Cover Reveal: The Knuckles in my Brain Cracked by Nathan Brault

Hello everyone,

I’m so happy to have a guest on the site today, an inspiration and good friend of mine, Nathan Brault! His book, The Knuckles in my Brain Cracked: And Other Six-Word Maxims is a unique collection of Nathan’s thoughts organized in six-word increments coming out December 11, 2018.

 Just look at this nice young man!

Just look at this nice young man!

Nathan is a Beloit College graduate and existential humanist from Janesville, Wisconsin. He is a writer, musician, artist, and emcee who releases content under the name troyleft. In 2015, Nathan delivered a TEDx Talk titled, “Hip-Hop’s Place in Education.

In my opinion, every one of these maxims deserves to enter English consciousness STAT. They are all witty and searing commentaries on human nature. They are by turns raw and emotional to spit-your-tea-out funny.

Some of my personal favorites:

we’re the most limited of editions

if Picasso worked as a cashier

the whites in their eyes fled

While you’re here, definitely give his SoundCloud page a listen. His latest album, titled Green Exits,  is also being released in December. Follow Nathan: Instagram/SoundCloud/Facebook: @troyleft

Okay, so Nathan. Tell us about your process. How did this project come about?

I was searching for a digestible and cohesive way to ideate, and the challenge of condensing/expanding thoughts into six-word maxims became intriguing to me. It wasn’t intentional at first; I just noticed that some thoughts on my notepad were six words in length. I decided to try and be consistent with it, and it wasn’t long before making these became a daily source of cathartic release. Within a few months, I had created over 1,000 maxims. The encouragement I received from friends and supporters led me to become adamant about turning the collection into a publication.

What was your inspiration?

Profundity steered the ship. Whenever I was moved in a profound way by a thought or experience, I started automatically meddling with the sentences in my head and forming them into six-word pieces.

Once I realized that I was capable of maintaining a sense of vulnerability and abstraction with the format, it became my favorite thing to do. I kept living to create these. I knew that the work that I would leave behind would outlive me as a person, and that was the primary motivating force. Now we’re here and I’m proud. These stand alone and they’ll be here when I’m not.

There are deceased writers whose works I adore. Their texts have reached audiences they wouldn’t have ever been able to fathom, because our species transforms and grows and ebbs and flows. Ernest Becker doesn’t know who I am, but had I not stumbled upon his works, I probably wouldn’t be here. The opportunity to have left something behind that others will connect with is as inspiring as anything else.

What did you learn as you wrote?

It became clear early on that each maxim possessed a life of its own. The density of each maxim varies, but their independence allows readers to sit with one at a time and take from it what they will. There are hundreds of attempts to connect an idea with the reader, and that gave the body of work more weight in my opinion.

I learned that these are tiring to create, and reading them is even more fatiguing, especially if you read them all in one sitting. Each maxim is a thought exercise in its own right. They’re designed to come back to and to be thought through in ideative ways.

I started to understand how differently these maxims can be interpreted based off of the reader’s experiences. It’s difficult to predict which will resonate and which will evoke less of an internal response. I find that more exciting than concerning.

How did this process compare to writing your raps?

It’s entirely different. It’s far more free-form than writing lyrics that are required to be on tempo and fit around sound. The words stand on their own, and every thought is allowed to stand on its own. From a writer’s perspective, it was less stressful. I’ve felt free to go wherever my mind stumbles to and to extract from that. The lack of thematic burden has been relieving.

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I’m so excited to host the cover reveal for Nathan’s gorgeous compilation of maxims. Without further ado, please take a look at the cover!

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Intermediate Microsoft Word for Writers

From working with critique partners, I’ve learned that many writers aren’t comfortable using some of Word’s handiest features. It’s a shame, because Word can save hours of time in the drafting process. I want to share some of the tips I’ve learned as a publishing assistant and through my own projects.

I use Microsoft Word 365 on Windows for all of my drafting needs. I do have Scrivener, but I only use it for outlining and keeping scraps of research. I like having things all in one place and being able to set my formatting just so.

I have the latest version of Word, so some of the instructions may differ slightly in your version. I’ll post instructions for the following tips on Word for Mac as well, but I can’t do screenshots.  This won’t be perfect, so please comment if you have trouble implementing any of these tips. I’m happy to help!

 

Why Word?

LibreOffice, Open Office, Pages, and Google Docs work fine for most people, but using them as a professional writer puts you at a disadvantage. If you already have or can afford Word, it’s definitely worth the time to learn to use it to its fullest potential.

Word has an unrivaled spelling and grammar check. It saves me hours of time revising by automatically correcting misspelled words and missed commas. Checking for this stuff later feels like scraping my eyes against a chalkboard, so it really helps to get some of this done as I go.

Word also has an excellent search and replace function, which can save a ton of time during the revision process. Need to change a character’s name throughout the document? No problem! Do you tend to use more than one space in row? (I know I do). This problem is fixed in a flash.

Some writers complain that Word is distracting, and they like the clean, blank slate of a Scrivener document. I know that the red squiggly lines in Word can be distracting. But if you add words and names that are unique to your story to Word’s dictionary, it really should be highlighting only genuine mistakes.

Also. . .

 

OneDrive exists

This is a big one for me, but since it’s a relatively new feature, not all Word users seem to know about it. It comes with all Office 365 subscriptions.

OneDrive automatically uploads your files to the cloud. There is also a web browser version of Word you can edit documents in. This is a big deal for two reasons:

  1. If your computer dies, your files are still safe.
  2. Just like with Google docs, you can edit your files from anywhere.

You get a TERABYTE of storage which should be enough to store the files of even the most prolific writers.

On to the tips. . .

 

Customize and turn on/off spellcheck

Since you can turn spellcheck off, there’s no reason to call Word distracting. You can also set it to not check for rules you don’t care about. For example, checking for prepositions at the end of sentences is something I won’t stand for.

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File tab/ Options/ Proofing. You’ll get a menu with an array of options.

On Mac: Preferences/ Spelling & Grammar

 

add words to your dictionary

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Let’s say you have a fantasy character named Mageira. It’s a cool name, but whenever you type it you get the red squiggly line of doom. Just right click the name in question, and under Spelling click “add to dictionary.” You’ll want to do this with the possessive form as well (“Mageira’s”).

On Mac: It’s a little more complicated. You have to create a custom dictionary and then add words to the dictionary manually. Follow the tutorial here.

This nifty feature is what allows me to type in Word without constantly being distracted by words that I know are correct.

 

search and replace

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Search and Replace is your very best friend. On the Home tab, click the Find carrot and select “Advanced Find.”

Mac: Edit/ Find/ Advanced Find & Replace

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Let’s say you’re changing a character’s name from “Ken” to “Ben.” You can’t just replace all you might end up with Frankenstein words like “BroBen.” You don’t want that.

In this instance you’d click the “More” button. Check “Match case” and “Find whole words only.” With these parameters in place it should be safe to click Replace All. You’ll want to do the same search replacing “Ken’s” with “Ben’s.”  

To delete extra spaces, Find what: [click space bar twice]/ Replace with: [click space bar once]/ Replace all. For large documents, you may have to do this a few times in order to get places where you click the space bar more than twice.

Calibri begone (AKA change default font settings)

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One of the most annoying features of word is its default font. Nobody wants to write in 11 pt. Calibri. No one, I tell you! Luckily, this is pretty easy to fix.

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Open a fresh Word document. Type “Template.” Under Home, click the font carrot. Set the font as 12 pt. Times New Roman or desired, and check “set as default.” In the pop-up dialog box, click “all new documents saved under Normal template.” Under the Paragraph carrot, you can also set the spacing to double and indent the first line. Now you’re cooking with manuscript format! Save the file as “Template.”

On Mac: Format/ Font. In the dialog box, click Font to get to your font choices. Click “Default.” To change line spacing, go to Format/ Document/ Layout, make your changes, and click “Default.”

When you save the document, Word might freak out and say, “Wait a second. Are you telling me you want all new documents to be 12 pt. TNR double spaced?”

And you will say, “Yes, Word. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

It’s not retroactive, so old documents will still have Calibri as default. However, you can change this in the same way for that individual document.  

outline level

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This is the number one thing that allows me to use Word instead of Scrivener. By formatting a document correctly, you can create a nifty outline that allows you to quickly navigate your document without having to control+ F all over the place.

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To start, let’s get all your chapter titles as a “Level 1.” Highlight a chapter title and right click. Click Paragraph. Under Indents and Spacing, change your outline level to “Level 1.” It doesn’t change the look of your text at all, but it does add that text to your outline. Go to the Home tab. Click find, which will pull up the Navigation panel. Click Headings. Your chapter title should pop up in a pre-made outline. Do this with the rest of your chapter titles and you have an outline.

On Mac: To see the navigation pane, click View/ Sidebar/ Document Map Pane. I’m not quite sure how to edit outline levels on Word for Mac, so please comment if you know how.

I usually add chapter titles that I will delete later in the process before handing off to critique partners. It helps me remember where exactly each chapter is. I’ve also added “Act I,” “Act II,” “Midpoint” etc. later on in the process to help me with pacing and revision.  

You can format other information, like time stamps or POV character, as “Heading 2.”

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You can also move entire chapters easy peasy.  Click and drag using the outline in the Navigation panel. You can also right click sections on the outline to “Select Heading and Content.” I use this all the time to check chapter word counts without having to highlight it all.

 

Styles

Styles are sort of an extension of the outline feature. Let’s say you want to do standard 12 pt. TNR for your primary text but want your chapter titles to be centered, size 16, and outline level 1. Create a standard paragraph style and a chapter title style to make your life easier.

I much prefer Garamond to TNR while typing. I knew that I’d have to change it to TNR before submitting anywhere, so I set my paragraph text as a style. This means that whenever I wanted to send my full to anyone, I could duplicate the main document and modify the styles to fit traditional manuscript guidelines.

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You’ll notice on the Home tab there is a styles section. Click the carrot on the lower right, then select “Create a style.” You can also right click one of the built-in styles and modify it. It’s nice to be able to highlight a title and have it changed to the correct font size and automatically added to the Navigation outline.

On Mac: Similarly, you can see styles on the Home tab. Click Format/ Style to create new styles and modify existing ones.

 

Page breaks at ends of chapters    

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For the love of narwhals, please do not hit return to get a chapter to start on the next page. This will lead to frustration later as you have to keep adjusting these while you revise.

Instead, insert a page break at the end of the text of the previous chapter. To do this, head on over to the Layout tab, click “Breaks,” and choose “Next Page” from the dropdown menu.

On Mac: On Word for Mac, the page break dropdown menu lives in the Insert tab.

 

get Word to read to you

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There’s a hidden feature built in Word to save your vocal chords when following the ubiquitous “read your words aloud” advice. On the very top ribbon, click the right-most carrot and choose “More Commands” from the drop-down menu. In the menu, scroll through the options on the left column and select “Read Aloud.” Click the “Add” button and then select “Okay.” The first time I did this, Word froze before working again. I’d suggest making this change while in a non-vital document.

On Mac: Macs have a built in Text-to-Speech feature. To turn this on, access Apple menu/System Preferences/ Accessibility/ Speech. There are various voice options, and you’ll set up a keyboard shortcut that will allow you to have your Mac read selected text to you.

 

Bonus: Check out how long you’ve worked on a document

I’m not sure how to do this in Word for Mac, but in Windows click the File tab and you’ll see it on the properties on the right. It counts the time the document was open in editing mode. Unfortunately, this means that if you leave the document open for a day while doing other things, it will count that time. However, if you’re religious about closing your documents after a writing session, this can be an accurate measure of the time you’ve spent writing. I think it’s super gratifying to have that information.

Divide by 60, then 24. The number of days you’ve spent on a manuscript is always higher than you’d expect.

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I’ve spent about 13 days working on blog posts for y’all. This is bloated from me leaving the document open all the time. . . but still. It feels good.

 

That’s all I’ve got! Let me know if you found this helpful or if you have any Word conundrums.

 

Playlist: That Bright Beautiful World

Here are the songs that I’m listening to while I draft, revise, and rewrite That Bright Beautiful World. Here's the link to the Spotify playlist, but I thought I would list them out as well. Just to make a blog out of it too ;)

A lot of these songs have elements about life getting worse or the end of the world. Modest Mouse especially has a lot of songs like this, with lyrics like “Well sure as planets come, I know that they end” and “I don’t want none/ of that Mad Max Bullshit” and “spend some time to float in outer space/ Find another planet, make the same mistakes.” However, I left the mood-killers off (like the amazing but really sad “The Good That Won’t Come out” by Rilo Kiley).

I saw The Killers live performing “The Calling. It was super inspiring for this novel because on the background of the stage they projected apocalyptic images—thunder clouds, angry preachers, locusts, atomic bombs going off. But “Wonderful Wonderful” is the one that really got me. It sets the perfect tone, and it’s always the first song I listen to as I’m starting to write.

  • Wonderful Wonderful/ The Killers
  • How/ The Neighborhood
  • Radioactive/ Imagine Dragons (Reader, I had to.)
  • Lampshades on Fire/ Modest Mouse
  • High by the Beach/ Lana Del Rey
  • Animal Instinct/ The Cranberries
  • Perfect Symmetry/Keane
  • New Americana/ Halsey
  • Fire/ Louis the Child, Evalyn
  • Beautiful Now/ Zedd, Jon Bellion (If you don’t understand why I picked this one, watch the music video.)
  • Satin in a Coffin/ Modest Mouse
  • begin again/ Purity Ring
  • A Rush Of Blood To The Head/ Coldplay
  • America/ XYLØ
  • Jerome/ Zella Day
  • Shadow Preachers/ Zella Day
  • Broken/ Lund
  • Contagious/ Night Riots
  • Railroad Track/ Willy Moon
  • #Grownupz/ FEiN
  • Skyfall (Acoustic)/ Jocelyn Scofield  (I like this version better than the original)
  • Emperor’s New Clothes/ Panic! At The Disco
  • Sweetheart/ Micachu & The Shapes (This one is so weird, and I love it)
  • Heathens/ Twenty One Pilots
  • The Calling/ The Killers
  • Only Love/ Anthony Green
  • Live While I Breathe/ The Moth & The Flame
  • Sparks/ The Dø
  • Youth- Adventure Club Remix/ Foxes, Adventure Club
  • Never Been in Love (RAC)/ Elliphant, RAC
  • Bury Me With it/ Modest Mouse
  • Hollow Life/ Coast Modern
  • Brighter than the Sun/ Brick + Mortar  (By the way, this is the world’s most underrated band.)
  • Coattails/ Broods
  • Go/ Grimes, Blood Diamonds
  • 9th Pawn/ OHO
  • Down/ Marian Hill
  • The Suburbs/ Mr Little Jeans (I like this 100x more than the original.)
  • Girls Your Age/ Transviolet (Chills every time.)
  • Born to Die/ Lana Del Rey
  • Broadripple Is Burning/ Margot & The Nuclear So And Sos
  • Carousel Ride/ Rubblebucket
  • Drop The Game/ Flume, Chet Faker

A Comprehensive List: Podcasts and YouTube Channels for Writers

I was never a podcast fan before, but in the past year I’ve fallen in love with programs that focus on writing advice. Hearing other people talk about their writing struggles helps me feel a little less crazy.

Whenever it’s quiet at my day job, I need to be listening to something to keep myself from going crazy. Might as well be about writing, right? I think these can especially be heartening if you work at a job you don’t enjoy and just want to get back to the writing.

I want to keep updating this list as I find more podcasts I enjoy. I’ll also fill in more specific details as I get to better know each podcast. Please comment with any that I missed.

DISCLAIMER: No promises that these are safe for work. Headphones, friends. To help those with micromanagers, I’ve marked the YouTube channels with asterisks and in a separate list as well.

YouTube pro tip: I like to put on a writing playlist so it will autoplay for me, then minimize it in it’s own window.

my favorites

Print Run

Hosted by literary agents Erik Hane and Laura Zats, this is my all-time favorite writing podcast. It has a perfect balance between structure and hilarity. Also, the show’s twitter account is fire. Bonus: These agents aren’t based in New York, giving them a unique perspective. For $8 a month, you get access to their vault of query critiques, first page critiques, analyses of published pages, and other goodies. Very much worth it.

First draft with Sarah Enni

YA writer and podcast host Sarah Enni has a really pleasant voice. She has also asked really insightful questions of many of the heavyweights in the YA world, including Marie Lu, Tomi Adeyemi, and Sarah Dessen. At an hour long, her shows usually bring the best out of the author. Several authors have spoken with her multiple times, allowing a glimpse into how authors grow at different stages in their writing careers.

Minorities in Publishing

I am in love with this podcast.  It features talks with people from all walks of the publishing life—including editors, which shows rarely get access to. I personally like it a lot because the host, Jenn Baker, works in Production like I do. It’s an area that a lot of people interested in publishing just don’t seem to know is a career option.  

Shipping and Handling

Listening to this show feels like eavesdropping on two friends talking at a bar—except these two friends are literary agents. A recent episode that went into contracts was eye-opening, offering an insider look at a pretty enigmatic process.

Ellen Brock*

Ellen Brock, a freelance editor, offers rock-solid advice on plot structure. Thanks to her, I finally understand what a midpoint is. Her videos feel more advanced and specific than many others on YouTube.

Writing Excuses

This podcast has been around forever, so there’s bound to be something in the backlog for you. I love the discussions that come out of the conversations among the rotating cast of hosts.

for new writers

for YA writers

diversity in publishing

interviews with authors

critiques

general writing advice

publishing industry advice

YouTube channels

literary writing

alphabetical list