Stepping Back For The Big Picture

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“Yes, Sweet Pea?”

“When you put up decorations?”

Ah, the strident call of fatherhood…

“Right after I get done writing, I promise!”

Sheesh, Halloween seemed more fun when I didn’t have to decorate everything!

A Little Stinger!

It is that time of year again, and this year I promised to make our entryway a scary treat for the trick-or-treaters. While my evening will be spent watching copious amounts of Ghost Hunters Live, I will be doling out sweets to neighborhood children in the hopes that the annual bribe will spare my house any nasty tricks!

I do actually love Halloween, it kind of gives us permission to let our darker side out, if only for a day. But the constant need to decorate everything for every holiday is not exactly a positive side to parenthood. I love my kids and want to give them those great childhood experiences, but I can’t help but think the executives at Wal-mart and Party Time are laughing their butts off. Sigh.

This month, I want to step back and urge you to do the same thing. We often get so caught up in our efforts that we forget the forest for the trees. The forest in this case is our story. While we could easily talk ad nauseam about good story and character development, I want us to step back from the mechanics and really look at our story as a reader not a writer.

I have written and published four novels in my Onyalum Series and love every book. Yes, I still read my own series over and over again for both enjoyment and to keep the overall storyline fresh in my mind as I continue on the next book in the series. The funny thing is, I still love these stories even after five years and multiple readings. And that matters!

I am currently re-reading book three, Red Star Conspiracy, my favorite one so far. Not only is my writing at its sharpest in this novel, but the characters and adventures they go on are the types of adventures I wish I could go on. A reviewer commented that this story was reminiscent of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in its high adventure, but it readily includes science, both real and fictional, to satisfy most SciFi fans.

I am a SciFi fan as well! In fact, I am very well read in many of the old classics despite eschewing many of the current stories. I try to keep my work pure without tainting from current trends in SciFi. Probably not a great marketing move, but a wonderful writing tool. My stories are mine and mine alone, although I would be naive in thinking they are not influenced somewhat by past stories.

But this takes us away from the matter at hand. Stepping back and looking at the forest, your story. If you cannot read your own work and be as excited after the fourth or fifth reading as you were the day you wrote it, then what does that say about your story. Now, I have read and heard the buzz from authors who claim to never re-read their work after it is published. My question is why not?

If you are writing stories that you love, then why not read those same stories yourself? In other words, if the story is not enough to jazz you, then why should you expect your readers to be jazzed? Didn’t almost all authors start out as readers? I did!

When I re-read a story I have written, I forget about editing, I forget about story development, and I forget about character and narrative. I simply read as though I am that reader of my distant past. When I am done, I see the forest. I see the things that made the story a good yarn! And that is the gold we must never lose as a writer.

Now, in terms of process, you want to edit your current novel before you publish it, and I have outlined a good process for doing that in my blog. So, you may now be wondering what value stepping back and re-reading your published works will have on your future works.

Inspiration, evolution, continuity, focus, modeling, and enjoyment come to mind. It reminds me of building a house for yourself. Is the process of building what makes the experience enjoyable or is living in it afterwards what counts? For me, the process of creation is a catharsis, but reading the final product is the true prize.

It is the fruit of my labors, and I relish every bite. If you cannot say that about what you have written, then maybe it isn’t worth reading? I am re-energized when I read my past novels. The sense of accomplishment and pride in producing something the world has not seen is worthy unto itself, but now I’ll always have something I can come back to and read over and over again, like those old novels you have always enjoyed. I still love reading Frank Herbert decades since I read my first Dune novel.

Don’t forget why you are writing, it is to produce a story you and your readers will love. But if you cannot say you love your novels, then what does that say about your story? Always take a moment to step back and look for your forest. In the long run, you will improve your writing when you remember what you are writing for. Lord knows it is not for the money! Step back from the mechanics and be a good storyteller.

One of my favorite criticisms from a proof reader for my last novel was his disgust with how short the story was. At one hundred and seven thousand words, I chuckled at his comment. Mission accomplished.

Now, where did I put those decorations? Pumpkins, spider webs, bats, lights, … Sheesh, what have I gotten myself into?


Don’t Do That!

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“Yes, Sweetie?”

“We’re taking off for the mountains.”

Excellent, bacheloring it for the weekend!

“Okay, have a lot of fun!”

Now, what time does Resident Evil 3D start?

Resident Evil: Afterlife

A rare weekend to myself, but one that I will take great advantage of. First, I can catch up on my writing tasks before taking in a “non-family” movie. After watching Up last night, I feel the need for something more … violent.

Last month, I taught you my process for making editing a more manageable task in your writing. If you wait till the end, you’ll give up in frustration at the monumental effort before you. By breaking it down into smaller pieces, your frustration level decreases while your writing quality increases. After all, reflection is a powerful learning tool.

This month, I would like to let you in on some of my most infamous editing faux pas in the hopes you will avoid them. The fact that I call these out in my book and blog would lead one to believe that I no longer make these mistakes. One would be wrong.

None of these are earth shattering, but they definitely can mean the difference between sounding like a beginner versus a professional. The first and foremost editing tip I will share is “Don’t do That!”. Really, I mean don’t use the word that unless absolutely necessary! This is one of those words that creep into our vocabulary regularly, but is really not necessary in our writing.

Here is an example to emphasize where it tends to show up:

It was really that he didn’t want to seem upset despite churning inside.

A better alternative would be the following:

He didn’t want to appear upset despite churning inside.

That is a wonderful word, but superfluous in most writing circumstances. There are times when it is necessary like “That was wonderful.”, but usually an alternative restructuring can remove it from a sentence. Do a global search in your document and read every instance of where you use the word. Then attempt to rewrite it out of the sentence. I think you’ll find a much better flow when you are done. I still put that into my writing, which is why I search them out and attempt to replace them.

An extemporaneous writing style creeps into my work on occasion, thus leading to the infamous “passive” writing that we are repeatedly warned about in numerous writing books and classes. Here are my most common “passive” combinations I search out while editing:

  • could hear
  • could see
  • could touch
  • would know
  • would be
  • would feel
  • was saying
  • was wondering
  • was hoping

The list is far from complete, but it is the most common set of offenses I find in my writing. Again, do a global document search for these passive verb combinations and you’ll be surprised how often they appear. Get rid of them. Sometimes they are appropriate, but very rarely.

Another very common problem is word repetition within a paragraph or set of sequential paragraphs. An example will best illustrate this. Read the following and see if you can pick it out:

He felt nervous when they started moving towards the car. What were they looking for? Him? Nervously, he crept around the back of the shed to get a better view of these intruders. They might be police, but until he was certain he would remain nervous.

Under the light post behind his car, one of the persons appeared to be in a uniform. Still, without confirmation they were not after him, he would be nervous. Best to wait them out before taking off. Suddenly, a flashlight swung in his direction, and he scrambled back behind the shed, nervously hoping they hadn’t spotted him.

See the problem? Feeling a little nervous after reading this? I suppose this is a bit contrived, but you would be amazed how often this type of repetition can enter your writing when you are ‘in-the-flow’. Look for this while editing.

Another problem I seem to create after blasting out twenty pages in a single sitting is the usage of very simple vocabulary. Let’s look at this through another example:

He went to the table to get the gun before they returned. It wasn’t like he would actually use it, but just in case. No one knew who he really was, but if they found out they might try to take advantage of it. If they did, he would have something to say about that.

At first blush, this seems a reasonable passage. It is clean, concise and hard to misinterpret. In fact, it is too clean and concise. This style is wonderful if you are writing technical documents, but you are trying to tell a story, so broaden the vocabulary to add interest. Here is a rewrite of this passage:

He retrieved the pistol from the table, certain he wouldn’t require it, but pleased it was available. He wisely assumed if anyone discovered his true identity they would take advantage, profiting from the information. With the additional firepower, he’d have something to say about that.

Although this was a quick edit, notice how the change in vocabulary changed the passage from utilitarian to something more dramatic. It adds interest simply through the use of a broader vocabulary. Don’t get me wrong, we aren’t going for more flowery prose here, we simply want to increase from the basic words to something more appealing. If you are not sure, have someone read both versions and tell you which is more interesting.

Okay, my final faux pas that even creeps into traditional, commercial writing is using the wrong word. See if you can pick them out of this passage:

When all was sad and done, there was little he could do. The parents had changed out the locks preventing him from assessing the box. Without the proper combination, he’d never reprieve the book. His friends would be appointed, especially Shelly.

Clearly this isn’t what the author intended to say, but since spell checkers won’t catch these correctly spelled but incorrect words, they are nearly impossible to find without careful reading. Even when you read these, you can easily miss them as our minds automatically replace the wrong word with the correct one. However, when it isn’t your work you are reading, these really stick out, making for an unpleasant reading experience.

With Microsoft Word, it often ‘helps’ me when I really don’t want the help. When I mistype something, a common error, it fixes it for me. Unfortunately, it usually replaces the misspelled word with a correctly spelled but wrong word. Yes, I have found this in even the best writer’s work.

As our software becomes more sophisticated, it becomes even harder to avoid this error. As if our writing didn’t suffer enough from our own mistakes, we now have to contend with our software adding more in a vain attempt to help us. Ain’t technology great!

There is so much more to editing that I cannot instruct you in all of it. There are thousands of books, seminars, classes, and examples of what not to do in writing. However, I assume you have already mastered most of these and only suffer from the same common blunders I still enjoy.

It is easier to say “Don’t do That!” than to actually do it. But if you are following my regular editing technique, you will easily sweep up these common pitfalls before they make it to press. Once you let a large chunk go unedited, you will be more likely to permit these faux pas into your writing. Edit regularly to avoid such rookie mistakes.

Okay, off to Fandango to check out movie times. Although I am not really into Zombie movies, you got to love Milla Jovovich in tight clothes holding a weapon. Alright, I’m a guy, I admit it!

Write, Edit, Write, Repeat…

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“What is it, Princess?”

“I want to watch a movie in the new minivan!”

What a strange concept. A new twist on drive-in movies?

Why did I ever agree to that feature? Sigh…

Princess Erika

With much chagrin and very little humor, I have entered the minivan world for the first time in my forty-seven years of life. Worse yet, I am selling my sports car, a beautiful 1987 BMW L6. I thought when you got near fifty, you did it the other way around? No wonder I am always so confused.

The truth is I have always loved vans almost as much as I love my sports car. In fact, I have owned two VW Camper vans over the last ten years, so technically you might call them a minivan. I called them campers, but my students called them creeper vans. Go figure!

My wife is nearing the end of this round of chemo, and we are hopeful life may return to normal in the not too distant future. I have released another Onyalum Wars blog and wrote two chapters in the two novels I am currently working on. Don’t ask why there are two, I am still trying to figure it out myself! I am also scheduled to compete in the first ever Rocky Mountain Book Signing Competition in September, so authorship moves forward. Okay, its me and two of my writing group buds, but hey, it is a competition!

All of this means it is time to get back on that writing horse and make some progress. For me, the writing is the best part of the experience. It is the ultimate freedom, if you write fiction, and it is still the best catharsis next to my new hobby, stargazing. However, we all know this is only part of the process, and like washing clothes is to fashion, there is dirty work that must be done.

Editing. Yes, the seven letter word that should be four. Wait, Edit is a four letter word? Anyway, we all shun it, despise it, avoid it, and worse, ignore it, but it is an author’s dirty little secret that cannot be avoided. I know, many of you are like, ‘Well, I write the novel and then go back to edit it, but it is so distasteful, I have a hard time completing it.’ Not surprising when you wait so long to perform your professional duty. I can hear your old English teacher rolling in her grave right now! Let’s hope she is not dead.

What did all those old English teachers tell us over and over again? Edit your work! Yeah, I am right there with you, but I have devised a way to make this process less burdensome and more productive so that when you finish writing, you’ll already have a nearly completed manuscript. After that, it’s on to proof-reading and you are done!

Oversimplifying? Maybe, but my process does work and breaks that monstrous editing beast into bite size chunks. Actually, I might blow chunks from that metaphor. Yuck! Better yet, it can also improve your writing process, as well. And if you call in the next five minutes, we’ll also send you the ‘get published in five minutes’ video for free!

Tongue-in-cheek aside, this process can make you far more productive while helping you improve your writing along the way. By the end, you barely need to edit anything as your writing quickly improves. Okay, enough of the upsell, here is the process.

When I write, I like to think in terms of chapters. After all, they are nice logical blocks of writing. Though many will take weeks to complete, they are a milestone I work towards. So, when I complete a chapter, I edit that chapter before starting the next one. I only do a single pass edit, very manageable for a chapter. At most, it usually takes about thirty minutes to edit a chapter, depending on the number of pages.

This is a small price for the benefit you will get out of it. First, a little time usually passes between when I complete a chapter and when I start a new one. Because of this, the storyline has lapsed slightly in my mind from the previous chapter. Editing that previous chapter right before I start the new one adds transitional consistency between the chapters, making the story more cohesive.

In addition to this consistency in your writing, by doing an editing pass before you start writing seems to make my newer writing a little better. The process of wordsmithing and sentence restructuring on the old work carries over into the new work, thus producing a slightly higher level of writing than I might have had otherwise. I realize this is a bit subjective, but I really do believe this effect does exist.

Okay, I continue this process for each chapter as I write the novel. But wait, there is more! Since I am part of a writing group, I post each chapter on our group blog site for the other members to read and comment on. Because of this, I always edit that chapter one more time before hitting the post button on the blog site. This go round, it takes even less time since I have already edited it one time before.

I realize that for some of you, this seems excessive, but trust me when I say you will be glad you did this editing while you go rather than waiting until the end. Nasty grammar and spelling is easily caught, and the story seems to flow more readily without those pesky consistency problems that can creep into even the best writer’s work. Again, think of it as your weekly laundry that must be done despite how distasteful it is. Yeah, some of you may have guessed, I am doing my laundry as I write:)

Now, assuming you bought into this process, there is more yet to do. You see, after I have written about half the book, I want to go back through all that work and get the big picture of the novel so far. This means I edit from the beginning to the halfway point one time before I continue. This will catch more of the those consistency errors and also give you an ‘enjoyment’ measurement. After all, if you don’t like what you are reading, why will your readers? Look for slow parts that don’t add to the story as part of this pass, timing is important!

Finally, when you have finished the last page, go back through the last chapter before going back through the entire manuscript. This is your final edit pass before you begin the proof-reading process that is also an important part of your writing. Since you have been editing as you go, this final edit will go quickly, thus saving you from that massive anxiety facing those who waited until the end before editing.

Let’s summarize the process assuming we are writing a ten chapter novel (big chapters):

  • Write chap 1 – Edit chap 1 – Edit chap 1 – Post to blog
  • Write chap 2 – Edit chap 2 – Edit chap 2 – Post to blog
  • Write chap 3 – Edit chap 3 – Edit chap 3 – Post to blog
  • Write chap 4 – Edit chap 4 – Edit chap 4 – Post to blog
  • Write chap 5 – Edit chap 5 – Edit chap 5 – Post to blog
  • Edit whole manuscript
  • Write chap 6 – Edit chap 6 – Edit chap 6 – Post to blog
  • Write chap 7 – Edit chap 7 – Edit chap 7 – Post to blog
  • Write chap 8 – Edit chap 8 – Edit chap 8 – Post to blog
  • Write chap 9 – Edit chap 9 – Edit chap 9 – Post to blog
  • Write chap 10 – Edit chap 10 – Edit chap 10 – Post to blog
  • Edit whole manuscript

I would characterize this as the minimum level of editing that you should shoot for while writing the novel. If your writing group provides feedback on errors, then you may choose to go back and fix those, doing another edit pass to boot. This is your choice, but either way you have taken that editing beast and cut it down to size while improving your writing.

It is a win-win, but requires discipline on your part. So, how do your integrate this into your writing process? Easy, you add it to your task list in Excel that you already created to manage your Appointment To Write! By placing it in this list, you will have a regular reminder that you should edit after you have checked off that ‘Write chapter 1’ item in your list.

Of course, I haven’t told you what to edit or what to do when you proof read the manuscript, but hey, those are food for future posts, so come back again for more sage advice. In the meantime, keep your Appointment To Write faithfully, and don’t forget to edit that laundry … I mean writing.

Now, where is that Cinderella movie again? Hey, wait a minute, is this a new alternative to the afternoon nap? Uhmm, probably not. Being a parent is too much work! Sigh …

Missing Your Appointment To Write

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“I’m working, what is it?”

“The doctor just called with the scan results.”

Oh hell, some good news would be a nice change of pace…

The Comptroller

As some of you may have noticed, I have been absent for the last several months. It was not my intention nor was it my desire to miss my monthly deadlines. However, sometimes we find life must get in the way, and we must miss our Appointment to Write. This was just such a case.

I have avoided writing about my personal life other than the humorous tongue-in-cheek excerpts I have at the beginning of each blog. The reason is I like to keep my private life private. But alas, sometimes our personal world interferes with our professional one, and we must mix the two, or speak about it to help with the situation.

Because of this, I have chosen to dedicate this blog to waxing philosophical on when it is okay to miss your Appointment to Write. This will be the only one, I hope, and I will return to helping you pursue your publishing dreams next month. But for now, I want to discuss that balancing act we all practice with our personal and professional lives.

First, my Appointment to Write is typically on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and occasionally on Sunday. That is a great deal of time devoted to writing, but writing is something I am very devoted to. Thankfully, I have a day job that allows this time as well as a family that is very understanding.

Up until eighteen months ago, this was a very workable schedule, albeit demanding when balancing my other job and the typical family activities. But eighteen months ago, my wife was diagnosed with a squamous cell carcinoma on her tongue, leading to a battle for her life over the subsequent months. Needless to say, this upset the balanced schedule.

Few of us are lucky enough to find our soul-mates, and after almost twenty years, the thought of losing her is nearly unbearable. Besides the minutiae related to battling the disease with doctor appointments, scans, surgeries, etc., there is a deep emotional toll that affects you every single day. It is enough to drown you in self pity.

All right, I know what you are thinking. You are thinking that writing, being such a great catharsis, would surely help excise the demons hounding my family, and you would be right. But at some point, you have to give something up because the physical and emotional demands are simply too great over such a long period of time.

To that end, I gave up writing for a time and spent my Appointment to Write doing family things. Most of the time, it was watching my children while my mother in law and wife went to so many appointments for tests and treatments. To date, she has undergone two surgeries, two rounds of radiation, and one and a half rounds of chemo therapy. Throughout, she has kept such a positive attitude, that if the treatments don’t cure her, it won’t be for her lack of willpower.

We all strive to balance our personal and professional lives. I have battled that all my working years. In the Army, it was being ready for duty after a night chasing girls. In college, it was balancing that big project or test with a desire to socialize with friends. In high-tech, it was balancing the many hours coding or traveling with the need to help around the house and spend time with my spouse. Now, it is family versus my passion for writing.

But family trumps all. If you were told you had little time remaining, you probably would not spend those precious hours alone in front of a computer. You would want to get out, spend time with family and friends, travel and see places. You would want to have some fun, not that writing isn’t.

The problem is writing is a solitary activity. In many ways, it is the ultimate selfishness–an escape from reality as you dive into fictional worlds with fictional people. And this is a great escape, a necessary escape, a healthy escape. But not at the cost of your real family and friends.

When a crisis such as mine arises in your life, give yourself the permission to take a break. Use it as a chance to reconnect with the important people in your life. The real people! It will reinvigorate you and may bring forth fresh ideas for future writing projects. Or in my case, it might just confuse you as to what to write next. I am waffling over three different novels at the moment but will figure it out soon.

Now, I am not saying to abandon your Appointment to Write every time a crisis arises, but sometimes the crises are such that you must step aside and put family first, or you first. Never let your health or that of your family come after your passions. That is a sure path to destruction, and then where would your writing be?

On this note, let me impart a little advice. You can do it all, but you must be committed and understanding of those around you. Smell the roses, help your daughter learn to read, take the dog for a walk, spend romantic hours with your significant other. These are the memories that will mean the most to you in your old age, not the dusty books lining your shelves.

I hope to live a long and happy life, but I need my partner to be there with me. Without her, the words will turn bitter and sharp, my self pity and self loathing coming through my stories. Wait, I already have that! Anyway, I want to make sure whatever time I have left with my wife is spent in meaningful, fun ways. To that end, my passion for writing will always take a back seat to the love of my family.

Never do anything to the exclusion of everything else. you don’t have to work harder, only smarter, and I have demonstrable ways to help you in this blog and my book. Everything in moderation, and you will find the balance you seek. I will never give up my passion, but I am willing to set it aside when family needs me.

I want to leave you with something positive, so I’ll update you on my wife’s progress. Her most recent CAT scan showed a marked improvement of the lesions in her lungs. This means they will continue the chemo before considering other alternatives to remove the last of the cancer from her body. She is not out of the woods, but for the first time in eighteen months, there is reason to hope.

Continue to make your appointments as long as it isn’t at the cost of your family life. I am back on track, for now, but could experience another setback, keeping me from pursuing my passion regularly. I’ll cross my fingers, knock on wood, and sacrifice a goat to the god’s of misfortune who have been dogging our heels mercilessly. I pray you and your family will continue in good health. If not, take a break and get healthy!

I will post another blog next month with details on how I edit my manuscripts as I go along and after I have finished writing. Stay tuned for this important, albeit less satisfying part of your writing experience. A good story goes a long way, but a well written good story is priceless!

“Okay, honey, I think this news calls for a cautiously optimistic celebration. How about a rootbeer float?”

April Showers Mean Writing Power

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“Someone at the door, girl?” Ah, UPS.

“Hey, how you doing?”

“Delivery from Springhill Nursery, sir.”

Perfect, time to get the yard into shape…

Killer Kahlua

If you are like my family, the great outdoors is where you spend a lot of time. Because of that, I keep my yard looking quite nice. After all, when we bought the house, we were forced to spend $15K on landscaping. If I spend that much on anything, I like to keep it looking good.

Well, April is here and along came the rain. Great for my lawn, but not so much for my golf clubs and mountain bike:( However, we can turn those rainy days into a writing opportunity. If you were planning to play outside but the rain stopped you, then turn to your computer and get some of your novel finished. After all, you had the time booked for fun, and what is more fun than writing? Spring cleaning? Yeah, right!

As I write this, it is a rainy Saturday, and my wife and I are in the office glued to our computers. I turn any change in plans to an opportunity. Considering ‘Time is the fire in which we burn.‘, then let’s not waste those precious hours pining for our mountain bikes, golf clubs, or gardening tools, but use it productively to pursue our writing dreams.

Last month, I gave you the idea of creating a novel template for your manuscript that varies from your traditional manuscript format. Since we are writing a novel, let’s make it look like a novel. I told you how to resize the paper, set the margins, and configure the headers and footers. This month, we are going to continue building that template by adding the book front matter. When done, you will only need to fill in the story.

Go back and open the file, BookTitleDRAFT-1.doc, from last month so we can complete its configuration. First we must create the front pages that contain the various matter required within the publishing industry. If you have a publisher, they will do all this for you, but if you self-publish, you need to get familiar with this matter.

On the first page, enter the title of your book at the top of the page in Times Roman 24pt font. Make the title all upper case and center it on the line in Bold font. This is the only thing that should be on this page, so make sure you don’t add page numbers or any headers/footers. This is important, do not enter a page break for the next page. Instead, use Insert | Break | Next Page. This ensures different header and footer formatting on these pages.

The second page can contain your additional published works. Please make sure you don’t list anything that has not actually been published. At the top of the page, I center the phrase Also by Authorname: in Bold font. Now, enter two line feeds and list your books, left-justified. I prefer 16pt for the also by line, but 14pt for the book list. Again, use Times Roman. You can use different fonts, but be aware that may cause the publisher some problems. If you haven’t any other books, leave this page blank.

Insert another Next Page to create the third page. This is another title page, but contains your name as the author. At the top of page, enter the title of your book, centered in the same format as the first page. Add two line feeds, then enter By Authorname using a slightly smaller font size, like 16pt or 18pt but still in Bold. Great, now insert another Next Page to continue.

At this point, you are wondering why so much has to be added before the actual book itself. Part of it is the industry standard, and part is to give appropriate credit where credit is due. Have patience, and follow the rest of the directions.

After the second title page, you must create the copyright page containing the information about the copyright and publisher. I place the following on this page, left justified, standard font (11pt):

  • BookTitle, all upper case, in Bold font (change this to 14pt)
  • Copyright 2010 by Authorname
  • All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any storage retrieval system without the written permission of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in articles and reviews.
  • This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, names, incidents, organizations, and dialogue in this novel are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
  • Publisher name and address
  • ISBN number (pbk)
  • Printed in the United States of America
  • For more information about this book or the author:
  • Author website address

I place two line feeds between each item of data on this page to provide readability. To support the industry standard, you must have a copyright page that also contains the ISBN of the book. Insert a Next Page to continue.

This next page is the dedication page. At the top of the page in standard font, write whatever dedication you would like. Thank your family, your writing group, your mom, whatever. I keep my dedications short and sweet, but I have seen the page filled. It made it sound like an Academy Award acceptance speech! “And I want to especially thank my neighbor’s sister’s gardener who kept the flowers outside my office window so beautiful.” Sheesh, I’m going to cry.

Okay, insert two Next Pages to leave the first one blank so that the first page of your book appears on the right page with a blank page opposite it when the book is open. Insert about five to six line feeds before you enter Chapter 1 in a large font like 20pt. If your chapters are titled, then replace with the title of the chapter. make sure it is left or right justified and Bold.

Add two line feeds and you are ready to begin typing the novel. After this point, let the automatic page insert create pages as you type. These will all be part of the same section, thus having the same headers and footers.

Unfortunately, I will defer the headers and footers until next time, but you can still download the template to begin using it. It has headers and footers already created with page numbers. Use it, enjoy it, and remember this is the finished product you are trying to create. Nothing is quite like holding that novel in your hands. With this formatting, you are that much closer.

Now, where are those gardening gloves?

Spring Into Action

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Hmm, three going on twenty-three.

“Yes, sweetie?”

“We want to play in snow!”

Snow, in March? Rocky Mountain springtime…

Tori the Terrible

On Monday I played golf in near short’s weather, but yesterday I was shoveling out of 9″ of snow–a 3′ drift behind my car! I love the Rocky Mountains, but the seasons are screwed up at 7000 feet above sea level. We have warm, spring-like weather in the Winter and snow in the Spring. Oh well, as long as they can clear the snow off the greens by tomorrow, I guess I can live with it.

Here I sit, one year later, about to publish my thirteenth blog in this series, and I wonder where we have been and where we are going. By the way, thirteen is lucky for me, it is always the fastest isle in the grocery store. But I digress. I must admit, I have given my readers a taste of the organizational skills they need to succeed in their writing, but what about the writing itself?

A grand question that must be addressed. In fact, I plan to dedicate most of this year to addressing that question by imparting to you my experiences with writing novels and things each writer should be wary of. Some of my blogs will be organizational in nature, while others will discuss mechanical aspects of writing itself.

Now, I am no writing expert like you might find at your local college or university, but I can offer practical advice based on my own experiences writing and publishing three novels, one self-help book, two blogs, and about to publish my fourth novel. Also, while I am tooting my own horn, I was an honors English student in high school, if that counts for anything. Oh, and I have written millions of words of technical documentation as a software engineer for twelve years.

All right, all right, enough self adulation, let’s spring into action! As I said, I am not an expert on the subject of writing, but I do have a bit of an expertise on the art of writing. With that small bit of expertise, I will attempt to help you achieve your own artistic dreams of writing. After all, isn’t that why you went into writing? A passion? A need to express yourself in the written form? A deep desire to tell the world the stories that have built up in you over the years? If not, give up now.

Okay, I am all about product, so let’s get you springing into action with something tangible you can produce during your next Appointment to Write. What, you haven’t been keeping your appointments? Shame on you! If writing really is important to your life, then you will keep that appointment! Don’t feel too bad, I have missed a few, too.

But now, let’s get back to it, and start producing that great novel simmering inside you. I find that before I begin writing, I like to have my template created within which I will write my story. There is something inspiring about having this created, tangible, and near publishing quality. What you ask, near publishing quality?

Yeah, you heard me write, I mean right! Why start with something crude and unappealing except maybe to some writing teacher who needs double spaces to mark up all the grammatical errors? Look, I am writing a novel, and I want it to look like one from the start.

Fine, I hear some of you, you’re hung up on the old standard 8.5″x11″, 1″ margins, double spaced format, the bellwether for so many years. But please, do away with ye ol’ typewriter you got for college and join the 21st century of writing. It’s all digital now, and we can format anyway we want, whenever we want, and produce whatever anyone wants.

In other words, you can create a novel, printout the ol’ standard for your writing teacher, or post it in the blog of your writing group. What, you don’t have a writing group or a writing group blog? Sorry, that’s another post you’ll have to wait to read. For me, I like producing a novel, and I want it to look like a novel.

Okay, nuts and bolts. To create your novel template in Microsoft Word, you will need to start with a fresh new document. Save the document using the following naming convention: BookTitleDRAFT-1.doc. Great, as you progress (after each chapter written), you will save-as the document, increasing the draft number by one each time. This is the poor man’s way to file versioning, but hey, it works.

Now that you have created the file and saved it to your writing folder, we must set up the global book format before we address each section and paragraph. In Word, select the Page Setup dialog. I am purposely avoiding the specific menu keystrokes to access this as many people will be using different versions of Word. If you are using another editing program, consult their documentation to find out where you access the page setup options. When you have it in Word, you see the following dialog:

Microsoft Word Page Setup Dialog

Now, we will go through this tab by tab and setup your novel properly. By-the-by, this is for a 6″x9″ novel, but the same would work for any other format with proper tweaking. On the Margins tab, first set the Multiple Pages field to Mirror Margins. This sets the document up into a book format where opposite pages are mirrored. Then, set the following field values:

  • Top: 0.6″
  • Bottom: 0.6″
  • Inside: 0.6″
  • Outside: 0.6″
  • Gutter: 0.25″

The gutter is for the binding area inside each page. If you don’t set that, the binding will obscure the text on the inside portion of each page, making for an unpleasant reading experience.

So far so good, let’s continue. Select the Paper tab. We want to change the Paper size to the finished product. Select Custom size and set the Width to 6″ and the Height to 9″. Superb, now select the Layout tab.

Keep Section start as New page as this affects the headers and footers. Okay, now select both check boxes for the Headers and Footers so that they are Different for Odd and Even pages and for the first page of each new section (chapter in our case). Now, set the distance between each header and footer to 0.3″ from the edge. This is good for both appearance and to keep it from being chopped off when the book is cut during printing.

Once you have set these values in the Page Setup dialog, click on OK to make the changes to the whole document. The advantage to me, besides the nicety of having an actual “book” in the making, is that I see what the finished product will look like, gauge approximately how many pages it will contain when published, and to provide a pleasant reading experience for my writing group. For a novel in this format, I shoot for 300-500 pages.

I don’t know about you, but the standard 8.5″x11″ double spaced is not a pleasant reading experience. If your writing group needs this space to annotate your grammatical errors, you shouldn’t be writing a novel anyway, you should be in a writing class at your local college or university! Learn the mechanics first, then apply them to the art.

If you have an existing document with which you have been working, you can still make these changes to it at any time. Since the changes affect the whole document, Word will simply reformat your writing to fit within these new parameters. Try it out, and I think you will appreciate this new way of working on a novel. I think it is inspirational and will always be a crowd pleaser in your writing group.

Next month, I will discuss how to complete this template by adding the up front pages (title, copyright, toc, etc) and even provide you an actual template you can use. I will also outline how to insert your chapters, set your headers and footers for odd and even pages, and format your paragraphs to give it that nice, finished look. So tune in to learn more about how to inspire you to spring into action and get your writing underway.

Now, where on earth is that sled? Didn’t I just swap it out for my golf clubs? Oh, brother!

Curling your Task Data to hit your Writing Buttons

Clickety-click clickety-click clickety-click…


Now what? I already loaded the dishwasher.

“Yes, dear?”

“The men’s curling is on!”

Sweet! The writing will have to wait…

We are smack dab in the middle of the Winter Olympics, and I have but one word: AWESOME! I have loved the Olympics since I can remember watching them and I love the Winter Olympics best. Since Nagano, I have watched Olympic Curling avidly, and this Olympics is no different! I have even looked into curling in my area, finding the local Broadmoor Curling Club. Hmmm, if I only had time…

Alas, between my writing, my family, and my day job, I think my Olympic aspirations may be nothing more than a dream. Oh well, life will go on, as will my writing! Curling for fun? Well, we’ll see if maybe I can fit that into my leisure time somewhere down the road. Golf in the summer, curl in the winter?

By now, you have successfully created your spreadsheet of writing tasks, and are likely using it to help plan and execute your weekly Appointment to Write. If you read last month’s blog, you even have a more long-term set of writing goals that you want to pursue over the next ten years. All of this is great and will help you achieve your writing dreams.

So this month, I want to detail some of the Microsoft Excel features that will allow you to view and organize your data based on various fields and values. These are nothing new to the avid Excel user, but useful to those who have never seen them before.

First, once your data is in with the Status and Target set for each task, then you want to sort your data each time you keep your Appointment to Write so that your highest priority items bubble to the top. This can be accomplished using the sort option in Excel.

Before you access this feature, open your spreadsheet and select the upper left-most cell in your table header. This will be titled Book if you are using the spreadsheet downloaded from my site. Now, scroll down to the lower right-most cell of your data and hold down the shift key before clicking on the cell. This will select your entire table for the sort. Now, from the menu, select Data | Sort to get the following dialog to appear.

If you followed my advice and used the Status fields I specified, then sorting them from A to Z will put the Done at the top, the Inprogress next, and the Not Started last. This may seem a bit strange, but you want the finished tasks to be first so that you scroll past them to the ones you need to work on. Since I change the color of my finished tasks, it is easy to scroll down to the “white” cells to know where to start.

Next, you want to add a new field to sort on and select the Target field. This will allow you to sort from Oldest to Newest, thus placing your closest deadlines at the top of the list. This way you work through your list in the order you originally specified. The great news is if you change your targets, you can easily re-sort the data by clicking on only one cell within your table and running the sort command again. It “remembers” the last sort you ran on this data. I know, really convenient!

Now that you can sort your data such that your highest priority items are the first items to work with, you can run the sort at the beginning of your Appointment to Write or after you have made changes to your task list. However, I often need to manage my list by Book or task Area rather than just Target and Status. Thankfully, the filtering feature within Excel offers this ease of use by forcing the view to show only the data for a specific book or task area.

As before, click on the Book cell within your table header to begin. Next, select Data | Filter to filter by any of the table headers you use. Note, the program automatically places pull-down arrows within each cell of the table header row, thus allowing you to select whatever value to filter on within that column. For example, in the following I have filtered the spreadsheet by task Area, selecting only those rows identified as Editing.

As you no doubt noticed, there is more to filtering than just a single value in that particular column. If you have text within that field, such as in Task and Comment, you can have it filter on rows that contain a specific text string or you can filter on numeric columns that are greater than or less than a specific value.

The power to view various aspects of your data is enormous, so play around with this feature to discover what it can do. Don’t worry, you won’t hurt the data, and if need be, you can remove filtering from your table to bring everything back to the way it was before. As your task list grows and becomes more complex, this feature will help you slice it up into ways that are useful to your management of it.

Now, I need to get back to those Olympics and root for team USA to win another round of curling. Being in last place at this stage of the round robin means every game counts from here on out. I hope they can pull it off!

Keep your Appointment to Write, manage your writing tasks, and most importantly, don’t stop writing! Talk with you next month.