Proofing Your Work Again and Again

Monday I hoped to finish the article that is due today, Wednesday.  It is 4000 words and meant to be part of a directory. This meant that I printed the manuscript and took it into the dining room to edit.  Then section by section I came back into my office to make the changes.  About halfway through the process, I noticed a mistake onscreen that I hadn’t spotted on the printed page.  As much as I wanted to skip my third step in proofing, I knew that I couldn’t.

Step 1.  Read everything on screen.

Step 2.  Print the manuscript and read it again.  Why?   Because you will see things in print that you miss on the screen.

Step 3.  Read it aloud.

I know, I know.  Reading 4000 words aloud seems like overkill but I always catch mistakes or wordy bits that I missed both on screen and in print.  So yes, read it aloud.  That said, I’m kind of a lemon at this.  I do just fine for about half a page but as I read I get quieter and quieter. Before you know it, I’m mumbling and then I’m reading silently in head.

My solution is to use Speak, part of Microsoft Word.  You aren’t going to locate this feature easily; we are talking about Word, after all.  But you can add it to your Quick Access Toolbar.  That’s the tool bar way up at the top of the page.  Just follow these directions.  Don’t worry. I wrote these directions so that are going to be complete.

  1. In Word, the default location for the Quick Access Toolbar is the upper left corner of the screen.  On the far right of this Toolbar is a black arrow pointing down. Hover the mouse over this arrow and it says “Customize Quick Access Toolbar.”  Click on this arrow.
  2. This opens a drop down menu titled Customize Quick Access Toolbar.  Mouse down to More Commands and select this option.
  3. This opens the Word Options menu.  In the dialogue box, Choose Commands From, Popular Commands will be selected.  In this dialogue box, scroll down to All Commands and select.
  4. Scroll down through the menu list until you find Speak. Select and then click the “Add >>” button.  Speak will now appear in the Customize Quick Access Toolbar  on the right hand side of this menu box.
  5. At the bottom right of this menu box, click OK which will save this option and close the menu box.

Once you have installed Speak, all you need to do is select the text that you want the program to read and then click the Speak icon on your Toolbar.

I do not love the mechanical sounding computerized voice and some of the pronounciations are hilarious — wind (as in blowing) is not in her vocabulary so she prounces it like “wind your watch.”  That said, I actually listen to it and she doesn’t get ho hum and quit read out loud.

Now you’ll have to excuse me.  I still have 8 more pages to listen to her read out loud.  Proof, proof and proof again.


Author’s Copies: Dakota Access Pipeline

Woo-hoo!  My author’s copies of The Dakota Access Pipeline arrived Thursday evening.  The book came out in January so I’ve been popping out whenever I see the poor mail carrier.  Honestly, I wonder if author’s houses aren’t marked on a map.  “Beware!  Will worry carrier for weeks at a time.”

This is one of the hardest single books that I’ve ever written. Not only does it include information about this specific pipeline, it also explains:

  • Native American history especially in the plains including the killing off of the buffalo to solve the “Indian problem” and forcing the people onto reservations.
  • How oil is drilled and transported using pipelines as well as potential safety issues.
  • The process used to decide where something like a pipeline is laid.

One of the hardest parts of writing a book like this is sorting out the biases of your sources.  Oil industry experts will swear left right and sideways that pipelines are safe and effective and not at risk for leaking.  Environmental experts want you to say just how hazardous a pipeline is.

As you try to decide who is giving out accurate information, you read that the path of the pipeline was moved when white residents of another possible route objected it would put their drinking water at risk.  But when Native Americans make the same claim, they are attempting to halt progress.

It is especially tricky when you go into a project with ideas about who is right and who is wrong.  When you don’t find the information that you expect to find, is it because big money blocked data and made sure that skewed facts were published.  Or are you being resistant when your own prejudices aren’t being supported.

If you love ferreting out facts and trying to decide exactly where the truth lies, consider writing nonfiction.  You have to be one part miner, digging things up, and one part detective, following a path to Fact.



5 Minutes a Day: Using Pinterest Boards to Develop Characters and Create Backstory

claras-wardrobe.jpgI’m still working on my mystery and this week I’ve been creating Pinterest boards.  Secret Pinterest boards that only I can see are a great place to deepen my characterization.  Because they are secret, no one else can see them but I can use them to save things pertinent to my main character.

What kinds of boards can you create for your character? The most obvious would be to detail how my character looks. But the problem with that is that physical appearance is the most shallow level of characterization . . . unless it serves a deeper purpose.

In my book, Clara has her own unique style based on the clothing of the 1940s. That’s pretty different from most of what you see today so I spent time pinning a variety of patterns.  I know she wears blues and greys but I didn’t worry about pinning colors, just the clothes themselves including dressy clothes, sporty clothes and purses.  The really funny part of this is that I’m pretty much opposed to shopping and my own fashion consists of light or heavy yoga pants.

But as I sought these clothes, I thought about the person who would wear them.  Especially the contemporary person who would wear them.  That gave me insight into her job which led me to develop a fictitious book series that provides backstory.

She’s going to be moving around her home space so I wanted to be able to see her home.  1940s would be expected since that is the style of clothing she wears so I couldn’t do that.  But she’s into history.  What’s close enough to the 1940s and recognizable?  Craftsman. So now I have saved a series of pins on that as well.  I still need to find a floor plan but the pins are a good start.

The great thing is that if you already have a Pinterst account, it takes seconds to set up another board.  That means that in about five minutes you can pin a wardrobe, a home interior, or a set of book covers.

Not bad work for just a few minutes here and a few minutes there.


An Arguement for Plotting

make things happen

The last couple of weeks, I’ve been getting ready to start writing an adult mystery, a cozy.  When I tried to develop my premise, I discovered that I just didn’t know enough. I needed to do more work with my characters.

I’ve also been a little iffy on whether or not I wanted to plot out a novel vs just pantsing it.  But this time around and really seeing the benefit of plotting.  My character works at a museum.  Initially, I thought she was the archivist of the museums book collection and documents because the “person of note” was a children’s author.  But that still felt generic especially when I started really getting into the character.  She seemed real but her occupation felt thin.

So I started thinking about my character and what kind of children’s author she would be passionate about.  Over the course of Wednesday afternoon, I came up with the name for and premise of the fictitious series written by the “person of note.”  I knew when the books were written as well as the moral code they represented.

It seems like a bit much, doesn’t it?  But the important thing is that it is going to play into the background of the town.  This will come into play perhaps not in book 1 but in later mysteries.  See – I’m thinking series.

But I wouldn’t have come up with all of this if I was just winging it – aka pantsing.  I needed the space and the time to develop her occupation.  And I can see now how this will complicate all kinds of things through the various books.

On one hand, I’m hoping that I don’t have to go this deep for every character but I have my suspicions that it would be worthwhile, helping to create a setting and a world that is only loosely based on anywhere in particular but feels concrete and real.  Plotting is definitely worth the effort.


Fiction coming from National Geographic Kids Books

Yesterday while on the treadmill, a news item about National Geographic Kids Books caught my eye.  This fall they are launching a new imprint – Under the Stars. Unlike other National Geographic offerings, this imprint will be fiction.

That’s right – fiction!

The audience is middle grade readers, aged 8 to 12, and the plan is to launch one series per year. Admittedly, that tid bit caught my attention to and not really in a good way.  One series per year?  Can’t National Geographic do better than that?

Once I got off the treadmill, I quit jumping to conclusions and started poking around.  Now I can see why the new offerings will come one series at a time.  This is way more than a series of print books.

The first to launch will be Explorer Academy: The Nebula Secret by Trudi Trueit.  Trueit has over 100 titles, both ficiton and nonfiction to her credit. She also worked as a weather forecaster so she has a strong science background in addition to her abilities as a writer.  You can sample the first chapter of the book here through the web page.  Read over this page and you’ll see why National G is only releasing one series a year.

In addition to the books, there will be a variety of “digital extensions.”  These include games, videos and segments that explain more about the science to young readers.  And it is the science that this series is all about as it pulls in technology, geography and archaeology. This is the kind of book my own son would have devoured with missions, code-breaking and exploration.  It also looks like it will fit into the mission of the Society in furthering exploration and education.

As a writer, I have to admit that I’m a little envious.  As a reader?  I’m eager to read beyond chapter 1.



Mentor Texts: What ReFoReMo Is All About

I know I’ve written about mentor texts before.  A mentor text gives you the opportunity to pattern your own work after some aspect of a published book.  You might study a mentor text to learn about how to develop your picture book characters, how to make use of page turns, or how to create a layered picture book text.

But as is the case with so many things, it can help to see the process in action.  If that’s the case for you, good news!   ReFoReMo starts on March 1.  ReFoReMo stands for Reading for Research Month and was founded by Carrie Charley Brown who now runs it with the help of Kirsti Call.

Throughout the month of March, picture book writers from around the world will read the selected picture books and discuss how each one can be used as a mentor text.  A variety of picture book authors, illustrators, librarians and other picture book savvy folk write blog posts showing how they use the texts.

What I like most about this is that someone always brings in books that I have never read.  They also use them in ways that I have never tried so it is a great way to gather techniques.

If this sounds like something that might be useful you can get started now:

The schedule of presenters/blog post writers can be found here.

Here is the list of books that will be used throughout the month.

And don’t forget to register.  Directions can be found here.  You have to register to be eligible for PRIZES.  Other eligibility requirements can also be found on this page.


For more on mentor texts, see Mentor Texts: Guiding Yourself through Writing a Picture Book. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a ton of library books to request.


Do What You Can


I thought that this year we’d celebrate President’s Day with a bit of advice from one of our Presidents, Teddy Roosevelt.  “Do what you can, where you are, with what you have.”

When I give advice to my fellow writers, I hope that they realize that somehow they are going to have to make it their own.  The reality is that what works for me will probably not work for you unless you make some adjustments.  In fact, what works for me today, probably won’t work for me a year from now.

Don’t let that discourage you!   The reason is simple – we are constantly changing and growing as writers.  In addition to our writing changing, our lives in general are changing.  This means that the demands on us and the energy that we have is going to vary from week to week and year to year.

Up until today, these are the constants in my writing life –

  • I have a tendency to flub writing exercises at conferences because…
  • I do not write well in public.  I am very easily distracted.
  • When I know where I am going with a writing project, I can write 500 words in 15 or so minutes.  I can’t do that often in any given day but I can rough out a chapter (1700 words) in a day.

I prefer to write in the afternoon. But at various points in my life I have written in the morning and the evening.  I have rewritten a manuscript leaning against the wall in the emergency room while my father was asleep.

The key to any writing problem is to examine the problem as it exists now.  Today.  Where you are.  Don’t judge yourself.  Don’t bemoan what isn’t.  Look at what is and contemplate how you can work from that point to where you need or want to be.

I hope this is an encouraging thought to some of you.  You do not need to be where I am to write.  You don’t need to have a home office.  Writing does not need to be your only job.  That’s where I am right now.

Tomorrow?  Tomorrow I’ll be figuring out a new way to work because something, somehow will have changed.


5 Minutes a Day: Getting to Know Your Characters as Individuals

This week, my 5-minute task has focused on getting to know my main character for the cozy I’m pre-writing.  There’s a lot you can do in just five minutes in terms of developing your character.

Some of getting to know Clara has also helped me start thinking about the plot.  This is a mystery so there’s something to solve.  In this case it is a murder.  As I worked through what Clara’s stake in all of this is, I now know who gets killed, who did it, who gets set up, and who the tricksters are.

But I don’t want two-dimensional characters.  It is especially important that my main character and her best friends (aka The Sidekicks) are each unique especially compared to each other.  So that means I’m doing a lot of fairly simple “get to know my character” exercises including:

Three Wishes:  Clara has discovered a genie’s lamp.  What would she wish for?  Her wishes could include what she would wish to be if nothing stood in her way, what material thing would she want, and what one thing would she banish from existence?

Paint Swatches: What colors does your character choose for her private spaces?  For the public areas of her life? Why don’t do the two coincide?

Dress Up: What does your character wear?  Go beyond style. What colors does she wear?  What outfit does she own but she’s never worn it and why does she hang onto it?

Reading Material: Print books or e-readers?  What is on your character’s coffee table or public book space?  Are these things she’s read?  If not, why has she chosen them? How does this compare to what’s on her bedside table?

These are just some of the exercises I use to get to know my character better. When I am done, not only will I know how she dresses and her home decorating style, I’ll have set up Pinterest boards that highlight her taste.  And the funny thing?  As I’ve been contemplating this, the plot is starting to come together.

5 Minutes Here.  5 Minutes There.  It is all starting to add up.


SCBWI: Anti-Harassment Policy

In light of recent news in the children’s publishing world, SCBWI has put a new anti-harassment policy in place.  NOTE:  Anti-harassment.  I’ve seen a few people call it a harassment policy.  No.  Anti-harassment.

The reworked policy holds all faculty, staff, and participants to the same Code of Conduct which states that prohibits harassment which includes but is not limited to:

  • Deliberate intimidation, stalking, or following.
  • Sustained disruption of talks or other events.
  • Inappropriate physical contact.
  • Unwelcome sexual attention.
  • Abusive verbal comments.
  • Quid pro quo – sexual harassment that occurs when one in an authority position requests sex or a sexual relationship in exchange for professional consideration or favors.

The policy notes that people can still disagree with each other and also deliver critique because “SCBWI continues to welcome and appreciate presentation of controversial ideas, free speech, and creative artistic expression.”

If you are an SCBWI member or attend SCBWI events, please read the policy and procedures here.  A formal reporting procedure is in place and all complaints will be investigated.  Educate yourself.  Keep your eyes open.  And, if you see a problem, step up, speak out and help make our community a safer place.