Tag s | Research

Old School Tools Rule (Sometimes)

I use modern technology a lot. Some digital tools make the writing life a whole lot easier, from word processing’s track changes to email and Dropbox and voice dictation and more. But I still cling to a few old-school tools that newer technologies haven’t replaced. Here are three I have found irreplaceably beneficial.

The Bring-Up File

An analog tool that has helped me make the most of my time and efforts: a “bring-up” file (sometimes called a tickler file). It’s a simple but genius system comprised of 43 file folders I keep in my desk drawer. Twelve are labeled with the names of the months and the rest are numbered 1 through 31. So, each morning I pull out that day’s numbered folder, which contains various papers and other items that need my attention that day, such as, say, a birthday card to send, a cleaning sheet for my paper shredder, a gift card to use for date night with my wife, and a bill I need to pay and mail that day (though most of my bills are digital, some still have to be mailed). The folder also contains any paperwork remaining from the previous day, which allows me to start every day with a clean desk. At the beginning of each month, I divide the contents I’ve been filing away to remember during that month into the 31 numbered folders, and the process begins again.

Post-it Notes and Sheets

I use a lot of Post-it notes in the course of a week or month. Some mark portions of the book I’m reading that I want to copy into a journal or into my Bible Reference Index (see below). Or I might stick a note on my next flight itinerary so I don’t forget to pack an item. I might stick a note on my steering wheel so I remember a stop I wanted to make. And so on. I’ve also used the giant sticky easel pads to brainstorm and outline books and chapters, lining them up along my office wall so I could get a sense of the big picture, so to speak.

Bible Reference Index

The other old-school tool that’s been a huge help to me over my years is a box of 60-some dividers labeled with the books of the Bible. (See the above picture.) Between those dividers are 3 x 5 index cards; each card has an abbreviation of the Bible book in the upper left corner and a chapter number in the upper right corner. Over the years, as I’ve read books—both fiction and nonfiction—and come across an allusion or reference to a verse or passage in the Bible, I’ll mark it (with a Post-it) and then later record that book’s title, author, and page number on the corresponding card in my Bible Reference Index. This system helps tremendously when I’m writing an article or book chapter, as I can pull a card and see quickly what my reading over the years has said about the Bible portion on which I’m writing. On occasion it’s made me look so much smarter than I am (which isn’t a hard task, I grant you, considering my starting point).

I recommend old-school tools like these to my writing friends, as they’ve helped me to achieve and maintain some semblance of order in my writing life. (Every little bit helps, you know.)

How about you? Do you use any old-school tools in your writing life?


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Attention to Detail

Recently, I read a general-market novel that, for the most part, held together. Except I wish the novel ended sooner because I started to get bored. That aside, the author seemed to know the topics discussed but, for whatever reason, completely missed the mark when describing a popular hotel chain. …

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Researching Your Historical Novel

Angela Breidenbach is a bestselling author of fiction through the ages with most of her books set in Montana. She’s the host of Lit Up! on TogiNet.com and iTunes about great entertainment from books to movies. Visit Angela and her fe-lion personal assistant, Muse, posting comedic conversations with his Writer …

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Fake News and the Christian Author

Most book authors do not work their way up through the ranks beginning with a college degree in journalism. Because of this, many have no exposure to the best practices of career writers and journalists. Sure, book authors might be very creative, insightful and able to recite large sections of …

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Details, Details (Do They Matter?)

I was chatting with a reader the other day who told me about an advertisement she’d received about a new book. She said, “I read the sample, but then the author said that Black-eyed Susans bloomed in May, but they don’t bloom until August. I didn’t buy the book.” “Did you …

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Bad Research

After many years in another industry, a corporate CEO left to lead a large publishing company. After a month or so on the job, he grew unsettled at how different publishing was from the consumer product industry he was familiar with, especially the highly “intuitive” approach publishing utilized to make …

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Watching History

Over the holidays, my husband and I viewed an epic series about the life of St. Teresa de Jesus, filmed in Spanish, though English subtitles were provided. For eight hours, we were taken back to the 1500s in Spain. As a writer of historical novels, I’ve researched many eras. However, …

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Is Your Novel Historical or Whimsy?

As a proud native Virginian, I find it painful to read about the possibility that our early settlers may have practiced cannibalism when my state was but a mere colony. If you have been following the story, you have seen that much of the media presents conjecture as fact but at this point whether or not they resorted to cannibalism during the starving season is speculation. Speculation or not, the idea makes me shudder.

The Gallant Sir Walter Raleigh

My third grade Virginia History book opened with the story of how the gallant Sir Walter Raleigh placed his cloak on the mud for Queen Elizabeth I so that Her Majesty’s feet would not have to touch the ground. Then, as far as I can remember, we moved on to the House of Burgesses, the heroic Pocahantas (not the Disney version), and the founding of the College of William and Mary (not necessarily in that order). I’m sure they mentioned the colony’s hard times. An eternal optimist, I like to focus on success so those facts didn’t stick as well with me. Of course, we were told a few more brutal tidbits during high school, but still, according to my memory, the accounts were coated with frothy icing.

But Surely Everyone Was Rich!

As a teenager, I used to imagine myself as a heroine in an historical novel as being among the rich women who wore pretty dresses and drank tea all day. A more realistic scenario is that I would have been wearing simple clothing while toiling with my husband to eke out a living from the Virginia soil. Perhaps like my great-grandmother, I would have given birth to seven boys.

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Historical Prices – Research Tip

by Steve Laube

I made $1.80 an hour stuffing envelopes for my first job with a paycheck. I thought I was rich. For a teenager in those days I was because in today’s money I would have been making nearly $10 per hour!

When writing a novel or referring to days gone by it is helpful to put things in perspective by doing a little research. First find out what that item cost in that year. I did a quick search for “gas prices in 1962 and found the answer in seconds.” Then go to the Bureau of Labor Statistics website for an inflation calculator. Here is the address: http://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/cpicalc.pl. This site calculates the average Consumer Price Index for a given calendar year using the  rate of inflation and other economic factors and enables you to compare wages, prices, and other various things. This index value has been calculated every year since 1913.

A couple examples:

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