There are three ways I know of to keep good track of writing income and expenses:

  1. A money tracking program like Quicken, probably the easiest after you get the hang of it.
  2. A spreadsheet, probably the most difficult to set up, but you get a visual of everything right away.
  3. By hand, probably the easiest to set up, but more tedious to use because it won’t fill things in automatically like a tracking program and a spreadsheet will, and you have to use your head or a calculator to add everything up, whereas the programs can do that automatically for you.

The first thing to do is to make a list of categories.


List each source that can produce income, date you received money, and amount.


List expenses as they come up: postage, travel expenses, office supplies, dues, etc. Look at Schedule C on Federal Income Tax form (Google “Schedule C” Tax to find one) to see the categories you should use to designate your different expenses.

The best way to approach this is to set aside some time every day to get it all written down, either by hand or on your computer, and file your receipts and proof of income away. (This is a good practice for doing your household expenses, as well.) Do not depend on your memory. It probably won’t take more than five minutes every day you have anything to write down and file, and your future self will love you for doing it all along. This will really keep stress at bay at tax time, too.

Two of the best things about keeping track of writing income and expenses is you can see how you’re doing and what is giving you the most income every year, and what are the biggest expenses. The other big bonus is you’re completely ready for tax time, whether you prepare your taxes yourself or have someone do it for you.

It’s late in the year, but start today to get everything up-to-date, then continue through the rest of the year to keep track daily. You’ll be glad you did come April of 2013.


Two great ideas which are easy to remember when joined together–

The first is about doing something you know you should do, need to do, or sort of want to do, but keep putting off. Tell yourself to do it now. Tell yourself  you will only spend 10 or 15 minutes (your choice) doing it. Then you’ll stop and do 10-15 minutes again tomorrow, if you’re not finished in that timeframe, and other tomorrows until it’s all done. This works for a lot of people, especially if you make your future self  do it at the same time every day. Often, people who try this go for more than the time they decided on, even finishing the whole project, or at least making a huge dent in it. And that can spur them on to finish it totally.

The second idea is about putting it off for later. Use this technique when you want to quit a bad habit, like eating too much, incessantly playing computer games, smoking, etc.

When the desire hits, tell yourself  you’ll do it later. If you keep putting it off until you fall asleep that night, do that for twenty-one days (the number of consecutive days researchers have found it usually takes to break a bad habit–can’t skip a day or you’ll have to start counting all over again), the habit will most likely disappear. Even if it isn’t totally gone, you may have cut way back on how often you do it.

Or here’s a thought. Combine the two. Put off the bad habit by going to work on that project for 10-15 minutes. Hopefully, the lure of the bad habit will have lessened enough by that time so you can go on to do more productive things, or just chill out knowing you’re beginning to beat two bad habits, the putting things off, and your particular unwanted behavior. Win-win!

If you try this, I’d love to know how it works for you. Comments are always welcome here!


The title of this post almost says it all. Almost. And yes, I cribbed it from those ubiquitous lists of rules for writers—the funny ones. Since I’ve seen it on several different lists, I feel okay about using it for my title.

Disclaimer over.

Why do I say it almost says it all? Well, obvious clichés should be avoided, except in dialogue, totally. Even there, don’t overdo it unless you create a character who talks that way all the time. Even then, be careful, and make him funny.

Unfortunately, there are other, more subtle clichés happening in stories. One is the pat description, such as “She was beautiful,” and “He was handsome.” The vast majority of heroines and heroes are good-looking. Same goes for describing a person more specifically. Blue-eyed blonde is pretty common. Red-headed and freckles. Then there is clothing. Here is a great place to show a person’s personality, status, possible wealth, and other traits. But please, not in a laundry-list way. Make it interesting. Give the details out as they come up. Not:

“He wore a blue suit, white shirt with French cuffs, and his gold cufflinks gleamed. His tasseled loafers had a high polish, and when he shot his cuffs, the Rolex watch peeked into view.”

Who cares? Instead, show the details as the story unfolds. The blue suit matches the color of his eyes (be specific about shade) when we first see him. Later, the cuff-links are shaped as lions’  heads because (make up a reason). Even later, out walking with him, he gets some dirt on his tasseled loafers and shakes it off in disgust. And your main character knows he shot his cuffs on purpose in order to show off that Rolex. Isn’t he more interesting already?

(Another disclaimer: If you read some of my earlier stuff, you’ll probably see the laundry-list problem, especially in descriptions. I’m trying to use this method now because I do believe it’s a much more elegant way to go.)

Settings can also reduce themselves to clichés. The teashop, bookstore, cubicle office, mansion or trailer. Again, hit the interesting details and leave the rest out. Intersperse those details as your character moves through the setting instead of all in one lump when she first arrives on the scene.

Then there are whole characters who have become clichés. The alcoholic police officer or PI. The little old lady who solves crimes. The spunky heroine and dashing hero. The beautiful female lawyer/doctor/veterinarian/you-name-it who is smarter than all the men in the story.

Be careful of these characters. Be sure to give them some quirks and problems that are not seen in lots of other stories. Make your plot twisty enough and the quirks detrimental enough to keep the reader happy.

Now plots are a whole ‘nother thing. It’s been said there are only three. Or twenty-six (or some such number). Or a hundred. Certainly the plots for mystery novels (crime committed, protag finds out whodunit) and romances (girl meets boy, something keeps them apart, but they end up together in the end) have standard plotlines. There’s no getting around those, or you end up in another genre. But the reader doesn’t mind that. It’s what she expects and feels comfortable with. Allow her that whole comfort zone, but leave out the other clichés, big and small, to get her interested, to get her blood racing, to get her turning those pages as fast as she can.

Hint: First draft, go ahead and make your laundry list. Second draft, get those details interspersed in appropriate places. After you’ve done this a few times, you might be able to do it naturally during first draft.

Clichés can come back to haunt you. Be careful out there!


You may have guessed that I do a lot of reading about subjects such as personal organization, time management, procrastination, self-development, and self-help in general. Of course, most of this reading over the years has been done to help me get better at organizing my stuff, managing my time, stop procrastinating, and self-development. I’ve done so much of it, I even wrote a column for Mysterical-e about taking notes about what you’ve read and marginalia.

With all this reading, there are a few ideas that stand out over the rest. One of those for me was happenedI was reading up on procrastination. I don’t procrastinate about a lot of things, but I have trouble with a couple—exercising and keeping up with email are the two biggest. I shared this simple idea on a goals list I was on for a while. It struck a spark in other people too, so I’m sharing it here.

When you’re about to put something off, think of your future self. Say to yourself, <your name> will thank you later for doing <such and so>. In other words, take a moment to think about how happy you’ll be later if you do what you need to do to accomplish your goal. Then, after you’ve done it and are thankful later, thank yourself. Say to yourself, Thank you <your name.>

Simple? Yes. Effective? Try it and see.


Two of the most important to-do items for a writer are keeping track of submissions and finances.

Having good systems in place in the beginning will make things run smoothly. Here are a few tips about submissions. Next writing blog, I’ll talk about finances.

In the pre-digital world, I used a notebook and a pen to track submissions. When the computer came along, I had some difficulty switching from paper to laptop. But I used the same format I’d been using to make tables in Word. You can, of course, use Excel, but I use Word because I integrate several things in a Word document for each piece I write.

As I write my story or novel, I create a separate document to make notes. Here I put descriptions of characters, odd spellings, any research I need to do or have done, a timeline, if necessary, and other details I don’t want to forget. This is particularly important if you think you may have a series. I simply title this page “<name-of-story/novel> Notes.” That way it shows up right under the name when I open a piece to work on.

After the novel or story is written, I need to keep track of where I sent it. I use a template I made with the following columns: Sent To is for the name of the editor, agent, or publication/publisher I sent the piece to. Date, obviously, is date sent; Returned is when I received an answer. Time Frame is the amount of time it took to get that answer. Comments is for any information the person who replied cared to give me about what I sent.

Now, I’m not done with this handy Notes page. Underneath my table, I have the following to remind myself of what I need to do after I fill out the submission table:

CHECKLISTS for short stories—did I enter the info into these checklists?

__Stories Sent out List (A separate table in Word for short stories with: Name of Story; # of Words; Date Sent; Where Sent.) In this table I list all stories I have polished that are ready to submit.

__Publication Form (Another, separate document for each publication) Name the file after the publication name. Title the page with that name, then have a little section (not a table) with: Words (for their word count requirements); Reports (for timeframe they say they will report in, if known); and Pays (if they do, how much). Then a table with Title; Date Sent; Date Back; Time Period; Type of Rejection (form, personal comments, etc.). I use a template and make a new Publication Form for each publication I haven’t yet sent anything to. This only takes a couple of minutes.

Next comes the AFTER PUBLICATION, SENT TO list for everything I get published that is ready for people to read/buy. I rarely announce acceptances. I wait until the piece is available for immediate purchase/download. Not even one day ahead—people forget, and you’ve lost readers.




__General email lists if I think the people on them will be interested (list each one separately)

__Special writers email lists (list each one separately)



__Goodreads (if a book)

__Mailing List

__Add anyone/anyplace you can think of to this list

Seems like a lot of work. In the beginning, it will take some time to set it all up, and if you write a lot of short stories, will take getting used to. But once you’ve used the system (tweaked mine or made one yourself), it becomes routine and only takes a few minutes to make the new pages and fill out the information.

Your future self will thank you, over and over again. Because no matter how good our memories are, as time goes by, we do forget important details. That can be embarrassing if you send the same story out to a place you’ve already sent it to, not to mention the wasted time. In the end, this will save your time. And your sanity.



Something you need to do soon, or want done by the end of the week? Place an object in sight that will catch your eye and thus nag you frequently during the day.

  • I have a problem with magazines piling up, unread. Probably because I stash them away, out of sight. Now I plop one on the table next to where I sit to remind me to read through it when I have a few moments. After I’m done with it, I get another one out. I also tear out the ads and pages as I read them and throw them away because I tend to skip around instead of reading straight through. Each magazine gets smaller and smaller, I don’t have to remember what I read and haven’t read, and it helps me realize it won’t take that long to finish it. Husband reads from front to back, and he simply folds down the last page he read. Do what’s best for you.
  • Been putting off the dusting? Take whatever you dust with—rag, feather duster, micro cloth–and put it where your glance will catch it often. Get out the vacuum or dust mop if your dusting is up to date. I don’t recommend putting the toilet brush within sight, though. You’re just going to have to remember that chore on your own.
  • Need to send a sympathy/birthday/get well card, but you’ve been putting it off because you have to look up the address and put a stamp on the envelope? Put it right next to where you sit to relax.
  • Keep forgetting to empty the dishwasher? Open the door when it’s finished running, even if you don’t have time to empty it right then. The open door will remind you to put everything away.

You get the idea. What tricks can you think of to nag, er, help you remember to get something done that really, really needs doing?