Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

Would I write more, or sleep more, if this were my desk?

Would I write more, or sleep more, if this were my desk?

It was a busy week at the desk, although not all of it translated to actual word count. I did, however, finish out the month with my monthly word count goal for this year (15.5k) attained, which is a first for 2016. January was abysmal, February marginally better, but March gets full marks. And about time, too. I dislike being so unproductive and am very glad to have turned things around.

I also wrote journal pages at 750words.com every day of March, for a total of over 25k words. There’s a little bit of overlap between these words and my fiction word count, as sometimes I’ll write fiction there instead of the usual “morning pages,” but not much. Also, they’re not always in the morning, but they serve the same purpose–musing, parsing, reporting, and general brain-cleansing.

This past week I finally, finally sorted out the last of the novel draft fixes necessary to be able to start writing new scenes again. I’m not generally an advocate of stopping in the middle and going back to rewrite, but in this case, it was necessary for two reasons. I’d decided on such extensive changes that I needed to make them in order to see my way clear again, and I also needed to make them to get my head immersed back into the story so I could pick up all the threads and carry on. I’m still not expecting it to be a cake walk to get to “The End,” but I can see as far as my headlights again.

I did a school visit this week and had a lovely time–a presentation about storytellers in the gym for all the grade P-3 students (who were great participants and asked surprisingly astute questions), and then classroom sessions with grades 4 & 5. We all had a good time, I think, which is the very best outcome for school visits. I was struck by the instant hush that descended over the gym when I began to read aloud to the students. It really says something about the power of reading to kids when that many of them just go quiet and listen.

Apart from writing, I sewed a giant fabric d20 this week. It’s not stuffed yet, but I promise to post a picture when it is! I used these patterns and instructions, which were fabulous. You know, in case you find yourself needing to make giant stuffed polyhedral dice. As one sometimes does.

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

For a long (LONG) time now, I’ve been looking for the perfect way to track manuscript submissions. I used to keep file folders and enter everything by hand, but it was cumbersome when I wanted to look something up, and the out-of-sight out-of-mind rule would also come into play; I could forget what I had out at any given time.

Then I started looking for a software program that would do the tracking for me, but after many (MANY) hours of searching, I could not find exactly what I wanted. Every one I found was either

  • too simple
  • outdated
  • not customizable enough
  • only online (which I didn’t want)
  • too complex, or
  • too expensive

At one point I thought I’d found a good one, paid for it, and spent hours inputting information. It has worked reasonably well, but has also been software-buggy to the point where I no longer trust it. And there’s a newer version, but I’d have to pay for it again. No, thanks.

Not long ago, I discovered the wonderful flexibility of Scrivener. I used it to re-organize and rewrite a novel, and found it extremely helpful for that. I’ve been doing all my writing in it since then. And the other day I had an idea–could I create a submission tracker with it? It seemed possible that I could, so I set about to try.

And, I love it. It takes full advantage of Scrivener’s Binder and Inspector features, as well as the folder/subfolder/text structure. Once set up, data entry for a given work or submission takes no more time than it would in any database program. And the setup is infinitely customizable–once you start thinking about it, you may find you want a setup that’s somewhat different from mine in the details, and that’s perfectly okay and easy to do. It’s the overall idea I want you to take away from this post. I’m no Scrivener power-user; this idea uses only basic techniques and features.

Ready to give it a try? You should be able to do the initial setup in under half an hour if you are at all familiar with Scrivener. I use Scrivener for Windows, so if you’re on a Mac, things might be slightly different (click any image to see it larger).

1. Open a new Scrivener project, and name it Submission Tracker (or whatever you’d like).

folders2. Create a folder for Manuscripts, and one for Publishers. Inside my Manuscripts folder, I also created a few subfolders: Novels, Short Stories, Reprints, and Sold/Retired. Depending on what you write, you may want to divide up your manuscripts even further; perhaps with subfolders for Non-fiction or Poetry. Your goal is to make it easy to quickly locate any given manuscript, so make whatever subfolders make sense for you. (Think about what you want to be able to see at a glance or find quickly when you open the tracker. Use as few or as many subfolders as you like. You can add new subfolders and move manuscripts into them at any time.)

If you wish, you can divide up the Publishers into subfolders, too–Open, Closed, Temporarily Closed, On Hiatus, etc. You can also simply color-code them with labels. More about that later.

3. Now, inside your Manuscripts folder, create a new text document and name it Template.

In this template, you’re going to set up whatever manuscript information you want to record/track. I’ve decided to keep it simple: Word Count, Genre, and a place for Notes. You don’t need to enter the title of the manuscript here, because in each manuscript document, the title will appear where this one says “MS Template”, just under the formatting bar. If you want to use this as a complete Manuscript record as well as a submission tracker, you could record dates (started, finished, etc.) or whether you wrote the piece for a particular market, how much you were paid if it sold, or any other information you want. This template is completely customizable; include whatever you want on it, but don’t forget the KISS principle. Only include what you really think you’ll use.

Below this general data about the manuscript, add a table for entering submissions (you can add a table easily from the formatting bar or the Format menu). Again, track whatever information you wish. I’ve set mine up with Date Submitted, Publisher/Market, Expected Reply, Reply Date, and Outcome. You could just have a Notes area here instead of a table, but I like things NEAT.MStemplate

4. Now create a template in your Publishers folder as well. I’ve kept mine simple: Contact Person, what the market Accepts, and Notes. (Again, you don’t need to add the name; it will already be at the top of the page). You could add things like pay rates, etc., but to save time, I’ll just include a link to submission guidelines in my notes. In my opinion, this is a better idea because you always want the most up-to-date information on any given market.

In my table I have a spot for Manuscript Submitted, Response, and Response Time. That’s all I really need here, because the Manuscript page itself will have all the other information about a particular submission, and there’s no need for me to input it twice. I do want to be able to link manuscripts with publishers in a search, though, so that’s why the manuscript title is included here. Response times matter to me, so I’ve set it up so I can see at a glance how a publisher rates in that department. Include whatever information you want in your table.PUBtemplate

5. One more bit of setup: labels and status. Turn on your Scrivener Inspector (if it’s not on already–the blue “i” button in the upper right corner), and under the View menu, make sure “Use Label Color In Binder” is selected.labelinbinder

Now set your Labels and colors for Manuscripts. I’ve chosen to mark my manuscripts as either Work in Progress, Revision, Ready to Submit, In Submission, Sold, or Retired. Create as many labels as you want. Use them in conjunction with Status information to further detail works that are in draft stages, with beta readers, need line editing, final proofreading, etc.–it depends only on how detailed you want to get and what you want to track.labels-status

I’ve also created a set of labels and colors for Publishers: Currently Open, Reading Periods (for those that are only open to subs at certain times), and Closed (later I added a few more, as you’ll see in the last image). Again, use what works for you. You may choose not to use any labels for Publishers, or you could use labels (or Status) to identify markets you’ve sold to, ones with the best pay rates or response times, publishers where you have a pending submission–whatever information you want. Each manuscript and publisher data sheet can be assigned both a label and a status, AND sorted into a specific folder, so you have many options. Remember that you can change the label color assignments anytime if you want a new look, and add more labels and statuses if you are inputting data and decide you need more.

6. And now you’re ready to input data. Right-click your Manuscript template and make a duplicate from the menu (don’t enter data into your template! You want to keep that blank, and only enter data into copies of it.). Rename the duplicate with the title of your first manuscript, and fill out the appropriate data about the work, and about a submission, if you have one. Bonus idea: use the synopsis area of the Inspector (the index card) to include a brief–you guessed it–synopsis of the work, publication info, or a tagline, pitch, or keywords if you like. You can also use the Document Notes section to store such information, a longer synopsis, etc. sampleMSIf you want to get EVEN MORE FANCY, you can use Edit>Link to insert a link directly to the manuscript file on your computer here. The link will appear wherever your cursor is located in the document. (NOTE: Later, I talk about storing your tracker project on Dropbox or a similar service; naturally, this link will only work on the computer on which the file is actually stored.)

link

If you entered a submission, leave the manuscripts folder and now go to the Publisher template, make a duplicate, and create a sheet for that publisher. In the table, enter the manuscript you’ve submitted, and set the publisher label and status, or sort it into the proper folder if you’ve decided to use them. Again, you can use the Synopsis area to record anything about the publisher you think is notable. And once you’ve entered a Publisher, you never have to do it again; you’ll just be adding new manuscript submissions to the table after that, or possibly updating the publisher status or information in future. samplePUB

If you’re going to populate the tracker with all your past manuscript and submission data, this could take quite a while. But if you keep at it, you will end up with a nice, comprehensive system. Once you’re caught up, you can simply create a new manuscript file whenever you begin a new work, and add a publisher file whenever you submit somewhere new, in addition to entering each new submission you make.

Another cool thing to note: the Binder also shows you, at a glance, how many manuscripts are in a given folder, and how many publishers you have in your system (the little numbers in grey circles).

Suggestions to get the most out of your Scrivener Submission Tracker:

  • Keep manuscripts that are in submission at the top of your list, and always move the most recently-submitted manuscript to the top, inside the Manuscripts folder. This will provide you with a quick visual clue to manuscripts that have been out for a while (they’ll have been pushed further down the list) and may need a followup note
  • Although Scrivener is not, strictly speaking, a database, you can use the search function to make it mimic one. By searching a particular publisher, for instance, you will see in the Binder all the manuscripts you’ve submitted there. Likewise, when you search a manuscript title, the Binder will display all the markets you’ve sent it to. Use the search function creatively and you’ll be able to locate data quickly. If you can think of data you’d like to be able to search, include it in your templates or labels.
  • Labels are meta-data and included in searches, so if you search the name of any label, for example, Work In Progress, the Binder will display all manuscripts with that label.
  • Move sold or retired manuscripts into the appropriate folder so they aren’t cluttering up your list of active works. You’ll also see your numbers of sales at a glance.
  • Move sold manuscripts that may be eligible to reprint into the Reprints folder so you can find them quickly. If you make Reprints a subfolder of Sold, your number of works sold will remain accurate
  • If you want to get really fancy, create a folder (or just a document) at the top of your Binder for keeping notes about calls for submission, deadlines, story ideas, etc.
  • If you use a cloud storage service like Dropbox or one of the many others, save your project file there. Your data will then be accessible from any computer where you have Scrivener installed.

So what does it look like when populated with some manuscripts and publishers? This is only a start on my data, but I think you get the idea (I think I will also be tweaking all the colors so it’s not quite so…garish!). I’ve highlighted some of the features:final

One more thing: Scrivener’s corkboard view. If you click on any folder (say, Short Stories), and you’ve used Statuses to identify what stage each manuscript has reached in the writing process, you can survey them at a glance on the corkboard:corkboard

I have no doubt that an experienced Scrivener user might come up with improvements or ways to make this system even more useful, but this is working for me. Maybe it will work for you, too!

Please feel free to add comments or suggestions!

 

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

typewriterOne more hard truth, fellow self-publishers, and then I’ll stop haranguing you.

Obstacle #5 – You, the Author

This might sound harsh, but all the other obstacles we talked about really stem from one source—the author. Here’s what a lot of authors miss:

Self-publishing does not mean that you can, must, or should do it all yourself.

I think that’s what trips us up. You may be passionate about doing things your way, sticking it to the “gatekeepers,” or just sharing your story with the world. But don’t lose sight of the fact that publishers do not do everything themselves, either. They use editors. They use cover artists. They use book designers. They use marketers. They use people who are trained in these skills, and like it or not, your book is competing with those books for readers’ money and attention.

Yes, it’s possible to do all those things yourself, and do them all well. Maybe you can. But don’t expect to. Don’t assume you can. Instead, assume you have to educate yourself. You have to learn how to do these things, all of these things, well. And you have to accept that sometimes your best effort will not be enough, and you’re going to need help.

Let’s face it, as writers, we all have to have a touch of ego. We want to tell our stories. We want others to listen. We admit, by the mere fact of writing, that we believe we have something to say. But that ego can be our downfall. It tells us we can make a good book cover—or one that’s “good enough”–with no training or experience at all. It tells us that our writing is pretty darn good without any expensive and time-consuming editing. It tells us that if only we shout and shout and shout about our book enough, make our work “discoverable” enough, people will listen and feel compelled to read it, because it’s just that good.

That ego lies. Don’t trust it. View everything it says with suspicion. Assume you can’t do all those things yourself, and educate yourself if you’re determined to try. There’s a much better chance then that I’ll buy your book, and not put it down after the first five pages. And that other readers will follow suit.

The best news in all of this is that it’s not too late. Even if you’ve made one or more of these blunders, thrown these obstacles up in front of your potential readers, you can fix it. You can upload a new cover for an ebook. You can rewrite and change your blurb. You can upload an edited version of your story. You can start promoting more (or less!) or more effectively. You can decide to educate yourself or get help in the areas where your skills are lacking. If you’re in this for the long game, it’s never too late to improve.

Good luck!

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

1164137_stacked_mailAre you mad at me yet? Do you think I’m being too harsh on self-publishers? I hope not. My goal is to help you make better, and better-selling, books. Keep reading for the next obstacle you have to overcome.

Obstacle #4 – No Editing

This is a big one. Huge. Overwhelmingly huge. Your future as a writer rests on this. Again, this is one of those admonitions that I’ve read over…and over….and over. And still a lot of writers aren’t listening.

I’m sad to say I stopped reading the last three self-published books I took a chance on. In one, the first three pages were entirely missing paragraph breaks. Yup, three pages consisting of one big paragraph. The content was pretty much just the main character explaining stuff that, at that point, had no relevance or meaning to me as the reader. Now, you may think I’m too picky, but for me, that was enough to kill the book for me. The lack of paragraph breaks, such a fundamental technical element of writing, told me that no editor had passed this way. The content was not vital, exciting, or interesting enough to convince me that I should persevere. I can and will overlook mediocre writing if the story is good enough, but if you lose my trust in the first few pages, it’s pretty hard to gain it back.

In another of those books, the first chapter was interesting, but it was liberally sprinkled with misused words and awkward, confusing sentences. It became too much work to keep going, so I stopped. Again, editing could have made the difference.

In the third book, I got a little further. The writing wasn’t bad, the story was interesting. But then things started to go downhill. Events stopped making sense. Characters acted without apparent or understandable motivations. The story went off the rails and again, I lost faith in the author. This book was in need of plot or substantive editing. As writers, we’re not always fully aware of points when the book on the page is not as clear as the book in our head. We need that second pair of eyes to find those things and point them out to us, so we can fix them.

You might say, “Well, so what? You bought the book, so the author got his/her money!” Indeed. But they won’t be getting any more from me, because they lost my trust. And they will also not be getting the good review that could have sparked further sales.

Editorial services are expensive, I get that. Not everyone can afford them. But they’re not your only option. You can swap manuscripts with writing group pals and edit each other. You can get some books on self-editing (I like this one) and teach yourself how to improve. If you can get honest feedback from friends and acquaintances who are avid readers, they might at least be able to tell you that your manuscript has a lot of spelling errors, or doesn’t hold their interest, or doesn’t seem “ready.” This kind of advice may be vague, but at least it tells you that there’s more work to be done. None of these tactics is going to produce the polished manuscript that a professional editor will, but at least you’re making an effort, and it will show in the finished book.

I know. You’re excited about this thing you wrote. You love it. You want to share it with the world. But here’s the hard truth: the world doesn’t want it straight from your keyboard. Look at this graphic from @TheUnNovelist. This is the truth of writing, and your writing won’t do well until you accept it.

There’s one more obstacle I’m going to talk about—the most important one of all. Come back for it tomorrow!

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

promotion-clipart-canstock17025706Here’s the third in this five-part series of posts about the obstacles I see fellow self-publishers still throwing up in front of their potential readers. Today, it’s all about promotion.

Obstacle #3 – No Promotion/Over Promotion/Bad Promotion

This is for books I might find out about online, for example on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media. Well, obviously, if you’re not doing this sort of promotion, I’m not likely to hear about your book at all. There’s a slight chance that if it’s in a particular genre niche that I enjoy, I might discover it if I’m browsing that section. But the odds on that are slim, at best. Do you really want to leave it to chance?

1. No Promotion. I heard an author complain the other day that sales of a recent title had dropped off completely. So on a whim, I went looking for the book. I had to search around on the author’s site a bit to even discover the title. I found it on Amazon—but it had no reviews. I found it on Goodreads—again, no ratings or reviews, and the author has not set him/herself up as a Goodreads Author. I looked back over the last week of the author’s Twitter feed—no mention of the book. Granted, I don’t know what other promotional avenues this author has tried. But apparently he or she has not made an effort to get some reviews—not even from friends or colleagues—and is not actively promoting it on Twitter or the website. These are pretty basic promotional efforts, folks. No wonder it’s not selling. Remember, readers have to find out about your book before they can read it.

2. Over-Promotion. The other side of the problem, of course, is those authors who over-promote. To use another Twitter example, when I’m deciding whether or not to follow a writer, I look at their recent Twitter feed. If I see five or more promotional tweets in a row for the same book, I generally don’t follow. I know that I’ll only be annoyed when the same same same tweet keeps showing up in my feed, and there’s no chance I’ll go check out that book. Which is too bad, because sparingly-used tweets can serve as a gentle reminder about books that look interesting to me. There’s a good chance I will at least go to the book’s page at Amazon or elsewhere and see what the cover and blurb look like. But flood me with promos and you turn me off.

3. Bad Promotion. This is what I call shoot-yourself-in-the-foot promotion. This is another thing that makes me sad. The writer who posts an unedited (or poorly-edited) chapter of a novel on Wattpad or a blog to “generate interest.” The writer who shares a sentence, rife with spelling mistakes and grammatical errors, on Twitter. These efforts to create interest in the work actually have the opposite effect. They say “Stay away, bad writing ahead.” I’m not saying you have to post only letter-perfect material in every Tweet or Facebook update. But be sure that what you’re sharing is as good as you obviously think it is, or you’re only harming your reputation as a writer.

I know, I know. There are famous authors who share their first drafts, chapter-by-chapter sometimes. But keep in mind that by the time they get to the point of being well-known, these authors are writing pretty good first drafts. They have experience being edited. They likely have considerable editing experience themselves. Writing is a craft where, if you are constantly trying to improve, you do improve with practice. They can do it. Maybe you shouldn’t.

Admittedly, promotion is a delicate balance. The keys, especially in social media, seem to be diversity (using many different vectors), and a consistent message that doesn’t become overwhelming.

Also, be sure you’ve overcome obstacles #1 and #2 before you move on to promotion. When I see a paid ad for a book with a terrible cover, I feel sad again. You’ve actually paid to alienate me from your book.

Two more obstacles left! Be sure to come back tomorrow for Part 4!

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

blurb-shape-mdThis week I’m talking (okay, maybe ranting just a wee bit, but it’s for your own good, fellow self-publishers!) about the fundamental things many self-publishers are still doing wrong, resulting in alienated potential readers and harm to the author’s reputation. Part 1, on book covers, is here.

Obstacle #2 – The Blurb

When I speak of the Blurb, I mean the description of your book that you’ll upload to online sellers. This is generally the next thing your potential buyer/reader will see, after your cover. It’s usually a paragraph or two long and basically explains what your book is about. Sounds pretty simple, right?

And yet I’m amazed at the number of books I come across that are not just missing out on the opportunity to hook readers with their blurb, but actively turning readers away with it. Let’s look at the most common problems:

1. Bad writing. The blurb contains spelling errors, poor grammar, typos and other mistakes. It doesn’t matter how polished and perfect the writing in your book might be, I am never going to get that far if the blurb is badly written. This is your “advertisement” for your book. This is where you tell me what I’m going to get if I invest time and money to read your book. And I’m not going to invest either if the blurb is a mess. I will–I have to–assume the book is, too.

2. Incoherence. Even if there are no overt mistakes in the blurb, it can still turn readers away. If what you have to say in the blurb is confusing, convoluted, or a mismatch with the cover, your potential reader is likely to pass on it. You must craft your blurb as carefully and precisely as you’ve written your book—if not more so. Again, get others to read, proof, and give you feedback on your blurb. It should intrigue and introduce your readers to your book, not alienate them, and it should complement the cover of your book in genre, theme, and style.

3. Invisibility. The author hasn’t even tried to write a blurb for the book, or if they have, they’ve simply provided a vague, generic description. “Detective X must solve the murder of Y before time runs out!” Well, that’s just about every mystery novel I’ve ever read, how about you?

The blurb is your chance to sell me on reading your book. Your chance to make me want to read it. Try to infuse your blurb with the excitement that made you want to write the book. What makes it special? What will keep me turning the pages? Be specific and try to make me care about the problem the character(s) face. If you can do that in your blurb and your cover is good, I’ll likely take a chance on your book.

However, the obstacles are not all behind us yet. Watch for Part 3 tomorrow!

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

Hoe's six-cylinder pressBefore we get to this list, let me tell you where I’m coming from on this. I try hard to support and read independent/self-published authors. I have a self-pubbed book coming out soon myself. I’m not a literary snob or a believer in any “one true way” of publishing. Roughly 1 in every 3 to 4 books I pick up will be indie/self published. I’m happy to read them. I want to read them. I’ve discovered some wonderful books and authors this way.

But lately, I’ve been almost immediately putting down quite a few of those that I pick up—some after less than a chapter or only a few pages of reading. And many don’t even make it to the point where I will pick them up.

There are a LOT of books I want to read. I manage 50-60 per year and my shelves and e-readers are still overflowing. So despite my desire to support, I’m not going to waste my precious reading time, either. Your book has to pass several all-important obstacles for me to read it. We’re not even talking about whether I end up liking it yet, so you get that ever-more-important good rating/review. We’re talking about just getting me to read it, all the way through to the end.

Obstacle #1 – The Cover

We should all realize by now the importance of the cover in selling your book. The average cover in a bookstore gets about 8 seconds to interest a potential book-buyer—I’d hazard a guess that online, that window of opportunity is even smaller. I can’t even count the number of articles and blog posts I’ve read that stress the importance of your book’s cover.

And a lot of self-published authors are still getting it wrong.

Look, I’m not saying you can’t create your own cover. Some writers have experience in website or graphic design, art, digital art, etc. You may be perfectly competent to create a good cover. If you have zero experience in any relevant area, you still might be able to do it, but realize that you must tread carefully and do your research. Either way, whether you take a crack at it yourself or hire someone, be smart about it. Here are a few things to think about:

1. If you are inexperienced and can possibly manage it, hire someone to create your cover. There are many options, from pre-made designs to custom artwork, at a range of prices. If you go this route, look over the creator’s portfolio and make sure they create the kind of covers that would make YOU pick up one of these books. I’ve seen some folks offering cover design lately that I shudder to think someone would pay for. Don’t go for cheap over quality, or assume that all designers are equally adept. You wouldn’t dress your new baby up in dirty rags to get her picture taken. Don’t cheat your book of a decent cover.

2. If you feel moderately qualified, take a crack at creating your own cover. If you go this route, do your research first. There are loads of resources online to help you. Like here, here, and here, just to start. And don’t neglect the fonts! A decent cover design can be ruined by the wrong font or not enough attention paid to fonts and title design. At the very least, check here and here before you proceed.

3. If you are self-creating, please, please, PLEASE get a second opinion on your cover when you’re finished. And a third. And a fourth, fifth, and sixth. And not just from people (family and friends) who are going to say nice things even if your cover looks like an incensed monkey threw poo all over it. Ask other writers and readers in your circles, online or in person. If you know an artist or graphic designer, run it by them. Ask for honest opinions and advice.

If you have none of these resources, put your cover on your computer screen and load up some websites or blogs that specifically showcase BAD covers. Compare yours to theirs and ask yourself honestly if you have committed the same types of sins. You MUST be hard on yourself. This is the very first obstacle you have to get potential readers/buyers past.

You may get mixed opinions on your cover—perhaps some people like it and some people don’t. For those who don’t, find out whether their dislike is based on personal taste (they don’t like the colours, or the mood, or it doesn’t look like a book they’d pick up) or unprofessional quality (the fonts are unreadable, images look pasted-in or don’t match, colours clash).

You need a cover that looks professional, and if you can’t create it yourself and won’t pay for it, it’s pretty much game over. Readers are not even going to give you a chance. This is a sad but true fact in the world of self-publishing, and you ignore it at your own risk.

Watch for Part 2 of this series tomorrow, and we’ll talk about the next obstacle!

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

We had another power outage last night. This one didn’t last terribly long (about 5 hours for us), but the timing was bad for two reasons: I was in the shower when it went out (so, hello, wet, chilly hair), and I had no hot coffee in the pot. Did you read that correctly? NO HOT COFFEE! There wasn’t much I could do for the hair except put it up, but I came up with (I thought) an ingenious way to heat up a cup of coffee.

Note: I had some still in the coffeepot, so I was not starting from scratch. But for any beverage you just want to reheat, or water to make something else, this should work.

IMG_2548I started with my 4-cup glass measuring bowl and a candle that was almost as tall as the bowl. I set the glass bowl on the stove for safety, put the candle inside, and lit it. Then I set a round metal cooling rack over the top. What I like about this plan is that even if the structure got bumped, the candle is protected.

Then I took a clean tin can from the recycling, removed the paper label from the outside, put my coffee in it, and set it over the candle. The flame was burning about an inch below the can. To retain the heat as the liquid warmed, I set a saucer over the top of the can. WARNING: the can is going to get hot as well as the liquid inside it. From this point on, handle only with oven mitts.

Now, this is NOT a feat to be attempted anywhere within reach of small children, pets, or clumsy adults who might knock the whole thing over. But after about 15 minutes, I had a nice, hot cup of coffee to see me through until the power came back.

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

pizza-oven

Some things cook, and some things burn.


I don’t know about other writers, but I, for one, am always looking for a better recipe for writing success. Of course, no single recipe is going to work for every writer, and sometimes it takes a lot of trial and error before you find the combination of ingredients that works for you. Thus, the writer’s test kitchen.


Admittedly, we’re all working with a lot of the same ingredients. Twenty-six letters, check. Determination, check. Imagination, check. Mad wordsmithing skills…hopefully. But that’s not really what I’m talking about. I’m talking more about the practical methodologies, strategies, tricks, lies, and motivators we use to get the job done.


This year, as I mentioned previously, I’m working at being more consistent, and less procrastinate-y. (Is that even a word? If not, I’ve just coined it. Feel free to make use of it as you will.) So here are some of the ingredients I’m cooking up in my test kitchen to see what comes out of the oven at the end of the year:


One daily dose of writing at 750words.com. Yes, I’ve experimented with this ingredient before. It’s got a lot going for it: privacy, motivation, cute badges to earn, reminder emails. I think my longest streak prior to this attempt was 46 days, so I’m out to beat that, at least. 46 days is 34,500 words right there, so whether I use it for blogging, fiction, private rants, or stream of consciousness, it’s productive.


Public goals. Yep, I’m telling the world that I’m finishing some stuff this year. This is a good motivator for me, because I really hate to look like a failure. In anything. Ever. (Note that I have not yet said how many things I will finish this year. Because, see previous sentence.)


Treadmill desk. Although I logged a goodly number of miles at the treadmill desk at the beginning of last year, I did fall off (although not literally) as the year progressed. There were many reasons for this, which I will not bore you with here. However, I have found that I am generally highly motivated to keep writing as long as I keep walking, which should prove useful in trying to be more productive. Also, benefits health-and-weight-wise.


Storylines. Nothing helps me wrangle a manuscript into shape better than doing an index card layout in Writer’s Cafe Storylines. I can visualize the entire story arc, see where characters appear, note the flow of plots and subplots, and insert revision notes exactly where they have to go.


Nirvana app. This little online beauty is great at helping keep goals, lists, and next actions organized and focused. It works on the Getting Things Done principle, and I started using it partway through 2013 with pretty decent success. I’m hoping it will help me stay organized, focused, and also keep me from getting bogged down in those not-writing things.


Evernote. Invaluable for storing notes, ideas, lists, and everything else I will need to keep organized. I use it in conjunction with Nirvava because I like to use Nirvana for time-sensitive things, but Evernote is for, well, everything.


A batch of unfinished manuscripts. Of course, a core ingredient if this is to be the Year of Finishing. I’ll have to vet, assess, and categorize these right off the bat, to see how they might each fit into the yearly plan. For this, I’ll likely use Evernote.


Add all ingredients, mix well, and bake in a consistently hot oven for a year. We’ll see what tasty treats emerge at the end.


Photo credit: Lotus Head




P1040283So, some of you know that I set up a treadmill desk near the end of last year. I bought a secondhand treadmill in good condition, and my husband and I rigged up a prototype desk attachment with wood and duct tape so I could see if I was going to like it. I did. It took me a very short time to get used to typing while walking, and I used the desk a fair bit during NaNoWriMo in November. Not much in December, what with holidays and catching up after November. :)

Now we've ditched the prototype and made the "good" desktop from a piece of project pine. It's bolted into place and there to stay  (although it could be removed quite easily and the treadmill converted back to non-desk status in the future). I still need to put a few coats of finish oil on the wood, but it's done for all intents and purposes. (If you are interested in more details on the DIY, please let me know!)

I planned that starting in January, I would try to track my usage of the desk (and the various outcomes). January turned out not to be what I consider a "normal" month, since some serious illness in our family affected both the time I had to walk and the things I did while walking. Still, I kept my records, so I can share them now. Aren't you excited?

I track the time and distance I spend walking, average speed, the calories the treadmill tells me I burn (fwiw), and how I spent the time each session. Also, if I'm writing "new" words in a first draft, the number of words written. The breakdown for January is:

Time: 902 minutes (just over 15 hours)

Distance:
26.93 miles (Yes, I'm in Canada, I should be tracking kilometers; however, I haven't figured out how to change that setting on the treadmill yet. However, being of a certain age, both miles and kms make perfect sense to me, so it's all good.)

Calories burned: 5077 (Wow, that sounds like a LOT. It translates to having lost 3.6 pounds, so it IS a lot!)

Avg. speed: 1.78 mph (I try to keep up around 1.8-2.0, but depending on what I'm doing while walking, sometimes a bit slower is better.)graph-treadmill-january

Activities: For this, I made a chart! As you can see, I spent half my time on the treadmill in January--playing Torchlight II. I make no excuses for this. It was good stress relief at a very stressful time for our family. The editing was for the deadline I was working toward on the 15th of the month; I think all of it took place at the beginning of the month, and then I moved on to Torchlight in the second part of the month. I am hoping the breakdown for February will be different, because that will mean things have improved. :)

I have to say, I love my desk. Although it takes up a fair amount of space in my relatively tiny office, it's well worth it. Writing is by nature a sedentary pursuit, but it doesn't really have to be! (And yes, I wrote this while walking on the treadmill!)

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

By Filosofias filosoficas (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsBe Your Own Random Generator

Okay, think of this as a bonus idea if you’re feeling skeptical about the whole idea of using ideas generated by someone else. The germ of this idea comes from the Working Writer’s Daily Planner.

Try to have a quiet block of time when you’re not likely to face many interruptions. Sit down at the computer or grab pen and paper. Now, as quickly as you can, write fifty first lines. You don’t have to know anything about the story they might start. Don’t stop to think too much–if you must, set a timer for twenty minutes and see how many you can do in this amount of time This is just to see what your brain comes up with.

Got that? Good. That’s the part that came from the WWDP. Here’s my expansion on the exercise:

Now start a new list and invent fifty characters. They can be names or short descriptions: “Ludwig Thimbledown” or “a fastidious undertaker” or “a college student with a secret.” They can be archetypes or atypical and unusual. It doesn’t matter. Fifty, as fast as you can.

Getting tired? One more part. A new list, and this time you’re going to write down fifty problems, conflicts, or themes–or any mix of the three. They’re going to be short snappers, like “stolen inheritance” or “demon possession” or “physical loss leads to emotional loss” or “destruction of the natural world.” Whatever pops into your head, jot it down.

Whew! By now your brain is reeling and exhausted, I’m sure. So put your lists away for a little while; an hour or an afternoon or a day. Then when you’re ready, take them out, line them up, and see what happens.

Chances are, there will be some things from each list that you really have no interest in writing about, but others will jump out at you as intriguing. Don’t be afraid to cross some out, highlight others, or put what you feel are the best ones into a separate file or mind map. Play with combinations, try writing a few first paragraphs starting with the lines you like best, put characters and conflicts together, and chances are that story ideas will be sprouting in no time. Sometimes the brain just needs a metaphorical kick in the pants, but the raw material is all in there, just waiting for the right opportunity to make it into the light. Or a chance to mix its metaphors. Or whatever. Just go write!

Image credit: By Filosofias filosoficas (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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