A Pair of Curiosities

Hi Folks,

I was just looking at my site stats. Shouldn’t do that, I know, but I did. Ugh. Seeing those stats prompted me to write this interim post concerning a pair of curiosities.

Curiosity Number One

Of 500+ subscribers to this blog, I typically get around 80 views. Oddly, that’s on the in-between posts, like this one. The “big” posts in the Microsoft Word for Writers series that I’m doing right now generally get around 20 views. To me, that’s an interesting curiosity.

Now, I’m not overly worried about this. I mean, it isn’t what I would call a “problem” in the overall scheme. It doesn’t rank up there with a wrenched sciatic nerve or a bad ticker or COPD or whatever. But it’s an interesting curiosity.

There are only a couple of posts left in the Word for Writers series, so I’ll let them run out. Those posts are “The Paragraph Formatting Tool” and “A Few Notes About Styles.” After those are gone I’ll get back into the more… umm, shall we say “creative”?… blog posts that folks seem to prefer. And good for you, because those are the ones I prefer writing too.

Ahem… about those final two Word for Writers posts, frankly, if you miss the one on Styles, you aren’t missing much. That isn’t really anything for a writer to be concerned with anyway.

But if you’re still using the Tab key (or the spacebar key repeatedly) to indent the first line of each paragraph, you really do need the post on The Paragraph Formatting Tool. Seriously.

My intention is for these posts to be helpful. I don’t get anything out of them other than the satisfaction of saving others what for me was a very long learning curve. So take advantage already. Learn. Enjoy.

Curiosity Number Two

Would anyone out there like to know how to be more productive with your writing? How to turn out more work?

The old pulp writers wrote highly entertaining novels, serials and short stories. They were paid by the word. So the more publishable words of fiction they produced, the higher their paycheck.

Does that mean they churned out sloppy writing? NO.

It means they wrote the best story they could possibly write the first time through. And that was on typewriters.

Everything was fine until English teachers and other non-writing professionals started teaching people, wrongly, that “fast writing is bad writing.” They even taught would-be writers not to practice.

Now, don’t get all defensive and start yelling at me. It won’t change the facts anyway. And the thing is, I’m neither angry nor upset with English teachers. I used to be one myself. They’re just passing along the same bogus information they learned.

But think about that. Writing is the only art form in which the artists are actively taught that practice is bad. In every other field of artistic endeavor, the artists are taught to practice their craft repeatedly. The painter doesn’t paint one picture and then repaint it and repaint it and repaint it. The sculptor doesn’t keep chiseling once the work is finished. You do your best at the time and then you move on to the next creation.

But that isn’t the case with writers. Writers are taught to write and then hover. Once you’ve written, you “must” rewrite several times, run what you’ve written past some committee, then rewrite again, then have your work edited.

All of that is so the original work you started with will look more like someone’s perception of an “ideal.”

The problem is, that “ideal,” if it’s a product of a professional writer, probably was written, spell-checked, proofed and published. Period.

Now, if you’re satisfied with simply talking about being a writer and laboring for years on a single work and telling others what a terrible drudgery writing is, that’s fine. Hang in there.

But if you would like to learn to trust your own original voice as a writer, and if you would like to learn a great deal more about actually BEING a professional writer, comment on this blog post or email me and let me know that.

I have another website where I post blogs regularly on the day by day adventure of being a professional writer. It’s a closed site right now (open only to a few like-minded professional writers) but I’m thinking of opening it up so ALL writers who are interested can see what it takes to be a professional writer AND the freedom that entails.

Again, if you’re interested in either reading the posts from that website or if you’re a professional writer who would like to possibly contribute, either drop a comment on this post or email me privately at harveystanbrough@gmail.com.

There y’go. See you in a few days with “The Paragraph Formatting Tool.”

‘Til then, happy writing.

Harvey

Microsoft Word for Writers: Find & Replace

Hi Folks,

Find and Replace_150The Find & Replace function is the most useful tool in Microsoft Word. With the Find and Replace function, you can pretty much do magic. As one example, some narrators insist on writing “try and” instead of “try to.” If the writer knows his narrator has that particular problem, he can key in (without the quotation marks and where a # equals a blank space) “#try#and#” into the Find What box and then key in “#try#to#” into the Replace With box. Then hit Replace All and in a flash, every instance of “try and” is replaced with “try to.”

Or say for example you’ve learned (erroneously) somewhere, sometime that you’re supposed to put a comma after the word “but” pretty much any time it’s used. You can key (again, without the quotation marks and where the # equals a blank space) “#but,#” into the Find What area and then key “,#but” into the Replace With area. Hit Replace All and your error is corrected throughout the manuscript. (Again, remember where I’ve inserted the pound or hashtag symbol, you should insert a space with your spacebar.)

You do have to think your way through using this feature though. For example, if you want to replace all instances of “try and” with “try to” and you don’t include the space before and after “try” and the space after “and,” when the function finds “He left the country and moved into the city” it will end up reading “He left the country to moved into the city.”

17aFigure 17a

The next figure shows what you will see if you click the Format button at the bottom left of the Find and Replace dialogue.  When you click the Font drop-down, the Font dialogue box will open. When you click the Paragraph drop-down, the Paragraph Formatting dialogue will open. you can then apply font and/or paragraph attributes to anything in the Find What area and/or in the Replace With area.

17bFigure 17b

17cFigure 17c

You are limited in your use of the Find & Replace function only by your imagination. There’s more about Find & Replace in the Paragraph Formatting Tool segment and in the Overall Example, both coming up in the next post).

That’s it for now! Until next time, happy writing.

Harvey

Note: If you find something of value in these posts or on this website, consider dropping a tip into Harvey’s Tip Jar on your way out. If you’ve already contributed, Thanks!

Microsoft Word for Writers: Setting Word Options

Hi Folks,

Options_240Here come your Word Options, and there are a ton of them. The good news is, setting them isn’t that difficult and many of them need to be set only once.

To access your options in Microsoft Word 2010, click File > Options. (Note: While the File menu is open your document will seem to disappear, but don’t be confused. It’s still there. To get it back, just click File again.)

Once you click Options, the following dialogue will appear. All dialogue boxes have an OK and Cancel button in the bottom right corner, but to save room I trimmed it off. The first screenshot contains your General Options:

11Figure 11

Look over each set of options carefully. For example, in this one you’ll note that I’ve unchecked the block that says Show Mini Toolbar on Selection. If this were checked, when you select a word or sentence or paragraph, a mini toolbar would pop up asking whether you want to cut, copy, paste, hyperlink, etc. the selected information. You might find that useful, but it drives me nuts, so I unchecked the box.

On the left pane in Figure 10 you can see each of the categories: General, Display, Proofing, Language and Advanced. The next several screenshots will illustrate those categories. We’ve already talked about customizing the Ribbon and the Quick Access Toolbar, and you can explore the Add-Ins and Trust Center on your own. They’re of no consequence to writers that I’ve ever seen.

Here’s the Display dialogue box:

12Figure 12

When you aren’t sure where your paragraph marks or tabs or extra spaces are, you can come to this dialogue box and select Show All Formatting Marks, then click OK at the bottom. When you return to your document, you’ll see all of the normally hidden formatting marks. This can be a very useful tool.

Here’s the Proofing dialogue box. Note that you can set your preferences for correcting and/or checking spelling and grammar. Be sure you check the Use Contextual Spelling option. Doing so will save you a lot of headaches later on:

13aFigure 13a

You’ll notice the AutoCorrect Options button in the upper right of Figure 13a. The following five screens illustrate the various settings you can affect when you click that button. The last one, Actions, is more for business use. I’ve never used it and can’t imagine a use for it in creative writing.

13bFigure 13b — AutoCorrect

13cFigure 13c — Math AutoCorrect

13dFigure 13d — AutoFormat As You Type

13eFigure 13e — AutoFormat

13fFigure 13f — Actions

Here’s the Save dialogue box. Usually, you can set this one once and forget it:

14Figure 14

Here’s the Language dialogue box. Again, it’s pretty much set and forget:

15Figure 15

Below is the Advanced Options dialogue box, albeit in three pieces.

16aFigure 16a

16bFigure 16b

16cFigure 16c

With the Advanced Options box, it’s best that you just get your beverage of choice, sit in a comfortable chair, relax, and go over the possible settings one at a time.

That’s it for this time! Next up, Find & Replace. For my money, it’s the most valuable tool in Word. Until then, happy writing!

Harvey

Note: If you find something of value in these posts or on this website, consider dropping a tip into Harvey’s Tip Jar on your way out. If you’ve already contributed, Thanks!

Epiphany

Hi Folks,

This is another in the non-series series of posts that I hope you might find useful.

This morning I rolled out of bed right at 2 a.m. I’ve been getting up between 2 and 3 for quite awhile now. I consider it working the morning shift. Quiet time. Writing time.

And on this particular morning, I awoke realizing I had a short story due. In April 2014, I challenged myself to write at least one new short story each week. To help keep myself motivated, I created a website (HEStanbrough.com) and posted those stories live each week. I left each story up, free for anyone to read, until the next week’s story went up. Some of you, maybe, have been along for the ride. If so, thanks, I appreciate the company.

Well this morning, in addition to realizing I had a deadline due, I also experienced an epiphany.

After a year of following Heinlein’s Rules (Heinlein’s Business Habits) and Writing Into the Dark, I realized the greatest gift that process has given me. It’s rewarded me dozens of times in various ways, not the least of which are 59 short stories in 52 weeks, four novels (plus two underway) and a novella. Oh, plus the compilation of sixteen collections of short fiction and a trilogy. All of that in the past year. Cool.

But the most valuable gift I’ve received as a result of following Heinlein’s Rules and Writing Into the Dark is the ability to wake up on Sunday morning, suddenly realize that I have a story due on Monday morning, and feel Not One Ounce of Trepidation.

Instead, a sense of calm settles over me. I have no idea what I will write, how long it will be or what genre it will be. But because I follow Heinlein’s Rules and Writing Into the Dark, I know that sometime during the day, a character will come up to me. He will point to his problem and say something like, “Would’ya just look at this? Now what am I gonna do?”

Then he’ll trudge off into his setting and, being the nice guy that I am, I’ll follow him. I’ll watch and listen carefully as he solves his problem. I’ll also record the result, and at the end of the day I will have written a new short story. Incredible. I am without a doubt the luckiest man on Earth, Lou Gehrig notwithstanding.

To top it all off, this will be the 52nd consecutive week of writing and publishing at least one new short story per week. So there y’go. In April 2014 I challenged myself to write at least one short story per week every week for a year. Today, over on HEStanbrough.com, I posted “A False Sense of Finality” and with that short story completed my challenge.

Of course, I also have a streak going. I’ve written at least one short story every week for 52 weeks straight. So I’ll keep that going for awhile longer yet, but I don’t feel quite as much pressure over it now that I reached my goal. That was a major milestone, and I feel an incredible sense of accomplishment.

Of course, a short story takes only a few hours to write and I was writing only one a week. Seems easy, right?

All I can say is I hope you’ll try it. If you enjoy writing short fiction, set a challenge for yourself to write one short story per week for a year. Lay your ears back and attack. If you fail, what’s the worst that will happen? Nothing. And if you succeed, at the end of a year you will have written 52 short stories and (I hope) compiled them in to ten 5-story collections and five 10-story collections. So you will have written 52 stories and created 67 publications.

But what about Heinlein’s Rules? And what about Writing Into the Dark? Will those things work for you?

In a word, Yes.

But you have to write.

Back on April 11 with the next post in the Microsoft Word for Writers series. Until then, happy writing!

Harvey

Note: If you find something of value in these posts or on this website, consider dropping a tip into Harvey’s Tip Jar on your way out. If you’ve already contributed, Thanks!