Blogging was not high on my list of priorities today. But I’m trying to be better at being consistent, so I’m taking a minute to update and using this post as a place to lay out my projects and prioritize what needs to happen first. So this is what I have in front of me:

  • New beta read! I’m most excited about this one, so it’s probably going to get top slot. I love reading new books from new writer friends, and this looks like a good one.
  • Rewriting. This is something I’d love to lock myself up and devote my day to, but it’s the absolute least pressing. But I’m so excited about how this novel is turning out! It’s a plot I’ve been tossing around and reshaping for years, and it’s finally coming together.
  • Door prizes. I’m pulling together the door prizes for my launch party next Saturday, and I’m SO EXCITED! They look amazing. I’ll post a picture once it’s all done.
  • Other launch party prep. I’ve got to decide which part I’m going to read, what exactly I’m going to talk about, etc.
  • Layout design. I’m designing the interior layout for another author’s book and loving every minute of it. It’s good to be back on the editing/design side of the profession. Being a writer is my first and foremost passion, but I sure love the editing role as well. It’s been a couple of  years since I’ve done it professionally, but I’m hoping to get more into it in the near future.

Okay, time to get moving here. What are you working on today?



With the end of NaNoWriMo, I’ve plunged back in for the final edits and design of Stone Alliance. It’s been a JOY. You have no idea. Writing is my first and truest love, but honestly, editing work is not far behind. There’s something so satisfying about nitpicking and fine-tuning, and I LOVE that I get to do my own layout design this time around.

As I go through this, I want to share a few tips for other authors who are looking to learn more about designing their own layout. Of course, you can always hire out for layout design, but if you want the control and want it to look professional, I can help you out.

Now, my first tip to anyone planning to lay out their own book is to get Adobe InDesign. However, you have to subscribe to the ENTIRE Creative Cloud to get that one program, and if you’re on a budget like me, that’s not the best option. So I’m working with Microsoft Word. Since most people have that (or the Mac equivalent), that’s the program I’ll use to give any technical details.

So where do we go first?

I’ll start with my favorite, most underused function of word processors:


Why are paragraph styles important?

They make it so super easy to make sure your formatting is consistent across your entire manuscript. Instead of finding every chapter heading and laboriously making them each 20 pt, bold Arial or something like that, you can click the heading, select your paragraph style, and–tada! It’s also great for the main text of your manuscript, ensuring that every paragraph is the same instead of having a weird paragraph that somehow ended up being 9 pt font instead of 11 pt.

ALSO, I like to mess with my formatting a lot and try different looks. This is the way to do it. You can change every chapter heading at once by adjusting the paragraph style, rather than hunting down and changing each one individually. Same with the body text.

So where do we start?

You know that weird bar on the Home menu in Word that has boxes titled “Heading 1,” “Normal,” “No Spacing,” etc?

styles bar (2)

Those are your paragraph styles. The default ones are fairly useless, which is why you make your own. Start by clicking this button.

styles bar circle

That will expand the menu. Click on Create a Style.

styles menu

I believe that in an older version of Word, this takes you straight to the control center of paragraph styles, but Word 2013 brings up a useless dialog box prompting you to name your paragraph style. Give it a pertinent name and click Modify.

style name circle.jpg

Then you get to the fun part. This is where you set your paragraph style exactly how you want it to be. But there are a few important things you want to check first:

  1. Make sure Style type is set to Paragraph.
  2. Change Style based on to (no style).
  3. If you want this style to show up in the style menu for all new documents (so you can use it again in another document), click the circle at the bottom that says New documents based on this template.

style dialog box important

From this main screen, you can format your paragraph style just like on the home menu: font, size, justification, line spacing, etc. It will show you below the formatting menu what your paragraph will look like.

style dialog box formatting.jpg

And there you have it! Your very own paragraph style to fit your very own work.

I like using paragraph styles even when I’m just hammering out drafts, because I can easily set every new document to my “Stories” paragraph style and have it look clean, crisp, and uniform, just how I like to read it.

Stay tuned for more layout design info! Next time, we’ll delve into some deeper aspects of text formatting.


Weeeeee did it!

I survived October! Can I get a cheer and some virtual brownies? Holy cow, guys, NaNoWriMo is going to be a piece of cake after this crazy month.

I finished my close edit of Stone Alliance earlier today and even started on the interior layout, since Scout was still sleeping when I hit the end. I love doing layout, guys. So much joy. And honestly, relief at focusing on how the words look instead of what they say. It’s a nice change.

Now it’s time to curl up, eat Scout’s trick-or-treating candy, and finish my NaNo outline while watching Arsenic and Old Lace. Happy Halloween, everyone–and good luck with the first day of NaNo madness tomorrow!

The secret to getting past page 1

Well, after my griping yesterday about not getting past the first page in my latest edit, fortuitous circumstances gave me just the right push.

You see, I had printed off the manuscript in hopes that having it on paper, rather than on the computer, would help get the process going. And it did, but not exactly how I expected.

When I pulled it out to work on it, I realized that, for whatever reason, page 1 hadn’t printed.

Which meant that I couldn’t get stuck on the first page.

And just like that, I had twelve pages covered in red ink. Magic!

Isn’t it funny how the world sometimes aligns just right? I guess all I needed was to get that first sentence out of sight, and then I could get rolling on the rest of it.

Scout even helped me mark it up this morning, when I so wisely left the stack of papers and red pen within her reach. She’s a helpful child.

I’m off to do a little more editing now, but I’ll be back tomorrow with the three-quotes-three-days challenge! Happy Thursday!

Getting past the first page

The past couple of weeks have been utterly abysmal in the writing arena. I have two manuscripts waiting for me to go another round of editing. I even have critique buddy’s comments to get me started.

But every time I look at the first page, I think, “I am going to die if I have to read this one more time.”

So I’ve been running away from those two manuscripts and outlining another project. Unfortunately, this is about the tenth outline I’ve attempted for this story, because it never comes together quite right. Which means that every time I look at it, I think, “I am going to die if I have to reorganize this plot one more time.”

Which means there’s been a lot of griping and whining around here and blaming my utter lack of motivation on the fact that Scout keeps waking up at 5:20 (!!) and so we’re all tired and cranky.

But it’s thunderstorming outside. So I’m going to go sit out on our front porch and hope that lightning strikes. Metaphorically, of course. Nothing like the raging forces of nature to spark inspiration, right?

How’s your writing going these days?

The Secret to Finishing a Novel

During my signing at Barnes and Noble, I had a great discussion about books and writing with the fabulous Julia. Somewhere in our conversation, she asked what made the difference for me in going from essentially a hobbyist writer to writing something publishable.

My first thought was my commitment to writing every day, but that wasn’t quite enough. There was a point in my life where I was writing all the time and never getting any closer to that finished manuscript.

The real difference came when I realized that I had been working for a year on the same project and hadn’t gotten past chapter ten. I had written and rewritten those ten chapters a billion and a half times, but the end of the story looked hopelessly out of reach.

What I had to do at that point was one of the most painful things I’ve done in my writing experience:

I banned myself from editing until I had a complete story in front of me.

It was hard, and I slipped more than once. I had to ban myself from even so much as rereading what I had written, and there were times when I literally had to close my eyes and keep working to stop myself from going back and fixing that horribly lame scene I had just written.

But once I hit the end, there were fireworks. I had a full story written out from beginning to end! It was full of holes, it was cliche, it was jumpy and rocky, but it was all laid out in front of me. With a complete, albeit terrible draft laid out before me, I could mold my story as a whole. Before, I was rewriting blindly, with no broader view of the story than the bits at the beginning.

I still struggle with holding off on the editing until I have a complete draft, but I’ve proven to myself again and again that it’s the only way for me to write anything worth reading.

Do you edit as you go or wait until the end of a draft? What kinds of changes have you made to improve your writing quality and efficiency?

Painful or simply complex?

Editors are amazing. Fabulous. Brilliant. I got my copyedits back yesterday and did a quick initial runthrough of the suggested changes. There were many magical changes that the wonderful Melissa wrought in order to shine up my manuscript to a bright polish, but among them was a subtlety that has escaped me through all these years of reading and writing:

torturous: causing torture; very unpleasant or painful; painfully difficult or slow.

tortuous: marked by repeated twists, bends, or turns; marked by devious or indirect tactics. (Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary)

Kiiiiind of an important distinction.

Happy writing!

Piano Lessons

When I was in high school, I memorized Grieg’s “Wedding Day at Troldhaugen” for a piano recital. It was thirteen pages long, and while I loved most of the song, there were two pages of slower tempo in the middle that killed me. For whatever reason, I could not get them into my head. And so, day after day, those were the pages that I had to practice, when really all I wanted to do was play through the pages that I loved. It was painful to restrain myself to playing only those two pages, but it eventually came together. Playing that song through entirely from memory remains one of the greatest triumphs in my memory.

Now I’m there again, only this time, it’s words on the page instead of notes. All I really want to do is look at all the nice, neat parts of my book that work well and flow well and sound clever. But there are these two chapters in the middle that are threatening to visit my nightmares for years to come. I kind of feel like I’m going to spontaneously combust if I have to read them one more time.

It’s hard to face the imperfections in your work. It’s painful to whack at them over and over again and feel like you’re cutting down the mightiest tree in the forest with a herring. But little by little, they come together. Patience, diligence, perseverance. It’ll come, it’ll come, it’ll come, it’ll come.

How do you get through the frustration of imperfection? What do you do to keep yourself focused on the problems that need to be solved?

PS If you need help staying focused, try this: place a thumb on either side of your forehead and bring your pointer fingers together to form a triangle. Point at your computer (or notebook or whatever) and shout “FOCUS!” as loud as you can. It works wonders with my piano students. You’re welcome! 🙂

No more racking my brain!

I take a certain amount of pride in my knowledge of proper word usage. I’ve been a word nerd since I was three. But I have never ever ever in my life been able to figure out whether it’s “wracking my brain” or “racking my brain.” The internet was no help; it told me both ways. I tried a dictionary, but it didn’t help either. I could see either word working based on the definitions I found.

So I was flipping through my Chicago today, looking for fun editing tidbits. (Yeah. You thought I was joking when I said I was a nerd.) I started reading through the Glossary of Problematic Words and Phrases (5.220 in the sixteenth edition), and lo and behold:

wrack; rack. To wrack is to severely or completely destroy {a storm-wracked ship}. (Wrack is also a noun denoting wreckage the storm’s wrack}.) To rack is to torture by means of stretching with an instrument {rack the prisoner until he confesses} or to stretch beyond capacity {to rack one’s brain}.

I don’t know how I never saw this in my hours of poring over Chicago, but there you have it. Now I’m headed back to RACK my brain over that clump of 70,000 words that I call a manuscript.

No Gold Coating

Tonight, as I was working away at my edits, it hit me hard:

When my book gets published, it’ll just be my words, naked on the page.

I don’t know what else I expected. I guess I figured that after it went through the publishing process, there would be some sort of magical gold coating on the words to make them shine brighter than normal words. Something that would set them apart from the words I used when it was just a manuscript, instead of a published book.

But there won’t be. It’ll be all the same words. All in plain black ink. Or plain black pixels, depending on your choice of reading medium.

It’s a little bit terrifying. It makes me look at my manuscript differently. It makes me understand why authors are never quite satisfied with their books, even if the rest of the world loves them. It makes me feel like I’m going to expose my guts to mob armed with pitchforks and torches.

All I can hope is that the mob sees a glint of gold hidden away inside all those plain black letters.