Cara Langston


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Evernote for Writers

evernoteforwriters

Today I’m going to talk about my love affair with Evernote, the note-taking application. Outside of Safari/Chrome, Microsoft Office, and Dropbox, it’s one of my most frequently used programs. I have notes for personal use, such as my vintage china pattern names, my Macbook serial number, adjusted recipes, and genealogy notes. But for the most part, I use Evernote as a complement to my writing.

Here’s why I think Evernote is a great tool for writers:

1.  Brainstorming notes, research, and to-do lists are in one place

In Evernote, you create notebooks which hold notes. I have a notebook for each novel I’m working on, as well as an overall “Publishing” notebook. My novel-related notebooks include notes for:

  • Brainstorms and outlines–this is where I talk myself through difficult chapters and outline any upcoming scenes
  • Research–notes on each research topic, links, any creative liberties I’ve made to historical fact, etc.
  • Character profiles–background, dates, relationships, inspiration photos
  • To-do lists–mainly, things to change in the next draft
  • Outtakes–where large swaths of deleted paragraphs reside

Evernote-Novel

On the publishing end of the spectrum, I track blog posts, facial/body expression lists, writing expenses, editing lists, my author biography, weird grammar rules I never remember, and any interviews I’ve done.

Evernote-Publishing

And all of it is in one place, backed up by the cloud!

2.  Access across various devices

I have Evernote installed on my iPhone, my work laptop, my Macbook, and my iPad.

You know that moment when you’re just about to fall asleep and suddenly a plot point pops into your head and there’s no way you’ll remember it tomorrow if you don’t write it down? We’ve all been there. If you have Evernote installed on your phone, you only need to open the app, type your a-ha! moment, and snooze peacefully. The next day, it’ll be accessible anywhere, whether you’re writing during your lunch break at work or all Saturday at home.

Note: Also useful for brilliant realizations while drinking with friends.

3.  No need for pen and paper

I know many writers prefer pen and paper, and if that’s you, you can keep on doing what you’re doing. But there are some of us in the world who aren’t great writers (in the physical sense of the word). I have decent handwriting, but scrawling words on paper hurts my hand after a while. Plus, as a millennial, I’ve been typing since I was in middle school. I’m excellent at typing, not as much at writing, so Evernote works better for me than a real notebook.

Additionally, I like the freedom an electronic notebook gives me. Do I want to switch the order of my chapters? I only need to cut and paste my outline into a new position and voila–it’s in order. Do I want to change a character name halfway through the first draft? Replace it in the notes instead of scratching it out on paper. Easy peasy.

 

Evernote is a freemium product, so the basic functionality costs nothing. I pay $24.95 a year for the Plus version, mainly so I have offline access–perfect for brainstorming on airplanes!

Now that I’ve gushed about Evernote (for free, since this is definitely not a sponsored post), I will say there could be some improvements. I wish they had advanced formatting options, like table shading and different highlight colors. To be fair, I’m one of those Microsoft Office geeks who uses Excel spreadsheets, formulas, and conditional formatting on a daily basis. Evernote doesn’t quite get there, and perhaps that’s for the best. But for it’s primary note-taking purpose, it’s a very useful tool I don’t know how I could live without.

So tell me: Am I missing any other amazing writing applications?

I’ve heard a lot about Scrivener, but haven’t tried it because I sometimes write at work, and MS Word is best in that environment, where I can make it look like I’m doing something work-related. 🙂


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Why I don’t read my reviews

A few years ago, I found an amazing Twitter account called Don’t Read Comments (@AvoidComments). It was a great reminder of what reading the comments section of blogs, news articles, etc. can do to your psyche. Surely we’ve all been there: A certain politician says something controversial. A certain celebrity makes anti-vaccination claims. A certain bill goes to the House floor. You read the article and suddenly find yourself scrolling down to the comments section. What are other people thinking? Is my stance in the majority or the minority? This almost always ends badly, especially for more controversial issues. I get angry by what I feel to be an ignorant comment, and the outrage fuels me to keep reading other people’s opinions until my once good mood has been obliterated.

I feel the same way about reading reviews of my writing.

Right before I published Battle Hymns last year, I was so excited! My novel that took over five years to complete was finally going to debut. Then I sent it to reviewers for my blog tour, and that excitement transformed into anxiety (I’m an anxious person already, so Spring 2014 was an interesting time for me). What if it was terrible? What if no one else ever wanted to read it? I forced myself to read the reviews from professional reviewers, and by and large, they were positive, 3-4 stars. It eased some of my concerns over whether or not I was an awful writer.

Since then, though, I’ve read my reviews only a couple of times. I haven’t checked Goodreads in 7+ months. If I have to go into my Author Dashboard for whatever reason, I literally cover the rating with the palm of my hand. My mother asked me to buy a couple of my books on Amazon and sign them for her friends, and I almost refused because I didn’t want to see what my Amazon reviews looked like (I did it in the end, and it hasn’t changed–a few 4-star reviews, which I’m more than happy with right now). I also will not Google myself.

Advantages to reading your reviews:

  • If any criticism is constructive, you can obviously try to fix whatever didn’t work
  • If you prepare yourself, you can note your physical symptoms upon first viewing bad reviews and use them in your writing. My palms grow sweaty. My stomach plunges. My head begins to spin a bit. So I definitely know how to write anxiety into my fictional characters

Disadvantages to reading your reviews:

  • Your self-confidence can plummet, which makes writing difficult when you doubt yourself
  • You’ll never be able to change what people think
  • Not everyone will like what you write; tastes will always differ
  • If you ever become a popular writer, you won’t be able to read all your reviews anyway; why start now?

To me, the disadvantages win out over the advantages, especially when I’m writing something new. It’s more important right now that I get through the second draft of my WIP without self-doubt than it is to know what strangers think of my first novel. And when I do finally check those reviews, I’ll be halfway through a bottle of wine 🙂


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WIP Update!

I FINISHED MY FIRST DRAFT YESTERDAY!

I went into the weekend with four chapters partially written. On Saturday, I finished the first two pretty easily. And then on Sunday, with only two chapters and ~2,000 words left, a weird (or not so weird) thing happened: I didn’t want to finish my first draft.

For the past 13 months, I’ve pushed off certain problems with the story. “Cara, don’t worry about it now. This is a first draft. You can figure it out later.” And now later has arrived. It’s terrifying.

I procrastinated. I did four loads of laundry, finished my Christmas shopping, wrapped all the gifts and put them under the tree. But eventually I forced myself back in front of my laptop because I needed to finish the first draft over the weekend, before the holidays and before my parents come into town for a full week (no writing will get done then). So with great reluctance I eked out the final two chapters.

Now what?

  1. Second draft, focusing on inconsistencies, plot changes, and expanding emotion/description. I’ll also take a first pass at going through my writing weaknesses checklist
  2. Send second draft to my fabulous beta reader and hope she doesn’t think it’s awful
  3. Think about themes, etc.
  4. Re-write blurb
  5. Try writing a synopsis (there’s a first time for everything)
  6. See what my beta reader says and make any necessary adjustments

I’ll stop the list there. If I get too far ahead of myself, I may have a panic attack.

Happy holidays to those celebrating!

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Early 20th Century Anachronisms

It is a truth universally acknowledged that writing can be a pain in the ass. Sure, it’s rewarding and sometimes the thought, “I can get some writing done today,” is the only thing that gets me out of bed in the morning. But writing as a whole can be very difficult. I don’t think anyone would disagree with me on that. And if you’re writing historical fiction, add another layer of complexity, because in addition to developing your characters, creating a thrilling plot, making it unpredictable and original, you also have to veer away from anachronisms.

I have two novels, one set in 1941-1943 and one in 1925, and I’ll venture to say that the early 20th century is both one of the easiest and most difficult periods to write about. It’s easy in that it’s modern, there’s a plethora of information, and you can still find first-hand accounts on the time period. But it can also be the most difficult because you begin to assume modernity as you write.  I find myself assuming various everyday terminology/products existed, when in fact they didn’t.

Catching anachronisms in my work is the primary reason I have such a weird Google search history. So what if I’m looking at the Wikipedia page for popsicles? I need to know when they existed!

People who lived before 1950 had telephones, escalators, automobiles, cameras, and boxes of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese! But do you know what they didn’t have?

  • Teenagers – Though the word technically existed in the 1940s, it wasn’t widely used until the 1950. Think bobbysoxers and Gidget. Before that, they were known as adolescents or youths. [Insert “The New Girl” Schmidt meme here]
  • Rosemary – Do you want your pre-1950 character to be an avid gardener? Why wouldn’t she have the most awesome herb garden ever, with sage and rosemary and thyme? I can think of some delicious recipes she can make! I just discovered this last week and it really made me angry, but although the herbs were widely used in colonial times, they completely lost their popularity until a resurgence the 1960s. In fact, if you look at any cookbooks from the 1920s, there are almost no spices in the recipes. The horror!
  • Sunscreen – In the 21st century, sunscreen has become part of our daily routine, at least for those of us young women who want to avoid wrinkles for as long as possible. But sunscreen wasn’t invented until the 1920s, and even though there were some commercial brands sold during World War II and the late 1940s, usage didn’t become widespread until much later.
  • Girlfriends & boyfriends – As much as I loathe this term as an adult, it’s an apt description for youthful romantic partners. But like “teenager” it wasn’t really used much until the 1950s. Before that, you have to use words like “beau” which almost feels too old-fashioned (picture Gone With The Wind) for the 1940s.
  • Markers – The felt-tipped writing utensil used by children and adults everywhere to draw mustaches on photographs was originally patented in 1910. But they weren’t commonplace until the late 1950s. Alas, my 1925 character cannot mark out words in a document using a marker; she has to use a fountain pen, which seems like really messy work.
  • Fleece – People from an older generation might know this, but for those of born in the 1980s, fleece has always existed! It’s ingrained in our being! But it turns out the synthetic material that makes a lot of our robes, slippers, and scarves wasn’t invented until 1979. Don’t let your 1940s character wear a fleece robe, like I tried to do in a first draft somewhere.

I’m sure there are plenty of others, but these are the six I’ve found during my writing endeavors that I could easily recall. Maybe I’ll update with more as I discover them!


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WIP Wednesday: 11/26/14

Happy Thanksgiving Eve to my fellow Americans, and Happy Wednesday to everyone else!

Including today's date means I need to post today

It’s been three weeks since my last WIP Wednesday post. I meant to post on Nov. 12th and then on Nov. 19th but I kept pushing it off, telling myself that I hadn’t made enough progress on my writing to warrant an update. What can I say? I’m a fantastic procrastinator! So I got into work this morning (I’m one of very few who haven’t taken the day off) and sketched a turkey with today’s date. I will write and post an update today . . . because I don’t want to redraw that turkey and let this one go to waste. Now for the update:

I have FINALLY hit my stride on finishing the first draft of this novel. I have 7 more chapters to finish, but the remainder is starting to seem manageable and not overwhelming. For example, I know how the story will end and I think I’ve managed to create enough tension throughout the last part to drive the plot home. There are still, however, some loose ends I’ll have to figure out before I can call the first draft complete, like figuring out what the hell I want to do for an epilogue. I briefly considered ending it without an epilogue in an attempt to be edgy or something. Then I remembered that if I were the reader, I’d be really pissed off without some sort of closure. There are also some subplots I haven’t fleshed out enough, but I’ll leave those for the 2nd draft.

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The graph above depicts my writing progress over the past month, the line being the cumulative word count and the bars each day’s addition. Have I mentioned I’m an Excel dork yet? I think I have.

With the upcoming holiday, I’m hoping to have the time and inspiration to add to this even more. No Black Friday shopping for me–I’ll be writing! There’s also no incentive grand enough to force me into that craziness . . .


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WIP Wednesday: 11/5/14

I’ve decided to start blogging my writing progress because–well, why the hell not? I have nothing else to blog about. I fear blogging about my writing may be too boring for the average reader, but it’s better than not blogging at all, right? Even if no one reads this or cares, perhaps it will keep me accountable on my WIP.

I’m about 55,000 words into the first draft of THE GLASSMAKER’S WIFE. I started writing this story almost 1 year ago (I remember because it was right after I returned from my honeymoon). That’s a long time to write only 55,000 words. But as I often have to remind myself when I start to feel like a lackluster author, quality over quantity. I’d rather slowly write something I love than crank out three first drafts a year.

So here’s my progress for the past week (plus a couple days):

Monday: 1 word. I added “bricked” to a description of the house.
Tuesday: 401 words, despite writing for over 3 hours. This chapter is giving me problems.
Wednesday: 138 words
Thursday: 49 words
Friday: 295 words
Saturday:
26 words
Sunday:
441 words, but I did finish my problem chapter! We can move on to a slightly more exciting chapter now.
Monday: 0 words. Productive day at work.
Tuesday: 1,547 words. Finally hit my stride and finished another chapter!

I’ve become obsessed with tracking my word count in Excel, as you can see below. I personally think it’s a nice visual representation of my progress. It also shows me which chapters I’m actively working on (in blue) and provides a forecasted word count based on my average chapter length. That’s the Excel nerd in me.

WordCountTracking2

And because I should start doing this, here’s an excerpt from the WIP. Remember, it’s only a first draft!

Out of spite, Eva slid the green dress from its hanger in her wardrobe. If Arthur wanted her to wear something nicer, she’d wear the dress from their honeymoon.

She changed into the frock. It fit her now, at twenty-five, the same as it had when she was seventeen. By 1925, the style was considered old-fashioned with its high neckline, full sleeves, and a skirt that fell to her ankles. But Arthur disapproved of the new fashions of the twenties—the lack of sleeves, the low backs, and the baring of shins. She wasn’t sure if it was the fashion he disapproved of most, or the type of women who wore them.


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Q&A with Pittsburgh Historical Fiction Examiner

Kayla Posner was kind enough to reach out and ask me to answer several historical-fiction-related questions for the Pittsburgh Historical Fiction Examiner. A ton of authors have answered a similar survey, but it still made me feel pretty legitimate. 🙂

Link to full article here.

Cara Langston, author of “Battle Hymns” answers 10 questions about her favorite time period in history, her favorite figures from history, and the age old question of coffee or tea.

1. If you could go back in time and be any figure from history, who would it be?

Amelia Earhart. She traveled to so many places and did so many exciting things! Plus, my husband has turned me into a bit of an aviation geek. But can I stop being her just before she disappears?

2. What year in history would you have liked to live in?

As much as I love the idea of experiencing Colonial America or Regency England, I am fully aware of how terrible life usually was for women back then, so I’m going to choose a more modern time. I’d pick the late 1910s in America and be a suffragette!

3. You’re having a dinner party and you can invite 5 people from history, who would they be?

Amelia Earhart, Eleanor Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, Queen Victoria, and the Duchess of Cambridge (she’s a historical person in the making).

4. What castle from the past or present would you like to live in?

Neuschwanstein. I’ve never been to Germany, but the surrounding mountains look gorgeous in photos.

5. Two fellow historical fiction authors you’d like to go on a history themed tour of the world with?

Diana Gabaldon (I read all 8 “Outlander” books this summer, so that story is still at the front of my thoughts) and, for my love of the English monarchy, Philippa Gregory. She must know almost everything after writing so many books!

6. Who was more dashing and interesting, King Henry VIII of England or King Louis XIV of France?

I have to admit I’m not very familiar with King Louis XIV of France… I had to Google him to remember which Louis he was! So he’s obviously not my answer. I suppose King Henry VIII of England, then, if only because I enjoyed watching Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ character in “The Tudors.”

7. Which of the six wives of King Henry VIII is your favorite?

Anne of Cleves, because I can trace my genealogy back to the Von Kleves, and I have to support my 14th great grand aunt!

8. English monarchy or French monarchy?

English monarchy. I haven’t read enough about the French monarchy. Maybe I should start!

9. What three novels could you read over and over?

“Les Miserables”,” Gone With The Wind”, and “Night”.

10. Tea or coffee when writing?

Both! Coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon, and while we’re at it, red wine in the evenings.