René Penn

Author wannabe. Blogger. Follow me.

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Typing Up My Chicken Scratch #WriterProblems

The first draft of my fiction manuscript is done. Yes! But it’s handwritten, across four notebooks, totaling 378 pages. The next step of the process is typing everything up. Panic. And breathe.


Pretty-looking notebooks on the outside, writer-gobbledygook on the inside.

I had a feeling it was going to be rough, converting this draft from chicken scratch to a lustrous Times New Roman, Word document. I was right. It started off as a mental slug-fest—and sometimes a snooze-fest.

If you’re in the same situation as me, or you’re contemplating writing your first draft by hand, here are some options for typing up your handwritten manuscript.

Some of these companies charge by the page or provide a cost for the entire page count. A simple search for “manuscript typing service” on Google will provide results with prices ranges from $.80 per page to $7.60 for each 10 pages.

  • Get a virtual assistant

This service could be handy for a lot of tasks, including typing your handwritten manuscript. Virtual assistants are independent contractors who work exclusively online or remotely. There are even VAs who specialize in working with aspiring authors. This article gives great tips on how VAs can help. Prices can depend on your budget, from $10/hour and up.

  • Use a software dictation program

I was pleased to see that there is a dictation program already installed on my MacBook. You can access it easily through your Word document > click “Edit” > scroll down and click “Start Dictation…”

I tested a few paragraphs of my manuscript to see how it would work, and whether it would save me time.

Here’s the before and after:



It may be a little hard to tell, but there are formatting errors and issues with detecting my speech pattern. Also, I didn’t say some of the commands correctly, like “Tab key,” which are reflected in the outcome. By the time I cleaned everything up, it took 02:43 minutes. When I typed it myself, without the dictation tool, it took 01:52 minutes. That time included a little proofing along the way, too. Results may vary with a different dictation program, but I thought this was an interesting experiment to mention, nonetheless.

  • Get an intern

An ex-coworker-friend suggested this gem idea to me. Contacting an undergraduate creative writing program or placing an ad on a university website may get the help you need to type your handwritten manuscript. And it may be less expensive than going the virtual assistant route.

  • Make your kids do it 

If I had children, putting them to the task would be a good option. And if they’re not interested in helping, it could be a strategic parental tactic.

You: “Junior, it was your night to do the dishes, and you forgot. As punishment, you have to type 10 pages of my handwritten manuscript.”

Your kid: “Nooooo! Mom, you are so mean!”

Well, that’s what I would do. *Says the person without kids* (Related article: Being a Mom vs. Being a M.O.M. (Mother of Manuscripts))

  • Grin and bear it yourself

Typing your manuscript can be okay after all. It builds muscles in your fingers. Besides that, it gives you the chance to edit as you go. Along the way, you may even create a second draft in the process.

What steps did you take, or are you taking, to type your handwritten manuscript?



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NaNoWriMo, “The End,” and Now What

I took a blog break. As I mentioned before, I signed up for National Novel Writing Month. By the second-half of November, I was having a difficult time meeting my weekly goal for that and for this blog. As NaNoWriMo had started to become an obsession—which seems like the only way you can slog through the challenge—I decided it was time to give myself a blog vacation. jeremy-bishop-347252.jpg

The break worked. I made it to the end of NaNoWriMo, finishing at 50,603 words. However, I didn’t get the “official” win. Here’s why. I had handwritten about 11,000 words of my manuscript. So on November 30, when NaNoWriMo asked to verify my word count for the official win, I didn’t have all 50,603 words typed and ready to copy and paste into their verification document.

The experience reminds me of real life. You don’t need anybody to tell you that you’re “officially” a winner. You know who you are, and what you’ve done.

Thanks to NaNoWriMo, I got to “The End” of my manuscript.

One of the great things about NaNoWriMo was that I finally finished a manuscript, which I had started working on in the fall of 2015. I literally typed “The End,” as corny as it was. There was something cathartic about it, even knowing that those couple of words will not make it past my first round of revisions. I also did a happy dance, and had a glass of wine. Two very important parts of any celebration.

With NaNoWriMo, I also wrote half of the manuscript for the sequel. I created an outline, using the 15 Plot Spots, a.k.a. Plotting Magic, that I learned from Marni Freedman. The outline came to my mind one way, initially, but one of the characters pulled it into another direction. That surprised me a little, which made me even more excited about working on the draft. I made it halfway through the manuscript, right around the novel’s midpoint when NaNoWriMo finished.

So, now what?

When NaNoWriMo was over, I started my blog break. And I took some time to evaluate what I’ve done, and what I need to do. Here’s my “Now What” plan.

  • Dec. 4 – Start typing up handwritten first draft of Book 1
  • Dec. 31 – Finish typing in handwritten draft of Book 1
  • Jan. 1 – Print out typed draft and do The Big Read per blog post from Scott Berkun, and make edits on the pages
  • Jan. 7 – Make first round of revisions based on The Big Read, make copyedits
  • Jan. 15 – Send book to beta readers with questions for them to answer
  • Jan. 15 – Have first draft of Book 2 finished
  • Jan. 16 – Start historical research
  • Jan. 16 – Start collaborating list of literary agents
  • Feb. 10 – Receive feedback from beta readers
  • Feb. 11 – Start second round of revisions
  • Feb. 18 – Start copyediting
  • March 1 – Send to second round of beta readers?
  • March 21 – Send to professional editor
  • March 22 – Write query letter
  • April 21 – Make revisions based on editor’s feedback
  • May 1 – Start sending out query letters

The month of May seems like a long time from now, but I need these milestones to help keep me going. Wish me luck. Please.

How did NaNoWriMo go for you? What plans have you made, or tips do you have, based on your writing progress?

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

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Being a Mom vs. Being a M.O.M. (Mother of Manuscripts)

There are a lot jokes out there that compare writing a book to having a baby or raising a child. I’d like to add to that fun metaphor, by introducing the term M.O.M.

I am a proud M.O.M., a Mother of Manuscripts. I have two. christin-hume-311288The older manuscript turned two in October. And the younger just came into the world on November 1—born early, thanks to National Novel Writing Month. Both of my manuscripts are fiction, which means they can be a little rambunctious with lots of personality.

Oh, the joys of M.O.M.’hood.

There is a Parents Magazine article that discusses the joys of being a (real) Mom. If you substitute the term “manuscript” for “kids/children,” the similarities are fitting, uncanny, and hilarious. I’ve placed some quotes from the article below for fodder’s sake.

“There are wonderful days when I feel my cup runneth over. There are days that I want to run away and question every decision I have ever made.”

About finding purpose in life: “…I am a better person for knowing my children and I am very honored to be their mother.”

“When my kids are happy, so am I.”

“I have learned to rise to any occasion and found myself lifted to new heights while stretching myself beyond any and all limits I once put upon myself.”

“With rarely a dull moment, I’ve experienced more adventure in mothering my sons than ever imaginable.”

“Life is great, but life is even better once you have been blessed to become a mom!”

Thanks to the (real) Moms out there who allowed me to indulge.




How to Spend Less Time Writing a Blog

I recently heard that, ideally, writers should spend no more than 20 minutes per day blogging, and the same goes for social media. olu-eletu-134760Yeah, I was surprised to hear that, too. Let’s just say, I spend way, way too much time doing both. It’s not good when the majority of my writing time is spent blogging, when it should be spent on my fiction manuscript. I’m  working on ways to spend less time writing my blog. Here’s what I came up with.

  • Create a list of topics

Sometimes I don’t know what to blog about, and I waste precious time trying to figure it out. There are great articles that can provide ideas of what to blog about, especially for authors. I’ve had pretty good luck writing whatever has been on my mind that day or that week, when it comes to writing gripes and challenges. I just have to trust, and hope, that other people may be thinking of the same things.

  • Develop a schedule

Do you want to blog twice a week? Once a week? Or once a month? Committing to a schedule can keep things on track. It forces you to block out times to write, and to be more efficient during the process.

  • “Borrow” ideas and make them your own

There are times when I search for something on Google, and I can’t find any good results? I take that as a sign that I should blog about it. Remember the last time that you had to read 18 articles or blog posts, instead of one, to get all of the information you need? Compile a list, add your own thoughts and unique pizazz, and include links to the articles that you sourced.

  • Make an outline

Unless you write in a more stream-of-conscious style, it may be helpful to use a formula approach for writing your blog. This post gives a good idea of how to outline your blog posts.

  • Flesh out the main points first, fill in the rest later

Sometimes it’s easier to start with the large thoughts. Get them down in front of you, then color in the details later.

  • Stay focused until it’s done

If I’m doing research for a blog post, I may end up going down the Internet rabbit hole or the social media rabbit hole or…you get the point. I have to remind myself to stay focused to get it done faster.

  • Set a timer

Have a hard time staying focused? Your mobile phone has a timer feature. Use it! (Sorry to be harsh. This bullet point was really meant for me.)

  • Don’t overthink it

There are so many things to write about, so many things tossing around in our heads, that it’s hard to choose. I think our brains misinterpret that, leading us to believe that we have nothing to write about. It’s really the opposite. It’s just a matter of picking one thing and going with it.

  • Consider writing in batches

Sometimes I get on a roll. I mean, I am red-hot-don’t-stop-me, not-even-if-you’re-my-uncle-and-you-just-baked-your-infamous-7-flavor-pound-cake. When those times happen, I will bang out two or three posts, or at least start them. That makes the writing time a lot shorter later.

  • Write…then edit later

This is hard, especially when the delete and backspace buttons are easy to access, just a little pinky away. At least Mac computers don’t have the backspace option, so that helps. Editing slows us down. It bogs the process. Have you seen David Brubeck tickling the ivories? We writers need to be like that with our keyboards.

  • Try not to be a perfectionist

It’s a blog, not a thesis paper—thank goodness. One of the reasons I started blogging was to revel in having total control with my writing, something that didn’t happen in my communications job, with all of the red tape, review, and approval processes. As a blogger, I get to be the reviewer, proofer, and approver. I don’t have to try to be a perfectionist anymore. Free yourself. It’s empowering.

What do you do to help reduce the amount of time you spend blogging? What tips do you have for writing faster?

Photo by Olu Eletu on Unsplash

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Only 20 Minutes of Social Media a Day for Writers?

my_tweet-4At the writer’s conference that I mentioned in my previous blog post, the conference guru led a session about social media and blogging. He suggested that we writers spend only 20 minutes a day on social media.

I’m curious to know what your reaction is to this. Because for me, his statement triggered an eye-popping, gag-choke-laugh reflex that has never quite happened before. Social media is what I depend on when:

I need a writer’s break. Short breaks help with productivity; they are as important as eating, sleeping, and watching Outlander.

I am having a mini-writer’s-block. This happens about 20 times a day, so there goes the 20 minutes of social media time right there.

I need some inspiration. After you get past my onion layers of sarcasm and cynicism, there is a gal who appreciates a good dose of #inspiration and #motivation.

I need a laugh. A couple of days ago, I discovered some Twitter handles related to P.G. Wodehouse, and my life is now complete. See @inimitablepgw, ‏@DailyPlum ‏and  @wodehouseoffice.

I want to see what other writers are doing. Just trying to keep up with the writer-Jones’s. Holler!

I need a brain break. All this geniussness that I put on paper makes my brain hurt sometimes. (Wait, geniusness isn’t a word?)

I am in between scenes. Sometimes I just need to clean the mental slate after I end a scene, especially if I’ll be switching from one character’s POV to another.

I want to goof off. Okay, that’s the same as the first bullet point above. However, goofing off is less proactive than a writer’s break and leads to writer’s guilt. *sad face*

I am curious about what’s trending. How else will I know when it’s National Taco Day or National Ice Cream Sandwich Day? I am very patriotic, you know.

I want to look at images instead of words. When the words on your screen or paper start to look like writer’s mush, sometimes you just want to look at pretty pictures and puppy memes.

Well, maybe the conference guru has a point. Perhaps I should curb my behavior a little bit. Set a timer? Maybe even one that is tied to electroshock probes?

Photo by Kyra P on Unsplash. Caption with it is my own.

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6 Terms from Historical Romance Novels for Thee to Speaketh

Who needs slang? Historical romance novels, especially regency-era books, are known for their formal, clever turns-of-phrase.


Here are some terms to incorporate into your everyday lingo.

  • Bloody

I’m cheating a bit with this term, since it’s used in present-day speech. But unfortunately, it just hasn’t caught on here in America. Bloody shame.

“Anyway, with his position, her having moved up and out of the protection of the screen, and what with the angle of the mirror, he was looking right at a pair of devilish long legs. Bloody gorgeous, they were.” The Proposition, Judith Ivory

  • Drat it

A good alternative for those who don’t like to curse.

“She lifted her head, having no doubt heard the approach of his horse, and he recognized her. Mrs…Working? Looking? Darling? Weeding? Drat it, he could not recall her name.” Only Enchanting, Mary Balogh

  • Missish

Say this word five times fast. Go!

“She did not want a relationship. She wanted only…well, she must learn to use the word. The Duke had always used it in her hearing, and she was not missish.” A Secret Affair, Mary Balogh

  • Bottle-headed chub

Simply being called bottle-headed or a chub is bad enough. But to combine the two–I shudder to think!

“To be honest, the mere thought of the wedding makes me feel slightly mad. I could bear the rank—though it isn’t my cup of tea, to say the least—if he weren’t such a little, beardy-weird bottle-headed chub.” The Duke Is Mine, Eloisa James

RELATED: Forget the cardigan. Here are 9 historical-romance-inspired items (not) to wear to work instead.

  • Hell’s teeth

If Hell were a person, I really wouldn’t want to encounter its teeth. They’re probably fiery hot, sharp and extremely crooked.

“Hell’s teeth, Georgie!” He exploded. “You’re my wife! You’ll sleep where you slept last night! Where you belong – in my bed, of course!” The Prodigal Bride, Elizabeth Rolls

  • Whither

I’ve heard of hither and thither. But there’s also a whither? Use all three in one sentence for bonus points.

His face took on a broad grin. “Margery, the day improves. Whither do we ride?” Mist Over PendleRobert Neill

I took a couple of these quotes from a more serious article (unlike mine), that includes general tips for writing authentic historical romance dialogue.

I’d like to add to this list, because this is just a wee needle in a giant haystack. Any suggestions?

Photo by Alexander Solodukhin on Unsplash


6 Reasons to Attend Writers Conferences

Last week, I attended the LaJolla Writer’s Conference and had a blast. jeremy-bishop-151531If you’ve never attended a writer’s conference before, I highly encourage this one—which is known for its small workshop sizes, easy access to authors and agents, and lack of slimy salesmanship. Whether you attend this conference or not, it’s a great experience for writers to go to one—preferably one each year, at least. Here are six reasons to attend writers conferences.

  • Immerse yourself in the writers community

Going to a conference gets us out of our solitary, isolated fantasy world. And that wasn’t just a pun for fantasy writers, it goes for all of us. A conference provides a different experience than a writer’s group, and exposes you to a variety of resources and information that is hard to match outside of the conference spectrum.

  • Learn (or re-learn) tips for story structure, one-sentence summaries, etc.

I learned at least 10 story-plotting methods last week, like “M.I.C.E.,” “Snowflake” and the “3-Act, 9-Block, 27-Chapter” methods. Many of them I already knew, a few of them I didn’t. Most of them are just variations of the three-act structure. The “Plotting Magic” workshop of 15 plot steps led by Marni Freedman really resonated with me, which follows the Writer’s Journey/Hero’s Journey concept.

  • Meet new friends who are quirky like you.

I don’t know about you, but most of my friends aren’t writers. As incredibly supportive and encouraging as they are, they don’t know that “muffin top” or “spare tire” aren’t what I mean by “sagging middle,” though it can be just as traumatizing. Writers conferences provide a safe zone for writers to be the quirky clan that we are, and to meet others who are like-minded.

  • Hear from authors, agents and editors.

For some writers, this is the main reason they attend conferences. Many times, you’ll have the opportunity to pitch your idea directly to an agent—or in my case last week, be able to sit with one and nine other writers during dinner. Conferences offer the chance to get contacts in the industry that you may not make, otherwise. And if one is genuinely impressed with what they hear from you, you never know what may come of it.

Also, hearing from authors who have already crossed the publishing threshold—how long it took, the road they traveled to get there, and the sacrifices they made—is an inspiration.


Fantasy writer Eldon Thompson and crime writer Meg Gardiner shared their wonderful journeys during keynote speeches at the 2017 LaJolla Writers Conference.

  • Learn about various genres.

If you write memoirs and are interested in fiction, for example, you can get a crash course on other genres. I attended sessions about screenwriting and non-fiction, just to mix things up a bit. Who knows where creativity may take me in the future?

  • Get inspired.

To me, this is the most valuable part of a conference. Inspiration is a by-osmosis experience that happens no matter what—even if a critique during a workshop stung a little or a pitch didn’t go as planned. I always leave a conference writing more than I did before I arrived.

Overall, it keeps you motivated to continue writing. Isn’t that what it’s all about anyway?

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash