When I imagined myself being a professional author, I thought I would be sitting around all day  in my velvet dressing gown with my fountain pen and posh notebook, writing reams of perfect words in a Jane Austen type way. Of course in 2018, life isn’t like that at all.

Even though I do still write with a fountain pen (Lamy, italic nib) some of the time, I also have to embrace technology. I am no techno expert though and I’d be grateful for any tips from other authors on things they find useful in their daily life. Meanwhile here are a few things I have had to get to grips with to some extent or other.

Jo Franklin Fountain Pen

PC/Laptop/MaC equivalent

Okay, every author needs one. In fact many have two. Desktop for home use and laptop for everything thing else. Some use their laptop at home but I prefer to have a proper desk set up with large monitor and full sized keyboard to help with the ergonomics of being a writer. Many authors suffer from RSI or shoulder and neck problems and when they discuss their agonies on Facebook it soon becomes clear that they spend their writing hours on the sofa with a laptop balanced on their knees. So I keep my laptop for travel. It is gradually being usurped by my ipad mini and bluetooth keyboard which is smaller, lighter and works sufficiently well for me.

All the software that goes on the above

Gah! Where do I start?

  • Windows – version I don’t know
  • Microsoft Word to type up and format my scruffy words
  • Excel for my accounts and other things
  • Powerpoint for presentations.
  • WordPress – for my website and blog which I created myself – cue, round of applause.

I really struggle with image manipulation. I recognise the need for good quality, wide ranging, not too many megabyte pictures for my website, business cards, leaflets, banners etc But I think I have spent more time grappling with this more than I have on writing all my books together. The whole thing around image storage, the interface between my iphone, the cloud and the pc and anything to do with image manipulation is a mystery to me so don’t ask me what programs I use because I really don’t know. I stumble through a forest of clicks and end up with something.

Then there’s the (mostly) free apps or pc programs like

  • Canva which is good for the layout of leaflets etc I used it to create my website banner.
  • Jotform which I have used to create an online booking form for CWISL the author group I belong to.
  • Bitmoji which is a fun way to create a cartoon character that looks a little like me. I’ve got to liven up these blog posts somehow!

Jo Franklin bitmoji reading

  • Teleprompter which is a free autocue app on my phone, an essential addition to my repertoire for making videos. That reminds me …. I need to start getting to grips with making videos. Did I tell you I’m an author? I’m beginning to think that maybe I’m not.

Of course there are other products available. Do let me know if there is an app or pc program that you find invaluable as an author, teacher etc

Advanced features of the above software

One thing is certain, software programs are getting more and more sophisticated and it easy to think that you won’t ever need those advanced features but you’d be wrong. Even in Word an author needs to know how to use ‘Track Changes’ with confidence as this is often used as the main way for editors to communicate their thoughts to the author. Track Changes is ghastly! Probably because I don’t really know how to use it properly and I’m always worried that the editor is going to be able to see my feeble earlier drafts and all my spelling mistakes. My spelling is getting worse. Particularly with homophones.

Styles, Headers and Table of Contents are also really useful features in Word too. I use these in particular in my planning documents . It is clear when I try and explain these features to my students on my plotting course that they have never used them. Suddenly I have to turn into a Microsoft trainer and try and explain these features which is really difficult. There are loads of great tutorial on You Tube.

The navigation pane is also really useful. It is muddled up with the find and replace feature but it’s brilliant if you have used headers for each of your chapter titles. You can call up the navigation pane and have listed all your chapter headings on the left hand side of your screen. With one click you can navigate to any chapter you want to. This is also why I give my chapters names rather than just numbers. I need to be reminded what the chapter is about so I can navigate my way around my own manuscript.

Jo Franklin navigation pane for Help I'm a Detective

Navigation pane for my next novel Help I’m a Detective

Videos, video editing, YouTube

One of my good intentions for 2018 is to get to grips with videoing in a time efficient but effective way. Ha, ha, ha! I’ll get back to you later in the year on how I get on with it or whether I gave up.

So if you are an aspiring author looking to fill the hours while you wait for the rejections to come in, first of all write another book and secondly try and develop your tech skills so that when the day comes, you are ready to be an author in the 21st century. When you’ve worked out how to do all this stuff (and more) let me know will you, because I am still struggling. Bring back the quill pen!

Top Tips on Forming Your Own Writers Group

 Top Tips on Forming Your Own Writers Group

I’m sure I’ve said this before, but I really can’t stress enough the importance of my writer’s critique group. My crit buddies are more than professional colleagues. They are also very close friends. But forming your own writer’s group from scratch can be tricky.

1 Nominate a leader

A group needs to be organised and led by a named individual. One way of ensuring that the group is led by the right person (ie someone you has the same ideas as you) is to become the leader yourself. However the leader should not be a dictator. Just because they are good at organising everyone doesn’t mean they are the best writer or that they give the best feedback. So even if you are in charge, remember to keep checking in with the other members of the group that they are happy with the way things are going.

Jo Franklin is the leader of the group

Me trying to be a positive leader


2 Decide the Aims/Rules/Parameters of the Writer’s Group

Agree at the beginning,

  • how often you are going to meet
  • how many people will submit work for comment at each meeting
  • how many words each submission will be
  • whether you are going to submit and read the work before the meeting and the deadline for submitting to other members.
  • rules for constructive feedback ( I thought everyone knew this but I have been caught out before. I probably need to do another blog post on this)
  • what to do if something goes wrong. Sadly this tends to fall to the leader to sort out any infighting. I suggest that the leader gains support from the other members before tackling a difficult member of the team. I probably need to do another blog post on this because when a critique group goes toxic, it is very unpleasant.

Alli and Emma snuggling up on our weekend away

3 Keep the group to a manageable number.

I think six is the ideal number. It’s a good number to fit around one table and gives you enough people for varied feedback even if one member of the group is ill. If it becomes apparent that one member is not able to commit to the group then look around for a replacement before the whole thing collapses.

4 Define the Genre for the Group

If possible, stick to one genre (or age group if writing for children) for the critique group. This will avoid any genre vs literary arguments and having to justify the language chosen if writing for children. There can always be flexibility if an established member of the group goes off at a tangent and starts writing outside the usual genre. However the group should reserve the right to ask someone to leave if they go off piste and the rest of the group don’t like it.

Jen knows how to enjoy herself

5 Recruitment of New Members

The membership of a critique group can be a bit like shifting sands. At times, people will leave and it will be necessary to recruit new members. The best way to find new members is by personal recommendation. The quality of an individual’s feedback is more important than the quality of their writing! It’s a good idea to draw up an list of expectations for a new member so that they know what they are letting themselves in for.

6 Balance

You should think of your critique group as a co-operative. Reading and critiquing other people’s work takes time. Time away from your own writing so a group works when everyone puts in the same amount of effort and hopefully gets the same level of reward in return. It is payment in kind. If someone repeatedly expects other people to critique their work but can’t be bothered to spend time to comment in return, resentment will start to form among other members. Resentment is bad!

Tasha – you don’t have to be mad to work hear but it helps

7 Trust

As you get to know each other you will soon learn who to trust. All writers need constructive, helpful feedback. Sometimes that feedback will hurt, but as long as the critic can back up what they are saying with hard evidence, you really should listen to what they are saying. That doesn’t mean you have to act on it, but you should listen, go away and digest what the person says. The chances are they have highlighted a problematic section of your work, even if they haven’t nailed the exact problem. So to instill trust, all feedback needs to be precise and constructive.

And if it all works out you will have a ready made guest list for your book launch and friends for life.

The gang together at my book launch

Questions. Questions.

I spend my life looking at what I’ve written and striking a line through my words. Writing is all about editing. Inevitably my critical eye transfers to other people’s work, whether published or not. I’m not a punctuation pedant and I barely know the difference between a noun and a verb (and while I’m at it, should that be barely or bearly? I really don’t know.)

But I do have some pet hates in other people’s writing and top of my list is rhetorical questions – questions asked outside of dialogue, that are not immediately answered.

Jessie cropped

Jessie by Aaron Blecha

It is as if the character is asking me, the reader, for my opinion and it takes me out of their viewpoint and the action. I always encourage writers I mentor to find an alternative way of expressing the doubt in a character’s mind. So …
‘What am I going to do about the train that is going to derail any minute?’ 
Could become
‘I didn’t know what I was going to do about the train that was going to derail any minute, but it was going to be messy.’
‘The train was about to derail any minute and I could do nothing about it.’

Sometimes writers bunch their rhetorical questions in a cluster.
‘I didn’t know what was going on. Why was Dad acting weird? Who was the guy with the scarred face? When was the pizza going to arrive?’

Too much uncertainty!

Mickey with questionmarks


I need to know that the character knows what’s going on or at least that the character knows that they don’t know.

It is the character’s problem, not mine. I’m rooting for them to fix the issue. I don’t want to have to do it for them and I don’t want to stop reading and wonder why Dad is acting weird.

Bunched rhetorical questions are often a sign that the author doesn’t know what is going on themselves. Which is okay in first drafts, when the writer is thrashing out the plot, but I think they should be ironed out in subsequent drafts. That’s what editing is all about, writing the story in the most compelling way and I find rhetorical questions take my attention away from the words written on the page.

For me, the very worst crime is posing a rhetorical question on page one. The opening of a novel should be about grabbing the reader’s attention, introducing a character we are going to love in a believable location. The writer needs to drag the reader away from the television and into the book.

The opening page is not the time to plant the seed of doubt in the reader’s mind.

What if the reader decides NOT to read on?
Help I'm An Alien

Artwork by Aaron Blecha

So are rhetorical questions completely banned? Of course not.

I thought I better check out where I used questions in my own work, so I opened my Help I’m an Alien manuscript and searched for ‘?’ There are 314 question marks in 28,000 words. Over three hundred of them appear in dialogue. Which is the best way to have your character raise a question. It’s not left hanging with no one to answer it. Even if the character’s best friend answers ‘I don’t know’, the question is contained within the story not dumped on the reader.

Another great way to use a question is as a cliff hanger at the end of a chapter
‘Was she trying to tell me I was adopted?’

Or when the character is questioning someone else’s motives. When my character is accused of being an alien by his sister he poses the question in his head and provides an immediate answer.
‘What did she mean? Aliens didn’t exist.’
He is doubting her, not himself.Another way I use questions in Help I’m an Alien is to directly ask the reader a question.
‘Who gives out oranges instead of sweets at Halloween?’
‘Did I mention, I always wanted a computer of my own?’
I use these questions because I want to collude with the reader on the unfairness of the world.
I think it’s worth running a search on ‘?’ in your own work. Where are you using questions? Why are you using questions? Could you rewrite that sentence in a more compelling way, rather than dumping the character’s anxiety on the reader?
My advice is to try and keep rhetorical questions to a minimum.
PS my critique group know that rhetorical questions are one of my pet hates. I point them out in their work all the time. I am a rhetorical question pedant.
My lovely critique buddy Alli Jeronimus wanted me to tell you that the other week I made a comment on her work ‘I think you should ask a rhetorical question here.’
She nearly killed me