My Favorite Pen

image of Pentel Energel Alloy gel pen

So nice, I bought it twice.

I’d like to tell you about my new favorite pen.

I’ve written before about how I sketch, plot, and outline my stories using notebooks. Up until a few months ago, I’d never given much thought to what I used to write in them. That all changed when I met the Pentel EnerGel Alloy.

I ran out of crappy old ballpoint pens in my home office. Rather than just running to the pharmacy and grabbing another pack of blue&whites for $3, I thought about getting something I could refill. I knew that refillable pens could be expensive, but a quick search online showed the Alloy as the highest-rated refillable pen for under $10.

I was able to snag one at my local office supply store for around $8, with a 2-pack of .05 (fine point) refills for about $3. Overall, a good deal. Price isn’t the reason I fell in love with it though.

If you’ve never bothered to try writing with a nice pen, I HIGHLY recommend you give it a shot. It feels great, especially during extended sessions. I’ve used countless pens throughout the years both at home and work, and these are the features that have me enamored enough with this thing to write a blog post about it.

Weight & Balance

The weight and heft of the Alloy is great. It’s actually made of metal as its name implies, and you can tell. It feels incredibly sturdy, and the texture feels great on your fingers. The extra weight also gives it a nice balance as you write with it.

Ink & “Write-a-bility”

I totally just made the term “write-a-bility” up, because I could think of anything better. A big reason I chose this was the note on the package that said “No smudging. Even lefties love it!”

In a cruel twist of fate, the universe made me left-handed. It’s one of the reasons I generally avoid gel pens and pencils. Pentel was making a bold promise, but they actually delivered. They’ve designed a gel pen that even me and my cursed brethren can use without getting our backwards hands coated with shiny black ink. For this, they have a lifelong customer.

Price Point

I said price wasn’t the only determining factor, but it definitely a role in my decision. Seriously, do you know how EXPENSIVE pens can get? Don’t even get me started on the fountain pens I saw online for calligraphy. Yikes!

At just under ten bucks, the Alloy more than suits my needs, and it is just pricey enough that I’ll make sure to take care of it. Unlike most disposable pens, I make sure to put it back in its place whenever I’m done using it. I also bought a spare to bring with me, since I loved the first one so much.

 

The Pentel EnerGel Alloy is now my weapon of choice for getting words into my notebooks. I’m definitely a happy convert to owning a nice refillable pen, after slumming it with cheap, disposable BIC’s all these years.

Do you have a favorite pen? Tell me about it down in the comments!

Thoughts on Amazon Bookstores

image of amazon bookstore

via Amazaon.com

Amazon bookstores are a curiosity to me.

This article about the Amazon Bookstore “experience” from Book Riot doesn’t paint a rosy picture of the brick & mortar operations, although further digging seems to show an inherent bias against Amazon from this particular outlet.

Criticisms aside, I hope I get the opportunity to visit one of these stores. I’m interested to see how they mesh the aforementioned “experience” of shopping on Amazon with a traditional bookstore. Even if the selection is limited, the idea of having traditional print and eBooks presented in the same shop sounds fascinating. Barnes & Noble technically does this already, but they really discourage the purchase of eBooks, while ironically trying to push Nook devices on their customers.

I believe these stores may be a short-lived experiment since Amazon recently purchased Whole Foods and could easily begin selling Kindles and eBooks to captive audiences in the checkout lines. Plus, Whole Foods already has numerous locations in the “upscale” urban areas they targeted with the initial Amazon Books roll out.

Have you visited an Amazon Bookstore? I’d be interested to know what your experience was like. Did you actually buy anything, or just window shop to investigate what it was all about?

Print Books versus eBooks in 2017

image of book and ereader

via Buzzfeed.com

I like to check up on the whole “print versus eBooks” debate periodically, and the status of the industry is pretty interesting halfway through 2017.

This subject tends to get a bit heated in some circles, so I want to preface by saying I see the merits of both formats. I love print books and their tactile experience; dog-earring pages and scribbling notes in the margins. I also love how easy my Kindle Paperwhite is to travel with, and read in the dark. Both are great, and as long as you’re reading quality fiction, we can be friends no matter which format you prefer.

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Writing Tip: Avoid Perfectionism

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Perfect is the enemy of Good.

Do you struggle with perfectionism?

Figuring out when a story is ready to submit or publish can be the most challenging part of the writing process. Through all the edits, re-writes, and proofreading you need to find that “good enough” place. Good enough to submit. Good enough to push to Amazon. Even just good enough to show other people.

Perfectionism is one of the single biggest hurdles in getting to “good enough”.

My first brush with the perils of creative perfectionism involved being in a band. We would practice the same four songs, and re-write or tweak them on a weekly basis. We never made any true progress and declared them “done”. We rarely worked on any new material, and ultimately, couldn’t play any gigs because we didn’t have enough songs for a full playlist.

I only realized the real problem after I had joined a new band. There were no perfectionists, and we played plenty of shows.

If you’re a perfectionist, it can be extremely difficult to say “I’m done. Time to move on.” However, this needs to happen in the name of progress. If you’re forever working on the same project or piece of writing, you’ll never truly grow. The challenge is finding that balance.

Studying writing during college definitely helped me lose some of my preconceptions about writing. These are a few things I learned that helped me avoid becoming mired in the perfection trap.

  • First, understand that NOTHING is perfect. NOTHING. EVER. You’ll never create a piece of art that is truly perfect, because they don’t exist.

That said, each work you complete provides experience and the opportunity to reflect and grow as a writer. One of my favorite quotes on this subject is from Vince Lombardi, who said,

“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”

  • Second,you need to be open to criticism.

Perfectionism is a great shield against criticism. No one can criticize your work if it’s never complete, right? You can just keep “improving it” forever.

Unfortunately, you’ll never grow as a writer unless you open yourself up to critique. I’m talking about meaningful, constructive criticism that helps you recognize issues and fix them. Not the scathing comments of jerks and trolls, which the internet is full of.

Find a person, or group of people who you trust to provide honest and helpful feedback about your writing so you can make it better.

Perfectionism can be difficult to deal with, but it’s essential you conquer it if you expect to get your writing out into the world and appreciated by an audience.

Writing Tip: 5 Ways to Find More Time

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If you’re like me, you struggle to find the time to write. Between work, school, and family obligations, maybe you spend more time thinking about writing than actually putting words down on the page. If you are passionate about writing, this can be extremely difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. There are plenty of ways to squeak out some extra writing time even in the busiest schedule.

Write in Small Chunks

A novel, or even a short story, can seem like a daunting task. The mantra “write every day” is slapped up all over the internet, but I don’t personally feel that’s always feasible. What I DO subscribe to is writing regularly, and if I’m pressed for time, writing in small chunks. Even if you only put down 50-100 words, that’s more than you had before, and all that work will help you eventually reach your goal.

Add Hours to Your Day

I’m a big proponent of simplifying. We’re constantly bombarded by advertising that tells us “we’re too busy”, but the reality is that most of us waste a HUGE amount of time on our phones, social media, and just not focusing on achieving our goals. Try this: Start monitoring how much time you spend on social media for the next 5 days. Write it down and next weekend tally that up. Then, think about how many words you could have written during that time.  If it’s quite a bit, you should consider prioritizing your time writing instead of browsing Facebook posts.

Write on Your Commute or Lunch Break

If it’s possible, try to get in some writing on your lunch break or your commute (if you use public transportation). It’s some great downtime that you can use to put words on the page or screen.

Carry a Notebook

Ideas don’t show up when it’s convenient. That means you need to be ready whenever inspiration strikes. It’s why I carry a notebook with me, so I can capture ideas as they happen. Whether I’ve just woken up from an especially intense dream, or I get a great idea for a short story while I’m out getting a coffee. It gives you the freedom to write whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Give Up Another Hobby

This is a tough one, but it’s something I had to do personally. I spent many hours practicing instruments in the hopes of one day of forming or joining a band. While I had been in quite a few bands years ago, it no longer meshes with my life for a number of reasons (schedule, having to rely on other people, etc). I realized that while I enjoyed it, it was a creative “dead end” that was taking up precious free time I could have been using to write, which is my primary creative outlet. Therefore, I sold some guitars, and have started a personal fund to buy a new writing desk. When your schedule is extremely packed, sometimes you need to sacrifice lesser hobbies for the good of focusing on the one you’re truly passionate about.

Book Review: “the Uncanny Valley: Tales from a Lost Town” by Gregory Miller

The Uncanny Valley…

… is a macabre serenade to a small town that may or may not exist, peopled with alive and dead denizens who wander about the hills and houses with creepy fluidity. Told by individual inhabitants, the stories recount tales of disappearing dead deer, enchanted gardens, invisible killer dogs, and rattlesnakes that fall from the sky; each contribution adds to a composite portrait that skitters between eerie, ghoulish, and poignant. Miller is a master storyteller, clearly delighting in his mischievous creations.

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I love horror anthologies. Something about collections of short stories just feels right to me when I delve into the genre.

That said, I just finished The Uncanny Valley: Tales from a Lost Town by Gregory Miller, and I can definitely recommend it to fans of the genre who are looking for some lighter horror fare.

The book takes a a unique approach, posing as a documented collection of essays submitted to an NPR contest. The entries were supposedly written by the residents of a strange Pennsylvania town named Uncanny Valley. As the book progresses, what begin as quirky tales become increasingly ominous and supernatural.

Most of the letters (stories) range between 2-6 pages, and are told in different narrative voices by each of the residents. This works to varying effect, and like all anthologies, some entries are better than others. However, overall Miller does a good job weaving so many tales from so many different perspectives. He doesn’t stray too far down the path of extreme horror or gore, and many of the stories are more akin to Twilight Zone than Tales from The Crypt so I think this would be a great series for younger horror fans. I also enjoyed the illustrations by John Randall York, which reminded me of Scary Stories to Tell in The Dark (my first true horror anthology).

If you’re looking for some satisfying, light horror that you can read in short sessions, then Uncanny Valley is definitely worth checking out.

What I Liked:

  • Interesting concept for an anthology
  • Varying narrative voices
  • Great illustrations

What I Didn’t Like:

  • Some stories were much stronger than others
  • I wanted certain entries to last longer

Writing In Notebooks

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I plot my stories.

I plot my stories and novels, and for some reason I cannot do that effectively on a computer.

I’ve tried EvernoteGoogle Keep, and different features in Scrivener where most of the stories end up taking shape. The only place that works for me is an old fashioned notebook.

Collecting Ideas

It seems like a no-brainer that I would use voice notes or an app to quickly capture ideas for stories as they come to me, but for whatever reason, I work better when I jot them into a notebook. The act of physically writing the ideas out seems to help my brain digest and play with them. Maybe because it’s a slower and more deliberate process than typing? All I know is that I end up with a page of ideas that are more thorough and fully formed than when I try typing bulleted lists into a phone.

Plotting Stories

I also plot stories out in notebooks. Admittedly, plotting in a notebook is more arduous than in a program like Scrivener, but it seems to have the same benefits I mentioned above when I’m scratching down ideas. I’m able to put more thought into the process as I draft; full of margin notes and arrows. Many a plot hole has been preemptively squashed in a notebook after they escaped from “Idea Land”. This can be very time consuming, so ultimately, I end up putting my full final  (they are NEVER final) plot outlines into Scrivener where I can manipulate and edit them.

Object Permanence

There’s also something satisfying about having a physical thing to pick up and look back through ideas after I’ve given myself some distance from them. Sometimes to show me how terrible they were, but often to re-visit them and scratch in some new notes or revise. Again, you can do this with your laptop, phone, or a stack of bar napkins, but notebooks and journals just feel nice, and they’re convenient to keep on a shelf, in a backpack, or in your car.

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I use Piccadilly notebooks because I like the idea of Moleskin notebooks, but not the price. Plus, having that little rear pocket to stash some 3×5 index cards is useful for quick plotting and scene edits.

Do you utilize a notebook or journal in your writing process? Or maybe just a really nice roll of paper towels? Let me know down in the comments!