Just What You’ve Been Looking For!

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Last fall, I wrote about two editing programs I was considering purchasing.

I ended up with Pro Writing Aid.

Now that I have completed my current book, I am using this program to clean everything up before my Beta Readers receive a copy AND before any further revisions are made PRIOR to sending it to my editor.  (That’s right. It shouldn’t take the place of a real, live editor).

All of this is done BEFORE publishing, but you needn’t wait until all of your chapters are written, as I did. Instead, you can use one of the APPS while you are creating, one chapter at a time.

Pro Writing Aid can do a lot for a writer who wants their work to be the best possible. However, to use every feature is laborious and very time consuming.

I suggest you look at this program online and see what features you might want—based on your weaknesses and/or your pet-peeves.

Here’s what I am doing: I copy one chapter at a time into the program. Then, I hit the STYLE button. In a few seconds, a report with suggestions for improvement is generated. It is then my job to read and accept or reject each one. (Do this very carefully, as not every one will make sense for you to use. I find I agree with about 80%)

After STYLE (which includes adverbs, passive verbs, ing starts, etc.), I use GRAMMAR and REPEATED WORDS. (You’ll be surprised at how many you have unknowingly repeated. It blew my mind. This will require a lot of rewriting to get rid of them. However, it is worth it.) 

At the end, I use ECHOES, which shows phrases that are repeated. (For example, I used “Valley of the Sun” a few times. You might not want to repeat a phrase like, “the clouds drifted across the moon”, and so on.) I don’t want to describe things using the same words, over and over again, so I use my thesaurus and tackle each one, separately.

There are several more buttons on the program. I have not used, yet.

I  used my pet peeves (repetitious words and passive verbs) to guide my choices. Just the four reports that I ran—and the time it took to make the changes—took me two hours per every ten double-spaced pages.

You can use as much, or as little, help from this self-editing program as you want. 

You can be as precise as you’d like.

You can spend as much time as you feel you need to.

And, of course, you don’t have to use one of these programs (there are several other good ones) at all. However, I think you owe it to yourself to get the free trial offer and play around with it a bit.

You may find it’s just what you have been looking for!

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A “Taxing” Time of Year

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It’s tax time.

The first 3 1/2 months of each year.

In January, I sulk and complain at the very thought of it.

In February, I prepare myself mentally.

In March, I gather receipts, statements, invoices… everything I need.

In early April, I get down to business.

The problem is, I always seem to be writing the last chapters of a book, editing, selecting a cover—in the very heart of Tax Season!!!

That makes it an overwhelming time of year for me—year after year!

It takes me roughly one year to write a book, from planning to printing and everything in between. So, February and March are always “crunch time.”

I’ve come to realize that the only way I can separate tax time and launch time is for me to alter my writing schedule.

So, this is the last year I will publish a book in the spring. 

From now on, I am going to work on some other writing projects for a couple of months and begin writing in earnest June 1. That way, I will change publication dates to the middle of the year.

I have a friend who has moved her writing space to the opposite end of the house to avoid family conflicts. Another friend, tired of computer problems, recently bought a new one. She’s busy loading a couple of new writing programs on it. I hope the changes they are making work for them.

Adjustments are a part of life.

The point is, we shouldn’t keep on living with the same circumstances that cause us angst. Only by changing something will we Improve our situation.

Don’t put it off. 

My father always said of change, “It will turn out great. You’ll wonder why you waited so long.”

So, if something is bugging you— keeping things from running smoothly—don’t procrastinate.

Make the necessary adjustments.

You, too, will say, “I wonder why I waited so long?”

Drafting Can Be Rough

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Drafting is the next step in the writing process. Whether you use a computer or a steno pad, whether you write with a pencil or pen, call it a “sloppy copy” or use another form of reference, you cannot escape this step in the writing process.

Using what you’ve accomplished so far in the prewriting process, drafting is the actual writing, chapter by chapter, of your book.

With a few tweaks here and there, all writers vary this stage of writing to end up with what works for them. Whether it is a program, such as Scrivener, or your own version of something else you’ve seen out there, now’s the time to get the old creative juices going. You can use a combination of approaches. After five books, I am still changing mine. 

What I am going to share, now, is how I approach the drafting stage of writing. If it is helpful as a whole, or only in part, use what makes sense according to your writing style, your organizational methods, and so on.

I use my computer at home almost 100% of the time. I found, early on, that using Mac’s “Pages” wasn’t the universally accepted format. You’ll need WORD. You can purchase WORD for Mac from the internet or Apple store, if you, too, own a MAC.

After closing my office door to insure quiet, I consult what I accomplished in my prewriting. I used to use giant Post-it’s of about 18” by 30” or so to keep my timeline,  characters and their descriptions straight. I have recently found it just as effective to use a spiral notebook and list these important details chapter by chapter. Clutter on my walls tended to make me nervous, whereas a simple notebook can be closed and stored in the closet for the next writing day.

Next I write … and write … and write …

I may finish and entire chapter or not, depending on the amount of time I have allotted. But, here is where I differ from most writers. After taking a short break for lunch or even overnight, I re-read my chapter, doing a quick edit of anything that stands out to me. These may be typos, mistakes in point-of-view, changes in scene order, or even sometimes deleting entire sections. These pre-edits serve two purposes: 1) Reading through the chapter gets my head back into the story so that I can continue my writing and 2) Just like the Post-its that previously cluttered my walls, it is a way of reducing what isn’t needed and getting down to story basics. 

(Most writers will tell you to keep writing all the way to the end of the book before going back to tackle any kind of editing. That would be ideal, if I could do it, but I just cannot…sorry, my mind just won’t get going unless everything else is cleared up, first).

Although I might do a little revising in the drafting stage, I find that it is wise to wait to do anything major until I have finished the entire book. Too many things can happen in the course of writing that might seem wise to revise early on; however, lots of difficulties will work themselves out in the course of writing. Save yourself a lot to time and work by sticking to your outline closely. Let your story “simmer” for awhile.

Before closing, I want to mention that I give my book, chapter by chapter, to my critique group. I rely on their comments heavily when editing. If there is something that these other writers do not understand (or like), then I am certain that my readers will not, either.

Next week- revising.

The First Stage of Writing: Prewriting

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So you are a new writer. You sit down at the computer, or you grab a yellow legal pad, and you freeze. “Just how does one get started?”

Well, it’s not as hard as you think. Remember your school days and what you did when given a writing assignment in English Composition class?

There were four basic stages to the writing process that you learned: prewriting, drafting, revising, and editing. (Nowadays, I think we could add publishing, but we will save that topic for another time).

Since prewriting is the “generating ideas” part of the writing process, it just well may be the most important. It is here that the writer determines the topic of the book, the message he/she wants to convey, the characters, the  point-of-view, and so on. 

If we polled authors, we might find that each uses different prewriting methods. They may use what proved to be comfortable in the past, try methods suggested by other authors, or come up with unique methods of their own.

Let’s look, briefly, at various methods and see what might be workable for you.

Prewriting Methods: The following are the methods I use. Remember, writers all work differently. I am simply sharing what works for me.

1-Brainstorming: This is the process of coming up with a list of as many ideas as possible without being worried about whether an idea is realistic or not.

After brainstorming, I go directly into the next pre-writing method. This could be hours—even days—later, however, since this is a long process.

2-Mind Maps: This method makes the most sense with the way my own brain works. It is also easy and visual. It also keeps me organized.

You may have learned this as “webbing” in school. It consists of drawing a circle in the middle of a blank sheet of paper. (This is where I write my character’s name, perhaps draw a stick figure, being sure to leave space inside the circle to add characteristics that are dominant). Then, I add lines to other, smaller circles around the main circle. Inside these go supporting characters, and so on. On the lines connecting them, I write the relationships of each one to the main character (hero). 

I actually start writing following mind mapping. However, I do want to share three other methods of prewriting which can be used separately, or in conjunction with each other.

3-Freewriting- This is when you write whatever comes into your mind for a specific amount of time. When using this method, you don’t concern yourself with punctuation, grammar, or even spelling. You just try to get down as many ideas as possible. Then, you choose one and get started writing. (You may need to repeat this process several times until you come up with a winner!)

4-Drawing/Doodling – Sometimes combining words and drawings can really open up lines of creative thought. (I’m no artist, so I often use stick figures with mind mapping).

5-Outlining – Some writers use traditional outlining to organize their ideas (I find this especially useful when planning my chapters). These writers start with their main ideas and list the supporting details underneath. The more detailed the outline, the easier it is when one begins to write.

My next blog post will be on drafting. Writing that rough draft can be just that—rough. The idea is to make it as easy and enjoyable as possible.

Love Me, Love Me Not

 

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I remember as a child, plucking petals from daisies and saying, “He loves me. He loves me not” until the stem was bare.

Today, I plucked petals from a sunflower. I repeated,  “Shopping. Writing. Shopping. Writing.” 

Do you sometimes need motivation to get down to work?

Even if writing is your passion, like it is mine, do you still find there are times we need to give ourselves a little nudge?

For instance, “If I write for two hours, I can watch my favorite television show, or if I write today, I will let myself go out for coffee with a friend this evening.” And so on.

Are we losing our interest in—or desire to—write? Are we abandoning our dream…our goal?

The holidays are busy with decorating, shopping and celebrating. It’s only natural that there is less time for writing, laundry, and cleaning. 

This season, I’m giving myself permission to spend time with family and friends. I may even go to a holiday movie.

 I’m not going to make myself feel guilty if I don’t get much writing accomplished. 

The computer will still be there when the holidays are over. And, who knows? When I reread what I last wrote, I may see it with a fresh set of eyes. My edits may come faster and easier.

I may end up with a better finished product.

I remember that when I was a teacher, I did my best teaching after Christmas break. I was refreshed and ready to tackle the second semester.

What will you do? Motivate yourself by plucking petals off a rose? Or call a friend and suggest you meet at the mall?

Flash Fiction Tips

 

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Some reminders before you put pen to paper:

1. Flash fiction shouldn’t be more than 1,000 words.

2.  It is NOT easy to get a whole short story into so few words. It requires a lot of PLANNING and EDITING.

3.  Writing Flash Fiction often takes MORE time than longer works.

4.  Focus on the small moments that shape bigger ideas, rather than on the big ideas.

5.  A good idea is to base Flash Fiction stories on things readers already know, such as myths and fairy tales, for example.

6.  To get your word count down, leave out dialogue attributions and in-depth descriptions.

7.  Focus on one central idea.  

Next week, we’ll finish off the series on Flash Fiction by sharing where you can go to read some good examples of Flash Fiction.

Christmas Letter

 

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On my “To-Do” list this week, is writing my yearly Christmas letter to friends and family. I am making a list of trips, health updates, and accomplishments I’d like to include.

That got me to thinking about YOU and what I’d like to share as the Christmas season fast approaches.

First of all, I’d like you to know how much I appreciate your encouragement and support by reading/commenting on my blogs each week. I hope they have been both helpful and encouraging to you as we walk this “writing road” together.

To catch you up on what I am doing, currently, I can say that my Beta Readers are doing their work right now, critiquing Simon Says. I look forward to hearing from them over the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, I am busy writing back cover copy, revising my “About the Author” page, looking at a myriad possibilities for the front cover, and jotting down ideas for the second book in the series.

Finally, I am finishing up the manuscript for my second interactive Alzheimer’s book, I Remember Bible Stories,” as well as interviewing illustrators.

On a more personal level, I continue to be more involved in my parents’ lives at their care center and am taking on some of my mother’s previous roles, such as the big family gathering on Christmas Day. I am fortunate to live near a Honey Baked Ham store, as I am planning the meal around a nice spiral-cut ham.

I wish you all a Merry Christmas and the Happiest of New Years as you move ahead toward both your personal and writing goals.

Brenda