Do Productivity Hacks Help, or Hurt?

I received access to two new productivity helpers today — Desk, a multi-platform blogging tool, and Google’s new Gmail Inbox

First up, let’s talk about Desk. The good: It’s beautiful, simple, minimalist, easy to set up, and seems to publish directly to my blog on Squarespace and to Facebook seamlessly.

The bad: I can’t for the life of me find my blog categories, which is driving me mad. I can access the tags on my Dropbox, but nothing inside Squarespace. I’ve sent a help request on that. And, and this is my fault, but… because of the horrifically tiny print on the new Yosemite operating system, when I went into the app store to download Desk, I thought it said $2.99. Since it looked very intriguing, I went ahead and bought it. I rarely pay for apps, because 90% of the time they’re a waste of money, but I like the idea of having a blog record, and since I’m trying to blog more…

Well. You can imagine my dismay when I got the receipt from iTunes and saw that it wasn’t $2.99, but $29.99. Thirty bucks for a freaking blogging app is so far out of bounds - this sucker better make my tea and fold my clothes in addition to ease of use and swanky minimalist looks. And now I’m fully committed because I have to get my money out of it. I’ve had the blog window open all day and have been playing with it - and I must say, so far, so good. I will report back in a month.

On to Inbox. I took one look at it (okay, two or three) and I’m not sold. It’s confusing. But it could also be very very helpful in streamlining email. We’ll see what it looks like tomorrow morning when my usual glut is there. And… it’s only for iPhone now, though if I ran Chrome I’d be able to use it. But I’m a die hard Safari fan, so maybe Inbox isn’t for me just yet.

So while my life may be enhanced by these two new innovations, it is now 1:38 p.m., and I haven’t done any creative writing because I’ve been wrapped up in these two new toys. 

And that’s where productivity hacks become the bane of our existence, rather than the savior. I lost several hours this morning setting up a system that promises to streamline my process. And truth be told, with as much offline work as I do, I can see that Desk will be helpful to that. But the lost hours — if I were a smart writer, I would have waited to play around with the app.

This morning shone a spotlight on my failings as a time manager. 

I am not a smart writer when it comes to hacks. I am a child. I am a magpie. I love shiny objects. I’m constantly chasing after them instead of keeping my head down. Granted, there are a LOT of things going on right now. I’ve overcommitted myself yet again, and I’m trying to dig out from under the pile of yeses that drown me daily. I so hate to say no, to disappoint people, yet I know, I KNOW, I am a better writer, a better friend, a better spouse and daughter, when I do refuse. 

Something to work on, I suppose. What about you? Are you drawn away from your work by inconsequential things? Or do you possess steel in your spine that allows you to focus mercilessly on your tasks at hand?

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*For those lovelies among you who expressed worry at my sight issues - I went to the eye doctor to get my glasses RX looked at, because I was convinced I had cataracts or something else equally unsavory. Turns out my Wayfarers had the entirely wrong RX in them. The distance wasn’t strong enough, and the reading area needed a boost. Will that help the hideous Yosemite font? Probably not, but I’ll see better in general.  

** This post was composed entirely in Desk. I will admit, it is pretty. 

 

A DEEPER DARKNESS is Free on iBooks

For a limited time, A DEEPER DARKNESS, the first novel in the Dr. Samantha Owens series, is featured in the First in a Series program for free on iBooks. Check it out here: tw.apple.com/fiasmysteriesthrillers

More about A DEEPER DARKNESS:

As a medical examiner, Samantha Owens knows her job is to make a certain sense of death with crisp methodology and precision instruments. But the day the Tennessee floods took her husband and children, the light vanished from Sam's life. She's pulled into a suffocating grief no amount of workaholic ardor can penetrate—until she receives a peculiar call from Washington, D.C.

On the other end of line is an old boyfriend’s mother, asking Sam to do a second autopsy on her son. Eddie Donovan is officially the victim of a vicious carjacking, but under Sam’s sharp eye the forensics tell a darker story. The ex-Ranger was murdered, though not for his car.

Forced to confront the burning memories and feelings about yet another loved one killed brutally, Sam loses herself in the mystery contained within Donovan’s old notes. Leading her to the untouchable Xander Whitfield, a soldier off-grid since his return from Afghanistan, and then to a series of brutal crimes stretching from that harsh mountainous war zone to this nation’s capital, the tale told between the lines makes it clear that nobody’s hands are clean, and that making sense of murder sometimes means putting yourself in the crosshairs of death.

J.T. Ellison

New York Times bestselling author J.T. Ellison writes dark psychological thrillers starring Nashville Homicide Lt. Taylor Jackson and medical examiner Dr. Samantha Owens, and pens the Nicholas Drummond series with #1 New York Times bestselling author Catherine Coulter. Cohost of the premier literary television show, A Word on Words, Ellison lives in Nashville with her husband and twin kittens.

For more insight into her wicked imagination, join J.T.’s email list at jtellison.com/subscribe, or follow her online at Facebook.com/JTEllison14 or on Twitter @thrillerchick.

7 Minutes With... Paige Crutcher


I am thrilled to introduce you to my dear friend Paige Crutcher. She is a gifted woman in so many respects - both as a writer, a journalist (she works for Publishers Weekly) and a yoga teacher. When you hear me mention my guru, this is who I'm speaking of. She's given me so much, and I'm so excited to be able to pay back just a bit by sharing her HUGE news - her debut novel, THE ODYSSEY OF FALLING, came out on Tuesday! This book is so fantastic, a really meaty, important, beautifully written YA novel about the journey of a young girl named Odd. I can't recommend it highly enough. And Paige's journey to publication is a study in perseverance and strength. I admire her so much. Without further ado...

 _________

Set your music to shuffle and hit play. What’s the first song that comes up?

Pale Blue Eyes by The Velvet Underground

It’s haunting, comforting, and somehow seductive. It sets the stage nicely for writing about the magical and complicated (and sometimes horrible) world of being a teen – and tapping into that time in your life when all the firsts are experienced and everything feels huge. Because it really kind of is.

Now that we’ve set the mood, what are you working on today?

Well, my book released today, so I’m working on not wigging out. Because it’s a pretty surreal feeling to acknowledge that something I made is now out there in the world, for anyone to read. I feel rather naked, and vulnerable, so I’d say today I am working on channeling my brave.

Then I’ll be revising my new contemporary YA novel about a group of misfits in the 90s who reinvent themselves as renegade Merry Pranksters.

What’s your latest book about?

The Odyssey of Falling is about a girl named Odd who finds her recently deceased best friend’s journal, and decides to do the bucket list tucked inside the pages. It’s about loss, hope, getting into trouble, and falling in love. It’s about growing up and growing into who you are meant to be.

Where do you write, and what tools do you use?

My laptop, my hands, and occasionally a really awkweird grimace. I write at my desk, at the kitchen table, in bed, on the couch, on a box, by a fox, wearing socks. I am horrible at routine, and prefer to have alternate views of the world as I slip into a story one.

What was your favorite book as a child?

Anne Rice’s Memnoch the Devil. I read it when I was thirteen or fourteen and it has stayed with me. The language and imagery are gorgeous, and the book made me think. It gave me an escape, and mesmerized me, but it also made me really think about the world, God, and how I viewed it.

What’s your favorite bit of writing advice?

Trust your characters. It can be really hard to trust yourself if you look at writing from the perspective that you’re in control, or the puppet master pulling the strings. If, instead, you trust your characters and acknowledge that the story is their own – and that they know what to do -- I find it’s immensely freeing and a heck of a lot of fun.

What do you do if the words aren’t flowing?

Watch Buffy? Usually I go for a walk, talk plot hiccups with my critique partners or husband, and come back to the page. I put on really angsty indie tunes and get the hell out of my own way. Once I stop fighting myself (or listening to the mean little inner critic), I find story is right where I left it.

What would you like to be remembered for?

For being a damn fine writer, and one hell of a friend. As someone who loved well, made a difference in the lives she encountered, and had a passionate and wonderful love story. And if it’s not too much to ask, I wouldn’t mind being remembered as a super hero. Peaceful Paige—the girl who spread hope.

 _________

Paige Crutcher is a journalist for Publishers Weekly, a yoga instructor, and a voracious reader. She lives outside of Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband, two small dogs, her overactive imagination, and a houseful of books. The Odyssey of Falling is her first book. You can learn more about Paige at: paigecrutcher.com

More About THE ODYSSEY OF FALLING 

Meet Odd. Audrey “Odd” Ashworth is an exceptionally bright girl with a sympathetic heart. She’s in the top 4% of her class. She’s obsessed with getting into Manhattan School of Music, committed to following the “signs” the universe delivers, and infatuated with the boyfriend of her recently deceased best friend. 

Life is a little strange for Odd. 

Until she finds her best friend’s diary in her crush’s car, and decides to do the bucket list tucked inside the pages. As Odd seeks closure and a way to honor her friend, she discovers there’s nothing wrong with a little strange, especially if it helps you discover who you were meant to be. Along the way, Odd falls into trouble, adventure, and finally love.

J.T. Ellison

New York Times bestselling author J.T. Ellison writes dark psychological thrillers starring Nashville Homicide Lt. Taylor Jackson and medical examiner Dr. Samantha Owens, and pens the Nicholas Drummond series with #1 New York Times bestselling author Catherine Coulter. Cohost of the premier literary television show, A Word on Words, Ellison lives in Nashville with her husband and twin kittens.

For more insight into her wicked imagination, join J.T.’s email list at jtellison.com/subscribe, or follow her online at Facebook.com/JTEllison14 or on Twitter @thrillerchick.

10.30.14 - How Do You Use Your Writing To Attain Your Goals?

Last week I asked a hard question - why do you write? Now that you’ve had time to think about it, I have another question for you. 

How do you use your writing to attain your goals?

 

  • Do you lose yourself in story?
  • Do you spend your time deep inside your characters heads?
  • Do you talk about your work on social media?
  • Do you keep plugging away on the same book, year after year?
  • Do you write when the spirit moves you?
  • Do you wait for lightning to strike and the perfect story to land in your lap?
  • Do you write every day, with a schedule and attainable goals? 
  • Do you honor your writing time, and expect those around you to honor it too?
  • Do you take yourself seriously?
  • Do you learn about publishing, enough to understand which path you want to take?
  • Do you procrastinate, then complain to friends how hard writing is?

You already know the answer to the question, don’t you? The only way to succeed at your writing goals, no matter what they are, is to show up to do your work. Yes, lightning strikes. How many writers can you name who’ve had that one idea that propelled their career and allowed them to never write another book again? Harper Lee comes to mind. J.D. Salinger. 

Ergo, it doesn’t happen all that often. You have to write. You can’t succeed in your career if you don’t write the book of your heart, right now. Write the book that you’ve always wanted to write. Life is too damn short to wait. What if, God forbid, something happened to you tomorrow, and you hadn’t worked on it?

Yes, yes, we have to maintain our careers. We have to feed the family and make the deadlines. But I challenge each and every one of you to spend five minutes each and every day writing the book of your heart.

Because guess what? That’s the book that will break you out. Break you free. Your passion for the story, the characters, the setting, will translate.

And it might break you entirely. You may feel like you’ve already written that book, and no one responded. Or it didn’t achieve the acclaim you wanted. Revisit it. You’re a better writer now. You’ve learned so much. You’ve achieved so much. You can rebuild it. Make it stronger. You know it’s not perfect. Nothing ever is.

Five minutes a day. Only five. Two hundred words. That’s a solid, single, solitary paragraph. That’s all it takes. You do that everyday, starting tomorrow, and the book of your heart will be there waiting for you in a year. 

And when you’re ready, you can love your perfect story into being. Sell it, sit on it, whatever. 

But isn’t THAT why we’re writers? To tap into our very souls and create something that makes our hearts sing?

J.T. Ellison

New York Times bestselling author J.T. Ellison writes dark psychological thrillers starring Nashville Homicide Lt. Taylor Jackson and medical examiner Dr. Samantha Owens, and pens the Nicholas Drummond series with #1 New York Times bestselling author Catherine Coulter. Cohost of the premier literary television show, A Word on Words, Ellison lives in Nashville with her husband and twin kittens.

For more insight into her wicked imagination, join J.T.’s email list at jtellison.com/subscribe, or follow her online at Facebook.com/JTEllison14 or on Twitter @thrillerchick.

10.27.14

It's 6:00 p.m., and I haven't gotten a thing done on the WIP, because the edits came in for WHAT LIES BEHIND! I haven't seen this book in two months, so I'm excited to dig in and reacquaint myself with the story. And of course, I had a fun conversation with my editor about the eerie timeliness of the book -- at it's heart, it's about an attack on the U.S. using an Ebola-esque hemorrhagic virus. Yeah. Topical much?

I had a heck of a time writing it, too because the concept was developed last year and I was more than halfway through the story well before the outbreak, and as the outbreak continued to spread, I kept having to change the book so it didn't look like I'd stolen the story from the headlines. Because I, apparently, am simply too prescient when it comes to writing about current events. I remember months ago, telling my agent about my struggles, and he asked if it was at all possible for Ebola to spread in the US. And I assured him it was. To New York, he asked? Oh, yeah, I answered. Hard to spread, because of the nature of transmission, but we'll have a few cases here and there. Trust me, I know way too much about everything that's happening right now.

This isn't the first time I've had a coincidence like this in my writing. As a matter of fact, it seems to happen with alarming frequency. Perhaps I need to start writing books about people winning the lottery and cancer being cured and the alleviation of grief and suffering. It's a thought.

My parents are coming for a visit tomorrow. I have all kinds of things planned, and went shopping tonight and bought all their favorite foods. Made a nice big pot of chicken soup for dinner, too, so the house smells like salt and warmth and happiness.

The larder is full, the edits await, the minions have been gifted with a new catnip trout, and the soup is bubbling away. I call it a day well spent, even though I wrote not a single word.  

Wait. Does the blog count?