An Interview With Writer Halsted M. Bernard on Her Work, Using WorkFlowy for Fiction and Writing a Novel in a Month

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In today’s interview I pick the brains of one of my favorite bloggers, Halsted M. Bernard. You can find and follow her blog at cygnoir.net. Originally from Northwestern Pennsylvania and currently living in Edinburgh, Scotland, Halsted is heading back stateside in January – where she’ll be getting her bearings in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her fiction publications are listed here.

FRANK: Here’s your twitter bio:

What would it take on WorkFlowy’s part for you to ditch your nicest of pens? Or is that a habit that’s here to stay?

HALSTED: Great question! Recently I have wrestled with this very issue, because I used Workflowy as a daily planner for a while. A couple of months ago I made the switch back to a paper-and-pen system because I missed using my nice pens. The tactile experience of ticking items off a to-do list is simply too compelling for me. However, I use Workflowy for plenty of other important things!

FRANK: This tweet of yours caught my eye:

Do you have any skeletons in your WorkFlowy closet? I mean, do any of your private thoughts make it in? Also, I’m curious as to where your wormhole would take you.

HALSTED: Workflowy is a creative space for me, but only for fiction. I don’t use it as a journal because I am too in love with fountain pens and creamy paper to give those up. However, I think Workflowy could serve very well as a journal, especially for those of us who make lists of events or feelings we want to remember. And my wormhole would take me to New York City in 1776. (I’m reading Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton right now.)

FRANK: Here’s how you describe your early writing days: “When I was four years old, I wrote a story about a giant rabbit with no eyes or mouth that haunted my dreams. The rabbit went away, but I kept writing.” Could you tell us about any piece of your work out there in the wild, and how you’d characterize your writing style?

HALSTED: As a writer at the beginning of my career, I’m not sure I can characterise my writing style; I’m still figuring it out. Most of what I write is slipstream fiction, sliding between fantasy and science fiction, and I’m starting to write some interactive fiction as well. Here’s a post about an interactive fiction piece I wrote. I write stories that make me uncomfortable in some way, that prod and pry at the edges of understanding. Memory and forgetfulness play a large part in my writing because I’m so fascinated by what we remember and why we forget. Here is an (audio) excerpt of a story I wrote called “Leftovers” about a chef who can flavour her dishes with her own memories.

FRANK: At this time of year there are a lot of writing apps that join in the NaNoWriMo buzz on social media. I’ve also seen you getting hyped about it. What, basically, is NaNoWriMo… and are you considering using WorkFlowy to get the job done?

HALSTED: NaNoWriMo is this bizarre, wonderful, horrible, inspiring, demoralising, joyous challenge to write a 50,000-word novel in the month of November. I found out about it over a decade ago and tried it. I failed spectacularly, only managing 1,329 words. I’ve tried it several times now but have never made it past 10,000 words. This year, though, I have a secret weapon: Workflowy. I admit to skipping ahead to the book-writing chapter in “Do Way, Way More in Workflowy” for exactly this reason. Recently I devised a Workflowy template to help me sort through some structural problems I am having with one of my stories. I’d like to share it with your readers in case anyone else finds it useful. Here’s the template – in a shared WorkFlowy list.

[Here’s a screenshot of just the collapsed (sibling) lists which Halsted has shared with us. It is an incredible resource (with additional references) that you absolutely have to take a look at. Go ahead and embed the list into your WorkFlowy document!]:

FRANK: Do you have any personal writing tips for those who are thinking about taking the plunge this year? Is it even possible to write 50,000 words in a month?

HALSTED: It is absolutely possible to write 50,000 words in a month. Someone I know wrote 50,000 words in a third of that time, although she does not recommend it and won’t be repeating that performance. The key to NaNoWriMo is quantity, not quality. I’m hoping that the breakneck pace will help to shut my inner editor up, as there is simply no time to worry about writing well. My only tip for NaNoWriMo is to write. Don’t listen to the voice in your head that says it is preposterous to attempt such a feat. It is preposterous, which is exactly why we should try. Writing should not be a safe enterprise.


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Author: frank.dg

Author of the book, "Do Way, Way More in WorkFlowy", I blog on ProductivityMashup.com and for the WorkFlowy blog.

5 thoughts on “An Interview With Writer Halsted M. Bernard on Her Work, Using WorkFlowy for Fiction and Writing a Novel in a Month”

  1. A really superb post. My workplace, a public library, is an Official Write-In Partner for NaNoWriMo2015, and I’m looking forward to sharing your Workflowy list and tips during the sessions!

  2. Hi Devon, nice to run into you here 🙂 It’d be great if we could do an interview/ post at some point this month about what you guys manage to squeeze out of WorkFlowy… maybe see some actual (unpolished) writing snippets in WorkFlowy??

  3. Love WorkFlowy. Glad we are seeing more action in the Blog etc. I still think it needs a better “how to use” section with clear simple examples – it is almost so flexible that it is hard to know where to start! I also would love some simple things like the way google allows you to name a website link instead of having the whole hyper link in my WorkFlowy docs … thanks !

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