My Secret Addiction and 6 Amazing Photo Apps

My secret addiction - www.alliepottswrites.com #photoeditingtoolsIf you’d asked me a few years ago if I had any addictions, I would have said no. I told myself I didn’t have an addictive personality. It turns out I just hadn’t found my drug of choice – photo editing apps.

Like any drug dealer, these developers hooked me with the easy fix. Here – try this free download, it will turn your photos into amazing pieces of art in seconds. And boy, did it ever. Soon I was applying effect after effect to my favorite photos, but there was a problem. I liked too many of the results. I got into the habit of saving multiple versions of the same image, albeit with different styles, rather than just stopping at one.

As my camera roll filled up, I tried to regain my self-control. I forced myself to only save the best of the best. Unfortunately, this created a whole other problem. I wouldn’t save anything until I’d applied and seen everything. Over time, seeing the same effects applied over and over, I grew less impressed with the results. Sure, the app would release a new style now and then, but it could no longer keep up with my desire for a new, bigger, wow factor – for more, more, more.

I realized my one source for fun with photography was no longer enough to satisfy my needs. I decided to venture into a place I knew could provide more. I joined Instagram.

Suddenly, I found myself taking photos of the most random things. An empty park bench. A rusted bridge. Cherry blossoms separating me from a brilliant blue sky. My kids, long used to their mommy whipping out her phone to capture the moments of their childhood wondered why the lens was no longer exclusively focused their way. ‘Mommy might need this for her website or for a book cover,’ I’d reply, somewhat embarrassed.

My kids don’t read my blog, or they might wonder why they haven’t seen much crossover yet.

I may be a lost cause now, but I thought I should provide a list of free apps to avoid in order to protect yourself from a similar fate.

Prisma (www.prisma.com)

simple as pie photo effects - www.alliepottswrites.com
Simple as pie artistic effects

This was my gateway app. Once you grant the app access to your camera and your photos, all you have to do is select or take a photo and then press a single button to apply an artistic effect which makes your photo look like it was painted in the style of an artistic master. My personal favorites are the Gothic, Candy, Dreams, and Composition styles, but there are plenty of others to choose from. You can also control the intensity of the style with a finger swipe.

When I originally downloaded the app, it automatically cropped photos into a square image typical of what is posted to Instagram, but now allows for a full-screen image. Additionally, Primsa has launched their own social sharing site.

Canva (www.canva.com) / PicMonkey (www.picmonkey)

Canva before and after - www.alliepottswrites.comIf realism is more your thing, but you still like to add some oomph to your photos, Canva and PicMonkey both offer filters to adjust lighting, contrast, color, and intensity. However, both have their limitations, especially for the free versions. I use Canva if I am trying to also incorporate clip art, stock photos, or text. I used to use PicMonkey if I was trying to soften, sharpen, focus or otherwise add a zoom effect to a photo, but they’ve taken steps in the last few months to make more and more of their better features only accessible to premium users.

Which brings me to my most recent find:

Adobe‘s suite for the Creative Cloud. http://www.adobe.com

You may be more familiar with Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, both of which are a far cry from being free, but Adobe also has a few ‘lighter’ apps which are powerful enough. Even better, you don’t have to have a paid creative cloud monthly subscription to use them.

So far I’ve used Adobe Photoshop Fix, Adobe Photoshop Mix and Adobe Spark Post.

Photoshop Fix

After
Before

This app does what it says. It can fix your photos via subtle tweaks. With built-in face detection, it can instantly smooth those pesky wrinkles away, boost your smile, and remove unwanted composition elements such as logos on t-shirts or photo bombs such as bunny ears through its spot healing tool.

Photoshop Mix

This app is designed to make it easy to swap out backgrounds or merge multiple images into a single composition. Want to make your friends jealous with an impromptu trip to an exotic destination, but short on funds? Simply take a picture of yourself lounging on your couch and replace it with a beach front chair.

Actually, it’s not quite as simple as the tutorial would lead you to believe. You have to pay extra care as you trace around the image you want to keep otherwise your results, with their jagged digital edges, will scream photoshopped. After spending far too long with less than ideal results, I recommend leaving this trick to the professionals.

Spark Post

If you are editing for a blog post or social media post, this tool packs some serious punch. I specified my preferred image size and uploaded a picture. The tool automatically suggested a color palette for my text based on the background image. From there I was able to change out layouts, adjust filters, and even add animation to my text with a few simple button presses. The only issue I had with the app is that it adds a watermark to the bottom of your graphic unless you also ‘share’ it with a friend.

How to write with kids under 10 without losing your mind

How to write with kids under 10 without losing your mind
image courtesy of pixabay

Okay, so my headline is somewhat misleading. If you are attempting to write more than the occasional thank you note or note to the teacher about how very disappointed you were to learn of your normally charming daughter, Jenny’s decision to cut friend Mary’s hair in class, or why the teacher shouldn’t be alarmed when your son, Danny demands an extra seat at his desk for his imaginary friend, Mr. Hinklesworth, chances are your mind is already a little. . .well. . .off.

But according to my headline analyzer, “How to write with kids under 10 without losing more of your mind,” was considered too wordy.

1) Set boundaries

Set aside a little place in your world where you can go where you write uninterrupted. It is best if the only way to enter this place is by passing through a mystic portal accessed only by answering a series of three challenging questions administered by increasingly menacing figures, but I suppose any office, bedroom, or garden retreat or closet nook can do too. Just make sure that everyone knows that when mommy or daddy go to write they have effectively traveled to China (unless you already live in China in which case Kansas might do).

2) Actually enforce those boundaries 

Children can sense when adults want to do something that doesn’t involve them and it drives them mad. The little buggers will let loose a type of wall piercing shriek the likes of which the Department of Defense would pay billions to develop. Fight the urge to leave your writing sanctuary with every ounce of willpower you possess. You are supposed to be in China/Kansas, remember. Besides, it can’t be all that bad. As long as they are screaming, at least you know they are still breathing, right?

3) Schedule your writing in realistic chunks that fit your lifestyle

Yeah, who am I kidding in that last tip? No mind can withstand more than a minute or two of that sort of mental assault before caving. But once you leave your sanctuary, it unlikely your little hellions cherubs will allow you go back anytime soon, so you might as well plan accordingly. If you thrive on two to three hours sleep, writing in the early morning or late at night may work for you, but for those of us who require a few more REM cycles, it is easier to break up a day’s writing goal into a few fifteen to thirty minute sessions per day and can be an absolute sanity saver. Another blogger, Sacha Black, introduced me to this tip, referring to these micro sessions as writing sprints. She has written up a helpful piece to help you determine what size sprint is best for you.

4) Cut your cable

Better yet, turn the TV off altogether, but if you are like me and still occasionally need to veg out, do it smart. While the EU limits the length of commercial interruptions to no more than twelve minutes per hour of programming in the US, commercials can make up about 30% or more of air time. As much as it pained me at first, I’ve stopped watching live TV. Thanks to streaming without commercials, I can watch my favorite hour-long show in forty-five minutes. (It’s magic!) I now have an extra fifteen minutes to write if I so choose. Sure, it means putting up with some delayed gratification and extra heavy spoiler evasion, but we all must make sacrifices for our art.

5) Keep your deadlines long and your notes close

Even with the best of intentions, you aren’t going to be able to hit your goal every day, even with micro-sessions. You’ll have summer break or have to deal with yet another round of the bug that’s so fun to share that everyone in the family gets a turn. These things happen. The thing to keep in mind is unless you were offered a contract, the only one who cares about your deadline is you (yes, I know – I have a hard time accepting this too. I am all twitchy just to write it). Sure you might disappoint a few fans by failing to deliver as quickly as they would like (cough. . .cough. . . George R. R. Martin, I am looking at you), but they aren’t exactly lighting up your phone with offers to babysit (for free) so that you can write in peace, now are they?

6) Back-up everything!

Say you do all of the above. The children are blissfully asleep. Even better, they’d gone down with hardly a fight. Your partner is off taking a run (or doing whatever it is he or she does when you go all writerly on them). The house is wonderfully quiet as you revise the third draft of your latest novel. Only a few more chapters to go. You are in the zone. Suddenly the cursor on your screen moves and an ‘a’ you know you didn’t type appears on the page. Then another. And another. Suddenly there is a whole line of ‘aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaas’. Panicked, you bang on the ESC key. The cursor blinks at you as if it is not only aware of your fright, it is amused. Then the whole room is blanketed in a bright blue light coming from your screen.

You feel like Darth Vader just told you he was your father. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Sounds horrible? Yes. It. Was. I was able to recover my file. That time. But thanks to the school system exposing the young to computer skills at a young age, I can no longer trust that my children won’t download a virus or click on a ransomware link. Heck, I can barely trust myself not to do that.

7) Remember why you started in the first place

Were you doing it for the money? The fame? The accolades? (If so, I’d love to see your marketing plan. Really – I would! Please contact me). Occasionally take a step back so that you can see how far you’ve already come. You can do this.

Hugh’s Photo Challenge: Week 8 – Charity Christmas Tree Topper Challenge

Tree Topper

This is also known as 20 things to do when you are trying to write your weekly blog post, but all you can think about is all the things you have to do between now and the end of the year and how much you want to see Star Wars.

  1. Go for a walk
  2. Bring in the mail
  3. Watch as the box tower you made out packages already received and haven’t yet had a chance the inclination to wrap sways dangerously from side to side as you attempt to add one more to the pile
  4. Decide protection of life, limb, and property is worth a few minutes spent wrapping
  5. Run out to the store to purchase more wrapping paper
  6. Issue an all points bulletin on the tape that you could have sworn you left on the table and yet is nowhere to be seen
  7. Locate lost tape the minute you return to the wrapping area with a new spool
  8. Open another package after realizing the paper you cut for the first package was the wrong size
  9. Treat paper cut
  10. Wonder why you didn’t pay for the gift wrap option when purchasing presents
  11. Pour yourself another cup of coffee / tea / water / wine
  12. Return to the computer to intent to write, only to discover 100 handy dandy rules for evil overlords (which are also good tips for how not to write clichéd villains / confrontation scenes and therefore, valuable research and definitely not a time waster)
  13. Head over to another room to turn on some music
  14. Trip over discarded cardboard
  15. Catch your reflection as you reorganize pile of excess cardboard waste and ponder whether or not it is time for a haircut
  16. Look again at the package tower and remember why you didn’t pay for the gift wrap option while also forgetting about scheduling a haircut
  17. Return to the computer read about Hugh’s Photo Challenge and his charity, The Dog Trust, and decide that you’d like to support a cause whose mission is to help all dogs enjoy a happy life, free from the threat of unnecessary destruction while wishing there was a similar one for all people
  18. Take a picture
  19. Eat a cookie
  20. Relax and be happy

So many questions – so little time

The internet is a funny place. Some days the various sites I visit on a regular basis are filled with stories of hate, tragedy, or terrible things said by unthinking people. Other days? Kermit and Ms. Piggy break-up, a rat carries pizza down subway stairs, or a seal surfs on the back of a humpback whale and it’s news. Life isn’t the only thing that is like a box of chocolates. Even expecting the unexpected, I was still surprised and delighted to see my name pop up on not one, but two other sites in one day.

First, I would like to thank Eric Klingenberg for including me in the list of blogs he loves. His site is definitely worth checking out as well, as the other blogs he mentions.

liebsterawardLater, I received word that my site has been nominated for the Liebster Award by another writer I know simply as Lily’s mom.

The rules are simple:

  • Answer 11 questions given to you by your nominator;
  • Leave a link back to the person who nominated you
  • Nominate up to 11 blogs that are relatively new (usually less than 200 followers)
  • notify your nominees
  • Create 11 questions for the nominees.

Lily’s mom isn’t afraid to ask tough questions.

1. What do you think of your life so far?

Do I secretly wish that I had achieved the same sort of fame as Justin Timberlake, or made as much impact as Jackie Robinson? (We share birthdays) Absolutely, but at least I am trying my best. In any event, I have my health, the love of my family, and close friendships so my life isn’t all that bad.

2. What’s the cruelest thing you could do to another human being?

Forget them. Not pretend they never existed. Truly forget that they ever crossed your path.

3. How do you avoid doing #2?

I don’t. My brain can take only so much information, but the right people find ways to stick around in my memory banks.

4. What’s the kindest thing you could do for other human beings?

Listen with my full attention. I don’t do it enough.

5. How do you get motivated, or motivate others, to do more of #4?

I am trying to practice mindful thinking, but it hasn’t become second nature yet. Like now. I am thinking about how to best answer these questions, but I am also thinking about the pizza rat and realizing I could go for a slice about now as well. It’s a work in process.

6. What do you dream about at night?

My browser search history has probably put me on enough watch lists. I’d prefer not to add to them.

7. What do you daydream about during the day?

Mostly about how nice it would be to be sitting on a porch either in the mountains overlooking a river or at the beach overlooking the ocean. Or about food. My tummy can be quite distracting.

8. If you could go back and choose it, what would your first word be?

Czechoslovakia – a) because that is my favorite word to say. Say it out loud. It’s like a verbal roller coaster.  b) because how awesome would it be for a baby to say Czechoslovakia. I probably would have gotten several college scholarships by the age of 8.

9. If there were anything you could remember about your life as a baby, what would be your chosen memory?

There is a picture of me crawling out from under a bed with a huge smile on my face. I would like to experience the joy and surprise of that moment at least once every day.

10. Why are we so quick to pose questions, and so slow to listen for the answers?

Because pizza exists and has many topping options.

11. If you had to ask yourself one question each day to take stock of your life, what would that question be?

What day is today? When I realize I not only don’t know but I also no longer care what the answer is, I will know that I have either achieved true freedom (my greatest dream) or my mind is going (one of my worst fears).

Now it’s my turn. As I’d like to second the nominations of Lily’s mom as well as encourage you again to check out Eric’s list, I am leaving my questions open to the public. Feel free to answer as many or little as you want and/or nominate another blog that should be nominated for an award.

  1. When you wake up, what is one thing you are sure of each day?
  2. If you were a superhero, what would be your name and power?
  3. Follow up – who would be your arch-villain?
  4. When was the last time you laughed to the point of crying?
  5. If you were cut off from WiFi for a month, what would be the first thing you did once it came back?
  6. If you could outlaw one thing for a day, what would it be?
  7. Your family pet speaks. What does it say?
  8. What are you having for dinner?
  9. What do you wish you were having for dinner?
  10. If you had to live one day over and over again, what day would you prefer?
  11. What is your favorite buzz feed type questionnaire and if you took the quiz, what was the result?

My top secret 2014 performance review

It’s that time of year again. Time for me to sit down and analyze the performance of staff at the day job in painstaking detail. I look forward to the process as eagerly as they do. Who doesn’t love to see in writing the ways in which their work can improve even if the words are no real surprise? I know I sure do when it’s my turn. That’s totally why I’ve been having a virtual argument debate with my editor’s notes over the last several weeks.

One of the biggest upsides about being an independent author is the ability to be in control of everything (except forcing people to buy your book). I’ve often heard it compared to going into business for one’s self. We are the authorpreneurs! YAY!

So, if this is truly a business and not just a hobby, perhaps it is time to schedule a performance review with my staff.

Please come in Allie.  Would you shut the door and have a seat?

Now, I’ve been looking at your annual report and while you’ve done a great job gaining additional exposure on WordPress when comparing 2013 to 2014, but you haven’t pulled in nearly the numbers as some of your counterparts at other firms. Why do you think that is?

Hmmm…. Likely it is because I am terrible at writing eye-catching titles.

How can you improve this?

Phone a friend? No? Well then maybe I will start trying out some of the hundreds of catchy title formulas out there in 2015 and see how that works out for me.

Well that can’t hurt. Seriously, your titles have been atrocious at times. I mean ‘Is that a fire hydrant or a really odd garden gnome?‘ Really?

Umm… we agree, that wasn’t my best work. In my defense, I had spent on my creativity on content that day. The tank was dry.

What about social media? What are you doing to improve your exposure in that area?

I’m actually advertising my blog less on Twitter, and interacting more. I told myself that for every tweet I send out, I would find at least four by others to favorite, retweet, or reply to.  I’ve made some really enjoyable connections and now I barely pay attention to my follower count, and yet on the occasions I do, I see it continues to grow.

How about Facebook?

Facebook doesn’t always show my updates in feeds, even if a person has liked my page. There is little I can do there except hope that the handful of people who actually see my updates feel like sharing them with their network. Therefore I don’t see myself spending more energy there than I already have been.

Looking over your other marketing efforts, I see that you tried out a number of things early in the year like paid ads, a Goodreads giveaway, and review exchanges, but your efforts dropped off mid year. Are you planning on trying any of these things again this year?

I ran a second Goodreads give away toward the end of the year when An Uncertain Faith was re-released as well as a free promotion of the book. I used paid ads at the beginning of the year and didn’t use paid ads at the end. Interestingly enough I received an almost identical number of entries in the Goodreads give away each time with about as many resulting reviews. So no, I don’t think I will be using paid ads again.

What about the review exchanges?

I learned that review exchanges are not for me. I’d rather my book was reviewed by someone who was interested enough in my blurb or my blog to pick it up rather than someone who is just reviewing it because they feel obligated to.  I worry too much that my book might get lampooned or insincerely praised just because of how I liked theirs. It feels like being in an old Western gun duel. I am however making a point of reviewing the books that I’ve picked out of my own free will more often.

Let’s address the elephant in the room. You know that the best way to be successful in this business is to release more books. Why then is your second project taking so long to release?

I could blame it on a number of things. My day job changed mid-year. I had to make significant changes to the structure, etc. But I boils down to one thing. I forgot how to properly manage my time. I’ve already taken major steps to address this. Now I only have a few chapters left to rewrite before it can be sent out for another round of complaints critique. I’ve also entered a few short story contests. Hopefully as a result I will have something else out there with my name on it in 2015.

Do you have any questions for me?

Will I be getting a raise this year?

You didn’t tell me you dabbled in writing humor.

Is that a no?

Good luck with the contests.

Mock report card
All type and no play make Allie an out of shape girl