Do you Scapple?

Text: Writers Forum Book Review: Encouraging One Another in the Craft

Today at Writers Forum, we have reviews of a couple of writerly products from Writers Forum member Dave Smith.

Take it away, Dave…


Do you Scapple?

By: Dave Smith


Good things should be passed along.

Here are two I found worthy of passing along: Scapple, and Alexa Donne. If you’re not familiar with them, let me tell you.

For the past few years I have used the writing program Scrivener. I got it because, first, it had a 30 day free trail. Yes, I’m cheap so this immediately appealed to me. I was impressed enough to purchase it because, yes, it’s not expensive. I paid $45 for it. A forever license.

Scrivener is a quality program, and I continue to discover more of its abilities as I write. Because of this, I recently decided to try another program designed by the same folks, Scapple.

This is a user friendly brainstorming type of program. I know what you’re thinking, but it is in my opinion well worth trying. This program is simple and intuitive, like my sentences.

It also has a free 30 day trial (not necessarily consecutive, so if you skip a day, you won’t have it taken off your free trial. Isn’t that sweet?)

How does it work? Well, it’s like taking all your ideas on a project and splattering them all over the page, like index cards on the floor. But then, you can connect them with lines, directional arrows, colors, and more, and you can move them around, and change everything you just did EASILY. You can import documents, and pictures, and export to other file formats.

Personally, I have difficulty keeping track of the various threads in stories I write. (Think subplots, or inner thoughts, or what nots.) This program takes care of that. I tried it with a new idea I’ve had, and it amazed me how it kept me unmuddled. Now I can see where my problems are, and move ideas and scene parts around accordingly, and can go from here to an outline, or just follow my thoughts on a Scapple page, pantser style.

Did I use Scapple to write this article? Yup.


Alexa Donne. Like everyone, I use YouTube to learn things; how to re-pot a bonsai, or replace a headlight on an old Toyota, or discover why my tomatoes look like they do. Sometimes I stumble across videos about writing, and if they’re interesting enough, I make it all the way to the end, dodging ads along the way.

I came across Alexa Donne and her video Harsh Writing Advice. I made it all the way to the end. For some insight and a few chuckles, check it out. You might see a familiar style if you look close enough.


Queen’s Letter: Notevengonnatrytolookupwhatdayitis

writers forum president

This week’s Letter from the Queen highlights some important issues we have to deal with today. Laura’s piece on contact testing and continued social distancing should go viral. It’s that important. And then Laura gives us another great writing aid.



Contact Tracing

I’ve done this.  When I was in graduate school for Medical (Urban) Anthropology, I manned and ran the Hotline at the university health clinic in the eastern San Fernando Valley.

It wasn’t the flu we were tracing. It was venereal disease. Girls would call; it was mostly girls calling.  They would call and describe symptoms we were trained to ask about, and we’d make appointments at the clinic for confirmation testing. The reason there were more girls calling than men is because most of the time, females have symptoms they notice. Their male partners did not have symptoms. But they were carriers. The men didn’t know they were carriers. Yet.

That’s where contact tracing found them. In the appointments at the clinic, girls were encouraged to make a list to take home, of the sexual partners they had in say 6-8 weeks previous to the onset of symptoms.  It was up to the infected girls to contact their previous partners and encourage those partners to come to the clinic (or an anywhere clinic), for testing and treatment.  There was blaming, gnashing of teeth and rending of garments.

I encouraged the girls to paint a grim picture, with colorful language, for the important phone call they would have to make to each partner (former and current, cute or ugly). She, in turn, was encouraged to use colorful language to encourage the partner to come clean and get clean before he made any further contacts.  Once the male partner(s) came into the clinic, same dosey-doe. Each contact was traced by each person who came for treatment. The clinic didn’t contact the contacts on the list.

Unless a person told us that a contact refused treatment and made some kind of threat that they would intentionally continue untreated contact with the community. That didn’t happen in our clinic. But we heard about a guy who did that at another university. Cops were involved as a Public Health Emergency. For that one guy.

Contact tracing for Chingona Virus is coming. It’s already here. That’s how we heard about that Redding woman who just had to go to Sacramento to visit a sick person and brought the Chingona back with her to her son, to her church.  She was asked, after she was sick, who the hell she had contact with. She told health care workers before she died. The health care workers did this tracing and contacted those people she contacted because she was too sick to make the phone calls.

Staying the eff at home makes contact tracing much easier.  One way you can make this easier to do for yourself is to keep your receipts from the grocery store and the drug store for 3 weeks at a time in a prominent place. They are date and time stamped, so you don’t have to remember when asked, and health care workers can find these in case you are too freaked out when asked after you get sick or someone you know is now sick and you had to visit them and are now busted. And, of course, these are the only places you should be going for a while, so that’s not a lot of receipts to keep, is it? Don’t rend or gnash, just keep your receipts.

As of today (it’s the latest, trust me) Age 18-49: 26,956 cases,

Age 50-64:14,078 cases

Age 65+: 12,098 cases

in California. What the hell does this mean? It means that Californians who are 18-49 are getting sick far more often than older people. My guess is that they are also more likely to not be staying the eff at home. And also more likely to get in their cars to go somewhere else for recreation because, you know, they are bored.  And it’s not that they are going on a hike in the wide, open spaces and not contacting other people. They go to the gas station to prepare for driving Somewhere Else. They buy snacks at the gas station or one of our little markets. Contact. If your nephew, or grandson or sons and daughters are doing this, don’t yell at them, just back away. Tell them to just wave from where they are. Save a nurse.

Things are opening up, but not all the way and we are still vulnerable to spreading this and getting this. Wear an effing mask.  Not while you’re driving. Didn’t you read about that woman who was driving around with her mask on and hit a tree because she passed out at the wheel? The mask is hard to breathe through. I saw 3 people driving around downtown Redding yesterday, wearing masks while driving.  Don’t do that.  It’s going to start getting warm outside and that makes breathing more difficult, too. Limit wearing your mask to when you get out of the car to get groceries.  And you can’t put on your lipstick before your mask.  Found out the hard way. A cloth sleeping mask, turned upside down with the “nose part” flipped up, can make a pretty good mask with something you may already have around the house. Don’t try and order N-95 ones yet as our health care professionals still need them more than you do.


I know you’re bored and freaked out. I’m one of those. I’ve been trying to write and have been reading about writing, which is the same thing (it is, it is, it is!).

The funnest book in My Pile right now is Save the Cat! Writes a Novel: The Last Book on Novel Writing You’ll Ever Need, by Jessica Brody. This book has a predecessor for screenwriters and this book builds on that one for helping us write something as riveting as a great movie.  She’s written (and sold) some 15 bestsellers (YA mostly), so she does know a couple things.

This book helps you write a Beat Sheet for your plot points to fill out the Three Act Structure. It’s good for planning something you haven’t done yet, but it’s also great for fixing up what you’ve already written! Jessica (I can call her by her first name because I have contacted her online and now we are Pretend Friends!), shows examples of what she’s writing about in popular movies so you can get the visual.

And there’s more! Udemyyes, I spelled that right…is an online teaching place that offers Jessica’s “Write a Best Selling Novel in 15 Steps” course!  It’s offered on sale for $9.99 most of the time (wait for a sale, not the $50 price), and once you buy it, you have it online forever. It’s a lot like the book, but not exactly, but it’s very good to use and play along.  You can go back anytime and re-view one of more of the almost one-hour class. Go to to sign up, create an account and pay online. There are 100s of classes to take, not all of them by Jessica.

I bought her book, marked it up and use it, but I also bought the course from Udemy because sometimes you need a puppet show.

Jessica’s course on novel writing is presented in little blocks of something like 5-10 minutes each with examples, charts, short outlines, and clear explanations from her little face of what the hell she’s talking about. You can stop and start and repeat in the middle of each lesson and go back and forth as you need. She shows how popular and classic novels used what she’s talking about (because they all have these beats!), and of course, how popular movies show her concepts. AND this gives you a movie and book list to learn from and get back into right now because you need more to watch now!

She explains things like Theme, the Catalyst, the Debate, and the B-story (which is NOT the sub-plot but is the main character’s emotional development throughout your novel, her reason for and resistance to the change she needs to make to survive her story).

You’ll learn exactly how to improve your Fun & Games, Midpoint, Bad Guys Close in, All is Lost, and the Dark Night of the Soul. And yeah, you need to improve all that to write and sell your best-selling novel. The Finale Beat and Final Image spots are the necessary ending parts that will make you sure you have given the reader what she needs to love your novel and look forward to your next one.

There’s a “writer’s room” at the end of each “chapter” or “beat” where she shows you what she’s working on that illustrates what she just said, and shows you how writers plan in person, in real time, and how we can help each other “spit-ball” ideas in the comfort of your living room in the Time of Chingona Virus!  See how that all came together?!

Learn something new online, you know, Distance Learning. Continue to stay the eff at home. And just be glad it’s not the University Health Clinic contact tracing you.

Writers Forum is open to submissions for the blog or the newsletter. Please submit copy to the editor at . Electronic submissions only. Microsoft Word format, with the .docx file extension, is preferred but any compatible format is acceptable. The staff reserves the right to perform minor copy editing in the interest of the website’s style and space.

Type of Material and Guidelines for e-newsletter and Website Submission: 1.) Your articles on the art or craft of writing. 2.) Essays on subjects of interest to writers. (200 words can be quoted without permission but with attribution.) 3.) Book or author reviews. 4.) Letters to the Editor or Webmaster. 5.) Information on upcoming events, local or not. 6.) Photos of events. 7.) Advertise your classes or private events.

Queen’s Letter 4: More Inspiration to Stay the Eff Home

writers forum president

We have another letter form the Queen! Today Laura shares some tricks and tools for making your social distancing fruitful for your writing projects. She references Amazon books, and I have inserted links in the titles to make them easy for you to find at Amazon. Just click on the title, and you are there! I will also have a few comments on the Amazon maze after her letter to you.

Okay, let’s try and get some work done!

First of all: what the hell are you wearing?  I don’t mean your pants.  I don’t care if you are wearing pants or not.  I mean I care/not care.  What I’m talking about is what are you wearing on your feet?

Shuffling around in your bedroom slippers at home makes you feel sloppy, unproductive, and frankly: sick.

If you are worried about bringing germs in the house with your regular shoes, wipe the bottoms of your shoes with one of those precious bleach-y wipes you’ve been hording for other reasons.

Pants/no pants, put your socks and shoes on! Doing that will literally give you the support you need to get some shit done. Writing, too. It will also facilitate Hokey Pokey-ing around the yard during your 10-minute breaks after 45 minutes of writing/planning to write.  Yup, that’s the schedule (see what I did there?).

Here’s a plan for getting some shit done:  If you have a manuscript started, re-read the whole thing.  Now.  Really, this will get your head right back where it needs to be and is more productive that looking at the blank page and nodding your head to the bouncing curser, waiting for inspiration.  It really helped me get revved up this week!

After doing that or if you haven’t started a manuscript, read something teachable and learnable.

Over the past few months, I’ve told you about some of my favorite Pretend Boyfriends who don’t know I exist, and have written some great writing books. Since you forgot, I’ve made a list for you. Each book is a sentence. Because I think that makes it more dramatic, not because I think it’s grammatically correct.  It’s a list in no particular order of importance or romantic fantasy. And very little commentary. (Not “no commentary,” ‘cause, have you met me?!)  Here ya go:

Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go by Les Edgerton (He wrote some of this from prison, but it doesn’t mean he hasn’t learned something about getting hooked. And caught). The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman (Helps you get noticed by an agent!). The First 50 Pages by Jeff Gerke (Just helps). The Elements of Storytelling by Peter Rubie.  Story Tumps Structure by Steven James (okay he’s my favorite.). Troubleshooting Your Novel by Steven James (see?). Secrets of Story by Matt Bird (he’s probably really cute!). The Last 50 Pages by James Scott Bell (This will change your life!  You can troubleshoot what you’ve already written to get the best ending ever. Not a “happy ending” but that’s a whole ‘nuther kind of thing. But really this is sooo good and you can read and understand it in one afternoon! He usta be a lawyer so he can, arguably, convince you to make your writing better so you can not just drive, but Arrive!).  The Art of Subtext Beyond Plot by Charles Baxter (You’ll have to re-read this a few times!).  Dreyer’s English by Benjamin Dreyer (which will make you laugh out loud a great many times!).

The above use literary and cinematic references to give you concrete examples of what the hell they are talking about.

Now for the girls!  These female authors are contemporary and also give concrete examples for you to cruise and use.

Make a Scene by Jordan Rosenfeld (and I like the title for something to rebel against!). Understanding Show, Don’t Tell (And Really Getting It) by Janice Hardy (teaching you how to find and fix shit in your writing). 90 days to Your Novel by Sarah Domet.  It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences by June Casagrande (I also like this one because it’s a riff on one of my family’s favorite phrases!). The Scene Book, a Primer for the Fiction Writer by Sandra Scofield (who proves that every scene has a pulse!).  Story Genius by Lisa Cron (Planning from idea to wired brain writer). Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody (Changes the way you think about story!). Writing the Fiction Series: The Complete Guide For Novels and Novellas by Karen Wiesner.  Writing With Emotion, Tension, & Conflict by Cheryl St. John. AND DYI MFA by Gabriela Pereira (It’s more than a How To book, it gives a plan like a fun kind of classroom, and you can sign up for e-mail letters to keep you going!).

And how do you get these beauties now, in the Time of Chingona Virus?  Amazon! If you sign up for Amazon Prime, you’ll get free shipping on books and a whole bunch of new tv and movies things to watch (on your Roku or Smart Thing). A year-long subscription is $106 and now there is a monthly payment option instead of a big ol’ one-time payment.  All online! I like to have these kinds of craft books in paperback so I can (gasp!) mark them up!  These are the kind of books you want to go back to time and again and, as your skill progresses, you will need different chapters that speak to your changing needs.  It’s like learning a new language. When you have mastered some basics, you suddenly hear “new” things because you know more things, now.

Yeah, I know: Big Biz, Independent Bookstores, blah, blah, blah. But this is the time of Chingona Virus and you need to stay the eff home AND get shit done. When it’s safe to go to the Indy stores, we will. But that’s not now, so don’t think your patriotic duty is anything other than staying the eff home.

There is also Amazon’s Kindle to get these books to you right away.  There is a “note taking” function on the Kindle but I think it’s hard to use. So you can take notes like, on paper and stuff. Kindle magically gets your books to you immediately after purchase and opens them on your device when you are near wifi, and is usually cheaper by a few dollars to buy this electronic way than paper books. You will have these books forever on your Kindle.

If you don’t have a Kindle, you might want to get one online now! It’s about $50, on sale at different times. It’s as big as the old kind of paperback novel and weighs just a couple ounces. Get the little “stand” ($12) with it and you can read hands free! You will also get lots of new tv and movie things to watch on your Kindle Fire if you purchase Amazon Prime! Makes tv portable, and you can carry hundreds of books on it, too! There is a “help” telephone/online number to help you set it up (Honestly, it’s very easy, takes seconds, and much easier than setting up a computer!).

Of course, you can get Amazon Prime on your PC, too and read/watch your stuff there. It’s a much bigger screen than a Kindle, but you might be at the mercy of a cord or a laptop battery.

Which ever way you get to these books, get to them! You need to jump-start your writing again, and try to not obsess over, well, all this. And stay the eff home!

Laura referenced Amazon for purchasing your books while we cannot hit the brick-and-mortar stores that might be our favorite indy establishment. I wanted to let you know one thing to be aware of while shopping at Amazon: you easily have the ability to purchase books in multiple formats. The links above all go to the Kindle versions. You also have the option of purchasing softcover, hardcover, and all sorts of editions of the books. You can even purchase them from ‘independent sellers’ through Amazon.

You need to stay aware of exactly which version/edition you are purchasing, and be sure you look at all of your options. When I looked up Laura’s first book, the page I landed on listed the Kindle, softcover, and hardcover version. The Kindle version was $13.99, the softcover version was listed at $54.89, and the hardcover at $112.70. I went to the Kindle version for the link to provide in this post, and I saw that the softcover version here was listed at $23.99, and the hardcover for $25.00. Sometimes the links go to off-site non-Amazon sellers who are selling through Amazon. I don’t think Amazon was trying to rip anybody off, but you do need to look around at exactly what you are purchasing.

One of the books Laura mentioned was DIY MFA. I have mentioned that book on this blog before. It’s not just a book; it’s a program that you can use as little or as much of as you want. In addition to the book, which is a great one in its own right, you can follow the blog, podcasts, and many videos for free. There are also class options and different levels of engaging with DIY MFA that cost money. Look for another blog post on the DIY MFA program soon.



Writers Forum is open to submissions for the blog. Please submit copy to the editor at . Electronic submissions only. Microsoft Word format, with the .docx file extension, is preferred but any compatible format is acceptable. The staff reserves the right to perform minor copy editing in the interest of the website’s style and space.

Type of Material and Guidelines for e-newsletter and Website Submission: 1.) Your articles on the art or craft of writing. 2.) Essays on subjects of interest to writers. (200 words can be quoted without permission but with attribution.) 3.) Book or author reviews. 4.) Letters to the Webmaster. 5.) Information on upcoming events, local or not. 6.) Photos of events. 7.) Advertise your classes or private events.

April is National Poetry Month

April has been dedicated as National Poetry Month in the United States since 1996. The Academy of American Poets saw how successful Black History Month (February) and Women’s History Month (March) had been at raising public awareness of those topics, and they felt the need to raise public awareness of poetry, especially in American public schools. According to the Academy of American Poets, the mission of National Poetry Month is to:

We at Writers Forum would like to give you some resources for helping poets in their craft.

First, we have The Complete Rhyming Dictionary.


This great little book includes a one-hundred page Poet’s Craft Book. This teaches you rhythm, rhyme, stanza patterns, and various forms and techniques of poetry. The meat of the book, however, is a literal ‘rhyming dictionary’, helping you find rhymes to almost any word you would need in your poetry. Need a rhyme for ‘alabaster’, and you have already used ‘plaster’ and ‘master’, but you need more? Well, how about ‘blaster’, ‘disaster’, ‘faster’, ‘forecaster’, or ‘pastor’?

The photo is my beat up copy that I have been carrying around for twenty-five years or so. The Complete Rhyming Dictionary has been an important tool on my writing tool box.

Then we have Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook: a Prose Guide to Understanding and Writing Poetry.


Mary Oliver goes into the nuts and bolts of writing poetry, and she does it in clear language that is easy for the non-poet to follow. She encourages practice, practice, practice in writing, and says, “One learns through thinking about writing, and by talking about writing–but primarily through writing.” Ms. Oliver gives us plenty of examples and suggestions for writing exercises.

Then we have Pulitzer Prize-winner and former US Poet Laureate Ted Kooser’s The Poetry Home Repair Manual.


The Poetry Home Repair Manual is especially geared towards beginning poets, but poets at any level can use Ted’s sage advice. He leaves most of the actual ‘how to’s for other books. Ted seems most concerned with the poet’s attitude and expectations, which mean everything to the heart and soul of poetry. He encourages us to write the type of poetry that we would like to read, which means accessible to most people. He writes:

The Poetry Home Repair Manual advocates for poems that can be read and understood without professional interpretation. My teacher and mentor, Karl Shapiro, once pointed out that the poetry of the twentieth century was the first poetry that had to be taught. He might have said that had to be explained. I believe with all my heart that it’s a virtue to show our appreciation for readers by writing with kindness, generosity, and humility toward them. Everything you’ll read here holds to that.

Kooser’s book is a great one for jump stating your motivation to write poetry.

And since we are in the 21st century, there are all sorts of on-line helps for the poet, from Rhyme Zone and Rhymes, to Poem-a-Day delivered directly to your e-mail box, the access we have today to poetry and writing helps is phenomenal. Don’t forget to look for poetry apps for your smart phone. Go to wherever you purchase and download your apps, and search for key words like ‘rhyming dictionary’. You might be surprised at all of the useful tools available for that marvelous little tool in your hand!

What poetry writing tools and helps have you found? What are your favorites? Please share them with us on our Facebook page, or shoot us an e-mail at . We would love to hear from you!


This Saturday: Manuscript Ailing? Call the (Book) Doctor!

Important announcement to follow!

On Saturday, January 12, CF member George Winship will speak about the process he uses to help his clients restructure their book manuscripts and polish them for publication. With a wealth of experience as a ghostwriter, editor and researcher, George will explain how he diagnoses manuscripts that are ailing to come up with just the right prescription for success.

George earned his MA in Journalism from the University of Oregon in 1980.

He then spent nearly 34 years writing nonfiction articles, features and columns for newspapers in Oregon, Montana and northern California. For seven years, from 2007-2014, he was Editor of the Anderson Valley Post, a weekly newspaper.

In 2005, George launched The Village Wordsmith, a business that specializes in helping writers get published in print or, more recently, on digital platforms such as Kindle,, Barnes & Noble’s Book Nook, Smashwords and Apple’s iBooks.

Writers Forum meets from 10:30am – 12:30pm monthly (except for July and August) in the All Saints Episcopal Church located at 2150 Benton Drive, Redding, CA. Doors open at 10am. The public is welcome to get acquainted with two free visits before joining. Annual membership dues are $25.

This Saturday only, we will not meet in our regular room,  Memorial Hall, due to a church function in Memorial Hall. We will instead meet in  Eaton Hall East, the building behind Memorial Hall. We will be at the same location, and use the same parking lot, but in a different building. Follow the signs when you get there. Thanks.