Archive

The Productive Writer


Excited About Our New Venture

Starting a New Book Series: Ozark Grannies’ Secrets

To join in more of the fun, check out Ozark Grannies’ Secrets on Facebook

Over the summer, I was selling cookies and books as well as some produce at the farmers’ market and even though there were times when we were busy, there were also times when we weren’t so I would talk with other vendors about things.

One of the topics was the fact that everyone liked my gardening books, but they didn’t just want general information, they wanted specific information about gardening in the Ozarks. If you know anything about the Ozarks, you know that we have a unique weather pattern. The statement that says “if you don’t like the weather, it will change” applies more to the Ozarks than any other part of the country maybe the world. This led us to thinking about how to better share the Ozarks with others through recipes and stories of people who can still share what makes the Ozarks so special.

This led to the idea that newcomers to the region probably won’t have a garden the first year, but just because they don’t have a garden doesn’t mean that they can’t eat from the land. The Ozarks has a rich landscape that produces all kinds of forageable foods many of which can’t be found in other places. Therefore, our book title is Gourmet Weeds. A gardening book is something we will want to write in the future.

Because it’s not the only book in the series, we decided we needed to have a brand for the series. we soon came up with the idea of Ozark Grannies’ Secrets. This series will cover a variety of topics that relate to the Ozarks.

What is an Ozark Granny?

What is an Ozark Granny? An Ozark Granny has often been referred to as an older woman who handles the home births of the backwoods families that didn’t have access to hospital care. However, an Ozark Granny is much more than that! Our series’ definition uses that extended definition when we call ourselves and anyone whose stories, we tell in the book who are Ozark Grannies.

More than just backwoods midwives, Ozark Grannies were the women with the knowledge of the old ways. They could make a meal of what they could find in their backyards or pantry shelves or woodsheds and knew how to heal using methods that were common to the area using home remedies. They had experience in gardening and could feed their families on a very low income. They had skills for making crafts from things that others would likely throw away.

The Series

In our book series, it is our intention to include recipes of different things that an Ozark Granny might have had in her recipe book or at least in her head. In this book, we are making it a point to specifically choose recipes in this book that at least one of the originators of the series has personally used. In future books, we hope to include recipes and stories from other Ozark grannies we meet around the Ozarks. If you live in the Ozarks and you have a recipe or story to share, we’d love to hear from you. Join our Facebook page and message us with your story and/or recipe.

Our First Book

Gourmet Weeds, Volume 1 is the name of the first of the Ozark Granny Secrets series.  In this book, we will be sharing our stories about these forageable foods, and the wonderful recipes where we have used these greens, fruits, vegetables, and nuts. You too can use in your meals using what’s growing in your backyard, the woods, or the fields. We only include recipes of our foraged foods that require only the addition of common store-bought staples.  No exotic ingredients are required.

Be sure to join our Facebook group and learn some Ozark Grannies’ Secrets and learn more about our progress on our first book of the Ozark Grannies’ Secrets series. Click here


Cygnet Brown typing on laptop while sitting on sofa in living room

Are you looking to build traffic for the blog, articles, or book that you have written? Many people suggest that you look to social media to find traffic, but that doesn’t always work.

The problem with that is that you, like me, sometimes don’t have a social media following with the people who are in your niche. Most of my friends and family aren’t always interested in what I’m interested in writing. The results were, I ended up connecting with people who are not necessarily my best customers.

Gain Knowledge from My Niche

I have always believed that the best way to know what’s good in your genre is to read about the topics that you write about. I like to get to know everything I can about what others have written within my genre. Reading within my genre helps get me to understand what has already been written. It gives me insights into my niche. It also helps me know what I know that others don’t and this tells me what is unique to me within my niche.

The other thing it does is it provides a way for me to get to know other writers’ audiences that are within my genre. I don’t just read the book, I  learn about the author. I read that author’s blogs. I connect with them on social media, and, of course, read their books. When they have a new book out, I have an opportunity to help them while at the same time they will be helping me gain access to their audience.

When I read books in my niche, I am always looking for an influencer or at least a writer who is in my niche. I look for books on Amazon or other book-selling sites and find authors of books that are close to the subjects that I am writing and purchase that book. Often I can find eBooks are less costly or even offered as free books. When I started out, I read a lot of free method books to get some lower-hanging influencers (who aren’t influencers yet, but like penny stocks, they might be valuable in the future.) I read the book and wrote down what I liked about the book. If I found that I didn’t like the book, I usually didn’t take any more time with that book or author. Instead, I just moved on.

Write a Review

Once I found a book that I enjoyed, I connected with the author in some way. We can connect with the other author in many different ways. We can connect with them on social media. We can comment on their blogs. Another way I like to use is to write a review of the book that I read that an influencer has written.

Rather than writing the review on Amazon or some other review site, write the review on my own blog. Writing a review on my blog is simple. Once I have my review written, I contact that person via social media or email and let that person know that I enjoyed their book so much that I wrote a review of their book on my blog.

Sometimes I won’t get a response, but other times I do and if I do, my blog, article, or social media post is likely to be seen by that influencer’s audience. This is why I wrote reviews on lesser-known writers first. They are more likely to appreciate your review and are more apt to work with me. If not, I read other authors’ books, looking for other opportunities. Eventually, someone is thrilled that I have read and reviewed their book.

Guest Blogging

Once I’ve written a review for a writer, and they are responding to my review, the next thing I can do is ask them if they would be willing to guest blog on my blog. If they are also just starting out, they may want to do this because they know that they will have access to my blog as well as their own.  

At the same time, I may request a trade. I make this sort of a mini-joint venture. They write a blog post on my blog and I guest post on theirs. The reason that I want to do this is so that both of us have access to each other’s audience. I include a link to my blog when you post on their blog and make sure that they have a post on my blog as well. This exchange is good for ranking as well.

Interview Other Writers

If the other author doesn’t want to exchange blogs, I may just want to do an interview of the other person on my blog. Often, I just ask them if I can interview them and then send them questions. I don’t necessarily need to speak to them in person. I do have a list of generic questions to ask, but I do also create an author and book-specific list of questions as well. Once I get the answers back and write up the interview, I can post the interview. Since I have already done a review of one of their books, I include a link to their review on my blog.

Again, I want to be sure that the other person has links to the interview that they can utilize on their social media and newsletters just as you will let your audience know about the interview. Often this is easier to do than exchanging blog posts because you’ll be doing most of the work. Because it’s all about them, they will let their audience know that you’ve done the interview. Their readers in turn will then have access to my blog as well as my readers and I get new readers this way.

As stated before, the Interviews don’t have to be in person either. They can be over the phone, or they can just as easily be done in writing. It can be as easy as sending them a bunch of questions and then I pick and choose which questions are the most interesting and post them. I send a copy of the interview to them, of course, to approve and I also discuss how they can best (and you will too) benefit from the interview.

I keep a template of various ways that the other writer can promote my post that is promoting them. That way I don’t have to reinvent it with the next author that I work with.

ARE YOU AN AUTHOR LOOKING TO BUILD AN AUDIENCE?

If you’re another author who would like to connect with me and do a blog exchange or would like to review my books and interview me, feel free to check out my link below to see if we’re a good fit.

View my Amazon Author Page


Whether you’re working a side hustle or running a solo business, you will need to be able to make the most of your work time, and often there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in a day to get everything done that you want to complete on every given day. Therefore, it is necessary to find ways of using your time most effectively. Here are a few ways that I have found to make the most of my time as a solo entrepreneur.

I am Prioritizing Activities

Every day, I determine that I have one major project that I want to complete that is directly related to my major goals that I intend to accomplish during the next month and year. For the most part, I make it the first thing that I do each day and after that, I work on other business-related projects.

I am Batching Tasks

Easy, small activities are often necessary to make a business work. Reaching out to a single potential client may in itself be a small task, but if you don’t send out emails or make phone calls, you’re not likely to get the results in your business that you would like. You need to make time to do these mini projects. I often batch similar tasks when it’s appropriate. For instance, after making progress on my major morning project, I might send out a series of personalized emails to potential clients based on templates that I have created.

I am Creating Templates

I have created several templates that I use regularly to help save me many hours of work over a month. I choose a specific template to use for the business, and then personalize that template for that specific customer. This one strategy alone saves me many hours of work because I don’t have to rebuild every email from scratch.

I have several different kinds of templates. Some inform others of specific products or services that I am offering. Some thank others for purchasing and informing them of a related product or service that I offer. Some are regarding questions I want to ask them about their needs, and some are just to say thank you for anything that they did for me. I even have some wishing a person “happy birthday” or happy work anniversary.

The way I start developing these templates is simple. Whenever I need to write an email, I save a copy of that email in a folder marked “templates” and then organize them under different headings. Then whenever I need to write another email, I go to the file and copy the email and personalize it to the specific receiver.

I Am Streamlining Communication

When communicating with others, it’s best to use the most expedient method possible. When I can, I contact a lot of people all at once through email marketing, but if that’s not a good option, I do it through a direct email, if not an email, then a text, if not a text, then a phone call. I might use direct mail for the initial contact. I try to only meet someone in person if I contact them first in one of these other ways and have an appointment with that person or entity. It does save me a lot of time.

I keep a list of all my previous contacts and other information so that I can keep them informed on what I am doing. I send them email marketing campaigns so I can keep in touch with all of them. Every time I send one, I remind them of what I have to offer while at the same time giving them advice based on my expertise. I make it an added benefit to what I have already done for them.

To connect with new customers, I often do that via social media and lead them to my email newsletter so that they too can get the information that I’m giving to my existing customers.

I Am Creating a Procedure Manual Even Though I am the Only Person in my Business

Every day, week, and month, I measure how I spend my time. “What you write down and measure improves exponentially”. Writing down how you use your time will help you improve your time use exponentially as well. Keeping that information all in one place will help in this process.

I write down everything I do and every habit that I develop and create a procedure manual. I observe how I can improve my productivity in every part of my business and brainstorm the various ways that I can improve that production and experiment.

There’s another added benefit. Once you know what needs to be done, you can create positions to fill with people who can do what you don’t do as well as what someone else might be able to do it. No need to spend hours trying to decide what their job description should be, you’ll have everything you need to determine that in one place.

In addition, as you develop trust in those who work for you, you will be able to get others to not only do what you no longer want to do but also do those things that you love doing when you need a vacation.

Revising the Plan as Business Grows

As my business grows, this business model will grow with it. As my business grows, my business will become more complicated, not less, so having a plan to utilize my time better is definitely an important step in the business planning process. I will be able to bring more people in as I need them and do it more efficiently.


Starting your week on the previous Friday, your month during the last week of the previous month, your year in December will make your business more productive. (Public Domain Photo)

In my book The Ultimate Keystone Habit, I wrote about ways that I like to start the day the night before. On the days that I incorporate this habit, the following day goes so much better, and I am so much more productive. On the other hand, on those days that I don’t start my day the night before, things don’t go as well the following day.

I like starting my day the night before. I set out my clothes, set up the coffee maker, have the dishes done, make up my plan for the next day, and journal what I am grateful for. Then I go to bed and in the morning because I know what I need to do, there’s no room for procrastination. I begin my morning routine and then get to work doing what I planned for the day.

I recently realized that prepping for the next step isn’t limited to the next day. I can prep for the next week on the Friday before.  I can start then next month the last week of the previous month. I can even start the year at the end of the year before. It is something that no one talks about, but it is a surefire way to 10x a life or a business.

Setting up a plan for the next week would be something that any of us can do. What do you plan to do next week? What are your priorities? Prioritize your week so that you are doing things that move your goals forward and don’t just keep your wheels spinning. Even fifteen minutes working on your goals on Friday for the upcoming week move the “progress can down the road” in a good way.

Getting Ahead for the Week on Friday

As a writer, I like to go over the ideas that I gained during the week on Friday mornings. That’s what I am doing this morning. I am writing down this idea for a story for a publication on Medium called Tightening the Belt. I also have an idea for next Wednesday’s blog and several for my Medium stories.  I am trying to write a new article every day for the entire month of August. What’s amazing is that doing this also gives me time to work on my latest novel Two Rivers each day.

This doesn’t only apply to me as a writer either. Different people can use this system in different ways. If you’re a salesman, you could start your calls the Friday before-when you call if someone says, “Call me next week”, say ‘well, I have you on the phone right now, how about if we scheduled to meet up early next week. Which would you prefer Monday morning or afternoon?” If they say Monday morning works good for them, after your call give a ‘hallelujah’! If you normally have a boring Monday morning meeting, this might be your ‘get out of meeting’ free card because you have a potential sale in front of you. Ask to be excused and ask for minutes to the meeting so that you don’t miss out on any important information. Later in the week you can talk to a colleague about any questions you have about that meeting. You’re following up on a lead, missing a meeting that is a waste of your time, and you already have a great start to your week. You’ll also have a potential sale on a Monday morning where you would have had to use the morning and the afternoon setting up for future sales. Now, you can still do that in the afternoon, but you’ll also already have momentum for a good week ahead of you.

Getting a Head Start on Next Month

As a writer, I can get ahead for the next month first by setting up the plan for the month. I can do this the last week of the month. It only takes a few minutes each day.  The first thing to do during the week is to revisit my goals and determine what I have accomplished and what I want to accomplish toward my master goals that month. Once that’s done, I can assign a specific project for each week to accomplish thereby purposely scheduling those projects to take action on and make headway on my long-term goals.

In addition, I schedule in appointments and other activities that I already have planned for the month and plans. I can also brainstorm ideas that improve how I handle different aspects of my writing business.  

Getting Ahead for the Next Year

Many people start the new year in January and end up getting started with the new year either late in the month or in February and don’t really get the year in full swing until March. I have found that when I get started with the new year in December, I able to get more done in January and February than I would if I had started in the first week of January.

With everything else, it starts with revisiting the long-term goals and creating the annual plan. Every December, between the holiday festivities, I plan the next year. I determine what I would like to get done during each month of the year. I schedule and plan out launches for the year. I plan what January will look like. They don’t have to be detailed, and they will often change over the course of the year, but the plan is there because it is true that if I fail to plan, I plan to fail.

This system of organization can easily be adapted to a team or an organization. Fewer Fridays are wasted, and Mondays are less dreaded when people in your team or organization are encouraged to start at the end of the last period. It may seem like more work in the beginning, but soon you’ll realize that work gains momentum and you’re much more productive than you ever thought possible.


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.

%d bloggers like this: