Get with the Times! Upgrading Software to Benefit Your Writing

8-03-5So I’ve been a bit stubborn. (Okay, let’s be honest . . . I’m stubborn all the time.) For twelve years, I have been an avid user of Microsoft Word 2003. Yes, you heard me: Word 2003. You may be asking why I haven’t bothered to upgrade. And that’s a great question.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the greatest answers:

Force of habit?

A dislike of change?

Sheer willpower?

Having gotten more involved with editing in the last year, I’ve inevitably started running into problems with using older software. I’ve had to run compatibility programs to open docx. files (which didn’t arrive until 2007), risking conversion errors. Microsoft stopped updating Word 2003 as of 2013. My installed version has corruption issues with track changes, meaning I risk losing my edited work if I don’t save constantly. The disc is currently across the Atlantic Ocean, so I can’t even reinstall to see if that would solve my problem.

When I put it that way, I suppose my stubbornness now just hinges on stupidity. (I refuse to admit I’ve crossed the line, but think what you will.) When I told a friend about my refusal reluctance to upgrade, I got a link to xkcd in response.

I’d say that about summarizes it.

In the past, I’ve heard great things about other programs, such as Scrivener, but as a diehard Word fan, I’ve refused to even try it.

I’ve probably been capable of getting a student discount on a more recent version of Word for . . . quite some years. But I never bothered.

Word 2003 has worked for me. We get along. We understand one another. Those corruption issues? We’re still talking those out.

Yes, you see the problem now, I’m sure. So how did I get past this roadblock and enter the modern world?

I was forced into it. I got a work computer.

Without actually having to purchase the software myself, I’ve been able to finally test the waters with Word 2013. So far, despite my initial frustrations with all the tabs, I’ve started to enjoy the utility of the program. It has certainly made my editorial life much easier. After all, I like being able to work without worrying that the software will crash on me in the middle of an important job.

What should you take away from my personal experience?

If someone you know is suffering from Refusal to Upgrade Illness, call an intervention. Tie them up so they can’t harm you, then remove the software from their computer and install a newer version. Bar any access to older versions until the withdrawal symptoms have lessened. If needed, lock them in a room.

If you are still clinging to the past, quit. Get the upgrades you need to complete the tasks in the most efficient way possible. If you’re having to compensate for errors or a lack of functionality, it’s time to move forward with something more practical. It doesn’t take too long to learn how to use a new version of a program, and the results from taking the extra time to properly learn it will far outweigh the refusal to try. This goes for more than just software. Don’t just do this to meet the standards of the current industry; do this for your writing. For you.

Sometimes you find that it ends up working out better than you initially imagined.

So now I’ll announce to the world:  Word 2003, you’ve been a good friend to me, but I’ve got to get with the times.

Has anyone else clung to a particular outdated program or piece of technology, even when it would be wiser to upgrade? Let me hear your confessions in the comments!

Making Time to Write: Forming the Write Habits

Making Time to WriteHabits can be both good and bad depending on whether they serve your writing habit or create hurdles for it. Today we’re going to talk about good habits and how they help us make time to write.

When I maintain the writing habit, I get antsy if I haven’t written. It’s a feeling of anxiousness that I’ve forgotten something important. It works for me, though I know it doesn’t work for everyone. Once I’ve spent time writing, there’s a sense of relief. This sense of leaving something undone lets me know that my good habits are still working. When I lose that feeling, I know it’s time to figure out where I strayed off the path and get back on it. When I feel it, I’ll make time to do it.

What works for you? What signs are in place that your writing habit is doing its job? You’re the only one who can answer that, but here are a few signs that might mean you’re doing fine:

  • You go to the computer or your writing space without thought or planning, often at the same time each day.
  • You feel the nagging sense of missing something until you sit down to write.
  • You find you are unconsciously ordering your day or environment to allow writing time.
  • You are driven, sometimes physically agitated, until you have a pen and paper in your grasp and are laying down words.
  • You recognize an excuse when you see one.

Resistance is a real thing for most writers and I find habit can help me overcome resistance to a large degree. Resistance is higher when I’m tired there’s a lot of life going on. Keeping good habits is especially hard when my schedule is in flux, as it has been for the last few months. The majority of conversations I have with writers in terms of habit maintenance usually involve changes in schedule. Most of the conversations with new writers are about resistance. We need to set guides for ourselves to create and maintain the good habits that support writing.

After decades at this craft, I know how easy it is to let a habit slide and how hard it can be to establish again. Over the years, I’ve created some benchmarks to gauge when I might be slipping. Note, these are my benchmarks. They may not work for you, but you can develop some that do.

  • I keep track of my word count and pay attention when volume slips.
  • I am accountable to my critique group and they frequently ask if I’m writing.
  • I read over my writing journal and highlight times I’ve missed writing and make myself explain why. If the excuse doesn’t hold up, I pay more attention until I’m back on track.
  • I set deadlines and weekly word count goals.

Once you know you can write anywhere and at almost any time, you’ll find you make fewer excuses for not getting at least a minimum word count every day. My preferences are still there, and yours will be, too, but knowing we can get the work done goes a long way (and sometimes it’s easier to overcome resistance if we just scribble a few lines when we can instead of sitting down for an hour-long session).

Sometimes life conspires to keep us from the page. You’ll have to decide for yourself if the circumstances warrant easing up on your expectations. Because I count all forms of writing (blog posts, journal, projects, etc.), I don’t worry as long as my volume is consistent. That allows for more journaling when life gets in the way and more projects when there’s smooth sailing. When life happens, just be aware you might need to re-establish your good habits and make a plan to do so as soon as the smoke clears.


What are your tricks for maintaining healthy writing habits? Where do you struggle?

Heal your Hands

(c) CarpalTunnelGadgets

(c) CarpalTunnelGadgets

Your writing career can be adversely affecting the health of your body. While writing is not necessarily a physical job, it can still be a harmful occupation.  For most, a career as an author is a sedentary job.  We sit for long periods a day, staring at computer screens, clacking away at keyboards.  After I wrote the article, Your desk chair is killing you, I began to think about my own health.  It is not just sitting for long hours that is harmful, but also how I type, how I look at the computer screen, my posture while sitting, and my eating habits.  All of these factors, when done improperly, can lead to a myriad of diseases and overall poor health.

Over the next few weeks I will be posting articles for The Healthy Writer’s Body series, which was inspired by the Your desk chair is killing you article.  For this week, the topic is going to focus on the one part of our bodies that probably feel the most effects from poor ergonomic habits: hands and wrists.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is the monster of all repetitive stress injuries.   It occurs when the median nerve (a nerve that runs from the forearm to the palm) becomes compressed at the wrist.  This nerve controls all feeling in the thumb, fingers (except the index) and palm side of the hand.  Carpal tunnel syndrome can cause shooting pain or a cold numbness through the hands and fingers.  Surgery is an option to fix the injury, but the healing time is about six weeks.  As in six weeks of no typing or writing!  Also, from what I understand the procedure is painful and usually leaves a noticeable scar.  The surgery cuts the carpal ligament to relieve the symptoms, however,  a possible side effect is a loss in wrist strength.  Kind of scary, right?  The New York Times estimates over 500,000 Americans go under the knife to fix carpal tunnel syndrome.  That is a staggering number of surgeries for this one specific injury.  Luckily, this is an injury that is easily avoidable.

There are several things that can be done to negate the effects of carpal tunnel syndrome:

  1. Use wrist support– There are a few options here.  You can wear an actual wrist brace while typing or rest your wrists on a wrist pad that is for a keyboard and mouse. The key for this support is to keep your wrists and hands in line.  Having your hands bent, more so back towards your body, is the main culprit in carpal tunnel for writers.  Remember that median nerve that I mentioned earlier?  Having your wrists flexed in one position for long periods of time compresses that nerve.  Over time, carpal tunnel sets in.
  2. Go Ergonomic! – The definition of ergonomic is to provide the most optimum comfort while reducing stress or injury.  Though this relates to your body on a whole, if you are looking specifically for products to aid in preventing carpal tunnel, “ergonomic” is a good SEO term to use in your keyword search.  I zeroed in on this when looking for a more “wrist happy” keyboard and mouse.  My hands and wrists fell in love with the Microsoft Sculpt setup.  I have been 100% pain free in the hands for a year since switching to this model.  There are several other things you can do with your keyboard and mouse setup to make it more ergonomic.  Here is a great article (with pictures!) that shows you how to set up the perfect workstation to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome: Healthy Computing – Keyboard: Setup and Usage
  3. Use an external mouse and keyboard – Well this kind of ties into #1 and #2, but laptop keyboards and mouse track pads are by far the worst for your wrists.  There is little to no support there and because of the more compact size of a laptop keyboard, you usually have to place your hands in an unnatural angle to type.  Using laptop keyboards and mouse track pads are fine short term, but definitely not for extended periods of time.  Do yourself a favor and get yourself an external set.  Your wrists will thank you.
  4. Take a break – This is the “Apple a Day…” advice.  We all need to take breaks from the computer, every 20 minutes if possible.  This is not only good for the hands, but for your whole body.  Humans were not built to sit for long periods of time.  Push back that chair, stand up, shake out your hands, and…
  5. Exercise – There are plenty of exercises that can be found online to help keep wrists and hands nimble, alleviating pain and potential long term injury.  Go to your favorite search engine and type in “Carpal Tunnel Exercises” and you will be bombarded with thousands of exercises and products.  Or better yet, check out my Pinterest board Exercises for the Writer’s Body.  Put together a regimen for yourself and try to do it twice a day.  Seriously, it should only take a few minutes to exercise your wrists and keep them healthy.

Do you think you may have carpal tunnel?  The best advice is to see your doctor as soon as possible.  If it is not bad enough, he or she may recommend additional exercises to help to counteract the effects so that surgery can be avoided.

Don’t know if you have carpal tunnel, below are a few signs.  However, this is not medical advice to diagnose yourself.  You should definitely contact your doctor with any questions or concerns that you may have.  I mean really, of all the people in the world, do you honestly want medical advice from me?  Remember, I am the muse who likes to lock people in TSM lab and run “experiments”.

Possible signs of Carpal Tunnel:

  • Loss of feeling in thumb, index, and middle finger
  • Pain radiating up forearm
  • Hand and / or wrist pain
  • Loss of hand grip strength
  • Poor circulation in hands and fingers
  • Clumsiness of hands / Loss of Strength


Take care of your writer’s body–it’s the only one you have.


Writers: So You Think You Have Free Will…

Let’s just clear this up for a start:


You need proof? Okay, no problem.

Hands up all of you who write. Okay, great. That’s the majority. The rest of you must be weird lurker types. Kudos to you — everyone needs a hobby.

To all of you who write, hands up everyone who loves to write. Perfect, again we have a majority. Why are you putting your hand up? You said you didn’t even write the first time. Put your hand down…

If the fact that you all put your hands up to a computer screen, despite the fact that I can’t even see you (or can I?), doesn’t prove that you have no free will, I have one more test.


Go on. I dare you. I double dare you.

How long did that last? Five minutes? Ten?

Did you start to get the cold sweats? How about when you overheard that juicy snippet of conversation? Y’know, the one that made that old woman sound like a serial killer.

Did your fingers twitch at the sight of a pen or a keyboard?

Now repeat to yourself:


There. Don’t you all feel better already?

To a serious writer, writing is both a curse and a blessing. It’s a dear friend and a hated adversary. There’s nothing better than sitting down and composing a piece of prose from nothing more than a spark of an idea and an overactive imagination. Likewise, there’s nothing more frustrating than a story sitting just at the periphery of consciousness. A story that needs to be teased with a steady hand and infinite patience (yeah, right!).

We are lost inside our own minds, live in our own worlds, and we love every minute of it.

I can think of worse ways to be a slave to a higher power.

Amanda Headlee and The Martin Lastrapes Show Podcast Hour

Martin Lastrapes Podcast with Amanda Headlee

Our own Amanda Headlee recorded a podcast with Martin Lastrapes not long ago and it aired this morning. Martin had lots of nice things to say about The Sarcastic Muse and Amanda herself. He quoted from her post, Where Is Your Telescope, and said the interview was one of his favorite conversations on the podcast.

In addition to discussing horror and the horror stories that they love, Amanda and Martin talk about pantsing vs outlining, indie vs traditional, the differences between writing short stories vs writing novels, and H. P. Lovecraft.

Martin was having so much fun he let the interview run to 90 minutes. Listen to the podcast here on Martin’s site or at iTunes, Stitcher, or here: