At the beginning of this month I had a book come out. It's always a really exciting moment have something you've worked so hard on make it out into the world. I'm really proud of Cabinet of Aberrations and super excited to have it available to the world.

But lately, I've been feeling very much like a fraud and a liar. I paint an incredibly rosy picture online on my social media accounts where try to post encouraging things as reminders for people that they're not alone. I run a podcast, Ink and Brain Monsters, where I talk about mental health and the creative process. I share that therapy has helped me and I try always listen when people need to talk.

The truth of the matter is the rosy picture isn't at all accurate. A lot of the times, I'm struggling to get out of bed and into my day job. I'm overwhelmed by anxiety that all of my friends hate me, and that everything I write is garbage. There are days where I start to write emails to my publisher that I can't write anymore and I'm really sorry that I won't be able to finish the series.

And frequently I am ashamed to share those kind of thoughts with anyone. I know depression lies and I know that anxiety lies too. I know I frequently get caught up in catastrophizing things that will never happen. But in my mind, all of those things are the absolute truth.

There have been a lot of days in the recent past where I stop to wonder what am I doing. Why am I writing anything? No one wants to read this. You're wasting your time. You're tired and terrible, so Just give up writing and make things easier on yourself. I've listened to that voice before which is why Cabinet of Aberrations is my first book in several years. 

I don't share this for sympathy or pity or complements. I'm writing this post because if I want to talk about mental health honestly and openly that means talking about the bad times and not just encouragements. It means admitting that sometimes you feel like shit and stay on the couch watching the Great British Baking Show while internally panicking about deadlines. It means some days I don't write a damn thing and hate myself for that for weeks.

What I'm reminding myself of, and maybe you too, is that all is a part of living with depression and anxiety. In as much as I wish and hope that maybe this year of the doubts being quiet, I need to realize it doesn't stop talking if I listen to it. So I'm trying to remember but it's okay to take breaks, to rest, and to spend an evening or even a day playing a video game that makes you happy. For a really long time a lot of myself worth his been tied up in my productivity and that becomes a dangerous game especially in moments when you're sick or you just have a series of bad brain days. 

We are all we're so much more than our productivity. 

There really isn't any one reason that I wrote this post for it except to share what's going on in my head a lot of the times and to help me remember that talking about mental illness and mental health sometimes requires admitting when you're losing the fights. 

I’m fine. I've just had a rough few days. But even just writing this post out has already made me feel so much better.

Today, I'm going to eat some donuts and watch some funny videos. Tomorrow, I'm going to look myself in the mirror and remember that I'm a writer even on the days when my brain doesn't believe that. 

Source: Photo by Matt Alaniz on Unsplash
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AuthorAndrea Judy

Lately I've been spending a lot of time playing or writing tabletop Games. It's amazing how much you can learn about storytelling, people, and improvisation with something like Dungeons& Dragons. So for the month of June I want to talk about some of my favorite things as a game master, the person who runs the game, some things that helped me along the way.

Today I want to talk about non-playable characters. Either the people who inhabit your world start the heroes of the story necessarily. People like the barkeep, the shop owner, the farmer looking for help dealing with the werewolf problem, or anyone else that none of your players are controlling. I really love playable characters and I have a really bad habit of getting super attached to them. How do you make a memorable non-playable character?

For me it all starts with their character traits. What makes this person tick and how does that impact how they interact with the world? I actually put it together a chart of traits that you can use to roll and just come up with something on-the-fly. A lot of non-playable characters will come about based on pure improvisation. The players decide to go to a bar and they want to talk to the barmaid they meet there. You may not have anything planned for her and now suddenly having to come up with the character on the go. I suggest always having a few blank templates of characters that you can just pull on as well as a random name generator, just make sure that you actually taken note of what you've named to people and where they were so that if your characters decide to come back to that city you can have the same person stomach.

At the game master it can be really tempting to use a non-playable character as a way for you to get to be involved in the game. I've done this before for sure. It's where you create a character then travels along with your players so you get to play the game to and while it's not a with a bad thing, it's really easy to get too distracted into playing the character then into running the game. Your player should be the one dictating in leading the story with you but do not being pulled along by an NPC that you threw it in. I know it's so easy to get attached to some of the characters and you want to get the chance to play too because it's just not fair that you got to spend all this time building a world and doing all this work the players will never see. But I promise trying to keep a non-playable character with the group long-term is only going to add more work for you in the long run. I just think really hard before you do this.

Are you simple tricks that help me build an NPC on the go. You're welcome to downloading use the rolling chart character traits that I created and if you do, let me know what kind of character you make.

 

Reading the room

It's really easy to think about tabletop games as something only incredibly awkward, completely people illiterate groups play. For game master, and even being a player, actually require a lot of interaction with other people even if you're just playing in your character and not as you. Forgetting master however you really need to develop the skill of how to read a room. You need to be able to recognize when your players are disengaging, or when the story has taken a wrong turn and everybody is pissed.

Now I'm saying completely deviate from the past that you have already created but I am saying that if it suddenly becomes clear to you that no one is having fun, that's probably something you should pay attention to and learn from. But how will you know?

Watch the reactions of your players. I'm rolling, crossed arms, leaning way back from the table, playing on their phone, and just staring down word of their character sheet and no longer interacting. If you start to notice these things it might be a good idea to call for a brief break from the game and you take 10 minutes to evaluate what is happened, where things may have gone wrong, and what can be done to return enjoyment to the game. Pretty much everybody place to have fun so what the point that it becomes a chore or annoying, it's not something anyone wants to be doing.

And sometimes this can't be helped. They're going to be moments in a good story where think suck, the heroes have lost, the villain is in power and things look bad. There will also be times that somebody just have a shitty night of rolling and all they get our ones or twos and I thought anybody's faults and is not really anything you can get it fixed it. What I'm talking about our moments when perhaps your players we're really interested in a strange artifact they found an elaborate far beneath the town, but you are forcing them to abandon that and jump back onto the plot you'd already constructed for them to do today. It's not an easy position and it requires a lot of thinking on your feet. And sometimes you won't be able to do that and making everybody happy is pretty much impossible task matter what you doing but I found the one way to make sure that your players enjoyed the story is very simple.

Remember that they are the hero.

Give your players the chance to shine. Let your rogue but they're sneaking and stealing skills to use for an important what item. Your bard can talk her way out of what should be an impossible diplomatic situation. You're fighter deals the killing blow the terrible monster. Given the moments to shine, moments that you know their characters will be amazing in. As long as those moments are sprinkled throughout it helps again be more fun and helps everyone feel like a hero.

Posted
AuthorAndrea Judy

If you've been watching my social media feeds lately you've probably noticed I'm posting a lot more about Dungeons and Dragons. Well that's because I am not running my first DnD game! It's a Southern Gothic game set in a world of my own creation. 

 

You can check out the first episode and follow us on Twitch to watch the game live! 

Posted
AuthorAndrea Judy

Just like with writing there are a lot of different ways to handle doing any kind of editing work. Some projects require a lot of work to polish up; some show up pretty polished. There’s no wrong way to do it so long as you get the work done. But sometimes you get stuck and don’t know what to do to fix a piece of writing.

Right now I am finishing up edits on a novella that has given me a ton of problems. I mean this thing really kicked my ass. The first draft I did was a disaster. I tried to fix it but it still ended up being a mess. Now after several more failed attempts at revision, I think I’ve finally figured out what went wrong and how to fix it. So I wanted to talk about the process of realizing what exactly I needed to work on. 

For this book, I kept walking away from my edits and just not doing them. That’s not like me since I’m usually pretty focused and committed to meeting deadlines. But this time around, I didn’t manage to focus on it at all. So I decided to test something.

I started my edits at a different point in the book then came back to the beginning. What that showed me was that the problem was that the beginning of the book was all wrong and that was forcing me to walk away. I didn’t know how to fix the problem because the problem wasn’t a lack of descriptions but a big ol’ plot problem. 

As soon as I realized the problem was that I as the writer didn’t care about the villain then I knew what needed to change. I had to find a way to make me (and thus hopefully the reader) care about the monster and the story happening in that tension. 

What sucks about that, is that it means I need to rewrite about a good chunk of the book but now that I can pinpoint ‘this is where I am struggling’ it makes it sudden;y feel like a problem I can solve. I’ve been stuck in the idea of ‘I don’t know what’s wrong so I can’t fix it’ and that just leads to a lot of stress. 

So for me to get unstuck what I needed to do was look into different parts of the book and then come back to the spot I was getting stuck. It showed me what the problem was and how I could fix it. 

Posted
AuthorAndrea Judy

Editing can feel like this huge overwhelming sized thing. Especially if you’re looking at editing something the size of a novel, it can seem very much like looking up a mountain knowing that you are about to climb it. 

But if you were about to climb a mountain, you’d have the right gear with you, right? The same thing is true with editing, by using the right gear or process, you can make it to the top and (maybe) have fun along the way. I actually enjoy editing most of the time, but only if I’ve got the tools in place to make it work for me. 

So how do I make editing work for me? 

1.     Make a plan.

I read over the whole manuscript and keep a document ready to take notes on the things that need to change. That includes character names not being the same the whole manuscript, a plot hole, a pacing problem, a scene I want to change, etc. I list it all out with page number references so that I have a record of everything. 

2.     Group. 

Next I take my group of notes and organize them by topic or change. If I need to change character Bill to a character named Sue then that is one theme or section. I group them by topic and then by order. if I need to change a major plot thread, that’s one of the first things I do.

3.     Attack. 

I start with the biggest changes and then work my way smaller. I used to go through the document chronologically, start at the beginning and go to the end, but I would quickly get lost in what change I needed to make. By focusing on just one major theme at a time, I know that I can work it through all the way and not lose my train of thought. 

That’s my three-prong method for working through an edit. The third step is repeated until I have finished everything I had on my notes page. It usually takes a few passes but when I’m done, I do one last read over everything and that pass is when I deal with the more grammar related things. 

As with everything else, this is the method I use and it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. I really encourage you to play around with systems and processes to see what connects with you! 

Posted
AuthorAndrea Judy

I talked about some of my productivity tools and some of my writing tools but something I haven't talked about this month is things that are helping me with life in general. Being a writer doesn't suddenly mean that the floors don't need to be vacuumed and meals don't need to be cooked. Sometimes it's really hard to manage the daily to-do tasks when I'm trying to meet a deadline or even just trying to get enough brain space to finish a project. So here are a few of the things that are really helping me right now.

1. My Roomba

I never thought I would be the kind person who would love a robot vacuum but I absolutely adore my little iRobot; his name is Alfred. It's really handy to be able to just schedule a time when the vacuum is going to run. I have two cats that track litter all over the place and it used to be that every morning while getting dressed I would get litter all over my feet and then have it stuck in my shoe for the day.

Since I started running Alfred every day that's completely gone away. It's great to be able to just schedule a time for it to run and not even have to think about when I'm going to make time to vacuum the floors. It also helps keep me motivated to keep my floors clear so Alfred has a clean path around the room.

2. Frozen meals

I actually like cooking but I've been having a hard time with actually doing it. I promise myself that I will make a nice dinner with soon as I get home from work but inevitably as soon as I get home, I'm exhausted and Pizza Hut delivery it is. What I found is that if I keep the fridge of healthy-ish meals then I don't order delivery.

If it's something I can pop in the microwave or the oven and under less than 20 minutes then I'm golden. It's not the healthiest option but it does provide portion control and minimizes the impact on my budget. On the days when I'm having a really hard time, knowing that there is some frozen ravioli that will take me 10 minutes to make is a huge relief.

For a while I felt really lazy about doing this but honestly it's one less thing to beat myself up for when I just don't have the energy to cook.

3. Themed days

Breaking my days into a theme has helped me do more and forget less. For instance, Tuesday is the day that I work on my podcast. Whether that's by updating the website, editing in episode, or recording a new episode, that's what I plan to do every Tuesday.

Friday is for laundry and Monday is for blog posts. By keeping that kind of consistent calendar I worry a lot less about what I'm forgetting to do and it's honestly free up a lot of brain space.

4, Brain dumps

One of the things I have been doing for almost a year now is what I call a brain dump. It usually happens once every other week, but there are sometimes it happens every week. All a brain dump is, is sitting down, taking about 20 minutes, and writing out every single thing bouncing around in your brain.

I can write down the bigger projects like writing a new novel or the really mundane stuff like doing the dishes. For me, getting it all out of my head and onto paper helps me see what all it is that I need to do and start prioritizing. Doing the dishes won't take that long, but writing a novel, that will take a while. Seeing it on the page in front of me helps me better visualize the amount of time and the size of the project. It also helps me to see if something is just falling from week to week and staying on the brain dump page that I either need to just bite the bullet and do it or I need to evaluate if it needs to be done.

So those are the things that are helping me right now and just like everything else that I talked about this month, it varies from month-to-month and from project to project. What works for me might not work for you but that's okay. The important thing is to learn how to listen to yourself and to do what fits your life, not to lie some productivity girly want you to have or even the life that I have. Going out there, experiment, find what works, and take care of yourself.

Source: Photo by Andy Fitzsimon on Unsplash
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AuthorAndrea Judy
CategoriesWriting Life

This month I'm really excited to share some of the tools that I use. Mainly because I'm always happy to talk about process and to learn and hear what other people are doing so it's only fair that I share too. I had a hard time figuring out if I should put my writing and productivity tools in one post or two and alternately I decided to post them separately because I feel like they are two different things.

The tools that I use to be more productive help in my day job and my personal life too. But the writing tools are more specialized so I thought it would make more sense to have them as two separate posts. So here are my top writing tools right now.

1. Cold Turkey Writer

I love this software. By far it is, aside from dictation, the one thing that has turbocharged my writing. Cold Turkey basically locks your computer into nothing but a single screen where you can type. You can set the amount of time, the number of words, or go with no restrictions. The only way I've found to get out of the fullscreen is to force my computer to shutdown and if you do that you lose everything that you've written in the software. When you've reached your time goal or word goal or decide you're done it will give you the option to save and quit. Everything is saved as a text file that I usually then copy and paste into Word and clean up a little bit. It seriously is amazing and keeps me focused on what I'm working on instead of being constantly distracted by checking Facebook or Instagram or twitter or reading another productivity article. It seriously has changed my life and you can get it for free.

2. Writing Excel Tracker

This spreadsheet was introduced to me by Venessa when we talked on my podcast can bring monsters. It's amazing. You can input up to 10 projects and set your monthly goals for those projects with a little bit of work and making sure that you tracked them on a day-to-day basis you can actually keep track of everything you're doing for the year and then see how close you are to your goals for the year. For someone pretty obsessed with goalsetting this is absolutely amazing. It lets me see in very clear terms where I am with my writing and what I need to be working on next. And for $10 dollars it's honestly a complete steal.

3. 750 Words

I talked about this website before and I still love it. Now that I'm mainly writing in cold turkey it's not as helpful for keeping track of words per minute but it's a great way to keep a record. I'm not always great about logging my things in the amazing Excel spreadsheet and this helps me add it in even if I forgotten to put something in excel. It also let's me see what my track is for the month and how many days I wrote and how many days I missed. While I'm not using all of its features anymore I still really think it's a great website and it also way to track your writing over the years I can go back to when I very first started my account in 2015 and see how the many words I've written. It's a lot and really inspiring to see laid out.

3. Dictation

I am constantly shocked by how much dictation has change my writing. I never thought I would be any good at it, I thought it would be awkward or clunky or weird. But I love it. I don't know if I will ever go back to writing first draft by hand or keyboard rather. While it takes a bit of time to get used to it and figure out the mechanics of how to get the punctuation right it honestly makes my writing so much faster and smoother. And about 30 minutes I can usually dictate a out almost 3000 words. And while there are some ridiculous typos and occasional problems, overall it's so much faster than typing but I can't imagine going back. You don't have to buy the expensive Dragon Dictation software to be able to dictate. Most computers nowadays have a dictation option built into their accessibility menu. So check out what your computer has an give it a go you may be it surprised at how much you love it

So those are the writing tools that I love you. Seriously every single one of those is huge in my writing process and has helped in so many ways. It's only in this past year that I've really Felt like I got the handle on my writing process and how I operate and these tools have really been a huge factor In that. I really suggest that you take a little bit of time and play around with Helliar writing, especially if something feels clunky or weird or wrong. Writing processes don't have to stay the same. So explore a little bit you maybe surprised what happens.

Source: Photo by Dana Marin on Unsplash
Posted
AuthorAndrea Judy

I am a little bit obsessed with productivity. I tend to read almost every blog posts that comes across my dashboard that even remotely hints about how to be more productive. I love diving into how people use lists or technology to help them get more stuff done. At the same time reading all about that can also make me feel like an unproductive slug at times. But because I love productivity so much and I spend a lot of time learning about what works for me I thought it would be helpful for me to share the tools I use.

Now as a reminder, what works for me might not work for you. And that's all okay. I'm not telling you there's one way to do things, only what's worked for me. Honestly the best way I found to be more productive as a whole was through a lot of trial and error with learning about how I work and about what works with and for me. Now without further ado here are some of my favorite productivity tools.

1. Forest

I am a little bit obsessed with this app. It's simple and effective. You select the amount of time you want to go without using your phone and then you select a bush or tree that represent that amount of time. You plant the tree or bush and then the timer starts. If you navigate away from the screen where your plant is growing, it will die. The only way to let your plants grow all the way to adulthood and let it populate your beautiful forest is to leave your phone alone.

It also has the option to have background noise which I really love to. I didn't to use it a lot as a timer to keep me on track for how long I want to stay focused on something. It's really great and it's by far my favorite app that I have consistently kept using. Recently they have added an update where you can now plant trees with friends. (I don't have any friends on the forest app yet so I can't speak to how well that works but it sounds super fun.) 

2. Isolation

So lately I've actually found going low-tech helps a lot of ways with getting things done. Since I picked up dictating I've been spending a lot of time locked in my closet. And honestly that isolation has helped tremendously but keeping me focused. In my closet there's not much to distract me or interrupt me. Aside from the occasional kitty cat paw or region under the door to slap me. But I can turn on the forest app, Open up whatever project I'm working on and get to work. I haven't gotten very good at using dictation to be able to browse the Internet's or do much else besides write, which is exactly how I want (so please don't tell me how). The isolation, quiet and focused area help me get a whole lot more done than I would normally.

3. Pen and paper

As much as I love list tracking apps like wonder list, nothing has yet replaced my beloved pen and paper. I keep a daily journal to track everything I want to get done that day and I've done that for quite a few years now. Sometimes I do it in tandem with an electronic list that helps you remember it. I've bullet journaled for a long time so currently I'm using a pre-printed journal but when that runs out I'll probably return to bullet journaling. It's one of my favorite parts of the day when I sip my coffee and put together my list of things to accomplish for that day. It's sort of the ritual that starts every day. Even on the weekends I do it. I'm not particular about what journal or notebook it has to be but I prefer something with a hardcover to survive being in my bag. I'm much more likely to care about what kinds of pens or pencils I'm using the actual notebook itself.

So those are the three main things they're helping me be productive right now. And sometimes not even that works. There are some mornings where I don't put together a to-do list, where I feel too overwhelmed to write anything down, and there are mornings where I will just sit in silence and stare into space in the closet. And there are definitely days that I have killed my poor little tree in the forest app.

Productivity isn't a contest, even though it's really easy to feel like it is, productivity is personal and about what finding what works for you and how you want to work. Lately the world has been a little stressful for me so my productivity has taken a nosedive and the main thing I've learned as of the most important part of productivity is forgiving yourself when you have a bad day. So what are some of the ways that you keep productive or some of the things that really haven't worked for you? I'm always curious to hear about what other people are doing.

Source: Photo by Anete Lūsiņa on Unsplash
Posted
AuthorAndrea Judy
CategoriesWriting Life

Editing is always a strange and foreign topic to me. Especially since I'm using dictation, editing is usually an adventure filled with typos and strange phrases that I have no idea what they actually mean. (I have found some truly strange words in my manuscript that I am at thousand percent sure I did not actually say and then I have to awkwardly sound them out to see if I can figure out what I meant.)

But this post isn't about easy ways to edit or even what to look for when you're editing. Much like the previous post about finding your process for writing, This is about finding your process for editing. They are different things and I really believe that it's best if you can keep them as separate as possible.

Again, I did a lot of experimenting to figure out what works for me. Editing in my closet did not work for me. The setup isn't good for that. What does work for me is going back into my office. The background noise doesn't distract me from editing like it does for writing. I also have found that I can listen to a little bit of music, nothing with words, while I'm editing.

I'm lucky enough to have a standing sitting desk and I really noticed that I edit a lot better when I'm standing at it so now I try to make sure to do that when I can. Sometimes my feet don't want any part of that and I have to sit but I definitely feel like I am faster and sharper when I'm standing at my desk.

I'm also learned that for me, it's a lot easier to take editing in a lot of small steps than one big step. The first thing I do is read through the whole manuscript and make notes and comments about what needs to change. I don't really touch much of the grammar unless there's just something to atrocious to fix.

Then I look at all of the comments, sometimes I print out just the comments and see what all I need to work on. I coordinate my edit projects by theme. So if it's a subplot that week, I going work on the subplot all by itself don't touch anything else in the manuscript. This means I jump around from beginning to middle to end again and again and again but it also means that I can stay focused on the one task at hand and not get sidetracked by trying to fix the romantic subplot and the foreshadowing for the next book all at once.

Once I've finished all of my themes/subplots/big issues, then I'll do one more big read where I check to make sure everything so make sense and try to catch any grammar issues that might be around. It's maybe a little bit slower and clunkier than I can do all of the time but it's my preferred method. Deadlines sometimes push that to be just one really fast read through and edit.

So again I would just encourage you to try and figure out where you work best. For me really having a separate writing and editing space makes a huge difference. It's like a brain switch, I know when I am standing at my desk that it's time to edit, not write, and not be on Facebook. It's a clear delineation in my mind of what I need to be working on.

So take some time and figure out what you like, I promise I'll make a huge difference in your work.

Posted
AuthorAndrea Judy