Category Archives: Getting Things Done

What 4 Activities can make you a Top-Notch Writer?

What are the essentials for your progress as a writer?

Briefly, they are: Writing, Reading, Studying, and Thinking.

Are you writing enough?

We all know writing helps us improve our writing skills. So this will be brief.

Write a lot, and not just in your chosen niche. Any writing helps move you in the direction of being as good as you want to be.

  • Keep a writing journal that records your insights and writing experiences and anything else you find meaningful.
  • Write an ad for your up-and-coming book.
  • Write recipies.
  • Write anything, including your chosen niche.
  • Using words, recalling the right words, better words, stuggling with syntax–it all moves you forward to some degree.

Are you reading enough?

In the evening, especially after a hard day at it, I like a good TV show. Currently it’s CSI:NY. I think well written dramas can add to our story-telling bag of tricks.

But I don’t want to indulge that too much. It’s like desert after a good nutritious meal. First the meal, then the reward.

There is that all important reading within your niche’s range. Study your competition, find out what’s being read, and how those author’s go about putting together their pieces. Beginnings. Endings. Style. Word-choice–all very important.

There’s reasearch you need to do.

Holly Lisle advises us to read everything. That’s the eclectic approach where you read whatever and add grist for your creative mill, grocery items for your pantry. Fuel for your subconscious mind’s engine.  Anyway, random is fun.

And you studying too?

A craftsman studies his trade, and artist his tools, and even plumbers need to learn skills and essential knowledge. All benefit from exposure to the work of accomplished practicioners. Are you not just reading fiction-writing how to books or copy-writing how-to courses, but studying, and doing the exercises–even if you have to make them up–that can accelerate your growth as a writer? Are you reading that short story or novel and getting caught up in it, and then forgetting to give it some close scrutiny to learn exactly how the author did it?

And finally, are you thinking though it all?

Nutrition involves eating, digesting, AND assimilating your food.

Until you have done all the above AND made it yours by discovering your own insights and confirmations of all the good points you have come across, until it flows out your fingers hitting the keyboard’s keys, until it’s so much a part of you that you find that writing knowledge and wisdom popping up in your finished pieces–is it really yours?

Which of these activities have you found most helpful to your growth as a writer?

What do you do with all the Information?

Writing is all about information, getting it, understanding it, communicating it to others.

How do you get your information? And how to you record it so that you can find it later?

My own scenario often goes like this: I come across a juicy piece of info I want to keep, remember  and find later. My favorite mode is eclectic, gathering it from wherever. But when saving it, I  often take the easy route: I put it in a Word file and save in in a folder on my hard-drive.  I have a large hard-drive, so If I don’t name the file and/or folder in a findable way, it can be like figuring my way through a maze later to re-locate it.

That can really knock me out of my writing zone—especially if I can’t find that info after looking for it for a while.

Back to you.

You’re coming across information all the time, some of it you want or even need. What do you do with it? Can you find it next week, two months from now, a year?

Even though I often yield to the temptation to just chuck it into a file and save it, I do like to organize it. So what are the options? And what’s good about each?

Here are my thoughts–along with the pros and cons for each:

1.  Save it in a file

Pro: This makes the info available and easy to clipboard and manipulate here and there when writing, or otherwise. It’s usually nicely readable too.

Con: But, as I mentioned above, can I find it quickly and easily later? Sometimes, too, it’s all-too-easy to delete it when that’s the last thing I want to do.

2.  3 x 5” cards (or a notepad)

Pro: No batteries. Easy to carry, quick and easy to use. Later, cards can be shuffled easily into different arrangements to choose the best order for writing. And they can be physically filed. In fact, they are electronically undelete-able.

Con: If you like things in your computer so that you can work with them there, you have to type the cards into files. Also, you can misplace or lose them. And, if you’re in a hurry and/or your handwriting is poor (like mine), they can be hard to read after the fact.

3.  Use a “notes” program, like Evernote or Microsoft’s OneNote or similar.

Pro: These programs have indexing and notetab features that make your info pieces much more findable.

Con: It can be either hard to take them with you or at times, when you can, you do not have them with you.

4.  Your smart phone.

Pro: Easy to carry, and you usually have it with you. Your notes are downloadable.

Con: Unless you’re a texting whiz (I’m certainly not), recording your inspirations can be slow going.

5.  TheBrain–now this is different…

.Pro: It not only can help you organize your thoughts in an organic-outlining fashion, it’s one of the easiest to learn and use brainstorming programs I’ve found.  You can record your ideas, then copy them and next output them via your clipboard into Word, for example, where they wind up in a neat outline format, then further develop them–if you want.

Another key feature is that ability to attach files from your computer and links from the Web–to any thought (a “thought” is an individual  idea written onto TheBrain screen). This creates a little icon at the left end of the thought. Then merely clicking on the thought’s icon opens the file or webpage in its own window.

A couple cons: (1) the notes feature is a bit awkward to use (but works), and you can open any note in its own window. (2) And, to keep attaching files after the 30-day pro-version trial period, you have to buy the pro-version (there are several options for this), which is rather expensive.

But here’s some key  info:

If you use DropBox to store you most-used files, you can go online to your DropBox account and drag and drop files/folders (their URLs) onto a thought on TheBrain screen. They are then clickable just like a weblink. (You can continue attaching weblinks even on the free version, which you get to keep).

I love my “TheBrain.” I get to keep the free version, which is quite powerful, forever.  I downloaded one to my laptop too.  I use it for brainstorming scenes, recording webinar notes on the fly, and noting down my ideas and developing them.  ALSO, it’s become an updated index to my hard drive, at least for the files I use most often.

I’ll leave the many other features (including in the free version) for you to discover if you download it. What the heck–it’s free! And it’s handy software to have. (You can get it free at

So those are some of my ideas on organizing information.

Do you have any ideas to can add?



Want your book to have more Depth?

Does your story seem a bit thin to you? Lacking  in the substance you were hoping for? Or just too simple or lifeless on the page?

You’ve slaved away and there it is on the computer monitor, but it seems to need something more, maybe a more intricate plot complete with twists and turns, and surprises, and even some humor? Maybe your how-to book could use some important subpoints so that your reader gets it more clearly.

A story—or any piece of writing–is like a tree.

A strong and healthy tree can withstand most storms. A sapling often cannot. It takes growth and some time for it to develop roots and dig down deep in the soil for nutrition to grow resilient.

Very likely, your story or essay can grow too. Perhaps it needs the nutrition of insights, new ideas, connections, surprises, twists, and at times to double back on itself. Does your piece need to branch out?

How can we cultivate such a story? How can we write such a book?

First, don’t be in a hurry.

Second, think it through.

Brainstorm it , ask yourself questions, look at your scene through your characters’ eyes. Program you subconscious mind with those questions and put them to work behind the scenes.

You can make yourself alert to any information you seek.

I do this by making a habit of looking for what I need. This tells my mind that I want that info, really want it. Here’s an art illustration: Let’s say I want to draw Victorian houses. Driving through neighborhoods, I look for them. Do this enough, and I am “programmed.” The result is that whenever I come across such houses–in magazines, on the residential block, in a movie–I take special notice.

(Anybody know the technical term for that? I tried Googling it but couldn’t find it.)

Third, carry a pad and pen with you wherever you go.

So that when those ideas come, and they can come quickly and unexpectedly, you can record them before you lose them.

Fourth, do the research you have been putting off.

It can lead to new ideas, new directions, new surprises. Maybe a whole new subplot.

Fifth, organize it!

Make it usable and readily-accessible. I summarize, write lists, and have them handy for my re-writing work. My lists and summaries contain things I want to be sure to remember as I write and re-write. Things I need to do or to include.

Now I’m a rather organized person by temperament. I love planning, sometimes more than the writing! So this all comes easily to me. I enjoy it. But it does take some work: but it’s work that pays off. I put clickable icons to my lists and summaries on my desktop. (I have quite a few of them now, and they are convenient).

Sixth, List important Points from good Books on Writing Craft.

I get some of my best ideas when reading books, blogs, and essays on how to write fiction as well as nonfiction books.  The points in them often alert me to things I want to include.

Seventh, be open to fresh ideas from any source.

A couple days ago I was with friends at the movies. The latest James Bond spy-thriller.  It was quite good–and long! I had been searching for an enhanced ending to my novel. And while watching this movie, I got it. Big time. There I was scribbling away with my fountain pen and turquoise green ink (a lovely color by the way) on a small notepad in the near-dark. No one even looked at me.

If you try my suggestions above, I predict you’ll get some good ideas and find your work taking on additional depth.

Tell me, what do you do to add substance to your writing?


Are you Busy, Way too Busy? Want to get more done and on Time?

Most of us are busy, some very busy, maybe too busy. We writers have a lot to do or at least a lot we’d like to get done.

I still want to get a lot done.

As I get on in years, I don’t want to accomplish less, I want to accomplish more! There are a number of things I want to get done currently, and sometimes they can be overwhelming. Maybe they can be for you too.

I’ve got a solution I want to share with you. I think it can help.

I do a lot of thinking in the shower, sometimes I forget really good ideas. This morning a plan occurred to me. I didn’t forget it. An idea that can help me make progress on my main projects steadily:  I think my plan could work for you, or at least your version of it.

One thing at a time.

Years ago, a friend who was good at getting things done at his insurance agency told me the key to working a to-do list. Work on one thing at a time and get it done, then move to the next.  Don’t keep jumping from one thing to another.

Add to that, a to-do list written in the order of priority, and you have a plan.

In other words the idea is to work on one major step forward with your project at a time. Go for quality, not speed. Get it right, at least as right as you can at that point in time. And then move to the next step.

Work daily on one or a few projects.

This way you move steadily forward. And usually sooner than you hoped, you’ve accomplished a lot.

Micahel Linenberger’s Advice

He’s called the “Efficiency Guru,” in his excellent books on time/workday management (The One-Minute To-Do List ebook and Master Your Workday Now!) advises us to  keep the major projects, those we work on daily, to a few, like two or three, and make them real priorities, do them first.  He has a category for them: “Critical Now” for items to be done today without fail.

This way, you can keep a few projects going manageably, sanely, comfortably.

Try it. I think you’ll  like it. Modify it to fit your needs and way of working.

Right now I’ve got to get on my projects.  After breakfast that is!

P.S. Do you have any project/time management tips you can add?