revisit toolsSeveral years ago, I was working on my second manuscript and I wrote about what tools I used to get the job done. (It was a terrible story that I never did finish, but that’s irrelevant. I did mine secondary characters from it and gave them their own story, so it was useful, at least.)

What did I use then?

Paper. Fancy journal, legal pad, graph paper, steno notebook–whatever makes you feel good.  We’re writers, and if you want to be a smart writer, you will write everything down somewhere.  Might as well make it a central place.  And believe me when I tell you, when that paper is full of your story, of your imagination, your muse at work… you’ll know why you write, if only for a moment.

I’m still a paper fanatic. And I still use a plain old spiral notebook. I write down character sketches, outlines, scene notes–you name it. It nearly always starts on paper before making its way onto the computer.

A binder, preferably one-and-a-half inch, sheet protectors, and a hole punch.

I don’t really use a binder anymore. I’m more likely to keep things in Evernote or, as I’m going to discuss later on, Scrivener.

An All-in-One Printer.  First of all, they’re just not that expensive anymore.

I definitely still use a printer. I print pages multiple times for edits. I just edit better on paper (no surprise there).

So what tool do I use the most now?

Scrivener. Although I still make use of paper, I keep my entire outline in Scrivener. I didn’t for the story I wrote before my current one. I kept them on index cards. Then I got sick and didn’t write for a month. And misplaced my cards. Scariest week of my life, thinking I was going to have to recreate that outline.

I also keep all my research in Scrivener, as you can just drop entire web pages in there and access them from the program.

Further, all those character sketches and pictures of what my characters look like? All in the research binder.

It’s basically my go-to for everything.

What do you use to keep your writing organized or to get more accomplished?

I’m fascinated by other people’s process, so please share in the comments!


What tools I use now to get the most bang for my writing buck. How about you? Click To Tweet

I’ve been struggling to come out of this block I’ve had for the last couple of weeks with my story. I’ve tried writing articles, bought myself a new padfolio from, and whined to my crit partner. A lot.

When that didn’t help, I thought I’d look for some moving quote or bit of advice. I found this.

Well. That was rather uninspiring. I do own this now, though, and that consolation can’t be measured.




I think I opened one hell of a can of worms when I offered to post one of my sample biographies last week.  Three hours later, I’ve done the prep work and I’m ready to post.

The biography I’m including today is for a secondary character in the manuscript I’m working on now.  Because I wanted to make comments so you could see my process, I typed it into MS Word, used the Review>Comment button to add info along the right side (in pretty blue bubbles) and, occasionally, in the text itself (but also in blue).


This is what you'll see if you download the file.  For four pages. =)

You can download the PDF here* and it will also be available on my Downloads page for always.

*When you click on the sample graphic or the text link, it just opens the PDF up in your browser.  If you like that sort of thing, we’re golden.  If not, right click (PC) or Control + Click (Mac) to save.

Everything I wanted to say is on that PDF.  I’ll be happy to discuss my process or answer any questions if you leave them for me in the comments or @me on Twitter.

Next Week:

I’ll show you how I used that backstory to create an internal and external goal/motivation/conflict chart as well as a real, live picture of GMC charts hanging on my wall and diagrammed for your use.  Because, yes, I am that awesome.  Or it’s not a big deal.


I bought another pack of index cards.  I’m at this point in my story where I’m chucking what doesn’t work (after 11k words, trust me when I say: it could be worse).  I’ve got to keep what works (mostly the characters) and dig deep and find the goals and the antagonist(s) and the conflict.

(Why do I forget these things when I first start writing?  It’s like I have to play with my characters for a bit before I can rip them apart and say, “You’re not quite right.”)

So, I’m in the grocery store and there’s this pack of index cards. A big stack, probably a 100.  And they’re unlined… *sigh* (The lined ones restrict my process, somehow).

Next thing I know, despite the fact that the last time I tried using index cards to plot it was a colossal failure, I bought index cards.  Again.

I get so caught up in how well it works for authors like Roz Morris (who convinced me to do it last time with her very good book, Nail Your Novel
, and she’s just so passionate and convincing) and Johanna Harness (who I’ve linked to before about her use of magic index cards).  They make it sound so fun, and creative, and organic.  But, that’s where it doesn’t work for me.

I think I crave the structure that goes with them.  Being able to make sense out of something huge and messy. As first drafts tend to be.

I write down everything floating in my head, and really, that’s a lot.  But it’s not a whole novel. And, so, I have my index cards, which amounted to about 20 for the first act, 8 for the second act, and 2 for the fourth act (I write with a 4 act structure) the last time I tried.  Nothing for act three.  The middle. Which, you might’ve heard, has been known to sag.  Be boring.  Or be full of crazy, not-organic stuff, that a writer just makes up to fill her damn index cards.

I need what happens next to come from the choices and actions my characters take before.  And I just don’t know how to do that with index cards.  It doesn’t work that way, for me.

What works for me is a notebook. A big, fat notebook with lots of pages.  Where I will just write scenes down all over.  Make outlines. Draw conflict boxes. Write letters from my characters.

Does anyone need any index cards?

So, I write this novel, a rom-com, and it’s finished and I like it, but it’s not selling.  Which is okay–first novel.

Then I started one and it just died out because the characters, well, mostly the main characters, were just dead to me.  And that means flat and dull for you.

So, then, I started a new manuscript, but … I just didn’t have my  heart in it. I think, one day, I can make it work.  But not right now.

So, then I thought, “Why not write the story that’s been brewing in my head for ages?”  Well, I’ll tell you why not.  It’s a series.  It has to stand alone, but also have a longer arc.  Also, it’s paranormal romance.  Um, hello?  Where did that come from?  Can my voice, which–as I mentioned, rom-com–handle a paranormal romance?  Is my tone off?  My banter too light?  Can I do it?

Then I decided… I’m sitting here not writing books in the genre I feel comfortable with, why shouldn’t I write something that pulls me out of my comfort zone?  What’s the worse that could happen?  I don’t write?  Already there.

So my little counter over there stands at zero.  But that’s okay.  I’m taking a lot of notes.  Piecing together pictures for scenes.  And making notes on scenes–an outline, maybe?

I’m curious?  Have you ever stepped outside of your writing comfort zone and how did it work out?

Comic used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at

Put your notes away before you begin a draft. What you remember is probably what should be remembered; what you forget is probably what should be forgotten. No matter; you’ll have a chance to go back to your notes after the draft is completed. What is important is to achieve a draft which allows the writing to flow.


via AdviceToWriters – Home – Put Your Notes Away.


I usually post quotes that I, you know, agree with.  But this? No freaking way.

I almost spend too much time making notes; I’ll give him that one.  Sometimes it’s a procrastination tool.  Sometimes, you do just need to sit your behind down and write.  And, maybe, for some people, the above is true.  They don’t need notes! They have memory and imagination and they bask in the story like a cat in the sun.

I’m not that person. I have a notebook for each project that I work on.  I have character bios (not forms, but freehand bios written in character voice), I have house plans, I have pics of cities and rooms and people to model the characters after.

I guess my point is this: writing is deeply, deeply personal and whatever it takes to get you to that sweet spot, that’s what you do.

Image: Felixco, Inc. |

An excellent article on how to create a set of rules for what’s selling and, more importantly, what you like reading in your romance novels.  It makes it a lot easier to know what to write when you know what you like.

But I needed help—some guidelines when it came to spinning a story that was right for the market.

And that’s when I realized I should turn to the bible. No, I wasn’t getting religious. This was all about research and the creation of my own bible—a set of rules to follow and requirements to incorporate. This was all about identifying the sort of things that had to appear in a book.

I’m not merely talking about love scenes. I’m talking about lifestyles, backgrounds of characters, how to get to that happily ever after at the end of the book, and a myriad of other elements.

How to Dissect Romance Novels and Create Rules for Writing.

Everyone’s process is different.  I’m still figuring mine out.  Some people make collages or use whiteboards or a special type of pencil.  Here’s a list of the five things I could never write without:

  1. My notebook.  Right now, I’m using a hardbacked steno notebook.  It’s smaller and easier for me to deal with.  But I’ve used hardbound journals, 5 subject notebooks, even scraps of paper I stick in my pocket.  The point is, I get ideas all day long, but I have a window of real writing time.  If I didn’t write it down, I’d never remember a thing.
  2. My iPod shuffle.  First, I make a play list for the novel I’m working on.  Then, I put on the headphones and blast it while I write.  It helps me disconnect from the world around me and find the world I’m creating.
  3. Write or Die text editor.  I won’t expound on its virtues again, just trust me.  Or follow that link back there.
  4. Coffee.  I realize this is highly subjective and probably not very helpful, but I’m being honest here.  My creativity begins and ends with caffeine in the form of hot, fresh, creamy coffee.  And the occasional mocha latte.
  5. Laptop.  I know.  Anticlimatic.  I could’ve listed my beloved pens or the occasional candle, but, really, without a laptop you’re comfortable with, one you can smoke the keys if you really get hit by inspiration, one that’s well organized and easy to use–you’re just sitting there with a bunch of ideas and no outlet.

I’m fascinated by the writing process and I’d love to hear what you can’t write without.


Working on a new story that I’m really excited about.  Written down my backstory, written where my characters are immediately before the story starts.  Now I’m working on the GMC charts* for my two protags, my secondary characters, and my one (maybe two?) antagonists.  Once I have this, it will be awesome and make the story better to the nth degree.  But, how much do I hate doing these?  I always have to get the book out and go over the parts I highlighted (thankful for that foresight, go me) and make sure I have concrete, measurable external goals and then the internal part which should be easier but somehow isn’t.

Then, I think, I’m going to write little autobiographies in character voice.  And this, friends, is why I need a novel notebook.  Let me know about your process–comment!


*The file above is an MS Excel Spreadsheet template. A screencap is included to the left, click to enlarge. It was virus free when it left my computer, but because I don’t want any mean emails, etc., you are downloading at your own risk, I make no guarantees as to how it will affect your computer.  Usual rules apply.  Use it all you want, but don’t share it.  Just link back here.  Thanks!

A novel notebook. Dead serious here. And I’m going to show you exactly what to buy.

  1. big binder. This is the kind of thing I would buy. It’s cheap, but well-made. It’s huge and it’s got one of those little thingies for holding the paper down.
  2. Dividers. Lots of them.  You will thank me later.  These are the exact ones I own, but whatever works for you is perfect.
  3. Top loading, economy pack, sheet protectors.  There are some things that you just don’t want to have to find again, make again, whatever–these will keep them safe, handleable (I realize that’s not a word), and easy to get to.
  4. This shouldn’t need to be said, but I aim to be comprehensive.  Paper.  Writers need paper.
  5. A hole punch.  If you print out your 400 page novel, you don’t want to stick all those pages in sheet protectors.  Hence–hole punch. (25 pages at a time.  That’s what I’m talkin’ about.)

And I think that should get you started.  You’ll figure out as you go if you need anything else.  Just remember this: write everything down.  And file it in your notebook.