My Top 3 Writing Shortcuts–get ready to change everything!
Too busy to get your book down? Thinking you’ve got to get organized first? Don’t kid yourself. Chances are the piles of crap in your office and those unfinished to-do lists will still be there by year’s end… in 2026!
Since it’s not gonna happen for you—being “ready” to sit down all zen-like and caught up and all (sorry to be so nego, I suppose it could happen, in an alternate dimension)—don’t you think it’s time to make magic happen anyway? Everyone who loves you knows your book’s long overdue and it’s time to make some serious headway or quit talking about it already (no, don’t quit… that’ll make you really grumpy and no good to anyone and that’s a really bad idea).
That’s why today’s your lucky day, seriously, because I’ve some time-tested rescue tools to make it easier and much faster for you to finish your book. Believe me when I say these babies have transformed my experience as a writer. Oh, that’s easy for her to say, you could be thinking. She’s a professional. She’s written bestsellers in twelve weeks. While that’s true, I’m happy to debunk any images of perfection you may have of us writers and admit that it’s often haphazard and discombobulated, our process. I think it’s safe to say that I’ve only written one book fully organized (my first one, before the word “deadline” started haunting my dreams).
Since then, my office has often looked more like the floor of the Stock Exchange on Black Friday than the serene place it once was. Plus, I’ve had to take crazy on the road with me, writing at the bedside of sickies at the hospital, from my car during a fire evacuation, at Starbucks when my Internet was out and I was so cold my teeth were chattering (what’s the deal with having to wear a parka in a coffee shop, anyway—to get you to buy more hot bevs?).
But not anymore. Life’s infinitely easier these days. (Full disclosure… the kid’s grown and my parents are dead, so my son no longer cries for “mama milk” and my mom and dad can’t die again, which is helpful, because that seriously sucked.) So, other than that, what’s my secret? What tricks have I got up my sleeve? Drumroll, please… My-Top-3-Writing-Shortcuts-For-Harried-Writers-To-Help-You-Get-Your-Book-Done-No-Matter-What-Crazy-Shit’s-Going-On-In-Or-Around-You tools…
And, by the way, I don’t get one penny (or even a corporate pat on the back) for endorsing any of these things. Just sharin’ the love + the gold (or a way for you to make the gold, which brings in more love).
Writing Shortcut Tool #1: Scrivener—this is a weird-sounding $45 writing program (for Macs + Windows) that will knock you out of your chair—and finally help you make sense of those racing thoughts in your crowded brain and jamming your files. Never again will you have to search endlessly for a chapter or note in a Word file or a research article or a PDF or a video or audio file you’ve misplaced or put somewhere on your totally chaotic desktop. Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE Word docs. Have about a zillion of them. But there’s a better way to find + organize stuff (and you can use this in conjunction with your Word docs!)
I first learned about Scrivener at one of my retreats and immediately saw the organizational benefits and fell hard. Love at first write. Since then, every time I show my retreat girls how I organize my book projects, the reaction is unanimous. It’s as close to orgasmic as anything we offer in Carmel… well, maybe except what Jennifer, my chef, has in her hot little hands when she carries in a tray of her crème brulee with burnt marshmallow topping.
Aside from that, the women have been known to scream when they see Scrivener in action. I’ve honestly had ladies download the software right there, start copying their files into the binder and cry to me, and to each other, saying it’s the single best thing that’s ever happened to their creativity. (Never mind that I’m standing right there thinking, Hey, but what about me? Ha.)
If you haven’t already, check it out. (The photo here shows their cork board—so flippin’ cool—but there are so many other incredible features.) There’s a learning curve for sure. You’re not going to understand it in an hour, or maybe even a day. But watch the tutorials when you have time, download it, make copies of your precious Word docs and then cut and paste and start to play with them. It’s easy once you get the hang of it (or can see someone already using it) and will be worth taking the time to learn how to use this magical, magical program. Promise.
You’re welcome, my friend.
It’s Sunday and I’m sleepy after feasting on leftover Halloween candies Larry left on the counter while I was gone in Carmel. It’s no bueno to walk into your house after five hours in the car only to see 500 pieces of chocolate (100 for each hour) staring you in the famished face. Bad Larry. Very bad Larry.
I was too lazy this morning from last night’s binge to write today’s blog, but was also aching to share these tips. So, I did what I always do when I’m working on a deadline and the words are coming in fast ‘n furious and yet I can’t sit down at a computer: I whip out my phone and do something I can rally for (in this case walk Miss Merry, my toy poodle—who desperately needed to pee) while rambling into my phone and “writing” this blog at the same time. Mama loves to multitask, ya’ll.
A bit of an aside, and a word to the wise: once you’ve decided to start your book and you’re taking it seriously—maybe you’ve said a prayer about it, done a ritual where you’re asking God to help you get out of the way and/or clear your schedule, or you’ve committed to taking a half hour every morning to write or use your lunch hour at work—your unconscious sees that you mean business and inundates you with ideas that were never there before. That’s especially the case when you commit to a writing group or to show things to others.
Case in point: Mercedes. A professional surfer from Argentina who lives in Hawaii and coaches folks in creating Abundance, and joined us in Carmel last week. On Thursday morning, unbeknownst to us, she stopped working on her book to tell her peeps in her blog about how when she recently committed to write her book she was suddenly writing like a fiend, which brought her to Carmel on the heels of some unexpected magical happenings. In taking a stand for her art, she got snippets of ideas and full downloads often, and often at inopportune times. Isn’t that always the case? (She also got a random, last-minute shipment of free luggage and a jacket from her sponsor, Patagonia, something she hadn’t ordered, just perfect for the flight + fog of Carmel).
Here’s the cool thing about Voice memos. Mercedes, like the rest of us, has her phone with her most everywhere she goes (except, I imagine, on the big waves). She now knows that instead of thinking, “Oh, I’ll remember this and write it down later” (please no!) or, “That’s just a little thought, that’s no big idea,” she can trust the timing of those insights and get them down in the moment on her phone before they’re gone. She knows that she’s being inspired, no matter how small the thought, and that she’ll be able to string those little thoughts together later.
Once you start talking into your phone for a while, you’re going to find that you have a LOT of good, usable book material. Sure, you’ll discard some thoughts, but others will feel practically done from start to finish and you’ll amaze yourself with the quality and quantity of your output.
Then what? I’m still waiting for a voice recognition software I love. In the meantime, I either transcribe those snippets myself (like I did with my blog notes a few minutes ago) or have it transcribed somewhere fabulous (see point #3). Also, remember to synch your Voice Memos to your computer so you have another copy somewhere (I had the genius guy at Apple fix my settings so that mine automatically go into the cloud—don’t ask me how—so that they’re all on all of my devises). You can also email them to yourself if they’re not too long.
There are other voice recording programs too, some are easier than others to label/use. So do a little research and see what works best for you.
Writing Shortcut Tool #3: Transcription. I LOVE coming home from a trip where I’ve talked into my phone in the car, only to email those mp3 files over to Verbalink Transcription services to have their nimble typists bring my rambling words to life on the page. If I’ve got a big meeting coming up, I’ve been known to place a rush order and receive 10,000 words the next day. No kidding. I’ve used other great transcription services, but most can rarely deliver the next day. Verbalink is the best way I’ve found to keep up my momentum and ensure that those timely ideas aren’t forgotten or misplaced.
These folks are ethical and fast and inexpensive. I have them send me Word docs (that I then copy and paste into my Scrivener) that are remarkably typo free. I’m sure you can find less expensive transcribers if you send your files overseas, but I doubt you’ll ever find them free of errors. Besides, they’re located in Santa Monica, CA, and I like to support local + American businesses, so I prefer to keep it close to home.
Wow. Okay. Shaved a bunch of words off this post in an attempt to start keepin’ it shorter. Phew. Hope today’s tips help you as much as they’ve helped me. More where they came from. And, take a moment to leave me a comment and let me/us know any shortcuts you use.
Now it’s time for mama to ingest more caffeinated chocolate (with celery, of course). Or take a nap.
P.S. My thoughts + prayers are with our East Coast friends (including a few clients in negotiations with NY publishers—crossing all available digits). A few of those who were going to join us at my home in Lake Arrowhead this coming weekend have had to change their travel plans. I’m available to speak with anyone who’d like to join us and shortcut his or her process. (323) 769-5153
“Thank you for a whole new WOW! I had two big wows in the first two days in Carmel about my book, and then a million other ones.” ~Karen Misbach, novelist + lawyer, Richmond, VA