
“But, on the other side, I think you should be able to, somehow, redefine yourself.”p>
And then, a sigh of relief.
“Yeah, maybe there’s hope for you. I mean, I think you should start working on your Hell Creature Positioning Marketing Plan ASAP.”
The boy got out of his bed and went to get something to his desk, and it seemed that the Shadow became tense and started to stare in an intimidating way again, but then it saw that he was just bringing his tablet.
“I’ll tell you what we’ll do,” the boy said, sliding his finger across the screen frantically. “I can provide you with the planification of a comprehensive Online Positioning Action Plan together with some off-the-line special strategies for a special price.”
The Bogeyman seemed to squint and nod slightly.
“Even though, you see…” the boy said, and the dark and fearsome figure from hell held its breath again, expectantly. “I could help you strengthen your public image, but… You’re the first one who should… You know, today you have to think of the market as in a flow of exchanges among its participants. And if you want to compete and win the public favour, you must provide value to that flow in the first place.” The boy continued, and the figure nodded quickly again. “In short, before fully trust another person something as important as your image, you should take a moment for some self-analysis and clarify your own ideas. And don’t worry, the process may take a considerable time, but after a while you’ll find it helpful, I assure you. So now, what I want you to do is to flight out of that window and ask yourself: Where am I? Where do I want to go? How should I do to reach that? And when you have the answers to those questions,“ The boy raised a finger, “and only then, you will be ready to follow a professional advice.”
The Bogeyman kept a long silence until the boy looked sideways to the Adventure Time digital clock and cleared his throat loudly.
The Bogeyman startled.
“Well, I appreciate your visit and I hope you don’t approach this issue as a problem but as an opportunity.”
The boy got out of the bed and walked to the closet, where he was looking for something until he came back holding an amazing t-shirt with a drawing of an old car and a rainbow in the background.
“This is just a gift for coming. Thank you and I hope you have a good night.”
The boy stood with his arms resting on his lap and the Bogeyman didn’t feel entirely comfortable. The Lord of Shadows and Despair put the t-shirt on awkwardly and shake the hand the boy offered him. It went to the window and turned around and stared at him for a while, in confusion, before leaving the room with a dull grunt.
Thank you for reading, leave a comment if you liked it!
Have you ever used any software to analyse your writings? If you haven’t already, you should try how it feels to discover, after having thought that your story was spotless, that it’s actually full of afterthoughts, repetitions, and other additions that add no meaning at all to your text.
Text analysers are used in several fields such as marketing or academic publishing, but they can also be useful in creative writing. Depending on the analyser, we can make just a quantitative study that sheds very general conclusions, or make a more complex analysis involving semantics or vocabulary.
Leaving aside an Internet search where we could find all kinds of online applications offering this kind of functions, I will propose an online basic text analyzer I have used to improve some of my own stories.
To use Text Analyser you only have to paste your text or upload it into a file. Then press “Analyze text”, and magic! First you’ll get results regarding a more complex analysis through parameters like “Readability” or “Repetition rate”, and they you will see a list of its words arranged by the number of times they have been used according to several combinations.
What significant data provides a quantitative text analysis?
One of the most interesting things you can do with http://textalyser.net/ is comparing reports of different works written in different moments, or in different genres, styles or lexical registers. After performing the analysis on two of my own stories, I was surprised by the differences in certain areas, and through some of these metrics I could anticipate how the experience of the reader would be like.
In the second part of the report we find the repeated words and groups of words. There are some words you will be forced to use, like some articles, adverbs, prepositions… But after this analysis of my own work I discovered that the worse impression is not caused by the repetition of separate words, but rather by certain groups of two or more words that almost never provide a valuable meaning.
In those cases, the best think to do is deleting that words or looking for a substitute in order to achieve a wider lexical variety
My own analysis
Every writer should do an analysis of his own texts according to his criteria, but here I will explain what I learned after analyzing one of my novels.
In my opinion, in the first stage of writing it’s all right not to obsess with things such as word repetition, but I find it useful in subsequent revisions, especially when I’m polishing the text.
These are data from two different works I wrote with a difference of several years. As I have grown as a writer, I expect my writing to have changed as well, and I certainly can see that change reflected in these reports. I seem to repeat words less and I can use a bigger number of different words (click to enlarge).
After checking out these reports I decided I wouldn’t just look at them as a curiosity, but I would make the most out of them. I would learn from these data and use that information to improve my future stories.
So after doing a few of these analysis I composed my own “black list” of word combinations, composed by words like:
- Time adverbs: “a moment”, “a while”, “time”, “suddenly”, “soon”, “in the end”.
- Adverbs or adverbial of manner: “so”, “with attention”, “in a way”, “suddenly”, “from one place to another”.
- Quantity adverbs: “a little”, “somewhat”
- Of place: “around”, “in front”.
- Facial and body expressions: “with a smile”, “he pursed”, “looked at him”, “eyes wide open”, “he frowned/shrugged”.
- Action verbs: “he jumped on”, “he turned around”
After removing many of these words from my books I realised my text hadn’t lost any of its meaning at all, and the reading had become more fluent and focused.
Apart from removing words you can also use these metrics to polish your style and add coherence in the use of expressions: for example, when we use synonym words like man and guy, do we do it in a consistent way or do we just improvise?
I think a writer should perform this kind of lexical analysis on his own production to think further about the meaning of words and, if necessary, reformulate certain style issues.
Being obsessed with the repetition of words or with a quantitative analysis is useless, but it’s good to learn how to formulate or control the spontaneity of your own writing.
In the process of a style analysis, if there is a moment when I doubt if I should remove a word or not, I keep it only when I think the action could not have happened in any other way.
What have you discovered about your style using a text analyser?
This week Chuck Wendig proposed an interesting challenge and style exercise in his blog: to choose an object, a feeling, or anything, and describe it in ten different ways, from ten points of view.
And I took on the challenge, so here I go with my ten descriptions of a sheet of paper:
1. Straight to the point:
The paper sheet is rectangular and white.
The plain paper sheet (also known as Albus Paperus) is a composition of pulp fibers dyed with mineral or organic colorings (called Bleaching Optical Agents), and processed with chemical components such as polypropylene and polyethylene to produce a small layer of variable dimensions and thickness that can absorb and fix substances such as ink.
The paper sheet contains the whiteness of the clouds that crossed the sky over the house where I lived as a child, when I loved so much grabbing a pencil and sketching my thoughts on it with a sense of spontaneity and wit I won’t be able to match again.
The paper sheet was remembered as the ingenious device the great kings signed and used to declare war on remote territories starting a new era of pain and domination where the world was forever relegated to the will of the gods.
Its edges are so sharp, its whiteness so violent and inevitable, it suddently reminds me how fragile life is and that it may be worthless to fight against fate.
6. The writer’s view:
The blank page is an infinite void where I get lost with no hope to be found; a quiet chaos when my thoughts are reflected on it; a vast ocean of uncertainty I can only swim in search of a possible hope.
7. As a baby would see it:
It looks soft and sweet, but it tastes even worse than that stick I licked before.
While I can certainly assert that this sheet of this paper occupies a space in front of me in the world and its whiteness stands out clearly as a part of the order of the things that are material, how can I be sure that it is indeed what I think it is and not just a construction of me as an subjective entity?
Oh, paper sheet,
gentle and soft as a leaf.
Waiting for my ink pen to come
to full your whiteness of soul
10. Good-bye description:
A blank page is a farewell waiting to be written, waiting for a pen to declare the beginning of the end, but also the hope that later on, something new will come.
Can you think of any other ways to describe a piece of paper? Share them on the comments below!