Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Apps for Writers

Story Tracker

This is a submission tool for writers, that allows you to keep track of what you submitted and where. If you’re a freelancer, this is a great tool when you’re juggling several stories and articles. It also stores details and guidelines for markets accepting submissions, including magazines, journals, book publishers, and websites. With Story Tracker, you can also view the total income earned for each story, add details for each submission, and even highlight upcoming deadlines. There is a FREE version that allows you to store up to five stories, and the full version is $7.99.


Evernote is an easy, free app that helps you organize and remember your ideas across all your devices. You can take notes, create to-do lists, and record voice reminders. As a TechCrunch award winner, Evernote also allows you to save, sync, and share files and keep your finances in order by saving receipts, bills, and contracts.

Chapters—Notebooks for Writing

Chapters lets you create and manage multiple notebooks such as personal journals, travel logs, and brainstorming chapters. It also has a password-protection option, and lets you create PDFs. It’s pretty much a note-taking program that keeps several documents organized…and it only costs $3.99.

iA Writer

Designed for both iPhones and iPads, iA Writer allows you to put your thoughts into text without distractions…no spelling checkers, no auto-correction, no toolbars. These features are only revealed when you need them. This app also has iCloud and Dropbox integration…all for $0.99.

If you come across any helpful apps for writing and organizing, please share your findings!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Art and Story

I first met Jo Swartz, who writes and illustrates as littlejo, at a writers’ meet-up in Toronto. I was instantly drawn to her vibrant personality and imagination and child-like wonder of the world around her. And then I saw her art and was even more impressed. For a while, I’ve been thinking about how illustrators create stories through images, and more specifically, what the process is like for a writer/illustrator. So, I decided to connect with littlejo and learn more about her process!

Hi, Jo and thanks for taking the time to chat today! Let’s get started!

Thank you for asking, Lorna! I am excited about this.

As an illustrator, where do you get inspiration to let your imagination run wild and create your art?

Everywhere!  I would say I have a passion for learning. Everything I learn seems to lead me someplace interesting and inspiring. I also just let myself wander…I trust that I will be well guided to things that will be useful in a number of ways for my life and work. I am amazed at how God leads me to the most amazing things. I am very spiritual and trust completely in the process.

Describe your illustrating process.

I sometimes just doodle ideas. No fixed plan to them. These sometimes quickly inspire me to something more. A story develops. The characters seem to want to tell me their story….more pictures, a story, and characters come from that.

If the story comes first, then it can take me longer to find the ‘key’ to illustrating it. My work tends to have strong high-concept formats to the illustration. This is when wandering can help. Eventually, I am led to the ideal format for the illustration, usually creating a few tryouts I am not happy with in the process but each one having a bit of what ends up in the final.

For the work itself, I start with rough sketches, and if I like the concept that comes from that, I will create finer line art. I then colour in and add shading. I do it all digitally now. I used to use a lot of tracing paper and a light table to create the final art, which I then coloured in with watercolour or inks (Pebeo inks are my favourite). It was messy, time-consuming, and costly. I can draw directly on the screen of my new computer – which is just like using paper and very natural feeling. It saves me a lot of time and I am no longer wearing pencil smudge on my nose and arms.

You are currently writing the script for your graphic novel, Paris Ballad. How did you approach illustrating the graphics? Was there a storyboard involved?

This story started off as a few random illustrations that quickly wanted to be more. I tried to make it just a picture book of 32 images, but it would not allow itself to be so confined. It seemed to desperately want to be a graphic novel, which I was terrified to do – having never done one, and frankly, I haven’t read many either as most were geared to men.

It took me two years to finally begin what I wanted to do very much – I could tell something was there— I just didn’t know what. It began as a silent graphic novel. So originally, no script was planned.

I created the first chapter of 32 pages completely wordless…I wanted it to be about pure emotion.  The actual final art was more or less the storyboard cleaned up. I drew the story, much the same way one would write. Instead of word by word, it was frame by frame.

Going forward, I will be planning it a bit more. Now that I have decided to add words and am writing the script to it, I have a much clearer idea of what is happening in each frame in advance.

While working on Paris Ballad, how do you ensure cohesion between story and graphics? Did you make notes within your storyboard? Was there an outline of the script before even drawing anything?

After creating the first chapter in images, which I liked very much and felt confident in, I began to create a full outline for the story to ensure I did indeed have a novel here, and so that I could begin to submit it to agents. The outline further encouraged me. It flowed well, and I knew I had an exciting and original story there.

There were some details in there, but I like to leave room for inspiration in the moment. So that, as I am working on it, whether the script or the art, the magic is still there for me and things are still being revealed. I am using the outline, which was originally created for a silent graphic novel, to create the script.

The outline has proven to be valuable for me in ensuring the story stays on course, but magic is still happening to keep me excited about the journey.  I still have the art to do for the other 21 chapters. I expect it to be a little over 300 pages when done.  I make some notes, though I mostly clip images that inspire me, and file them in categories – people, places, etc.  I will be creating the art based on a full-written script, which of course I can still edit as I create the art to ensure that it conveys the feeling I want.

Do you often work solo? What are your thoughts on collaborating with a writer while you do the illustrations?

I have only worked solo for my books. I love the collaborative process though. I have taken classic tales and done my own spin on them, so I am sure I would enjoy doing that with a modern work as well.

I think that even better ideas can be developed when you work with another person, brainstorming etc. When it works well, it isn’t about compromise – but unity – which only comes from connecting with another. Sometimes two heads are better than one. It needs to be the right person with the same kind of trust in the process and no ego!

Do you have any advice for budding illustrators?

Be observant. Practice and perfect your art as much as possible. Be free, try new styles, new subjects, new formats. Remember to play. Stay a child – always amazed at the universe, and always discovering something incredible.  Allow inspiration to take you on the journey as opposed to directing the muse towards what you think will be easy or commercial. (It rarely is the apparently easy road, that actually is, and riches found there are more like fool’s gold than the good stuff.) Take risks. Go where you are afraid to creatively. 

Now, none of that advice will make you money necessarily, but it will make you happy with yourself and your work. You will never feel boxed in. You will always be challenged and growing. Beyond that, get the tools that work best for you. There is nothing like having the right tools.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Wednesday Writing Prompts

Need a little push to fill a blank page? Try some of these writing prompts and see where you end up.

1.     He had it coming…and that’s what I’ll tell anyone who asks.

2.     I woke up with the worst hangover of my life and next to me, was a hand-drawn map with no street names, but symbols, leading to a square with the word “body” written inside.

3.     In a quiet ski village, Marcus sat in his chalet, staring at the flames in his fireplace, and wondering if Rita really did just run out to buy cigarettes.

4.     I remember Bonnie as a troubled middle-aged woman who almost single-handedly jeopardized my family’s company. So when I saw her almost a decade later, sitting at a sidewalk cafĂ©, frowning at her novel, I wanted to turn away and keep pushing her away from my memory. But she looked up and saw me.

5.     “You should just follow him one night,” Barb said. Barb always sounded like a relationship column. It didn’t occur to her that she had been married five times and no one wanted to take her advice.