Category Archives: Recommendations

New Tech Tools and Templates

I found a new fascination this weekend. On the recommendation of a new author friend, I took another look at the program called Notion. I’d heard about it before but didn’t really understand the full capability of the software. Now, I get it.

This tool is a powerful combination of databases and freeform storage, and it’s a perfect fit for building and incredibly versatile novel or series bible (aka a place for you to keep track of everything you create so you don’t forget details along the way.)

To teach myself how to use this program, I built a blank template I can use for my own stories, and I wanted to share it here with a general overview of how to navigate the program and my own template. Feel free to copy the template and make changes so it can better fit your needs! Also, the free version of the program is more than enough for most user’s needs. You can also use Notion’s Guides and Tutorials section for more detailed walkthroughs on the specific functions within the program.

Now, an introduction to the Novel Notes template in Notion.

This is the template’s landing page and the main navigation point for the whole tool

The customizable blank pages can be adjusted to fit a wide variety of needs. I set up this template to highlight the key description of the story, a callout for important notes or reminders, and the navigation links to the rest of the pages in the tool. This should allow for easy access to all the information within the tool.

This shows a section with character cards, and spaces for overview information on the book(s).

Because Notion also incorporates robust database tools, it allows for comprehensive information organization and various ways to view/sort that info. In this template, I highlight the character descriptions with a “Board” view of the character database. This essentially gives each character a card that displays the reference photo (if you choose to upload one) and whichever key details you choose. Databases also include a tagging system that can help you keep even extensive cast lists or outlines organized.

The actual database view of the character list

Here’s what the actual database looks like for the character sheet. It’s essentially a fancy spreadsheet. What’s special about a database versus a spreadsheet is the type of information you can put in each cell, the powerful filter/sort functions, and the easy way you can link information from one table to another. These information links are called relations or references. Notion usually calls them relations. As an example of what you can do with these links, I usually link the characters to my outline database so I know who appears in each chapter.

When you open a record, you have even more space to add information.

Each row in a table can also be called a “record”. In Notion, when you hover over the first cell in the row, you’ll see a button appear that says “Open”. Clicking on this will open the view shown in the image above, and with the space provided here, you can include a TON of additional information in the open space at the bottom of the page where it says “Press Enter to continue with an empty page, or create a template.” Nothing entered in that space will appear within the table or in any view you create (like the Board view shown in an earlier image), but it is the perfect place to go into lengthy detail about the character, chapter, etc. you’re trying to track. As a bonus, this section acts exactly like the main page, so you can add images, create lists, link to other pages, or any number of things.

Add images to create an inspiration board or to remind yourself of key details within the story.

Back on the main page, the last feature I included is space for an inspiration board. Notion links directly to Unsplash, so you can choose images found on that site or you can upload your own. By dragging and dropping, you can reorganize the pictures and add or remove the number of columns in each row.

And that’s it! At least in the most general sense. Below are some details on each of the other sections within the template and why they’re included.

Outline –

This is mostly self-explanatory, but most people don’t outline in a database, so I’ll explain a little bit about why this is a pretty cool option. With the database tools, an outline can link directly to your characters (so you know who appears where), your timeline (so you know when everything is happening), your research (so you always have access to the right information), and your quotes (so you know when you referenced some clue or description or detail).

Plot Notes –

I usually leave this as a more freeform page, so this is where I write out my summary and synopsis, map out plot beats, scribble down revision notes, or anything else I need to keep track of.

Glossary –

This is going to be most useful for those writing something within speculative fiction in which you need to invent words, phrases, and place names. This database helps track the meanings of those words and can give you space to remind yourself how you came up with it, too. If needed, you can also link this to other databases (like the outline or character list) if you want to track where the words are used or who says it.

Timeline –

If you’re using a regular Gregorian calendar (the one that’s the official calendar most people use on a daily basis), the timeline function within Notion can be a good way to track events and dates. If you’re writing speculative fiction with an alternative calendar, you might have to get creative in how you use this feature, but it still could be useful. For example, you could simply use it to track the number of days between events or how long certain journey takes, etc.

Quotes and Notes –

I started using this tool when I was writing my last series and was having a hard time remembering how I’d described certain things (like important rooms and technology I invented) and when I’d referenced details that laid down key clues. Tracking them in a sheet like this gave me an easy way to remember who, what, where, when, why, and how of my own story. Which is good, because I don’t trust my own memory for anything.

Research –

Speaking of not trusting my own memory, I tend to be a bit overzealous wen tracking my research. When I look up information on websites, I tend to copy the whole site into my notes so I always have it for reference. I save PDF copies of articles, copy photos off the internet, and download anything I think I might need again later. Putting it all in a database like this makes it SO MUCH EASIER to find things when I need it.

Progress Tracking –

For those who are motivated by seeing their progress laid out in front of them, this sheet can help you keep track of how much you’re writing and when. With the use of tags, it can also track progress along stages of the process (drafting versus editing, for example) and give you a solid view of exactly how much work you’ve put into the story.

And that’s it! Hopefully this helps. Happy writing, all!

Times are hard and getting worse.

When in doubt, support amazing people and diverse stories and creative art.

Books pictured:

  • Dead Girls Society by Michelle Krys  | AmazonB&N
  • The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon  | AmazonB&N
  • We Were Liars by E. Lockhart  | AmazonB&N
  • Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehrig  | AmazonB&N
  • Boy Robot by Simon Curtis | AmazonB&N
  • Updraft by Fran Wilde | AmazonB&N
  • When the Moon was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore | AmazonB&N
  • Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King  | AmazonB&N
  • Tattoo Atlas by Tim Floreen | AmazonB&N
  • Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo  | AmazonB&N

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Started reading the first book in #TheExpanse series last night,…


Started reading the first book in #TheExpanse series last night, and it’s so hard to put it down to get work done!

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Y’all, my new obsession has been fed. It started with…

Y’all, my new obsession has been fed. It started with #TheExpanse series on SyFy, and now the books are going to be taking a priority spot on my #TBR list because I am absolutely enthralled with what I’ve seen of this world so far.

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Books: Introducing Transcendent

It’s here! And it’s absolutely stunning! No official release date yet, but as soon as I know, I’ll pass the information along. I’m so excited for all my friends! Good luck guys! Your gorgeous cover is definitely a great start to what I know will be a fabulous launch!


Books: The Next Thing on My List

On the recommendation of a friend, I downloaded this from Amazon. Within the first few pages it had me hooked. The death of someone you know, even if it’s someone you weren’t particularly close to, can be a life-changing experience. But June Parker would never have expected exactly how life-changing the death of Marissa Jones would be. They met at a Weight Watchers meeting and when June spots Marissa waiting for a bus later that night, she offers Marissa a ride home. During the ride Marissa unbuckles her seatbelt and reaches into the back of the car for her purse and a recipe for Taco Soup. That recipe and a dresser falling off the truck in front of them ended Marissa’s newly-skinny life. Afterward, while cleaning the blood off Marissa’s purse before she returns it to her parents, June discovers a list: Twenty Things To Do Before My Twenty-Fifth Birthday. Without knowing why, she keeps it. It’s only when she accidentally runs into Marissa’s (gorgeous) older brother Troy on the six month anniversary of her death that June decides to finish the list in Marissa’s place.

Here’s the problem… Marissa’s birthday is only a few months away and she had only completed two of the tasks (1- Lose 100 pounds and 4- Wear sexy shoes). The rest of the list ranges from the easy (13- Eat ice cream in public) to the enjoyable (16- Get a massage), from the challenging (5- Run a 5K) to the odd (6- Dare to go braless), and from the awkward (15- Take Mom and Grandma to see Wayne Newton) to the seemingly impossible (3- Change someone’s life). June works her way through the list, stumbling at times but never failing thanks to assistance from her friends–and Marissa’s brother Troy. But try as they might, no one can figure out number 7: Make Buddy Fitch pay. Who is Buddy Fitch? Is Marissa talking about revenge or a literal debt? Is Buddy a nickname or a legal name? Will this one task stand between June and completing a list that has come to mean so much to her?

Jill Smolinski is brilliant. The plot is creative and well thought out, the characters realistic and three-dimensional. I read this book in the space of a single day despite work, appointments, and errands and I can’t even remember what else. Even Marissa (who technically dies before the book even starts) becomes a person you can relate to through what June learns about both Marissa and herself. There are so many characters who come through this period better people after finding hope, peace, love, forgiveness, acceptance, courage, confidence, or awareness. Every reader will find at least one person to identify with and I highly recommend this book.

Erica’s Rating: 5/5

Books: Room by Emma Donoghue

Every once in a while I read a new book that I want to tell everyone about. Room is one of those stories.

It was the basic idea that caught my attention. A story about a girl who was kidnapped at 19 and held in an eleven by eleven foot shed for seven years. Depressing, right? Or intriguing? If it’s told entirely from the point of view of her five year old son Jack who was born into this captivity and knows nothing else, it becomes absolutely fascinating.

Room-EmmaDonoghueThe book opens as Jack wakes up the morning of his fifth birthday. “… when I wake up in Bed in the dark I’m changed to five, abracadabra.” Now Jack is an unusually intelligent five year old (on the first page alone he demonstrates a knowledge of negative numbers) or this book would probably fast dissolve into something annoying and unreadable, but Donoghue creates a brilliantly sympathetic child in Jack. I found myself torn between amusement and horror as he catalogs his daily routines with his mother (even simple tasks like brushing their teeth have an added hint of the dramatic), and quickly fell in love with this precocious child who is his mother’s only comfort. Now that Jack is five (and because his mother is truly reaching the end of her mental rope), the reality of a world outside theirs is slowly revealed. He begins asking questions that never occurred to him before and his mother can no longer lie about their circumstances. Between them, Jack and his mother devise an escape plan which, despite a few heart-stopping hiccups, works, and the two are finally rescued. The remainder of the book deals with the reality of release as both a child who didn’t know the world existed and a woman who has forgotten how to live in it cope with the many sudden changes in their lives.

A lot of things made this book both valuable and entertaining. It’s a fascinating look at the psychology of captivity and the impact early childhood has on development. It is a literary marvel (I mean, how many other writers could realistically pull off the voice of a five year old without it getting old real quick?). It is also a look at both the highs and the lows of the human experience and the highs and the lows of human morality. Highly unique, brilliantly executed, and now recommended to everyone who passes through my bookstore.

Erica’s rating: 4/5

Books: Ones you MUST READ

I have decided to do a post with a bunch of books you must read. I’ll do blurbs on these books later, but for now just the titles and my glowing recommendation. So, in no particular order and coming from a wealth of genres, I give you:

Kushiel’s Dart by Jaqueline Carey
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

What I Did For Love by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
The Host by Stephenie Meyer

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas
Something Missing by Matthew Dicks