How I’m Reigniting My Creative Spark During the Time of COVID

What has it been like to launch a post-apocalyptic book that takes place following a period of economic collapse and mysterious pandemic during an actual economic downward tailspin, series of stay at home orders, and side of civil unrest to boot? Well, let me be the first to tell you it’s been as rewarding as you would expect it to be.

In short, my book launch flopped.

Don’t worry. I’m not asking for you to send me a slew of sympathy notes. It’s okay. If you are reading these words, I already assume you are an empathetic soul who appreciates the arts or at least a supportive friend. Also, this wasn’t a surprise. I expected this outcome. I made my peace with it before I hit the publish button.

Lies and LegacyI could have waited for market conditions to improve. That’s what a number of traditional publishers have done. I didn’t, though, because who knows when that time will be and the series had already gone on long enough between volumes. I decided, if nothing else, I owed the readers who’d kindly given me a chance, closure. I owed myself closure too.

However, what I didn’t expect was the absolute loss of my creative spark following this decision. I’d written before that Lies & Legacy was the book that almost broke me. In the weeks following its publication, I found myself wondering if perhaps there was no ‘almost’ about it.

I’ve been seriously considering giving up the dream of achieving literary success to free up my time to focus more on my commercial non-fiction writing. It would be the sensible thing to do. Not only does my non-fiction efforts pay more reliably (and better), but it is also exponentially less stressful to produce. There is no lying awake dwelling on a one-star review or agonizing over how to address a stubborn plot hole. However, between you and me, it is not nearly as satisfying.

I found I couldn’t do it.

Still, it is one thing to say you eventually want to return to writing novels. You have to have the overwhelming determination and desire to create in you too, and mine was gone—just gone—and there was no telling when it might come back. And so, instead of writing, I spent the first half of the year doing what so many other people have done during this time. I baked (I now make a great soft pretzel). I gardened (I recently harvested my first potato). I pretended I was okay with everything when I was in front of my kids. I randomly burst into tears at the slightest provocation when I wasn’t. I did what I thought I had to do.

However, I realized one day, if I didn’t force myself back into the chair, then I might as well admit giving up the dream was no longer my choice to make. I could no longer wait for inspiration to strike—it was clearly practicing safe social distancing. Instead, if I wanted to return to fiction, I had to reignite my creative spark myself.

I returned to the basics. I cracked open one of the first craft books I’d ever purchased: the 90-day Novel (affiliate link) and followed instructions. I wrote for five minutes that first day. Five minutes was enough. I did it again the second day and the day after that. I was on a roll. Until I wasn’t. Days went by. However, a funny thing happened during this time. I wasn’t writing, but I’d planted a seed and it seemed the smallest fragment of a story had taken root in my brain.

I tried again—much to my other half’s chagrin as he’d rather enjoyed me not waking up with the sun for a pre-dawn writing sprint. Before I knew it, I had 1000 words on the page. Then 2000.

I now have over 20,000 words on the page of my latest WIP, and the start of a brand new series, which, one day in a not too distant and brighter future, I hope to share with you. It’s far from a steady blaze, but my creative spark is once again breaking up the night, and for the first time, in a long time, the dream doesn’t seem nearly as far away.

How am I reigniting my creative spark?

Simple—one word at a time.

Editing Tools For Writers

Writers, whether they pursue traditional publication under the writer-agent model, publish under their own name, or sign with a smaller imprint, need to edit their work prior to submission. However, while some authors believe their background makes them a grammatical expert, the truth is no one should rely on a single set of eyes.

Unfortunately, professional editing services cost money, and as most reputable editors charge by the word, the cost to help you polish a full-fledged novel quickly adds up. I understand the temptation to do without. That said, I’ve also spent more than I would like to admit on editing services for words that, upon hindsight, never stood a chance of making it to the final proof copy.

Thankfully, while no online editing tool or plug-in is good enough to replace a set of human eyes—for now, there are several programs on the market today that can help you identify more than the occasional typo. Many can now check for tone, misused words, readability, and even provide recommendations to help your pacing. Even better, many of them are offered for free or at a price point that is low enough to pay for itself in short order.

As a result, editing software programs are critical applications for every aspiring author’s toolbox and can help you bridge the gap between rough draft and editor ready. I’ve used dozens over the years, some with more success than others. To save you from making many of the mistakes I have, I’ve compiled this list of those I’ve found to be the best for fiction and non-fiction writing.

editing tools for writers

Grammarly

According to my Grammarly dashboard, the program has been correcting my text since 2015, so it’s a tool that has definitely impacted my writing. In fact, it has caught at least three errors in this paragraph since I started typing. That said, I’ve found the program misses errors occasionally when I’ve used it with Google Docs and I’ve had to disable it altogether on certain websites, like VistaPrint, as it doesn’t play nice with their text box editor.

Occasional bug aside, Grammarly has a free plan that works well as a spellchecker online via its browser extensions or as a Word plugin. However, there is also a premium version of the service, which can help you check tone, sentence variability, and make sure you aren’t inadvertently plagiarising online content.

Grammarly Achievements

  • Pros – It’s hard to beat free and is great for catching things like passive voice, incorrect punctuation, or misused homonyms in your daily writing. Plus, Grammarly sends out weekly progress reports telling you fun things like how unique your vocabulary is or how long you’ve kept your writing streak going which is great for staying motivated.
  • Cons – It’s much better suited for shorter business or online writing than creative long-form writing as it requires you to disable features like track changes in Word to operate.

ProWritingAid

ProWritingAid is another editing tool you can download and run as a plug-in with Word or Scrivener to check your writing or to check your writing online using its browser extension. Like Grammarly, its Chrome extension is free, however, in my opinion, its paid features, like its overused, cliche, echo, and consistency reports are well worth signing up for the premium version if you are a novelist.

prowritingaid reports

  • Pros – I can’t even begin to describe how much time this tool has helped me save looking for things like a missing quotation mark at the end of dialogue and identifying my clutch words and phrases. It is also more stable than Grammarly in certain web forms.
  • Cons – The plug-in for Word doesn’t always load correctly the first time, which has caused me to shut down Word and re-open my file on a semi-regular basis. In addition, the reports it runs can be somewhat overwhelming and do take a while to complete a check for a full manuscript.

Fictionary

Full disclosure, I am somewhat biased as I was invited to help test an early version of Fictionary, but I absolutely love what this program has to offer (they’ve also added a ton of extra features since then). Unlike all the other tools in this list, which I consider more copy-editing software, Fictionary is designed to help you automate a development edit.

To use it, all you have to do is upload your manuscript and tag where your plot points are located. Fictionary will then tell you if your pacing is too fast or too slow with a graphical representation of the story arc. It can also help point out things that can help strengthen your story like are the five senses represented in each scene of your writing, has a character gone missing from the story, or are you varying your openings and closings enough to keep your reader interested.

Fictionary Story Arc
graphical representation of the story arc from Fictionary.com

  • Pros – While I still put more stock in beta reader feedback than I do a computer program, allowed me to perform a proactive developmental edit before I risked my reputation or burdened advance readers with a two-dimensional story.
  • Cons – Fictionary advertises that it can help you evaluate and revise your manuscript against 38 story elements. This sounds like a pro, until you are actually ready to make all those edits. If you are a pantser rather than plotter, you may not have had a goal for each scene in mind related to the overall plot or may have included scenes you loved to write, but don’t serve any purpose. Tagging all these elements in the software can be overwhelming as well as time-consuming. It’s also not free, which is understandable given its value but does offer a free trial.

Hemingway App

The Hemingway App, also known as the Hemingway Editor is offered as either a online editing tool or as a desktop app designed around making your prose more like Ernest Hemingway’s. That is to say, it will help your writing get right to the point, which is clearly something I need more help with. The tool highlights sentences that it deems too long, identifies adverbs that are keeping you from showing rather than telling, and warns you about passive voice, and gives you a readability score which can help you better connect with your target audience.

HemingwayApp

  • Pros – The free online tool loads quickly and features easy to interpret color codes which change in real-time as you edit your copy. The paid desktop version also lets you publish directly to WordPress and Medium, making it a great editing option for serialized stories.
  • Cons – Not everyone is a fan of Ernest Hemingway’s style of writing. Was I forced to read 127 pages about an old man trying to reel in a marlin? Yes, I was. Did I enjoy it? No, I did not. Also, it does not integrate directly into other word processing programs, meaning you can use it to tweak your copy, but then will need to export it to Word, text, or PDF before you can do anything with it.

EditMinion

Before I bit the bullet and purchased the premium version of ProWritingAid, I used EditMinion to help polish up my work before sending it out for a professional edit. EditMinion is a completely free online editing program, that helps identify cliche phrases, passive voice, adverbs, and missing dialogue tags. However, it relies on copy and paste, and can only check a chapter of your text at a time.

EditMinion

  • Pros – It’s simple and you can’t beat the price point. Also, because there is absolutely nothing to download, you don’t risk corrupting your files or crashing other applications.
  • Cons – Copying and pasting each chapter one by one into the program can feel agonizingly slow, especially when you feel like you are so close to the literary finish line you can practically taste it. The tool also does not help your writing outside of the app or let you know if you have accidentally misspelled a character name. As a result, I use it when I need a second opinion but rely on the other products for heavier edits.

I am delighted to report I have reached the end of an editing project yet again and will be releasing my fifth full-length novel, Lies and Legacy: Project Gene Assist Book 3 to the general public in March 2020. You can read more about this series by visiting my Project Gene Assist book page, or by visiting your favorite online retailer to pre-order a copy.

Project Gene Assist Series Banner

5 Alternatives to Vellum, or How I Spent My Weekend

5 Alternatives to Vellum - www.alliepottswrites.comVellum. It’s not just for illuminated scrolls. For those of you not in the self-publishing world, or those newer to book formatting, Vellum is also a popular software option that helps magically transform your manuscript from a document processing file into something the non-publishing world might call a book. (This post includes affiliate links)

I know plenty of authors who basically describe it as the bee’s knees when it comes to formatting your book. But what if you are allergic to bees? What do you do then? I say that as a bit of a joke, however as Vellum is limited to Mac users and isn’t cheap to use, it isn’t for everyone. Nor is the entire process of book formatting for that matter, but that is an entirely different subject.

So what is an author intent on publishing a new book to do?

I’m glad you asked as I have recently spent far too many hours getting An Uncertain Confidence ready for its upcoming publication date by experimenting with Vellum alternatives offering formatted files I could then take to a professional printer.

Microsoft Word

This has been my trusted go-to method of getting my books in shape as it allows me to tweak font sizes, add decorative flourishes, and basically customize my book’s size and content any way I see fit. However, Word has an annoying habit of inserting blank pages, “helpfully” adjusting page numbers, and text can be overly stretched with funky spaces between the words if you don’t know some of the advanced tricks.

  • Pros – High degree of control
  • Cons – Takes forever and a day if you don’t know what you’re doing, or haven’t written your entire manuscript with Word formatting in mind (i.e. you didn’t take advantage of Word ‘styles’) and may just drive an author to drink.

Adobe InDesign

InDesign offers a lot of the same customization capability of Word, which can help your book stand out from the competition (caution – this isn’t necessarily a good thing). It also does a better job handling the space between words on the page, making your book look cleaner and more professional. However, this is another option that takes time to master and InDesign isn’t cheap.

  • Pros – Improved readability compared to Word in terms of text spacing. Much easier to control pesky things like blank pages and funky page numbers
  • Cons – it’s an Adobe product, which means a steep learning curve and a high price tag though there is a free trial option.

Scrivener

Scrivener is a word processing and story organization tool specifically designed for books. You can copy and paste your manuscript from another word processor into the software, or import it depending on the file type, and export the Scrivener version as a print-ready PDF. However, it is probably far easier to write the entire project in the software from the get-go. While Scrivener is designed for print books, it also has a partnership with Vellum if you prefer their templates over Scrivener’s offerings provided you are willing to pay the price for both services.

  • Pros – Super easy to export your complete manuscript into a print-ready pdf
  • Cons – The product works best when you write your manuscript from end to end in the tool rather than try to import it from another processing program, and doesn’t offer the same level of customization in your book’s format as offered by Word or InDesign (once again, this is not necessarily a bad thing as some people can’t handle the awesome power that is font selection).

Reedsy

In addition to editing, Reedsy includes a free book formatting service. All you have to do is copy and paste your manuscript into its online user interface, designate elements of your book like chapter name or section separator, select a book size, and a theme. It also is partnered with Blurb, which is a print on demand service, making it easy to print your book once it has been formatted.

  • Pros – Easy to use with a price that’s hard to beat. It even inserts back matter pages for you like your social media links, description (with images) of your other books, and a note about how people can join your mailing list.
  • Cons – You have to copy and paste each chapter one by one, which is time-consuming, and you are limited to three themes and three book sizes. Also, you don’t get your formatted file right away, though I only had to wait for a few minutes before I received the email saying my book was ready.

Outsource it

Of course, you also have the option to outsource book formatting if, unlike me, you are a sensible person who would like to actually spend time with your family or friends on the weekends (or be working on your next book) rather than seated in front of a computer screen waiting for swirling wheels or flipping hourglasses to say your file is ready.

  • Pros – You keep your weekends
  • Cons – You have to trust that your formatter knows what they are doing and, if you find that edits are required in your final proof, it can start getting costly.

But in the end, no matter which path you choose, holding that end product in your hands for the first time is always worth the hassle. Trust me.

Books by Allie Potts - www.alliepottswrites.com
and then there were four…

Reedsy and the editorial quest, part three: the final update

Reedsy and the quest for an editorial partner - www.alliepottswrites.com part three

The following is the final installment in my hunt for the elusive editorial partner for my WIP using Reedsy. For those not familiar with the service, Reedsy, a database of freelance professionals with a focus on the publishing industry.

This post contains affiliate links.

As of last week’s update, I’d received three responses to my project brief. One editor wasn’t taking on new projects at this time, one editor didn’t have availability until closer to the end of the year, and another had availability, but the work would cost more than I was hoping to spend. However, I still had two more responses to go.

Suddenly this whole series of posts I’d intended as a fun way to share some of the challenges, but mostly the benefits, of being an indie author, wasn’t quite so fun.

I received another quote from a potential editor. The price was still higher than I originally was targeting for this project, however, her proposal also included a long list of testimonials relevant to my project. Not only that, but many of the authors listed had the word ‘bestseller’ attached to their name.

This editor had been my long shot when I’d been scrolling through Reedsy’s marketplace profiles. I’d had to get over my ever-present imposter syndrome to even send my request for proposal, and yet not only had she submitted a quote, she’d taken the time to tailor it to me. I’ll admit, I got a little starry-eyed at the thought of what we could do together.

The only problem was her quote hadn’t included a sample edit, though one was offered if requested. As much as the creative dreamer in me wanted to accept her quote, the more logical, business-minded side of my brain took over. Even with the testimonials, the quoted price was too risky to accept without seeing an example of her working style.

I also still hadn’t heard back from the fifth editor, though it was past the date I’d specified for responses. Things were starting to look grim.

I responded to editor number four, taking her up on her offer for the sample edit. It meant I’d have to wait longer before I could make my final decision, which meant less time for me to get it ready for publication following editorial feedback, but I was running out of options.

A day passed without an update. Then another day more. I started getting an uneasy feeling in my stomach about this entire process.

Then something lovely happened. People who had been reading my updates over the past few weeks reached out, offering direct assistance, or referring me to their preferred editorial service providers.

Suddenly, I went from having one option, to more than one fitting my schedule as well as my budget. This means, *fingers crossed* my project just may find its way to print yet.

Reedsy Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • It is easy to find a number of editors based on your genre who have several years of industry experience
  • It offers a fast and streamlined proposal process, giving you the ability to contact multiple editors all at once.
  • You aren’t required to sign up with anyone if the bids you receive aren’t in line with your expectations
  • Reedsy takes care of all the payment processing, which can protect your banking details and only includes editors who have been verified
  • Cons:
    • There is no way to filter potential editors by estimated cost or availability, which can cost everyone their time
      Reedsy’s marketplace vetting system requires editors have a certain level of experience, which makes it more difficult for authors using the service to identify and connect to hungrier or less experienced (aka lower-cost) professionals

    The final verdict

    Overall, I think Reedsy is a service with great potential and provides a value to self-published writers who want to employ the same professionals as those who follow the more traditional publishing route. That being said, it may be cost-prohibitive for authors who don’t have a backlist of profitable titles or those who aren’t backed by a successful crowd-funding campaign.

    While I will likely give it another try in the future, I think I’ll wait until I have a new series opener so there is the greatest potential return. Until then, the never-ending quests continues.

    To those who reached out, thank you so much for your comments and support. When (not if) this book is finally released, please know I couldn’t have done it without you.

    Reedsy and the editorial quest, part two: the initial response

    Reedsy and the quest for an editorial partner - www.alliepottswrites.com
    part two

    Last week I announced I was once again on the hunt for the elusive editorial partner for my WIP. The following is the results of my experience with Reedsy, a database of freelance professionals with a focus on the publishing industry.

    This post contains affiliate links.

    Using Reedsy’s filters and resulting profiles as a guide, I submitted a brief summary of An Uncertain Confidence to five potential editors. In my brief, I made sure to include a deadline for when I would like responses back as well as my manuscripts first few pages.

    I suppose I could have picked any part of my manuscript for sampling, but I figured it made the most sense to send the beginning as those pages will also be the most important for attracting would-be readers in the coming weeks and therefore, need to be as polished as possible.

    I received my first response within a day of hitting the send button and nervously hit open.

    She wouldn’t be able to meet the schedule as defined in my brief but was willing to provide a quote if I had some flexibility. I did the math in my head. If I said yes, I might as well say no to publishing this year. It was an option, to be sure, but not one I was comfortable with, especially knowing I had four more responses to go.

    I declined her offer but left the door open for future collaboration as I appreciated how quick and professional she was in her response.

    The next day I received my second response. It was a no-bid with an explanation that the editor was not taking on new projects at this time. It was disappointing but understandable. At this time, Reedsy offered to send my bid out to additional freelancers if I so choose.

    Just as I was beginning to feel like an idiot for not lining up my editor in advance, I received the third response, and this time it was a quote. I hit the open button.

    I might have been more prepared to expect had I read a recent Reedsy blog post on the costs of self-publishing before I’d sent my brief.

    On the positive side, she’d included a sample edit of my early pages, was professional, and supportive. It was easy to envision how much better my writing would become as a result. However, it was the kind of price that forces you to have a serious heart-to-heart with yourself about your book baby and its potential for return on investment.

    There’s still a chance, I told myself, staring at my response dashboard like a person playing a game of Russian Roulette. I still have a few more bids to go.

    To be continued …