Diana Renn

Mysteries that Matter


Having recently finished a draft of my novel, I thought I’d share my top three tools for getting a draft done:

1. A timer. Specifically, this one:

This is a visual timer made by a company called Time Timer. (I know, kind of a redundant name — they needed to hire a writer to come up with a better one!) I originally bought this when my son was in preschool; it’s the type of clock they used in his classroom to help kids with transitions or to help them comprehend the idea of “just five more minutes.” He’s since lost interest in it, so it now rests on my desk.

When I’m having trouble getting into a writing session, or feeling uninspired, I set it for 25 minutes. (Or if I’m really stuck, just five! I can do anything for five minutes). Something about seeing all the red — and seeing the red disappear — makes me feel “on the clock” and I use my minutes productively. Sometimes I set a goal of a certain word count in a time period. Sometimes my goal is just to keep typing until I no longer see  red. My optimal work sessions run in 25-minute writing bursts followed by a 5-minute rest. (This is a variation on the patented “pomodoro” method of time management).

You really could use any timer, even a stopwatch function on your phone, but I love this clock too because it doesn’t tick or make distracting sounds, and a gentle “beepbeep” signals the end of your session. And the constant presence of this oversize clock keeps me on task.

2. Post-it notes! I use them for jotting quick notes. Things to fix in the story that aren’t urgent, but are worth addressing later. Research questions to work on later. Page markers as I flip through print-outs of the manuscript. Reminders of my story goal, or a character’s objective in a scene — and I’ll place the note right at the edge of my computer screen.

Here’s how I sometimes use bigger sticky notes.

Yellow = a setting I’m interested in using.
Blue = a plot development. Something that happens.

I play around with these on my wall when I’m stuck, trying to match plot developments or scenes to interesting settings. This also ensures that characters roam around and don’t get stuck talking in the same cafe, or a room in a house.

See the blank yellow one? There’s a setting with nothing going on. See the blue one by itself? That’s a scene with no setting. Mapping this out in advance helps me to plan my scenes more effectively.

3. Freedom. This is Internet blocking software. I use it in conjunction with my timer clock. I may set the timer on this for anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours, and I use it in conjunction with my desk timer. I could still check email or tweet something from my phone, but I find I tend not to. Once I’m plugged into Freedom, I feel like I’ve “punched in” for the work session, and I am more focused. It’s sad I had to pay ten dollars for this application, when I could simply switch my wireless button to “off,” but for me this really works.

For more tips on drafting — and getting a draft done — I’ve posted at Sleuths, Spies and Alibis today: “Drafting, and the Aftermath.”

What are your favorite tools for getting a draft done? How do you get to “the end”?

Also resurfacing: a sea turtle we saw in Mexico!

Happy New Year! I’m very behind with updates to this blog. I was traveling with my family over the new year (Mexico!) and am also busy writing a new novel, which I plan to hand over to my editor in just a few weeks. Between those two things, I have unplugged from the internet a bit. I’ll be coming up for air and updating this blog sporadically between now and mid-February.

Meanwhile, you can find me over at my mystery blog, Sleuths Spies & Alibis. Exciting things are happening there. We’ve nearly doubled our size, adding five outstanding mystery and thriller writers who have books coming out this year or next year, AND we have expanded our blog topic to include thrillers. Drop by and meet our fresh blood bloggers! And if you’re a writer with a new year’s resolution of getting more words written, check out my post there, up today, on demystifying the writing process.

Snorkeling cove!

As it turns out, the BEST thing I have done for my writing process lately is to take a break. I took an ENTIRE WEEK off from any kind of work while I was in Mexico. Let me say that again: AN ENTIRE WEEK off from work. You guys, I have never done this. I am notorious for running off to check email, or spending some time writing to meet a deadline (for a novel or for freelance work that I do). Or I schedule trips around conferences or book promotion, which are really not vacations. Or I become desperate to see everything within a 100-mile radius, so I run around trying to take it all in, and burn myself out. Relax? Recreate? Those were completely foreign words to me.

My husband chose this destination — it was his turn — and he was adamant about going to a place where we could all unplug. The Mayan Riviera had guaranteed good weather, and it was a child-friendly place to take our kindergartener son. This was a perfect destination for us at this time in our lives. It was not until I was sprawled out on a beach, gazing at blue sky, hearing nothing but waves, that I realized how hard I had worked in 2012, and how much I needed a break.

We did manage to seek out some adventures. We climbed Mayan ruins. We swam in rivers, natural pools, and the sea. We went to an eco park called Xcaret, hiked jungle paths, saw animals, and visited an outstanding coral reef aquarium. But adventures, directed largely by our five-year-old’s stamina, were manageable.

Coral reef aquarium at the edge of a jungle

It was incredibly refreshing to be away from a computer for awhile. I highly recommend a periodic unplugging from electronic devices — and you don’t even have to go to Mexico to do this! When I wasn’t staring at a screen every day, or checking in with various social media accounts all the time, my mind felt sharper. I had more room for my own thoughts. I was alert and energized. I became more attuned to small yet fascinating things, like the shape of a cloud that looked like a palm frond, or the warmth of sand beneath my feet, or the glint of blue, reflected off water, on the underside of seagulls’ wings. I became more present for my husband and son. I think I even laughed more.

My one new year’s resolution for 2013 is to be more present in the world, more alert, more aware. What about you? How do you balance the internet world with your real life? What do you do to “unplug” and how often do you resurface?

My little guy, surrounded by jellyfish

We have three winners for last week’s Tokyo Heist Gallery Giveaways:

BRAIDEN A. has won the eComic In Maps and Legends by Michael Jasper and Niki Smith.
LAUREN B. Won the signed print of Niki’s Tokyo Heist-inspired illustration.
MALVINA B. Won two ARCs from Viking/Penguin.

All three winners also get a bundle of Tokyo Heist swag.

Congratulations!! You’ll be hearing from me soon. And HUGE thanks to all of you who entered the contest and helped to spread the word about it, or even just popped by to see last week’s featured artist.

Tomorrow I’ll introduce you to the final artist in this four-week series and do one last giveaway.

So this is an especially exciting week for me because TOKYO HEIST hits shelves this Thursday, June 14. (Ahhhhhhh! I can’t even believe I just wrote that sentence!) It’s been a long time coming, and I’m so excited to finally be able to celebrate its release, see it in stores, and hear from real readers out there in the world.

There are lots of TOKYO HEIST events, giveaways, and interviews going on this week, online and live; here are some highlights of launch week!

MONDAY 6/11: My group mystery writers’ blog, SLEUTHS SPIES & ALIBIS, kicks off Tokyo Heist Celebration Week today with a week-long giveaway and special features related to the book. They also hauled me into our Interrogation Room, which I survived (whew!) You can read the transcript of my interview on Thursday 6/14.

TUESDAY 6/12: The TOKYO HEIST BOOK TRAILER (yes! there is one!) will premiere at the blog Young Adult Books Central. (Their Tokyo Heist giveaway of epic proportions continues, by the way . . . ); You can also swing by First Page Panda, read the first page of the book, and enter a giveaway there too!

WEDNESDAY 6/13: I’m guest posting at the Apocalypsies site, talking a bit about the road to publication, and am also at The Writing Life x3 where I’m honored to be part of the Juggler interview series. Swing by and find out my juggling secrets!

THURSDAY 6/14: LAUNCH DAY! If you hear screaming from the direction of Boston, Massachusetts, that would be me. When I’m done screaming, I’ll be popping by the Lucky 13s site (group of 2013 debut authors) for an interview.

SATURDAY 6/16: LAUNCH EVENT. If you’re in the Boston area — or anywhere on the Eastern Seaboard and you feel like a road trip — we’re partying at Newtonville Books, 10 Langley Road, Newton Center, MA. 2:00. Reading, signing, Q&A, Road to Publication stories, Japanese candy, door prizes.

Giveaway Roundup:
Here are some TOKYO HEIST-related giveaways going on this week:
Sleuths Spies and Alibis
Young Adults Books Central
Hobbitsies book blog (ending soon!)
GLITTER Magazine
First Page Panda (starts Tuesday)
Right here! (last Gallery Giveaway, starts Tuesday 6/12)

New Review!
The Examiner gave Tokyo Heist five stars!

From curfews to cash flow problems, young sleuths in fiction face a variety of challenges in solving mysteries or fighting crime. How can writers creatively turn those obstacles into assets? Today I’m investigating young investigators, on my group mystery blog Sleuths Spies & Alibis.

Also — Jessi Hoy Peterson, winner of the Tokyo Heist ARC from the YAmazing Race! Are you out there?? Please get in touch with me by Friday, February 3. If I don’t hear from you, I’ll be doing a new drawing for the ARC on Saturday, February 4.

Have a great week, everyone!

Commercial break! We have a fabulous middle grade mystery writer in our Interrogation Room at Sleuths Spies & Alibis today! Kristen Kittscher and I have interviewed the amazing DAN POBLOCKI. Dan is the author of THE STONE CHILD, THE MYSTERIOUS FOUR series, and THE NIGHTMARYS. He has a wealth of great writing tips to share, and, just in time for Halloween, he’s divulged how he comes up with his super creepy monsters and spine-tingling tales. You can also enter to win his latest book!