My 5 Favourite Productivity Tools for Writing

I have often discussed with budding writers how a good portion of the writing life is staying organized and productive when we actually have time to write. If I let something interrupt my flow, I may not get it back again in the same sitting.

Time is a precious commodity these days, between helping my husband with his photography business, running a media company, and…right – motherhood. So, I thought I’d put together a quick post for you about the tools I use each and every day to keep me on track. The great thing about these tools is that most of them are useful in any field of work, so even if you’re not a writer, you can still benefit from incorporating them.

Google Docs

Gone are my days of endless files tucked away in folders on my hard drive. In many cases I have moved my projects on to Google Docs. My best advice is to get set up fully on Google (Gmail, Calendar, etc.) so that you can maximize all of these amazing tools from one account. Using Google Docs, I can share a document, work remotely on a project with a colleague and see them making changes, and in cases where I want them to “View” only, there are permission settings that allow for that.

Wunderlist 

This is a relatively new app that I’ve adopted and I’ve fallen in love. Wunderlist allows you to create categorized to-do lists, and it instantly synchronizes between your phone, tablet and laptop. I particularly love the pop-up desktop tool that allows you to quickly add a task. That way, you can get it off your mind and move on with your work. I also like the way you can share lists with colleagues or family members.

Google Calendar

I mentioned this tool already, and it has been my “go-to” for years. Ditch the paper agenda and go electronic to keep you on task and on time. Google Calendar allows you to set up both Tasks and Events, so that you can outline projects for each day and move them around as you need to. Set up reminders and alerts, colour code your events, and share your calendars with others.

Hootsuite 

I was an early adopter of Hootsuite, and have seen it continually improve. This is one of the best social media productivity tools on the market, and once you get to know how it works, you’ll never look back. I use this platform to monitor all of my professional Twitter feeds, including Lists and specific keywords or search terms. I want to stay active on social media, but can’t afford for it to eat up my writing time. This is the perfect answer.

Thesaurus.com 

This one could also be slotted simply under “writing tools”, but anything that saves time allows for more productivity. Not only has using a thesaurus helped me to overcome that feeling that I have a word on the tip of my tongue, but it has also helped me to expand my vocabulary! There are many tools out there, but I generally turn to Thesaurus.com. I like the way you can click through words to dig deeper into nuances and meanings, so that you can be sure to get the right one.

What are your favourite productivity tools?

Finding Inspiration at the Banff Mountain Book Festival

Considering the quantity of sold out events this year at the Banff Mountain Book Festival, I think it’s safe to say that it is no longer a best-kept secret, and no longer the ‘little sister’ to the Banff Mountain Film Festival. On a more personal note, the book festival has always been my favourite part of the festivals – not only because it offers a more intimate experience, but also because words are my medium of choice, the way I process information, my lifeline.

As a writer, the Banff Mountain Book Festival encourages me to dig deeper, to find the story really worth telling and to continue sharpening my skills so that perhaps one year it will be me up on that stage presenting my own book. But for now I’m content to learn from others, to absorb from a seat in the audience, and bring the stories of others to you.

I can’t recap the entire book festival, but the events today offered a particularly good mix of topics and styles. They also brought with them lessons we can apply to our own lives, which I’ll summarize here:

The Calling.Barry Blanchard kicked off the with the presentation of his book, The Calling: A Life Rocked by Mountains. I was familiar with his book, having reviewed it for The Campsite a few weeks ago, but it was refreshing to hear him reading his own words. In fact, the book read better aloud than it did in my head, and listening to Barry gave the stories new life and the audience an opportunity to laugh. It is clear the crowd – a home crowd for Barry – simply loves this man, and that spoke as loud as his words. One thing I learned from Barry, both through his climbing stories and his account of challenges writing the book, is the importance of perseverance. If you eventually want to see something in print, you need to work away at it, letter by letter, word by word.

Paddlenorth.Next, author Jennifer Kingsley presented her book, Paddlenorth – an account of a 54-day, 1100-kilometre journey she made with friends on the Baillie and Back Rivers in Nunavut. While she didn’t intend to write a book about the trip, the experience motivated her to do so. She didn’t reveal too much about her book (I’ll have to read it!), however a few things she said caught my attention. First, she made a comment about how modern travel allows you to get from one destination to another very quickly, but that does not mean that you have caught up emotionally and psychologically. This also ties into a comment she made about returning home from such a voyage: “This is the kind of trip that when I got home, it wouldn’t lie down,” she said. Having been on a few longer stints of travel, I can relate to both of these comments – to needing time to catch up to my destination and needing time to unravel the threads of the experience once I’m home.

Great Bear Wild.Finally, photographer, conservationist, and author of Great Bear Wild, Ian McAllister, took the stand. I was familiar with McAllister’s incredible photographs, just not the stories behind them. Walking the audience through the backstories of his images, McAllister conveyed a deeper understanding of these magnificent creatures. By explaining their contexts through human analogies, I could relate to the wildlife in a way I never had before. I appreciated these stories because these are the creatures and habitats (alongside First Nations communities) under threat due to the plans to build the Northern Gateway Pipeline. Through McAllister I learned that the Great Bear Rainforest is actually an area that is seeing regeneration and a resurgence of life. It would be a shame to see that compromised. Be sure to check out PacificWild.org for more information on what you can do about that.

The festival doesn’t wrap up until Sunday night, so be sure to check out the Banff Mountain Festivals to snag any remaining tickets.

Keep following along on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for dispatches from the field!

8 Things I Learned From 52 Weeks of Feedback

On April 15, 2012, I set out on a mission.

I was feeling discouraged by the lack of feedback in the world of writing. We live in a fast-paced culture where editors are often too busy to include us in their editing process, and in which readers often consume without providing any response, whether they are tight on time or just don’t think of it. The Internet seems to have raised a new generation of “scanners” – readers who quickly gloss over a piece, check the length and read the headers and sub headers before deciding if they are even going to continue reading at all. Bloggers are actually encouraged to cater to this type of reader by compartmentalizing longer pieces into smaller chunks with catchy subheadings (I’m doing that in this very article). Throw in a few photos to make things interesting because, my goodness, a page full of text? We’re lucky if readers get to the bottom of our articles, of pieces we work so hard to produce.

I know this because, at times, I am that reader. So, how can I expect to hear from my readers if I don’t provide feedback to others?

Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man's growth without destroying his roots. Frank A. Clark

Why do I care so much about feedback?

I realize that not every writer cares about receiving feedback. Some are content to throw ideas out to the universe without any sense of where they end up. But that’s not my approach. My eagerness for feedback isn’t some superficial need for attention. It’s a genuine desire for information that will help me sharpen my sword and produce better stories. It’s a longing for discussion around the ideas I’m presenting. Like many writers, it’s the need to know that someone finds my words helpful, insightful or inspiring – that there is a purpose to what I’m doing. Call it affirmation, but I’m not talking about a pat on the back or a gold star. For me, it’s the force behind what I do, the reason I see the world in words, the result of a lot of hard thinking and hard work.

The Challenge

So, on April 15 of last year I set out on a mission to choose an article (mostly online) each week and provide feedback to the author. This could be a comment about the actual writing or the ideas presented. I kept my comments positive and shied away from offering constructive criticism since this was all occurring on a public forum. Some writers asked me to choose their pieces to provide feedback on, and so I provided more constructive criticism privately. If I couldn’t provide genuine feedback, I didn’t provide any at all. As tempting as it was sometimes, I never wanted to comment simply for the sake of commenting. I only gave my feedback when I had time to think it through, and provide an authentic, thoughtful response.

You might be wondering, if it was 52 Weeks of Feedback, why did it take me 80? The most basic answer: I had a baby. Things got busy and I missed a week here and there. But I stuck to it and still provided feedback for 52 weeks. You can check out my reading list here.

So, let’s get down to it. What did I learn after my 52 weeks of reading and commenting?

What I Learned From 52 Weeks of Feedback

1. Providing comments on a regular basis paved the way for new relationships with other writers and bloggers. The majority of authors who received my feedback were thankful that I took the time to comment, and this sparked the beginning of a meaningful exchange. Sometimes it didn’t go beyond that first exchange; in other cases, I am still in regular contact with some of these writers.

2. The weekly challenge encouraged me to keep reading. I have heard many times that the best thing a writer can do to improve his or her craft is to read. As much as the project was about providing feedback, an unintended benefit was that I read more than I would have otherwise.

3. Keeping track of the articles I was reading helped me clarify which topics I am most passionate about. Looking back on the list, here are the dominant themes: parenting and the outdoors, motherhood, adventure, goal setting, thoughts on the writing process, creativity, and women in sports.

4. Knowing I had to provide feedback forced me to read more attentively. I fought the temptation to skim or skip ahead so that I could provide an informed response. As a result I also took more away from the article and invested myself more in the ideas that were presented. I allowed myself the time to think, even if it was on a topic I wasn’t particularly interested in.

The Six Golden Rules of Writing: Read, read, read, and write, write, write. ~ Ernest Gaines

5. Often my first comment was the beginning of a meaningful discussion, not just with the author but with other commenters.

6. This wasn’t a reason for my feedback, but looking at my web traffic, referring links increasingly came from articles I commented on. This proves to me that meaningful feedback will eventually loop back to its source.

7. I learned a heck of a lot about writing – from techniques that make for effective storytelling to the power of anecdotes as a way of making ideas stick. And after 52 Weeks of Feedback, here is the one piece of criticism I came up with the most (something I am also working on): cut the fluff. Be rigorous with your choice of words. While I’m a strong believer that long-form pieces belong on the web, longer is not necessarily better. One editor put it this way: learn to distinguish the pepper (relevant details) from the fly shit (details that don’t ultimately serve the piece). Help your reader get to the end of your articles.

8. Committing to a challenge helped me to create a new habit. I can’t promise I’ll continue the process weekly, but I will take the time more often to provide feedback for other writers.

There you have it! I encourage you to take on your own feedback challenge, whether it’s weekly, monthly or whenever you feel like it. As I have written above, I learned a lot from the process, and the practice has resulted in some long-term benefits: relationships with other writers, meaningful discussion and helpful tips that will improve my writing.

Is feedback important to you? Why or why not?

New Directions: Moving on from Editor Position at Highline Magazine

Some news for you today!

After two and a half years as Editor of Highline Magazine, the mountain culture magazine here in the Canadian Rockies, life has called me onto new adventures! Many of you know that I welcomed a daughter to the world back in March 2013. With my new responsibility of mamahood, as well as some other exciting opportunities with my writing, I knew I needed to make a change. It has not been an easy decision. I know this publication is a very special one, and the team members behind it are some of the most inspiring, creative, talented and hilarious people I know. Please read my Letter from the Editor, which we posted this week over at HighlineOnline.ca, to read my full announcement.

You can access all the digital versions of the magazine here.

As always, I’ll keep you posted on what I’m up to and the exciting projects calling my name. Keep up with me on Twitter and Facebook for the latest news!