Who knew that creating a productivity tool that is essentially a video game would be so effective? Habitica (formerly HabitRPG) helps you establish good habits and eradicate bad ones by giving you in-game rewards for completing real life tasks.
My first experience with a game-based productivity tool was Life RPG, suggested by my teenage son since he’s really into video games. I tried it, and initially found it somewhat helpful–although I was frustrated by the lack of customer support. When I had issues, I tried contacting the developers through the app store and twitter to no avail. Their twitter account hasn’t been updated since 2014, and while their reviews in the Android app store were overwhelmingly favorable, I could never get them to respond when I had a question. Customer service and response times are important to me, since I am not tech savvy.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I have only used Habitica during the current week. However, in that time I’ve already had more positive feedback and interaction through the site than I ever did using Life RPG. I think part of the reason is Habitica’s strong open-source community. There is a Tavern that can be visited via the app or site, where Habiticians can hang out casually or ask general questions. People who use Habitica are encouraged to be helpful to others, positivity is promoted, and everyone (as far as I have seen) is incredibly polite and considerate.
Habitica has a webpage online that you can log into each day to check off or add tasks, as well as an app for your cell phone or tablet device. I mainly use the app, but I try to check into the website at least once a day since I find typing on the laptop easier.
The first thing you do as a new user is create an avatar, with certain free options such as hair color or body type. As you complete your tasks, you gain health, experience, gold, and other rewards that let you buy things for your avatar. As you progress in the game, you gain levels and start to acquire pets that may become mounts in the proper circumstances, as well as other things–such as food for your stable animals, potions to regain health, armor, etc. There are also Guilds and Challenges for social opportunities as well as chances to gain extra rewards such as gems.
After you create your avatar you set up your real world tasks: Habits, Dailies, and To-Dos. Habits should be things you would like to do every day (or every week, month, etc). Dailies are things that you should do every day (month, etc), and To-Dos are things that may (or may not) have a set-time limit. You gain rewards for everything you accomplish, but you lose points only if you miss your Dailies. In addition to the virtual game rewards offered, you may also assign yourself real life rewards, such as “Watching a movie” or “Eating a cookie” that may cost x-amount of gold. There are also other features that allow you to join parties and partner with other people, but you share the rewards or punishments when you do so.
An example of a Habit would be Stretching. I don’t remember to do my stretches every day, so this gives me extra points when I remember. A Daily would be Eat Lunch, since I often forget to eat, even after preparing lunch for my son. A To-Do would be Fix the Banister; I used the option to set a due time (end of this month) since I’ve put off this simple chore for several months. I have also set myself additional real life rewards, such as watching a movie for 25 gold coins.
The Guilds offer users a way to interact with other Habiticians that share similar interests. Guilds often offer Challenges to members, which promote Guild interests. For example, there are multiple writing Guilds that offer Challenges with set editing and publishing goals.
While it may not seem to tie-in to writing as a craft, using a productivity tool like Habitica can obviously help you establish a writing routine that increases your output. My life has become progressively more hectic over the past several weeks, but in the past week I’ve accomplished more of my writing goals than I have all month. I’ve reestablished a more productive daily routine, and I actually look forward to greater rewards for tasks I would otherwise put off.
If you tend to procrastinate or get overwhelmed with daily tasks, try Habitica. Signing up costs nothing but a little of your time, and the investment more than pays for itself.
First of all, thank you for visiting! Normally, I post either poetry or short fiction, but every so often I like to share events going on in my area of Ohio. I try to update this blog once every two weeks.
I’m not sure how you made your way here, but I’ve recently attempted to consolidate my brand by updating my blog addresses and emails. This blog can be found via both https://catrussellwriter.wordpress.com/ and http://ganymeder.com/ . My other blog, which is more formal and serves as a resume, can be found at https://authorcatrussell.wordpress.com/ . My updated email, should you wish to contact me about my writing, is email@example.com .
Second, on to the fun stuff! There are several literary and creative holidays coming up, both internationally and locally, that I would love to share with you. Behold!
Saturday, April 29th
TABLETOP DAY: A wonderful geeky holiday for those who love tabletop gaming–from Dungeons & Dragons to card games like FLUXX! This may not seem very literary at first, but just think of all the storytelling and creativity involved in role-playing games. Plus, it’s just FUN. If you like, you can watch some TableTop via YouTube to help get into the mood; think Celebrity Poker meets Nerds.
Sunday, April 30th
CUYAHOGA LIBRARY POETRY OPEN MIC: The South Euclid-Lyndhurst branch of the Cuyahoga Library is finishing off National Poetry Month by providing a platform for anyone who writes poetry to share with an audience.
Come between 1:30 and 3:30, especially if you have written to one of the prompts they’ve provided during the month of April!
Thursday, May 4th
STAR WARS DAY: Watch out for deals and events at your local bookstores and comic book shops, because *ahem*
May the Fourth be with you…Always.
Saturday, May 6th
FREE COMIC BOOK DAY: This day is exactly what the name implies; it’s a day when comic book shops give away specially-printed FCBD editions of comics for free. You can visit the FCBD site to see what comics will become available, though each comic shop (that chooses to participate) decides which comics they will be giving away. Participating shops may also have special events such as cosplay costume contests, comic artist signings, and other giveaways. To find out which stores are participating in your area, simply visit the site and do a location search.
Wednesday, May 10th
HOOKS AND BOOKS: The Barberton Library hosts its monthly meetup up for crafters and bibliophiles at the local Kave Coffee Bar (584 W. Tuscarawas Ave.). Knitters, crocheters, and other needlepoint crafters are welcome to bring their latest project to work on and share whatever book they are reading. They also have a Pinterest group to share projects and book recommendations!
Thursday, May 25th
TOWEL DAY: This fan-created holiday honors and promotes the work of the late great Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, the Dirk Gently books, and Last Chance to See. There are tons of events around the globe, but the main way to bring attention to this holiday is by conspicuously wearing or carrying a towel with you wherever you go. For as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy points out:
A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you — daft as a brush, but very very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.
More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have “lost.” What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.
Hence a phrase that has passed into hitchhiking slang, as in “Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There’s a frood who really knows where his towel is.” (Sass: know, be aware of, meet, have sex with; hoopy: really together guy; frood: really amazingly together guy.
And, of course, if you haven’t already read his books, the best way to honor an author is to read his work. If you can not afford to buy a book, simply visit your friendly neighborhood library either in person or via its online digital library. Trust me. His books are amazing.
I hope you are able to participate in at least some of these activities, and I wish you all the best! Have a lovely week!
Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! I wish you all a fun and educational weekend full of literary loveliness and green pancakes.
March is a great month for writers here in Ohio, land of cultural consciousness and indeterminate weather. On Saturday the eighteenth, Literary Cleveland is offering a free workshop, Transition and Transformation: Writing for Self-Discovery, that will focus on using writing to work through emotional life transitions such as divorce, an empty nest, or the beginning or end of a career. The workshop will take place from 12:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. at the South Euclid-Lyndhurst branch of Cuyahoga Library, 1876 South Green Road, South Euclid, OH 44121. Registration is requested.
Later, you may also attend another Literary Cleveland free event, Crossing Borders: An Immigrant Narrative, featuring local authors reading their own work. This is actually a 90-minute performance directed by Marc Moritz, including poems, essays, and stories written by immigrants; during the show, pieces will be performed by professional actors. It should be a powerful and educational (as well as entertaining) experience.
Crossing Borders takes place on both Saturday the eighteenth and Sunday the nineteenth, at Cleveland State University, in the Student Center Ballroom (third floor),2121 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio. Both performances take place from 7 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. Registration is requested.
Also, don’t forget to register for Cuyahoga Library’s Thirty Days of Poetry. The library will send you daily poetry prompts and poems throughout the month of April–so if you register now, you can get their daily email each morning to start your days off right!
“Akron Art Museum (on a snowy day)”
Braving winter weather,
I venture inside, am greeted by,
am heated by
the red warmth of an amazing maze
–the reason that day’s,
adventuring took place.
Patrons’ laughter wiggles,
Awakens my sleeping senses
dulled by the ice-cold latticework
of Jack Frost’s handiwork.
enclosed in glass
call to me with cool colorfields,
tapestries of reclaimed materials,
and the youthful bloom of a long dead girl
–she is a poem in paint,
an oil-based sonnet
written to the memory of a sister
Art not only beautiful,
but unique, original
and absurd. GROSS ANATOMIES
expose themselves to my sometimes
unwilling eyes: sad sculptures
of pieced together little girls,
grotesques of acts better hid from the world,
and the ridiculous image
of a child pooping cupcakes–
Who knew defecation could be that sweet
and funny? I laugh for five full minutes
before wiping tears from my eyes.
Turning the page I find
the common translated–
becomes solidly superior
the metal pieces sliced
into solid stitches
of lovely, silver-toned lace.
Tea party participants mutate
into alluringly ludicrous,
with abnormal proportions,
others are created with the beastly heads
of cats and sharks
or machine parts. My own head
swims with sensory overload.
Mind and heart filled to
overflowing, I fill
my other emptiness in the cafe.
Eating my fill, I watch
the falling snow
beyond the transparent walls;
each flake freezes to the glass
and frames the dusting sugar
like a thousand fairies
dying in the cold.
**This poem is a departure from my normal style, since I usually don’t concentrate on the rhymes quite so much. I wanted something that would sound fun read aloud, stressing the ends of each line. Any feedback would be appreciated, thanks!
November is like early Christmas for many writers, because those thirty days are set aside as National Novel Writing Month–or NaNoWriMo, for short. Participants challenge themselves to write a complete, rough draft novel of 50,000 words between the first and thirtieth of November. NaNoWriMo beckons many writers and would-be novelists with thoughts of winning like sirens on exotic far-away beaches. They start using words like novelling, pantsing, plotting, and even plantsing. Why? Not for fame or riches–though I doubt anyone would turn those down–but the pure, joyful, adrenaline-fuelled experience of writing to meet a massively intimidating deadline. Oh, and of course, those all-important bragging rights.
With this in mind, I thought I’d share some of the strategies I’ve used to win in the past. And while I will be rebelling with a poetry collection this year, hopefully some of these tips will help you reach your November goals.
If you write steadily, you need to write a minimum of 1,667 words each day in November to win. But let’s face it; things happen. Life happens. You will have days that you just can’t find the time or the energy, you might have to put writing on hold for a few days during Thanksgiving and Black Friday, and other obligations will happen. That’s why it’s important to plan for days you won’t be able to meet your daily writing quota.
The answer is simple. Plan to write a little more on your on-days so you have permission to slack a little on your off- days. For example, I know that it’s much harder for me to write on weekends than weekdays. So I plan a five day writing week, for four weeks, with a daily goal of 2,500. So I write 12,500 in week one; 25,000 words by the end of week two; 37,500 by the end of week three; and 50,000 by the end of week four. By giving myself daily and weekly goals, if I miss a day or get behind in my daily goals, odds are I will still be on schedule for the weekly goals. Plus, the first week is when people are filled with adrenaline and enthusiasm, so it’s easy to create a buffer for later on.
Another thing to consider is when you are going to write; saying you don’t have time isn’t really an option. Most people have time. They make the time for what they think is important. Sure, you might be really tired from work and want to just sit and watch tv, but couldn’t you use fifteen minutes of that time to do a word sprint? What about writing during your lunch break for ten minutes on your phone? If it’s important to you, you’ll find time. If it’s not, you won’t. It’s that simple. Remember, you are going for quantity of words over quality. I usually do fifteen minute sprints several times a day until I hit my goal.
Let me repeat that, because it’s important.
DO NOT EDIT.
Editing slows you down and keeps you from adding words. What’s worse, it usually means you are SUBTRACTING words from your total word count. Lock your inner editor in a closet for the month with a nice supply of canned goods and cookies, then forget about him! Here are a few tricks to help.
When you come across a scene where you are stuck, insert a placeholder instead. Put in an unusual word (like scrumpdillyicious) that you can search for in the document later–or a highlighted and ALL-CAPS notation to catch your eye–when December comes. That way, you can find your placeholder easily when you do edit. Plus, the extra nice thing about doing the ALL-CAPS notation (LIKE THIS), is that it still counts toward your word goal!
Now, I know this post is about preparing BEFORE November, not what you do during the month. So here is where it’s relevant to October’s preparation: create a loose outline this month with one-sentence chapter summaries that you can use as chapter HEADINGS in November. Not only does it help keep you on goal for each chapter, but it allows you to add to your novel wordcount without technically cheating. Sweet, right? I usually just copy and paste them in as my chapter headings, then fill out what’s underneath for my daily goals.
Whether you write with a computer, a phone, or just a pad and pencil, it’s important to always have tools handy to write whenever you get a chance; all those stolen minutes add up. When you are waiting in a long line at the grocery store, you can write on your phone or in a notebook. Taking a ten minute break at work? Write a few lines. Hell, if you use Twitter and post on forums, those are words you could have written on your actual novel! I’m not saying don’t tweet. I’m saying, don’t tweet until you have met your goal, even if it’s just a mini-writing goal like 250-words before lunchtime.
I use this technique to meet mini-goals each day until I complete my daily goal. I can’t check my email until I’ve written at least another 250 words; I can’t have lunch until I’ve hit 500; I can’t watch tv until I’ve hit 750. You get the picture.
Part of the magic of November is that you are pouring all your creative writing energy into a single project, so don’t divide that energy between projects unless you have no choice. If you are a blogger like me, you can schedule blog posts ahead of time, so you don’t have to stop writing on your novel to write on your blog. If you post on twitter, you can schedule tweets ahead of time using FutureTweets.com. For example, I post a helpful vegan tip each day under the hashtag #dailyvegantip, so I just schedule those ahead of time.
Yes, you are attempting something incredible, and just the fact that you are trying says awesome things about you. But that’s not the reason I’m suggesting you brag about writing a 50,000 word rough draft novel. I’m not suggesting you brag about the attempt, but brag about how you are going to do it, all the things you will do when you have completed your masterpiece, and so on. Why? Because if you don’t finish after shooting your mouth off that much, it will be a huge embarrassment. And embarrassment is a great motivator. Basically, back yourself into a corner so you have no choice but to write your way out of it. It works! At least, it’s worked for me in the past.
I recently discovered a podcast called NaNoWriPod, that you can download onto a podcatcher and listen to while driving your car or running or eating cookies. There are 39 episodes that you can listen to over the course of thirty days. I have not listened to it as of the date I’m writing this, but I’m looking forward to it. The NaNoWriMo site used to have an official podcast, but now I just find other ones to motivate myself. Another good podcast is Writing Excuses–“Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not the smart.”
And those, dear readers, are my October strategies. Use them in good health. Have a safe and fun Halloween, and don’t forget what true terror is–a missed deadline. Happy Novelling!*
You may also download the latest installment of my podcast, My Writing Niche 2.0 -Episode 1: Welcome to NaNoWriMo 2016. DOWNLOAD HERE.
As everyone who has read my blog knows (you two know who you are), Ohio has a wealth of support for the literary community, both for authors and readers and those of us who are both. After all, you can’t write if you don’t read. To illustrate this point, the South Euclid-Lyndhurst branch of the Cuyahoga library recently hosted the Western Reserve Writers’ Conference, yet another free conference for the wordsmiths of Northeastern Ohio. Though I cannot possibly capture all the energy and inspiration of the entire conference, I will do my best to give you the highlights of what I learned there.
Another writer that I met at a previous conference, John Ettorre, gave the keynote speech. He spoke about the importance of mentors, with a special focus on his own mentor, William Zinsser. Zinsser’s well-known book, On Writing Well, is a must have for any writer. His tips hold true whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction, novels or newspaper articles.
One of the key points I took away from his speech was Don’t be afraid to contact your heroes. After all, what do you have to lose? Though Zinsser was very well known and respected, he always made time to help other writers with the craft and viewed it as a sacred duty. I think this also touches upon one of the main reasons that writers’ conferences are so important: you meet other writers. And while he also pointed out that your writing is your own, meaning you should use your own voice and not simply emulate others, it is important to have that sense of community in what is often a lonely occupation. I know that when I’ve collaborated in the past, I’ve always felt I got more out of the experience than if I had written by myself. Bouncing ideas off others, getting inspired, and boosting your own abilities is why writers congregate on- and off-line, at conferences and workshops, libraries and bookstores and their own homes. We seek out our heroes as well as our peers.
Some of his other points were more practical and applicable. Change is a tonic, so don’t be afraid to do something different and break out of your comfort zone. Write about something you care about, so the audience cares about it too–you learn from the act of instructing others. Becoming successful takes time, but don’t use that as an excuse to not learn your craft. And lastly, writing is a voyage of discovery. This last one struck me as especially true; I often find out things about myself and the world around me through the stories I write.
The first workshop I attended, Organizing Your Novel, was conducted by the prolific author, Julie Anne Lindsey. She gave a lot of tried and true writing advice: be an avid reader, research the content of your book, know your craft, and show rather than tell. She also reiterated the importance of writers’ groups and gave several examples of how they had helped her personally.
While it’s always helpful to be reminded of these truisms, I found her more specific advice to be more interesting. She outlined specific formulas to create tension and keep the reader’s’ interest. Near the end of the session, she answered questions. Someone asked her about writing through emotional conflict, and she said that it might actually make for a better story. Writing can be therapeutic, and you can improve your story by harnessing those emotions and putting them onto the page. We finished up with a writing prompt to outline a story, which resulted in my premise for this year’s National Novel Writing Month.
I was really looking forward to the next workshop, About Contracts & Copyright Issues, conducted by attorney Steve Grant. While he covered a wealth of legal information, the two things I found most helpful were also the simplest: one, a writer’s biggest mistake regarding copyright is not actually writing anything; two, while most of the time people can be sued for just about anything, usually only successful authors are sued over their work.
Unfortunately, there is a third thing I learned unintentionally during this workshop. I use technology heavily during events such as this, as they are handy for taking notes. And while I also use low-tech solutions like pen and paper, most of the time it’s just easier to use the electronic tools available through my phone and tablet. However, this time he was giving so much information so quickly, I decided to download a recording app so I could type my notes out more efficiently later. I did it on the fly, without doing research ahead of time, and I’m embarrassed to say that I lost all the recordings that I took of Mr. Grant’s talk. So, benefit from my mistake, and make sure that when using technology you haven’t used before, that you research and test it first.
There was about an hour for lunch, which was great for meeting and greeting other writers. Afterwards, there was a Question & Answer panel on The Writing Life. Three of the conferences authors gave talks and advice about being a writer.
Steve FitzGerald, writing coach and ghost writer, spoke about writing retreats and named specific ones for those of us lucky enough to live in Ohio. And while I agree with everything he said in theory, I am unable to verify it personally since I have neither the time nor money to attend them. However, if you are able to participate in a writing retreat, I would love to hear about your experience.
Diane Taylor, a longtime writing coach and editor, discussed the importance of writers’ groups. She spoke about the value of connecting with other writers, as I’ve mentioned earlier in this same post. She gave several examples of groups to join, such as Romance Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Literary Cleveland (which hosts INKubator and the monthly poetry workshops I attend), and Skyline Writers.
Deanna Adams, the conference organizer and a well-known local author, gave tips for perfecting the first pages of a manuscript, and she was also kind enough to give me permission to share those tips with you.
Top 10 tips for Perfecting a Manuscript
The last workshop I attended was, How NOT to Write for Free, given by Sandra Gurvis, a freelance writer and author of Confessions of a Crazy Cat Lady and Other Possibly Demented Meanderings. I have been interested in freelancing for awhile, though I have yet to publish my first novel. The class focused mostly on ensuring payment from your clients once you’ve established yourself as a freelancer, but she addressed other points.
She emphasized taking whatever writing jobs are available, as well as doing anything possible to build a better resume’ and client list. As an example, she explained she became certified by the American Medical Writers Association to expand her job qualifications. Other examples of paid work are content provision such as articles for magazines and associations, editing and evaluating books, and writing newsletters and website posts. While she conceded some writers work for exposure instead of money, the session focused on paid work.
During the question and answer session, I asked her about starting out as a freelancer, especially concerning taxes and acquiring work. She spoke about having an accountant to do taxes every three months and using a W9 form for an independent contractor. As far as finding work, she recommended websites, especially ones that verified whether or not clients paid their bills: Upwork, Guru, Linked In, Association of Ghost Writers (associate membership), and Skyword.
There was, of course, much more to the conference than just the highlights I’ve outlined above, much more than could possibly fit into a single post. If you have a writers’ conference or group in your area, I highly suggest you attend. If not, there’s always NaNoWriMo next month, which is a massive online writing experience; there’s tons of camaraderie and support to be had both online and off. Thanks once again to Deanna Adams, John Ettorre, and everyone else who contributed to making the conference such a wonderful experience.
*photos were taken with my phone at the conference
**permission for summations and photo use kindly given by Deanna Adams, John Ettorre, and Sandra Gurvis.