Category Archives: Commentary

Novel Reference Journal

Neo and Notebook

Every author has their own process of writing a book. Mine has developed over the past six or seven years to use National Novel Writing Month to jump start a single long term project each year. I use the energy of my fellow wrimos to push myself to writing, but there is more to the process than simply showing up for write-ins during the month of November. I also set aside the month of October to plan my novel and December to do the first rough editing of it.

One of the first things that I create for a new novel project are an outline, character sheets, location and object descriptions. I start by brainstorming ideas in a composition book, writing these down by hand with my fountain pens in ink colors that suit my mood. I condense these ideas into plot points in another section of the notebook until I have a rough story line.

At this point, I move the plot points into my computer, using each bullet point as a scene file in my Scrivener program. I don’t name chapters or try to lock them into position, I’ll wait and finalize that once the rough draft is completed. My file names are simple descriptions of what happens in the scene with a little more detail written into the “index card” portion of the Scrivener file. In the research section of Scrivener, I set up my reference files. This is not the final step in my process, although I realize that for many people this is the point where they would start drafting because they write their stories in Scrivener via a laptop.

I find that I do not enjoy writing my novel draft in Scrivener, there is too much temptation in the internet or other distractions if I am in front of a computer. Instead I like to draft with a digital typewriter, a machine known as an Alphasmart Neo. The Neo has several advantages in the drafting process. First, it has zero internet connection and it keeps me from distraction when I write. The machine is difficult to edit on so it keeps me moving forward in the writing process. I tend to write around 50% more words when I use the Neo as apposed to writing a draft on my desktop. Finally, the Neo has the advantage of not needing a power plug. I can write anywhere on a couple of AA batteries for 700 hours. However, without a laptop to view Scrivener, I also have no access to my reference notes when I’m on the go. This is especially critical when I’m out at write-ins for Nanowrimo in November.

Filofax Writing Journal with NeoMy solution is to create a second reference book, but instead of keeping it digital, I write it on paper. This way my information is always available to work along side my Neo and I don’t need to rely on finding a power plug or to rely on my smartphone. In years past, I’ve used a personal sized Filofax to organize my notes. The personal size was small enough to tuck into my writing kit and the rings allowed me to move the papers into a different order. However, after a year or two of this system, I began to discover that the smaller page size was too small for all the notes that I like to bring. It forced me to write everything smaller or to print my information by cut and paste onto pre-punched paper that was not suitable for the fountain pens that I enjoy writing with. I longed to move up to an A5 size Filofax, but the binders are rather expensive.

This year, I was browsing the A5 sized Filofaxes, intending on picking one up for my yearly reference journal, when I happened upon the Staples ARC system in Junior size. Junior is the same size as A5. I could choose covers of polycloth (plastic) or of leather. The pre-punched paper came in lined notes, quads, or projects. A “notebook” purchase with a polycloth binder came with .5” rings and 60 sheets of notepaper. It was the right size and more than enough pages to create a workable reference journal for my novel project, with room to expand if need be. The price was a mere $14. I decided that it was time to try something other than a Filofax.

I purchased the following for my 2014 Nanowrimo Journal:

    A black and white polycloth cover
    .5” black rings
    Black A5 plastic dividers with stickers
    One plastic ruler
    A pair of large rubber bands designed to keep the journal closed

When I brought the journal home, I organized it with the black section dividers and labeled each section with the following:

    Outline
    Characters
    Locations
    Objects
    Notes

ARC Journal - Outline IndexAt the front I placed a 2014 Nanowrimo Sticker to decorate the journal a little. I labeled the project, my name and the year. It will make this easier to look over years later when it is in storage. My Outline section has two parts. The front of the section has a checklist of all the scenes of my novel. Behind this index, I write the scenes again, but I also put in a paragraph description of what the scene is about, basically the information that is in my Scrivener “index card”. My ruler stays in the scene summaries at the point where I’m writing the story to make that section easier to find.

At the end of each writing session, I will upload the text from the Alphasmart into Scrivener on my desktop. I check off each completed scene in the journal index so that I know it is done when I’m away from my computer. No more accidentally writing the same scene twice, I can see my progress in my work, and I gain the satisfaction of writing that check mark. It is a little reward for me.

This year, I’m continuing work on a novel I started back in 2011. Several of the scenes for the story are already completed. They are in a different Scrivener project file so I don’t count them toward this year’s word count, yet I want to see them in my outline so I get a good idea of where all the scenes fit in the story. They are incorporated in my checklist and summaries, but I have pre-checked them in the index and wrote a note in red ink in the summaries to let myself know that these scenes are already finished. Again, I don’t want to accidentally write scenes that I do not need to.

ARC Journal - Outline SummariesThe other sections of my notebook contain my character sheets, location descriptions, object descriptions and a section for notes. Mainly the note section holds blank pre-punched note paper for the ARC Journal so that I can add new pages on the fly.

One of the surprises I had with the ARC Journal is that the paper is of a heavy grade that is very friendly to my favorite fine nib Platinum Plaisir fountain pen. The Coleto Gel Pen that I use for color coding also works well with the paper. I like the way the note paper is printed. I feel it gives my journal a more professional look. The final extra I purchased for the journal were the rubber bands. I use one to keep my ARC Journal closed and it works flawlessly. The ARC tucks into my writing kit smoothly, never opens or mangles the pages, and the polycloth seems to slide into my bag far easier than the composition notebooks or Filofaxes I’ve used in the past.

I write with a lapboard under my Alphasmart Neo and I’ve discovered that the pull out mouse board that comes with it makes a perfect ledge to hold my ARC Journal. It keeps it off the tabletop at coffeehouses so my notebook doesn’t get smudges or wet if a coffee drink happens to spill nearby. I’ve been very pleased with this year’s journal during my writing adventures.

What sort of notebook do you use? Let me know in the comments.

Guest Post: Leslie Ann Moore

Leslie Ann Moore recently was interviewed here on No Wasted Ink, featuring her latest novel A Tangle of Fates. Her experience with gaining a new cover for her novel is an interesting tale and she offered to share it with us all on the blog. Welcome Leslie! It is good to have you back.

Author Leslie Ann MooreMost authors, unless they are self-published, have no say in the design of what is arguably the single most important factor in drawing the notice of a browsing, potential reader to a book.

A well-designed cover piques a potential reader’s interest and can entice him/her to pick up the book or click on the image in order to read the blurb or a sample chapter. A poorly designed cover will do just the opposite.

Even if an author is allowed by the publisher to have some input into the cover-creation process, many times the finished product bears little to no resemblance to what the author had envisioned. The cover is what it is. The author’s approval is of little consequence. If she hates it, she has no choice but to grit her teeth, accept it and hope the marketing people responsible for the design know what they’re doing.

The original cover for A Tangle of Fates, the first book in my new science fantasy series, did not turn out as I’d hoped, despite my having some say in the creative process. The story takes the Snow White fairytale and turns it on its head. What if Snow White was fated to be a revolutionary, instead of a pawn? I wanted a cover that depicted a young woman of action. At the same time, the image had to convey that this story takes place on an alien planet, no matter that the heroine wears 19th century Old West-style mens clothing and is brandishing a six-shooter.

With respect to the artist, he did capture my heroine’s face beautifully, exactly as I imagined. However, I felt the image was static, where I’d envisioned a more dynamic scene, one in which my heroine was depicted in motion. An illustration of a scene from the book, either faithfully or symbolically rendered, was more what I’d had in mind.

Deciding I had nothing to lose, I approached my publisher, Muse Harbor, and made a proposal. I offered to commission an alternate cover, paid for out of my own pocket. Fortunately, they were receptive to the idea. I found my own artist and art directed the cover until it was exactly as I wanted. The image now conveys motion, danger, and the alien-ness of the planet on which the story is set.

A Tangle of Fates Book CoverMuse Harbor accepted the new cover, for which I’m both grateful and relieved. They paid attention to the overwhelmingly positive response to the new image when

I posted it on FB and wisely conceded. I can’t thank them enough.

My experience is not common at all. I was only able to pull this off because of an especially friendly relationship with the owners/editors of Muse Harbor. However, I hope my success will encourage other authors at small presses to at least speak up if they have a strong negative reaction to a cover for their novel. Who knows? It might result in a new, better cover!

Kidding Around at the OC Children’s Book Festival

People at the Book Festival 1

When I arrived at the Orange Coast College campus, I was not sure what to expect. I had heard of the Orange County Children’s Book Festival for years, but because I did not have children, I had never gone. I decided that this would be the year I changed that. It was a beautiful southern California day of bright sunshine, a cool breeze and temperate temperature. I discovered ample parking in the campus lots with signs clearly stating that I was free to park without a permit or a charge.

It was a short walk between buildings to find the fair, which was free of charge to enter. There were large canopies everywhere, each one filled with authors, exhibitors and educational vendors. There were booths with tutoring services, illustrators, and plenty of authors that specialized in children’s books. A large main stage dominated the open area with a few smaller stages for other child friendly entertainment available. One popular booth had a kitchen and cooking demonstrations. Many of the Moms stopped there to catch a cooking show and relax in one of the shade covered chairs.

Wow. All The Children!

For every adult there were at least two to three kids running about. Most were between the ages of 3 to around 12 years. There was plenty for them to do; from having their faces painted, to making bookmarkers, listening to live storytellers on the stage, or stopping to pose for a photo with various “monsters” in bright costumes. The trackless train that wended its way through the festival seemed to be popular with the little ones. The ride was full every time it passed me while I was there. I did not see many children thumbing through books, they had far too much energy for that, but their mothers did seem to stop and look over the book booths with an eye toward purchasing. I liked that the Children’s fair was enclosed by the college buildings, so even if the little ones were running about, there was no danger of them running off too far.

There were dozens of authors with tables promoting their YA or children’s books and there was no way to review them all. However, a few struck my interest.

Nikki White - Author and BallerinaNikki White’s table was not far from the main stage. For an author, this might prove to be deadly since you are off the walkway, but in Nikki’s case, her booth decor and striking ballerina costume drew people over. Her book is called Prima: The Ballerina and it is a book designed to teach ballerina dancing to children who might not have access to instructors.

The illustrations in her children’s instruction book were created by her husband Ethan White who created a posable doll that the couple later photographed in the various dance positions being discussed in the book. It created a colorful and friendly character for children to relate to.

Dani Dixon - Illustrator and AuthorDani Dixon is an artist connected with Tumble Creek Press. It is a website of comic books, webcomics, trading cards, and more. Dani had several portfolio books of her artwork on display at the children’s book festival which was quite intriguing.

Dani-s artwork

My last highlight is a small press that had booked a double table and featured a full stable of children and YA books. Ink Smith Publishing is a small independent publishing house with big aspirations. Their authors and editors work together to develop books, marketing plans, and sales. They have only been around since 2012, but they are growing steadily. Their books sell internationally, including Canada and the UK.

Ink Smith Publishing

I enjoyed my time at the Orange Country Children’s Book Festival. I found it well attended by several hundred people, the majority of them small children with their mothers or fathers. There was far more there than books and authors, the exhibitors offered a great deal for parents and homeschoolers to learn from. It was a comfortable event with plenty of restrooms available, a food truck court and wholesome entertainment on the various stages. All of the authors had full tables and professional style canopies to protect them from the sun.

If you are a YA or children’s book author, it is an event you should consider attending. Authors of adult books might want to think twice. While there were people of all ages at the event, it did attract children the most.

Main Stage at Book Festival

Storyteller Booth

People at the Book Festival 2

Cooking Pavillion

Tips For Successful Author Readings

Wendy Van Camp SpeaksAuthor readings are a great way to present your new book to the public. It allows you to give a personal sample of your writing, interact with potential readers, and can turn into a sales event. There are many venues to set up a reading location: bookstores, libraries, seminars, book clubs, restaurants and even private homes. In my area, the writer societies have “salon readings” on a semi-regular basis. If you are a paid member of the society, you can usual find a space in their advertised reading events. I am finding that these events are well attended, with 20 to 30 audience members and some record the readings and turn them into podcasts to go onto the web. It is a win-win for both the writer and the readers because it is a great way for writers to present themselves to new fans and for fans to find authors that interest them.

I have prepared a few tips on getting ready for a reading based on my former experience as a talk show television host. These are some of the things I’ve done to get ready to go “on the air” during my younger days when I hosted “Flowers by Rod”, a how-to program about flower arranging and “Class Act”, an interview talk show.

Rehearse

Remember that a reading is performance art. You are “on stage” the moment you walk into the venue. No matter how many people are there, you want to make a good impression. Choose three or four short passages from your novel. You may only read one or two at the salon, but it is good to have alternate options available if needed. Read your selections out loud while facing a mirror in the privacy of your own home. If you own a video camera, consider video taping your reading performance so you can view it and make any corrections necessary.

Wardrobe

Yes, it is difficult to watch one’s self on television, but remember no one has to see it but you. This is also a good time to select wardrobe. You can see for yourself how you will appear to the audience if you record yourself in your wardrobe choice. Does the fabric move with you? Does the outfit reflect your mood as an artist? Most authors wear clothing that is dressy casual and have something that pops that members of the audience might remember. If you are female, an artistic piece of jewelry is often a good idea.

Biography

You should prepare a written bio to take with you. Often times you will hand this to the moderator, who will introduce you to the audience before your reading. However, sometimes you will be expected to introduce yourself. Keep it short and if possible, humorous. Practice your bio information so you can recite it naturally when needed. As a television host, I would often sit and chat with my guests for a short time before the program and base my introduction on this, but I feel that it is best to be prepared with something in writing too.

Timing

Do not read too long. I would prepare no more than ten minutes of prose to read. When you practice your readings at home, make sure you time it. Ten minutes may not sound like a long period of time, but for a performance, it is substantial. Think about how long a typical television segment on a television program is. That is what you should be aiming for.

After your reading, you should be able to take questions from the audience. You will get typical questions such as:

Where do you get your ideas?
What do you use to write with?
Who are your favorite authors?
Why did you become a writer?
What inspires you to write?

Be prepared to answer questions such as these ahead of time. The readers are seeking a more personal connection with you as an author. They want to know what is behind the story you’ve written, the deeper meaning that is not readily apparent.

Performance

Do your best to relax when reading your work. Stand comfortably and speak clearly. Do not bury yourself in your words, try and look up from time to time and make eye contact with the audience. During question and answer sessions, talk directly to people, remember to smile, and just be yourself.

If you can calm your nerves, your performance time is a wonderful way to gauge how your audience reacts to your words. It is similar to when you are in a critique group and have someone else read your story out loud and then you the author can sit back and gauge the reactions to the story. What is great about a reading is that the audience are not always fellow writers, they are the true public that reads your work. Seeing their reactions can be a golden opportunity.

Publicize

Before your reading date at the Salon, make sure you announce it via your social media platform. Post on your website, Facebook, Google+, and Twitter. Send out a press release to shopping guides with calendars of community events or to your local paper.

Books

Bring a box of books to sell at the event, fliers or cards with links to your ebook seller sites, or if you are in a bookstore, make sure your book is stocked on the shelves. Double check with the bookstore about their policy of who sells the books to the audience. You want to be able to return to this location, so keep the store happy. If you do bring books, make sure that you sign them, even ones that the store may purchase from you to sell later. Some stores like to keep autographed books on a front table after your appearance is over for book collectors.

Fountain Pens For Writing

Prera Fountain Pen and Ink
Pen and paper is often overlooked as a method of communication. Most prefer to keyboard their written correspondence, then send it via social media, a text, or email. A pen and ink is out-dated and unneeded.

Young students do not learn to read or write cursive handwriting and make due with poor penmanship if they use paper at all. When a young student needs to learn a signature, he is often sent to an art class where the instructor teaches how to develop one.

Among adults, lack of using pens has stunted their penmanship skills. Many have forgotten how to write except for the most rudimentary of script. Cursive handwriting has become a lost art. Many people are at a loss at how it happened and wonder how they could return to having decent handwriting again.

I found myself numbered among these adults several years ago. I used my computer keyboard for most of my writing needs and seldom thought to use a pen and paper. As I returned to writing novels, I discovered that something was missing in my process. I did not retain my ideas and I had trouble brainstorming.

One day, I decided to use a workbook to help plot out book two of a trilogy. The author recommended getting a paper notebook and writing all the exercises by hand instead of using a keyboard. His method asked questions about the characters and I wrote a certain amount each day for a month. I bought my first composition book and pulled out a ballpoint and got to work. At first, the writer’s block was still with me. Within a week I realized that ideas for my book were coming quickly. When I looked back over what I had written, I could remember the details better than when I was writing on my computer. Within that month, the plot for my new novel sprang into being. I became hooked on using paper.

At that time, my handwriting was horrible. I could print, but my cursive had eroded to near unreadability. The long periods of time that I was brainstorming ideas were hard on my hand and I experienced finger cramping. I did not want to give up this new method of brainstorming on paper since it worked for me. Instead I began to explore pen options. That is when I discovered fountain pens.

Why Choose a Fountain Pen?

There are many benefits to writing with a fountain pen over a ballpoint. In writing with a ballpoint, you must exert constant pressure to the page and hold the pen at a low angle. This is what creates the hand cramping when you write for a long period of time. With a fountain pen, you use a more natural writing angle, around 45 degrees when you write. This wider angle is easier on your wrist. The fountain pen flows across the page with little resistance, no pressure needed to put ink on the page. This allows you to write for longer periods of time without cramping your hands. There are a variety of nibs to choose from to give more character to your handwriting.

Plain – This is most basic shape of a fountain pen nib. It gives a clean line in your choice of width, from very fine, fine, medium, broad, and double broad. Most people find that fine to medium will work best as a daily writer.

Italic – This is also known as a stub nib. The nib is a flat plain where it meets the page and it allows the writer to write thin and thick lines as he writes. It adds character to your handwriting with a little extra practice.

Flex – These are nibs allow their tines to widen when a small amount of pressure is applied to the nib. As the writer presses, a much wider line results.

Ink Me, Baby

Besides choosing a nib, there are around 600 different inks to choose from on the market. Some inks have unique colors, others shade between two or three colors, still others have a special shimmer that is known as “sheen”. Some inks are permanent and will last for hundreds of years without fading, others last in the sun for only a few weeks. There are even “invisible” inks that you need a UV light to see on the page. All the different brands of ink and their assortment of hues allows a writer to develop a certain look to their writing. It can make your notes distinctive unto themselves.

For me, discovering the fountain pen has aided my skills as a writer. I now create all my brainstorming notes, character sketches, and plot outlines on paper with a fountain pen. What I write never moves on the page, as it would on my computer screen, and it gives my ideas a more solid presence in my mind. For the actual writing of the drafts and editing, I move to the computer, but with far better results than I had in the past. One extra benefit to this new method is that my handwriting skills have returned with practice. I can write legible cursive and my printing is small and neat. Due to this, I’ve been gradually moving to smaller nib sizes so I can fill my pages with more notes.

Writing with a fountain pen is sheer joy. If you have not tried it for yourself, I recommending buying an inexpensive starter fountain pen. See how it might improve your own writing process.