Friday, March 20, 2009

Organize Yourself As A Writer - Part 3


Now we're ready to rumble. Today I'll show you three sheets that I use to help me plot my novel.

1. Snowflake (or other plotting tool you like)
2. Skeleton
3. GMC & Spiritual

My very next tab, after "Schedule" is "Snowflake" (Figure 1.) This form of plotting was actually designed by author and physicist Randy Ingermanson. It's a fun, scientific method of plotting your novel. I know, "fun" and "scientific" should never be used in the same sentence. However, Randy has developed this system, and he's a pretty fun guy, despite being a physicist turned writer. You can find this method at I worked out a spreadsheet for my own use that helps me understand the steps. Alas, I can't show it here without Randy's permission. I haven't asked for it yet, but as soon as I do and he okay's it, I'll share it with you.

What I've done is linked to the Snowflake because it has several pages of its own. So, whatever plotting method you use, you can link to it from this one sheet so you have easy access to it. You'll find that this is the method for my madness in many of the sheets in my workbook. A simple link to a Word doc or spreadsheet is sometimes all that's on there. But it's handy and I don't have to wade through my vast files to find "Snowflake."

Below is the what the sheet looks like:

Figure 1

All those words on there are only instructions and a small note to you. Otherwise, it would just have the word "Snowflake" that I have linked to the real file.

To hyperlink:
  • Right click on "SNOWFLAKE" above
  • Choose "Hyperlink" in dropdown list
  • Choose "Existing File or Web Page" in choices on left side
  • Find saved Snowflake sheet for this title

This is also a very useful tool. I've pulled from several authors to create this visual. (Figure 2.) The point is that your story needs bones, some kind of structure to hold it's muscle, blood, and flesh upright. I plot out the skeleton before I begin writing the story. Sometimes, it changes as I learn about my characters, but it keeps me from writing in tangents. It keeps me focused.

I've included three screenshots for the Skeleton.

  • Act I (Figure 2)
  • Act II (Figure 3)
  • Act III (Figure 4)

I write in acts because I'm a baby boomer who grew up on television and movies. I instinctively understand the three act structure, and I'll bet you do too. Following are the elements needed in each act to create a full skeleton.

Act I

  • Identify the external need. Outward goal (i.e. Dorothy needs to save her dog but doesn't trust the people at home to do so, and she runs away.)
  • Identify the internal need. Inner goal (i.e. Dorothy needs to be grateful for the home she has.)
  • Inciting incident. Generally throws the character into Act II, often the point of no return, (i.e. Tornado -- although it could be a struggle within instead of a tangible thing. )

Figure 2

Act II

  • Complications. These are the "ribs" of the skeleton. Think of the right side of the spine as the conflict and the left side of the spine as the result of the conflict. If this happens, then this must happen. Each conflict is another rib. (I.e. 1- Dorothy's house lands in place far from home / must find wizard. 2- Dorothy is captured by witch / must kill witch and get broom. 3- Dorothy brings broom to Wizard but is rejected / Toto reveals man behind curtain.)
  • Bleakest moment. The worst thing that can happen. (I.e. Dorothy misses her ride.)
  • Help from inside or outside. This could either be a person, a situation, or a revelation. (I.e. Glenda the good witch comes to her aid.)
  • Lesson/Decision. Always reflects external need. (i.e. "There's no place like home.")

Figure 3


  • Resolution, can be a small scene, but might not be a happy ending. (I.e. Dorothy is home and vows never to run away again.)

Figure 4

GMC & Spiritual
This sheet (figure 5) gives me a quick reference to keep me on track. You can print this out and keep it near your computer.

It basically helps you flesh out the Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. The premise for this is an excellent book by Debra Dixon, GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict. I added the "spiritual" element since I write inspirational fiction.

Identify characters:
  • Goal (What do they want?)
  • Motivation (Why do they want it?)
  • Conflict (What gets in their way?)

Do this for the external, the internal, and the spiritual aspects of your character.

Figure 5

That covers the plotting parts of the worksheet. Next week we'll look at simple charts to help keep things straight.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Organize Yourself As A Writer - Part 2

Last week we covered the first spreadsheet workbook you will need to take yourself seriously as writer. Just like the wrestler, you are now poised and ready to take on the opponent. That opponent could be the lack of preparation.

The All-In-One-Plotting Workbook is the largest with nineteen pages. What I'm going to show you over the next few weeks is what works for me, but you are, of course, welcome to change things, delete things, add things, etc. This is your working notebook. Make it work for you.

Figure 1

I like to have a direct link to the Writing Log (what we covered last week.) This way, I don't have to search through my folders to find it. To direct link:

  • Type the words "Clock in!"

  • Right click in that cell

  • Choose "Hyperlink"

  • Choose "Existing file or web page"

  • Find where you saved the Writing Log
The All-In-One-Plotting Workbook is the very first book I open. The second is the Writing Log where I log my starting time. These two book stay open as I write.
Set up your columns like this:

  • Week - Plan ahead what you want to accomplish for the week. You can fill this out weekly or continue to the end of the manuscript. Just understand that if you didn't get something accomplished, you'll have to adjust. In my example, I didn't complete 10/25. So I inserted a row and continued on.

  • X - Check when you have completed your daily goal

  • Date - Type in the dates in advance rather than daily. This will help you stay on track as you can see each day the goal you've set for yourself. Go as far in advance as you feel comfortable, but I encourage you to write down an entire week's goals at least.

  • How'm I Doin' - Um...How you doin'. The check (X) can be so impersonal. This column allows me to whine, make excuses, or celebrate my victories. You may want to leave this off, but try it for a few weeks and see if this mini-diary helps your self-esteem.
Okay, your wrestler is ready. He's trained, he's prepared, and now he's in position to take on. . .the PLOT.
Spreadsheet 201
  • Insert column or row: There are several ways to do this. First highlight the column or row by clicking on a letter in the alphabet row at the top or a number in the number row along the side. This highlights without having to drag your mouse. Then either right click in the highlighted area and hit insert, or click on the "Insert" tool at the top of the page.
  • Delete column or row: Exactly the same way, only click "delete." Sorry if that sounds simplistic, but you'd be surprised how many times I've hit the wrong one.
  • Correct error: Undo. (Oh, how often do we need to be reminded of that one?)

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Organize Yourself as a Writer - Part I

Recently, I presented a workshop titled, "Left Vs. Right Smackdown" - Organizing your writing with your left brain so your right brain can be more productive. Too often, that poor right brain struggles to keep all of the details straight, thus hindering its productivity. For the next few weeks, I'm going to take the nuggets from that workshop and teach you how to create spreadsheets, or at the very least give you ideas on how to organize into three-ring-binders if you haven't quite gotten the hang of the 21st Century.

For the spreadsheet terms I'll be using, please refer to "Spreadsheet 101" at the end of this article.

In "Organize Yourself as a Writer" I'll cover three aspects:

  1. Before you begin - CLOCK IN!
  2. All-In-One-Plotting (Don't let this scare you if you write seat-of-the-pants. It's only to help you keep all of your thoughts in one place)
  3. Manuscript Tracker
(Figure 1)

We'll start with the Writing Log. Before I do any writing, I clock in. This includes researching the internet, doing my taxes, calling people for interviews, etc. I've created a spreadsheet that helps me do it without thinking too hard. Gotta save those brain cells for the real writing, right? If you have a fancy tracker that you've downloaded from the internet, that's okay. But this is for those who have a spreadsheet program on their computer and are wondering how they can utilize it as a writer. Note: You can also take anything I say throughout this workshop and apply it to a 3-ring binder notebook. The point here is not to confuse you with techie talk, but to help you become more organized.

Below is the big picture. This is the full Writing Log that I use, although in my working copy I let it stretch to Row 150 or more. As you can see, I like colors. I'm a visual person, so seeing it laid out this way works for me. You may want to keep it all black and white, or use your own colors. Do whatever makes sense to you.

Figure 1

To set up the grids:

  • Highlight Row 6 to Row 22, Column A to Column I
  • Click on Borders in your spreadsheet program and click All Borders (the diagram with four squares.)
  • Drag Column G (see "Spreadsheet 101" below) to be able to accomodate a longer line of text. It will all make sense once you fill in the Log.
Once you have your spreadsheet looking similar to mine as far as grids, add the current date and time under the title of your sheet, WRITING LOG. Then you can refer to this whenever clocking in.

To make this show real time (Figure 2):
  • Click in cell below title (Row 2, Column A)
  • Go to the formula box and next to the small "fx" type =NOW()
To make it show military time (which you will need when we get to actually clocking in):
  • Right click the cell
  • Choose Format cells in the drop down box
  • Make sure Number tab is showing
  • Choose Date
  • Choose 3/14/01 13:30

To set up the DATE column to show the year (i.e. 01/07/09) (Figure 2):

  • Right click
  • Choose Format Cells in the drop down box
  • Make sure Number tab is showing
  • Choose Date
  • Choose 03/14/01

Figure 2

Now to set up the "clock in. " (Figure 3)
  • Go to Row 7, Column B
  • Right click
  • Choose Format Cells in the drop down box
  • Make sure Number tab is showing
  • Click Time
  • Click 1:30 PM
  • Repeat steps above for Row 7, Column C

To set up total (Figure 3):
  • Click in Row 7, Column D
  • Go to formula bar above next to small "fx"
  • type =C7-B7
  • Now, to ensure the whole column sets up right, click in Row 7, Column D
  • Hover mouse curser in lower right corner until a solid plus sign (+) shows up.
  • Click and drag down the column to row 150. Now, every row will tally in the column.
To keep track of my weekly goals, I make a thick bottom border (a line) at the end of the week, highlight the totals in Column D, and look at the sum that shows up in the bottom right hand corner under the sheet itself. I don't know what that bar is called.

Figure 3

And finally, instructions on the Project and Action columns. (Figure 4)

  • In the Project column, I list whatever I'm working on. I have code for my titles, (i.e. MP for Merely Players, GGS for God Gave the Song.) I also list if I've been on the computer all day doing research, (RES,) or taxes (TAX.) If I ever want to see how much I've worked on a particular project, I can use the sort data feature to alphabetize that column.
  • In the Action column, I list exactly what I've done. (I.e. Chap 7, plotted book, called alpaca ranch.)

Figure 4

If you're ever audited by the IRS, your Writing Log will become your best friend. It shows that you are actually working at becoming a writer.

I've tried to lay out the instructions as clearly as possible. If something isn't quite right, you may comment to this post so others can benefit. However, if it's a technical issue, I'm not qualified for that. Also, if you use something other than Excel, I can't help there either.

I do hope I've at least sparked some ideas, helped to move you in the right direction, so to speak. Next week, I'll continue the workshop with the All-In-One-Plotting Workbook. This will take several weeks so I don't overwhelm you. There will be plotting techniques as well as organizational techniques in this worksheet. The good news is that there are no more formulas until we get to the Manuscript Tracker.

Below are terms if you're new to using a spreadsheet. Once you learn the language, it really isn't that hard. Some of you are rolling your eyes. Stick with me, gang. I promise to open a whole new world for you.


I use Excel, but the following instructions should work for any spreadsheet program. If it doesn't, please use your help feature instead of calling me. Please. I beg of you.

  • WHAT'S A CELL? Any little box that makes up the grid.

  • WHAT'S A COLUMN? Just like columns on a house, these are vertical (up and down.)

  • WHAT'S A ROW? Just like the wheat rows in a farmer's field, these are horizontal (back and forth.)

  • WHAT'S A SHEET? The part you see, the page you're working on at the time.

  • WHAT'S A TAB? Located at the bottom of the sheet is a series of tabs that open up more sheets, typically three to start. You can add and delete tabs to your heart's desire by right clicking and choosing the option.

  • WHAT'S A FORMULA? A more advanced function of spreadsheet usage. If you can learn to do simple sums, a whole new world will open up. Use the "help" feature to learn how to do math in columns and/or rows.

  • CREATING A HYPERLINK: Right click on the cell or picture you want to link from. Choose "Hyperlink" in drop down list. Check "Existing File or Web Page". Click little arrow to browse your files and choose the one you wish to link to.

  • FORMATTING CELLS TO WRAP THE TEXT: Right click on the cell, choose "Format cells", click "Alignment" tab, and check box that says "Wrap text."

  • HOW DO I MERGE CELLS? You can merge two or more cells together (to create one big box) by right clicking in the highlighted cells, choosing "Format cells", clicking the "Alignment" tab, and checking "Merge cells".

  • USING RETURN (ENTER) IN A CELL: To type a new line in the same cell, hold down ALT while hitting enter key.

  • MOVING DATA FROM ONE CELL TO ANOTHER: Click on the cell, then move the curser until you see a small figure of four arrows pointing in four different directions. Click and drag to another cell. Caution: This will move all your formatting, too, including color highlighting and borders. If you want to just move the text, double click in the cell, highlight the text and cut and paste as usual.

  • ADJUSTING SIZE OF COLUMNS AND ROWS: Click on the line in the border either on top for columns or on the left side for rows. Drag to the size you want.

  • MOVING SHEETS: Click and drag the tab. It's that simple.

  • DELETING, RENAMING, COLORING TABS: Right click and choose your option.