Today’s pick was kind of a no-brainer since I recently got one of these.  First it started with the red spots on my leg when the fan blew the hot air out the side.  Then the laptop started shutting off from overheating.  Which, in theory, great feature.  I don’t want to do permanent damage to it.  But, it’s annoyingly helpful.

So, I picked up one of these.  Now, it’s much more comfortable on my lap (hadn’t realized how hot this thing was really getting) and my computer and data are safer.  Thumbs definitely up for this low-cost fix.


These picture posts are becoming commonplace.  Next thing you know, I’ll be uploading illustrations I’ve made in photoshop, like how to connect your printer.

Yes, that was an awesome segue, thank you.  For Material Girl Monday, I’m going to talk to you about some of the tools I use to make my brand of magic.  So, picture the first:


That’s my big comfy chair.  I’ve been alternately drawing and describing homes and writing character sketches (the big binder on the bottom, with the sheet protectors, the legal pad, the top notebook, and for good measure GMC) and line editing (another black binder and old reliable, a large notebook with ginormous rings and hardcovers on both front and back that my daughter wrote on).   I will probably keep that notebook forever, because that’s where I wrote my first novel.  The words may have gone on a document, but all of the ideas were fleshed out in that notebook.  So, tool of the trade?  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.

Pens, pencils, highlighters–you know the deal.  You need colored ones for line edits.  You need highlighters for… well, I’ve used them to highlight places on my map, to analyze a book I love into how much a favorite writer spent on dialogue, exposition, narrative, description, and to mark things I need to change.  It may be the technical age, but in the end, your work will be on paper.

A binder, preferably one-and-a-half inch, sheet protectors, and a hole punch.  When I wrote that first story in that notebook I love, I came to hate it (the notebook, not the story–not for that or not then) because there was no organization.  It was just everywhere, as if my brain had vomited it out.  Believe me, learn from what limited experience I do have, organize your work in a binder in a way that makes sense to you.  If you are using a map, a blueprint–protect it from little girls who like to draw on things.  And those blargs of character sketches and what-if-this-happened brainstorms and writing out your turning points and GMC, hole punch it and put them there, too.  This way, if you need to put it with something you write three months later, you’ll be able to do so.

I highly recommend the big comfy chair.  The pink laptop from Barbie isn’t really a necessity.

Picture the second:


An All-in-One Printer.  First of all, they’re just not that expensive anymore.  I saw mine on sale for somewhere in the sixties a few days ago.  You don’t want to buy the cheap printer, then, when you’re imaginary agent becomes you’re real agent and wants to fax you an imaginary real contract, you don’t have to be a total noob and say, “I don’t have a fax machine.  Can you mail it?”  Second, copies are your friend.  This one makes copies just like a normal copier.  It even feeds several pages through.  Trust me, spend the extra thirty bucks and buy one of these.  (Oh, and my black ink cartridge at Walmart?  $16 bucks.)

Bitch, Ok!  Just Say No.

In my last writing post, I listed five ideas to write without sitting down and staring at that damned blinking cursor that smirks quietly at you from the top of the page.  However, those suggestions assumed you had extra time and / or money.  So the last five will focus on what you can do with a crazy life and making an average writer’s wage. (I also explained how I bastardized BICHOK into… Bitch, OK. I’m not proud of it.)

Five More Ways

  1. Take a notebook and write a scene.  I don’t care about details or where they are or who they are.  Just write it in dialogue.  No more than 5 pages.  We’re short on time here, remember, and this is just an exercise.  When you’re finished, take a look back at the way the storyteller within you created conflict, setting, character, action.  This is active writing folks.
  2. Remember in high school, when they taught us to brainstorm?  And we deemed it lame, because who the hell needs little connected clouds to give us structure.  It’s just silly.  But give it another shot.  Use a whiteboard if you’ve got one.  If you don’t, buy some seriously cheap posterboard.  Give yourself a half hour, if you’ve got it, when you won’t be disturbed.  Turn on music, if it helps you–it does me.  If you’re working on a story, brainstorm you’re next act.  Or this act, if you haven’t gotten that far.  If not, then just start with a character or a situation.  But here’s the thing: you don’t have to have a central circle and move out.  Make lots of circles, fill them in as they occur to you and THEN connect them.  You’ll see connections you didn’t realize were there, and I promise you, circles will follow to connect those.
  3. If you’ve got a character you’re trying to get a handle on, have him or her write a brief biography for you.  You can do it in your notebook, or pick an appropriate font for his or her personality.  And just go.  Backstory that will never see your novel are crucial to making real characters, and you don’t just need it for your hero/heroine.  You need them for secondary characters, too.  Remember, these are all real people, with real lives, with their own histories and their own goals.  (Okay, I realize technically I am advocating some Bitch, Ok! here.  But it’s fun, it’s not punishment.  It’s not the blinking cursor who hates you and wants to make you cry.)
  4. Rearrange your writing space.  That’s right, to make up for my small Bitch, Ok! slip, I’m not even advocating writing a damn thing here.  Organize it, rearrange it, make it YOURS.  Neat, if that’s you.  Make sure your tools are close by.  Light, pens, notebook, notes.  Make it a new place, a place you look forward to going to.  You’re haven.  If you’ve got the room, add a chair and a lamp for reading.  That’s one of the reasons writers have the best job ever.  Lawyers study precedents; teachers take continuing education classes (although I’ve got some teachers in my family, and don’t even let them tell you they’re not having fun… teachers are crazy); but writers?  We get to read books we love.  That’s your job.  Enjoy yourself.
  5. I just realized I put my fifth one in number four.  Go read a book you’ve been dying to read.  I just got Agnes and the Hitman, and I am going to have the perfect night.  And I’m not going to look for structure, or dialogue, or character.  I’m going to enjoy it.  And when I’m done, I gaurantee you… I’ll have seen those things.  And a flame will spark, I’ll get me some Bitch, Ok!

Miss the first five ways?

Read Five Ways to Write When You’re Not Writing


No Bitch, Ok! For Me.

There’s a great story behind why I made this list. Also, the whole Bitch, Ok! thing will make more sense. You can read it by expanding the section below or just go straight to the list.

[dropdown_box expand_text=”The Story” show_more=”Read” show_less=”Lose” start=”hide”]I got a new car.  It has an MP3 player.  I missed that.  275 songs.  1 disc.  I heart you, technology.

So, last week, for the first time (for some crazy reason) I was actually alone.  For several hours.  In my car.  With the Mp3s.  And the characters in my head.  In my imagination.  Except it’s not really quite your imagination when your characters and the end of your book and the way to make it The Story It’s Supposed To Be comes crashing through your brain like a spider monkey on crack.  I don’t know what it is, or who it is, or why it is.  I just know it is.

How much writing takes place at your desk?  You know, BICHOK.  I mean, I love the acronym, because it’s almost Bitch, Ok!  (For those who have no clue, and it’s okay, I don’t think it’s quite as catchy as “LOL”, it stands for “Butt in Chair, hands on keyboard.)

I’ve come to realize, for me, not a lot.  I mean, sure.  If I’ve stored up all that time with the music, in the car, scribbling like an idiot while trying to drive (note to self: buy digital recorder.  And lower insurance deductible.), or sitting outside with the sounds of nothingness–trees swaying and dogs barking distantly and children laughing–with a notebook on my lap and nowhere to be and nothing to be done.  After that, after that I can write like it’s my job.  Which it would be, if I ever got paid to do it.  But that’s the distinction: I don’t, but I can.  Write like it’s my job, I guess that’s the distinction.  That part may be irrelevant.

In that spirit, I present to you ten ways to write when you’re not writing:

This list got long, so I’m breaking it up.  Five this week, five next week.[/dropdown_box]

Five Ways to Write When You’re Not Writing

  1. Go sit in a graveyard.  No seriously.  If sitting there makes you feel creepy (and I know this happens, you worry the real family will show up and ask what the hell you’re doing) then walk around.  Look at the names.  Think about what you can tell about a person from their grave.  Do they have fresh flowers or plastic ones or old dead, wilted ones?  Is there an inscription on the stone?  Were they beloved by anyone?  Is the tombstone shaped like a guitar or a heart?  Who were all of these people?
  2. Go stay in a cheap hotel room, by yourself, in a town you’re not terribly familiar with.  You can take a notebook and pen.  You can take your ipod or similar device.  You may not take your laptop, especially if said hotel offers free wifi.  Take a walk (if you feel safe) or a drive (if you don’t).  Take a long shower.  Look out the window.  Eavesdrop on the people walking around in the hallway.  Go sit in the bar, if they’ve got one.  Don’t feel weird, you’re not alone–you’ve got your notebook.  Order one drink–no more–and write down what you see and hear.
  3. Go to a department store, preferably a busy one.  Park as close as you can to the front.  It doesn’t matter if you drive around for thirty minutes, waiting for a primo spot.  You’ve got your tunes, remember?  Now, once you park, watch.  People go in, they come out.  Look at what they’re carrying, read their body language.  Are they in a hurry?  Arguing?  Harrassed by three demanding children?  (That’d be me.  Don’t wave, I’ll think you’re a freak.) Make up stories, in your head (duh) about the people you see.  About their lives, or why they’re buying what they bought, or what they want, or where they just came from, or what they do for a living.
  4. Go to any restaurant and buy a cup of coffee.  If you’re hungry, it’s okay to buy food, but only if you take your time and enjoy the meal.  Take a notebook.  Write down what you hear, smell, taste, and touch.  Don’t write what you see, seeing comes too easily, sometimes.
  5. Find someplace you feel safe at night.  It might be your front porch or balcony, an empty park.  Hell, park across the street from the police station.  Roll down your window (this is why we want safe).  Listen.  Just listen.  Now, focus on one thing you can see.  A street lamp?  A fence post?  A cop car?  Doesn’t matter to me, doesn’t even matter to you, the people in your head will take over.  Now make up a scenario.

Yeah, sure, someone got arrested.  Wow.  I haven’t seen that a thousand times.

No.  Make up a scenario, make a scene.  I want character names.  I want dialogue.  I want backstory.  Just what you need for your scene.  You don’t have to write it down, if you don’t want to, just let it play through your mind.

Want More?

Read five more ways to write when you’re not writing.

I am going to share with you my greatest writing tool, the thing that keeps me sane in the crazy made-up world in my head.  Behold, the Scene Tracker(Please note: This is an excel file.  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).

Now that I’ve scared the crap out of you and you probably wouldn’t download it if I paid you, we’ll discuss it’s merits.  Here is an actual image of mine from my finished novel.

A sample of my actual scene tracker for a finished work
A sample of my actual scene tracker for a finished work

You can just click it to get a nice full size view.

In the first column, you’ll see that I divided my scenes into chapters.  I didn’t do this at first, I did it later, as I looked them over.  I think that in the future, I’ll be writing with the chapter endings in mind, so I can be sure they end with page turning material.  But, whatever works for you.

In the second column, I’ve done two things.  First, I’ve divided the book up into Acts (I guess that was actually done on different rows as opposed to columns, but let’s keep going.)  I’ve also numbered each scene as they occur in the act.  You’ll notice that scene 9 is greyed out.  I did that because I was considering (and did) taking the scene out.  By being able to see my story as a whole on this spreadsheet, it became clear that the scene served no purpose and this character didn’t really need a POV.  Ever.  So, if my scene tracker did nothing else for me, that alone would’ve made it worth it.

Okay, next column: the timeline.  I didn’t think, at first, this would matter.  And then I realized that in the beginning of this story, Act I takes place over a week.  And my week?  Had 8 days.  That’s why I created this spreadsheet, to help me keep track of what happened, when.  Later on, when I needed my character to make reference, I could easily go back and see that event had happened two weeks prior.  You may think you will remember this… but you won’t.  Because it’s been a month or six for you, or maybe just two days, but it probably wasn’t two weeks.

The next column gives a brief description of what action takes place in the scene.  Generally, when I’m writing, I make four folders and name them for each of the acts.  Each scene is it’s own file in the respective folder, so the third scene was named: scene 3 justine tells mom.doc.  It keeps them in order in the folder and lets me know at a glance what the scene is about.  Sure, it’s cryptic to you, but I know exactly what she’s telling her.  I just need a little jab to the memory.

Skip two columns over where the page count for the scene is listed.  If you look all the way down to Row 22 of that column, you’ll see that Excel did my math for me.  I know how long my first act is now.  It’s a bit over my target (at least 15 pages, yikes), in fact, so I know with just a look, I’m going to have to cut.

After that: Chapter length.  This formula isn’t built in because it depends on how many scenes are in your first chapter, or second.  But it’s still fairly simple, even if you want to do the math yourself.  For me, a chapter goal is about 20 to 30 pages.  Your mileage may vary, but the point is, when I go to cut, I can look at this and see where I got a little wordy or if maybe I need to reorganize how I divided my chapters.

The next is self-explanatory: whose POV is the scene in.  Next to that, the number of pages each character is getting, as a whole.  I’m not a head hopper, but I do know who my hero and heroine are and who my secondary characters that are getting page time are, and I know a secondary character shouldn’t be getting more and I’d like my hero/heroine to be close to even.  Again, it’s right there, at my fingertips.  I’ve compiled the information as I wrote.  This formula is also not included in the above file for similar reasons–it’ll be different for every story.

The next column isn’t on this picture, I added it to my blank template, the one you’re getting.  Emotional Arc.  The fourth column tells the action.  This column tells the emotional outcome/events of the scene.

Finally, my notes for editing.  I highlighted in column K each day so I’d know what I’d done in my first round of editing and the  notes tell me what is yet to be done.  I can also make a note, like, “Did the necklace come up again anywhere?” (if not, I take it out), or “Mention the number of suitcases,” because I know later, it’s going to be noticed by someone else.

At the very bottom, not pictured here, is the total page count for my novel.  Another perk is that I want my acts to get shorter, so Act 1 should have more scenes than Act 2.  And I can see that it does.

That is the Scene Tracker I’ve created, which you are more than free to use if you believe it would help you.  I hate to pull a Dawn–inside joke, sorry–but don’t redistribute this or repost it anywhere else.  Link back to the post, please. (Just click the title, then copy and paste from the address bar).

I don’t care who you are, there’s some perverse pride in writing in a notebook like this. It says, loud and proud, though without actually speaking, “Yeah. I’m probably writing dirty sex scenes. You gotta problem with that?” Or something like that. Maybe that’s just me, your mileage my vary.