Reflection on writing

One of the most difficult–and magical–things about writing is that nobody will ever read exactly what you write.

No matter how carefully you write, how much sweat and how many tears, you put into your writing, or how throughly you revise, how deeply you sink into the page to make your experiences and emotions are put on the page exactly the way you want them, the way you feel them, your reader will read something different.

No reader sees the same story or poem you wrote, nor have you ever read the same story or poem your favorite writers give to you.

When you write, you dive directly into the page, caressing each word and massaging each sentence. But when your readers read, they never stare into your page. Everything they read, they read reflected onto an image at the back of their own pinhole projector, reflected by their own experiences, their own knowledge, their own interests and understandings of each word’s multiple meanings.

This might sound discouraging. Why work so hard on something when even the reader who loves it most won’t read exactly what you wrote?

This is where writing meets math. Stories put the communal in communication. What each reader brings to your story adds to it and makes it bigger by giving it more meaning and making it something more than you could possibly ever create on your own.

What’s more, when a reader rereads a favorite book, they bring to it all the experiences they’ve gained since the last time, plus whatever mood they are in today, bringing a whole new reflection and creating a new story. This is why rereading is valuable.

Just don’t think that you don’t have to work as hard because you realize your readers won’t read the same story you write. You owe it to them and to yourself to do the best you can on your side of the equation, to give them an image that they can build upon in their own reflection.

300 Consecutive Days of Writing

On Tuesday, I hit a writing milestone I would have told you was impossible a year ago, or six months ago, or three months ago: I wrote for my 300th straight day.

I’ve always been mostly a weekend writer. I told myself I couldn’t write much during the week because my writing day job sapped my energy. But last June I joined a group that had just attended a conference, with the goal of writing every day until the next conference, 306 days not counting Sundays because several members of the group prefer not to write on Sundays.

I had a couple false starts before the streak really took hold, but once it did, it became harder not to write.

I’ve been asked how I managed to write so many days in a row, even with a family and a demanding job and other obligations. Today, I’ll tell you what works for me. It might not work for you to follow exactly this same plan.

Define “Writing”

The first thing is to decide what it means to have written on any day. This definition really depends on you and your writing life. For me, any of the following count as writing:

  • Writing (or revising) for at least 15 minutes. It doesn’t have to be great writing. It just has to be writing. I find that, often, by 15 minutes I’m on a roll and it goes longer. But if I stop at 15 minutes, I’ve met my goal.
  • Critiquing. If I’m working with a critique partner, I can use my writing time to critique my partner’s work.
  • Coaching. I’ve had other writers asking me for advice or encouragement. If I spend my 15 minutes (at least) helping another writer get past an obstacle, I consider this writing time. This hasn’t happened a lot furing my streak, but there have been some days when I’ve used whatever time I had helping somebody else. For me, this counts.

It’s your definition, and there’s no wrong answer, as long as your definition helps you meet your goals as a writer. Researching your historical novel? Participating in regular community-building events? Count them, as long as you’re not really using those as an avoidance technique. Your goal, your rules.

Set Small Goals

If I had set out to write for 300 days, I would have failed in the first week. That goal is too big, and it’s unreasonable. I’ve managed it, but not on purpose.

When I started, I wanted to write one day, then three, then five, then a week, then ten days, and so on. I’m a big believer in small goals. The best way to lose 50 pounds, for example, is not to set out with the insurmountable goal of losing 50 pounds. It’s to lose three pounds, then another, then three more. 50 is impossible. Three is manageable. The same goes for writing.

In the past, it’s taken me years to write a novel. By keeping small goals, I wrote two in 2018. That shatters a lot of the things I’ve told myself about my limits. It’s still a struggle on a lot of days, but I know I can beat the struggle now, so I just do.

Be Accountable

It helps to have to report your progress. Several members of that group I mentioned earlier report our progress every Saturday.

I also use a habit app. Habit apps are designed to help you create (or break) a habit by reporting your success every day. The one I use is called HabitBull, but there are others that you might like better. The concept is simple: Every day I mark off whether or not I wrote that day. The app keeps track of my streak.

There’ve been days when I haven’t felt like writing, but then I look at the app and I see how many days in a row I’ve written, and I have to decide whether today is the day I want to start over.

And, if you want to have a set day off every week, that’s OK too. Make that part of your goal, and take that day off. If it’s part of your goal, your streak doesn’t end because you don’t write on Sundays. Count your week as six days, enjoy the break, and continue your own streak on Monday. Your goal, your rules.

Give Yourself Permission to Stop–Tomorrow

For the whole 301 days now, I’ve given myself permission to stop–tomorrow.

I know the streak’s going to end. I’ve known it from the first week. Just not today.

If higher priorities stop me from writing tomorrow, or even if I’m just too tired, I won’t feel bad about it. Writing’s a priority, but it’s not THE priority. It’s been a long time since I’ve passed the point where I’d feel like I failed if my streak ended. It’s going to end. Maybe it will end tomorrow. I’m fine with that. I’m going to write today, though, then we’ll see what happens.

In fact, this blog means I’ve written today. That’s 302 days. I might not make 303. But I made 302, and I feel good about that.

Word file to ebook: Two fast and easy methods

Have you ever wanted to make a quick & dirty ebook from a Word file? You could save as PDF, which is readable in most ereaders, but a PDF file isn’t as flexible as a regular ebook. It doesn’t flow and reformat for easy reading.

You probably want an actual ebook file, but Word doesn’t export directly to one of these file types. It’s not hard to do it yourself, though. This post gives you two ways to do it. Both involve additional software, but as long as you know how to download and install an app, and how to use Open and Save As, you don’t have to learn how to do anything else.

Both methods create an EPUB file, which can be read on most phones and tablets. At the end of this post, I’ll tell you how you can convert that EPUB so it can be read on a Kindle.

These methods won’t give you a professional-looking ebook, but with a little more work, you can do that too. That’s beyond the scope of this post though. All we’re looking for here is a way to create a simple ebook file.

And you don’t even have to be an expert computer user to create your ebook in only a few steps.

By the way, all of the apps mentioned in this post are free and are available on either Windows or Mac. I’m writing this on Windows, so some steps might vary slightly if you’re on a Mac.

Method 1: LibreOffice

LibreOffice is a great free alternative to Microsoft Office. You can use it to create a manuscript that is fully compatible with Word. There are even some things, especially when it comes to formatting the manuscript, that I like better in LibreOffice. But even if you’re a dedicated Word user, it’s worth it to install LibreOffice if you want to create an EPUB file.

Creating a perfectly readable EPUB file from a Word file can’t get much easier than this:

  1. Open your Word file in LibreOffice Writer.
  2. Click File > Export As > Export as EPUB.
  3. Fill in the fields in the screen that pops up if you want to, then click OK. You can even add a cover image if you’d like, but it’s not required.

That’s it. You get a quick and readable EPUB file that even splits the book at headings and creates a table of contents (as long as your chapters are defined using the Word heading styles).

Method 2: Word to Sigil

Personally, I like Method 1. It’s how I create my own EPUB files. But maybe you don’t want to install LibreOffice. Maybe you’d prefer to create your EPUB file from Word. You can’t do that directly, but you don’t have to install another office suite. You still need another app to do the conversion, but the app doesn’t have to be as big as LibreOffice.

Sigil is a free EPUB editor that you can use to do all kinds of fancy editing. If you want to, you can use it to create a professional-looking EPUB file, or edit an existing EPUB file, like the one you create using Method 1, so it looks better. All we’re doing here, though, is creating a quick EPUB file for reviewing in your ebook reader, so we won’t go into how to use Sigil. All you have to do is open and save your file.

  1. In Word, click File > Save As, and select the Web Page, Filtered file type. This converts your manuscript into a single HTML file.
  2. In Sigil, click File > Open, and select the HTML file you saved from Word.
  3. Click File > Save to save the HTML file as an EPUB file.

The EPUB file might lose some of your fancy formatting from Word, and it won’t have a TOC, but it is still perfectly readable in your ebook app.

Converting the EPUB file to Kindle

If you want to read your file on a Kindle, you have to convert your EPUB file to a format recognized by Kindle, such as MOBI. There are few apps that can convert your file, but the one I like is Calibre. Calibre is an ebook manager and editor that does a lot more than convert files, but all we’re doing here is a simple conversion.

  1. In Calibre, click Add Books, then add the EPUB file you created using one of the two methods above.
  2. In the Calibre book list, select the book you want to convert, then click Convert Books.
  3. Make sure the input format is EPUB and the output format is MOBI, then fill in the other blanks if you want to. You can add a cover image if you want, but it’s not required.
  4. Click OK.

To find the file, look for Path on the right side of the Calibre screen, then click Click to open. You can copy the MOBI file to another location if you want, such as your project’s working folder.

That’s all there is to it

That’s it. You now have a file you can read in your ereader. It might not be as pretty as the ebooks you buy, or have all the features you expect to find in a commercial ebook, but it’s easily readable. If you want to take the time, you can improve the look of your ebook by more carefully preparing your Word file and learning more about editing an EPUB file in Sigil or Calibre, but you don’t have to do anything extra if all you want to do is get the file to your own ereader.

Organize Your Writing Project With OneNote


If you use  Microsoft Office, you don’t need to look any further for software that will help you organize a writing project. OneNote is a great tool for keeping track of your research materials and notes, and even works great for writing those early drafts.

For example, the following sample notebook, named Writing Project, contains sections where I can track my research, plan the book, work on submission materials like a query and synopsis, keep notes, and write scenes.

For this example I’m using the OneNote app in Windows. Your screen will look a little different if you’re using the Office 365 version:

Back to the app. I’ve opened my notebook I call Writing Project. Down the left side, you see the sections I’ve created. If I open the Notes section, for example, I see the pages and subpages I created for that section:

You can, of course, set up your notebook to match your working style.

If you do a lot of your research online, your Research section will likely contain web pages you’ve found. It’s easy to put a web page into OneNote. You can set up OneNotew as a printer and “print” into your notebook. Most current browsers also have add-ins or extensions, so you can also add the OneNote Clipper extension and clip full or partial pages with a couple clicks.

Once your page is OneNote, you can highlight the relevant passages, like this one for my current project:

Highlighting is especially easy if you have a touchscreen and a pen (or finger).

OneNote can store just about anything: text, images, drawings (including things you draw in OneNote with your pen or finger on that touch screen).

This is a picture of a page in a book, which I took with my phone, saved to OneNote, then marked up in my notebook.

I even link to my manuscript file from inside OneNote, and to my submission tracking spreadsheet. I often keep a OneNote page pinned to my Word file for making notes as I write or revise.

OneNote is the most flexible and versatile tool I’ve found yet for managing a writing project. I can set it up how ever I need it for my work habits and the needs of a particular project. Everything I do in OneNote is saved to the cloud, so it’s available on any of my computers or mobile devices whenever I need it, wherever I am.

A Word About–Wait For It–Waiting

Waiting is hard.

For those of us who participate in Pitch Wars and similar pitch contests, the waits of several weeks seem endless. We wait for requests from mentors and wait to see if are works are chosen. Again, this is only the beginning of the waiting.

Even those of us who are not prone to high anxiety become anxious. All this waiting is nothing but torture, even though the wait is one of the shorter ones we’re likely to experience on our road to publication.

Waiting tends to raise anxiety. Self-doubts are more likely to creep in while we wait, and time seems to pass more slowly when it’s empty.  Whole articles have been written about the psychology of waiting.

For writers, though, waiting is a way of life, whether we like it or not. The length of time it takes to write a story or book, plus the even longer time it can take to revise, means we have to long a time between the start of our projects and their ends.

But when we finish, the real waiting begins. It can take weeks, even months, to get a response from the agents we query, if they respond at all. I recently got a response to a query I sent two years ago. The wait for validation that our hard work is loved by someone else is endless and excruciating. And it’s a wait we might put ourselves through dozens of times, maybe even a hundred or more, before we find an agent. IF we find an agent.

Then, even when we get our agent, there’s more waiting. We wait for an edit letter. We wait for a response to our edits. We wait for our agent to prepare her submission package for us. When our book is out on sub, we wait for editor responses.

If we are lucky enough to find a publisher. There’s more waiting. More revising, followed by more waiting. If a writer were to sign a book deal today–September 22, 2018–that book probably won’t come out until well into 2020.

There’s no way around it. We have to wait. All the time.

The best way to wait is to fill the time. Empty time feels like it passes more slowly than filled time. There are many ways to productively fill our waiting times:

  • Take some time off for self-care.
    Take a vacation or do something fun that takes your mind off the wait.
  • Start a new project. Participate #WriteTheWait activities.
    If you can get your mind on a new project, you’ll think less about the one you’re waiting for.
  • Research agents.
    Prepare a list of potential agents for this project, or for another one you’ve written.
  • Read. A lot.
    Reading is an essential activity for writers, one that tends to get neglected while we’re writing. Research your next project. Read for fun. Work through that TBR pile next to your bed. Just read.
  • Participate in writing communities.
    Twitter, Facebook, web forums, and local writing communities can help you get through your wait. They can help you learn your craft, help you find new books to read, lead you to new critique partners, and help you find friends.
  • Critique the work of others.
    When you’re waiting, it’s a good time to exchange manuscripts with critique partners and help each other develop your skills.
  • Take a class.
    You might take a writing class, or learn about something else you’re interested in. The class could be through a local school or library, an online service, or it might be one you design yourself from books and websites.

There are many more ways to spend your wait in a productive way that helps build you up as a writer and a person.

The one way you shouldn’t spend your wait is as a helpless ball of anxiety. If you let your anxieties take over, you’re more likely to develop doubts and negative feelings about yourself and your work. You might even start to post negative comments on Twitter feeds and other public places where the people who can help you in your career might see them and become less likely to work with you.

People in the publishing world, including potential crit partners,  want to work with writers who are positive and professional. If they get the impression that you might be hard to work with, they’ll find others to work with who are more pleasant to be around. They’re probably dealing with their own writing-related anxieties, and prefer not to add yours to their own piles of troubling thoughts.

I wish I could say there was some other way, but the fact is, we have to learn how to live with waiting. The best thing to do is to make the wait work for you.

Whatever you do, don’t let the inevitable pain of waiting kill your dreams. Stay positive, and have fun.

Overcome the Starting Block: Make a List

It doesn’t matter how many writing projects I’ve had. Whether stories, poems, or at my technical writing job, starting a new project is always the hardest part. I have a method, though, that helps me get over the getting started hump.

I make lists.

Before I start, I usually have a very bare-bones idea of something I want to do. It might be a character or a setting, or the beginnings of a plot. I take that seed of an idea and build on it with a list.

For example, I used to write songs with a friend in England, Francis Greene. One day, I really missed the ocean. Having grown up in California, the coast was always a very important place for me. So I started writing down some images from my cold, rocky Northern California beaches. Things like:

  • The water pulling the sand from under my feet
  • Seagulls
  • A foghorn near a lighthouse
  • Ocean spray
  • The pier
  • A ship on the horizon
  • Shells
  • Starfish
  • Hermit crabs

There were a lot more. Many of the items in my list didn’t make the final cut. This is often the case.

I didn’t list only items. I also thought of things I like to do at the beach:

  • Walk
  • Hunt for shells
  • Bark at the sea lions

Once I had my list, I rearranged the items. This is easy to do on a computer, and sometimes (especially if I’m listing plot points), the list becomes my outline. My favorite way to sort a list while brainstorming is to put each list item on a Post-It and stick them to my white board or wall, where I can move them around, group them, make connections, easily add to them, and whatever else comes to mind.

I’ll often use different colored Post-Its and different colored pens for different things so I can easily look at the board and see groupings. Like, maybe green notes are settings and blue notes are characters, and so on.

Once I start making a list, I have never been blocked. I find that as I write each list item, more thoughts and ideas jump into my head. Almost without effort, my brain builds associations between the things in my list, and story ideas and themes start to form.

My song, because I was missing the beach, took on a melancholy feel, even though that wasn’t the original intention. It became a song about loss and loneliness. Here are the final lyrics. See how many of my list items you can spot.

When You Were Here
(Rhoades/Greene, 1997)

The ocean breeze is blowing, fog is drifting in
It’s cool and damp, there’s no one here
The tide is pulling sand from underneath my feet
The sea lions play beneath the pier
Remember how we used to bark at them?
When you were here

Like that distant ship out there on the horizon
You sailed far away from me
You swore that it was nothing I had said or done, that
You just needed to be free

Across the rocks, a hermit crab scurries away
I find a starfish in the sand
The wind and sea, my wet hair clinging to my face
I always loved to hold your hand
Remember how we used to hunt for shells?
When you were here


I remember when I used to walk alone
But then we met and I walked with you
Loneliness was such a very special place
When we walked alone as two

The lighthouse beam, in vain it tries to pierce the fog
A foghorn warns the ships away
A gull is struggling, tries to fly against the wind
My tears disguised by ocean spray
Remember how we used to chase the waves?
When you were here



The ocean breeze is blowing, fog is drifting in
A foghorn warns the ships away
The tide is pulling sand from underneath my feet
My tears disguised by ocean spray
Remember how we used to love this place?
Wish you were here
Wish you were here
Wish you were here

You can listen to it, if you’d like, as performed by The Bicycle Riders (featuring Francis Greene). If you listen carefully, you can hear me being absolutely silent.

Exercise: Think of a place that’s important to your character. In Kidlit, this might be a bedroom or a classroom, for example. List key elements of that place. Include objects, but don’t forget to also include sensory things, such as smells and textures. Once you have your list, sort the items and make associations. Note any ideas that surface as you work with your list. Finally, write a scene in that setting. You don’t have to use every item in your list, but pay attention to how the items you don’t use affect your perception of that place.

Pitch Wars 2018: Boost My Bio

Hi, I’m Scott, and this is my fifth year in PitchWars. I’ve been a middle grade hopeful three times, and a young adult hopeful once. I’ve also been a middle grade mentee.

I’m from the San Francisco Bay Area, but I’ve been exiled to Utah for more years than I can count. It’s all my fingers and pretty much all my toes worth of years. I try to get back as often as I can, slipping in under cover of night like a ninja in a film noir, if there were ninjas in film noirs. Films noir. Whatever.

I’ve also lived in Austria and worked a summer in Germany. I speak German and Weanarisch.

This is me, the time I decided to try wearing a man bun:

Something doesn’t quite look right. Maybe I should have shaved first.

What I love about Pitch Wars

Even after being a mentee–which I loved–my favorite thing about Pitch Wars is the community. I have a lot of fun participating in the feeds and encouraging other hopefuls (and being encouraged by them), especially those who share my #pitchwarsmg blanket fort and lunch table.

Based on my experiences, I’ve written the Unofficial Pitch Wars Survival Guide, one way I’m paying back the community that has meant so much to me. It’s available for download free on my website. I hope other hopefuls find it useful.

My submission: The Historie of Henry the Fifth Grader

This year, I’m submitting my contemporary middle grade retelling of Shakespeare’s Henry IV and Henry V plays. It’s an idea I found in a short note in my idea file from 2008. When it became time to start a new project at the end of 2017, that note captured my imagination.  It feels like a weird choice of plays to retell in MG, but the challenge sounded fun. The end result is a lot different than my original note.

So what’s it about?

Now that he’s ten, Henry “Hal” Bolingbroke V wants to choose his own path and his own friends. But he’s a fifth grader at a school named after his great-grandfather, where his dad teaches and his mother works, so choice takes a back seat to expectations. Especially since Hal’s afraid if he disappoints his father, his dad will fall out of love with him like he did Hal’s mom.

Hal is elected captain of the ragtag school kickball team his dad coaches. Despite his parents’ disapproval, he’d much rather hang out with his older friends, who often get into trouble. Hal’s world changes, though, when his father is diagnosed with a terminal illness. Hal turns away from troublemaking and leads his team toward the championship tournament, determined to make his dad proud before it’s too late.

This is how I imagine the kids on Hal’s team. Hal’s in the top left corner.

My writing

I’ve been writing since before I was first published at the age of eight.

I have published a middle grade short story in Spaceports and Spidersilk and poems in Kolob Canyon Review and other small literary journals. I published an article in The Writer, as well as online markets. I am a technical writer and editor, and have been for a long time. I started with Atari, back in the late eighties, and now work for Adobe.

In addition to being a Pitch Wars mentee in 2017, I finished my Master of Professional Writing degree. I also have a B.A. in both English and Languages and an A.A. in Liberal Arts.
I am also a member of SCBWI and The Academy of American Poets, and a regular participant in a couple middle grade chats on Twitter. I volunteer at a local independent living facility for seniors, where I lead a monthly literary club.

One of my favorite writing accomplishments was the time one of my poems, “Buying Baseball Cards,” was put on display at the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame Library and was featured in a lecture by the Hall of Fame librarian at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it’s really a middle grade poem.

Most of the time, I work from my Schreibwinkl, my home office.

This has become my favorite place. I’m surrounded by pictures of writers, illustrations, quotes, and other things that inspire me.

Books are, of course, an important part of my hideaway.

My favorite part of PitchWars is hanging out with all the writers. I’m looking forward to meeting more hopefuls this year.


I like to read fairly widely, from kidlit to classics to medieval and ancient.

I’ve read all of Shakespeare’s works, most multiple times. I’ve also read the entire Shakespeare apocrypha and many plays by his contemporaries. Other stories I’ve written have a Shakespeare influence, especially my YA, but this is the first time I’ve attempted a direct retelling.

But I’m subbing a MG story, so here are some of my favorite MG books I’ve read recently, in no particular order (unless alphabetical is “particular”):

  • Chronicles of Prydain
  • Enginerds
  •  The Evil Wizard Smallbone
  • Fiendish Deeds
  • Half Magic
  • The Inquisitor’s Tale
  • The Last Boy at St. Edith’s
  • The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary
  • Mrs Smith’s Spy School for Girls
  • My Seventh-Grade Life in Tights
  • The Nest (the creepy one about the wasps)
  • Never That Far
  • The Night Gardener
  • OK For Now
  • Out of the Dust
  • The Riverman
  • A Tale Dark & Grimm
  • Treasure at Lure Lake
  • The Wednesday Wars

There are so many more.

Schreibwinkl: A Tour

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about my Schreibwinkl, my combination home office/mancave/refuge. So follow me. I’ll show you around.

It’s not hard to find the Schreibwinkl, thanks to the sign on the door.

People always ask, so i guess the words on the sign aren’t as obvious as you’d think.

Schreibwinkl is German for Writing Nook. It’s a reminder when I open the door that it’s time to work.

Lego Verba Mea is Latin. It means I read my words. But for me, it has a second meeting, my personal motto: Words are my LEGO.

OK, so maybe the sign is a little nerdy. But you haven’t seen nerdy yet. Let’s open the door.

The first thing you’ll notice is that you are greeted with insults, thanks to this great new Shakespeare Insults rug my wife just got me for my birthday:

You might also notice my unusual light switch:

Most likely, though, you’ll notice that there are desks everywhere. I’ve divided the room into workspaces, each with its own general purpose. Although I sometimes mix it up a little, for the most part, when I’m in each space, I know what I’m there to do.  We’ll get to those.

Let’s take a quick look around. We’ll start with the corner just inside the door.

There’s not much space here, so what I can do is a little limited. In my house, where there’s a space, there are books. This corner is no exception. This shelf has most of my medieval books.

The white board is often covered with sticky notes. I’m not planning anything at the moment, though, so it’s been taken over by my grandson.

Working around the room, we come next to my work corner.

I work from home much of the time, sometimes four days a week, so I spend a lot of time in this corner.

Under the window next to the work corner, is my writing desk.

Theoretically, this is where I do much of my writing. And it is, at least when I need a bigger screen. Much of my writing time, though, is spent untethered in the recliner in my cozy corner.

This is where I am right now, in fact. That bookcase has my writing craft books, most of my poetry books (although there are few places in my house where I hang out that don’t have poetry within easy reach), and some language and tech books.

The other corner has my desktop computer. It’s dominated by my Wall of Inspiration.

This was my personal writing corner before I got my Surface Book 2. Now I use it mainly for general computing and media. The hard drive with my digital jukebox is connected over here. The Raspberry Pi I used to build a distraction-free writing computer is in this corner too. I don’t use it much but I could, and that’s the important thing. I have another Raspberry Pi hooked up to another of the monitors on another desk, set up as a retro gaming station.

That’s the grand tour. There are all kinds of little details I might share with you sometime, like cable management strategies (important in a room with so much tech), toys and play spaces, and other little things that help make this space mine. If there’s interest, I can tell you more about these sometime.

I love this room. I shared a bedroom growing up, and never had a room of my own until the kids started moving out. This is my own space, and I spend a lot of time in it. I’m constantly tweaking it, making it a place I like to be, which is important for a room where I spend so much time working and writing.

Writing tools: Index Card app for Windows 10

Earlier versions of Windows included an application called Cardfile, which made it so you could create simple index cards and shuffle through them. Cardfile was useful for keeping track of contacts or recipes, but it was of very limited use for writers.

For Windows 10, however, there’s an app in the Microsoft Store that has become a regular part of my writing process. The app, called Index Cards, creates highly-customizable cards that can be used to track characters, settings, or anything else.

You can download the app for free, but to get the most out of it, I recommend shelling out the paltry $5 for the Pro version, which includes a number of useful features you’ll miss out on if you opt for the free version. The free version is still useful, though. Some of the features I’ll show in this post are not supported in the free version.

Cards can be created in a number of formats and styles. They can be colored, lined, blanked, or use a graph pattern. Templates exist for various list styles, a dot grid, and more.

To further help you organize your cards, you can attach colored tags to the top. You can type on the cards, or, if you have a computer that supports a pen (or fingertip), you can write on the cards, Cards are two-sided, just like the real thing, and you can use different designs for the front and back.

I can’t show you how I’ve used Index Cards to keep track of characters without giving away more about my story than I’m willing to reveal, but these samples should give an idea of some of the things you can do. I refer to my cards all the time as I write and revise.

Here’s a sample from my story, one that doesn’t give away too much:

Basically, you can do just about everything you can do with actual index cards, and much more. The only thing that’s difficult to do is shuffle cards. You can move them around a virtual tabletop, though, rearranging at will. You can use card and ink colors to easily organize types of characters, settings, or whatever.

Index Cards is easy to master, and it’s as versatile as you’d want paper index cards to be, with the added functionality of a well-designed computer program.

One of things I really appreciate about Index Cards is how responsive the developer is. For a free/$5 app, he can’t be making that much money, but he responds to user requests and updates his app frequently.

If you write on a Windows computer, and especially if you have a touch screen (but even if you don’t), this app is a must-have for organizing and tracking story elements.


Trim the Flab in Your Writing

We all want our writing to carry some weight. We hope our ideas have some heft. But we want the good muscle weight, not flab.

I found an online tool this week that helps spot the flab so we can cut down on some common sources of extra flab. The Writer’s Diet helps by pointing out these sources of extra rolls around the middle:

  • “Be” verbs, such as be, were, was, and is.
  • Abstract nouns and nouns formed from verbs
  • Excessive prepositions
  • Too many adjectives and adverbs
  • It, this, that, and there

There’s nothing wrong with having these kinds of words in our manuscript–just like there’s nothing wrong with the occasional slab o’ cheesecake– but the Writer’s Diet highlights them so you can see if you rely on them too much.

The way it works is you paste a sample of your writing, up to 1000 words, into a text box and click a button, and a few seconds later your text is highlighted with a bunch of colors. Here’s what it looks like when I paste in part of something I’m working on:

Overall, it’s not too bad, but I need to go in and replace as many of those be verbs as I can with stronger verbs. That change alone will greatly improve this opening.

Also, even though it says my prepositions are healthy, I see more than I want, especially when there are strings of two or more prepositions, or the same one appears too often close together.

I’m finding this site so useful that I now want to go out and buy the book the site promotes. But even if you don’t want the book, if you’re a writer you’ll find the site useful.