Let’s Write a Novel #5 — How I Organize My Novel Cheat Sheets

Image2I’m writing a new novel and blogging through the process so that you can learn along with me. This week I want to talk about organization and how I deal with changes and random ideas without derailing my progress.


If you’d rather jump right into my weekly update, you can check out the scenes that I’ve added to the Google folder here.

If you missed last week’s post about how to write your first draft without going insane, you can check it out here.

Earlier posts in the series are all gathered here.


When I first started trying to write novel length works, organization was my downfall.  I write speculative fiction, so I tend to have extensive notes, research, and worldbuilding documents.

I had everything in notebooks and three ring binders, and I tried several different organizational systems over the years it, but it never worked very well for me. I would lose pages or even whole notebooks, and I often found that my handwriting was not legible when I went back to read my drafts and notes.


I switched to using a computer, but I had no real organizational system except for a bunch of folders and subfolders. So, as the books went on, and I needed to check references or look back at something, I was always hunting around trying to remember where I had written such and such.

The search and find feature in Windows didn’t exist at the time, but even later when I started using Windows 7, I found that searches were often hit or miss because I couldn’t remember the exact wording that I had used.


Finally, when I started writing the Foxes of Synn, I came up with the idea of creating cheat sheets for myself.


So, while all of detailed notes, world building, etc. are kept in my story Bible, I have a set of simpler documents that I use to keep a running tab on the drafting process.  I’ve put copies of them up in the Google drive folder for you to take a look at. They’re all in a subfolder marked cheat sheets.


The titles of the documents are pretty self-explanatory, but I’ll go over them anyway in case you don’t feel like poking around in my files.


Every file is prefaced with the title of my book, and then a descriptive label so that I always know which story the documents go with.


  • The Character List is just what it sounds like. A list of the characters who appear in the novel, roughly in the order that they appear. I tried to update this after every writing session, but sometimes I can go a day or two in between updates if I get in the zone. This will be updated with character descriptions or important details that get mentioned in the book as I go on.


  • Terms and Special Grammar are for made up fantasy words as well as any idiosyncratic sayings or colloquialisms that my characters use. This is for my own reference as well as for any beta readers or editors that I have in the future, so that we all know how things are supposed to be spelled and whether or not certain things are intentional. It’s a lot easier to make this up as you go than it is if you’ve sent a story off to be read and you have to keep explaining how you want your special grammar to work or what the colloquialisms in your story are.


  • Worldbuilding Concepts is for me to keep track of which concepts have been touched upon in the story and also to note down any changes in the world building from what my initial notes dictate to what the story ends up needing later on. When you’re in the first draft stage, your world building can change a lot, but you want to be careful that you keep track of these changes so that things stay consistent throughout the series.)


  • Questions and Ideas again is just what it sounds like. Sometimes as I’m writing, a question will come up, or I’ll get an idea that seems better than what I was originally going to do. I make note of it in his files so that I can look at it later and make decisions. That way I don’t get derailed every time an idea comes along. It’s in the folder where to look at it when I have time, and in the meanwhile, I can keep writing.

Every project ends up with a slightly different set of cheat sheets, and if you use this idea you’ll want to keep an eye on which ones you’re using most or if you might need a different set-up.

You can follow along with Let’s Write A Novel by subscribing to the blog or joining the Facebook Group.

If you find these posts useful, please leave a bit in my virtual tip jar.


Let’s Write a Novel #4 — How to Write Your First Draft Without Going Insane


I’m writing a new novel and blogging through the process so that you can learn along with me. This week I want to talk about my previous experiences writing first drafts and what I’ve learned from them.

If you’d rather just jump right into my weekly writing update, you can check out the scenes that I added to the Google drive folder here.


If you missed last week’s post about where to start when you have an idea for a novel, you can get that right here.


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Let’s Write a Novel #3 — Help! I Have an Idea for a Book! Where Do I Start?

Image2I’m writing a new novel and blogging through the whole process so you can learn along with me.

For anybody who just wants to dive right in, you can head over to the Google drive folder and check out some of the planning documents and notes that I’ve uploaded.


New writers often ask me where to start when they have an idea for a book. Since I’m blogging through the process of writing a book and sharing what I learned with you along the way, I thought this would be a great place to address that question.


The answer to where to start with the book idea has as many varied answers as there are writers with ideas they’re struggling to get down. I can’t tell you exactly where to start, because my writing process may not work so well for you. What I can offer you are some tips and suggestions I’ve picked up over the course of writing my novels.


Get your ideas out of your head.


You can do this by opening a Word document or a notebook and freewriting about your story concept or character ideas for whatever it is that it’s pulling you to write this particular story.


If free writing doesn’t work for you, try index cards or Post-it notes. (Or, if you favor the computer over writing longhand, you can try a free-form free-form text editor called Scapple.)


If typing or writing longhand are both too slow for you, try a voice recorder or voice to text software on your computer.


Spend at least a few days getting your ideas down. Write or dictate everything you can think of, then put it aside and come back to it when you’ve had time to process the ideas some more.


Plan as much or as little as you need in order to feel confident and excited about beginning your story.


Some writers like to plan every detail an element of their story in advance. Others don’t plan at all and just sit down and start typing, then figure it out as they go. I happen to be somewhere in the middle, and how much  I plan a particular story can vary a lot depending on how solid my idea was to begin with.


Some things you might want to consider for planning your story include:

  • an outline or story map
  • a beat sheet
  • character profiles or character sketches
  • a timeline of the story and any additional events surrounding it
  • a cast list
  • world building or physical mapping and other types of research.


The order in which you do these things and the level of detail that you put in them during your pre-writing stage is entirely based on personal preference. Focus on how the planning makes you feel rather than on a list of things you are “supposed” to do.


If you feel excited and energized, you’re on the right track.

If you start to feel bored or overwhelmed by the level of detail and amount of work involved in your planning efforts, chances are that you’ve planned enough to get started.


It’s important to realize that writing a novel isn’t a linear process. You can always stop writing and plan out a little more or update your research as you go. More often than not, you’ll find that you need to stop and do that anyway as the story evolves.


Here’s how I got started with developing my current novel, Blood Union.


  1. I did a free write about my ideas for the series of this novel is part of. (Check that out here on Google drive.)
  2. I already have a cast of characters, so I decided which characters I wanted to focus on for the first entry in the series. Then I created character profiles for the two MCs. (My first versions of those files are here and here in the Google drive folder.)
  3. I started writing some preliminary scenes with the two main characters. I didn’t know where or if scenes would take place in the novel. They were mostly for me to get a feel for what was going on in the characters lives and reacquaint myself with them and their universe.)


That was enough for me to get started, and when I felt like I had enough scene snippets, I started to think about how I would structure a story and what the outline would look like. I’ll be getting into more of that next week, so if you’re interested, you can follow the blog the Facebook group for updates.

If you find Let’s Write a Novel helpful, please leave something in the virtual tip-jar

Let’s Write a Novel #2 — Who Am I and Why Am I Doing This?

Image2I’m writing a new novel and blogging through the whole process so you can learn along with me.

For anybody who just wants to dive right in, you can head over to the Google drive folder and check out some of the planning documents and notes that I’ve uploaded.

Last week’s post explained how the project was going to work and how you can get the most out of it.

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WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org: Pros and Cons, Part One


Wordpress.com pros and cons

In last Wednesday’s post, I covered the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org. Today I want to go over some pros and cons for WordPress.com. When you’re first starting out as a blogger or an entrepreneur, you’ll be inundated with people who tell you that you absolutely must use self hosted WordPress if you want to have a professional website. This is plain dumb and snobbisih. I’ve blogged for about 12 years on every platform from LiveJournal to Blogger to WordPress, and it’s possible to have a professional website on any platform you want. Which one you use depends on your budget, the type of business you want to run, and what business model you’re using.


Here’s a rundown on WordPress.com.



  • Bloggers can start for free. This is super helpful if you’ve never had a blog or website before and you don’t know what you’re doing. You don’t want to shell out $100 or more to start a website and then try to learn how to use it while you’re also trying to promote yourself and your business. This is why so many startup entrepreneurs get frustrated and overwhelmed. You can learn how WordPress works and build a following for free when you’re just starting out, and then “go Pro” later if that’s what you decide to do.
  • Requires no technical knowledge. This goes along with #1.  If you’re just starting out and don’t know much about the technical side of running a website (or, like me, you studied website design and hate it now) you can build a site on WordPress.com without any prior knowledge.
  • Has a built-in community and lots of ways to get your blog seen by other people. If you go to The Daily Post you’ll find WordPress staffers running a community pool where you can share your blog, posts, and pages every week to ask for feedback. (Just make sure you genuinely asking for feedback, either on your site formatting or post content, rather than just posting for a traffic boost.) You’ll also find blogging prompts, challenges, free courses, and lots of helpful information for new bloggers. There’s an event listing where you can post announcements for any kind of challenge you decide to run or group activity with other bloggers. The WordPress tag cloud makes it super easy to search within your WordPress reader for interesting content on topics you enjoy.
  • Has built in SEO. Most of the new bloggers that I met struggle with search engine optimization and getting traffic to their sites. The most common question I hear from bloggers first starting out is “how do I get traffic?” It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with SEO best practices, but if you’re just starting out and have no idea what you’re doing, chances are you’ll get more traffic on the WordPress.com site.
  • Organization features. It’s a lot easier to organize a WordPress.com blog. There’s a standard image gallery feature, a way to generate lists of posts by tags and categories (Useful if you’re running a weekly feature or a Blog Series) and a built-in calendar view in the post scheduler. (Yes, there are ways to do all that on self-hosted sites, but having the features come standard is a big plus in my book.)





  • Limited customizations. This is one of the biggest complaints I hear with WordPress.com sites. Bloggers can’t buy and install their own themes, and you have to pay extra to be able to customize your css. There are free themes you can choose, and there are some paid themes available in the gallery, but you can’t install one from a third party designer or vendor.  There are some ways to customize a WordPress.com blog, but features are limited.
  • Limited ability to monetize. If you’re planning to make money with ads or affiliate marketing, WordPress.com isn’t right for you. You won’t have control over your ads and you can’t link to affiliate marketers (much.)   WordPress doesn’t mind an occasional link out to a product you’re referencing (such as book reviews or in tutorials) or your own books if you’re an author but they will hit you with a TOS violation if you’re consistently linking to other brands/products.
  • The cost of their Ecommerce plan is ridiculous. If you have a product line or want to take payments on your site, you need the business plan, which is totally not worth it.  You could build your own store on a self-hosted site for far less.  A quick note though, for my author bloggers and artists: WordPress doesn’t mind if you’re an author linking to your own books on Amazon or a crafter with a few products to sell as long as the majority of posts on your site are value-driven rather than links to external sites.   You can’t build an on-site store, and you’ll be hit with a TOS violation if you try to build a blog based around selling products or services, though.

So, to wrap up, WordPress.com is good if:


  • You’re a new blogger without much technical knowledge
  • You’re more interested in building your platform and getting your name out there than in making quick profits.
  • You’re an author or artist who lacks a big budget to spend on a website and your site isn’t the way you plan to make money.


It’s not so good if you’re looking to build an e-commerce store or you want to monetize your website directly.


In next Wednesday’s Blog Smarter post, I’ll be looking at the pros and cons of self-hosted WordPress.   If you  want to make sure you don’t miss the post, you can like my Facebook page  to get a notification when the post goes live.

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What’s the Difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org?

Wordpress.com or WordPress.org.jpg

Blogging and running a business can be pretty confusing sometimes, and one of the most common questions I see, for new bloggers and entrepreneurs is related to WordPress web hosting. In a nutshell, you can build a website with WordPress two ways.

WordPress.com is free to start and offers some low-cost basic options if you want to have your own domain.

Self hosted WordPress, or WordPress.org  has an upfront cost, and has a bigger learning curve, but has a lot more to offer in terms of site customization, ability to monetize your website, and distribution rights for your content.

Let’s back up a bit.

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