Category Archives: Tricks of the Trade

How to Orgainize an Outlining Escape

Over the years I’ve learned that certain words, to certain writers, are little more than a nasty noise.  One of those words is “Outline”.  Yikes!  Did I just feel a shudder running through my keyboard?

A lot of writers I know would rather chew off their own leg than outline a novel, or even a chapter, but my experience is that a very brief outline really works.  If you know where your story is going, if you know where your characters need to be at the start and the end of a particular chapter, then all you really need to do is herd them around a bit. 

Knowing where your novel should start, what the character and plot development points are, and approximately when they should happen is not a crutch.  It is a valuable tool that will have you writing rather than scratching your head and staring out into space.  Knowing where you are going keeps you going.

Now, for those who have just been convinced, and those of you who are in the choir being preached at, here’s an idea about how to make your outline a reality.

Do it instead of something you hate to do. 


For me, it’s waiting in line.  Waiting for a queue of people to move up for me is tedious and irritating.  When I can, I bring a book or play a game on my phone, but unless the game or book will inspire ideas for my novel, I’m just wasting time.

The solution?  Bring a notebook.  Come on, people, you’ve got nothing better to do in that line, right?  Jot down a few ideas.  Imagine where your lead character will be when the book starts, and make a note of it.  Think of when and how you will introduce your supporting characters, your villains, and the like.

The idea is to do a large, loose outline.  You’re not committing yourself to a final form for your novel, you’re just giving yourself a basic roadmap, and permission to create while standing around waiting.

I always take my notepad with me these days, and a lot of good has come from it.  Oh.  One more thing, I do NOT take a novel or anything else that can distract me from the outlining process.   I don’t particularly like it either, but…  to paraphrase Dorothy Parker, “…I hate outlining, but I love having outlined.”

Your thoughts?


How To Write With Your Nose

OK, perhaps I had a bit of fun with the title, in an attempt to catch your attention.  But maybe… just maybe, there is something to the titular phrase. 

I’ve gone on and on in the past about the old idea that as a writer you must “write what you know“, and have flamed a bit about it, saying that there seems to be a trap in that.  Think about it, how much experience do you have with ghosts?  How many hours have you spent in the cockpit of a jet fighter?  If you are a “natural-born killer” the chances are you are more a person of action than a writer.

Clearly if we only wrote what we know, our books would suffer.  So would we. 

I recently came across a statement by Sol Stein in his book, “How to Grow a Novel” where he discusses this issue.  “A writer cannot write what he does not read with pleasure”, he says.  But even that sounds a bit iffy to me.  Stein says it in a way that suggests we can only write about the things we’ve read about, but doesn’t that bring up the old chicken and the egg conundrum?

Certainly we cannot write what we cannot create in our minds, and perhaps that finally, is the key to it all.  Creativity.  Vision.  Imagination.  What we can imagine, fully clothed and nuanced, or what we can develop from a smattering of notions, adding atom upon atom, idea upon idea, must be in the end, what it is that we can write about.

We can… we must, I think, “follow our nose”.   We must allow instinct, unrestricted in idea, unfettered in application, to be our guide in finding what we shall write about.

And sometimes, sometimes…  sometimes we must create out of whole cloth.   Sometimes we must just sit back and make it up.  But then, isn’t that the way we startle our reader?

Finding the Tools You Need to Create an eBook – Part I

Image: I made this one.

When I started on this journey I assumed the learning curve might be steep.

The many services available to make your eBook come true all make it sound like write it, gather it, and push a button.

I am not finding it that easy at all.  eBooks, and eBook services come in many flavors and colors, and being of the old school, “if it looks too good to be true, it probably is”, I find myself being a bit more careful around this technology.

For starters, there are several on-line organizations that promise to help you get your eBook put together, published, and sold.  That sounds great, but of course there are costs involved.

Some months back at a weekly blogging workshop I co-host in Sunnyvale, California, we had the “Chief Inovator” of FastPencil come and speak to us.  Mike Ashley knows his business.  He created Fast Pencil because, if I remember correctly, his mother wanted to write and publish a book.

FastPencil caters to both eBooks and Print.  One of the features they claim to have is the ability to import a blog.  So I’ve tried.  Several times. 


The first time I tried was the day after Mike came to speak to us.  The application failed totally to pull in anything from my (this) blog.  I tried again, several times, and the failures happened constantly.  Thinking it might be my  new muscle-computer which was running Windows-7, I tried the same process on three other systems I have as backups.  The failure occurred consistently.

I contacted Mike directly to let him know that his application was failing, and true to his word, he got back to me in a day.  We exchanged another email or two, and he decided that his technical guy, Jeremy McNevin would get back to me with an answer to the problem.  That was over a month and a half ago.  Still no word.

I tried FastPencil again today, to see if it had been fixed, and it had, after a fashion.  You are now able to pull in a few pages from your blog, but the posts are truncated rather than full, and of almost no value at all.

It is disappointing that the first attempt I made at creating an eBook from my blog failed so miserably, and that FastPencil does not seem to care enough to even answer questions.

I like Mike.  I wish him well, but I cannot recommend FastPencil at this time for making an eBook out of a blog.  Their software does not work, and they are unresponsive to questions and pleas for help. 

To be fair, I have not looked into FastPencil’s print book operations, as I’m not ready for such a project at this time.  For all I know, that part of the business works just fine.

I will continue to look for reliable and responsive solutions to the actual work of converting your blog to an eBook.

I won’t give up.  Don’t you give up, either.

How to Create an eBook From Your Blog – Getting Your Ducks in a Row

Image: I made this one.

Still in the preparation phase of creating an eBook from your Blog, let’s consider the following:

  •  Are all of your posts up to the quality you want for your book?
  • Are the posts already in the order you want them displayed?
  • What will you use for cover art?  (Yes, even eBooks should have good cover art.)
  • Do the graphics you want to use belong to you?  If not, do you have a plan to  acquire the rights?

Getting permission when needed is essential, and is especially important if you intend to charge for your eBook.  For example, I want to quote a portion of a source on Fair Use from Nolo, here is a part of what constitutes “Fair Use”: 


  • Criticism and comment — for example, quoting or excerpting a work in a review or criticism for purposes of illustration or comment.
  • News reporting — for example, summarizing an address or article, with brief quotations, in a news report.
  • Research and scholarship — for example, quoting a short passage in a scholarly, scientific, or technical work for illustration or clarification of the author‘s observations.
  • Nonprofit educational uses — for example, photocopying of limited portions of written works by teachers for classroom use.
  • Parody — that is, a work that ridicules another, usually well-known, work by imitating it in a comic way.
  • Are you getting the idea that this can be a little tricky?

    Now, if all the work is your own, and you are self-illustrating—photographing, drawing, or painting—thes permission problems are a non-starter for you.

    Once all of these ducks are in a row, we’ll have to round up a few more, but we’re getting closer to starting the work.

    Now, all together, one deeeeep breath…

    Turn Your Blog Into an eBook

    Image: I made this one.

    It’s time to start thinking about where your blog will go when it grows up.

    My blogging guru suggests that a grown-up blog needs to belong to a larger network, something that will continue to feed its growth, and I certainly cannot argue with that.  A big network for sharing resources is a very good thing.

    But is that enough?  Isn’t there something else you can do with all the pieces you have written?  Glad you asked.  Yes there is.

    You can turn your blog—or select portions of it—into an eBook.  How?  We’re going to get into that, but not without setting the stage, getting some things clear. 

    Do I know how to do this?  Not yet, but why not bring you along with me as I gather the tools and experience to make it happen?

    Instead of diving in to the busy work of making this happen, let’s talk about getting organized first. 


    First thing is this… to clear the air.  In my initial research I found that there are several software apps that will convert a blog to an eBook, but there are “gotchas” built-in.  For one thing, every one I’ve found so far is either expensive (sometimes very expensive), or will only work on blogs living on a paid host.  The absence of a dependable tool for easily creating an eBook from your hosted blog will not prevent us from turning selected blog posts into a book, but it may mean some extra legwork.

    Our goal is to find a way to extract the posts and arrange them in a professional and pleasing to look at format.  Later we’ll talk about how to advertise and distribute (perhaps at a profit).  Everything we need is out there.

    So, who’s with me on this?

    Shall we make an eBook?

    Continued tomorrow

    Daily Writing Challenge: How to Find Free Writing Resources

     Isn’t the Internet wonferful?

    One of the things I really love about the Internet is the amazing resource it is for me… and for any writer who a) wants additional tools and b) is willing to spend a few minutes actually looking for them.

    I have my favorites.  I like Open Office, the free replacement for Microsoft Office (fully compatible with Microsoft), and I really like yWriter, a fantastic free software package which cradles your stories, essays or novels and (among other things) helps keep track of items, locations, characters, scenes, chapters and much more

    Using jus two Google searches, “free writing resources” and “tools for writers” I came up with the following:

    Under Free Writing Resources  


    National Writing Project

    Garbl’s Writing Center

    First Writer – Writing Resources

    Writers Free Resources


    Under Tools for Writers

    Open Office (Free compatible replacement for Microsoft Office)

    Thirty Tools for writers

    Fifty Tools for Writers

    100 Useful Tools for Writers

    Writer’s Toolbox: 35 Best Tools for Writers

      These are just a few of the wonderful resources available to you every day.  Most are free, all are useful.

    Today’s challenge is to seek out one tool or resource and explore.  See for yourself.  OR, do the same search I did and take a look at the results I didn’t post.

    In any event, I want you to come away from the day better armed, better equipped, and ready to write.

    Your thoughts?

    Blogosphere: Quit While You are Ahead

    Continued from Part Forty-Nine

    Blogosphere: A series
    Part Fifty: There Be Dark Days Ahead

    Image: I made this one.

    Well, there you go.  You’ve put together one monster of a blog.  You’ve done all the right things.

    You’ve held off until you have ten posts or so already in place before announcing your blog.  You’ve searched for and found a “just so” physical theme, and you know… you KNOW your topic inside and out—or you’ve set yourself up to get to the data you want at an instant.

    You know where you’ll get your daily images.  You’ve worked out that WordPress on the free side is even offering you links and tags.

    It just doesn’t get any better than this.

    Really.  It doesn’t.

    In fact, sometimes it gets worse, and I think you need to be ready for that.

    You need to have a day’s worth of posts set up ahead so if for any reason you can’t write on a given day, you’re still covered in your race to your numbers goal.

    You know what you’ll do when you have to be away for a few days. 

    You’re ready for that morning when you get up and it feels like you have been blogging for ever, and haven’t seen the expected gains.  You know.  THAT day.

    You need to be ready for that most dreaded diseases, a big ol’ case of “I dowanna”.   Cause, here’s the deal, see.   You said A, now you gotta say Z.  You need to carry it out, you need to go all the way, and when you feel like you’ve made it, you need to try harder, because your “laurels” are clearly in a bad spot for resting on.

    Sorry, folks.  There will be those days.  Probably.  There have been for me, and I expect there will be more of the nasty little guys, ready to attack, to bite the ankles, to discourage, and cause dismay.

    Be ready.  Don’t let it stop you.  There is something oh, so very cool about pushing on, and getting done, even when you don’t want to.

    Continued in Part Fifty-One