Sam van Zweden




The Tools That Save My Life

toolspicI’m a busy person. I only manage to get everything done because of some very handy tools, and I thought I’d do a post to share those tools with you. Technology could easily get in the way – between Twitter and Facebook, YouTube and Candy Crush Saga, it would be easy to lose whole days without getting anything productive done. That’s why I have the following things in my artillery:

HootSuite: Hootsuite lets you put all your social media outlets in one place. I’ve currently got four different pages connected via Hootsuite – each page has a tab of its own, and I can write status updates or tweets, and chose which of those pages it will be published on. If I like, I can schedule the same post for both Twitter and Facebook, or only one of the two. I can schedule posts ahead of time, which means that even while I’m at work, I can be letting  people know what’s happening on the blog, or in my life.

FeedlyWith the impending closure of Google Reader, I’ve had to start shopping around for a new RSS host. The first program I’m trying is Feedly and it seems to be doing the trick. RSS readers are basically an aggregate feed that pulls together all the websites that you want to follow, and any new content that goes up on those sites appears in the reader like a new email would appear in your inbox. Feedly allows me to organize blogs into groups, so that if I’m looking for a particular sort of news (or more likely, looking to SKIP a particular type of news), I can do it easily. I don’t have to visit sites individually anymore. Any the phone app syncs easily with the online service, allowing me to read my feed on public transport, too.

Flickr Creative CommonsThere are things about blogging that you aren’t told when you start. For example, copyright – if you use a photograph, you need permission to do that. And even with permission, you most often have to say where the photo comes from. It’s not like you’ll get your pants sued off if you use unattributed photos without permission, but the potential is always there, and it’s just good form to find stuff elsewhere…
Enter: Creative Commons. ‘Creative Commons’ is the name for stuff you can use without paying any royalties or worrying about people getting pissed off about you using their work. Most of the pictures I use for this blog come from the Flickr Creative Commons resource. This means I usually end up with something pretty retro-looking, because a lot of it comes from library historical archives etc, but luckily this matches my own tastes. Without Creative Commons, I’d have a lot less pictures.

I hope you can start using these tools to make your life easier. I’d also love to hear about any tools you’ve got that make your life easier!

110+ Ways to Waste Time AND Learn Something!

I’m good at procrastinating. Really good.

So imagine how chuffed I was when, one afternoon that should have contained much more homework than it did, I came across’s fantastic post: “110+ Resources for Creative Minds”.

And I’ve only just started working my way through this. There are countless hours yet for me to spend avoiding Derrida or TS Eliot.

There is just so much stuff on here, it’s mad. How the author (who goes by “Skellie” – whether that’s a real name or an endearment, I don’t know) has managed to compile this list is beyond me. This would have taken a lot of dedication.

The links offer ways of breaking through writer’s block, many of which are directed specifically at blog-writers, but also web pages that have various little things that might just get you thinking creatively accidentally.

I’m certainly nowhere near even most of the way down this list, but I’m up to about number 10. My favourites thus far?
Chris Brogan’s post containing 100 blog post ideas has a lot of ideas that I simply wouldn’t use on Little Girl With a Big Pen… however, there are still quite a number of ideas there that I can apply to writing and reading, and come up with a decent post from.
Scott Berkun blogs about all things creative-process, and his post on surviving creative burn-out is a really interesting read.
Ronald Huereca’s post about design decisions which annoy readers gives some really nice insight into what might or might not be holding your blog back.

There are a few dead links on Skellie’s list, but there’s so many active ones that I can live with that. I’ll no doubt be posting more stuff from this list in the coming weeks. Months. Years… It could take me a mighty long time to get through this list!

Two Options: Write or Die.

Dr Wicked’s Write or Die is an online writing tool that promises to “put the ‘prod’ in ‘productivity'”.

Write or Die enforces the above (“two options”) ultimatum on your writing. You tell Write or Die how long you’d like to write for (from 10 mins up to 2 hours) and how many words you’d like to achieve in that time. You then select your “consequences”, which range from “gentle” to “electric shock mode”, each with its own consequences. Write or Die lets your choose a “grace period” too, (“forgiving”, “strict” or “evil”) which is the amount of time the program allows to pass before there are consequences. Write or Die opens a document in your browser, and then you start writing.

Consequences for not writing are incredibly well thought-out. They encapsulate your worst nightmares. They differ in degrees of malice, from a pop-up telling you to keep writing, to “MMM-Bop” playing, to the program actually deleting your work. It deletes it in a really horrible way too, working backwards, you see your lovely words disappearing – the only way to stop this happening is to start writing again.

These things don’t just happen randomly, there is the grace period you nominated, and then the background screen starts turning red, and then the consequences happen.

I’m great with procrastination. And I’m terrified of a blank page or document. This program battles all these things in one place, stops me from staring out windows or just reading a page or two of whatever is in front of me, or deciding that the dishes simply can’t wait until after I’ve written.

There are also a heap of handy little widgets that Write or Die gives you at the end of your session, along with your stats (eg “I wrote 200 words in 10 minutes”), which you can copy the code for and upload to a blog or facebook or whatever you please.

The only thing the online version of Write or Die doesn’t do is save your work. The website contains a warning to writers, asking them to copy and paste whatever they type in the browser into a document they can save so they don’t lose it.

There is also a desktop edition of Write or Die ($10), which looks like it remedies a lot of the issues of its online counterpart. It works on your desktop, so you can’t access all the tempting things that will stop you from writing in the first place. There are also a heap of customizable entertaining and smart bits n pieces: disabling the backspace button so that the only way is forward; making it impossible to access any windows behind Write or Die; not being able to save your work until you reach your goal; and heap of awesome stats things, one of which links to Twitter so you can wage “#wordwar” against anyone in the Twitterverse who may wish  to compete.

While I have a billion things to pay off right now, the next spare $10 I get will be going towards the desktop edition of Dr Wicked’s Write or Die… Until then though, the online version gives me plenty of impetus to write. Or die.

Creative People’s Needs?

One of the fantastic links from the Creative Liberty post from last night was over at

This awesome post looks at a creative person’s hierarchy of needs (as opposed to everyone else’s, which were outlined by Abraham Maslow in 1943). Creative people, according to Cynthia of, have ten basic needs additional to those Maslow talked about.

They are:
1. Need for creative space.
2. Need for creative peers.
3. Need for creative fuel.
4. Need for imaginative space.
5. Need for the body to be expressed.
6. Need for your creative edge.
7. Need for ample amounts of faith and belief.
8. Need to have our work responded to.
9. Need for certainty.
10. Need for time.

Cynthia goes into more detail on all these points, and they’re quick interesting, so hit that link above and check it out.

I have creative space. It’s covered in washing, and under that there’s books and pens and ink and paper. But it exists, even if I rarely get work done there. Work is usually done in bed – so I guess that’s my creative space too.

I’ve recently gained some creative peers. Genuinely creative people, who want to get together and do creative things. I’ve never had that before, and I’ve been surprised by what it’s done for my creative process. It forces me to produce things, and share those things. It gets me excited again about the act of creating. So I think Cynthia’s hit the nail on the head with this one – creative peers are incredibly important and helpful. And they also help cover the “need to have our work responded to” while trying to figure out how to get published.

Creative fuel… in abundance. Thank god I live in Melbourne, where there’s something writing-minded on every day, fantastic festivals, and also a plethora of unusual things to get the creative juices flowing. No shortage of creative fuel, sometimes just a shortage of time or money to absorb it all.

One of my teachers has recently introduced me to a great idea that covers both “imaginative space” and “body being expressed” – she calls it the three-idea walk. She walks, for as long as it takes for her to have three ideas for her work. She doesn’t take her notebook or anything, and walks no longer than this, because more than three ideas in your head will lose their potency… I’ve taken up this idea and I think it’s awesome.

Also in terms of bodily expression – I miss yoga. I used to love going to the gym for bodybalance classes… Recent circumstances mean no gym for me anymore, but just concentrating and stretching really does something for me. I love it. It’s calming.

Creative edge – Cynthia calls it problem-solving “the publishing game”… oh, and what a game it is! Knowing the Right Names and Right Faces, going to The Right Events, reading The Right Publications… it’s such a huge thing to tackle, and there’s so much to know!

I think perhaps Cynthia’s gone a bit off-track when she talks about a creative person’s need for “certainty”… I think that’s everyone’s need, and Maslow covered this with his “need for security”. We’ve all got it, this isn’t new.

The need for time… I think this is a little like the need for security, that it’s something everyone needs. But perhaps it’s more of a priority for creative people. Time is a constant battle for me, and making time to write means giving up something else I enjoy doing, like sitting down to watch a movie…

So what do you think? Where do you stand with these needs? Do you think they’re right?

Too perfect = blank pages.

I’ve had this problem for a long time, and I suspect that for a lot of writers this is the root of the “terror of the blank page” problem.

This morning I came across a post by Fiona Gregory of “Bootcampers 101” blog. While the writers who contribute to this blog are all romance writers, they often have something to say that applies to the rest of us literary folk.

In this post, Fiona talks about how her perfectionism often holds her back from writing at all, or at least following through on anything because what’s in her head struggles to match what ends up on the page.

Thankfully, this post isn’t just a whine about how hard it is to get the cogs moving.

Some of the more helpful solutions Fiona suggests include:
– Writing to a timer. Set a timer for anywhere from a few minutes to an hour or two, and don’t move until it goes off. Just write. Don’t edit either – that’s for later.
– Scheduling a time for editing so that it doesn’t creep into your writing time. I certainly find that the more I allow myself to edit while I write, the more that filter gets in the way of my getting anything at all onto the page.

While these are small tips, and almost a bit obvious, I found them helpful. Especially as I sit in front of an impending deadline or five, banging my head against a brick wall.

It’s pronounced “In-oh-go-loh”

Remember when you first came across the name “Descartes”, and never realised that was how you spell “Day-cart”? This happens to me all the time

I constantly have trouble pronouncing things. I spend so much of my time “hearing” about things in print, that I inevitably come up against words I cannot pronounce. Up until recently I just had to spit out my own pronunciation and hope it didn’t discredit me too much. But no more! 

I introduce to you: 

  Inogolo prevents any more of those awful moments where you say “don quicks-o-tee” and everyone gets a little awkward.
Just type in the name, place, or “stuff” you want to know how to pronounce, and inogolo gives you the correct pronunciation, along with a sufficient definition. 
So, I just tried it with “Chuck Palahniuk”… I’d previously been pronouncing it “Pall-ahn-yuk”… Turns out it’s “Pall-uh-nik”… In my defence, my previous pronunciation was much less ridiculous than some I’ve heard, like “Pa-laz-nik” (where’s the z!?), or “Pa-lah-niu-mik” (magical extra syllable)…
Next time I hear one of these more ridiculous pronunciations, I’ll be referring them to inogolo. 

Officially A Twat

Quite unlike me to blog twice in the one day, but: after having multiple people tell me just how valuable a Twitter account is for blogging, I’ve now signed up for Twitter.

I’m a Twat.

If you want to follow me, my user name is “lgwabp” (Little Girl… etc, was too big, boo!), you can just hit the “follow me!” button I’ve put in my sidebar on this here fine blog…

This could very well be the beginning of the end…too much social networking in my life!

Lost in Books, much?

I am… entirely, thoroughly, absolutely. And I love it.

Today I came across this blog, “Lost in Books”.

I’ve been on there for about 45 minutes already, and I’ve only just skimmed the surface. I just had to share it – such a huge site, so varied, and offers a lot of inspiration, especially on what to blog about. Very helpful and interesting, also seems to be a great place to connect with like-minded people.

Enjoy, and props to Rebecca from Lost in Books for putting so much work into a fantastic blog!

Tip Of My Tongue!

 Tip of My Tongue is a very helpful tool.

Tip of My Tongue allows you to type in any clues you may have for a word that you can’t quite remember. The website acts as a dictionary, a thesaurus, and (best of all) someone who is just really good when you go up to them waving your hands saying “ummm… you know, that WORD… it’s like…ch-something…”

While at times you can almost hear the search engine grinding and clunking along before spitting out the desired word/s, the idea behind this website just blows me away and sometimes has proven invaluable.

A very handy tool to keep in the favourites.

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