Tag: Clayton Dean

Best Apps for Writers

When I first started writing stories, poetry, and (attempts) at novels (I’m still actively attempting btw), I thought the act of creation all came from the hand of God or a lightning strike from the muse, but honestly, what I’ve realized is that whenever an author talks like this he or she is mostly full of shit. Inspiration, of course, strikes, but saying that a novel is completed because it came to an author in a dream or was written in one night after a hallucinogenic trip is mostly marketing and exaggeration. For example, Kerouac wrote his draft of “On the Road” so many times that when he wrote it in two weeks that just meant that’s when he wrote the final draft. The marketing behind that gave the book mystique, and writers and artists capitalize on this branding (admit it!) all the time. Don’t believe the hype. (Kerouac’s credibility as a writer has suffered and thrived based on this idea.)

Well, honestly, I did believe the hype before, and I would try to write in a way that believed in the sudden strike of inspiration: waiting in my office for the muse to tap me on the shoulder and whisper in my ear. What this led to was a pile of digital shit. Yeah. But now that I’m older and I have a profession where I’m required to stay organized and structured, I’ve started to apply a lot of the knowledge I’ve learned from marketing and project management to my creative work. I’ve learned that there are tools that I can use to ensure that I’m focused, organized, and motivated. I should probably thank Clayton Dean, the co-founder of Circa Interactive, for showing me several apps that have helped me harness my creativity. So here are my top 3 apps that I recommend for every writer to stay organized and on track to finishing your gigantic project.

3. Evernote


Evernote is the app I just can’t live without. I’ve heard people from corporations to creative agencies swear by this app, but I didn’t really understand how to use this tool until I read The Secret Weapon. Evernote keeps everything in my life prioritized and organized, and if this app ever shut down, then I would probably, legitimately, collapse. I’m able to create a tag system that allows me to move my tasks around, send emails directly to my app so I can look at them later, and sync my notes across my lap top, smart phone and desktop. Without Evernote, I wouldn’t be able to keep track of the countless tasks in my life (from writing, to work, to my relationships) and then organize them depending on need. What’s really important about this app is that it allows me to stop exerting so much mental energy trying to remember what tasks I need to care of (Did I send that email to my client? Did I remember to buy flowers for my wife for our anniversary? When was I supposed to send the editor those revisions?) and focus on creating my art in my free time. It allows my subconscious to focus on building stories rather than organization.

2. Aeon Timeline

When I’m writing a novel or a complicated short story, the hardest part for me is figuring out the backstory. It’s not that I can’t create the ideas and build a rich life for my characters; it’s that it’s so hard for me to keep them together and know exactly when and where dates and events
happen in time. Right now, I’m working on a novel that is fairly complex and needs to be carefully plotted. It spans generations but the actually telling of the story happens in just under a week and a half. While I’m not actually going to include all of the events of the characters’ backstory in the novel, I need to know what they are, because for these characters, the past is always pulling at them, altering the present and causing characters to sometimes take dangerous paths to find answers to personal histories. So I was looking at organizing generations of characters lives and trying to find ways to keep them organized. I was stuck. So I just started Googling for tools to help. That’s when I came across Aeon Timeline.

What I love about Aeon Timeline is that it’s easy to use. You can watch a couple of videos on YouTube, and you’ll know the interface pretty well. But it really captures exactly what I need to build a novel. I can create birthdays for characters and then add events on a timeline, and it will automatically calculate their ages based on the event. I can see from an aggregate when characters meet, when tragic events happen, and how much time happens between events. I can separate events by characters, highlight the characters who are involved in the scene, and build separate timelines for what actually happens on stage (to borrow a plot phraseology from the great author Lynne Barrett) and off stage. In other words, I’m able to see what the reader is seeing while I need to know what is happening elsewhere in the world of the novel. I am able to figure out when I can reveal these developments to the reader and create precision with plotting and build suspense. Of course, you have to come up with the idea first, but Aeon Timeline provides an author with the tool to digitally map a story while using modern technology to build a plot rather than the messy colored pencil method, which of course works. It’s just that for me I need to see the story digitally and zoom in and out and manipulate the information ad nauseam.

1. Scrivener


For writing long manuscripts, I’ve always felt that Microsoft Word never really performed. Of course, Word has a pretty solid UX, but it’s clearly not designed with the author in mind. It’s meant for the business professional and the daily lives of American people. Clayton was really pushing me to find a writing app that was targeted specifically for writers. He’s a major supporter of Evernote, and he encouraged me to consider Evernote’s writing platforms. He loves the simplicity of the UX, but it just wasn’t feeling quite right for my work. Evernote drips with my professional life as well as my creative. It’s sort of the essence of my work life, and I wanted to have another arm of my being that was devoted just to creative projects. That’s when I came across Scrivener.

It’s not easy for me to describe why Scrivener is so important, but in a nutshell, it allows writers to break down gigantic texts into parts, move back and forth between displays, and create flash cards for chapters. It’s really an amazing product that does everything Evernote does — organize research, save audio and video, and build a tag structure around content to easily search between parts — but it’s made with the writer in mind. I love their distraction free writing mode, too, which has a typewriter effect, which allows the mouse to stay in the center of the screen…like a typewriter. I’m never going back to Word. I’ll literally never write the same way again.

The New Digital Media Artist: Finding a Balance to Create

It’s Father’s Day, and I’m in San Diego at my brother in law’s house, drinking Gatorade to rehydrate after a night of celebration. Truthfully, I’ve been neglecting this blog for a bit, and I’ve recommitted to a weekly Sunday blog post. So from now on, every Sunday, I’ll be writing a new blog post about what’s going on with my writing or just providing commentary on issues I find important.

Friends with You. Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin
Friends with You. Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin

Over the last couple of months, there have been a lot of changes in my personal journey. I’ve become the creative director of Circa Interactive; I started an Internet/television show called The Working Poet Radio Show sponsored by the Los Angeles Public Library; and I’ve been trying to chronicle the New Americana at Rockwell’s Camera Phone. On top of that, I’ve been trying to write essays and profiles while keeping up three different social media accounts. It’s been extremely hard to manage, and I’m at a point where I need to think about what’s important in life to focus on. Well, they all are important. This has become quite a balancing act, and I would say that some project management tools like Evernote and Trello have saved me from certain mental exhaustion. What I find is that some people don’t understand how to harness the power of a program like Evernote. Clayton Dean, co-founder of Circa Interactive, introduced me to this: The Secret Weapon.

Blog Post pic 2
The Working Poet Radio Show. Photo Credit: Clayton Dean

But that’s not the only thing that’s changing. I’ve been monitoring trends in digital and social media for some time now, and it’s clear to me that as an artist, as a writer, as a journalist, as an author, I need to change the way that I create and work because the ways that art and content are being consumed and communicated have changed drastically. Now, I don’t think creatives should change their approach based on trends, but I do think that the early part of the 21st century has provided an enormous amount of opportunities to expand creation in general.

For example, cutting video is easier than ever, and I’m actively trying to turn the profiles I write for print journalism into video. By using the same approach to print journalism, I believe that I can transfer over the skills I’ve learned as a journalist to video and audio story telling. There has been a learning curve, however, and I’ve had to learn to cut, transition, and film to seem like a professional. I have to think about lighting and sound and many other aspects of recording that I wasn’t entirely familiar with. I’ve been cutting on Adobe Premier, and I have the Adobe Creative Suite.

Photo Credit: Alan Muszynski
Photo Credit: Alan Muszynski

Now, I have just started learning Illustrator and After Effects, and this is a whole different territory that feels a bit overwhelming, but I see that there are limitless opportunities with text and, of course, special effects that can take my journalism, poetry, and art to a whole different level, but mastering this type of programming takes time and patience. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been staring at one of these programs for hours and I can’t figure out how to do a basic function. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve scoured through YouTube looking for a video to explain a certain function. Adobe certainly has made the suite easy to understand, but there is still a certain element of patience and understanding that it takes time to master these programs.

Here is a poster I designed.
Here is a poster I designed.

I’ve also started taking photography more seriously, and I’ve been going on photo shoots with my new Nikon D7100, which is also what I’ve been using to film. As a journalist and a creative director, it seems essential for me to learn photography. What has become expected of creatives in order to produce has changed dramatically, and the only way for a young creative like me to stay on the cutting edge is to adapt and learn everything in order to tell better stories and create better art and work for clients.

Photo credit: Joseph Lapin
Photo credit: Joseph Lapin

What I’m trying to say is that the 21st century is introducing a whole new type of artist/creative: the one who doesn’t accept the silly distinctions between the mediums; the one who fails to accept that he or she is only limited to one medium; the one who is incorporating every new piece of technology to create new forms and mediums. So, I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently, and I feel that I’m on the verge of an explosion of new forms and projects. Some will probably be failures as I learn new technologies, but I can’t concern myself with failing. I can only concern myself with finding the best ways to create.