Archive for the ‘links’ Category

How To Find Story Ideas When You Feel Uninspired

You’re staring at a blank screen. You want to write a piece for your blog, for your writing class, or your writing project, but your fingers remain motionless on the keyboard. You know you must have something to say, but the words just won’t come. What do you do? Maybe you should give up; you’re not a “real” writer anyway, right?


If you’re one of the many who have difficulty getting started, here’s a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing.

keep a story idea file

I learned this in a writing class years ago, and it’s my personal favorite. Get an accordion file (or you can use a file drawer) and start collecting items of interest from the newspaper and magazines. It could be an article on a topic of interest, a picture, or even a potential character name. Or maybe it’s the location of the story that intrigues you. Get in the habit of writing notes when an idea hits you, and add these to the file as well. You can also include your own photographs that might spark an idea.

Add to your file regularly. I like the portability of an accordion file, and I’ve labeled each section in mine to help keep it organized. It won’t do you any good to collect items and not be able to find them when you want them, so develop a system that works for you.

people watch

try to collect ideas and character sketches from people you encounter in everyday life. You can start with your family and friends. Everyone knows someone who would make a great story character. If you live in a busy neighborhood, sit outside and listen and watch the activity around you. Take pictures as well. Or go to a coffee shop and observe people as you enjoy a mocha latte′. Take notes on traits or speech you find interesting. Get in the habit of noticing people you encounter throughout your day, whether it’s co-workers, the lady at the dry-cleaners, or the guy who comes to fix your leaky faucet. They all have the potential to become a fascinating character in your next writing piece.

use a writing prompt

One of my favorites is at Writer’s Digest. (

There you’ll find a daily writing tip and a writing prompt to create a 500 word (or less) piece, which you can post online at their site if you choose to do so. There is also a list of additional writing prompts for you to peruse. Try this a few times and it should generate some new thoughts.

keep a notepad and pen by the bed

What the heck was that dream about?

When you awaken, write down anything you can remember from your dreams. It doesn’t have to make any sense to be a potential story idea.

stream of consciousness

Sit quietly in a room for thirty minutes with nothing but a pen and paper. Write whatever comes into your mind. Again, it doesn’t have to make any sense or even be written in complete sentences.  If you are having trouble, pick a topic and write whatever comes into your head about that topic. You can go back later and glean writing ideas from whatever you’ve written. (You can add these to your story file for future reference).

Write back and share what sparks your writing ideas.


Using The Track Changes and Comments Feature In Microsoft Word

I’ve used Microsoft Word for years, but when I started editing emailed manuscripts, I discovered a hidden gem I hadn’t used before– the Track Changes and Comments feature.

It allows you to revise your own work or someone else’s without changing the original document. You can also include comments or questions. The recipient of the file can then review the changes and comments, and then accept or reject the changes.

You can access it through “Tools” on the menu bar, or by opening a Word document and right-clicking on “TRK” that appears at the bottom of the page- this will add the “Reviewing ” toolbar to the top of your document screen.

Here’s a link to a document that explains the basics of how to use it, and also provides a link to Microsoft’s more in-depth documentation at the Microsoft Office Online.

It’s not a difficult tool to use, but I recommend trying it on a practice or backed-up document first-until you feel comfortable using it.

If you are a Word user and have not used this function, I suggest you consider its value in your writing and editing endeavors.

Manage Your Avatar So People Can Find Your Blog

As I’ve been reading posts and comments at various WordPress blogs, I’ve found more than a few bloggers whose avatar does not link to their blog site. If you’re one of those people and that’s what you intended, skip the rest of this post and move on to something more interesting. 🙂

If you’re reading this thinking what the heck is she talking about?, then maybe you’ll find this useful.

Evey time you leave a comment at a blog site or one of the forums, it leaves your avatar and your public display name along with your comment. If the blog at which you left a comment has the “Recent Comments” widget displayed (as mine does), you may also see your avatar and public display name there as well.

So what, right?

Well, I find the avatars useful as a quick link (public display names provide a link too). I just click on the avatar and like magic, I’m virtually transported to another blog where I can check out their action. Cool!!

I can do that unless the avatar is linked to another web site (not blog site)— or to nothing at all. If you happen to click on one of those avatars, you’ll either get to a web site or an error message such as: “the URL is not valid and cannot be loaded” , or “sorry we couldn’t find that site”, or some other message that lets you know you’re not where you thought you’d be.

And depending on how a blogger sets up their profile, their public display name is not necessarily the same as the blog name (my public display name is Nancy, my blog name is Another Writer’s Space). So, it may be very difficult or impossible for someone to locate them from a comment if their avatar is not linked to their blog site.

Luckily there’s an easy way to check your link—or lack of it, and fix it.

First go to “My Account” in the WordPress menu bar displayed at the top of your blog, and select “Edit Profile”.

Under “Contact Info” you’ll find “Website”. This is where you’ll enter the complete URL to your blog site. (Mine is

If you have a separate web site and want your avatar linked to it instead of to your blog site, enter the web site URL instead. Just remember, doing so may confuse the person who is trying to get to your blog. ( I put a link to my editing services web site on my “About Me” page and also my “Favorite Links” page, so that people who visit my blog can easily get there if they’d like to check that out too).

After you’ve entered your blog site’s complete URL, you’ll need to save your changes. Scroll down to the bottom of the “Edit Profile” page; you’ll find an “update profile” button. If you don’t click on this, none of your changes will be saved and you’ll have to go back and re-enter them.

Finally, go leave a comment somewhere (remember, it’s International Leave A Comment Week!) and check it to make sure the avatar link is functioning. If not, you probably just made a typo, so go back and re-edit your profile.

Posting comments with a linked avatar should start increasing the traffic to your blog. Give it a try.

All Aboard the Glimmer Train!

If you like to write (or read) short fiction, I recommend checking out Glimmer Train Press, an independent quarterly literary journal started in 1990 by two sisters in Portland, Oregon who personally read all submissions. is packed with information about the journal and detailed writing guidelines and FAQ’s about submitting your work for consideration for publication.

Submissions must be original, unpublished fiction. They do not publish novels, poems, or stories for children.

You can select either standard or competition submission. There are no reading fees for standard submission and you receive $700 if your story is accepted for publication. There is a $15-20 reading fee for competition submissions, but the payout is higher.

You can also purchase a subscription to Glimmer Train for $36/yr or $58 for two years. Each issue is about 200 pages (8-12 stories). Back issues are available for $12 each.

They also publish Writers Ask, a quarterly 16 page non-newsletter for writers packed with information on writing from accomplished literary writers and mentors. A one year subscription is $20, or $33 for two years. Back issues are available for $6 each.

Whether you’re an experienced writer or a novice, this journal provides an opportunity for you to get your short fiction published. Give it a try, and drop me a line if your submission is accepted for publication- I’ll be cheering for you!

Subscribe to VersionTracker- A CNet Site for Mac, Windows, and Palm OS Users

I had a request for “more Mac stuff ” after my post recommending a free Mac OSX application called Caffeine from VersionTracker. My main focus for this blog is writing, and although technology can be a part of that, I will not be posting regularly about such things. I will post information if I find something I think is particularly useful or just plain cool.

However, in light of wanting to please my readers, I will post the link to VersionTracker again: and make the suggestion to register at the site (it’s free) where you have the ability to sign up for either daily or weekly email alerts which are specific for Mac, Windows, or Palm OS applications.

This partial screen shot shows what you will receive:


The nice thing about email alerts is that they provide a nice tabled listing of the newest apps, their size, and their license info. Each software title is a link back to it’s download page at VersionTracker. You’ll also find user feedback, and usually a link to the developer’s site as well. Most of the apps are freeware or shareware, but there are also betas, commercial licenses, and updates to current software.

At the site, you can choose to view Mac OS, Windows, or Palm OS apps, and then sort by specific operating system to narrow your view. Here’s the header that shows above the daily updated list of apps where you can search by category, view editor picks, or see what’s hot:


A trip to VersionTracker is definitely worth a few minutes of your time if you like free or inexpensive toys for your system.

Online Writer’s Groups- Are They For You?

As someone who has joined various local writers’ groups only to be disappointed time and time again, online groups may be an attractive alternative. That is not to say that all local groups are worthless- I’m sure there are some fine ones out there. The problem is that they can be difficult to find, and the best ones limit the number of people (and sometimes genre) for practical purposes, so they may not be available when you’re ready to join.

Online groups have the advantage of convenience; log in whenever and wherever you want, and spend as much or as little time as you want. They also hold an appeal to writers who want to receive a critique of their work but don’t want to actually face their critics. There is the added advantage of not having to critique pieces in which you have no interest (although generally, the more you critique, the more feedback you will receive in return). And for some, it’s easier to give an honest written critique than to face someone and try to tell them what isn’t working.

It’s never a good idea to tell a writer how great their piece is just to spare their feelings… or your own. Strive to give thoughtful, helpful feedback and be prepared to receive the same. Writers groups are not intended for people who only want to hear how wonderful they are, and if you find a group where that is the general practice, run! That kind of interaction might feed your ego, but it’s not going to help you grow as either a writer or critic.

There are many groups who welcome writers of all levels and interests. One I found just by doing a simple Google search is called Critique Circle ( You can join for free, or upgrade to their premium service for $24/year . The web site is loaded with FAQ’s on how their site works and how to critique- there are even critique templates available to use. It’s worth a look if you think a group might be right for you.


A Free, Easy to Access Resource For Writers and Readers

A couple of year’s ago, I took a fiction writing class taught by Thomas B. Sawyer. He recommended that anyone who wanted to improve their writing, regardless of what they were writing, should spend a few minutes each day reading the New York Times. (No, he doesn’t work there, and he lives in California).

He was right.

I registered at the web site (it’s free) and suddenly had access to all kind of stories, story ideas, and more importantly, good writing. I have learned to take my time there and really luxuriate in the words and the flow of the prose. Still considered by many to be the best newspaper in the world, their pieces are undoubtedly well written.

The web site is appealing and easy to navigate. You can even sign up for free email alerts on various topics. And their Sunday Book Review is a great way to check out new books and author interviews. You can even search within the SBR back to 1981.

Podcasts, videos, and even online book discussions are available as well. I encourage all writers (and readers) to make the trek to, pick a location, and enjoy- even  if only for a few minutes. It will be there, ready for you whenever you can make it back.