This week Slate covered our updated Lists for Writers app in an article about creative writing apps. It’s a good look at the differences between writing productivity apps and apps that help you come up with creative ideas for your writing.
In my last blog, I wrote about people watching at Fast Food Restaurants. This time, let’s dive into Transportation Hubs. These are great places to get ideas for storylines!
How to get the most out of the experience:
- Locate a spot to camp out and watch people. You can do this conspicuously or inconspicuously.
- Use your dossier notebook to create characters inspired by the people you see.
- Look at luggage/purses, shoes, and coats. These are all high ticket items that reflect economic status fairly accurately.
- Observe groups of travelers: singles, friends, couples, families, social/school groups, business travelers.
- Are they coming or going?
- People who are waiting for passengers are interesting, too. Who are they? A romantic rendezvous? A distant relative? A chauffeur? The spouse of a soldier returning? An illicit affair? A business associate? A boyfriend?
- Where are they going? Where have they been?
- Business or pleasure? Or family emergency?
Here’s a checklist of transportation hubs to observe people. Which one is your favorite?
- International Airport
- Train station
- Subway stop
- Taxi stand
- Bus station
- Bus stop
- Cruise ship terminal/port
- Small regional or private airport
- Airport concourse or restaurant
I like to get outside my regular living areas to find inspiration and get some real writing. One key to success is to appear as though you are working very hard on your stuff so people ignore you. Being a creepy weirdo could get you kicked out of a prime place.
Our first stop on the world tour is fast food restaurants. For my purposes, fast food restaurants are places of low commitment to food as a culinary experience with a focus on speed and expense. Patrons do not typically stop in for a leisurely luxury lunch here. They are usually in a hurry or have limited time and/or budget.
How to get the most out of the experience:
- Sit where you can observe employee activities (hostess station, drive-thru, counter help, etc.)
- Observe employees. Imagine what has brought them to work at a fast food restaurant. Who is in charge? Is there evidence of teamwork or is it a broken system?
- Identify individual quirks of the workers.
- If you are lucky enough to be able to observe the same set of people repeatedly, try making a notebook of fictional dossiers of the players. Include a rough sketch, habits, dreams, realities, physical descriptions, personality traits, etc.
- Observe patrons. Why are they there? Habit? Circumstance? Laziness? Guilty pleasure?
Here’s a checklist for the most popular fast food restaurants! Which one is your favorite for people watching?
- A&W Restaurants
- Bob Evans
- Boston Market
- Brioche Dorée
- Burger King / Hungry Jack’s
- Café de Coral
- Carl’s Jr.
- Charley’s Grilled Subs
- Checkers / Rally’s
- Chester’s International
- Chicken Cottage
- Chicken Delight
- Chicken Express
- Chicken Licken
- Chipotle Mexican Grill
- Chuck E. Cheese’s
- Church’s Chicken / Texas Chicken
- Cook Out Restaurant
- Country Kitchen
- Dairy Queen
- Del Taco
- Domino’s Pizza
- Dunkin’ Donuts
- El Pollo Loco
- Firehouse Subs
- Five Guys
- Gloria Jean’s Coffees
- Hardee’s / Red Burrito
- IHOP (International House of Pancakes)
- In-N-Out Burger
- Jack in the Box
- Johnny Rockets
- John’s Incredible Pizza
- Kenny Rogers Roasters
- Little Caesars Pizza
- LongHorn Steakhouse
- Long John Silver’s
- Maoz Vegetarian
- Manchu Wok
- McDonald’s / Macca’s
- Moe’s Southwest Grill
- MOS Burger
- Nathan’s Famous
- New York Fries
- Noble Roman’s
- Olive Garden
- Orange Julius
- Outback Steakhouse
- Panchero’s Mexican Grill
- Panda Express
- Papa John’s Pizza
- Panera Bread
- Pizza Hut
- Pollo Campero
- Pollo Tropical
- Pret A Manger
- Popeyes Chicken & Biscuits
- Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers
- Red Lobster
- Red Robin
- Red Rooster
- Romano’s Macaroni Grill
- Roy Rogers Restaurants
- Ruby Tuesday
- Sarku Japan
- Smoothie King
- Sonic Drive-In
- Steak ‘n Shake
- Student Biryani
- Taco Bell
- Taco Bueno
- Taco Cabana
- Taco del Mar
- Taco John’s
- Taco Mayo
- Taco Tico
- Taco Time
- TGI Fridays
- Tim Hortons
- Tony Roma’s
- Uno Chicago Grill
- Wendy’s Supa Sundaes
- White Castle
- White Spot
Right before the ACT Fly-In, we were able to attend BlackBerry Live 2013 in Orlando. Each attendee received a BlackBerry Z10 as part of the registration, compliments of Brightstar. Everyone spent some time setting up their devices and downloading the conference app to manage their schedules. This was a lot of fun, and it encouraged those of us who were unfamiliar with BlackBerry to jump right in and use it. Visiting the exhibitors and the Jam Space (developer hangout) got us inspired to hurry up and get our apps on the BlackBerry 10.
Camp NaNoWriMo is a spin-off program of the very popular NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month.) In the single month sessions of April and July, you can get some encouragement to get significant chunks of writing done. Visit campnanowrimo.org to join! It’s free!
1. Set a reachable goal (with mini-goals.)
With Camp NaNoWriMo’s lower end goal only being 10,000 words in a month, this is an easily reachable goal for most people. If you have plenty of time on your hands and think you can turn yourself from a couch potato into a writing machine, maybe 50,000 words is within your reach. Once you set your word count goal, it’s very important to have some checkpoints along the way. If your goals is 10,000 words for the month, you need to write 2500 words each week, and around 500 words, five days each week. Print out a blank calendar and mount it somewhere you will see everyday. Cross off each day as you complete your word count, and make a note of your daily word counts.
2. Set up a regular writing spot.
Do you work best at your desk? Dining room table? Recliner? Window seat? Library? Park? If you have one productive spot, take some time to clean it up and refresh your supplies. If you need a variety of places, make a list of those now so you don’t have to think about it later.
3. Assemble resources.
Some writers need paper, pens, dictionaries, thesaurus, etc. Others need a laptop and an iPad or phone with apps. I’ve been in both camps and can do it either way. I highly recommend that if you work on a laptop, that you turn off your internet connection during your scheduled writing time. This will increase your productivity greatly!
4. Schedule time to write.
Gaining skill and mastery requires regular practice just like playing the piano or fencing. When is your brain firing on all cylinders? Early morning? Late night? Find a time and carve it out on your calendar. Don’t skip it. Just do it. Even if you write nonsense for an hour, you might write one great sentence that will help you accomplish your goal tomorrow. Legendary composer Aaron Copland said that he found the greatest time of inspiration to compose between the hours of 8am-4am, Monday through Friday. Get busy and just do it!
5. Get to know your characters.
Who are these people you are writing about? Spend some time making character profiles, family trees, relationship flow charts, and finding reference photos. The more fully you envision your characters, the more easily dialogue will form between them. If you write a brief backstory for each character, that will help you find their motivations for the way they behave with your other characters.
6. Do your research.
Researching setting improves the process by providing a great deal of credible information to draw from. Is your novel set in 18th century France? You might want to study! Is your main character a neurosurgeon? Read up on it! Are your characters from a modern-day Chicago suburb? Get on Google and look at the satellite and street views of some Chicago suburbs! Print out some houses for your characters to live in. Draw a map. Lay out a house design so your action makes sense.
7. Tell no one, someone, or everyone.
I go back and forth on this one. I either tell everyone I know that I’m working on something, or no one, and do it secretly. This is up to you, but make a decision and stick to it. If you decide to keep it to yourself, keep it! This is most difficult to do if you are married or otherwise committed to a significant other (or have a parent living with you.) You can choose to tell that one person only. That seems to be a good choice, but only if that person is supportive and doesn’t cast judgment on you.
8. Determine your reward.
What are you going to do when you complete your goal? Go out to dinner? Buy new shoes? Go sailing? Whatever it is, find a picture of it, put it in a cheap frame, and keep it nearby during camp. When your internal motivation hits a wall, look at your reward for some external motivation.
9. Assemble a writer’s block first aid kit.
I have two kits: physical and virtual. My physical kit contains a dictionary, a thesaurus, story dice, pipe cleaners, unusual pens and pencils, assorted paper, number dice, lists I’ve kept over the years, a couple of current magazines, creativity card deck, and a stress ball. My virtual kit contains: iPad, iPhone. I use brainstorming apps on my iPhone and use my iPad as a sketchpad, notepad, and timer. Thinkamingo has a toolbox full of apps that help me with my brainstorming process, including: Lists for Writers, Story Dice, Name Dice, and Story Spark. Other apps I use for organizing my writing, sketchbooks, and productivity are A Novel Idea, Penultimate, Simple Pomodoro Timer, and Dropbox.
Ann Adair is the President and Co-founder of Thinkamingo Inc and makes mobile apps with her family. She has participated in NaNoWriMo for years and never crossed the finish line. Following her own advice, Ann plans to write at least 10,000 words in April’s Camp NaNoWriMo.
We are happy to announce our latest release: Name Dice!
This free iOS app makes character naming easy by providing nearly a million unique names at your fingertips!
How does Name Dice work?
Name Dice randomly generates a first and last name pair from lists of hundreds of names.
Basically, Name Dice makes names. It does NOT make you more creative, write your story for you, make sandwiches, refill your glass, clean your room, or knit you a sweater.
If you are stuck on getting a story idea, or ideas for a main character, Name Dice can help you. Maybe you’re a spy and you need a new identity. Maybe you and your friend want to pretend to be someone else when you go out to lunch. Maybe you are having a sleepover and you and your friends are going to pretend to be celebrities and you need help coming up with a good name. Maybe you are a writing a novel about your mom and you want to publish it under another name so she doesn’t find out about it.
Whatever the reason, Name Dice can give you some ideas for just the right name!
True Confession of a Distracted Writer
“One reason I love this app is that it just feeds my imagination! I roll the dice, see the name, and my mind is immediately buzzing with activity creating a life story for the name. If I don’t like the name for whatever reason, I just roll again! Voila!”
How do I save my favorite name?
The easiest way is to take a screenshot by holding down the home button and the power button simultaneously. It’s a good idea to practice this before you need to use it. After you take the screenshot, you can find the photo in your iOS device’s Camera Roll. You can share the photo on Facebook or your blog.
We hope you enjoy this fun little free app! We’d love to connect with you on facebook and twitter and hear stories about your alter egos!
Our first update of Lists for Writers is now available in both the iTunes App Store and the Amazon Appstore for Android. The update adds some additional lists that users have suggested:
- Land forms – geographic features
- People – relationships
- Dialog verbs
- World cities
The update also now supports iOS version 4.0 or higher. Previously only iOS version 4.3 or higher was supported but we heard from several iPhone owners that are still on 4.2 or 4.1.
Thank you for your feedback and we’re happy to hear any more suggestions from users!