Four tips to warm-up those ‘writing muscles’ in your head and fingers

Here are four ideas to help you get those creative juices, and those good old nimble fingers, started as you approach your daily writing routine. (I wrote a brief article about writing warm-ups some months ago. This is an elaboration of some of the stuff I said in that earlier article.)

You can have some fun with your writing and stimulate those “creative juices” for the day by doing some useful “warm-ups” to get the words flowing. These ideas should work for you whether you keyboard your manuscripts or do pen-and-paper writing in a notebook. (Remember, too, that some very successful books have been written using nothing more than pencils and Big Chief lined tablets.)

1. The power of “what if?” One of the most useful writing exercises for stimulating the old brain cells anytime anywhere, and certainly one of the simplest, is to look at a story or news article — look online, check your local newspaper, try your favorite magazine, etc. — and simply ask yourself, “what if …?” Now fill in the blanks, i.e., complete that “what if …?” statement with whatever comes to your mind. Here’s an example of a “what if …?” statement and completion:

My wife and I get a kick out of watching old “Malcolm in the Middle” reruns on cable TV. (I think it is one of the zaniest, best-written and best-acted sitcoms in recent decades.) One we saw recently involved a “super genius” kid in Malcolm’s gifted students class. In the course of the plot, the kid mentions that his memory is so good that he remembers in detail everything about his own birth. Immediately (well, maybe not “immediately”), my brain popped up something like: “What if the kid could have sent out his own birth announcements?” In this case, the “what if” led to speculation about how would he know who to send them to? Would he have learned enough by eavesdropping on mom and dad while in the womb to form opinions about which of their friends he’d want in on the great event?

Okay, so that’s a bizarre “what if.” But you get the idea. And if you write fiction, you know the value of “what if,” even when the “what ifs” come out rather bizarre. It’s meant to be a starting point. For every good, useful “what if” you come up with, you’ll probably have dozens, even hundreds, of useless rejects. But that’s all part of the creative process to get those juices flowing and words pouring out, isn’t it?

2. Set a 10 minute timer when you put fingers to keyboard or pen to paper. As soon as you start the timer, get busy writing. Write the first thing that comes to your mind. Keep writing with no more than a second or two pause at a time — and do that for the full 10 minutes until your timer goes off. You’ve probably heard of this sort of writing warm-up before. It’s referred to sometimes as “automatic writing.” The goal here is to get your brain really going in high gear and to make that fluid connection between your mind and the “muscle memory” of your fingers (whether you keyboard or scribble on paper).

I dare you to plead “writer’s block” after a good 10 minute timed session of automatic writing. It’s like brain storming, with the added mind-finger stimulation. Works almost as well for starting your writing day as a strong cup/pot/gallon of good coffee.

3. Start and end your writing time with a cliffhanger. This demands that you develop the habit of walking away from your writing each day right in the middle of a scene, even in the middle of a particular sentence. That sets you up to get back to the keyboard first thing in your writing session knowing exactly what you’re going to write — you’re going to finish that sentence (or scene, chapter, whatever). Now you’ve broken the ice, and hopefully even got your mind back to the point where you stopped the day/night before, and you can once again watch the word magic flow.

4. Forget about chronological or narrative sequence and write what you want to write. If you’re a compulsive/obsessive sort of person like me, this really comes hard. Probably from my years of news writing and news editing, I cannot comfortably picture a scene or story out of sequence. My writing has always had a beginning, a middle, and an ending. Hence, if I don’t write it from beginning to end, my brain balks. But I’m working on it.

Writing your story with little or no regard to the sequence or chronology of events can really be liberating. Who says you can’t sit down and write that death scene, or that happily-not-so-ever-after final scene you’re itching to get into? Why not fire off those ideas as quick and hot as they come to you? After all, writing should be exciting and fun. And there’s an abundance of software, or stacks of paper and boxes of index cards, a myriad of tools of all sorts for putting it all nicely together at the rewrite stage.

So there you go. Don’t let lethargy, or the myth of writer’s block, or anything else keep you from writing. Use these and other mental and physical writing warm-ups you devise on your own.

Now get busy and write something that’ll make us all proud.

Here are some useful websites for writers sent to me by a reader:

If you’ve checked in with this blog very often, you’ll note that I haven’t posted any articles in a LOOONNNGGGG, long time. Life’s just that way sometimes, I guess.

But I’m posting this today because I received an email — which I’ve copied below — with some suggested “useful websites” and thought I would just copy-and-paste the email so you could check out the websites for anything you might find useful. I have looked briefly at them and thought you might find something worthwhile for your writing. Enjoy:

“Hi Gary,

“I was reviewing this page of your site – – and wanted to send you a quick email to make a few suggestions for additional resources to include: – a useful tool to help product punchier paragraphs.  – a simple tutorial to help students grab readers instantly with a strong essay opening. – an excellent resource to quickly find superb writing resources. – a detailed tutorial covering various aspects of essay writing.

“I hope you’ll consider these recommendations for inclusion. Just to give you some context, our goal at ImprovEDU is to promote access to valuable digital information so as to help young people and lifelong learners achieve more.

“If you have any questions please let me know.

“All the best,

Chromebook may be just what you want as a writing tool

Attention all you writers out there: A Chromebook may be just what you’re looking for in a convenient writing tool. Indeed, if you’re simply in the market for a new laptop and you’re strapped for cash, I recommend you give the newest Samsung Chromebook a careful look.

My wife gave me a Samsung Chromebook for my birthday. (OK, disclosure for honesty’s sake: I whined and whined long enough that she finally said, “All right. Buy it. Consider it an early birthday present.” I ordered it roughly a month before my birthday.) I ordered it from, the source for most of my computer and electronic stuff. They generally have the best prices on most items and their shipping and return policies are outstanding. I’ve never had a problem buying anything on Amazon.

The good news about the Samsung Chromebook is that it’s extremely simple, quick, and easy to set up. The bad news is, there really is no “desktop” as such, neither Windows nor Mac, so it takes some changes (maybe) in the way you’re going to do business. But surprisingly, the Chromebook’s limitations aren’t all that bad.


1. The Chromebook starts LIGHTNING fast for those of us who’ve spent most of our computer lives on Windows PCs. You open the lid and the thing’s fully ready to log in as a user and get started in less than 20 seconds. If you choose to, you can shut the lid, reopen it at any time and be up and running where you left off in less than 10-15 seconds. Just amazing.

2. It has something like a 6-8 hour battery life, depending on how you use it and how you set the power options. I’ve never tested it to the limit, but I regularly use it 6-7 hours between recharges. And the little thing recharges from nearly empty to full charged in less than 2 hours.

3. It by default uses Google’s Chrome browser. I “converted” to Chrome over a year ago on my main Windows PC and love it. There was no real learning curve for me. And it “syncs” all my bookmarks and other settings between this Chromebook (I’m writing this on said Chromebook right now) and my Chrome browsers on my regular laptop and a netbook I have.

4. The Chromebook’s keyboard is probably 3/4 of “full” sized, and poses no really typing problems for my stubby old fingers. It has some different keys and shortcut keys that you need to learn if you’re coming from a standard PC’s Qwerty keyboard, but it’s not an issue after the first day or two.

5. With the purchase of a Samsung Chromebook, you receive a free 2-year Google Drive subscription good for 100 gigs of storage. At the end of the 2 years, I think the cost is something like $5,00 a month to keep the 100 gig plan, or it reverts back to whatever the current free space plan might be.

This smooth, lightweight little machine is designed for mostly online usage, which could be a problem for writers. BUT IT REALLY ISN’T. Let me explain:

You can’t use Microsoft Office or LibreOffice or any of the other Windows or Mac-based word processors. Bummer for writers, right? Not necessarily. Your abundant amount of free space via Google Drive includes Google “tools” such as “Document,” “Presentation,” and “Spreadsheet” — which are basic equivalents to “Word,” “Powerpoint,” and “Excel.”

In addition, if you have a Microsoft SkyDrive account (they’re free and offer 7 gigs of free online storage) you can access that on the Chromebook and use basic “app” versions of Word, Powerpoint, Excel, etc., that way.

But here’s a really fun Chromebook app I just discovered today and have played with a bit: Chrome Remote Desktop. I fired that app up on my Chromebook, accessed my primary computer — and I had access to everything on my primary computer. I literally opened Word in my primary computer via this Chromebook, created, edited, and saved a document on my primary computer — all done flawlessly while sitting here working on my Chromebook.


1. The Chromebook display brightness has a little auto sensor which adjusts brightness. The problem (and I read the same complaint from other reviewers before I bought it) is that comfortable display brightness for the screen happens to be generally at the highest setting. This means from time to time needing to push a keyboard button that boosts display brightness, especially after you’ve closed the lid and/or powered down and then powered back up or opened the lid to restart. Not a big issue, but annoying.

2. The screen isn’t a “full sized” screen like I have on my primary computer. It’s only a 11.6-inch diagonal measurement, as compared to 15 ?-inch on my primary computer. But it’s 1 inch bigger than the 10.6-inch diagonal screen on my older netbook. The quality (HD, I don’t know screen or display jargon), however, is excellent and even with my tired old eyes I can work several hours on it without a problem. Besides, since most of what I’m doing is within the Chrome browser interface, hitting the “Ctl-+” keyboard shortcut increases the size of the text in the display and makes it easier to work with on those days when the eyes are more tired.

3. There really isn’t much “storage” available. The only drive in the machine is 16 gigs worth of solid state built-in drive. BUT, there is a slot that takes a memory card. I bought one with 16 gigs storage for those files I may choose to download to the machine. Given the wealth of free storage with Google Drive and Microsoft SkyDrive, Dropbox, etc., storing documents online with several locations for redundancy effectively addresses such issues, in my opinion. (A quick Internet search showed me that there are a couple of models of the Samsung Chromebook which now have more on-board memory and a hard drive. The model I have and which I am reviewing here has no hard drive and only the 16 gig built-in storage.)

And, yes, I know there are security and reliability issues for online storage, but I think I have effective security and backup measures in place that satisfy me. Your choice is, well, your choice!

Conclusion: As you can tell, I’m completely happy with this little Samsung Chromebook. The more I use it, the more satisfied I am with the light weight of it, the long battery life, the crisp display, the quick startup, even the online writing features. I didn’t mention this as a “Pro” feature, but since there is no mechanical hard drive and/or heat fan, there’s no noise coming from the machine — and it only feels very, very lightly warm to the touch on the bottom, so it’s perfect for working on my lap sitting here in this recliner.

I recommend this Samsung Chromebook. Whether you’re looking for something specifically for writing or just a low-priced, lightweight laptop — give the Chromebook a good look.

Getting excited about my new eBook for writers, several copies sold

I’m getting excited about my new eBook, “200 Original Story Prompts to Jump-Start Your Writing,” and early sales on Amazon. For the next 90 days at least, the book will be sold exclusively at in their “Kindle Digital Publishing Select” program. That means in return for listing the book exclusively with Amazon I get to take advantage of some of their marketing skills and opportunities.

You can use the link above to go to the eBook on Amazon, or click on the cover image for it in the sidebar on this website to get their, too.

The real beauty of Amazon’s Kindle eBooks, in my opinion, is the ease with which you can almost instantly download a Kindle eBook, and then begin reading it in seconds — even if you don’t own a Kindle reader of some sort. Amazon makes their “Kindle apps” available for just about every computer, smartphone, and tablet on the market — for free, of course. (If you don’t already have the Kindle app installed on your computer or mobile device, I encourage you to click the link in that last sentence and check it out.)

So far, my little book is far from a “best-seller” of any sort, though I’ve seen several copies sold since I published it last week. It’s pretty specialized, so I’m not expecting a huge audience — though it won’t hurt my feelings if I get great sales from it. I wrote it to give fiction writers and wannabe fiction writers some creative prompts or story starters. It was really fun putting it together, and I am actually fiddling around with some of the prompts in the book to do some short fiction with myself. As I’ve said in the book, if you don’t want to use the story prompts in it to launch your own fiction — the I sure intend to myself.

So my advice to you would be to drop everything you’re doing right now, race over to (use the link above or in the sidebar for quick access), and buy a copy of this book. Then we’ll have a little informal “contest” to see which of us can self-publish a book or short story on Kindle based on one of the prompts from the book.

I have absolutely no idea what we might do for the “winner” of that contest, but I might be open to suggestions. And, of course, you would have my gratitude for buying a copy of my fun little book.

And, while I’m on the subject — I would be delighted if any of you who buy the book would go back to after you’ve read it and leave a review.

Coming Soon — Or maybe I should say “coming sooner or later” — I’ve got several works in progress, fiction that is. I’m almost done with a 3.500-4,000 word humorous fantasy involving goblins and goblets. I’ve got a start on a series of short novels based on misadventures of several angels and superheros. I have great plans ahead and hope you’ll hang around here from time to time as I get some of these things written and published on Kindle.

Published my first Kindle ebook for writers: 200 Original Story Prompts

I recently published my first Kindle ebook, and it’s aimed at fiction writers. The book is “200 Original Story Prompts to Jump-Start Your Writing,” and you can buy a copy from Amazon’s Kindle ebooks by clicking on the linked title.

200StoryPromptsCoverOr, heck, you can wait until Sunday, June 9, 2013, and pick up a free copy during the special 1-day promotion that day. (You can use the same link then.) Let me tell you a bit about this little book and why I, obviously, think you should get a copy and why I, again obviously, think it will be very helpful to all fiction writers. (For all I know, it may be equally helpful to nonfiction writers, but I’ve aimed it specifically at fiction writers.)

Not a workbook or book filled with writing exercises, “200 Original Story Prompts” offers exactly what the title suggests — plus a little bit more. I have written 200 specific story/writing prompts to poke a creative finger at your personal Muse and encourage her/him to take flights of fancy into the realm of characters, plotting, and all those good parts and pieces that make up telling or writing a good story.

Those starters/prompts are divided into five distinct categories or types: 1) Story Element Sets, 2) Story Openers, 3) Story Closers, 4) What If?, and, 5) Story Titles. Those categories or types of story prompts are pretty self-explanatory, except maybe for what I’ve called “Story Element Sets.”

Story Element Sets are sets of three disparate story elements that I’ve listed and that you are encouraged to let you mind play with and come up with a story structured around them. Here’s an example (taken from the book itself) to show you what I’m talking about:

32. A Ford Mustang, one golden slipper, a broken window.

Your writing goal would be to let those three elements of a possible story rattle around in your head creatively and come up with a story that would use all three elements. (Can you think of a Cinderella-like story here? I can.)

You’ll notice that the example I gave is numbered — specifically it is number 32 of 40 sets of story elements. The book contains 40 specific, original story prompts under each of the five categories. And, as sort of a “bonus,” I’ve thrown in five “writing tips” ranging in length from 450-1400 words. These “writing tips” in most cases are rewritten and expanded versions of some of the articles I’ve posted to this website over the years.

I’m proud of this little book. I say “little” because it’s just under 11,000 words in length (about 22 pages as a Word document before conversion to Kindle). But little or not, I genuinely believe you can find some useful story prompts here to, as I’ve said in the full title “jump-start your writing.”

So I encourage you to go to Amazon and take a look at the book, look through the sample there, and buy a copy. Use my ideas to make your own creative juices flow. Combine them, rewrite them — or even use them exactly the way they are in the book — and write some wonderful fiction that’ll make us all proud of you!

Useful spreadsheet for writers from a very useful website

I ran onto a very useful spreadsheet for writers, and ran onto it at a very useful website for writers.

The spreadsheet helps you keep track of daily word counts by “project,” a very practical approach to both monitor your work output and motivate you to work. At least, it works to motivate me. You can find the 2012 Writing Progress Spreadsheet at the link in those words. It was created and is updated annually by the author Jamie Raintree — yes, that’s her very useful website linked to in her name.
Continue reading Useful spreadsheet for writers from a very useful website

Review of Scrivener for Windows writing software: I use it, love it

I’ve mentioned Scrivener writing software before. The Windows version of it (I have only Windows computers, so I won’t speculate about the Mac version) came out of beta testing several months ago and currently is at version as of this writing. Which is what Scrivener does very well — WRITING, that is.
Continue reading Review of Scrivener for Windows writing software: I use it, love it

Take advantage of knowledge, contacts at Kindle Boards website

If you’re at all interested in electronic books, self-publishing, “indie publishing,” or any of the many other changes going on in the writing and publishing universe — you really need to take advantage of the huge amount of knowledge and the many wonderful contacts you can find at the Kindle Boards website.
Continue reading Take advantage of knowledge, contacts at Kindle Boards website

Writers must love, or learn to love, language if they are to write well

Writers need to love language, everything about language. If you don’t find grammar, usage, words, word play, even spelling fascinating, chances are you’re not doing as well at being a writer as you might like. When it gets right down to it, words and all aspects of language — in my case the English language, most specifically American English — are all we writers have got. We really don’t even have our innermost (if there really is such a thing as “innermost”) thoughts without language, without words.

Because without language, and specifically without words, we cannot have “thoughts,” can we? Oh, I know what many of you will say immediately. It goes something like this: “I’m an image oriented person. I do graphics. I see pictures in my head when I think, I don’t see or hear any mental language or words.” I congratulate you, because I’ve always wished my mind (left brain? right brain? middle brain?) would function more graphically. I think primarily in words, not images. But whether you think mostly in language or in images, at some very fundamental level (I’m no neuroscientist here) you understand those images as language — and likewise, my language-oriented process turns those words into images.

So it’s a toss up as to which way you think, graphically or verbally. But the bottom line for writing is communication, and that, fundamentally, gets back to language and words. Even if your writing involves graphic novels (i.e., we called ’em comic books when I was a kid), you still add words and captions to the graphics. If you’re just slapping images onto a page or computer screen, you really aren’t writing and what you hope to communicate will not be clear — so you really aren’t “writing” in the sense I’m talking about.

Which brings up the obvious question: What AM I talking about here??

I hope you’ll come away from my rambling/ranting about words and language with this firmly in mind: Understanding and loving words is crucial if you want to succeed as a writer. That may be the most fundamental writing tip I have for you — at least today. Part of understanding and loving words is understanding the context of those words, not just “dictionary definitions,” but social and cultural context as well. I was reminded of this earlier today by a comment left on one of my other websites.

I had a couple of articles on another site I used to write for — one where I got much more politically involved than here but no longer own — related to the so-called “war on Christmas” that many people feel is happening, at least happening here in the U.S. Most folks who perceive this battle as being real have very strong religious beliefs which they translate into very definite ideas about certain words and the importance of those words. Chiefly, those words are “Jesus,” “Christ,” “Christmas,” “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Holidays,” and “X-mas.” There are other words that rally feelings in this supposed war, but those are the chief ones that come to mind right now.

Which, finally, brings me to the point of all this. I received a reply to one of those articles from someone who said this: “Didn’t read all your replies, but I hope somebody knows enough about religious history to inform you that it ACTUALLY derives from Holly Day, not Holy day.”

I’ll be the first person to admit that I’ve been wrong before regarding many things, chiefly among them language and word usage, as well as generally writing skills, writing tips, etc. But, backed by the “Online Etymology Dictionary” and “Merriam-Webster’s Tenth Collegiate Dictionary,” I knew I was RIGHT on this one.

I’ll spare you the details, but if you look up “holly” in those two sources you’ll see that the Old English and Germanic roots of the word are NOT the same as “holy.” And the evidence in the sources on “holy” and “holy+day” are just what I’ve said they are.

What does that teach us about words and language that we, as writers, ought to learn? It teaches a whole bucket load of things, and perhaps I’ll get into some of them in a later article. But the most important point I think, for now anyway, is that we ought to love the details of language and of words. We ought to handle them very carefully, because they are tools we can use for good or for evil. (Yes, words are our tool; not technology, though technology is useful. But that, too, is for another day.)

And we all make mistakes, don’t we?

Kindle publishing provides serious income for many writers

It turns out the Kindle publishing platform offered by Amazon is playing a very large role in creating a living income for quite a few authors, according to a recent review by independent publisher/writer Robin Sullivan. And although I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting the lady, I understand from what I’ve read that she really should know about such things: She and her novelist husband, Michael J. Sullivan, have both published via Kindle and hence have detailed experiences of their own to draw on.

But in addition, she’s complied a fascinating report on what’s happening with several “mid-list” (to use a traditional publishing term) authors regarding Kindle success. It makes a fascinating read if you’re interested in indie publishing and especially Kindle publishing. Take a look for yourself: “The New Midlist: Self-published E-book Authors Who Earn a Living.”

In that fascinating blog post, Ms. Sullivan makes passing reference to several excellent resources that I think deserve your attention if/when you decide to publish on Kindle, or if you simply want to find out more about Kindle publishing and a ton of “great reads” available on Kindle. I want to call your attention especially to the “Writers’ Cafe” and the Kindle Board forums in general. You can easily spend hours (even days??) at those forums if you’re a book lover or Kindle lover or both. I have to tear myself away when I do go there, because it’s very easy to let all the information and people at those boards become a “time suck” that’ll keep you away from your writing. (I’m an expert at that myself — letting things keep me away from my writing, that is. Undisciplined slob might describe me better.)

At any rate, Robin Sullivan makes a convincing case for the great potentials offered by Kindle and other electronic self-publishing platforms. She and her husband are not alone in their experiences by any means. Another friend/acquaintance/writing mentor of mine, Holly Lisle, shares the same enthusiasm. Holly, in fact, is turning her entire writing focus as quickly as she can to self-publishing with a strong focus on Kindle. In Holly’s case, she simply got finally royally PO’d with mistreatment and disappearing titles at the hands of traditional publishers. After studying her options, she clearly saw the answer is to take her back-list novels (she’s got many; she’s a great writer) and turn them into Kindle/Nook books, etc., giving her a terrific source of new ideas and new income.

So, my recommendation to you? Now that NaNoWriMo is over, you can take that new manuscript, get it spiffed and polished, and perhaps publish it yourself on Kindle …

(Confession: I failed to complete a NaNoWriMo manuscript myself again this year. But then, who says we have to be restricted to a 30-day-once-a-year writing binge anyway? I’m still optimistic about getting a novel completed and “Kindled” within the next 6 months to a year.)

Evernote may win as best NaNoWriMo writing tool available

I can’t emphasize enough how useful Evernote is for taking part in NaNoWriMo or any other quick, crank-out-the-words writing exercise.

I mentioned Evernote in my last article, suggesting it would be useful for NaNoWriMo, but I really am just learning how that works well myself. Today I was looking through our local newspaper and saw a story that sparked an idea for a novel (heck, it may work into a whole series of humorous fantasy novels). I simply smacked down the Control-Alt-N keys (I work on a Windows 7 computer; Macs probably vary) and, wham! I had an open empty Evernote note. As fast as my pudgy little fingers would fly, I was able to put out a couple of paragraphs about the idea. Then I tagged it with “novel idea” and it was captured both on my computer and in the “cloud” for as long as I want to keep it.

Not only is Evernote useful for capturing fleeting thoughts like that, it is extremely valuable for quickly cranking out your daily words if you’re doing NaNoWriMo. How in the world much easier can “journaling” or a “diary” or other writing development be than Evernote?

Many years ago, when I was a much younger lad and first aspiring to write, I remember being enchanted by some successful novelist’s writing tip: Get a roll (yes, a roll) of cheap teletype paper. Set it or prop it up behind your typewriter (yes, typewriter), then feed it into the machine. Now, as though it were magic, you had a nearly unlimited amount of typing space at hand without having to reload paper each time you finished a page.

I can still remember doing something with that now-oh-so-antique idea. It seemed pretty clever and high-tech at the time, and I suppose it was. Just think: No more disrupting the heat of passion when you were in mid-story mode. You could just keep going and going until, in theory anyway, you filled up your role of paper. (I cannot remember where I bought the rolls of paper, nor how many feet long they were.) No problem then — just rip open another role and feed it into the typewriter.

So think of Evernote, or any other text creating/text editing software you might have, I suppose, as an update of that paper roll. Only you won’t even need to feed in a new role, ever. In addition, with Evernote you can add those useful tags to help you search and find absolutely anything you type (keyboard?). It’s like being able to lay your entire mind out on “paper” one chunk or many chunks at a time — and always be able to sort out and organize or sort through the chunks.

I highly recommend it. Now excuse me while I crank another paper roll into the machine and get back to my NaNoWriMo work …