Re: plotting a mystery. I don’t plot ahead or outline.  I rarely know who done it until I’m at least two-thirds or three-quarters of the way through the manuscript.  But I do have a plan.

By the time I need to know who done it, every character has a secret or two to hide, everyone, just about, has a motive, and most of them the opportunity, and some of them the ability (strength, or marksmanship, and so on) to commit the crime.  And there are a few clues that could point to any of them.  Those clues that don’t finally point to the killer are the red herrings.

Easier than going back and putting stuff in.  It should almost all be right there.  Then you can pick the suspect you believe it will be hardest for the reader to guess.

Piece of cake.  Right?  Well, maybe not, but it’s a start.

Pink cake by Anonymous - Pink cake by Gabrielle Nowicki. From old OCAL site.

However, if you’ve already finished the book and discover you didn’t hide the villain well enough, I suggest going back and taking three or four other characters, give them each a motive and a clue or two that leads to them, and have your protag eliminate them one by one. Then go through the manuscript on screen, search for each character’s name, and read through each scene he or she is in to be sure it all holds together.

Then have another piece of cake.


Two great ways to increase your productivity. One is to arrange your work space so that work flows around you, if not in a loop, at least in a semi-circle. This works for desks, kitchens, organizing a bathroom and for whole rooms, especially offices.

We’ll use an office as an example since so many of us have one, or at least a workspace that with good organization can help you speed your way through your tasks. A good arrangement for an office is to have anything incoming near the door, preferably into your inbox. There should be an empty space by your inbox for you to take something out of the box and place it on your work surface. Then, in a line, have your set-up to deal with paper. If it needs to be filed, either file it right away, or place it in a folder to be filed later. If it needs to be answered, like a letter, either answer it right away, or put in in another file folder. If it’s a bill, either pay it right away, or put it in a place you look at often. A red folder would work for this really well. If you want to read it later, have a box to put reading material into. A standing file holder on your desk will help you sort your inbox, then handle like tasks all at one time. Getting up to file a stack of papers, for example, or getting out the checkbook, envelopes and stamps for several bills can be more efficient than doing one at a time in a mixture.

Use this line-up for your bathroom. When you get up in the morning do you have to open five drawers and two cabinets to get everything out you need to deal with your face and hair? Put everything in a box and just pull it out every morning, then put it away. Simple. And easier to keep that one box clean inside than a bunch of drawers and cabinets. In your kitchen, put baking supplies and ingredients together, pots and pans near the stove, dishes close to the table where you eat, and so on. Remember the trick of creating a loop and see if it will help you arrange your workflow.

The second way to get loopy is to arrange your actual work into a mental loop. Get used to one thing following another. If you’re a writer, you write, then edit, then publish, then market. If you have written and published more than one book and plan to do more, it will help to get into a loop every day of doing each of those things. You might be writing a new book, editing an old one, getting yet another one ready to publish, including submitting, (either by yourself or with your publisher) and need to market everything you have going. So, when you’re fresh, you write new material. When you finish with that you always either edit, publish or market something else. Then pick the next thing and the next thing.

Most jobs can be broken down like this. Plan your days around the most important thing you have to do and work in the others in a special order that will work for you, mentally and physically. Do the hardest things when you are at your peak, and the easiest things when your energy lags.

Getting loopy gives your work and your day a sort of rhythm that eases stress (deciding what to do all the time and hunting for stuff or jumping from one thing to another is stressful) and helps you accomplish more.


If you write 1,000 words a day it can equal a lot a year. Here’s how:


If you write 1,000 words a day for six days a week for one year, you will have 313,000 words written by the end of the year.  Divide by four, and you will have four 78,250-word books in rough draft.

Your novel or nonfiction book may need to be a few thousand words more than that, but you can, no doubt, squeeze those words in before the end of the year.

Write a short story every month. = 12/year by writing 1,000/words or less one day a week.

Write an article every month. = 12/year when you have some extra time

At the end of one year you could have three novels, one non-fiction book, twelve short stories and twelve articles written.  This means that you have to do only two things:  Write 1,000 words a day, and edit 1,000 words a day, Monday through Friday, plus write and edit 1,000 words for your short story quota (could do 500 words in one story, and 500 in another, for example) every Saturday, and squeeze in that article when the mood strikes, but aim for one a month.



If you write 1,000 words/day, five days a week, you will have 261,000 words at the end of one year.  Divide by four, and you have exactly enough for four 65,250-word books.  Make one or two a bit shorter, and you can squeeze in a two-week vacation.

If you get most everything you write published, each will help sell the others.  Someone may read your nonfiction book and find out you wrote a mystery, so will try that out, or vice versa.  Someone may read a couple of your short stories or articles, see your bio, and decide to try one or more of your books.

The trickiest part is to keep up the pace and to make sure that if you edit out a whole chuck of one of your pieces that you also write enough words in that day to make up the deleted words.

Make up a chart for tracking how much you actually accomplish every day in a spreadsheet, and you will be amazed at how much you have done in just half a year.

Excuse me while I work on my second 500 words for the day. (But no, although I wish I could meet this goal, I haven’t yet. But there’s still time.)




Everyone knows it’s a great idea to keep a to do list. And many think that’s it. You just list everything you have to, need to, want to do, and cross off each item as you accomplish it.

And basically, that’s true. So, if you’re doing this and still not getting things done, what’s wrong?

There are a few hints about using a list you should know.

First, only use one list and one system. Do not have pieces of your list scattered all over on notepads, sticky notes, napkins and on the back of other people’s business cards. Carry a notebook with you and “capture” stray thoughts about what you want to add to your list. Then add those items to the list when you next look at it. You have to have everything listed so you can prioritize what needs to be done.

Next, it doesn’t have to be an actual list. One nifty way to handle your to-dos is to use index cards. They are handy because they can fit into a small space like pocket or purse, and they are more durable than paper. I have just recently come to this system because I have many recurring to-dos each day.

  1. I have a card all made up of routine tasks for each day of the week.
  2. And I have two other cards made up for things I want to do every day. One for work (writing) and one for household.
  3. Then I have a card where I list occasional things, like getting the tax stuff ready for the tax man, making a dental appointment, fun things like that. Those things I cross off as I do them. When the card is too full to add anything more, I transfer the undone things to another card and keep going.

All the other cards have the things I need to do daily in a semblance of the order I hope to do them in. So, I don’t cross off anything. I just look at them every so often to see how I’m doing.

If your routine isn’t so structured, then having a running to do list is probably the way to go. Just remember to keep it all on one list and look at it often during the day.

Using a to do list is the most basic and probably the most powerful thing, along with a calendar, you can use to organize your life. Do you have a to do list?


I’ve tried to put everything on the computer. Names and addresses of everyone I know. All the financial info. A calendar. Photographs. A map program that uses GPS. The family tree. And that’s just the personal stuff. For my writing, everything original I write, of course, now gets written on my laptop. But also the trackers and market lists, notes about each novel or story, writing advice, quotes, and so on.

When we lived in the small space of a forty-foot motorhome all the time, this is a great idea. Now that we’re back in a brick and stick house, I still think it’s a great idea.

But I write a lot of short stories, and submitting them is much work in itself.

I found out tables are my friends.
Wooden Table by Anonymous - A wooden table by Benji Park. From old OCAL site.

No, not that kind of table.

I used to have:

A notebook in which I put:

  • A table to track everything I submitted with title, where submitted, date submitted, date back, and a yes/no column for whether accepted or rejected. This was kept in the front of the notebook.
  • Behind that, a table for each publication and what I’d sent to them when, and how long it took to hear back.

A manila file folder for each story in which I had:

  • A table to track date, where sent and response for the front of the file.
  • Correspondence and contract(s) for the story.
  • A clean printed copy of the story.

All these trackers, the manuscript and notes for it were put onto my laptop after a awhile. And there they still sit. It took quite a long time for me to get used to using the ones on the computer.

Today I was checking out some markets. I have about twenty stories at any given time that need to be submitted. So of course I’m always looking for new places for my work. I have in mind one place to submit to this week (my goal is one sub a week), but when going through my list, I found two other places where a couple of stories might fit. How to keep track of those? Used to be I could just jot a note and stick it in the physical file. So, I made up a notes form (yes, another form) for each story. It now contains the submission table at the top, and other notes about the story, plus I can list possible markets I come across to submit to if it’s rejected. And I just stick any other info about the story into this notes file. Which is called [Title of Story] notes.docx. I use caps for the title of the story file and the notes file name in small letters.

Often, I find the submission guidelines on-line and need to keep them someplace. Easiest thing in the world is to bookmark them, right? Yes, except you wouldn’t believe how many bookmarks I have. I was putting these new ones at the top, and important ones got pushed farther and farther down, and I had a jumble.

I hate jumbles. So eventually I made yet another table to keep the names of all these wonderful publications with a direct URL link to their submission guidelines. I also have a column for word count so I don’t have to look that up each time. And to make it easier on myself, later I added a column to put in the title of my latest submission.

Another trick I tried was to have a document in my computer labeled Notes. This is where I type in random ideas and thoughts plus URLs to go to when I have time. I guess I should have one of these documents for writing, too. The trouble is, I tried this idea several years ago, stopped using it and have never gone back to see what’s there. So I ended up still using a small legal pad to jot down things that catch my attention.

Yes, paper can get lost on the a real desktop. But ideas and jottings can get lost on that virtual desktop, too. This is as close as I can come to a pretty good system.

Someday I’ll find the perfect system. You think?


Planning and preparation are essential for getting things done, especially those things you really want to do.

Time management experts seem to be in two camps about when to do what.

One camp says to start your week by:

1.    Cleaning off your desk
2.    Clearing out your emails
3.    Checking your calendar/planner to see what’s coming up
4.    Review what you did last week to be sure something urgent doesn’t need to be done first
5.    Write out your to-do list for the day
6.    Prepare what you need to accomplish the tasks on your list (gather equipment, files, phone numbers, for example)
7.    Sketch out to-dos for the whole week.
8.    Do something hard as soon as you can after all this other stuff is done. This is now called eating the frog. If you get the worst, most unpleasant or most important task done every morning, it will set you up to have a great day. Read more about eating the frog in Brian Tracy’s book:

(Click on image to go to for more info.)

The other camp says to do most the above at the end of your week.

It wouldn’t hurt to do it both times. Especially if:

1.    Things pile up on or in your workspace on your days off
2.    Emails gather like dust bunnies on your days off
3.    Your memory isn’t what it used to be, so you need to check your calendar/planner again.
4.    You can probably skip the review either at the end of the week or the beginning of the week.
5.    To-do list could be done either day—your pick
6.    Same with preparation
7.    When you arrive at the beginning of your week and have your to-do list all ready, you can begin quicker, fresher
8.    Don’t leave anything hard, if you can help it, for the end of the week

One note about email. I do suggest checking it both end of work week and again at the beginning. Anything urgent should be handled right away no matter what day it is. And if you don’t check the beginning of every day, some of the work you planned to do may no longer be necessary. Definitely something to keep on top of.

This may seem a little overwhelming to do twice a week, but once you get into the habit of doing each thing, it won’t take long, and you’ll be glad you did.


Here are some ideas I gave another writer who asked how to cut down a piece that is too long for today’s market.

 tango edit cut by warszawianka -

How many characters does it have? Can any be combined into one character to do the job? Or cut entirely?

How many subplots does it have? For a novel over 90,000 words, probably too many. For a short story, zero is the correct answer almost one hundred percent of the time. (I’m talking about the average short story which is between about six and six thousand words.)

Is it too heavy on description–in today’s market, short is better, especially for short stories. Three lines maximum is often suggested as a good rule-of-thumb, but if you do fabulous descriptions, of course, you don’t want to limit yourself this way. Do be careful when writing short stories, though, not to have too many. Frequent readers usually expect short stories to be full of character and plot and little else, unless you’re writing literary fiction.

After looking at the big picture, you can go in and look at each sentence. Is it pulling its weight? Look for trailing phrases that can be cut. Often the words at the ends of sentences mean little or are redundant or obvious.

Next look at excess words, mostly modifiers, making the words they modify as strong as you can.

And if you’re done and still not down to where you need to be, either get someone who’s published to look it over and make suggestions, or hire a professional editor to do the job. Or both.


I’ve talked about having a vision, if you’re a writer, for your career. I’ve talked about having a vision for your whole life in my organizing posts.

Because without a clear vision, your life and your career can become a scattered mess. One of the big lessons about meeting your goals is to learn how to say “no.”

When someone asks you to do something, or you yourself think you should do something to further your career or life goals, you need to make a decision about whether you should or should not do it.

Sometimes the best answer is “no.” All kinds of reasons for that. Perhaps if you do it, you won’t be able to do something else that you want to do or need to do is the biggest reason to say “no.” But there are other reasons. For example, you just don’t feel right saying “yes.” Or you know if you say “yes,” you will be stuck forevermore saying “yes” to the person who asked you. If it’s against your values, no question, you need to say “no” without hesitation.

no pase by jnegrete - icono de se�alizacion no pase detengase o alto

Sometimes the answer will be, “later” or “maybe later.” This is fine, but eventually you have to make a firm decision. I think women still have a bigger problem with saying “no” than men do. It’s a question of being assertive, of sometimes seeming to put yourself and your needs first. But if it has to do with your career and your happiness, why would anyone who loves or even likes you want you to take care of their needs ahead of your own?

Of course, all bets are off if the other person also puts your needs ahead of his about equally. Or if it’s a child who needs extra attention for some reason, someone who is ill, or an elderly adult.

So, it shouldn’t be an automatic yes or no. It should be thought out carefully. If you decide to say yes, then put your whole heart into it—do not begrudge the other person’s need and get sour about it. If you do, neither of you will be happy. If you do it wholeheartedly, both of you will be happy. But if you have been giving and giving to another who is hale and hearty, without that person giving back to you, it’s time to reevaluate your automatic “yes.”

Next week, When To Automatically Say “Yes!”


I want to remind everyone that you can read Kindle ebooks on most any device. Go here to find out how:

Many people are reading short stories on their phones, for example. Others can download Kindle published stories to their tablets, PCs and laptops.

Remember, I have a collection of short stories available in Kindle format. Three previously published short stories in one “ebook.”

Notice the mile marker with the number 1 on it? Soon, there will be a second volume, and the marker will change to a 2. Like magic. The first collection has some of my lighter-side mystery stories The second volume will have three darker-side, previously-published stories. Something for everyone is my motto.

Also, I have on offer four stand-alone Artie Crime stories published by Untreed Reads. These stories come in any type of format you need for your device if you buy them from the Untreed Reads store. Or you can go direct to the source–B&N for the Nook, iTunes for Apple devices and of course, Amazon for the Kindle. Easy to do by going to the tab at the top of this page and clicking on Short Fiction. The covers are all there, and if you click on any one of them, you will end up on a page just for that story with buying option buttons. And a description of the story, even some reviews if a particular story got any—most did!

It’s a new world out there for those of us who love to read. Of course, you can also download Amazon full novels and other books to any device.  I still enjoy reading books printed on paper, but I also love my Kindle and my iPod (used while waiting somewhere and kept in my purse—smaller than taking my Kindle DX with me). All can be used at different times, in different places, and in different light.

If you’ve never downloaded the Kindle app you would need for a Kindle book on your favorite device, I hope you will try it out. If you do,  let me know how you like it. I love to hear from you.