Posted in Craft, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, Tools

Tidying Up

While tidying the house, I remembered a comment the buyer (male) said to my brother-in-law about their home, “How does she keep it so clean?” Like it’s only my sister’s (or the man’s wife’s) responsibility? Grrrr.

But writing is a bit different. Everything in my novel manuscript IS my responsibility. Yes, my critique group can help find mechanical errors or ask good questions such as “What’s the purpose of this chapter?” or “Why would your character do that?” However, I need to do my own homework first.

What does that include?

For me the first step is setting a new chapter aside for a week or more. That allows me to reread it with a fresh eye.

When rereading I check for big picture items first:

  • Does it make sense?
  • Do the characters actions feel realistic? Is their motivation clear?
  • Is there a good balance of action, thoughts, description, setting?
  • Does the chapter move the story forward?
  • Are the stakes clear? Or do I need to ramp them up?
  • Do secondary characters have lives of their own?
  • Is the ending a page turner?
  • What’s the emotional tone? Or how does it change?

What big picture questions or comments do you hear from your critique partners? Is it that there’s not enough sense of setting or character’s thoughts? Or too much telling? Recently, one for me was about emotions being all over the place, hence the latter set of questions.

Next, I tidy up line-by-line items:

Think about those things you often hear from your critique partners. Is it run-on sentences, or misplaced modifiers, or too many adverbs? Add those to your checklist and challenge yourself to find them yourself.*

After I fix any problem areas, I read it again. I may let it sit another week or more and repeat the above before presenting it to my critique group.

The Critique Process

During my verbal critique, I often find there are issues critique partners bring up that really resonate with me.

  • They may be easy fixes than can be changed immediately.
  • Others take more time and consideration. For example, I get what the person is saying, but either I’m not sure how to rewrite or it’s going to take time to make all the changes affected by this one change.

Some, I may disagree with. However, if more than one partner brings it up, I know I must do something about that issue.

Often, I make a few changes before I get the written feedback emailed to me. But more work happens when I open the critiques and consider each comment. This is usually a few days later.

  • I compare opinions and suggestions.
  • I rewrite and reread and ponder if the changes addressed the problems.
  • If I’m stuck on something, I set that suggestion aside and come back to it later.

If the chapter has major changes or additions, when it’s ready I probably have my group critique the rewrite before moving on to the next chapter. Which causes additional revision.

I reread and revise my material countless times. As author Michael Crichton said, “Books aren’t written, they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it…”

*If you have trouble finding grammar issues yourself, try some of these options:

Posted in Business Side of Writing, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, Tools

Updated Me

I have a new headshot! This was chosen out of 20 pictures.

The pictures I was using were from 2015, so it was definitely past time. It’s so great to get an updated picture. I’ve updated all my social media with it and have been getting compliments on this one taken by Adler Boncher Creative. (Of course, if I look at it too long, I can find things to criticize about myself–don’t do that!)

I like what this author says, “It’s also important to have a single consistent headshot across all of your social media profiles, so you are instantly recognizable on each platform and it’s clear to people searching for your social media accounts to follow you that they’ve found the right account.” Read the rest of J.M. Frey’s great article–it has lots of advice on HOW to get a good headshot. And this article, How to Nail Your Author Headshot (with Examples), talks about poses and backgrounds–really interesting.

I recently met someone who did not anymore look like their headshot–it was rather startling. Article “Top 7 Mistakes Writers Make with Their Author Photos” says, “This is not the impression you want to make.”

So, how about you? Are you using an old photo? Or a not great candid? Do you need to update the you you present online? If so, do the work to get a good picture. “If it does nothing else, your profile picture should identify you as someone who takes their work seriously, even if that’s only communicated through you having gone out of your way to get a picture just for this purpose.” – Alex Hemus.

Posted in Craft, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, Tools, You Are Not Alone

Critiquing Via Zoom

The Covid pandemic forced us to look at other ways of communicating. Now we commonly use Zoom for webinars, meetings, family get-togethers, and, yes, critique groups. (Kinda wish I’d owned Zoom stock before Covid…)

My critique group started Zooming in March of 2020. And we are still meeting that way–partially as several of us are not within close driving distance.

Here’s what we learned along the way:

First, sending manuscripts ahead of time saves time. In face-to-face meetings we brought manuscripts to the meeting and read aloud. Critiquers physically wrote on the paper. Now each manuscript is sent via email two-three days ahead of our Zoom meeting. Each person reads the manuscripts at their leisure and uses a combination of commenting, and track changes on their copy. We often type in global comments at the beginning as well. E.g. “Loved this chapter. Could add more sensory details.” The file is saved with a new name identifying who critiqued it, e.g. Beauty Chap 8 – Sue.

Second, not everyone can share a manuscript every week. There are seven of us in our group and we want to have time to discuss each manuscript in depth. We’ve found three to be a good number for everyone to have time to comment. That means we schedule who “presents” each week so everyone usually gets to share several times a month. We meet from 9 am to 12 pm.* Sometimes we end early. Often, we take a bit of time to talk about our lives or share ups and downs in the publishing world.

Third, someone moderates each meeting. We rotate who moderates and that person keeps everyone on track. E.g. “We’ll start with C’s manuscript, and we’ll go in this order of commenting: S, G, J, B, K, and myself.” The moderator also reminds the one being critiqued not to explain or tell what’s going to happen next. The writing needs to stand alone. Having a moderator has reduced frustrations.

Fourth, verbal comments at our Zoom meeting, may prompt other thoughts. We add these to our own electronic copy of the manuscript. E.g. “E had a great suggestion on…” or “This didn’t bother me.” or “What if you did…here?”

Fifth, don’t verbally repeat what someone else has already said, nor go over every typo. The writer gets all the manuscripts with comments returned and can see punctuation suggestions and where critiquers agreed about an issue.

Sixth, after everyone has commented, there’s a short time for questions or additional comments. This is where the writer can ask for clarification. Or a critiquer can add a last minute thought.

The finished manuscript copies are emailed back to the writer.

I like that we don’t spend time stuck in traffic going to and from meetings. But I love how much regular time I get to spend with my critique group, even if it isn’t in person.

*Several of us have paid Zoom accounts so can host meetings of any length.

Posted in The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, Tools

How Well Do You Word?

Use Microsoft Word, that is. Last month, I discovered several of my critique partners were using spaces instead of indents or tabs. And one was using spaces to center titles. I’ve seen this with students too. Two also weren’t familiar with the right tab. (Standard tab is a left aligned tab.)

Blue dots above are individual spaces. Backwards “P” (¶) is a paragraph mark or hard return (enter). (Word may show these dots and symbols as gray instead of blue.) See how there are spaces before the word “Text” and an extra space between the words “line” and “breaks?”

What’s the big deal? First, the writers were creating more work for themselves by not using the tools of the word processor. Second, they were perhaps creating more work for those receiving the manuscripts. It’s a pain to convert all those extra spaces. Though if you’ve got extra spaces, Find and Replace works wonders.

How did I find it? The show/hide option on the menu that is a backwards paragraph. It shows each space, paragraph mark (aka manual line break or manual return), etc. It’s especially helpful when needing to change column or page breaks. I don’t type with it on—only use it when I think there’s something strange.

Learn some shortcuts to make word-processing easier. Most of us are self-taught and only use Word to type, but we can do more. If you’ve ever thought, there ought to be a better way, it may already be there. You can find out how to do most anything in Word within Word’s Tell Me or Help option. You can search in Microsoft Support. Or you can google your question.



Great for moving a section over, such as a long quote or indenting side material or for use in a novel-in-verse. One writer was doing informational fiction. Each page has story text and fact text. Using indents on the facts, made it stand apart from the story itself. It would take over 20 spaces each line to get the result below versus highlighting a section and clicking three time on indent.

Or another possibility would be to set a left tab exactly where you want the section to start. (It can be set on your ruler or in Format, Tabs.)

Right aligned tab

It’s a great way to put genre or your word count on your manuscript on the right of the page while still having text on the left. See how neatly picture book and the word count are right aligned? If you have ruler turned on, you’ll see that there is an indicator that a right tab is set. (Standard tabs or indents are ½ inch unless you change them.) I’ve only changed the tabs in this section—not my entire document.

The arrows above indicate a use of the tab key.

How do you find out how to do any of these?

  • Word – click on the word help or the lightbulb on your menu and type what you’re looking for: how do I set a right tab in the search box, and click on “Smart Lookup.” A window will pop up with a number of “how to” article links.
  • Microsoft Support – go to the website and type: how do I set a right tab, then press return (enter). A window will pop up with directions and other suggestions below.
  • Google – in the search bar type: how do I set a right tab in Word, then press return (enter). You can choose from written directions and videos. In your search you can even specify which version of Word you have, e.g. Word 2019.
  • Get a friendly nerd to show you. For example, I zoomed with my critique partners.

I hope this Word lesson has been helpful. Let me know if you have questions.

Posted in Business Side of Writing, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, Tools

Backing Up Emails

The horrible thought hit me: what if the email service dies? Like permanently goes away (as yahoo groups did). I’d lose years and years of information.  So, I went to yahoo help and found there is no export of emails provided: These are your options:

  • Forward emails to another email address at another service
  • Print emails (or print to pdf)
  • Copy and paste emails into a document
  • Use a 3rd party app to download your emails

The first three deal with individual emails—talk about time consuming!!! The latter provides a link to more information: Many creatives don’t have technical skills and may be frustrated following through with this method. I’m fairly technical and find it a bit intimidating. Plus, it has to periodically be redone.

Next, I searched on google for “Yahoo Email Backup Software.” Here are some I found that are rated well. Most work for PCs and Macs.

As yet, I haven’t determined which one I’ll try. I am wary of the free app for such a serious endeavor.

Gmail, I discovered, has a native backup tool. Here’s a how to: The article says, “Just remember that this method will only back up incoming emails.” The article also mentions third party backup options.

Right now it all seems overwhelming to me. So, I think it’s going on my “to do” list. Meanwhile, if anyone else has experience with this and wants to share, I’d love to hear what you do/have done.