Here’s to OneNote

I have just found a very helpful tool that is useful in organizing my research. It is Microsoft’s OneNote program. Basically I can create my own notebooks for any project, meeting, etc. with its own detailed information. I can download images off the internet or from my computer files, transfer notes into Microsoft Word, record and videotape conversations of a meeting, and set up a multi-tabbed filing system, among other things.           

When I usually research a topic, I start with a legal pad of paper, write the book information on the top of the page, and begin jotting notes as I read. I make sure to include the page number for reference next to each note so I can refer to it later. When I’m done with a book, I will staple the note pages together, and then go on to the next book.           

As you can imagine, I accumulate quite a pile of notes by the time my research is completed. Then I sort and reorganize my data so I can work on my rough drafts. What I needed was a better way to get my information straight onto my computer so I could organize everything more efficiently.           

I found OneNote by accident. It came with my Microsoft Office software. I had heard about it before on one of my group lists, but I never seriously looked into it until recently. After I took the “tour” and walked through all the features, I realized I could utilize this on my new projects.            

In OneNote you create your own project notebook with tabs for sections of data. For my research notebook, I created a to do table to schedule researching and due dates, a communications section to note e-mails and other interactions with my publisher, an outline for my project, and sections divided into chapter headings so I can make topic-related notes directly into its proper chapter. I will list my bibliography in another section, having pre-coded each book so I can tag my notes throughout with its source information. This becomes helpful when making sure you have the proper number of sources for any particular fact.           

I can type directly into OneNote instead of writing out by longhand and then retyping my notes. This saves valuable time. Of course it helps that I now have a laptop so I can make anyplace a workstation.           

I am very pleased with my new research tool. Of course, with such emphasis on my laptop, I will need to make sure I back up my files. Although OneNote saves automatically, I wouldn’t want such valuable information, along with my time and energy, to be wasted because of a technological accident.

If you get Microsoft Office, make sure you give OneNote a try. You may find it as resourceful as I do.

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Writing Exercise #1

Sometimes it is difficult to find things to write about. We need something to stimulate our brain. Every so often I will be posting a writing exercise to help your creative process.

Exercise #1

Imagine you are a ten year old who just found an old hat box up in Grandma’s attic. You open the box, but find something completely unexpected. Write a five paragraph story of what you found.

Tools of the Trade

In days gone by a writer could get by with a stack of parchment paper and finely sharpened quill pens to create and market his craft. Today a handwritten manuscript would immediately be tossed in the trash by any editor or publisher. If you want to be taken seriously in the art of writing, you must have the proper tools.

The most important tool of the modern day writer is the computer. Along with Microsoft Word, it is the paper and pen of the industry.

Internet access is a must. It can give you immediate and up to date information about publishing companies when you look on their websites for submission guidelines. You can also find valuable resources and archive files that would be too far away to travel to. Once you start getting your work published, you will need a blog and/or a website to attract readers.

Since a writer is a crafter of words, we sometimes need help finding creative alternatives in order not to sound repetitious. A good thesaurus is a must on your bookshelf. Some other helpful books for writing may include William Strunk, Jr.’s “Elements of Style”, along with “Formatting and Submitting Your Manuscript,” by Cynthia Laufenberg.

Don’t forget to get a Writer’s Market Guide. It contains a wealth of information, especially the names and contact information of publishers who might be interested in your work.

Once you have your words down on paper, you will need a good printer. I prefer a laser printer since the pages come out sharp and clean.

These tools are a must to any writer. But in order to be successful in this industry, you must have the creativity it takes to tell your story, the determination to do your homework in order to research your stories and the company you wish to submit to, and the perseverance to keep at it even when the rejection letters keep piling in.

Writing is not just about telling a good story. You need to use the tools of the trade that will get you noticed and lead you to that time when an editor will finally say, “We want it!”

Research Tips

Some writers detest the research part of their work. I love it. Facts fascinate me, and when there is something I don’t know, I enjoy digging up tidbits of information to help answer the various questions I have about a topic. Here are some of my research tips in a nutshell:

Basically, when I start any research project, I try to imagine all the synonyms and other common links to my topic. Do you remember the old card system at the library? The cards always had additional categories on them. I kind of think like that. For example, if I want to write about clouds, I think about weather, science, atmospheric conditions, rain, U.S. Weather Service, etc.
Next, I jump onto Amazon.com and look up “clouds” in Advanced Search, narrowing it down to non-fiction books. I sometimes will search for books in the other categories at this time, too. I write down the books that look interesting and authoritative. If I’m working on a children’s book, I may want to look at some kids books on the topic to see how the author covered the information.
Then, I will go to my library’s website to see if some of these books are available to check out. I will also look on Worldcat.org, which tells me what library that book is located in the U.S. If the books are unavailable or too far away, I may purchase them on e-bay or Amazon‘s used book section. Alibris.com sometimes has good deals, too.
I will next start looking up the topic online. I try to stay away from Wikipedia since some publishers don’t consider them a reliable source. Here is where the other categories help. If I put “clouds” in my search window, I will get tons of hits on everything that mentions clouds, not specifically about the study of clouds. I can put in the “U.S. Weather Service” or “meteorology” and get much better results. Try to find universities that teach this subject, too. You might be able to find papers that a professor wrote on clouds.
Look at the links mentioned on the websites you visit. You might find one of particular interest that will help you. Don’t forget to check the bibliographies on your books, too. They might have some great sources as well.
Magazines are good sources, too. Libraries have the Reader’s Guide to Periodic Literature that lists the topics covered by magazines for certain years. Your library may not have the magazine, but you can note the publisher and issue date and number, and try to find the article online.
If you were researching a historical subject like the Louisiana Purchase, you can check the Library of Congress (loc.gov). Look in the “Researchers” section and you will find Digital Collections, etc. that you can peruse. You can also find listings of books and maps and other documents.
The next part is to accumulate all this data and start reading! Researching a subject can be an exciting journey if you let it. I hope you learn to enjoy it as much as I do!