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The Productive Writer


Waiting doesn’t have to get in the way of the rest of what you need and want to do today.

As an author, I find time to do the things I like to do by becoming creative with the time that I would otherwise be doing nothing. Today I’m sharing how I constructively use the time in which I am waiting.

We all have a busy life, and it seems like those times when we must wait that we find ourselves wishing we could do all those things that we can’t do because we are waiting. Whether it is waiting for a service person at our home, waiting for our turn at the doctor’s office, waiting for our children to get out of class, or even being stuck in traffic for an extended period, if we plan to do things during this time, we’ll find we could get things done that we wouldn’t have been able to do if we had not had to wait.

Be Prepared to Wait

At one time, I had a briefcase that I carried with me in the car that I kept available with all kinds of things for me to do during those long waits. I kept pens, paper, books, and other items available for me to use to accomplish some of my goals for the day.

Planning your day with appointments in mind will help you know what you should have with you. If you are writing a book, have tools like paper and pens available so that you can jot down ideas or notes as they come to you while you’re waiting. Perhaps you have a book that you what to read. Be sure that you have it available no matter where you are. Before we get to what you can do while away from home, let’s go over what you can do while you’re waiting at home for a service person.

Waiting for a Service Person

Waiting for someone to install or install something in my home used to be a frustrating experience. Sometimes I’m told that the service person will be in my home before noon or afternoon and then I would wait all day and would find that I had nothing done because I had spent the day wasting my time waiting for the service person to arrive and almost every time, the person arrived at the end of that period or would call to say that they weren’t able to make it that day and had to reschedule. I know that I cannot change the situation, but as a wise woman once said:

“If you don’t like something change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”

Maya Angelou

So, I have come to the decision that if I can’t change someone else, I can change my approach to waiting for someone to arrive. I can determine that no matter what that other person does, I will make the most of my day by getting as much done as possible.

While I am at home, I start doing those things that I need to do at home. I begin by making a list of all those things that I need to do at home. I then separate the tasks from the projects. A simple definition between tasks and projects is that tasks are things that I can do within a few minutes say in 15 minutes to an hour. Projects are things that take more than an hour. Next, I look over the projects that I have to do and break them down into tasks that we have already defined as things to do that take between 15 minutes to an hour. Once that’s done, I determine what tasks need to be done next in these projects. Now I am ready to prioritize all the tasks that I have to do that I can do while at home that day. If I must pick up an item at the store to continue a project, I don’t worry about that project while at home that day. I let it go for now. It’s not on the list of tasks during that time.

Before starting my list of tasks, however, my first task is to be sure that I have done everything that I can do to make the time of the service person easiest. If the plumber is there to repair or replace the garbage disposal, I want to be sure that everything is out from under the sink before that person arrives. I might even wipe out and disinfect under there so that everything is clean so that when I put everything away, the area is clean as well. If I need to move my car to give the service person access, I may want to do that as well. If the service person is coming to deliver living room furniture, I want to have little things cleared out of the way so that the person has easy access to the room.  If they are coming with a new appliance, I make sure that they have easy access to where I want that new appliance. Once I have done all that I can do for the service person, it’s time to start my list. I like to do as much as possible at a time. For instance, I like to start laundry, change bed linens, start cooking in the crockpot and clean the kitchen appliances all at once. Keep in mind that you don’t do things that will get into the service person’s way.

Waiting for a service person could also mean that you are doing work from home rather than going to work that day. In this case, plan your tasks as related to the job and do projects involved in your day job. Plan your breaks to do things around the house if you’d like to be able to get even more done during your work hours. If you do that, however, plan some relaxation time at the end of the day. All work and no fun is not what life is all about.

No matter how long before the service person comes, I want to be sure to have done as much as possible so that by end of the day I feel justified about the way that I have spent my time.

Waiting for an Appointment in a Waiting Room

The opposite of waiting at home is waiting for an appointment in a waiting room. In a waiting room, I don’t want to get stuck with a lot of different things so usually, I do one of two things when I am waiting here. First, I might read a book that I want to read, and second, I write out lists or write down a few ideas that I am able to think of for one of the books or articles that I am writing or want to write. It’s much easier to use a notebook to write than it is to use loose-leaf paper. One thing, if I had one, that I could use would be a tablet. I could do a lot of work on the table and then when I get home, I could transfer it to my computer using either Microsoft Word or Google documents.  I don’t have one, so I use paper and a pen.

I do much the same when I am substitute teaching. I have been known to write out many ideas for articles or books and then later transfer them to my computer. I also do a lot of my reading when teaching. It’s just a matter of writing down ideas and organizing them. If I need to do research for the work, I write down in the notebook what items I need to research.

I wrote the idea for this article and several more the other day while substitute teaching.

Waiting in My Car

Waiting in the car is a cross between working at home and waiting in a waiting room. Perhaps you wait every day at your children’s school to pick them up. This is a good time to plan to make phone calls or answer emails. It is also a good time to listen to podcasts or watch specific YouTube videos.

Even time stuck in traffic can be used constructively if you develop a plan to utilize that time.

You could even plan to clean out your purse or pick up the trash inside your vehicle and use a wipe to clean off the dash and the door. Stop on the way home and wash and vacuum the car and you’ll have gotten a lot done because you structured your waiting time.

Now it’s your turn!

How would you prefer to spend your time waiting? Perhaps getting things done isn’t what you do, perhaps you consider this downtime. Share your opinion in the comment section below.


Here’s a sample of my most recent creation, my super-simple version of the peanut butter cream pie.

Can a Writer Find Time to Make Dessert When She’s Facing a Deadline?

I have those days when I spend the entire day just writing. Like right now. I have a self-imposed (I am an indie-author, after all) deadline for the end of this week for my book The Four Seasons Vegetable Garden. My plans are to spend as much of this week as possible so that I can get the Kindle edition published this weekend. I am also redoing research on my next novel in Book VII of the Locket Saga–Two Rivers. I wrote the first draft of this novel several years ago for NaNoWriMo, but since the demise of my old computer, I no longer have that draft, so I have decided to start over. The good news about this book is that the research is mostly straightforward, but it is taking time. Plus, spring is upon us and there are gardening chores that are coming front and center.

Therefore, over the next several weeks, my life is going to be very busy. Therefore, something must give and some of that will be time with my husband, cooking, and cleaning. However, I do want to please my husband, so I like to give him something from time to time to remind him that my writing and gardening aren’t more important to me than he is.

Despite my busy schedule, I like to give my husband something from time to time to remind him that my writing and gardening aren’t more important to me than he is.

Cygnet Brown

One of the ways that I like to show him that I still love him is by making something special from time to time and nothing says special as much as dessert. A crockpot meal or a pasta or rice casserole always seems more special when there’s a decadent homemade dessert to follow. The problem with this kind of dessert is that most of them take a lot of time to prepare and I don’t have the time for that. Therefore, I have created a simple but decadent cream pie that is to live for! And the best part is that it only takes about fifteen minutes to make including clean up!

The Original Experiment

I created this dessert based on a product put out by the Tastefully Simple Company. They had (maybe they still have, I don’t know) a key lime pie mix that you add certain ingredients, and the result is a key lime type cream pie. I discovered that I could make a similar product using lime gelatin instead of their mix.

Key Lime Cream Pie

Ingredients:

1 graham cracker pie crust

1 package cream cheese

1 4 oz package of lime gelatin (dry powder)

2 small containers of whipped topping (like Cool Whip)

Jellied lime candy slices or slices of fresh limes

Mix the cream cheese and lime gelatin and add the contents of one of the containers of whipped topping. Spoon mixture into graham cracker crust. Top with whipped topping and decorate with lime candy or fresh limes. Cool in the refrigerator for at least an hour. Store any uneaten pie in the refrigerator.

Once I knew that I produced a winning product, that led me to create other similar desserts using similar desserts. Here are a few of my successes.

Strawberry or Strawberry-banana Cream Pie

Ingredients:

1 graham cracker crust

1 package cream cheese

1 4 oz. package of strawberry or strawberry banana gelatin (dry powder)

2 small containers of whipped topping

Fresh strawberries or fresh strawberries and fresh bananas

Make like the key lime cream pie but instead of lime gelatin, use strawberry or strawberry banana gelatin. Also, I put just half of the gelatin mixture into the graham cracker crust then add fresh strawberries or fresh strawberries and bananas, add the rest of the gelatin mixture, top with the whipped topping, and then decorate with sliced strawberries or sliced strawberries and bananas.

Raspberry Chocolate Cream Pie

Ingredients:

1 Oreo pie crust

1 package cream cheese

1 4 oz. package of raspberry gelatin (dry powder)

2 small containers of whipped topping

1 teaspoon cocoa powder

Fresh raspberries

Chocolate syrup

Make mixture like the strawberry pie, but instead of strawberry gelatin, use raspberry gelatin. Place half of the gelatin mixture into an Oreo rather than graham cracker crust, then add a layer of fresh raspberries then add the rest of the gelatin mixture onto the raspberries. Now, take the remaining container of whipped topping and mix into it a teaspoon of dry cocoa powder and top your pie with this. Next, drizzle chocolate syrup onto the chocolate whipped topping and decorate with fresh raspberries.

Peanut butter Chocolate Cream Pie

This is my most recent concoction and has somewhat similar ingredients but doesn’t have any gelatin at all.

Ingredients include:

One package cream cheese

¼ cup of peanut butter

½ cup vanilla yogurt (Greek or regular vanilla yogurt)

1 container whipped topping.

¼ cup of powdered cocoa

1 graham cracker crust.

Chocolate syrup

Mix the cream cheese, peanut butter, yogurt, cocoa, and 3/4s of the container of whipped topping. Spoon into the graham cracker crust and then spoon the remaining whipped topping. Decorate by drizzling chocolate syrup onto the top of the pie. Like all these cream pies, cool in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

Now It’s Your Turn

How about you? Are you an author? Do you have a fantastic easy quick dessert or meal recipe that makes your family feel special but still allows you the time you need to write? I would love to interview you here on my blog! Let me know in the comments below or message me on my Facebook Page and I will get back to you.


Over half a million people crossed the plains and the mountains toward the west coast in the mid-1800s.

Back in November, I was writing the first draft of my latest NaNoWriMo project. My working title is Little Africa. (for more about Little Africa, check out my article about this place) I know that there will be a better name for it, but in the process of writing that story, I decided at the end that my characters would go west with a wagon train.

Even though I know I will be ending the book with them going to the west coast by wagon train, I decided that I wasn’t going to write any book about the topic, but I am putting this information in the footnotes at the back of the book as some of the added material that I include. The reason I am not writing that story is that the story of people crossing the prairie to the west coast has already been done many times. However, that doesn’t stop me from writing about it at all.

The wagon train experience began In 1834 when a merchant from New England named Nathaniel Wyeth and an Episcopalian missionary named Jason Lee led the first eighty people to take the 2170 mile trip from Missouri to Oregon on what became the Oregon Trail.

By the end of the 1860s, half a million pioneers had traveled overland to the far West in search of new land, gold, and a new life. These pioneers gave up almost everything they possessed and left behind families that they might never see again. These people walked across half a continent through prairies, high deserts, and snow-covered mountains. They passed through territories that would later become Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon.

Approximately ten percent of the travelers died along the trail usually, not from Indian attacks but, from disease or accidents. The wagon train routes across the country were considered by many to be the longest cemetery in the world.

Why?

Why did they take this journey? Some were escaping frequent outbreaks of diseases like malaria and dysentery in the crowded Eastern states. Many were the children of pioneers who had homesteaded in Indiana, Illinois, and the Michigan territories. This younger generation was forced to move further west because all the best river-bottom land for farming had already been claimed, and the competition for even the less-desirable farmland was fierce due to immigration.

Seventy percent of the travelers were farmers. They knew that in order to get the best land, they had to get there first. In 1850 the U.S. Congress ceded land in the Western territories to settlers by granting a square mile of land to each married couple and their children would inherit it.

Gold discoveries in California also drew people to the West Coast. Congress gave actual settlers 640 acres in California. In 1849, many folks began the journey as “49ers,” heading for the newly discovered goldfields of the Sierra foothills of California.

Later in the 1860s, some went west to escape the looming Civil War. But no matter the reason, there was one underlying sentiment shared by nearly every pioneer. Manifest Destiny was a deep-seated belief that the growth of the United States was divinely preordained.

The Trail

With a few exceptions, all the major Western trails started near the frontier town of Independence, Missouri. From Independence or at various branches further to the west, the traveler could head southwest on the Santa Fe Trail, west to Sacramento on the California Trail, or continue northwest to Oregon. The Mormon Trail, which lead to Salt Lake City, began in the town of Nauvoo, Illinois, and crossed the Missouri River north of Independence at Council Bluff, eventually joining up with the Oregon Trail near Fort Laramie, Wyoming.

They needed to leave late enough in the spring to provide grass for the livestock, so they did not leave any earlier than mid-April. However, they also didn’t want to leave in June because of the possibility of facing early snows in the mountains. They had to leave sometime between mid-April and during May. However, this meant facing swollen rivers, violent thunderstorms, and blistering mid-summer heat while crossing the deserts of southern Wyoming, Idaho, and eastern Oregon.

Preparing for the Trip

Before leaving, these pioneers acquired travel guidebooks like The Emigrant’s Guide to Oregon and California, written by Lansford Hastings. All the travel guides provided commonly known details about travel distances, river crossings, the cost of food and equipment, and what dangerous situations they might face.

Oxen were much preferred over horses or mules by experienced travelers. These animals were more easily managed, were not likely to run away or die because of the hardships, cost less than horses or mules, and were worth more in Oregon. In addition, if the situation because necessary, they could always eat the oxen. Wagons with three yoke of oxen (two oxen per yoke) were required to make a successful journey.

Most of the wagons we see in movies are not the wagons that they used. Those wagons are Conestoga wagons, but these large freight-moving vessels were far too heavy to navigate open prairie, muddy river crossings, and mountain passes.

The wagon used by most pioneers was the “prairie schooner.”  This wagon was four feet wide and ten feet long. These light but strong wagons had vertical or slightly canted sides with waterproofed canvas covers supported by bent-wood ribbing. This wagon carried a maximum of 2,500 pounds of supplies. This made it necessary to walk rather than ride in a wagon.

Because of the weight limit, family members walked and guided the oxen. The only people to ride in the wagons were those too ill to walk. Some people set up their wagons so that they could sleep in them, but usually, these pioneers slept in tents or under the stars. They needed as much space as possible for storing their needed goods.

A complete wagon, three yokes of oxen, and the food needed for a five-member family cost a minimum of Six hundred dollars or equal to fifteen thousand dollars in today’s money. Poor farmers weren’t always able to come up with cash for these journeys so they did what they could like selling their land to a neighbor for what they could get or getting someone else to sponsor their trip cross country with the understanding that they would be paid back after they started making money from their new farm. Single young men and women were often hired on as “trail helpers” to wealthier individuals who were making the trip.

The food that was recommended for the trip for each adult was two hundred pounds of flour, thirty pounds of pilot bread, seventy-five pounds of bacon, ten pounds of rice, five pounds of coffee, two pounds of tea, twenty-five pounds of sugar, half a bushel of dried beans, one bushel of dried fruit, two pounds of saleratus, ten pounds of salt, half a bushel of corn meal; and a half-bushel of parched ground corn, as well as a small keg of vinegar.

Flour in the mid-1800s was not the bleached and enriched flour available today. Then, the pioneer had to choose between three types of flour: shorts, middlings, and superfine.

“Shorts” was a coarse-ground flour somewhere between wheat bran and whole wheat. It was poorly sifted and retained a high degree of impurities. Shorts flour was often the least-expensive option.“ Middlings”  was a remainder product formed during the separation of bran from white flour. High in gluten, “middlings” became a waste product for many mills and were often sold as an inexpensive flour without further refinement. “Superfine” flour was as close to modern white flour but was more like unbleached flour than what we have today.

They baked bread on the trail every day. They used small sheet-iron ovens, or dutch ovens, or they fried biscuits in a skillet.

Building fires on the trip was problematic because firewood was in short supply. Instead, on the prairies, they used small piles of “dried buffalo chips” or dried buffalo manure. These chips burned steadily and had little odor. When chips were in short supply, sagebrush was used.

Commercial yeast was not available at the time. Any yeast used had a short shelf life and was delivered from breweries as a by-product of beer making therefore could not be used on these cross-country endeavors. Sourdough starters were also problematic because it required a long time to make bread rise and rising bread or pastries required a place that wasn’t moving.

The answer to the problem was saleratus, a precursor to our modern baking soda. This was discovered by chemists in the late 1700s. It was a form of bicarbonate of soda that, when added to the dough, released carbon dioxide upon heating, causing the bread to rise. A natural source was found along the Oregon Trail near Independence Rock, Wyoming.

The other staple of trail life was bacon. Bacon then was any pig meat from the sides, hams, or shoulders that received a salt cure. This bacon rarely survived the entire journey and often became rancid or suffered insect infestation because of its fat content.

This was sometimes remedied by purchasing bacon at various forts along the way but at much higher prices.

Unlike salt pork or beef (which was kept barreled in a brine solution), bacon was stored dry in bug-proof bags or boxes. In hot climates, bacon was buried in bran,  supposedly this kept the fat from absorbing it.

Parched corn (corn whose kernels had been sun-dried or roasted in an oven) was very popular with the pioneers, if for no other reason than because it did not spoil easily. It was usually ground into rough flour and cooked as mush, which was served with milk from the traveler’s cows.

Dried fruits were a staple, not only amongst the pioneers but for practically everyone in 19th century America. Dried vegetables were less common with pioneers. This changed in 1859 with the publication of Randolph Marcy’s The Prairie Traveler: A Handbook for Overland Expeditions in 1859. Where he suggested each traveler have desiccated vegetables, or dried vegetables,  a product used extensively in the Crimean War.

Coffee was not just a staple on the trail, it was often the only thing left near the end of the journey. Trail coffee was green (unroasted) beans because roasted or ground coffee traveled poorly and quickly lost flavor. They roasted the beans in a skillet over a fire, then ground them in a coffee grinder.

Medicinal Supplies

Disease was the big killer on the trail. In the mid-1800s, effective medical supplies were limited. A medical kit included “a little blue mass” which was mercury-based and used for many different diseases from constipation to tuberculosis. Opium and quinine were used for pain.

Weapons

They also carried a five-gallon drum of “medicinal spirits” a benign name for whiskey, brandy, or rum.

Everyone carried weapons for protection and to provide meat along the trail. Most travelers had a muzzle-loading long gun musket or rifle. Pistols were rare and expensive. Every wagon was equipped with gunpowder, shot molds, and lead for casting rifle balls.

Other Items

They also took clothing, camping supplies, day-to-day tools, livestock supplies, and a few keepsakes many of the family heirlooms were discarded along the route. Seed and plow blades were brought by farmers. Skilled craftsmen often brought additional wagons with the tools of their trades. Many family Bibles made the trip across the country along as did family cows.

The Trail’s End

While on the trail, couples married, gave birth, or broke up.  They suffered wagon mishaps. They developed a kinship with fellow travelers.

Many of the emigrants who arrived in Oregon or California were starving, with no provisions left. Others had some preserved food but had become sick and worn out from the journey. Many had also spent their last dollar.

The pioneers who had already made the journey were there to help the new arrivals. They helped stragglers in need.  Most of the new settlers arrived in the late fall or early winter, too late to put in a crop or do more than hastily construct winter quarters. Neighbors, churches, and civic committees worked together to keep the new arrivals alive, at least long enough to help them to get in a crop and “prove-up” their homesteads. Many of them considered that having thousands of new neighbors both armed and starving was a disaster waiting to happen. Anyone who wanted to work was offered employment even if their labors were rewarded in food rather than gold.

The Locket Saga

The research above was done for a future book in the Locket Saga series. In this series, a locket is passed from generation to generation of ordinary Americans who are a part of extraordinary events as family members are born, live, marry, and as they pass the torch and the locket to the next generation.


No, it hasn’t been this bad, but it has been interesting!

As you can see, I am back!

We’ve Been Experiencing Technical Difficulties

It has been a while since I wrote here is because I have been technically at a disadvantage. The problems began when my laptop malfunctioned back last June. I wore out my laptop’s keyboard, but it didn’t end there.

I have had it for five years so I really can’t complain. The laptop I had before that one lasted me three years and when I bought that second one, the guy at Best Buy was impressed that the original laptop had lasted as long as it did and he said that he didn’t think the one I was purchasing would last me as long.  Well, that was five years ago, so I think it lasted me very well. As my husband always says, the computer owes me nothing.

Then in November, the gussets that held the screen to the rest of the laptop broke and that broke the screen too! It happened in the middle of NaNoWriMo. I got the laptop fixed just in time to finish the first draft of the manuscript I was writing.

On the first of December, I started working on my newest nonfiction gardening book which I call The Seasonal Garden.  I made some definite progress when again, in the middle of December, the gussets gave out. Back to the repair shop went the laptop. Weeks passed. My repairman became sick with the virus. Then he said the gussets were lost in transit. Finally, at the end of January when I still hadn’t gotten it back, I broke down and purchase a new laptop. Because I have always had good luck with Lenovo products, I ordered another one.

You’d think that would be the end of the trouble, but of course, it wasn’t. No, not a pandemic or a supply chain issue it was something else.

The Weather Turned Against Me

I was supposed to get the new laptop on February fourth. I anxiously watched as the package came across the country. The package made it to Kansas City, Missouri by Wednesday. Under normal circumstances, the laptop would have come early, but it wasn’t the case a major winter storm came through that affected the country for several days. The weather was so bad that the laptop stayed in KC from Wednesday morning until Saturday. The laptop finally arrived on Monday, February seventh.

For two days I worked to catch up with the emails that I was behind and at the same time, I have been working on the next draft of my most recent book The Seasonal Garden. This book is supposed to be out by the first of April, and it would have been easy to do it if it hadn’t been for all the problems that I’ve had to get a working laptop.

Now Everything Is Happening All at Once

It would have been great if I could have been working on my book when the winter was at its height. The weather already feels like it is about to change and my cat is starting to shed her fur which means that the worst part of the winter is over. Gardening season is upon us.

In addition to that, the sawdust that I have been waiting on all winter has also just arrived so I am having to really hustle to get everything done this winter that I have wanted to complete during the slower season.

Making the Best Use of My Time

Not that I am complaining though really. The truth is, I have been completing other projects that I have also needed to get done. I have my spring cleaning done. I have the gardens dug for the spring garden. I have focused more on organizing my time which I will discuss in a later blog post.

Anyway, it is good to be back to writing on the laptop. As I am finishing the first draft of this blog post, I have six first drafts written for this blog and my other blog (The Perpetual Homesteader) this week, and a big chunk of the book was reworked. I won’t be able to catch up with the lost time, but I am intent on making the most of the time that I do have.

How about you? Have you had challenges lately that you’ve had no control over? What have you had to do to reprioritize things when you have had to wait on someone or something else?


When I started writing this blog at the beginning of the year, I also started writing my nonfiction book Beyond the First Draft—Editing Your Novel. I first decided that I was going to write a book and the blog about editing a novel. I knew that the book would include everything from the time I finished the first draft on to the finished product. I started the process with an outline.

I refined the topic down from editing any type of book down to refining a novel. I decided that with the material that I would use, I could edit any type of novel, not just historical fiction like I write.

Every nonfiction book benefits from the creation of an outline. By outlining your ideas before you start the writing process, a nonfiction book can have its facts laid out in a logical way before the narrative ever begins. The outline will make the work go faster because you won’t meander from one topic to another. Later, as you’re writing,  If you have an idea for a certain part of your book, but you’re not to that part of the book yet, you can plug in that information exactly where it will go in the book thereby avoiding wasting time in a part of the book your mind has not processed yet.

Determine Your Book’s Specific Theme

In order for a nonfiction book outline to make sense, you must determine one central theme for the entire book. This theme must be developed into a refined thesis that can be stated in one sentence.  Instead of looking at general topics (building a house), look for specific topics that can be covered (Plumbing for the average Joe).  By having a specific thesis, you’ll be able to gather the necessary facts to make the key points you’ll want to make in your book.

Setup a Logical Content Progression

Some writers prefer to staple their pants to a chair and just write whatever comes to mind. I believe that those writers are heading for burnout and writer’s block. Not every writer can do that and I personally think doing so makes the work far more difficult than it needs to be, so a nonfiction outline should also involve a content plan. This will let you know where you intend to take your book before you begin the narrative. I think it helps to create a Table of Contents which will contain the various structures you wish to include in your book.

Imagine that you are looking at the finished book and you are looking at the table of contents. Think about what you will put in each chapter and in what order. Arrange it in the most logical order, if you realize something needs to be earlier or later in the book, rearrange the table of contents to reflect that change.

Using the Table of Contents as your basic outline, determine some of the information you will want to write about. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be much more prepared to begin writing.

Under each chapter heading, include topics that fit within that heading. Again rearrange subjects as necessary.

Jot Down Any Research

Once you have your Table of Contents in place, you’re ready to determine what kind of research you’ll need for your nonfiction book. You can write down this research next to each outline item. You may even wish to note where you want to do this specific research:  online, at the library, or wherever.

If you need to do personal interviews for certain topics, write down some experts on this subject as well. You also may want to color code your research types onto your calendar using different colors for each type of research so that you can visually reference it quickly.  

Create Writing Plan into Your Schedule

At this point, you’ll have a general sense of what needs to be done to complete your nonfiction book, so you can now plug this plan into your schedule. How many words per day are you going to need to write to reach your goals? How much time will you need to gather information for your book?

If you need to interview others, block out specific time during the week so you don’t have to rearrange your schedule. If you have no interviews during that time, use that as extra research or writing time.

Complete Your Outline

The writing process is much smoother when the nonfiction book outline and schedule include plans to research. Instead of hunting down the various documents, media, and recordings that you need for your book, you’ll have it all together in one specific place. Arrange your research materials into folders that are in the same order as the headlines in your table of contents.

This helps to improve your writing speed. The average writer types about 750 words per hour. With materials gathered, if you know how to touch type, you should able to reach 1,500-2,000 words per hour. If you’re forced to hunt down materials as you write, then you might be lucky to type 500 words per hour.

Staying Committed to the Process

Once you know how much you can write every day, you’ll have a ballpark idea about how long it will take you to write it.  Schedule your day in such a way so that you can write your word count habitually. Make writing a habit. Sit down and write your book instead of watching television or chatting with your friends on Facebook.

If you write 1,500-2,000 words per day, using nonfiction book outline as your guide, you could have the first draft of your narrative completed in just 30 days. That’s why knowing how to write a nonfiction book outline is such a valuable skill.

Write Using the Outline

Creating an outline, but not using it is definitely a waste of time, but using it will save tons of it.

Use headings and subheadings for each chapter when formatting. Assign names to each chapter and be clear in the names of each subheading. Be sure to save the document.

Within each chapter and subheading, include several sentences to summarize that chapter or subheading. Include the main points of the chapter and each subheading. Be as detailed as possible in as few sentences as possible. Don’t worry that it changes as you create your outlines. You’ll find it easier to edit this outline now rather than having to edit out huge sections of material later if you realize that what you’re planning to write doesn’t fit.

Now that you know that you’ve got your summaries organized within each chapter, write a heading for introduction at the beginning of each chapter and then write main point 1, 2 and so on. If your nonfiction book is a how-to book, consider adding a call-to-action at the end of each chapter.

Use research material focused on the topic being written about as guidance through the outlining process. Let your outline act as a guide throughout the entire project to keep you from going down research rabbit holes.

If you think of a story that relates to your book, plug in a few words to remind you the story’s content. These often makes a good introduction to chapters and keeps the reader interested and more importantly reading.


At the beginning of this year, I started writing these blog posts about book editing. My plan was and still is to take much of the content of this blog and turn it into a book called: Beyond the First Draft, The Editing Process.

Much of the information that I have written during the past year is going to be in this new book. I have added other information as well.

So far, this experiment seems to be doing well. I have been able to write almost an entire year about the editing process. With the information in the blog, I have been able to get the basics of the book written.

Writing a nonfiction book where your blog focuses on doing something or solving a problem (like this one) it works well.

A nonfiction book isn’t the end of the road, but it is just another way to expand your audience for your services.  

When Turning a Blog into a Book Isn’t a Good Idea

Books and Blog posts are different. Blog posts should be optimized for online reading with                keywords/SEO, current events/discussions, and whatever is popular with online bloggers in your genre. In addition, you need visual, interactive content and links to make the blog come alive.

You’re not likely to get a book deal just because you have written a series of blog posts about the idea. Don’t think that you can use a book to simply repeat that has already been written online. Amazon, for one won’t accept material that can be readily found online even when that material was something that you wrote yourself.  When writing a book based on material that you wrote on online, always remember that you will need to develop it further and then do a complete edit of your material.

Planning a blog that you will later make into a book requires that you plan the blog with the book in mind and with an idea of how you are going to expand the blog material when you create the book. That is what I did in order to write this new book of mine: Beyond the First Draft, The Editing Process

As a novelist or memoirist, the blog-to-book phenomenon is difficult to score. However, Information-driven categories like the blog series that I have just finished is easier to accomplish.


When Your dialogue starts to look like a monologue, it is probably time to edit!

Dialogue is not only a useful tool, it’s an important component of effective storytelling. The time that you invest in editing and polishing will pay generous dividends.

Dialogue lets you reveal character, advance the plot, establish the setting, and deliver a theme, all at the same time. Well-written dialogue is a fast and easy read. Make sure you fix these problems in your dialogue.

Beware of Wooden dialogue

It’s important to read dialogue aloud while editing it, because the words you put into your character’s mouths need to sound natural and spontaneous coming back out. At the same time, unlike real people who often stammer and repeat themselves when conversing, fictional characters are expected to “talk edited.” Avoid these mistakes that make the dialogue sound stiff and rehearsed.

First, avoid Radio talk. In old radio dramas, scriptwriters peppered the actors’ dialogue with narrative details to help the listeners picture each scene more clearly.

“Marshall, why are you have that gun pointed at me?”

Therefore, as you go through your manuscript, remove or revise speeches where a character is doubling as narrator.

Second, avoid unnecessary naming. Unless there is a good reason for doing so, including the name of the person being addressed can also make dialogue sound wooden.

“Way to go, Andrew.”

As you read through scenes of dialogue, be alert to excessive or unnecessary naming and trim it out.

Eliminate Insignificant dialogue

Real life conversations often begin with exchanges such as: “How have you been? Nice weather we’re having.” We use small talk as a way to dispel initial discomfort, or to ‘sound out’ the other person before raising more sensitive or important topics.

As you edit your manuscript, consider whether there is any true dramatic purpose for your characters to engage in small talk (to betray nervousness, for example). If the line is insignificant, remove it and let the speakers get right to the point.

Also, look for speeches that recap things already known to every character as well as the reader in the scene. If the speaker has nothing new to say (or ask, or reveal) about the past event being recalled, then the reference as it stands is insignificant to the story. Either put it to work moving things forward or delete it.

Delete Repetitive dialogue

Speeches of dialogue need to be edited as rigorously as any other part of a story, especially when it comes to ‘trimming the fat’ by getting rid of unnecessary repetition. Read each speech aloud; repeated words and idea echoes will pop out at you. For example: “He was elected unanimously. Everybody voted for him.” (The second sentence is an echo and can be deleted.)

Sometimes entire scenes are repeated in dialogue, by a character who has experienced an event in an earlier part of the story and proceeds to describe it in detail to another character later on. If the scene has already been shown to the reader and this revisiting of it reveals nothing new about either the speaker or the listener, then the narrator can sum it up in a sentence: “He told Rachel what had happened at the party.”

Dress-up Naked dialogue

In every real-life conversation, there is an underlying subtext communicated by unspoken clues. Each speaker’s state of mind and trustworthiness are revealed by such things as the speaker’s posture, physical actions, facial expressions, and tone of voice. In order to bring a written scene of dialogue to life, you need to envision and communicate a subtext for it that the reader can picture in his or her mind.

While some spoken lines contain their own subtext, others do not. So, as you edit your manuscript, look for ‘naked’ speeches in need of one or more:

Descriptive tags (she said, he insisted, they chorused), to help the reader keep track of who is talking and reveal a character’s manner of speaking when the words alone don’t imply it. (“I’m not going in there,” Jerry muttered.)

A speaker’s actions, when they contradict or reinforce the spoken words, or when they help the reader to picture the scene more easily.

A speaker’s thoughts, when the speaker is the point of view character and the information helps to deepen the reader’s understanding of the character or the scene. (This wasn’t an ice cream parlor – it was a dental office! “I’m not going in there,” Jerry muttered.)

 Undressing Overdressed Dialogue

Tags or speaking verbs describe a character’s voice, and because they tend to chop up a scene of dialogue, they should be used sparingly, primarily when there is likely to be confusion about which speaker is saying what, or how the words sound coming out. When editing your manuscript, look for tags that can be removed without diminishing the effectiveness of the scene. Look also for tags that describe actions rather than voices. Compare the following examples:

“But why do I feel so miserable?” she scowled unhappily.

Jenny scowled. “But why do I feel so miserable?” she demanded.

Three Rules for Editing Dialogue Punctuation

Although we will be discussing other aspects of punctuation later in the series, we’ll deal with dialogue punctuation here. There is a right and a wrong way to punctuate dialogue. Here are three important things to remember about dialogue punctuation.

1. Insert double quote marks around the beginning and ending of the spoken portions within your story.

“That television program is the worst I have seen in years.”

There are double quote marks at the beginning of this dialogue and at the end of this dialogue. If your font has straight quote marks, be sure to keep them consistent. Nothing like inconsistency on something so small as quotation marks that sadly ruin a great reading experience!

2. Place the comma on the inside of the quote mark, before the dialogue tag. This error is very common in manuscripts.

“She’s a good time girl, all right,” Dad said and looked up from his daughter’s grade card.

3. Watch for inconsistent structure in dialogue. You might have beautiful dialogue, but the structure is messed up. When you have action beats and dialogue beats around a segment of dialogue, it can be tricky to know how to organize it.

“I think you’re crazy.” Susan shook her head. “You’ll never get away with that.”

But what if you want to include a dialogue tag instead of an action beat? Try this:

Maddie wasn’t sure how long she had been unconscious, but Deke’s tone made it sound as though it had been a long time. “How long was I out?” she called.

The question mark goes inside the quote mark, followed by a lowercased pronoun and a comma after the dialogue tag and the exposition of how the character’s voice sounded. Please do not capitalize the pronoun after the character speaks. You want to keep good form.

Get Your Copy of The Comprehensive Novel Editing Checklist

If you have a first draft that you would love to publish this year, be sure to pick up a copy of my novel editing checklist and if you haven’t already, sign up to make sure that you never miss a post of this editing series. 

Click here for your  FREE EDITING CHECKLIST WITH SUBSCRIPTION TO THIS BLOG


A scene is more than just the background of your novel. A scene is everything that happens in the reader’s mind as it relates to your novel.

Two Basic Scene Types

Scene writing is the most integral, and obvious part of any story, but it is also overlooked and the least understood part of storytelling. First, type of scene is the scene proper. The second type is called the sequel.

Scene Building Blocks

Each scene follows a specific structure. At its heart, the arc of the scene is the same as that of the larger story structure exhibited over the course of the book: 1. Beginning which is the Hook. 2. The middle which is where the scene develops and finally there is the end or the climax of the scene.

What is the Scene’s goal?

Possible scene goals are endless, but very specific to your story. Your character can want anything in any given scene, but within that universe of options, you must narrow down the desires expressed within your scene to those that will drive the plot. Everything else needs to be cut and either discarded or put elsewhere in the novel where it becomes an integral part of that scene. What information do you want passed on in this scene? How can you best pass that information on? As we learned last week, that information is given in the form of narrative (or internal dialogue, action, or dialogue).

Scene Conflict Options

In the scene proper, conflict keeps your story moving forward. “No conflict, no story” because without conflict, the story comes to an end. When the character’s initial goal is stymied by conflict, it causes the character to react with a new goal, which is stymied by further conflict, which causes that person to again modify his or her goal until the goal is reached and the story ends.

Options for Disasters in a Scene

The disaster is the payoff at the end of the scene. This is what readers have been waiting for—often, with a delicious sense of dread. It answers that question: ‘What’s the worst that can happen? Or later in the story in might be to answer the question “How was he going to get out of that one?”

Scene Variations

You’ve already probably seen some successful scenes, in your own stories and in popular books and movies, that don’t seem to quite fit the proposed structure. How exactly does that work? Your scene might be something as simple as a transition scene where narrative is used to describe that time or location changed. Your scenes might not be action or dialogue, but rather it is internal dialogue which is our second main form of scene which is the sequel.

Sequel Building Blocks

The sequel—the second half of the Scene—sometimes gets shortchanged. But it is every bit as important, since it allows characters to process the events of the scene and figure out their next move.

In a sequel, a character or characters ponder what has just happened and to plan how to deal with this new information.

Options for Sequel Reactions

At the heart of every sequel is the narrating character’s reaction to the preceding scene’s disaster. This is where the author gets the opportunity to dig around inside his character’s emotional and mental processes and find out what he’s really made of.

Sometimes the sequel reaction is not just the reaction of the protagonist, but the reaction of everyone involved and their decision on how to move forward as a group.

Sequel Dilemmas Options

Once your character’s first emotional response to the previous scene’s disaster has passed, he will have to get down to the all-important business of thinking about what he’s going to do next. The previous disaster has left him in quite a pickle. It was a catastrophic declaration. The character or characters now respond with, “What do I (we) do now?”

Sequel Decisions Options

The most instinctive of all the sequel’s building blocks is the decision. This third and final piece of the sequel grows out of the character’s dilemma and leads right into the next scene’s goal. The decision is the little cattle prod on your story’s backside that keeps it moving.

Variations on the Sequel

Sequels, even more than scenes, offer all kinds of flexibility. To help you realize the possibilities of the sequel, let’s take a look at some of the common variations.

The key to getting a sequel is in the emotions that are portrayed in the sequel. In the sequel, you’re expressing how what happened in the scene affected the POV character. You can do this in several different ways. You can do it through description and narration. For instance, you could tell the reader that the POV character was elated by the event. You can do it through an internal monologue with the POV character telling you that he feels sad and hopeless, or you could do through dramatization like the POV character showing anger by punching a wall. Finally, you can show how the person is feeling by giving away the tone of how he’s feeling by using elements of the setting and weather. For instance, a strong sequel might be shown after a fire that burns down the POV character’s home, as the fire trucks are pulling away, it begins to rain and the POV character is soaked to the skin with someone else coming up to him and putting a blanket around his shoulders and leading him out of the rain.

At first, scene development can be a subject that takes a while to fully grasp and, as a result, can spawn all kinds of questions. However, once authors grasp scene structure, the whole approach to storytelling becomes clearer and more refined and easier to navigate.

Get Your Copy of The Comprehensive Novel Editing Checklist

If you have a first draft that you would love to publish this year, be sure to pick up a copy of my novel editing checklist and if you haven’t already, sign up to make sure that you never miss a post of this editing series. 

Click here for your  FREE EDITING CHECKLIST WITH SUBSCRIPTION TO THIS BLOG


To get a scene right, it takes a balance in narrative, character interspection, action, and dialogue.

Want to write the best novel ever? Wouldn’t you love to write a book that a reader couldn’t put down?

Part of the skill needed for this to happen is to have a compelling story, but another part of it involves balancing these three elements of fiction: dialogue, narrative, POV character introspection, and action.   

This is an intuitive process, and you probably didn’t think about how you wove these elements when you were writing that first draft, however, now that you’ve nailed your plot, your characters, and your scenes, you’re ready to zero in on these three elements as well. To do this, move inside your characters. Now, during the revision process, when reading back through the story, you can better identify with dialogue, narrative or action that overtakes the scene.

The perfectly balanced scene has a perfect pitch, like a well-balanced stringed quartet and you are the musical director.

Balance Novel Elements like a Stringed Quartet

Dialogue is like a first chair violinist who carries the melody of a musical piece. The dialogue should always be the main emphasis in a scene, however, dialogue should never be the only focus of a scene. Just as the second chair violinist, the celloist, and bass player adds depth to a scene, so also can narrative, introspection, and action.

Just as a musical score sometimes has one of the instruments do a solo portion, if you want to highlight a particular character trait in your viewpoint character or focus on something specific that the characters are talking about, you don’t want the scene cluttered, the reader distracted, or the pace slowed by action or narrative. When someone is telling you a story, the setting, the other people around you, everything just kind of fades away, and you’re intent only on what the other person is saying. You cut away action and narrative and leave only your characters’ spoken words.

If an author weaves action and narrative throughout the dialogue, slows the pace of the novel down, however, if you keep the dialogue primary to fast-paced scene of dialogue. If a scene is just dialogue, we get the full impact how life expresses itself in his life. When you isolate a character’s dialogue, if the reader is paying attention, he’ll become privy to the character’s personality and motives in a way that’s not possible in the woven scene just because there’s too much going on.

Scene Pacing

Pacing is probably the most common fiction element to address when considering how to weave dialogue, narrative and action. If you’re creating a fast-paced conflict scene between two or more people, you might do well to consider only dialogue, at least for parts of it. In this case, use action to create movement, and use narrative and introspection only when catching your breath.

The passage would be very effective without a bunch of narrative bogging down the moment. The dialogue should demonstrate a character’s feelings toward another person. Dialogue can take the protagonist pages to tell us something in narrative, whereas a scene of dialogue can quickly show us through that character’s own words said out loud. Narrative explains, and dialogue blurts out.

Similar reasoning applies when writing scenes with only narrative, character introspection, or only action. You want to focus on something in your character’s mind or describe something that would only sound contrived in dialogue, so you use straight narrative.

If the action needs to drive the scene forward because it’s intense and emotional, your characters just wouldn’t be talking during this time.

Sometimes, as in real life, there’s just nothing to say at the moment. Always, let your characters lead the story along.

Adjusting Pace

Blending dialogue, action and narrative requires finding your story’s rhythm. As you write our scenes, to help you determine what you need to do in your rewrites, consider answering these questions about your story.

Ask yourself:

Is the story moving a little too slowly, and do I need to speed things up? (Use dialogue.)

Is it time to give the reader some background on the characters so they’re more sympathetic? (Use narrative, dialogue or a combination of the two.)

Do I have too many dialogue scenes in a row? (Use action or narrative to break it up.)

Are my characters constantly confiding in others about things they should only be pondering in their minds (use narrative).

Do I need to get out of my character’s head because a conversation would be more effective? (Use dialogue.)

Does this scene have too much dialogue? Narrative? Action? (Insert more of the deficient elements.)

Do my characters provide too many artificially created background details as they talk? (Use narrative.)

Revealing Character Motive

Whether we’re using dialogue, action or narrative to move the story forward, any or all three of these elements reveal character motives. Your story’s dialogue can reveal motive in a way that’s natural, because whether we’re aware of it or not, we reveal our own motives all the time in our everyday lives. Understanding a character’s motive is to understand the character.

Get Your Copy of The Comprehensive Novel Editing Checklist

If you have a first draft that you would love to publish this year, be sure to pick up a copy of my novel editing checklist and if you haven’t already, sign up to make sure that you never miss a post of this editing series. 

 FOR YOUR FREE EDITING CHECKLIST, CLICK HERE


newsstand

There are probably as many ways to promote indie books as there are indie authors. Here is what worked and didn’t work for me.

What Didn’t Work?

Many Different things I have done to promote my books didn’t work
I did a lot of things that many people suggested. First, I tried to give away my books on KDP select. It really didn’t work for me. The KDP count down was even more disappointing.

I had read that if I would just write my books and just keep putting out books I would gradually build up book sales. This didn’t work either. Instead of having one book that no one read, I had eleven.

I was also told to do book signings. They told me to do all that I could to promote those events. I did. Book signings at bookstores were totally unfruitful. I was told to get out on the radio and do podcasts. Isolated practice, those didn’t produce sales either.

I put one of my books out on click bank. That didn’t work either.

Advertising on Facebook or Twitter Ads doesn’t work either. Nor does adding my books to static online websites that take money for having my books on their sites. All that did was lighten my already near-empty pockets.

Book Promotion Tactics that Worked

Using memes on social media. Creating memes is fun. I am glad that Tierney James showed me this little trick for getting attention on Facebook and Twitter.

Write a Review Sunday (see next week’s post)

Social Media

My connections on twitter and LinkedIn seem far more fruitful than my connections on Facebook. My Facebook connections are more friends and family whereas LinkedIn and Twitter are more business associations.

On LinkedIn, I would say that my connections are relationships from the publishing arena whereas twitter are authors who help (and who I help back) with motivation and inspiration.

LinkedIn connected me with another author who I helped edit the first book in his series.

Press Releases to Local Markets

I write my own press releases for my local markets. I write them for where I live now, but I also write them for places where I used to live. I slant my press releases to the locals.
I learned to blitz my book launches with posters, press releases, radio talk shows, podcasts, in succession. Each one individually seemed to do little, but using several different approaches seemed to help get the word out better.

I recently started making a concerted effort to reach out to help other authors do their work. For instance, I recently completely edited another author’s book.

My Dream for the Future

Soon, I would like to include video training and do more podcasting with other writers. I would like to do more work for other authors as well. I have a lot of experience in editing and formatting books and I can see how I could develop a publishing business based on these specific talents. Plus, as I dig deeper into the marketing aspects of book publicity, I should be able to help authors in this capacity as well.

Finally, I would like to create a series of online courses that show wannabes how to become successful authors and entrepreneurs. The online courses would be from teaching how to structure a novel to hiring talented help where you need it to setting up an author business tools, to structuring your online platform, to planning out your day among other things.

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