Nothing like sliding in at the last moment to keep your blog from dying after six months hibernation….

51ssdFWWxAL._AC_UL320_SR212,320_//READING//

The Empty Grave by Jonathan Stroud

I was a latecomer to Lockwood & Co., so I got to read ALL FIVE THIS YEAR. This series rocketed to one of my favs, and I’m already dying to re-read them all again. I feel like an acolyte for the Gospel of Stroud, fervently pressing copies into strangers’ hands on street corners. If you haven’t read them yet, you’re in for a treat.

61gLkAo-nGL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Tumble & Blue by Cassie Beasley

As a swoony fan of CIRCUS MIRANDUS, I was over the moon to discover Cassie Beasley had a second book coming out this year, and then I got to meet her at the Mississippi Book Festival and she autographed my copy of TUMBLE & BLUE. And guess what… I loved it even *more* than CM. It offers everything I adore in fiction: strong southern voice, cursed families, and wannabe heroes (plus a snarky, golden alligator!). Hands down, pure magic.

first-class-murder-9781481422185_hrFirst Class Murder by Robin Stevens

If you wish Agatha Christie had written middle-grade novels, then look no further. While FIRST CLASS MURDER  has been out for several years in the UK, it released in the US only this year and is my favorite of the series so far. It’s a delightful homage to MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, and the case and secondary characters were particularly good. I can’t wait to pick up JOLLY FOUL PLAY in April!

maass-emotional//WRITING//

The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass

This book takes the cake, the plate, and all the utensils because it is a-mazing. Maass’s insights into what makes us love a good book are spot-on, and his exercises are helpful in applying these principles to writing. It’s engaging, not-repetitive, and just the right length for a wide-scope without drowning you in information. In short, best craft book I read last year, and I can’t wait to re-read it soon.

pacemaker

Pacemaker

Do you love the stress of NaNoWriMo and miss the adrenaline rush of obsessing over charts and graphs? Never fear, Pacemaker is here to fulfill all your staying-on-target needs! Unlike that one crazy month of the year, Pacemaker can be set to whatever pace you want. You can set it to take certain days off, different goals for different days, or randomize a daily goal if you like masochistic surprises.

linguistic focus

Scrivener 3

I waffled over whether or not to upgrade to Scrivener 3 (which at $25 seemed like a hefty upgrade), and at first glance most of the changes seem cosmetic––smooth, rounded edges and muted tones. But there a couple new features that really excite me, one of which is “Linguistic Focus” (highlighted in the lovely blurred pane). This option allows you to highlight a certain part of speech within a selection (nouns, verbs, adjectives, conjunctions, etc.) or even DIRECT SPEECH. I’m dying to revise something now (and how often do we feel like saying that? ;)). Special mention to the expanded writing progress report, which now shows *daily* progress (woot woot), and to the simplified compiler (hallelujah).

//SAVING TIME//

Be Focused

I picked up the (free) Be Focused timer after reading about the Pomodoro technique, 800x500bband it helped me more than anything else in adjusting to this new, wonderful, writing-with-a-baby life in which I have to write for concentrated bursts like my life depends on it or nothing gets done. The idea is you work for ~25 minutes with 5 minute breaks between. There are lots of options for timers (or you could set them yourself on your own timer), but I like that this one sits just where I can see it above my writing window but isn’t a distraction.

Be Focused: simple, unobtrusive, and free.

(Did I mention it’s free?)

BUT IF THAT’S NOT ENOUGH….

unnamed

Forest

I’m really torn over this app. It’s highly effective and I really enjoy it, but the principle still seems ridiculous. For those of us who need an extra incentive to stay off our phones for extended periods of time, Forest acts as a guilt-inducing guardian of the screen. Set a timer for how long you want to focus, plant a seed, and if the app stays open for the allotted time, voila! You have a tree. Fill up your garden each day and pat yourself on the back for being so focused…or kill the app and kill your plant-in-progress and stare at its withered branches all day.

Like I said. Guilt-inducing. But effective. (And $2.99). Very helpful when I’m trying to read while expecting an email. 😛

Grammarly

Finally, a GRAMMAR & SPELLING-CHECKER THAT ACTUALLY WORKS. This baby catches [almost] everything. I use the browser plug-in, and it checks it all: fb posts, tweets, and blog posts (like this one, which would have been riddled with spelling and grammar errors that my caffeine-high brain didn’t notice). I use the free version on my desktop too, but I hear that the premium upgrade can even be plugged into Scrivener…

Get behind me, Satan.

//WASTING TIME//

Reigns

Reigns-intro-screen
I mean, sure, none of us need help wasting time, but in case you’re so inclined…
Reigns is a simple game that somehow grows both easier and harder the longer you play. There is only one motion allowed in the game, swiping cards either left or right as you make choices during your reign as king. I’ve heard it described as Tinder meets a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, and I guess that about sums it up…but the story’s levels keep unfolding the longer you play, so just when you think you’ve got it figured out, you doubt everything you’ve learned.
To bring this back to writing, one of the elements I love is how all choices have an effect later in the game. So if you decide to build a dam on one card, later that might very well cause disease to fester in the stagnant water, so then you have to improve hygiene, which could then lead to other unintended consequences. (The gameplay is pretty repetitive, so if you pay attention you start to realize the consistent effects of certain actions.) A round is usually pretty quick (~5 minutes or less), so this is also a perfect take-a-break game between writing bursts.
(There’s also a Queen version out now, but I’m determined to beat this one first. I feel like the answer is staring me in the face…gahhhh don’t tell me!!)

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