An Engineer’s Guide to NaNoWriMo (or how I grew from a newbie to a veteran)

This post was originally written for the NaNoWriMo blog. You can check it out here (it's been slightly modified, but the content's basically the same). I’m an engineer. While most of my colleagues use this as an excuse to keep themselves from writing anything, I argue it’s the reason they need to be the best writers. The concepts engineers can create in their minds still need to be communicated to the world. Concepts never imagined before. Similarly, how many writers are out there with an idea nobody has ever read, just waiting to get it onto the page? As an engineer, I have a particular set of skills—some would say “quirks”—that have helped me over the last eight years of NaNoWriMo grow from just barely finishing to writing rapidly and voluminously. Most engineers are known for their problem-solving skills, and NaNoWriMo presents an interesting problem: how do I write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days? Like most problems, I resort...
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Why you should schedule your writing

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” When it comes to writing, many will consider this alleged quote by Benjamin Franklin to mean that they should outline every single scene of their book, write FBI-level character bios, and practically have every part of the book already written in their head before they sit down and actually put it to the page. While this can sound like a daunting task, it misses the point of the quote. It’s not that writers should plan out their books, it’s that they should plan out their time. Time management is more important than you think. Back when I was becoming more serious about writing, I had all the time in the world. My job was stable, and I had a good work/life balance that allowed me to come home and do all the writing or editing I would need to complete the projects that I had started. Plus, at the time, I was single and...
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The ABC+ of Beta Reading

A few months ago, I discussed how there are four essential edits that every author should perform on their manuscript. While the author can do half of these edits by themselves, two edits need the input of other people: editors and beta readers. Authors shouldn’t expect editors to ask what to look for during their review, but most beta readers might not know the types of useful feedback the author is seeking with their review. It doesn’t hurt to provide beta readers with a little guidance on what to be looking for when they read the author’s manuscript. The benefits of beta readers are due to the fact that they aren’t necessarily professionals reading your work. They won’t have the background to tell you if you’re using too many dangling participles (like your editor should). Instead, they have the “layman” view of someone who would pick up your book and read it for entertainment purposes. Consequently, the beta readers should be able...
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3 unexpected programs to help you publish a book [PART 3/3]

Over the last few months, I’ve hopefully opened your eyes to some of the neat tricks you can use to help publish your book using the Microsoft Office suite. Microsoft Word is an obvious choice for writing, and Microsoft Excel can also be useful to manage lists and other planning information, but did you know there’s one more program that can help you publish your book as well? Up until now, the programs I’ve suggested are ones that you’d likely use anyway if you were trying to organize your work or polish your manuscript. The key was merely using the lesser-known tools within these programs to make your life as a writer easier. This month, I’d like to suggest something that might shock you and will require you to use a program in a slightly different manner than it’s usually used. That program is: MICROSOFT POWERPOINT Most people associate PowerPoint with corporations, presentations, and goofy animations. While these are the typical uses for the...
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3 unexpected programs to help you publish a book [PART 2/3]

Last month, I told you how the Microsoft Office suite can help you with your writing. I covered Microsoft Word, and how it’s more powerful than just a standard word processor. By getting to know some of the more obscure features of these (usually) easily obtainable and available programs, writers can take control of their writing without having to purchase expensive computer programs. With Microsoft Word, I covered how Section Breaks, Styles, and Formatting can help a writer create a professional-looking book with less effort. Even though our next program isn’t used directly for the actual writing of a book, it is incredibly valuable for planning and prepping. It can also be used during the polishing phase of a manuscript as well. I refer, of course, to: MICROSOFT EXCEL As an engineer, I love to use spreadsheets, and Excel is the king of the spreadsheet programs. Any time I need to write a list or do some calculations, I open up a new...
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3 unexpected programs to help you publish a book [PART 1/3]

Many months ago, I described the amount of work a writer would need to do by themselves to publish a book. Not only is there research, formatting, and graphic design involved, the writer also has to write said book. This whole process can be daunting, especially in the digital age. We have so many different programs at our fingertips to help us plan, write, and publish. A lot of these programs can cost a significant amount of money. Sure, programs like Aeon Timeline, Evernote, and Scrivener might be worth the money in the long run, but you’ll inevitably have to learn how to use these programs, which can eat into your writing time. What if I were to tell you that there’s a suite of programs you probably already have installed on your computer that can accomplish many of the same functions as the programs that cost a lot more? Many of you probably already use these programs on a regular...
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Why “spell check” is not enough

English is hard. Certain words may be spelled the same but have completely different meanings. Other words may sound the same, but have different spellings (and thus, different meanings). There are even words that may change meaning with the addition or subtraction of a single letter. This is why context is a huge part of the English language. Depending on the words around it, the correct word can be implied, but an incorrect word will still jar the reader enough to pull them from the story. They’ll likely re-read the sentence, trying to make sure they understood the author correctly. When they realize the writer made a mistake, they’ll continue reading, but they’ll have a seed of mistrust planted in their minds. From that point onward, they’ll question every word the writer uses, just to make sure they aren’t mistaken again. This increases scrutiny on the part of the reader, and can often distract from the author’s intent: conveying a...
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The 4 types of edits, and why you need to do them all.

It is a rare feat to be able to write a perfect story. It’s even rarer to do so with the first draft. Hubris blinds the writer who considers the first draft of their writing to be perfect. Some writers might fall into the trap of crafting every single word of their first draft, thereby almost ensuring that the first draft will never be complete. On the other end of the spectrum from the “perfect first draft,” we have writers who will continue to polish a story forever, never settling for “good enough.” While no story can be “perfect,” editing will help to get it close enough for publication. In my experience, editing takes up the majority of the writing process, and for good reason. While some authors may continually iterate the editing process, I have found that there are four types of edits every writer should use when revising their work. These four types range from simple spot checks to...
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3 reasons why you shouldn’t pick sides

Just like everyone has a bellybutton, we all have opinions. However, if the 2016 election has taught us anything, it’s that most people’s opinions seem to be on extreme ends of the spectrum. I know you can’t please all the people all of the time, but as writers who want to sell books, we should at least try to remain unbiased. Sure, our beliefs will usually leak through into our writing. If we leave it at a subconscious level, this amount of bias isn’t too bad. When a writer tries to take a purposeful stance on something via their fiction, most of the time it falls flat and fails to convince anyone to change their mind. Here are three reasons why writers should try to be neutral in their narrative: Opinionated writing appears preachy I get it. The world is a mess, and we all want to blame someone for it. In these trying times, it’s easy for writers to mount their...
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Expectations and a Reviewer’s Rubric

When I first started my website, www.benjamin-m-weilert.com, I knew I wanted it to be a repository of reviews for all the books I’ve read and all the movies I’ve seen. I have some of these reviews scattered across the web, but I wanted a single location where all of them could reside. A single place where I could control these reviews. Now that my website is almost a year-and-a-half old, I have accumulated over 250 reviews on it. These reviews range from nights at the Colorado Springs Philharmonic to audiobooks to movies to books received from authors and/or publishers. As most of my reviews, I provide a “star” rating to help visitors to my site determine if the piece of media is worth their time. Early on, I based most of my ratings on an intuitive “hunch” of what I felt the work deserved. This scale (from 0.0 to 5.0) is mostly subjective and, while this is still largely the case,...
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