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

Do You Have Style?

Image by Prawny on Pixabay
watercolour-1768921_1280.jpgNot long ago I read several blog posts about the value of a style sheet, although I’d call it a master character chart. It’s a place to put details about every single character in your novel so you’ll be consistent. It’s probably easy to remember that your main character’s name is spelled Maisie, not Maisy, but what about other characters? The more minor they are the harder it gets. Was that Zak or Zack or Zach? This chart is a helpful place to consolidate that info even if you make individual worksheets for your characters.
What should you include in a style sheet? It depends on your novel and on you. But suggestions include character name (and any nicknames), physical characteristics that you don’t want to accidentally change mid-novel, perhaps where they live and what kind of place it is, parents’ names and a few details, who the characters’ friends are, etc. For a kid in Middle School or High School, their class schedule might be useful. I could see having a style sheet for places in the novel as well. There are probably a myriad of other uses–especially for fantasy or historical writers.
Some style sheets include WHEN those details appeared in the novel. That would be too complicated for me. However, I do use a story ladder which may include those details. (See post here.)
How should your character chart or style sheet be arranged?
It’s a very personal decision. For me, I want to be able to see the details at a glance. I like using a Word table. An Excel spreadsheet would work as well. Evernote has a template you could use. Or you may be more a pen and paper person. This character map is aimed at students reading a book, but it could be helpful for writers too.
More visual?
Perhaps what this author does would be helpful–she created a page with images and limited text. (Read more here.) Cut out images out of magazines and physically glue and paste, or copy images off of a free photo site, such as pixabay. I may try this with my next novel.
If you’ve used style sheets, and have tips, I’d love to hear them.

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

How Excel Can Help Creatives

notebook-1850613_1920.jpgI’ve talked several times about writing expenses and income, and often share my spreadsheet templates via email. (See posts here and here.) But this time I decided I should share them for free downloading.
The first is an expense template–this will work for writers or illustrators. Feel free to customize how it best works for you. I initially set this up based off of Schedule C, and still find it helpful when using TurboTax. It is set up to do automatic calculations for each month, and then monthly totals are transferred to the year-end sheet. It also has two extra sheets where I keep track of use of cars and equipment depreciation, and cost of goods sold.
Expense Template.xlsx
I also have an income template: Income Template.xlsx
But is that it? Is Excel only for numbers? I don’t find it so.
Some of the useful spreadsheets I have are a writing day log and a critique group log. These show dates, where we met, and who I met with. These are backups for my expense sheets and make for easy comparisons versus searching all my emails for when and where we agreed to meet. Here are those templates:
Critique Meeting Log Template.xlsx
Writing Day Log Template.xlsx
I also have two excel spreadsheets related to agents. One has agent information I’ve collected from sites and newsletters. (These are agents I think I might want to submit to.) Each agent gets their own tab (sheet) and I add more information and updates as I find it. I could use a Word Table as well for this, but entries get pretty lengthy.
The other spreadsheet is for agents who have rejected me. It includes name, agency, date, and form or personal rejection. I’m querying on a specific manuscript right now, but that could be info for another column. A Word Table would probably work as well.
Some people use spreadsheets for submission info. That could be for all submissions or for a specific manuscript.
If you don’t have Excel, consider Google Sheets–a great alternative. Though I mostly use Sheets for collating info from a Google Form I’ve created. Google Sheets are handy when you need to share a spreadsheet with someone else so you can both work on the same sheet. As soon as one makes a change, the info is updated.

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

Cutting Back on the Feed

firefighter-1851945_1280.jpgList serves, newsletters, blog posts, and social media can become a firehose blast of information. I love using them when I need inspiration or motivation to write. I search for info when I have questions or want more information on a topic. And I follow editors and agents to see what they are interested in and what they are talking about. But how do you know if you are involved in too much?
The answer will be different for each creative person at different times. At the beginning, we all have a lot to learn. A beginner should probably spend more time on absorbing information, learning craft, learning how the business works, and examining what is in the market now. Seasoned writers/illustrators should have a background of understanding–not that they can’t learn more–so should spend less time. However, it all depends on your purpose for subscribing, joining, participating, reading, etc.
Here are some ideas to consider:
How much time a day do you spend on the following: taking in the feed of information, the business of writing/illustrating, creating, and revising? Your answers may be different each day, so you might need to chart a week or two to see what is actually happening. Be honest with yourself.
Is your schedule regularly out of balance? Whatever that balance should be for you, of course.
Do you have certain times that are dedicated to creating and/or revising? Are you allowing other things to interfere with those times?
Do you have too much to read in your allotted time? Or are you overwhelmed by how much there is?
Is some of the information not as valuable as it once was?
Are you learning something new?
Would receiving a list serve in digest format cut down on the number of emails sent from that group?
Do you need/enjoy the socialization you’re getting or is it a drag on you mentally?
What are your current goals? You could be in a submission phase, so creating less, and that would be okay.
Are you actually creating? Are you making excuses for not creating? (ouch!) Or procrastinating? Chuck Wendig said, “Here are the two states in which you may exist: person who writes, or person who does not. If you write: you are a writer. If you do not write: you are not.”
Answering these questions for yourself can help you determine if you need to adjust the feed. As Brooke Warner says, “For those of you dealing with too much too much too much, spend some time prioritizing.” (From the post 3 Ways Writers Get Overwhelmed – and What to Do about It.)
My Coping Mechanisms:
Periodically I go through and unsubscribe from newsletters and blogs that I realize I’m not reading. Sometimes, I delete any nonpersonal posts over two months old. At times my life is too busy and I know something must go permanently, so I ruthlessly cut the “I would like to” reads and the “interesting, but not necessary” online writing groups.
In the past I’ve set myself a schedule allotting time for the tasks I want to complete. The only one that was allowed to exceed the scheduled time was creating. Some writers use a timer or install an app that nags. This can be to remind you to quit or to remind you to keep going.
Re-evaluation is necessary for me as life and creative needs change.
What are your coping mechanisms? Feel free to share in the comments.

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

A Fresh Look at Our Writing

refreshment-438399_1280.jpegI was once again reminded how important a fresh look is on a manuscript. This week a writer friend asked me to look at a picture book manuscript that her agent had said was “too mean spirited.” It was a retelling of an old story–good guys against a bad guy–with a very modern twist. I thought it was hilarious. I’d seen several versions and really couldn’t see much to tone down. Then yesterday she showed it to a mutual critique partner who had not seen the story before. She pointed out areas that would soften the story. This third writer had fresh eyes and was so right in her suggestions.
I love this imagery from Arthur Polotnik: “You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what’s burning inside you. And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke.” When we are writing our own view is hindered by smoke. We’re excited about what we’re creating–in love with our characters, our words. Setting aside the manuscript and coming back to it later when the fire has cooled, let’s some of that smoke of infatuation clear.
When we’ve looked at a manuscript over and over and over, we get blind. It’s too easy to skim because we “know” what it says. Suzanne Paschall says it this way, “Tired eyes become blind to errors that jump out to fresh eyes…” Somehow we need a splash of water in the face to wake us up.
Right now I’m going through my own manuscript using comments from my critique group. Mine is a novel in verse and once I gave the complete manuscript to my partners, I’ve didn’t look at it until I got their feedback. (I also tried not to think about the story at all.) Their questions and comments are helping me see it afresh. It helps me see what I know but didn’t put on the page. It helps me see where I wasn’t clear or left out details that will add to the story. It challenges me. And I know it is making my story better.
Soon, I’ll reread the whole story again to get it ready to send out on submission. This time I’ll probably first change the font so it looks different to me. This trick can help fool our eyes into seeing the words afresh.
Do you have other tools you use to look at your writing with fresh eyes? If so, please share in the comments.

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

Save Me!

lifebelt.jpgI was helping a new writer and she was confused about versions of her story/article. This is a common problem for many writers as it requires some computer literacy that people often don’t have. Here’s what I suggested to her:

  • Have a computer folder for the book project. Hers was a collection of stories from mission trips to Haiti. Her folder logically says HAITI STORIES.
  • Inside that folder have a folder for each individual story. One of her stories is titled “Anesthesia by Song”–don’t you want to know what that’s about?! Her inside folder where all copies of this story are can simply be ANESTHESIA BY SONG.
  • – I also use this folder to save notes, resources, etc. related to my article or story.
  • – I might have a separate folder labeled NOTES or INFO inside the story/article folder if I have a number of different documents.
  • If you want to have different versions of a story/article, name the files with dates or a number. E.g. Travel Story 4-15-17.docx, Travel Story 5-1-17.docx, Travel Story 1.docx, Travel Story 2.docx. (Or .doc for older computers.) At a glance, you’ll see which is the newest version. You could also label them Travel Story first draft.docx through Travel Story final.docx.

Whether you are on a PC using the file manager (looks like a folder at the bottom of your screen) or on a MAC using Finder, organizing your work helps you know where everything is. The folders within another folder, the files within a folder, all can be in alphabetical order which makes it easy to find the file you need when you need it.
My friend was surprised to hear you can have folders within folders. I liken it to a wide hanging folder in a desk drawer. It can have multiple manila folders. But the computer is even better as you can keep nesting as far as you need.
But how do you save different versions of a document?
There are multiple methods:

  • The one I find myself using the most often is opening the document itself and then clicking on “save as” and adding a version number or date. This leaves my new document open and I can immediately start work.
  • Another option is to go where the file is and make a copy. When you save the copy, the system will add a number to differentiate it or will add the word copy. Then you can rename the copy, open it and get to work.

“Save as” is useful in other ways too.

  • Saving a backup copy to another location such as Dropbox, google drive, a USB device, etc.
  • Saving the first ten pages for a consultation/critique. Of course, you can also copy the first ten pages and paste in a new document, but you probably will lose your headers.

I liked having the “save as” icon on my toolbar, so I can click on it easily.
Another writer expressed this week how she lost six hours of work when preparing a PowerPoint presentation. We’ve all lost work and it is very frustrating. Here’s what I do to help avoid that:

  • Name the document or presentation right away. An unnamed doc or ppt is much more difficult to find if you have a computer crash. I’ve also clicked on “don’t save” when I meant to click on save when closing a document. Arghh!
  • When you save the file that first time, make sure you put it in a logical place so you’ll know where to find it.
  • Save frequently as you work. I suggest every twenty to thirty minutes. (The “save” icon on the toolbar makes this quick and easy. Command/Control S is the keyboard shortcut.)
  • If you’re inserting create commons images you’ve copied from the Internet, I suggest downloading them then insert versus copy and paste. You’ll have the downloaded copies in your downloads folder as a backup.

And speaking of backups… Make sure you are backing up your documents and files. For further info, go to this blog post.

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