RaynDropBlog

Writing and other stuff, according to Rayna

From the Archives: Books for an Autumn Evening: Nonfiction

Right foot, left foot…

There can be no doubt: if you are a writer who wishes to succeed there is a level of masochism required for the job. After sending 40 query letters, getting two full requests and then having those requests rejected, I was left flat. It took me six months to write and revise, six more months to get beta reader feedback, revise again and then start the grueling task of searching for a literary agent. Eighteen months later, I have nothing to show for it.

I’ve entered several contests, submitted works or pieces of work to many publications and…

desert

worldwildlife.org

NOTHING. Clearly, I suck as a writer. Maybe, I should give up. I’ve wasted years chasing a dream that’s not meant to come true for me. I must be delusional to expect this goodness called an author career to become real.

It felt like I was at ground zero all over again, only a year and a half after I’d started this project.(Note: In 2010, I’d completed another manuscript, pitched it for less than a year and trunked it.) It feels like getting socked in the chin over and over again. My ego is so bloodied and bruised it’s unrecognizable.

face

me after rejection

And yet…

I STILL want it!

Please, HURT ME MORE! Keep kicking me while I’m down. I haven’t had enough. Because I haven’t achieved my goal.

Do you know, I tried four different times to get a job in marketing before they finally gave up and let me in? I knew I was capable of the job. I knew it. I just had to be patient to prove it to my prospective employers. And years later, that tenacious tenacity finally paid off.

victory

I don’t have a success story yet for my writing career. I’m still fighting for my happy ending.

bruce lee

Isn’t that something, though. I’m STILL fighting. And if you’re in the same ring as me, and rejection has you down, it’s okay! Take a time-out, spit the blood from your mouth, Vaseline up your cuts, and then CHIN UP! Ding, ding ding! Round 42 is about to begin.

After revising once more, I’m on the hunt for agents and querying again. Hang in there! We’ll achieve our goal! I know we can!

Take Two of These and Call Me With the Next Revision

Feedback. Criticism. Critiques. All of these words might cause you shivers of anxiety. But, good feedback will push your next revision into a more polished, more publishable state. As writers, we have blinders on to certain things. Having good beta readers gives you the opportunity to identify issues you can’t see because the work is too close. There is nothing more valuable, in my opinion, than good beta readers. I’ve also found that with draft two, I may know something isn’t right, but I can’t quite put my finger on what. Readers can help you identify the issue. Here are some thoughts on how to get the most out of your beta readers.

First off, get good readers.

  • Pick beta readers who read the genre you’ve written. I can’t tell you how important this is. If you hand over your epic fantasy manuscript to someone who reads nothing but contemporary YA, they’re going to hate it. Don’t do that to yourself or your reader.
  • Choose readers who are also brutally honest. Your mom is great if you need a pat on the back and an ego boost, but not to identify issues.
  • Get a variety of readers. Some readers focus on world-building over story line. Some readers are particular about magic systems and believability. Choosing a variety of folks with different tastes and preferences will ensure you cover the gamut of story creation.
  • Pick readers who will actually FINISH your book. You might have to take a chance on some folks, but if they don’t finish something, don’t use them in the future. Or if they flake on actually giving you the feedback, don’t bother with them. And also consider that beta reading is not for everyone.

Prepare your readers.

  • Before you put your beloved manuscript into the hands of a reader, prepare them. Tell them what kind of feedback you’re looking for. Beta readers are great for judging story, plot and characters. They don’t need to get hung up on your typos.
  • Ask your readers to keep a separate notebook and make notes as they read. They can then use their notes when you meet with them.
  • Reading draft work of a manuscript is a lot of work. Your readers are analyzing your work, making notes and being thoughtful in their feedback to you. Give them cookies for their effort and be GRATEFUL.

Receive feedback.

  • Don’t argue. It’s just rude. Listen to what they have to say. Note it. If you disagree with it, you don’t have to incorporate that piece of feedback. But, they don’t need to know that. Appreciate the time and thought they’ve put into their feedback.
  • Break out your feedback sessions. Don’t have all beta readers present at once. This will allow enough time for each person to give their thoughts without competing with everyone else.
  • You’re going to have to lead the discussion. What are the things you’re most curious about hearing from the readers? Get the dialogue started by asking those questions. Conversation will ensue from there.
  • Think of all feedback as data. You’ve asked beta readers to give you feedback to what purpose? TO MAKE YOUR STORY BETTER! You have to know what’s not working if you’re going to fix it. If you don’t want to fix it or hear the issues, don’t ask for people to read it. You’ll be wasting their time.
  • If you think of your feedback as data, you will then be able to collate it and analyze it. If you get the same feedback more than once, chances are something needs fixing. One-off feedback can be viewed as an outlier, and up to you to decide if the point is valid.
  • Don’t ask your beta readers how to fix your manuscript. That’s for you to figure out after you’ve listened to their impressions and interpretations.
  • Listen, listen, LISTEN! Gathering feedback is your turn to hear what they’re gleaning from reading your book. Note what they’ve pulled from the story, and then later decide if you’re on target and if not, how you can fix it.

You have feedback. Now what?

  • After you’ve gathered all your beta readers’ thoughts, ruminate on it, digest it. Go back to your notes and in a new document begin to outline changes you want to make.

Fighting the Storm

I wrote this a long time a go as a description of fighting depression. Riana is the mc of the first manuscript I wrote, The Dragon’s Eye. For those of you still standing in the gale, keep fighting! Also, creative opportunity: write your own ending in the comments below.

She bared white knuckles to the storm in defiance. Riana shouted back her own thunder.   Her odd silver hair streamed with rain blown straight back by wind, violet eyes barely visible slits streamed tears mixing with rain as it ran down prominent cheek bones. Lightening danced in the open field illuminating where Riana stood shin-high in mud. The thunder roared in deep, rolling tomes of anger echoing over and over in the dark sky above her.

“You can’t have me!” she shouted, the words scraping out of her already raw throat like razors. She could feel her heart racing, a caged bird about to beat free from its prison. The breath stung in her lungs as she raged on and on against the storm.

She thought she would drown as she fought in the sheets of rain; her rasping protests outshouted by the fury of the storm. But, she couldn’t run anymore. There was no hiding place where the dark cloud would not follow, daunting her every move, an unwelcome shadow hanging on her shoulders.

The wind blew harder and colder. The rain flew at her like stinging arrows. Riana was forced backward a step. She dug her heels into the slime that used to be solid ground. She crossed tired, slender arms over her tear and rain-stung face and shrieked in agony. Thunder clapped so loudly it knocked Riana to the ground, mud oozing over her body. She stood again when the gale had lessened and prepared for the next onslaught.

#fiveagents

I have the goal to become traditionally published. I’ve written two full length manuscripts and a ton of other miscellaneous stuff. I’ve attended conferences, researched and honed the craft of writing and focused much intention toward my goal. I’ve submitted a short story for publication. I’ve entered contests (total fails on those) and began building an online platform.

So, now I want to find an agent. Because in this day and age, the path to editors is through an agent. Based on my research. I also just want a partner in publishing my books. So, how does one go through the process of searching for an agent? I’m going to bullet my current process. Share yours with a link to your blog in the comments.

  • Begin search with Query Tracker by filtering to my genre and those not closed to submissions.
  • From the Query Tracker agent profile, I review their AAR page, if they are a member.
  • I note if they are on Twitter. For me, this is important, because I want someone who uses social media as a means of connecting and marketing.
  • Query submission format (snail mail, email, online form). This is also important to me. If an agent accepts only snail mail submissions, well, that’s a deal-breaker for me. If an agent can’t even manage an email or online form submission process, my take is that there’s no way they will be savvy about e-publishing and online marketing. Both of which are incredibly important in these times.
  • Agency website. The searched agent gets points for having a maneuverable site, and extra points for having agent profiles noting preferred genres, clear query submission instructions, the authors they rep and book covers. I can’t tell you how happy I get by reviewing book covers with which I think my manuscript would fit. Extra, extra points for having writing or query tips.
  • Twitter profile. Agents who are on twitter often tweet about open or closed submission status, genres they’re seeking, books they’re selling and authors they’re representing, among other helpful tidbits. I also look at which hashtags they’re using. Love the agents who participate in #askagent, and #tenqueries. All of these things give me extremely helpful insight into whether the agent and I will be a good fit for each other.
  • Google. Good ol’ wonderful Google. I search the agent’s name to see if they have participated in online interviews, conferences they attend, authors they rep, contents they manage or participate in, and anything else I can find.

Why do we do all this researching? Some will tell you it’s so when you write the query letter you can point out why you’re a good fit for them.

“I see from your twitter profile that you like coffee. OMG, I like coffee too!!!”

But, I have a slightly different perspective. I’m old enough to not feel the need to impress. I choose to be genuine and I choose to search for agents I feel will have a similar outlook on my publishing career and who will LOVE my manuscript. I want a partner. This is a working, professional relationship. So, I search for someone who’s going to be a good partner and champion to my books.

If you’re like me you’ve seen some of the agent bullying aspiring authors receive. I have even been the subject of such bullying, in a public forum, the memory of which still makes me cringe. I am happy to note that seems to be in the decline. I do not put agents on a pedestal. I do not put ANYONE on a pedestal. I despise bullies, no matter what form they take. So, if I’m strolling through twitter on a fine and sunny Sunday morning, and I see an agent bullying, making fun of, or berating aspiring authors, they automatically go into my Do NOT QUERY list. Why? Because we would not see eye to eye on a philosophical level. Which is highly important to me.

To promote other authors’ search for an agent, I have started #fiveagents. This is my version of agents’ #tenqueries, in which I say how long it took me to research each agent in the list of hundreds of agents who rep my genre, and why they end up in my TO QUERY list or DO NOT QUERY list. I hope you’ll join in so that we might encourage each other through our journey in the dreaded query trenches.

The Process of Writing a Manuscript – BlogHOP

It sure is a process! In case you’re new to all this writing stuff, be warned: writing a book is a LOT of work. For writers who adore pumping their writerly muscles, process is the way in which we work out our skill and talent more efficiently.

And I’m all about efficiency. As a full time mom, full time Marketing Communications Specialist and writer aspiring toward traditional publication, you bet your booty I’m all about working smarter instead of working harder.

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Source: http://explodingdog.tumblr.com/post/27340214691/not-wasting-time 

The Broken Veil began, as all books must begin, with an idea. The concept came from a dream which I quickly scribbled into a poorly written short story.

So, step one in the creative process…

DREAM! Write down your dreams, go to new places that tickle your imagination, feed your inspiration with art, books, movies and other works by other creative people.

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After that, I daydreamed some more and used both my husband and the wonderful Rachel Pudelek as sounding boards to my concepts and story ideas. Thank GOD for trust-worthy sounding boards! All writers should have at least one.

Step two…

TALK ABOUT IT. You will be surprised at how either awesome or trite your ideas sound on your tongue instead of in your head. Cats can be good listeners. Mostly, they don’t interrupt.

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Next came the research phase. I was inspired by some obscure elements of my heritage, and so, went about reading various sources about that genealogy. I was veracious in my hunt for knowledge, always growing the concept and story already blooming in my mind. And also, learning stuff is just cool.

Step three…

RESEARCH. Whether it’s history, subject-matter, mythology, etc. take the time to learn things that will add details to your book that make it authentic, thus rooting your reader in reality and allowing the fiction to feel alive.

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When I had a good handle on the world I wanted to create, I got to know my main characters. I had my lovely mother do star charts on the major characters and from there, I wrote out character sheets for each. Sometimes, we call this having coffee with characters. We ask them questions about who they are and they answer. Yes. Being a writer is slightly crazy.

Step four…

CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT. Knowing the nature of your characters, their flaws and strengths, their cravings and aversions, their back story and motivation will drive your story forward, and allow them to arrive to the scene and behave as any real person would behave.

Okay, so at this point, I’ve done a lot of prep, but not all of it. Next I need to know the main plot of my book and roughly the steps along the journey. Based on suggestions I’d learned at the 2012 Willamette Writers Conference in Portland, I used 3×5” note cards to separate out those steps, writing a concise sentence of the action that needed to take place to push my story forward, and which characters (and in my case, creatures as well) would be included in the scene. It’s okay if your story completely morphs along the way. Plotting to begin with gives your writing process the structure to play efficiently in your world.

Step five…

OUTLINE YOUR PLOT. In whichever way is easiest for you. Notecards are optional.

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NOW IT’S WRITING TIME!!! I kept my notecards close by and referred to them when I got lost in the story. I didn’t stick to them always. I allowed myself to discover the story as I wrote it. So, plotting… more like guidelines than actual rules.

Step six…

WRITE THAT BAD BOY! And be flexible in discovering the story, referring back to your outline frequently for direction.

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Source: http://www.zazzle.com/warrior_woman_writer_mug-168511359092281776

After the first draft is complete and you’ve discovered the full story, as well as any new characters, it’s time to revise. This is when you take a look at the ending of your book, decide what’s missing to build up to that ending, and then adjust it. Catch the details as much as you can on this revision. Work out the plot holes and timing, fold in the new characters that revealed themselves, tease out the subplots, build the relationships.

Step seven…

REVISE/EDIT.

Editing doesn’t mean I was done. Not by a long shot. I knew after draft two there were some things that needed changing, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why or how. So, I enlisted the help of a very few readers. You can choose a critique partner or alpha readers, or as I did, a combination of both. This is a crucial step in the process. You cannot create a whole world, new people and story without the feedback of others. By employing more than one person, you gain different perspectives and opinions. But, don’t use all your readers at once.

Parcel out the reading of a draft two (or three) to people who can take on the loving job of providing solid feedback. This is a major effort on the part of your readers.

Bribes with cupcakes and alcohol are encouraged for their labor.

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Make sure when you accept the feedback, you do it with an open mind, or you risk missing an opportunity to make your manuscript amazing. It’s critical to understand their feedback will be subjective. I had to learn which pieces needed to be adjusted and which pieces needed to be left the hell alone. If more than one person has the same feedback, chances are, it should be changed.

Step eight…

LET SOMEONE READ IT. And… LISTEN TO THEIR THOUGHTS. Also… APPRECIATE YOUR READERS’ AND CRITIQUE PARTNERS’ SACRIFICE OF TIME AND ENERGY.

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Source: http://www.vvapl.com/index.php?page=43

After I read feedback emails, marked-up manuscripts and took notes on conversations with my readers and fabulous critique partner, Ms. Rachel Pudelek, I sat on it. I digested it. I thought about it. I wrote copious other notes about which actions made sense to take, which actions I definitely did not like, and which actions I was somewhere in middle about.

I then outlined the changes I wanted to make to the manuscript, based on the amazing, awesome feedback of my readers and crit partner. After that, I got busy adjusting, rewriting and revising again.

Step nine…

REWRITE/REVISE

When I was done with the third revision I was in love with the story and ready to start querying. I am currently reading my manuscript on my kindle, with my laptop handy to adjust all the little things I’ve goofed up along the way to a new revision.

Step ten…

READ YOUR OWN WORK IN A DIFFERENT FORMAT, ADJUST AS NEEDED.

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Source: http://1×57.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/cozy-kindle-kindle3-amazon-reading-reader-e-reader-couch.jpg

I hope this post is helpful! Everyone’s writing process is different. What works for me, might not work as well for you. So, in that case, write your own blog post and share it in the comments below!

 

Misfits are We

Misfits are we.

Writer.

Roamer.

Homo.

Weirdo.

Actor.

Gamer.

Book worm.

Musician.

Artist.

We are the object of judgment.

Our character is scrutinized.

Our methods questioned.

Even our preferences considered odd.

With eyebrows raised, they shake their heads.

We clearly don’t fit in.

We are lonely.

Until we bumble into other misfits.

Who we call kindred spirits.

Or speculate we’ve spent other lifetimes with them.

And guess our psychic abilities drew us together.

Misfits are we.

Wild and crazy.

We can’t be pinned down.

And we change our minds frequently.

Like, every day!

We can’t describe our spirituality as neatly as the name of a religion.

We simply believe.

In love.

In life.

In magic.

We believe that people are not all as bad as the pessimists make them out to be.

We believe in potential.

To grow and learn and evolve our spirits.

With quiet introspection we unlock the secrets of the universe.

And discover it’s not all darkness,

But, shot through with a million glittering lights

Gleaming with moonbeams and starbursts and golden suns.

Silliness, really.

Given what we’ve seen.

Given what we know of human nature.

To have hope is a crazy notion.

But, we’ve always been a little off-kilter.

We’re kooky enough to keep hope alive.

All we strange misfits seeing silver linings, and storm-drenched rainbows.

And we turn our inner light, and silly dreams outward in our insane ways.

We paint beauty.

Write love.

Photograph miracles.

Speak light.

And share kindness.

Even against awful odds.

In the face of bullies and cowards.

In the worst of circumstances.

Though we are scarred.

And socially a little awkward.

We just can’t help ourselves.

From painting rainbows.

And dreaming of dragons.

And cooking something sweet to sooth weary souls

We’re a little different.

All we misfits.

But, when we consider the alternative, we decide

We’re okay with that.

SHINE, BABY!

Several years ago, a woman I was connected to on one of the many social media channels responded to a post of mine and asked me to contribute to her my definition of happiness.

I never answered her.

Why? Because I’m a flake? Maybe, partly. But, not completely. I opened a reply to her several times. And as the cursor blinked at me in anticipation of my words, I found I had none to sate the hungry screen.

It was such a ponderous question for me. And it bothered me that I didn’t have an answer. How could I not know what it meant to be happy? I had a healthy family, a job, a young, but happy marriage and I was pursuing my dreams. Was my life perfect? No. Of course not! Whose life is perfect? Nobody’s. But, I had blessings and I recognized them, so how could I not understand happiness?

Probably, because I wasn’t truly happy.

Over the last five years or more since THE EMAIL, I have thought about happiness. I regularly revisited the request, stared at the words, contemplated the subject and went away, clearly unauthorized to provide an answer. I even wondered why I had ever felt qualified to click the reply button in the first place. Who did I think I was to say what happy is or isn’t? Who did I think I was to say what anything is or isn’t.

Nobody. That’s who I am.

And that was very much at the crux of the issue. How could I be happy if I was nobody? Nobodies don’t get to be happy. No. And the idea of happiness was far too foreign. I was more comfortable talking about what I SHOULD be. That I SHOULD be happy. I could tell you at length how blessed I was. I could tick off how lucky I’d been to find a kind and caring husband, and get a good job, and have healthy children who were smart and sweet and well-behaved. And I could attribute none of it to me.

Which, was A BIG, FAT LIE.

I was denying myself of everything, even my own identity. I could not be proud, because being proud meant I had to recognize that I was a part of the equation. And that’s just not allowed.

Hey, listen. I know you’re a wondrous creation. I get if you want to be humble and give glory to God or Goddess or the Universe, whichever entity you worship. That’s super altruistic of you. But, the fact is stuff happens in your life because of your choices. Your free will leads you down your own path. (Psssttt… Christians… that’s kind of the point of this life. Ya know, free will and all?) If you say that you have nothing to do with the success in your life, then the opposite is also true. Then, you have no responsibility for the misfortunes in your life, even if they resulted from making a stupid decision. If everyone decides they have no ownership of their life, the world turns to shit. So, give yourself a little pat on the back every now and then. Stay humble, sure. But, then recognize the power God/Goddess/Universe/Whatever gave you and that you CHOSE to use it in the right way.

As the years went by, I faced up to the fact that I was unhappy. Life happened. Loved ones died. Other loved ones made life changes which affected me. And through this process of living, the past was massaged out of my subconscious. And I was ANGRY. I was SAD. I was HORRIFIED. I was SCARED. I was DISAPPOINTED. I was REGRETFUL. All of it hurt deeply. The emotions were so BIG! They were in my face, screaming for my attention. I so wanted to pretend they didn’t exist, but I had reached my threshold for holding back emotional shit. It was spilling over whether I wanted it to or not.

There is no hiding from such profound self-discoveries.

But, still. I had a choice. I knew I had a choice. Many days, you could find me curled up on the floor of my bathroom, or on my bed or on the floor, praying, PRAYING to not be so ANGRY, SAD, SCARED, REGRETFUL, HORRIFIED, DISAPPOINTED. I ached to be happy.

And all this emotional shit that filled me up was making me, quite literally ill. I was physically, physiologically responding to the deep scars in my soul which bled and oozed a rank pus of bottled up, denied, suffocated collection of emotions.

What’s a girl to do? Screw the lid tighter on that crazy? Nope. The lid was broken. I could either, continue to fester and leak, or I could let the healing finally happen. If I could allow myself a small sense of worthiness that I deserved it.

So, I strapped on my wading boots and went exploring through the deep parts of me. In search of a glittering treasure I hoped I had inside.

HAPPINESS

The journey was ugly. There were moments I withdrew from the search. There were inadvertent emotional lockdowns, inexplicable outbursts, shoving away of loved ones, retreat from friends and just plain bitchiness. I was no treat for company.

But, inside, I was asking myself what needed to be heard. I was allowing the story to be told, with every shred of emotion that had been denied. My inner child wept, screamed, stomped her feet and raged until I got the whole story. And I thanked her for sharing it. I showed myself the compassion that I so willingly showed others and withheld from myself.

Because I believe that we are worthy of kindness and love and grace, even when we are unworthy. And if I believed that my fellow humans – who were flawed and sometimes downright awful – then, it wasn’t such a stretch to agree I too was worthy.

I am a happy person now. Does that mean I don’t get angry? No. If the situation calls for it, you bet, I’m angry. And sometimes when it doesn’t call for it. But, it doesn’t rule me. I hear it, and then let it go.

I think happiness is to not deny or even overcome what we call negative emotions – anger, sorrow, pity, regret – but, accept them to push us into a better place. Grow because of them. Reach a higher state of being and understanding after experiencing them. Saying negative emotions shouldn’t exist within us is a big, fat lie and a misunderstanding of the beauty of the human existence, with all of our fascinating colors and shades and emotions. Telling yourself you shouldn’t feel something is telling yourself to be inhuman, to be flat, to be one-sided. By accepting ALL of our emotions, find peace over situations that cause us hurt, rather than deny they happened at all, simply scrubs all the facets of our souls, like the cuts in a diamond.

And then when we stand in the light, baby, you can bet we’re gonna SHINE.

So, what is happiness (to me)? To rejoice over our crazy, imperfect lives, with all its ups and downs and twists and turns. To FIND the good, to SCOWL at the bad, to CRY for sorrow, to ACHE with hurt, to LAUGH and LOVE and BREATHE in each moment as a gift, whether it is viewed as negative or positive.

What do YOU think is happiness?

Attitude Adjustment

I don’t know about you, but winter is always tough for me. The days are short.

And dark.

And busy.

The joy of Christmas is over and we’re catching up from the time off at work, getting our families back into the groove and gearing up to accomplish all our well-meaning goals for health and prosperity, etc. and so forth, which we then abandon by February. So, January?

cat tongue

It’s only been a few weeks since my time off and I’m already looking forward to the next holiday. Why? I get home from work completely wiped out and feeling lazy. And I actually like my job! So, I don’t know what my deal is. Why the attitude doesn’t match up with my heart, but something had to give.

I came home from a long day, grumpy and tired. I plopped down on the couch and ate the dinner my husband made for me, after which I stared at facebook for a few minutes, scrolling past everything, not interested in anything. Sitting was not the answer. Resting was not the answer.

lazy cat

When I was little and I pitched a fit about something (you can picture me: pony tail, angry hazel eyes, adorable pout and crossed arms), Dad would say, “Hey. You need an attitude adjustment?” and show me his knuckles mock-menacingly. I pouted more. To which he would reply, “Alright, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.” And he’d walk up to me and rap me on the head. “Bonk!” he’d say. “There. Attitude adjusted.” I’d smile and giggle and the spell of bad moods would break.

Since dear old dad isn’t in close proximity to give me a rap on the head, I had to administer my own attitude adjustment. I rose from the couch, tackled the dirty dishes, then pulled the weights from their dusty corner and MOVED. Five Finger Death Punch and Volbeat serenaded me to push-ups and lunges and when I was sweaty and tired, I felt the best I’d felt all day.

Attitude adjusted.

So, what’s your restart button to a bad mood? What helps you move from negative to positive?

Practical Formatting Solutions for Writers

Plots, character arcs and tension are not the only things writers have to understand these days. With the advancement in technology comes a whole slew of opportunity turned responsibility to incorporate your thoughts and story into a format that agents and editors want to receive. For some, this can be a daunting task, if all you’ve ever done in a Microsoft Word document is open it and begin typing.

For the first dozen or so years of my career, I took on various positions of administrative support. I learned in those positions, you gotta move with purpose, or let the snappy pace of a busy day run you right the hell over. I’ve also always hated wasting time. Because of these things, combined with a natural curiosity about the software I work in, I tenaciously sought out information that would make me an administrative beast of efficiency.

But, not everyone who writes has a knack or eagerness to try different techniques using a software program that seems overwhelming and frustrating. I’m going to share a few things I’ve learned. If you have something you’ve learned that’s even better than what I post, please share your thoughts in the comments! (or write your own blog!) I love learning new things and welcome the input.

Today’s post will be on setting up the body and chapter headers of your Word document for a manuscript. I’m working out of Microsoft Word 2010, but most things here will translate to 2007. 2003 users… you can follow the gist, but the ribbon format of Word really changes the layout and navigation in the Microsoft programs.

The Recommendations

There are a ton of sites out there with notes on what the formatting should be in your manuscript when you send it to an agent or editor. Here’s one: theeditorsblog.net/2011/01/05/format-your-novel-for-submission/.

Basically, you want your document to be set up with 1” margins all around, 12 pt. Times New Roman font, double-spaced with a first line indent, and aligned left. There also recommendations on your header and title page, chapter and scene breaks. Visit the link and review it.

Now, let’s talk about formatting, baby.

The rubber meets the road! You know what you’re supposed to do, but how the heck do you wrestle that Word document into perfect manuscript-submission worthiness? This is what I recommend.

Set your document up BEFORE you start writing your manuscript. I also recommend after going through these steps, saving the formatted document as a template for any new manuscripts.

PAGE LAYOUT

  • You can either start in a brand, spanking-new document, or in your already-started document.  
  • Choose the PAGE LAYOUT tab of the ribbon menu.
  • In the Page Setup section of this ribbon, choose Margins, then Normal (which should be defaulted).

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FONT

  • If you’re in a new document, go ahead and type a paragraph or two of your story. This will make it easier to see the changes you make.
  • Select all with keyboard shortcut ctrl + A.
  • In the HOME tab of the ribbon, the second section is called “Font”. Like this…

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  • Click on the drop-down where the current typeface is selected. In my screen shot above, it says, “Calibri (Body)”.
  • Choose “Times New Roman” by typing the typeface. You don’t have to type the whole typeface name. If you begin typing, it will automatically go to the Times New Roman, at which point you can either press Enter on your keyboard, or use your mouse to click on your typeface selection.
  • (NOTE: typeface is the collection of designed characters. Font is the term that includes specific details of how you’re using that typeface. Times New Roman is the typeface. 12 pt., regular, Times New Roman is a font. The font of this note is 11 pt., italicized, Calibri.)
  • To the right of the typeface is font size. Click on the drop-down and choose 12.

 

PARAGRAPH FORMATTING

  • On to paragraph formatting, the third section of your HOME tab in the ribbon menu.

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  • There are a few things you need to do with the paragraph formatting, so it’s easiest to click on that tiny little downward-facing arrow on the bottom-right corner of the Paragraph section of the menu. When you do that, the resulting dialogue box will look like this…

 Image

  • In this print screen, I’ve set the options as they should appear for your manuscript.
  •  There is an option to Set As Default. Clicking on this button will result in the following dialogue box…

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  • If you access Word mostly for the purpose of manuscript writing, choosing the second option might work the best for you.

STYLES

  • Now that you have the paragraph formatting set up the way you want it, I recommend setting this as a style, in the fourth section of your HOME tab.

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  • I’ll also show you how to set up chapter headers as a style, so that it automatically numbers your chapter headers. Having these two styles defined will allow you to easily switch between them.
  • Make sure that you have everything selected, by choosing Ctrl + A on your keyboard.
  • Right-click on the highlighted text and choose Style, then Save Selection as a New Quick Style.

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  • In the resulting dialogue box, name your style, then click OK.

Chapter Headers! Oh how I hated chapter headers, until I found a nifty trick.

  • Click on the little downward-facing arrow of the Styles section of your HOME tab.
  • Click on the New Style button.

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  • The subsequent dialogue box will look like this. Adjust the settings to mirror this print screen. It’s important to choose a style based on a Heading.

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  • Click on the Format button, then Numbering.
  • In the subsequent dialogue box, choose the number formatting you prefer. You may choose to click on the Define New Number Format to further adjust settings. Note that the formatting you set for style, “Chapter Header”, should apply to your numbering.
  • Click OK until all dialogue boxes are closed.
  • Now, at the beginning of a chapter, type your title, like so…

Snake Gold Eyes

  • Then select the text of your chapter title, or simply place your cursor somewhere in the title.
  • Click on the Chapter Header quick style, in your Styles section.

1 –        Snake Gold Eyes

  • When you press Enter to start your next line, most likely you will see a second Chapter title. This is where you will click on the Manuscript quick style you’ve created, from the Styles section of the HOME tab in the ribbon menu.
  • Write your chapter! When you get to the end of your chapter, press ctrl + Enter to insert a page break. Type your chapter header, select it, choose Chapter Header style. It should automatically assign the next number in the list. Like this…

                                                                                                                                                                   2 –        Hunted

  • What’s the advantage of this? Well! I’m so glad you asked! When you go revising your manuscript, there’s no doubt you will slash away chapters, add new ones, move chapters, etc. and so forth. With styles applied, your chapter headers will automatically readjust the numbering correctly.
  • Additionally, you can now use your navigation pane to move through your manuscript using the chapter headers.
  • To do this, click on the VIEW tab of the ribbon menu, then click the Navigation Pane in the Show section.

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  • On the left hand side of your document, the Navigation pane will probably look like this… (except with YOUR chapter title(s).

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  • You’ll notice that the sections noted are the Chapter Headers we’ve added as examples.
  • While writing, you can use this navigation pane to easily maneuver throughout your manuscript by clicking the chapter header to be taken to the page beginning that chapter.

Hope you find this helpful! Would you like to know how to do something specific in Word? Leave a comment and I’ll see if I can answer your question!

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