Saturday, October 29, 2011

Pomodoro Technique - Surviving NaNoWriMo

This is my first year participating in NaNoWriMo, but as a computer programmer I'm no stranger to huge deadlines that require long-term focus to get done.

When work is mounting and time is dwindling I turn to the Pomodoro Technique to get me through the "hell weeks" with my sanity intact. It's simple. It's easy. It's powerful. And it strikes a good balance between pedal-to-the-medal activity and all-work-and-no-play-makes-John-a-dull-boy.

All you need to make this work is a simple timer. You've probably got one in your kitchen or on your phone. Either of those will work great. If you don't have one, I'll put some recommendations at the end of this post.
Step 1) Set your timer for 25 minutes. Put it somewhere you can see it. Start typing.
Step 2) When the timer dings, stop typing and save your work.
Step 3) Set your timer for 5 minutes and take a break. When the timer dings, go back to Step 1.

That's it. Like I said it's simple, but it works.

If anyone tries to interrupt you, point to the timer and tell them you'll be free in 11 minutes, or whatever your timer says. Then go back to work. There are very few things that can't wait a few minutes.

One of the keys, is to stop when the timer dings. Stop right then. Immediately. If you're in the middle of a sentence that's even better. It will help you get back into writing when you return from your break. Don't be tempted to keep going. You'll wear yourself out.

When I stop immediately, I've found that I get a burst of productivity when there's about five minutes left. When I don't follow the "Stop Immediately" rule I don't get this burst of productivity.

During your breaks, don't work on your manuscript. Sure, you'll end up having thoughts about your story, but try to make your break count. Stand up, walk away from the computer, stretch a little. Chat with a friend. Handle any of the interruptions that popped up. Anything except writing your story.

Then make sure to sit back down when the timer dings.

This technique does wonders for me. I hope you find it useful as well.

More Information

This post just scratches the surface. Go out to to learn even more about this amazing idea.


If you need a timer there are a lot out there.

On Windows or Mac I've used FocusBooster. They have an online version and a desktop version. I've also heard good things about Tomighty.

On both Android and iPhone there are built-in timer applications. They will work just fine.

If you want to download an app. On Android, I use Pomodroido. It's easy to use. It keeps track of how many sessions you've done and you can "level up" as you do more.

Since I don't have an iPhone, I don't have any recommendations here. All I can do is point you to this review by The Next Web that looks useful.

* Ooooo! Now I'm hungry for a tomato sandwich. The tomato picture was taken by photon_de and can be found on Flickr.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

NaNoWriMo Preparation

NaNoWriMo is less than . . . Seven. Days. Away. AAAAAAAAAAGH!

You should have seen the looks on my kids faces when I ran screaming from the room. It was a curious mix of "My Dad's a goofball" and "Not again." I think I also detected some eye-rolling. I guess they know me too well.

If you're like me, there are still some things you need to get ready for NaNoWriMo. My wife wrote several great blog posts on the topic. I recommend you read them.

I know she has other posts planned, so you'll have to check back to learn more.

I'm usually a plotter when it comes to writing, but this year I'm trying something different. I'm attempting to "pants" a novel. You know, like, write it by the seat of my pants. It's a little scary for me, but I'm also curious to see how well it works. I've never done it, so who knows? Maybe the story will turn out better.

If you're a pantser as well, you'll enjoy Elana Johnson's post on how she gears up for NaNoWriMo. I did.
The votes are in. I'm going to write the Middle Grade Fantasy story about Arthur and Thor. Not only did it get the most votes (thanks guys), but I think it will work better with my pantsing experiment. Middle Grade is supposed to be quirky and evoke a strong sense of wonder.

I'll be posting a few more thoughts on NaNoWriMo this week, so stay tuned.

* The NaNoWriMo logo belongs to the Office of Letters and Light. To learn more about NaNoWriMo or to participate visit

Monday, October 24, 2011

Laughing with Agents

I suspect most of you already follow Rachelle Gardner's blog. If not, don't worry, you can still repent of this gross omission.

On Friday, she asked "How many agents does it take to screw in a light bulb?" Yesterday, she posted the winners, and they are hilarious.

Laughter is a great way to start the week.

* Just eight more days to NaNoWriMo!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Help for NaNoWriMo

It's almost November, and you know what that means. National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short. It's when tens of thousands of writers throw caution to the wind and attempt to write a 50,000-word story in a single month.

It's not as crazy as it sounds, but it isn't easy.

My plans are to try something new. I normally write contemporary YA fantasy. I'll stick with fantasy, but change the audience and time period. It'll be good practice and a good break from editing.

The problem is that I have two stories I want to write and I can only do one of them, so here's were you come in. I've written a blurb for each story below. In the comments tell me which one you think sounds the best and why. I'll write whichever wins. I'll also try to post story updates on my blog as I go through the month.

Blurb #1:
The Norse God, Thor, decides to take a long-overdue vacation, and he leaves his mighty hammer in the care of his great, great, great, are-you-still-reading-all-of-these, great, great grandson, Arthur Quirkelsteen, the smallest boy in his fourth-grade class. Arthur first tries to fly to school, but misses it by three states. Then he ruins his class service project--who knew the hammer would refuse to drive nails? But when his secret is discovered by the cafeteria lady he must keep the hammer safe until his great, great, great, he-is-pretty-great, great grandfather returns.
Blurb #2:
Elizabeth stands in the balance between an immoral peace and a war with the gods. She believes in the old gods--creatures who feed on human souls and grant fantastic powers to their followers, but she is also the daughter of a famous industrialist--a man who uses human labor, machines and money to build empires. Will she support the continued sacrifices to appease the gods? Or the slavery enforced by the industrialists? Or will her actions start a war that could spell the end of her society?
Leave a comment below and tell me which one you like better.

* You gotta wonder how long that place has been looking for help. I hope you guys step up and send help a little faster. It made a great picture for Brenda Gottsabend. You can find it on Flickr.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

There's a Fire Burnin' on the Dance Floor

Last Saturday I got a call from a friend. His DJ partner was sick and he asked me if I could help.

Could I help? Of course. I enjoy music and he has a sweet setup. I also like dancing. Not to brag or anything, but I was good back in the day.

We played a youth barn dance. The whole time we had to balance body-thumpin' base vs. blowing the fuses. Yes, I said fuses. The whole barn was on the same circuit, so if we blew something we'd take all the lights out with us. That would have been . . . let's not think about that.

I did have a great time and I learned two things.

First, there's a lot of good music out there that I've never heard before.

Second, kids haven't changed much.

There were the shy kids hanging around the edges who'd often refuse to dance even when asked. There were the cool kids who had too much to lose to try anything new, so they mainly stood around chatting except for the slow songs. There were the kids who just came for the food and socialization. And there were the few who knew every step to every line dance and were dancing almost every song.

As a writer, this made me smile. I didn't grow up with powerful computers connected to the internet in my pocket. I didn't have social networking or text messages. Or thousands of songs literally at my fingertips. But even with all these changes, underneath it all, people are still people. Our hopes and fears, our personality, who we are--that hasn't changed that much.

* Back in the late 80's I got to see a huge outdoor laser light show. I've liked them ever since. But it's hard to capture them on film. Fabio Venni did an awesome job. You can check out the full version on Flickr.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Putting Boxes Around Text (Technical Tuesday)

Let's go outside the box . . . and inside the box. In fact, let's talk about the box itself. I've had a few people ask me how I put boxes around text.

Like this.

It's not hard to do, and I've made a tool for you to quickly create your own.

Note: This tool may not show up in a news reader. You'll need to visit the blog.

There are some basic instructions included with the tool. If you need more details, I've got your back. Read on.

Box Content

You can type as much text as you want into the box.

You can also put HTML in there. This means that you can have images, buttons, multiple paragraphs, whatever.


There are three widths you can control with this tool.
  • Border Width: The thickness of the line.
  • Inside Padding: The space between the line and the text inside.
  • Outside Margin: The space between the line and everything outside.
Here's a quick graphic that may make more sense, or you can just play around with the settings. As you change them the Preview will be updated.


All that's left is choosing some colors.

Get the Code

Now that your box looks just right, switch to the "Get the Code" tab. There you can copy the code and paste it into the HTML view of your blog post. You can also use this code on your website.

Happy Boxing.

* Origami is one of my wow-I-wish-I-could-do-that-but-not-enough-to-actually-practice skills. So when I see things like this decorative box, I'm in awe. And Dominic Alves did a great job photographing it. You can find it and others on Flickr.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

"All of Me" by Jon Schmidt (Video)

What makes great art? What makes a great artist?

I've been looping this video for several days now. I think I'm personally responsible for at least 50 views. It inspires me, excites me, energizes me. 

Isn't that what our favorite art does? It lifts us up for a brief moment. It fills us until we are forced to expand ourselves or let some of the essence overflow.

And like any great artist, Jon Schmidt makes it look easy. It's like the music is flowing directly from him. When I hear this, I don't hear the years of practice or the fingering techniques. I hear MUSIC. No, I hear more than music. Don't you?

This is why, as a writer, you need to read. Read great stories by great authors. They will teach you. They will entertain you. But most of all, they will inspire you. 

I recently heard a successful writer say than any time he experienced writers block it was a sign that he wasn't reading enough.

Thanks Piano Guys for a wonderful and inspiring YouTube channel. Thanks Jon Schmidt for sharing your inspiration and the fruits of your hard-won talent with us.

Now, I feel like writing.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Death Cure (Book Review)

I just finished The Death Cure by James Dashner.


I started reading the first chapter and didn't come up for air until page 240. Then I dove right back, finishing the whole thing in one session.

In this final book in the Maze Runner trilogy, James has heightened everything: the tension, the stakes, the emotions, the sacrifices, the setting, everything. If you liked the first books, I think you'll love this one.

Some of you may recall my one-word review of The Scorch Trials. Why?!

Why had the world changed? Why were kids subjected to such callous tests? Why did so many people have to die? If you felt the same way, you'll be happy to know that this book has the answers.

On a personal note, I've been a Dashner fan for many years and I can't wait to see what amazing story he comes up with next. If you ever get a chance to take a class from him, or hear him speak, or watch him present at a school, do it. He's a lot of fun. The next best thing is following his blog or Twitter.

Monday, October 3, 2011

How to Set a Background Image with Dynamic Views (Technical Tuesday)

I figured out how to jump Hurdle #1 in my continuing journey to use Blogger's new Dynamic Views. If you remember, I wanted a way to make it more my own and not just black and white.

While the new views are cool, they don't have near the customization available to the normal templates.

I first tried to use my old background, but it didn't work at all. It was too big and didn't look right in all the different views. One thing I've had to get used to is that my readers can choose any of the views they want, so I have to test my customization using all of them. It's not hard to do, but it's something you need to remember.

I experimented with several options to get my background working, but ended up choosing a simple one: I cropped the image.
  1. Crop or re-size your background image to be 65 pixels high and as wide as you need. Mine is 1600 pixels wide.
  2. Login to your Blogger Dashboard -> Templates.
  3. Click the "Customize" button below the "Live on Blog" template, and the Blog Template Designer will open.
  4. Select Background then click on the down-arrow next to the current background image.
  5. Upload your newly-cropped image.
  6. Choose the alignment that works best. You can see the results in the preview pane.
  7. Select "Don't tile".
  8. Apply the changes to your blog.
My image looked great, but I couldn't read my blog title because it was the wrong color. There isn't a simple way to do this, so I had to use the Advanced settings.
  1. Login to your Blogger Dashboard -> Templates.
  2. Click the "Customize" button below the "Live on Blog" template, and the Blog Template Designer will open.
  3. Select Advanced then enter the following code into the Add CSS field.

    #header .header-bar .title h1 { color: white; } 

    Change the color to whatever you need. You can either use a color name like I did ("white"), or specify the color using RGB or hexadecimal. If I just lost you, don't worry, there's more details on each option and and examples below.
  4. Apply the changes to your blog.
HTML Color Names

The list of accepted names can be found in many places online. I prefer to use They not only have great information, but they also have many tutorials that teach different web technologies.
List of HTML Color Names
RGB and Hexadecimal Colors

You can also specify colors by RGB values. To do this, use the following code:
#header .header-bar .title h1 { color: RGB(256,256,256); }
Or you can specify using the color's hexadecimal value. It looks like this:

#header .header-bar .title h1 { color: #FFFFFF; }
These codes can usually be found in an image editor or color picker. A decent place to get these codes is using the HTML Color Mixer page.

I'm going to work on a couple more hurdles this week. If you find this information useful let me know.

* Don't stare at the picture for too long, you might go cross-eyed. It's mesmerizing though. The image was created by fdecomite and can be found on Flickr.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

I Have Dynamic Views (Technical Tuesday - Special)

My initial impression: Dynamic Views aren't quite ready for everyone.

In this post, I'll walk you through the switch-over and some of the hurdles I encountered. There's a fair number of them and I don't want this post to become negative. I'm going to keep working on finding a way over each of them and will post my suggestions as I figure things out.

The Big Switch

Switching to Dynamic Views is very easy. Here's what my blog looked like before:

  1. Login to your Blogger Dashboard and go to the Templates section.
  2. Make a backup of your current template. I posted instructions for doing this a couple days ago.
  3. Select one of the Dynamic Views and apply it to your blog.
  4. Done.
I decided to use the Classic view mostly because it was the first one in the list. Here's my blog after the switch.

The Hurdles

The new view is simple, clean, and worked like a charm. All my posts showed up and were formatted well. I don't use a lot of fancy formatting in my posts, so I didn't expect any problems with this.

Hurdle #1: Branding

I like the new look and how it makes it easy to read posts, but I want to make it a bit more my own. Right now, there aren't a lot of people using the new views, but as more people use them my blog will blend into the sea of simple black & white.

The new views are all about the content. They push everything else to the background and put the posts in the spotlight. I think this is a good thing.

Still, I want to put my own spin on it, and this is hard to do right now.

Hurdle #2: Who Am I?

As you can tell, my sidebar is gone along with all the gadgets. So, how are people supposed to know who I am? How can they find my profile? How can they find me on Twitter or Facebook or Google+?

Hurdle #3: I Lost My Friends

I haven't really lost my blog followers, but you can't see them anymore.

Honestly, this doesn't bother me much. I know there are many people who put a lot of emphasis on how many Followers they have. The problem is that there are so many other ways to follow a blog than clicking on the "Follow" link.

If you're a reader who uses the Follow button to keep up on blogs then you're out of luck.

Hurdle #4: No Preview

I don't know if this is related to switching to Dynamic Views but since switching over I can't Preview my blog posts. The button is grayed out.

Hurdle #5: Tags and Archives

This isn't really a hurdle. It's just different. The new search feature is way cool. Just start typing in the box and it will filter the posts like magic.

Hurdle #6: Money, money, money, mo-ney

If you use your sidebar, header, or footer for ad space, then it's gone.

Hurdle #7: Platform

Most blogs use their sidebar as a platform to promote products, other blogs/websites, events, and show off their awards. The sidebar is gone, so how can people see the cover of your latest book and purchase it? Or see your most recent blogging awards?

To be completely honest, most people don't see those things anyway. When was the last time you visited a blog and just perused down the sidebar looking for something interesting? Even if your answer was "just five minutes ago" ask yourself how many time a week do you do that? Not often.

People aren't looking at your sidebar much at all. And if your visitors are like me they rarely see your sidebar ever. I read blog posts in Google Reader. This means that I only see your posts formatted the way I like to read them, nothing more.

Still, I think the sidebar images are like billboards. Marketers learned long ago that billboards rarely drive sales directly. Instead, they reinforce a brand. When you see a billboard over and over again, you form a subconscious relationship with that company. Then when it comes down to making a sales decision, your familiarity will give them an upper hand.

The new views have torn down all the billboards. Great for people who think they are eyesores, not so great for people who want to promote their brand.

Hurdle #8: Copyright

I try to be a stickler for copyright. I make sure I only use images and quotes with permission and I try to give proper attribution. For example, my header image is based on the Night Sky theme by Ray Creations. In my old template, I added this attribution to the footer. The new view doesn't have a footer, so where do I put this?

Also, everything I post on my blog (unless otherwise noted) is released under a Creative Commons Attribution license. This means that anyone can use any quote, image, or whole posts from my blog without asking as long as they give me proper attribution. This information used to be in my footer.

Hurdle #9: Javascript is Broken

This won't apply to many of you, but I use custom javascript in several of my posts. For example, the tool I made to create image buttons. It doesn't work anymore, and I'm sad about that. I know that it's possible to make it work because one of the Google blogs did it. I just need to figure out how.

The Finish Line

Whew! That's a lot of hurdles, but I'm planning on finding a way over each of them. If you have any suggestions put them in the comments. Or if you want to add a hurdle or two--feel free.

How do you like the new view?

* The hurdles photo was taken by David Morris and can be found on Flickr. I'm short, so this is pretty much exactly how I envision skyscrapers hurdles.
Creative Commons LicenseUnless otherwise noted, all posts on the John Waverly blog by John Waverly are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
* Background image based on Night Sky theme by Ray Creations