Friday, October 20, 2017

More tips on organization for writers from Randy Ingermanson

Organization: Attacking the Day
Getting stuff done is a matter of attacking each day like it’s an obstacle course in a mud run. Because that’s pretty much what it is.
You can attack your day any way you like, based on the way your brain is wired and your own personal style of getting stuff done.
Today I’ll toss out for your consideration the way I attack each day. If you see some ideas that might work for you, feel free to use them or adapt them to your own way of doing things.
As I’ve noted in previous columns, I manage my tasks and projects in Evernote. (A “task” is something you can do in one sitting. A “project” is a collection of related tasks that may take days, months, or even years to complete.) 
Evernote is great for keeping track of all my pending tasks and projects. Each task or project can be in its own “note” that can be assigned to a “notebook” of pending tasks or projects. When they’re completed, they can be moved to a new notebook of completed items.
However, for keeping track of what I actually did in my life, I keep a work journal in Scrivener. Scrivener is a word-processing tool in which you can work on many text files, folders of text files, and folders of folders, as a single project. 
I have a 2017 folder at the top level which contains a folder for each month. Each month’s folder has a text file for each date, and in that text file, I track what I planned for the day and what I actually did.
Scrivener has a very nice template feature. You can create text file templates that are structured exactly the way you want them. I have a template named “Daily Plan”. Every day when I sit down at my computer, the very first thing I do is open my work journal and add a new text file to the current month, using the “Daily Plan” template. Then I fill it in, based on what current tasks and projects I have pending in Evernote.
My thinking is that a Daily Plan needs to give you context on the big picture of your life. So my Daily Plan has some standard things to remind me of exactly what my big picture is. Here are the five items that show up in my Daily Plan:
  1. My Life Theme
  2. My Learning Project
  3. My Monthly Habit to Build
  4. My Plan for This Quarter
  5. To Do List
Click through to the Advanced Fiction Writing Magazine to read more about each part of the Daily Plan!

This article is reprinted by permission of the author.

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy," publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 16,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it,

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Sage advice from Randy Ingermanson

Organization: Do Hard Things
Everybody has projects in their life that they don’t want to tackle. Hard things. 
Maybe there’s a part of your yard that’s overgrown with weeds, and it just gets worse and worse and worse every week.
Maybe your garage is overloaded with junk you don’t use, don’t want, and don’t even dare look at because it’s too depressing.
Maybe there’s a relationship in your life that’s gone south and it seems unfixable.
I call things like these “the swamp.” The swamp is any part of your life that you don’t dare touch because it just seems overwhelming. Because it’s too hard.
There are two ways to handle the swamp.
·        You can ignore it forever.
·        You can go through it to the other side.
Those are the only two ways I’ve ever found for dealing with the swamp. Ignoring the swamp is easy. Going through it is hard. 
But doing hard things builds character. (It’s much easier to say this when you are not about to enter the swamp. But it’s also true, so it bears saying.)
Here are a few other things that are also true:
·        The swamp doesn’t go away by itself. 
·        The only way to go through the swamp is to go through the swamp. You can’t go around. 
·        The first time you go into the swamp is the scariest. 
·        The swamp is never quite as terrible as it seems. 
·        There is no feeling as wonderful as coming out on the other side of the swamp.
This is a short column because there’s really not much to say about the swamp. You can either hide from it or you can go through it to freedom. You get to choose.
Do hard things. The characters you write fiction about are in the business of doing hard things. The more hard things you do, the better you’ll be able to tell their story.
  • What is the swamp in your life, right now?
  • If you decided to go through the swamp, how long would it take?
  • How would you feel when you came out the other side?

This article is reprinted by permission of the author.

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy," publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 17,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit

Friday, October 13, 2017

Heading for the 'Last Roundup'

Class of ‘62

It’s what may well be ‘the last roundup’ for the San Angelo Central High Class of ’62.
I’m not big on reunions, although I’ve attended a few--the 20th, the 30th, the 50th, and now this 55th. There are a few necks I really want to hug, and I can’t do it from several hundred miles away. So…I’m off soon.
We were the largest class to graduate to date--some 456, I believe. Fifty years later, a quarter of us were gone, and more have left the corral in the past five years.

Good memories

I liked school. I wasn’t part of the ‘elite’ group, but then--I often think “Thank goodness, I wasn’t!” I worked on the school newspaper, the Campus Corral and was appointed editor of our yearbook, The Westerner. For whatever reason, my mother didn’t want me to accept the job--but for once in my life, I didn’t listen to her and plowed ahead--and I’m glad. I had a great staff, and our sponsor, journalism teacher Ed Cole was the absolute best. Behind his back, we affectionately called him “Uncle Ed”. He used to say he didn’t know if he was an old newspaperman teaching school or an old teacher working on the newspaper. He did both with a professionalism and integrity that puts modern “journalists” to shame.

One more time

Some are already talking about “The 60th”, but I personally feel when it’s time to say goodbye and turn loose, it’s time. I suspect, if there is a 60th, only those who live in our hometown will be there! But for now, I’m anticipating the days ahead--and I’ll blog about them later.

Nothing new under the sun...

Photo from DeathtoStockPhotos

Like a healthy diet

a balance of reading materials is also a good idea. Everyone leans to a particular genre in fiction, be it romance, thrillers, mystery, adventure, time-travel, western, historical, science-fiction…and the list goes on with “new” genres being invented all the time. But for every fictional book, there’s a corresponding non-fiction work which builds a background of factual information to enhance the lighter side.

Every fictional character

has walked around “for real” whether in boots or hoopskirts, wearing a backpack or packing the tools of the spy trade. We just think our characters are made up!

Settings actually exist

whether they be in outer space the antebellum South, the old West, a dark back alley waiting for a murder victim, or a period house complete with ghost. When we put our characters in a setting, they’ve already been there done that.

You simply can’t

come up up with a character who hasn’t actually lived or a place no one’s seen, a crime that hasn’t been committed or a battle which hasn’t been fought, a love which hasn’t been challenged or a sin which hasn’t been committed. The old question, “Which came first--the chicken or the egg?” might be changed to, “Which came first--fiction or real life (non-fiction)?”

We can agree that in many ways

each human being and each place in our beautiful world is unique. But there are more similarities than differences. When you come up with a brilliantly “new” story idea and populate your “untouched” world with remarkably distinct characters, they’ve already inhabited the planet. “Truth is stranger than fiction”, I believe the saying goes.

But as writers

we keep on keeping on. As readers, we do the same. And like water rushing over rocky falls, the books keep coming. Just remember: “There’s nothing new under the sun”. 

Tip of the Day

If you ever write something which sounds vaguely familiar and wonder if you actually came up with it yourself or--horror of horrors--read it somewhere and inadvertently plagiarized the words, here’s one tool among many to help you make sure you’re not guilty!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

How do you do what you do?

Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash

What’s your writing style?

Some writers can just sit down and knock out a few thousand words, then get up and go about their business. If you’re one of them--go for it!
Then there’s the age-old debate about which is better: being a pantser or a plotter. Most writers would probably confess to being a little bit of both.
And finally there’s the dilemma of where to write: coffee shop, your own office/study, mini (or longer) writing retreat, library, or some off-the-wall place which just happens to inspire you.

I confess…

to being able to write on the fly--sometimes
to being mostly pantser with some pre-planning just to keep myself on track
to setting up the perfect atmosphere for a long writing session in my own study

What’s perfect for me?

Music--classical (I find wonderful CDs for pennies on the dollar in the book sale room of my local library)
Aroma--scented oil (sometimes seasonal) or candles (always seasonal).
Light--strategically-placed lamps rather than the overhead light
Mood--if it’s raining slow and steady or even storming, I love to open the blinds and curtains and let the outside in
Tastebud inspiration--hot cocoa in the winter, Diet Coke the rest of the time (not a coffee-drinker)
Time frame--Mondays are my office days: backing up the computer, taking care of personal business, maybe errands. If I’m in for the long haul, I want an uninterrupted day when I don’t have to put on makeup or even dress!
Regular breaks--walk out to the mailbox, make a quick lunch, read a while on my Kindle, just sit and think about what to write next and how to write it

Tell me about your perfect writing time!

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The story before the story...

A little background…

Each month I post a free read on my website--a short story just the right length for a quick lunch, a wait at school for the kids, or something to do when you just need a break from whatever. “Them Bones Gonna Rise” sprang from a prompt for the May 2017 StoryADay challenge--Day 8 to be precise. THEN on Day 19, I faced this prompt: Imagine the first meeting between your protagonist and a secondary character. Back to Day 8 when Joyce Ketchum, looking for information on an old house she’s thinking of buying, walks into local historian Jeremiah Jackson’s establishment on the square.
You’re about to read the story before the story.

Jeremiah Jackson didn’t really leave a impression on me the first time I met him, nor the second. In the end, however, I came to understand just how formidable a character he truly was. All I knew about him--for a while--was that he’d grown up in Brookings, left to further his education and pursue a successful career as a mining engineer, then at some point retired to his hometown and became its local historian. I had a feeling it was in his final role as keeper of the town’s beginnings and development--and its secrets--that his star shone the brightest.
I never asked him how he knew so much about so many people both living and dead, but each time I visited the old hardware store-turned museum and archival repository--I learned something new about someone. But I never learned much about Jeremiah himself, not until I found the bones in the basement.
He looked old enough to be my grandfather even though I was almost fifty when I moved to Brookings after my husband’s premature death. Tall and gaunt with a fringe of soft white hair around the top of his shiny bald head, he wore what I’d always thought of as old-people glasses--clear, no frames and gold nose and ear pieces. Clearly he dressed for comfort in wrinkled khakis and soft long-sleeved shirts open at the neck and missing a button or two or three.
But I had to admit he displayed amazing agility as he climbed the rolling ladder which ran along a rail at he top of built-in shelves to retrieve boxes of records or pictures for the occasional researcher. He lived, he said, in the back, though someone told me he’d built his mother a spacious home near the lake. She’d lived there until she died at an advanced age toward the end of the previous century.
Someone else offered the information he’d been married once, a long time ago, and not in Brookings, but they didn’t seem to know if he were widowed or divorced. Yet another person said she’d heard he had a son somewhere, but no one had ever seen him, and neither did I.
On my first visit,  found him sprawled in a canvas chair reading a battered copy of Erle Stanley Gardner’s The Case of the Sulky Girl. Later I’d reflect in a moment of déjà vu, the name of the book could have been a forerunner to my quest to learn whose were the bones in my basement. He put the book aside with a hasty, almost apologetic explanation of his fascination with the eminent counselor, Perry Mason.
But that morning I’d only come to learn more about the history of the house I was considering purchasing. The old Randolph home built by the town’s pre-eminent citizen just over one hundred years earlier. And Jeremiah Jackson knew all about it. I spent much longer than I intended pouring over vintage pictures and photocopied newspaper articles.
“Come back any time,” he called after me as I left through the glass door above which an old bell still jangled to announce customers to the long-deceased hardware merchant. Ballenger Hardware--the faded letters still graced the windows in need of a good cleaning. “Sterling Randolph left his mark on this town. You’ve only scratched the surface. You’ve only seen what’s written down or photographed.”
“Thank you,” I replied without looking back. At that moment, my curiosity satisfied, I never intended to return for another session with Jeremiah Jackson who smelled of Old Spice and the mustiness associated with old records.
But, of course, that was before I found the bones in the basement.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Known but to God...

While I was writing about two Civil War ancestors this week, I wondered how many of those who fought in that war not only never came home but were actually unknown. A little research came up with the information that 25% of the 622,000 known dead were never identified. Neither side was prepared for the horrors of the battlefield, particularly the aftermath. Rotting corpses and hastily-dug mass graves appear to be the method of coping.

Though dog tags didn’t become mandatory until 1913, some Civil War soldiers made wooden tags for themselves and wore them fastened on thongs around their necks. Harper’s Weekly touted gold or silver pins inscribed with names and units. (The same article puts the percentage of unidentified Civil War dead at a whopping 42% instead of 25%. See History of the Dog Tag.)

Click through to The Great Unknowns for more statistics on the unknowns of other wars. The number steadily decreased until there were no unknowns for the Viet Nam conflict and subsequent actions.

Even today we read the occasional article about remains of WW II service members being recovered and repatriated. In most cases, the only family remaining are younger nieces and nephews or grandchildren. In 1998, the remains of a Viet Nam soldier were disinterred for DNA testing and identified. Lt. Michael J. Blassie had for a time rested in the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. 

Suggested reading and viewing

Known But to God by Quentin Reynolds

“The Unknowns” (video) narrated by Jason Robards