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The Writer's Mailbag: Installment Twenty-Six

Updated on December 22, 2014

A Bushel Basket Full of Questions

So here we go again. You know how this works, so I won’t bore you with the details. Thanks to all who asked questions this week, and since this is Christmas week, I want to take this opportunity to say Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to all of you who celebrate this time of year.

And now, on with the show. We will start with a question from Sha about the nuts and bolts of writing.

From my dear friend Sha: “ I have some questions for you:

1. Do you draft in Word?

2. Do you start a new doc for each chapter or do you continue on with one document?

3. Do you save your first draft as is, then 'save as' your second draft?

4. When making character and setting notes, do you do it on paper or do you create an electronic document?”

These are questions pertaining to how one writes a book. The actual nuts and bolts related to the procedure, and it’s one of those things I take for granted without really thinking about why I do it. Let’s see if I can answer them all with some degree of intelligence.

I draft all my novels on Word. In the old days I wrote my stories and novel-beginnings longhand on a yellow legal pad, but I’ve had nerve damage to my writing hand since those days, so I have to use Word now. For me it’s a matter of convenience and necessity. I simply can’t read my handwriting.

I do not start a new Doc for each chapter. I keep the whole manuscript on one Doc, and again, it is for convenience. I like shortcuts whenever possible, and this is one of them. Having said that, it is crucial that I backup and save my document on a regular basis. I also periodically send the manuscript to myself in an email as another backup strategy.

The third question has me a bit confused, mainly because I don’t talk computer talk. I give the manuscript a title and “save as” right after the first words are written, and it remains that way until I am done.

The character and setting notes are all done on a Doc, again, because I can no longer write longhand.

Welcome to The Mailbag
Welcome to The Mailbag | Source

Length of a Novel

From Melissa: “One question/clarification: When you write the first draft, without doing any editing, how long does it end up being? Are you saying first draft is 75,000 and then second draft (when you add the 25%) ends up with a total of 100,000?”

Rather than answer the question the way it is worded, let’s just say that about ¾ of the novel is in the first draft, and ¼ of it will be added in the second draft. I say it that way because 100,000 words is just an average novel length, and it is also the length most book publishers prefer.

Please remember that these are averages I’m tossing out at you. There are some writers who will do 50% of the novel in the first draft, and 50% in the second. We all follow our own inner voice when it comes to writing.

The Ending of a Novel

From Travmaj: “I note you begin with an opening and an ending - does the ending ever change as the novel takes place and the characters begin to dictate?”

Another great question, and the answer is yes, that has happened. My first novel, “The 12/59 Shuttle from Yesterday to Today, did not end the way I envisioned it when I began. It turned out the characters had a different ending in mind, and since it was their story, I decided their way was the best way.

130,000 words written mostly in first person
130,000 words written mostly in first person | Source

Novel Questions

From Bradmaster: “What is your goal usually for total word count, and how many chapters will satisfy the story? How do you pick the voice of your story, such as first person or other?”

Three questions from Brad and all of them great ones. My goal for word count is 100,000. Why? Because that seems to be the magic number for most traditional publishing houses, and that’s my ultimate goal, to be published by one of those traditional publishing companies.

I think the number of chapters is really up to the writer. I usually start a new chapter when I have finished a particular scene. I also try to keep my chapters fairly short, but that’s just a personal preference. I try to keep in mind that most readers have a short attention span, so I write shorter chapters to keep them interested and also to keep the story moving quickly.

I writer primarily in first person because that allows me to get inside the head of the main character and do some philosophizing,…but that’s just me. I do bounce to third person throughout as I show what other characters are doing and thinking, but the majority of my books are written in first person. How does one decide? I really think it depends on which way is most comfortable.

SELF-PROMOTION

From Nils: “A question: I may scorn those interactive platforms but am out there thumping my own chest as much as I can. I am somewhat concerned with this new habit. Does it help to promote your image as a 'writer' at all? To create a brand as it were?”

The quick answer is this: if a writer does not promote his/her work, then who is going to do it? If we are serious about being a freelance writer, or an author, then we have to get serious about marketing. We are the business and our writing is our product. I don’t know how to say that more clearly.

Having said that, I think there is a fine line we don’t want to cross. We can over-promote ourselves, just as we can under-promote. Always keep that in mind when you are tooting your own horn.

Creating scenes is a combination of experience, research, and imagination.
Creating scenes is a combination of experience, research, and imagination. | Source

Creatiing Scenes

From Linda: “I am interested in your suggestion that writers should appeal to the readers' primal level--excite their senses. You certainly do that, and do it well. When one of your characters was in combat, we (readers) could see, smell, and hear everything he was witnessing as we walked with him through the jungle.

To create scenes like that do you interview people who have had such experiences, do tons of research, or do you have an incredible imagination?”

All three, Linda, or only one, depending on the subject matter

The scene in “Resurrecting Tobias” that Linda is referring to was done from talking to friends who served in Vietnam. Some of the other references to war came from discussions I had with my father, who was a WWII veteran.

Some scenes require research. There were several cities mentioned in “Tobias” that I had never visited, so I had to research the street names and general layout of the cities. There were several cities I had visited, and the sights and sounds of those cities I remembered.

And then there is my ever-present imagination, which I call upon when all else fails. Like many other writers, many of my scenes are compilations of many scenes I’ve witnessed over my sixty-six years. One scene in particular in “Tobias,” where Toby is walking through the seedy part of Portland, Oregon, and he stops to talk to a prostitute….that was many scenes from my past combined into one. I spent a week on the streets homeless, so I didn’t have much trouble remembering what that was like.

More Next Week

I hope you are enjoying this series as much as I am. I think when writers share information, ideas, and experiences, everyone wins. I will never understand hoarding knowledge, but I know some who do it. I will never understand not sharing, but I know some writers who do not, and I will never understand not helping and supporting other writers.

What I give you here is simply my opinion and whatever knowledge I have. I give it to you freely, as it was given to me, and I also give you the guarantee that if you need my help, all you have to do is ask.

Is that really so unusual?

Pax Vobiscum!

2014 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

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    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Deb. You happen to be appreciated as well, my friend.

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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Due to you, I am just amassing so much information on writing from start to finish. Thanks again, and know how much you are appreciated.

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Welcome back, Ann, and you raise an excellent point that most good writers understand: leave your readers wanting more. Thank you for sharing that.

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      Ann1Az2 2 years ago from Orange, Texas

      Another great installment Bill! I took a rather long sabbatical from hubpages, but I'm back. A word about when to end chapters. I've noticed in my reading that the good authors always leave something undone at the end of each chapter so that you'll want to read on to find out what happens. Tom Clancy was a master at it, as was Michael Creighton. Not only that, I've found that to be true of the Bible, also. My husband asked me one time how I read Kings and Chronicles so fast. It's simple - I love reading about what happens next to David and Solomon!

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you DDE. you are appreciated greatly!

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      Devika Primić 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Greatly expressed and so interesting.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Theresa and Happy Holidays to you.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Dianna. I appreciate you stopping by.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks for sharing that, vkwok. I think we all can learn from each other.

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      Theresa Ast 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Great questions and great answers, as always. :) Take care. Theresa

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      Dianna Mendez 2 years ago

      This is a quick visit but just wanted you to know that I appreciate this series. It is helping me to fine tune my writing skills.

    • vkwok profile image

      Victor W. Kwok 2 years ago from Hawaii

      Thanks for sharing your writing ways with us, Bill! I use Hubpages and Google Docs so I could have access anywhere and everywhere as long as there's internet.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you PS, and Happy Holidays to you and yours. I do think this series is beneficial to writers if they take the time to read it. I think we all have similar questions as writers.

      hugs heading your way

      bill

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      Patricia Scott 2 years ago from sunny Florida

      One reason I have begun to read these is that it is an opportunity to pick your brain as well as to see the questions that others have.

      Your answers give me food for thought for another day when I will go back and reread the ones that I NEED the most.

      Hope you and your lovelies had a wonderful Christmas ..hugs and blessings to you all...

      Many Angels are on the way ps

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Dream On, spoken like the poet that you are. I love this comment and I thank you sincerely for it. Happy Weekend to you, my friend, and peace always.

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      DREAM ON 2 years ago

      Here it is Christmas and I see your wonderful work shining through like a star on a dark night. Your tips our priceless. Thanks for being you. I learned long ago not to let the people who I don't like distract me away from my time and thoughts. Just find the people I do like and appreciate them as often as I can. I hope you know where you stand. Way up on a hill. Leading the way even through the snow and the winter chills. Come one come all I see the path billybuc took. It's always a pleasure to follow you in all kinds of weather.

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Merry Christmas, Eric!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Flourish. I always appreciate you stopping by.

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Good to know, Iris! Thank you for sharing that. I hope you are having a wonderful Christmas, my friend.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm glad to hear that, Frank. Thank you and a very Merry Christmas to you.

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      Eric Dierker 2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Merry Christmas Bill

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      FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

      The scene writing portion was helpful. Have a great holiday!

    • Iris Draak profile image

      Cristen Iris 2 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      I always get something out of these, Bill. Even though the book I'm working on is nonfiction much of this information can be tweaked and applied to my process. I particularly like your advise about the beginning and end. Too many writers in all genres do not properly end their pieces. They just stop, almost like the author got tired or their editor said, "enough already with the words and the characters". Very helpful.

      I will add that there are some excellent platforms for eBook writers to draft in so that there is no data corruption. Transferring text from Word to eBook platforms can be problematic. I have been advised to write in one of the many cloud-based platforms (I currently use one from WordPress) that is already in an eBook format. This wouldn't apply if the writer is doing a traditional manuscript.

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      Frank Atanacio 2 years ago from Shelton

      Number 26 comes full bucket.. fully loaded with useful answers.. love the mailbags.. they prove worthy my friend :)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you so much, Maj! I do enjoy this series and I hope it continues for some time.

      Happy Holidays to you and yours, my friend.

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      travmaj 2 years ago from australia

      Isn't it amazing? So much to consider when writing. Installment 26 and the questions keep rolling in. I must thank you for all your time - precious time taken to respond to so many queries. Look forward to 27. Best wishes to you and Bev for the festive season and 2015. Cheers Maj

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you, Mary, my Latin-speaking friend. I wonder how many people today can read Latin? I wish they still required it in some schools...it was very beneficial to me. Anyway, thank you. I love this series and have no plans to end it.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Boy, John, you just asked one whale of a question. I'll answer on Monday. It would take too long to give it justice here. Thanks for a great question.

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Manatita, we are in complete agreement. Giving enhances inner joy. I see no earthly reason why I would stop doing something that gives me such pleasure.

      Thanks my friend.

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks again, m abdullah javed!

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      Mary Craig 2 years ago from New York

      Peace be with you too my good friend. The answer to your question is yes, we are enjoying this series as much as you are, perhaps more because we are learning from it.

      The questions asked and the answers given are all "writerspeak" and we certainly need to learn more each day. Thank you.

      Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting.

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      John Hansen 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Great advice once again Bill. I am sure there will still be many more question coming your way into the New Year Bill. One question I have. Do you think writers should compromise their beliefs and opinions to please a majority of their readers and not alienate a certain percentage? For instance if you write about politics or religion, unless you can write from a totally independent viewpoint, you are sure to sacrifice or risk losing 50 percent of your readers. Also subjects like climate change. If you feel strongly one way or another it is difficult to write from a neutral position. Should you hold faithfully to your beliefs and just focus on attracting readers that agree with your point of view? Maybe it's best just to avoid controversial subjects completely. Happy festive season to you and Bev.

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      manatita44 2 years ago from london

      Unusual for some, Bill. Not all are givers.

      When I was in college doing business studies in '95, I knew little about computers. The few who did preferred not to share, and it was a real struggle. They were a small click and like that with most.

      It's no accident that you're liked. Giving expands the heart and returns to us a thousandfold! (I rambled a little here).

      Great article, Bro, and excellently written. Please keep on giving. It enhances inner joy. Peace.

    • m abdullah javed profile image

      muhammad abdullah javed 2 years ago

      You are most welcome Bill Sir. Its my pleasure.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Linda! Thankfully no rain today, but of course, tomorrow is another story completely.

      Merry Christmas to you and yours.

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      justthemessenger, my wife gets full credit for that tip. I don't think I would have ever thought of it.

      Thank you for being here and Merry Christmas!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      m abdullah javed, thank you so much. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you as well. I appreciate your loyal following of my humble work.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Brian, I have explained that, but maybe I'll toss that into next week's installment anyway. Thanks my friend, and Merry Christmas to you and yours.

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      Linda Lum 2 years ago from Washington State, USA

      The Carpenters sang "Rainy days and Mondays always get me down", but I know I can expect another great read from you my friend, so Monday is always a good day. There is so much information here. Thank you for your insight and sharing and supporting all of us. I wish you and Bev a very blessed Christmas.

    • justthemessenger profile image

      James C Moore 2 years ago from The Great Midwest

      Sending the manuscript to yourself in an email sounds like a "novel" way to save your work. It seems to be computer crash proof. Thanks for the tip.

    • m abdullah javed profile image

      muhammad abdullah javed 2 years ago

      An interesting and guiding mailbag as always. Exciting of senses is something that need our attention for which your words provide with the required guidance.Thanks Bill Sir. The media inserted are quite useful too. Wishing you and your near and dear ones a Very Happy Christmas & Prosperous New Year.

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 2 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      More excellent answers to excellent questions.

      Have you already explained why the second draft is likely to be significantly longer than the first draft of a novel?

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Carol, outlines can never be bad idea. I'm very happy that you are writing again. As for the nagging, that's nothing like the nagging my mother used to do, so no problems. :) I hear the message, my friend. One of these days.

      Merry Christmas to you and yours.

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Russ, my first draft is bare bones. If I subtracted anything from it there would be nothing left. :) Thanks for the visit and Merry Christmas to you.

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Heidi, as long as I'm breathing, you'll have old school company. :) Merry Christmas, my friend, and thank you.

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      carol stanley 2 years ago from Arizona

      I am once again reading your writing hubs very carefully---as I am writing again as you know. I am still going to nag you about a writing book--with all the facets you have written about. I found that by having a good outline the writing has become much easier for me. And working at making it all palatable and interesting. Since I am writing about different zodiac signs I am talking bout people reading the book anxious to hear about themselves and who they care about. I just wanted to drop by and nag you..LOL. As always though I learn something new...

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      Russ Inserra 2 years ago from Indianapolis, In

      DJ...new keyboards are really inexpensive, lol.

      Interesting to hear that you ADD after first draft. Many writing "gurus" say that editing usually consists of subtracting...getting rid of all of the superfluous words and digressions so that a story becomes clearer and easier to read. I get that with a novel, you may have to go back and clarify or add detail, but wouldn't it become a net zero?

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      Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

      What would I do without my yellow legal pads! I still use them all the time as I'm drafting ideas for my books and articles. I find it much less tempting to self-edit while writing than when I'm writing on my PC. Glad to see I have old school company. Happy Christmas Week!

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      And Merry Christmas to you and yours, Ruby. Thank you so much.

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      Ruby Jean Fuller 2 years ago from Southern Illinois

      Always vote up, interesting and useful. Merry Christmas Bill and family...

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm counting on it, Brad, and I appreciate them. Thank you!

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Alicia. Merry Christmas to you and yours.

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      bradmasterOCcal 2 years ago from Orange County California

      billybuc

      Thanks for answering my questions.

      You know that I will always have more of them.

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      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is another useful hub in your mailbag series, Bill. The series is a great resource for writers!

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Well thank you, Jaye, and Merry Christmas to you and yours, my friend.

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      Jaye Denman 2 years ago from Deep South, USA

      I love Maria's comment and can't possibly improve on it, so I'll just say "Well done--again" and "Merry Christmas!"

      Voted Up+++

      Jaye

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Erik, Good Lord willin' and the creek don't rise, I'll still be turning these articles out when you are finally ready. Thanks my friend, and Merry Christmas to you and your wonderful family.

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      It really is my pleasure, Bill. Thank you for always being here, and Merry Christmas to you and yours.

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      Eric Dierker 2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      You really are getting me ready to write a novel, maybe in a few years -- so you have to keep writing this series for that long :-)

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      William Leverne Smith 2 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Good mailbag. Each one has a new nugget or two, even though we've read each one. Thanks, again, and again, for being so open and sharing with your distinctive perspectives! ;-)

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      DJ, you are a hoot! I can picture that writing area of yours, looking like the remnants of Hurricane Katrina. LOL Thanks for a wonderful laugh this morning, and Merry Christmas, dear friend.

      bill

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Ann, I don't know why, but I'm sure glad you and I aren't like them.

      I appreciate the kind words. I'm just doing what I was raised to do. I don't find anything terribly remarkable about helping others. It seems to me we all have that ability. :)

      Happy Monday my friend!

      bill

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you, Dora, and Merry Christmas to you and yours.

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      DJ Anderson 2 years ago

      Mailbag Monday, again, already?

      Where do the days go.......

      Sha is much smarter than me. I learned to copy and paste to have my

      research close to the area I was writing. I could refer to it without going back and forth to my source. Also an old "5 subject notebook" left over

      from my son's school days became my notebook for taking notes. Then, there is that Ctrl and click. You may have to tell Sha where the "click key" is located. Just trying to be helpful. There are some that simply do not have a clue. Ha, ha

      I would like to add that I made an outline of times, names and how they are related. There are many secondary characters that do pop back up,

      and I needed help keeping the large family dynamics orderly.

      I have given the illusion that I an quite organized and neat. The other four small notebooks and scraps of paper are not mentioned. My desk

      looks like someone has been sleeping on it. And, the space bar has jam

      down in it, and is causing unsightly problems when I type, as it is not working correctly. My husband has recommended that I use my left thumb for the space bar. It would help if I did not eat lunch at my desk,

      over the keyboard.

      Great info as always, Bill.

      Peace be with you and yours,

      and Merry Christmas!!

      DJ.

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      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      I do agree with you about others not wanting to share their knowledge - why is that I wonder?

      Great advice, bill. You continue to be the most helpful hubber on the site!

      Ann

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      Dora Isaac Weithers 2 years ago from The Caribbean

      Yes, I enjoy the series. I always learn and I enjoy learning. Thank you.

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Good morning Melissa. No, I haven't tried it. I don't have a problem typing...it's just the fine motor skills necessary to do penmanship are gone. Oh well, it's not like I miss it that much. :)

      Merry Christmas to you and your family, my friend, and thank you.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you, Bill, and the same to you and yours. Merry Christmas!

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      Melissa Propp 2 years ago from Minnesota

      Awesome questions and answers this week, I really enjoyed the whole article!

      I've been reading a lot lately about writers with nerve damage or carpel tunnel etc that have started using Dragon software (speech recognition). I guess it takes some upfront work to "train your dragon" but once that is done, it is very helpful for people who can't sit or type for long periods of time. Is that something you have ever tried?

      Have a wonderful holiday week!

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      No snow here, either, Sally. Not even a whiff of it. But we can always dream, right?

      Merry Christmas to you, my friend, and thank you for your loyal following.

      bill

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      William Kovacic 2 years ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      Thank you for the Christmas gift above, Bill. Much appreciated and educational as always. Have yourself a Merry little Christmas! :)

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      Sally Gulbrandsen 2 years ago from Norfolk

      Hello Billy,

      Really interesting as always, thank you.

      Here's wishing you and yours a very special Christmas. Don't forget to take some time out and go for a walk in the snow, if you get the chance!

      No sign of any snow here yet sadly and I did so want an opportunity to photograph frozen bubbles this year.

      Happy Holidays

      Sally

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you, Randi!

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Pop, thank you so much for buying my novel. I really appreciate it, and Merry Christmas to you and yours.

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      Randi Benlulu 2 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Thank you! Happy holidays to you and yours, Bill!

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      breakfastpop 2 years ago

      Thanks for the inside look on your way of working. Merry Christmas, billy. Your novel is on its way to me and I can't wait! Voted up and awesome!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Oh, sorry about that, Sha! No, I don't do that, but it's a good idea and I might start with the next novel. Thank you and Merry Christmas my friend. Thank you for the card.

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      You can ditto all you want, Randi. Thank you so much, and Happy Holidays to you.

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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Janine, Merry Christmas, my friend, and thank you for the continued support.

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      Shauna L Bowling 2 years ago from Central Florida

      Great questions again, Bill. When I asked about "save as" when you do your second draft, I meant do you keep the 1st draft as is, then save the subsequent drafts as Book Title - revised or 1st edit pass, etc.? I think that's what I'll do. For some reason I think it will be beneficial to me to keep the original in tact for reference purposes.

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      Randi Benlulu 2 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Can I just "ditto" Maria's comment?!

      Great info, Bill!

      Thank you!

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      Janine Huldie 2 years ago from New York, New York

      Aww, Bill always so full of great information and tips here always. Just wanted to take this moment as I know the week from here on out will most undoubtedly great crazier before Christmas now for me, but want to wish you, Bev and your family, too a very, Merry Christmas from us!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Maria, great comment, and I thank you. Happy Holidays to you, dear friend, and thank you.

      love,

      bill

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      Maria Jordan 2 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

      If this were a meal, I would be stumbling away rubbing my belly, dear Bill... very meaty and filled with helpful info this week.

      Hope you have a merry Monday. Love, Maria