Aug 30, 2016

Keeping Track of Word Count

by Marsha Ward @MarshaWard
[Most of this post was previously published on The Ink Ladies Blog on August 21, 2010. It has been mildly edited for updates.]

I've been busy, believe it or not. As I drown in slip-sliding paper falling toward me and my fingers on the keyboard (most of which I could shred, once I extract the odd computer disk, wedding announcement, and hardback book from the pile), it occurs to me that I could share how I keep track of my word count as I write.

Now understand, this can be as complex or as simple as I want to make it. I can use the Excel chart my friend J. Scott Savage sent me several years ago that nags me incessantly, or I can add and subtract words as I write and edit, or I can keep a simple running tally at the beginning and the end of my writing day. I kind of like the simple style nowadays, so I'll tell you how that last thing works.

I love the 9.5 inch by 6 inch one-subject notebooks for this task. They're not so big as to be in the way, and not so small as to disappear amidst the rubble on my desk. I open it up and draw three equally-spaced lines down the page. This gives me two sections of columns to fill up.

In the left-most column, at the top, I put the date. I can put anything else in the nature of notes in that column, like the times I start and end, the scene or chapter I'm working on, and how many hours I work. I see I have a notation saying slippery elm bark and chamomile tea. Ha! I know what scene that one was!

The second column is where I put the beginning word count opposite the date. If I'm starting fresh, this is zero. If I want to, I can add the word count when I do a save, when I get up for lunch, or what-not (I usually only put down the last three digits, or hundreds). The last figure I put in that column is the final word count of the day, unless I want to do a total of words written underneath it. I finish the day with a horizontal line drawn under all the notes for the day, in both columns.

The other section of two columns is for when I get to the bottom of the page. You knew that, right?

How do you find your word count at the beginning and end of the writing period?

If you're writing your novel or other kind of piece in Word, click on the menu item called Review, then highlight all your text (Ctrl+A). In the far left section, look for Word Count. Click it, and you'll have a rough estimate of your words. I say "rough," because it will count every asterisk (*) and Chapter Heading, but it's good enough for starters. Do this again when you quit for the day, and you have the second count.

Actually, if you want an even simpler method, just look at the bottom of your Word document, on the left. If you have Word 2010 or newer, the word count is already there for you.

Or, you can use the software program I use. I bet some of you chimed in with "Scrivener," but no, what I use is similar but FREE! It's called yWriter5. It, too, gives me the total word count of the project at the bottom of the main window (as well as words written that day when I'm finished), so I check the word count when I begin and when I end, and put those numbers in my notebook at start and end of day. Actually, since I belong to a couple of accountability groups, I also note the total words written that day in my notebook so I can report.

yWriter5 and its antecedents were written by novelist and computer programmer Simon Haynes of Australia. He couldn't find a writing software that suited his needs, so he wrote it. He updates it quite often, sometimes to meet suggestions of users, but it's a lean program written to use few resources of your machine. It even runs off a flash drive, so it's highly portable.

You can find yWriter5 at (Hal Spacejock is the hero of Simon's futuristic sci-fi series). There are several other useful programs to be found there, as well as a link to the  how-to wiki created by the folks in the next paragraph.

This software is free, not only no-cost, but free of nasty surprises like virii, Trojan horses, and other malware. There's an active community of users in a Google group who support each other. The old hands answer the questions of the newbies, and Simon occasionally pops in, too.

I really like yWriter5, not only to keep track of my word count, but for ease of writing a scene at a time (which is about all my brain can fathom at one time).

How do you keep track of your word counts?

Aug 25, 2016

Writing as Therapy

NOTE:  Well darn it!  I had my post all written and ready to publish on my designated day Thursday.  I thought I had scheduled it to publish, but it did NOT publish on Thursday.  Please forgive me for my post's lateness!

It's been an exciting, yet difficult, couple of months over here.  I started my job as an addictions counselor, and was thrust head-first into the world of addicts.

Being LDS, I've spent most of my life trying to live in the world, but not of the world (John 15: 19). I've gone to great lengths to insulate myself and my family from the influence of Satan, and to keep my mind free from the darkness that sometimes permeates much of the world.

As I came home from a particularly hard day from work this week, I pondered my recent experiences in my new job.  I've, in essence, jumped into that world I've tried so hard to avoid. Now, I'm experiencing the darkest, most vile parts of this world through my patients as they recount the horrors of their lives, and all  the events that led up to their substance use.  The cost is high for someone like myself who has been vigilant about trying to live a Christlike life.  At times, it's as if my spirit is cowering in the recesses of my mind, shrieking in pain as if being poked by a hot iron. Other times, I feel as if I've fallen into a vat of tar. It takes every ounce of my energy to keep moving forward, helping those clients to process their experiences.

I know much of my struggle will eventually calm.  The cuts will scab over, and be replaced by a thicker, more resilient skin. The shrieks will subside into whimpers, and eventually, somewhere down the road, to calm acceptance.

But in the mean time, I've been working desperately to find a way to cope. A way to come home and be present in the lives of my family.  I don't like walking through the front door with my face still moist from tears. I abhor having to run directly up into my room when I haven't seen my children for twelve hours and asking for just fifteen more minutes before I can say hello to them.

So what do I do?  How do I cope?

I write.

I write about those who stand up to the evil around them.  I write comedies.  I reflect upon the good things that have happened in my life, and the efforts my parents put into giving our family a good upbringing.  I pour out my heart and soul onto page after digital page.  Stories that will never be published, or even read by another living soul.  I write to be reminded of all the good that is in the world. To be reminded that what I see as an addictions counselor is but a sliver of humanity.

Writing is this therapist's therapy.  What was once a hobby, has now become my lifeline.  And though my example is a bit extreme, I don't think I'm the only person who uses writing as therapy.  I hear about it all the time among other writers.  I find it fascinating to hear the stories of how writing has helped the lives of so many.

So what is story? Why do you write? I'm sitting here with my hands bridged under my chin, waiting for your answer.  Please share!

Aug 23, 2016

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

by Terri Wagner

My title is courtesy of the classic film Princess Bride a favorite of mine. Lately, I have been doing a crossword puzzle at lunch just to get away from all the drama of first week back to school. And often I keep getting these clues that to me have nothing to do with what I think most people think the word means. It makes me go uhhhhh?! A novice writer is always guilty of using words in a creative fashion that only confuses readers. I took a journalism course in college and I well remember our professor's words...use the word that describes the action, only that word. For example, he would say "he raced through the parking lot," is incorrect. Unless of course the character was actually in a race. Otherwise you need to find the word that truly describes what happened. For example did he run? did he saunter? Did he hop? Did he skip? That tiny piece of insight about using the right word has stuck with me all these years later. When I read he tore through the store, I always laugh and think really and just how did he do that. Seriously using the right word the right way beats using words that sound great but have little basis in reality. Well ok I will concede that a ogre may literally tear through a forest to get to the elf. Fantasy has it's own set of rules.

After this experience in crosswording, I think I would make all new writers have to do that on a daily basis. After all, a picture (of words) is better than a thousand words. In this particular crossword puzzle they like to use clues like aches for ill. Now aches and ill can describe someone who is experiencing an unhealthy situation but aches are very different than ill. I realize crosswords puzzles are hard put to find words that work together, but it's a great experience in learning to be a good wordsmith. And there are true gems in Princess Bride, check out how they used words that are truly amazing in a very inconceivable way (FTR from PB).

Aug 20, 2016

Words Matter

 by Deb Graham

 One of my early childhood memories is of my four-year-old self, sitting at the big dining room table, feet dangling, fat pencil clenched in hand. I asked my obnoxious teenaged brother how to spell “orange.” I remember by older sister’s laughter as he smirked, “S,T,U,P,I...” and Mom’s sharp defense.

“If we don’t teach her how important words are, how will she learn?”

Wait. Words are important? How can that be, when I hear people fling them around carelessly? As I grew older – and learned to spell – I realized my mother was right. Words are powerful! Words, either marks on paper or verbal utterings, can be used to wound, to heal, to uplift, to guide, or coerce, to crush, to promise, to cut, to encourage, to soothe, to teach, to lie, to jar, to soften, to win one’s point, to manipulate, to entertain, to witness of the truths of eternity, to damage a weak soul.

Some words are arranged into boring textbooks, best used for treating insomnia. Words arranged into sappy romances and spirited fantasies provide escapism. Words, often accompanied by numbers, tell us what debt we owe to the electric company. Medical charts tell a story, as do report cards, school essays, journals, love letters. Words can touch a sagging soul.

 My dad died some years ago, and I learned many things that awful week, including the comfort that a note or card at a raw time can bring. Within days, sympathy cards arrived, a full shopping bag of them! Some had only signatures, others brief notes from people who knew my dad and wanted to acknowledge his passing. Each one cost the sender less than five minutes to write; each one touched my family’s hearts. Since then, I’m good about sending sympathy cards as needed!

In my father’s generation, handwritten mail was the norm.  In our current society, they’re a rare treat in the mailbox, a tangible sign that you’re not forgotten, that someone took time to wrap thoughts into words onto paper, just for you. I find little note cards to be a surprisingly effective tool for reaching people. Like whispering into the ear of a child having come-apart, they get attention.

 I write notes to people who prepared a particularly good sacrament meeting talk, and little thank you notes for friends who help me in ways they often didn’t even count as valuable. I write to missionaries far from home, to discourage spiders from building webs in their mailboxes. I’m surprised when people tell me how much my two-line note meant to them. We’re all hungry for human connection, evidence that somewhere on the planet, another being remembered our existence.

Certainly, I’m Very Busy– we all are.  Little do they know I wrote that note in yet another waiting room, or as I sat in my car, fuming at another too-long, slow-moving train. Those three minutes are as valuable as any others in my day.

When you think, “Oh, I wonder how she’s doing,” or “Gee, I feel bad about that,” or “It was so nice of them to help,” I urge you to take time to send a card or a scrawled note. In our fast-paced electronic world, where an emoji counts as communication, a handwritten card can mean more than you know. Just think of the bargain price of a postage stamp as a powerful tool for touching a soul, maybe even healing a wound.

What can you do with words today?

Aug 18, 2016

It's a Small World

By Kari Diane Pike

I don't understand how a room or a bus or even an elevator can be filled with people who never speak a word to each other. This may simply come from my own need to express myself with words, but I find the silence very awkward. My children have been embarrassed on more than one occasion by their mother talking to the stranger next to them in line or sitting in an auditorium. Experience has taught me that if the right questions are asked, two people can nearly always find a connection. Finding that connection breaks down barriers and can lead not only to new friends, but even help us reconnect with old friends and long lost relatives.

Have you ever heard that theory about the Six Degrees of Separation? Someone even made up a parlor game using the actor Kevin Bacon and how everyone is connected in some way and we can usually make that connection in less than "six degrees" or steps. When you belong to a world-wide organization such as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the world becomes even smaller, often connecting people in less than three degrees.

For example, a few years ago, my husband and I took a flight from Salt Lake City to Phoenix. I think I saw at least four other flights from various airlines going out that Sunday night all close to the same time. The terminal was packed. For whatever reason, Doug's ticket allowed him to board first thing. I was stuck at the end of the line. By the time I joined him, Doug was deep in conversation with the young man sharing our row of seats.

He introduced himself as Mike. He looked terribly familiar, yet I knew I had never met him before. He definitely reminded me of someone else we knew. We learned that Mike was headed back east to interview for a PhD program in physics. We also learned that that made him the favorite grandson because his grandmother always wanted a physicist in the family. He said he was from Bountiful, Utah and had ten siblings. Most of them had advanced degrees and as we learned more about this family, Doug said,

"Do you mind me asking what your father does for a living that your family can afford the education to earn all of those advanced degrees?"

Mike grinned. "Oh, my dad is a cardiologist."

Without so much as a glance at each other, Doug and I both exclaimed, "You're a Muhlstein! And your uncle's name is Randy and your dad's name is Brent!"

Mike's sat back in his seat and his eyes opened wide. "How do you know my name and how do you know my family?"

Doug explained that while we were dating, Brent and Randy were two of Doug's roommates at Brigham Young University. Mike looked just like his dad and his uncle. Plus, Good Housekeeping magazine had published an article about Mike's dad and their family. Although we had lost touch, we read about their travels and challenges as a large family with a father who had a demanding and successful career.

Part two of that story happened two years later. While babysitting for my nephew in Phoenix, two sister missionaries knocked on the door. One of the name tags read "Sister Muhlstein>" Yep. You got it. She was Mike's sister.

I'm sharing this story because I have learned the value of reaching out to others and trying to make connections. This past week, I checked into the surgical waiting area at Primary Children's Hospital while our granddaughter had surgery on her hip. Other parents and grandparents huddled in family groups around the room. As I looked for a place to sit, a few acknowledged my greeting with a brief nod or a tired half-smile. Most of them seemed uncomfortable when I made eye contact. I eventually found a seat across from the receptionist's desk. Soon after, a woman about ten years younger than myself, and her late-teen or early twenty-something son sat down near by. Her name tag told me that his name was Nathan. A few minutes later, the Nathan left with the nurse.

I read on my Kindle, and studied for next week's seminary lesson. An hour crawled by. No one said a word. I thought about the circumstances that would necessitate their presence and I knew it had to be stressful. The mom fidgeted and kept glancing at her watch. I wanted to help her feel less anxious.  I said a little prayer and felt impressed to just start talking. Find the connection. Be her friend.

"Do you ever wonder why time seems to drag on forever when we need it to go fast, but when we really need a lot of time, it flies by?"

Nathan's mom gave me a startled look as if thinking, "Are you talking to me?" She smiled and her stiff shoulders relaxed a bit. "I know, right! Waiting is never easy. My son was diagnosed with leukemia three years ago and he's having his last treatment today and they are removing his port. It wasn't supposed to take this long."

I learned that they lived in Pocatello, Idaho. They had made the three hour drive multiple times every month in order for Nathan to receive the best possible care. Well, there was a small connection. I lived in Pocatello when I was two years old. I also had a friend who had moved her family there. "I know Pocatello is a good sized town, but would you happen to know Lana Borgalthaus?"

Before Lana's name was even completely out of my mouth, Nathan's mom's face lit up. "Oh yes! She is the person who finally diagnosed Nathan and got us the help we needed to get him better. I love her!

We chatted for over an hour, sharing our family struggles with medical complications and our testimonies of God's love and tender mercies. I wish I had asked her her first name. We left the waiting room within minutes of each other and I felt like I had made another wonderful friend.

I've been pondering on the many ways we are all connected. I suppose I could dig really deep and study quantum physics and learn all the formulae to show those connections, but because I know who I am and why I am here, I don't need to. All I need to know is that I am a child of God who loves me... and so are you...and you...and you. Because we are all connected, we can lift one another's burdens and help each other on this mortal journey. The connections we build are the only thing we take with us to the next life.

So dear friends, next time you find yourself in that silent room, reach out and make a connection. I promise you won't regret it. You might even find it fun. Plus, I would love to hear about it.

Life is magnificent!

Aug 16, 2016

The Writer's Support System

by Marsha Ward @MarshaWard

According to a friend of mine, every writer does better at her endeavors if she has people who play four key roles in her life. These roles are Mentor, Cheerleader, Critiquer, and Motivator. Let's take a brief look at these roles:

Mentor - this person gives the writer tools so she can do a better job at writing.

Cheerleader - this person buoys up the writer, telling her she can do it.

Critiquer - this person's role is to keep the writer sharp and examining her work for errors. The Critiquer also gives suggestions for improvement.

Motivator - this person gets the writer past hurdles that come along, such as writer's block, keeping the writer moving and motivated. May be the best at being a sounding board or brainstorming partner.

Sometimes a person may act in more than one role, but usually four people shake out into the roles.

What do you think? Do you agree that these roles are essential to your writing success? Who fills these roles for you? Do you fill one or more of these roles in some other author's life?

This post was first shared with readers on July 29, 2007

Aug 9, 2016

Wondering about Mormon's Editing

by Terri Wagner

As I have said before as a Gospel Doctrine teacher, I am subject to random thoughts that run through my head. As a nonfiction writer, I always find myself wondering about the editing process. Since I do not consider the Book of Mormon fiction, these thoughts run riot in my head each time I begin to wonder why did Mormon put this in, and perhaps more importantly, what did he leave out? Lesson 29 was one of those moments where I wondered did he purposely leave some things out? Basically this is where Alma (the younger) talks to his children Helaman, Shiblon, and Corinaton.

If you read you will discover that Helaman got a lot of information including specific details about Alma's experience with the angel. He also got direct instructions on how to handle the plates with an interesting admission that Alma is not sure why these instructions are given, but it is something the Lord will deal with some time down the road. Of course, we have the privilege of knowing why. He also told Helaman which information should not be shared...words and concepts limited to and coming from Satan. Helaman was his leadership child. His follower son Shiblon got much less. I love you, you are doing great, stay with your brother Helaman, etc. Now his advice to his wayward child crosses over to Lesson 30 which I will be teaching this Sunday. The words and concepts to each child were different but somewhat similar. Alma's best advice to all his sons was to learn of, study deeply, and understand fully the Atonement. For Helaman, the Atonement was about reaching his potential as a spiritual giant, which of course we know he becomes; for Shiblon, to continue in the wise path he was already going; for Corinaton, to repent and move forward spiritually.

What I got to thinking is Mormon edited this treasure we call the Book of Mormon. (And a treasure trove it is.) So did Alma in fact have more to say to Shiblon? Was it a repeat of what Alma had already told Helaman? Does the good follower of which there are many, say Sam to Nephi, or the brothers Lehi and Nephi, get the least amount of advice because they are on the right path, will probably stay on the right path, but will be better as examples? Short of interviewing Mormon (or Alma) I doubt my curiosity will be satisfied any time soon. But it did give me a deeper appreciation for Mormon's editing. I think I would like to explore that monumental task Mormon set for himself along with everything else he was doing at the time. I wonder if Alma spoke directly to Mormon or did Mormon have to solely rely on the plates. It is a higher manner of editing isn't it? Why would we not apply the same principles to our own efforts at editing? Bring us to a higher level of editing. I'm on a mission now to discover how to edit Mormon style.

Aug 6, 2016

Big-People Teeth

“Grandma, will you teach me how to make a big-people tooth? My baby tooth fell out last night, and the Tooth Fairy came, but I have a hole in my mouth and I need a big-people tooth. Tell me how to make one. Please?”
My five and half year old granddaughter confidently waited for my reply. Sure enough, her sticky smile had a gaping hole where the pearl-sized tooth had been. I grappled for an answer, settling on the truth.

“Honey, I can’t teach you how to make a new tooth.”

Squirming impatiently, she encouraged, “Oh, sure you can, Grandma! You teached me lots of things. You teached me how to make cinnamon rolls, and how to sew a blanket for the baby, and you teached me how to read, even big words.  And you teached me how to catch a ball, and now I can catch them all the time, if they’re thrown not too fast. You’re the one who teached me how to open eggshells, too. I need a new big-people tooth. Will it take long?”

True, I had nurtured this little girl through an assortment of experiences that year while her young father finished his last college semester, usually involving her in whatever household tasks I needed to do. Clearly,  I’d neglected grammar. Trusting brown eyes fixed upon me, she waited for me to go retrieve whatever tool was required to make a new tooth. Hot glue gun, crochet hook, stew pot, trowel?

I sat her down, put my arm around her, and explained that the tooth she’d need for the rest of her days was already inside her, waiting to sprout. Indeed, it was in such a hurry, it had pushed the baby tooth out of its way. That led to a conversation about her perfect little self-contained body. She already had everything she’d ever need to grow, to be a teen, to be a woman, to be “as old as me, someday,” built in.  There would never be a special-delivery influx of whatever she needed for the next stage of her life. Like the tooth she wanted, the power was already within her.

Satisfied, my precious grandchild stood up, hands on slim hips, head cocked, obviously thinking hard. At last, she spoke slowly. “Okay, I can wait for the big-people tooth. But can you teach me about pie? I like pie.”

“That, I can do.” Hand in hand, off to the kitchen we went.

Like my little granddaughter, all we need is already within us. The power to learn, the skills to develop any talent we’re willing to work for, all the God-given goodness required lies dormant, pushing its way out when the time is right. 

Aug 4, 2016

A Gift of the Spirit

by Kari Diane Pike

What would you do if you knew that you could not fail?

I asked my seminary class that question last year. I noticed several pairs of eyes open wide. Wheels started turning. Sleepy heads lifted up off the tables. Faces lit up.

"I'd retake my English final."

"I'd start up a business."

"I'd apply to medical school and become a neurologist."

I wanted to bottle up the energy that snapped and crackled in the room. A warm, tingly feeling reminded me of a time I stood on the sidelines of a soccer field in Flagstaff, Arizona, my trusty umbrella shading me from the intense July sun. A magnificent thunderhead mushroomed up from the horizon and before I knew it, an army of fierce looking cloud warriors had joined him, flashing their lightening swords behind their backs.

I pointed out the weather front to my husband. He took his eyes off the game and glanced around for a moment before looking at his watch. No worries. Only ten minutes left to the game. Besides, the sun shone bright above us and miles of blue sky still separated us from the storm. All was well.

That's when I felt it. Every hair on my arms stood straight up and my body tingled from the tips of my toes to the crown of my head. Before I could even process what that meant, a blinding flash of light accompanied by a deafening crack hit the fence surrounding the field. A nanosecond of stunned silence evaporated into shouts as players and parents yelled out to each other and sprinted to their cars for safety, leaving behind a ghost town of shade canopies and tipped-over camp chairs.

The feeling in our seminary class was every bit as powerful, but in a much different way. The lightening made my hairs stand on end, but the result was chaos and fear. The energy I felt when the Holy Spirit testified truth to our class-the truth that Heavenly Father loves us and sent us here to succeed-brought us hope and strength and determination to act.The witness we received that morning reminded us of who we are and why we are here. While players and patrons scattered, our class became more unified. While I have no desire to be that close to lightening ever again, I seek the closeness and the witness of the Spirit every single day.

This morning I listened to a speech given by Pres. Henry B. Eyring in 2006 called "Gifts of the Spirit for Hard Times." Pres. Eyring testifies that, yes, we can experience the companionship and personal revelation of the Holy Ghost every day if we will live worthy of it. He named three things in particular that help invite the Spirit of the Lord to be with us:

  1. Faith in Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ.
  2. Be Clean. 
  3. Pure Motive. 
The third item, "pure motive" gave me a lot to think about. Why do I pray for the Spirit to help me with my writing and with teaching? Do I seek praise, adoration, and accolades, or do I seek to accomplish the will of our Father in Heaven? What I have noticed is that when I try to show the students how much knowledge I have, class time fails miserably. When I suppress my selfish desires and ask and listen to God's purpose, the students light up. They ask questions and volunteer answers. Love fills the room. 

What would you do if you knew you could not fail? I've asked that question in this forum before, but I've come to see the question from a different perspective. Life is magnificent!


Aug 2, 2016

Are You Afraid to Write?

by Marsha Ward @MarshaWard
This blog post is adapted from one originally published on this blog on March 11, 2007.

It's amazing how much fear can paralyze a writer right from the start. Let's take a look at some of the fearful reasons people don't write, even when they long to do so.
  • I'm afraid to write because I'll have to cut back on spending time with my friends, and they won't like me anymore.
  • I'm afraid to let anyone read my work because they might steal it.
  • I'm afraid to share in a writer's group because people might criticize my work.
  • I'm afraid to submit my work because it might be rejected.
  • I'm afraid to revise because I might get my work published.
  • I'm afraid to get published because I might be successful and have to change my life.
How interesting it is that a writer's fears begin and end with making life changes.

Frequently self-doubt, a scurrilous fear, attacks a writer--even a published one--and causes him or her great anxiety, even to the extent of threatening a promising career. I know of a writer who was so convinced that he/she could not write his/her way out of a paper bag that he/she got rid of every vestige of the writing life, including the latest manuscript from the computer. Fortunately, calmer heads overruled the faulty self-assessment, and he/she has gone on to much success.

How does a writer overcome these fears?

That's a big question, because every writer faces it. Writers are notorious for mood swings from the heights of arrogance to the depths of despair. How can he or she keep on a more even keel?

Here's a list of things that help other writers:
  • Listening to inspiring music
  • Reading affirmations each day
  • Hanging quotes above the computer monitor or in the writing space
  • Praying before writing
  • Lighting scented candles in the room
Probably the best suggestion for overcoming writer's fear is to face it head on and WRITE EVERY DAY*, even if it's only 100 words. This method of facing fear has the added plus of helping a writer overcome writer's block!

*I'm amending the suggestion above to "write every day" to include the phrase "when you are in writing mode." I've discovered over the years that I need breaks from writing constantly on a project. I don't mean taking breaks in the midst of writing on a project, but taking breaks between projects.

What do you do to conquer your writer's fear?