Here are some suggestions I hope you'll find helpful as you work on your manuscript.

Word Processors

You can write using a wide range of tools, from pen and paper, to a typewriter or on your computer using a word processing program. If you only feel you can write if you're at your kitchen table with a notebook and pencil, then so be it. Don't let anyone else tell you that you've got to do things a certain way. Of course, once you're ready to submit your work to a publisher or editor, you'll want to have it into some kind of digital format.

If you do choose to use a computer, most Windows-based computers have Wordpad. That's very convenient and cost-effective if you don't have access to another program. Others include MS Word, WordPerfect or my personal favorite, Open Office, which is a free version of MS Office.

Storage/Saving Your work

There are several options to choose from when it's time to save and store your work - to make it accessible to others who may have different programs, I strongly suggest using RTF (rich text format) - almost any word processing program -Windows, Mac or Linux -can open RTF documents.

I always suggest to my clients that they purchase a thumb drive as their primary place to save their work. Use at least two other places as backups - the hard drive on your computer, emailing it to yourself or a trusted friend, or an online storage space are all good secondary places. Save your work often- at least every five to ten minutes or so while you're working. Most word processing software will accept CTRL-S as a quick way to save on the fly. It's always a good idea to have at least one backup stored at another site.

Something else to consider in saving your work is how you set up the system. Some prefer to write each chapter in it's own document, numbering them so they stay in order in the directory you set up - I would suggest to add a word or two as description in each document's title - for example, "1 leaving the nest". Others prefer to have one huge document with the entire book in it, but there are drawbacks to this- the file can become corrupted, and if it does, your whole story is lost. One thing is very important- set up a separate directory (folder) to store all your files in it - if they're all "loose" inside your "My Documents" directory, you may miss some files, or end up with files that don't belong with your story on your thumb drive.

Writer's Block?

I think all writers come down with the dreaded writer's block at one point or another. There's no quick and easy way to get around it, but I've found a few things that may help.

  • Move away from the story altogether- reading a book from another genre or even watching a mindless show on television may get your brain working while you're not thinking about it.
  • Move to another spot in the story- if you're just stuck on where to go next at one spot in the story, move ahead and see if you can fill in there and "work your way backwards". I've talked to some authors who start at the end of their story, then "back up" until they're at the beginning - it may sound confusing, but it keeps their brain from getting bored.
  • Try re-writing someone else's story; this is your chance to use all the ideas you had when you read a book and thought, "If I'd written this, I would have (fill in the blank)." You don't even have to physically write the story down- just work it out in your mind. Again, the idea is to get your conscious mind out from under the pressure to finish your own work.

General Suggestions

  • Start with an outline. Most of us had an English teacher who pounded the idea of an outline in our heads, I'm sure. But there's a very good reason for it. An outline will make sure you have your story in a correct order; it will make sure you include all the events you want to cover; and it will help you figure out whether story points are major or minor events. This will help with the pacing in the story; if you're spending ten pages covering a story point, it may turn out to be a major event rather than an minor one - and realizing that may help you edit your story line. Just don't assume the outline is written in stone- you may come up with some interesting ideas that change the whole outlook of the story - keep working through it. The story will tell itself if you'll just listen.
  • You don't have to work in any particular order. Tell the story. Write the events that are in your mind now. Tomorrow, that event may not have your attention; cover it while it's in your mind; or at the very least make notes!
  • Don't worry about using complete sentences, or making sure every punctuation mark is in the right spot, or that you've misspelled a word. That's what the Tools menu is for - trust me, the software will highlight any misspelled words so you can correct them later, when you're not writing. Again, tell the story.
  • Keep a notebook or pen and paper with you, wherever you are. When you think of an idea, jot it down - don't judge it at that moment, just make sure you've got it. When you get back to your workspace, you can keep it where it needs to be until you'll need it.
  • Keep a separate document filed with your manuscript for all those ideas you'll have (see above). Read through the idea document regularly, so you'll know where they go, or if they should be included. Don't delete anything- designate the ones you have doubts about in some way (text color, font size, etc) - while they may not work in your current manuscript, they may inspire you with another idea, or another entire manuscript!