Daily Archives: September 13, 2011

Transcription of Bailey’s Writing Tips podcast episode 23 (January 2011) – computer tips (pt1)

The twenty-third episode of the Bailey’s Writing Tips podcast was released on 24th January 2011 and the content has never been released other than website links (on my website) so I hope you find this information useful. In the first twenty-two episodes (see for earlier blog posts), I covered ‘show not tell’, the five senses, repetition, points of view, tenses, dialogue, characters, crime, poetry, short stories, novels, writing for children, scriptwriting, comedy, romance and chick lit, erotica, ‘writing rules’, historical & the classics, name & characters, Christmas, opportunities, songwriting, reading and auto/biographies. This episode had a focus on computer tips (with more to follow in ep.24).


More and more submissions are being accepted by email which requires a computer so I thought for a change I’d do a podcast on this topic. Even if you’re sending something by post, it will need to typed and double-sided which will involve a computer, word processor or at the very least a typewriter. You may know most, or some, of this already but I’ve used a computer since the pre-Windows and Wang days (I learned to type at secretarial college back in the 1980s on an electronic typewriter with carbon paper so we couldn’t cheat!) and I’m still learning. Equally some of you may only use them for the basics and would like to know a bit more, perhaps for fun or for time-saving. As most of you listening will likely have a Windows PC I’ve concentrated on tips for you but if you have an Apple Mac (I have both) then I will mention where the options differ. Shout if something isn’t clear or needs explaining further, or if there’s something I’ve not covered here that you’d like help on.

Hints & tips

  • If, like me, you regularly mistype particular words, AutoCorrect is a treasure. Where Spelling & Grammar (F7) will change a word once, AutoCorrect will change it for evermore. When you get the red underlining on an offending word, right-click with your mouse and you’ll see at the top of the list (menu) a selection of one or more alternate words. Selecting the correct word by a left-click mouse button will do what Spelling does and just replace it on that occasion but if you look down a bit further, you’ll see the AutoCorrect option. If you hover over that, you’ll see the same list of alternative words appear as a sub-menu to the side. If you then left-click on the word you want in that sub-menu your computer will change the word whenever you type it. I use this tool all the time but also heard it being mentioned by Danny Wallace in an iTunes ‘Meet the Author’ interview. He said his spelling and grammar was appalling so his computer was set up to correct everything but he came unstuck when working on friend’s computers – I guess that’s the joy of laptops; they can go wherever you do. As with computer, they do have a mind of their own and sometimes although you select the correct word, it will come up with something completely different (not sure why). To get round this just undo (either Ctrl/Z or click on the left curled arrow , or from memory Alt/E in earlier versions). Like the Word for Windows, Word for Mac’s AutoCorrect option will appear if you left-click on the offending word then right click and near the bottom, below the alternative words, you’ll see AutoCorrect, hover over that and a sub-menu (with the alternative words) will appear. Clicking on the relevant one of those rather than the earlier alternates will change it for ever more. There’s also an AutoCorrect option in Word’s Preferences menu.
  • If you’re in Word and the page you’re reading is too small, there should be a size guide at the bottom right-hand side of the screen. You can click on the ‘+’ button to increase the image (or ‘-’ to decrease) or drag the down arrow that appears between the – and + symbols. On a Mac it’s the cmd and – or + buttons.
  • Links to websites (hyperlinks) will usually appear blue and underlined in a Word document and you can press your Ctrl key and click (with your left mouse) to open your internet programme (e.g. Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox (I use the latter or Apple’s Safari)) and view the website page. However, you can change your options to cut out the necessity to use the Ctrl key. In Word 2007, you would do this by going to your ‘Office button’ (top-left of your screen) and click on the ‘Word Options’ at the bottom of the menus. Then click on ‘Advanced’ and de-tick ‘Use Ctrl + Click to follow hyperlink’ box. Now you can just left-click your mouse to go through this process. A simple but perhaps very useful change.
  • If you want to remove a hyperlink from a Word document, you can right-click your mouse on the word and select ‘Remove hyperlink’. This means that the text will remain but it will no longer be an active link; handy for copying in sections from websites like Wikipedia where it seems that every few words take you to other pages, interesting but sometimes unnecessary. On a Mac you click on ‘Edit hyperlink’ then ‘Remove’.
  • If you have a mixture of fonts and formats in your document and you want to make them more uniform you can do it a number of ways. For example if you have a mix of Times New Roman (favoured by editors / publishers) but also have some Arial or even a third font, highlight the document (Ctrl A) and go to your Home (Word 2007) or Edit (Word 2003 – from memory!) and select the font you want. The same goes for font sizes e.g. changing it from pitch 11 to 12 because it’s slightly too small. If you have a mixutre of font sizes but only want to increase by one or two sizes, highlight the text (Ctrl A) then click on the larger of the two A in the font sub-section of the Home menu (or the small ‘A’ to decrease) in Word 2007. These icons are the same on a Mac.
  • If you want to copy a section’s formatting with a mix of formats (e.g. indented/bulleted, bold, italics etc) to another section of text but don’t want to go through the rigmorol of highlighting it, bolding it, italicing it, indenting/bulleting it etc, simply highlight the correct formatting (to include the whole section (e.g whole paragraph), click on ‘Format Painter’ (the paintbrush icon in the Clipboard section of the Home menu) and you’ll notice that your cursor changes to a paintbrush then highlight the section of text you want to change and hey presto, it’ll change! Apart from the undo icon, this is probably one of my most-used features. Again this is the same on a Mac.
  • If you have Word 2007 or later your files may be saving as .docx rather than .doc. Whilst this doesn’t matter to anyone who has Word 2007 onwards, it does mean that anyone with earlier versions won’t be able to open your documents. It’s likely that whoever you are submitting to will have the 2007 or later but you are running the risk of emailing .docx to anyone who hasn’t. The easy way round this is to set your default saving settings to save all your Word documents as .doc. Do this by going to your office button (top-left) then down to Word Options then the Save menu then the first option is ‘files in this format’, change to Word 97-2003 by clicking on the down arrow and selecting it. On a Mac it’s in Word’s Preferences / Output and Sharing / Save option.

Computer shortcuts

There are numerous computer shortcuts which aren’t widely known. These include:

  • The Windows key (the one made up of four squares) and the ‘M’ pressed together will minimise (hide) all your current open programmes and take you back to your ‘desktop’ (the screen that first appears when you log in to your computer) – on a Mac it’s likely to be dragging your mouse to one of your screen’s corners depending on how it was set up;
  • Ctrl*/A (holding both keys down together) is useful if you want to highlight all your text; for instance if you want to copy/paste or move/past it to another document. This should work in any application (programme). *The ‘Ctrl’ key usually appears on the bottom-left and bottom-right of your keyboard and stands for ‘control’ (or on a Mac it’s the cmd button which stands for ‘command’;
  • Ctrl/F (or cmd/F) is a fantastic tool for finding a particular word within your document or spreadsheet. When the ‘Find and Replace’ box appears, type in the word you’re looking for and click on ‘find next’. Another option is to ‘find and replace’; for instance, if you want to rename your character from Mark to Robert you can press the Ctrl & F keys then click on the ‘replace’ box (second tab on the ‘Find’ box) then instead of finding ‘Mark’ and you manually replace the name with ‘Robert’, it’ll replace all the instances of mark and replace with Robert. Remember though that if you have a word like ‘marking’ the computer will have replaced it with ‘Roberting’! To be sure that it’s replacing correctly it may be wise to click on ‘replace next’ as you go along and you can decide whether you want to replace each one or not (if you don’t click on ‘find next’ instead and it’ll move on).
  • Another way of finding sections is to insert bookmarks. From Word 2007, go to the section of the document that you want to insert a bookmark then go to the ‘Insert’ top menu then click on ‘Bookmark’. Then enter the bookmark name (something you’d remember, no spaces) and click on ‘Add’. You can do this as many times as you like. To then find the passage, click on Insert / Bookmark, select the bookmark name and click on Go To. This is especially useful if the section contains regularly used words e.g. one of my bookmarks was to a section entitled ‘flash fiction’ – the bookmark was ‘flash’ – there only a few incidents of ‘flash’ in the document (which Ctrl/F or cmd/F would have gone to first) but there would have been plenty with the word fiction. You can delete bookmarks by highlighting the bookmark title and clicking delete. Be warned though, once you click on delete it goes, the computer won’t ask you if you’re sure, so you’d have to set it up again. What is useful however is that only the titles for the document you’re in will appear so you can set up as many as you like without having to worry about wading through loads of bookmarks that aren’t relevant to the document you’re in. The Mac’s bookmark option is at the bottom of the Insert toolbar menu.
  • Ctrl Z / cmd Z will undo whatever you did last, from typing to a simple action such as re-formatting text. You can also click on the undo icon (the backward curved arrow) at the top of your programme’s screen. You may notice a down arrow to the right of the undo icon. If you click on this, it brings up a list of the actions you’ve performed since you opened the document or saved last. If you want to undo a few actions, you can move your mouse down to the earliest action you want to undo. As you move your mouse down, the actions are highlighted.
  • To re-do or repeat something, press Ctrl Y / cmd Y or the  icon. It will not only re-do something that you’ve just undone in error but it will also repeat whatever you’ve just done.
  • If you have a few programmes running at the same time and want to swap between any of them, by holding the Alt button down and then pressing the Tab button (, above Caps Lock) – cmd and Tab on a Mac – once, you will be able to see a display of icons in the middle of your screen. With the Alt (cmd) button held down, keep pressing the Tab button until you reach the one you want and then let go. In Vista, you can use the cursor keys to navigate up and down if you have more than one row of open programmes – sadly this doesn’t work in XP which is what I’d reverted on my netbook to having had problems with Vista). You can however scroll backwards by holding the Alt and Shift keys down and pressing the Tab button (thanks to Steve K from Northampton, England for that tip!).

For a full list of keyboard shortcuts, the Writing Magazine suggests and provides further help on making shortcuts even more useful. For a Mac take a look at Apple’s page which not only lists them all but has a load of other related links at the bottom of the very long page!


Here I provide a couple of story ideas or ways to get new ideas then list seven sentence starts listed on my page; each one, if you’d like to use them, for a daily writing project.

  • to write a story about a character coming to terms (or not) with computer technology; and/or
  • write a story about a character either timewarping or waking up in modern times and has never seen a computer before.

The podcast concluded with News, On This Day in History and a 60-worder entitled ‘Flight of Fancy’:

  • The plane took flight. It looked so serene, gliding through the air like a proud goddess. Half-way through its journey, it looked to be in trouble. A strong gust of wind took it off its course. It faltered, veered side to side then lost control crashing to the ground, just short of the desk that it had been aimed at.

That’s it. Thanks for visiting – a list of the other transcripts and summaries can be found at


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Transcription of Bailey’s Writing Tips podcast episode 22 (Jan 2011) – biographies

The twenty-second episode of the Bailey’s Writing Tips podcast was released on 17th January 2011 and the content has never been released other than website links (which I originally put on my website so I hope you find this information useful. In the first twenty-one episodes (see for earlier blog posts), I covered ‘show not tell’, the five senses, repetition, points of view, tenses, dialogue, characters, crime, poetry, short stories, novels, writing for children, scriptwriting, comedy, romance and chick lit, erotica, ‘writing rules’, historical & the classics, name & characters, Christmas, opportunities, songwriting and reading. This podcast has a focus on biographies and autobiographies.

Authors and their biographies

  • Biographies are big business. In fact WH Smith’s UK website lists over 176,000!
  • If you are thinking of writing your own autobiography then the recommendation of reading works of the same genre certainly holds true. Reading other biographies helps learn what works and what doesn’t although an agent or editor will certainly point out anything that needs changing.
  • The Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook has very little on the subject of autobiographies but does have ‘notes from a successful biographer’ by Claire Tomalin. She starts by saying that a good biography is driven by the curiosity of the writer and takes a lot of work (research, reading, travel and thought). Like fiction, you need to create the world around your subject. You still need to let your reader “see the houses, landscapes and cities, hear the noises in the streets, know what was being joked and argued about…how people wore their clothes and hair, what they disapproved of, what excited them, what they were ready to fight for, how the social classes interacted – and so on.” Claire also says to re-visit places mentioned in the book you are preparing. It helps to ensure that the facts you put in are accurate, and that you to write the atmosphere of the places convincingly.
  • Don’t forget to include pictures and/or photographs. Whilst children love picture books, adults too like to see what the people (and places) in the stories they’re reading look like, regardless of whether the subjects are famous or not.
  • Although (an article entitled ‘how to write an interesting biography’ by Grace Fleming) is designed for students, there are some interesting ‘questions to consider in your biography’: Was there something in your subject’s childhood that shaped his/her personality? Was there a personality trait that drove him/her to succeed or impeded his progress? What adjectives would you use to describe him/her? What were some turning points in this life? What was his/her impact on history?
  • There are plenty of companies that will write your biography for you ( and for example; they can also edit your book for you for a fee) but what’s the point of being a writer if you leave it to someone else? 🙂

Historical biographies

  • Hilary Mantel has written a number of non-fictional and fictional historical biographies (Wikipedia’s page on her is fascinating), the latest novel being Wolf Hall; about King Henry VIII’s minister Thomas Cromwell. I met Hilary a few years ago (when she was promoting ‘Beyond Black’) she’s lovely. 🙂
  • The Elizabeth Longford Prize for Historical Biography was “established in 2003 in memory of Elizabeth Longford, 1906-2002, the British author, biographer and historian. The prize is awarded annually for a historical biography published in the preceding year. The Elizabeth Longford Prize is sponsored by Flora Fraser and Peter Soros and administered by the Society of Authors”. The yearly winners are listed on
  • Flora Fraser (mentioned above) is the daughter of historical biographer Lady Antonia Fraser. Flora has written biographies on Emma Hamilton and Caroline of Brunswick (daughters of George III) and Pauline Bonaparte (Napoleon’s younger sister). I bought Antonia’s autobiography ‘Must you go’ for my mum for her 80th birthday; it sounds good.


While your autobiography will technically be about you, you may well want to include historical family members. This is where genealogy comes in.

  • Making a family tree is another form of biography and while it’s usually done for personal reasons, it could come in handy, even if you’re writing a novel with related characters (there were 11 maternal relations in Kate Atkinson’s first novel ‘Behind the Scenes at the museum’ so I ended up drawing a tree to keep track of them!).
  • One of the website’s mentioned in BBC1’s Heir Hunters. As well as looking for unclaimed estates, you can look at a family tree showing ‘relatives entitled to share in an intestate estate’ which may not be appropriate for your purposes but is a good example of how a tree takes shape (and far better than the blank one on the website mentioned below!).
  • says “Gather together as many official documents as you can. These might include death, marriage and birth certificates; census returns; wills; divorce records and details of service in the armed forces. The Family Records Centre in London, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ family history centres and many county record offices and larger public libraries (which often have family or local history specialists) are all good places from which to start your search. Although official documents aren’t infallible they will provide you with key dates on which to build. Draw up a family tree. Include as much basic information as you can: first names, dates of births, deaths and marriages, professions and causes of death. Pin it up where you can study it and add question marks if you’re unsure of information. As your knowledge grows so will the family tree and you will have a clearer idea of the point at which to begin your biography or family history. Trends and questions will also emerge. If you’re writing a biography of a music hall star and several of her relatives married jockeys perhaps you need to explore the connections between the two ways of earning a living? Or maybe several members of your family died from a similar disease – was this hereditary or caused by a life working down the mines? Start a timeline. Include dates from the family tree and expand it so that it covers the period you will be writing about. Compile it on a computer so you can easily add new events as your research progresses; include both minor dates such as when they started university or school as well as bigger events – for example, when they were arrested for chaining themselves to the railings in support of votes for women. If you’re researching a particularly dramatic moment – perhaps when the Titanic sank with your grandfather on board – you may want to add hour-by-hour details. Know your competition. Read similar books so that you can tell a publisher why your biography will be different. Pay particular attention to the footnotes and “notes on sources”. Photocopy the bibliography and work your way through it. Contact family members. If your subject has any surviving family members you are going to have to be very, very nice to them. They may be able to provide valuable information and you will probably need their approval to quote from letters or diaries or to reproduce photos. They, however, may be suspicious of someone nosing around their family. Write them a reassuring letter and ask if you can visit them. Timing is crucial: you should have learnt enough about the subject to make the meeting worthwhile, but don’t leave it too long to interview someone in their 90s. Befriend an expert. No matter what your subject, the chances are someone will already have studied it – perhaps for years. This needn’t be bad news. Many archivists and local or specialist historians are keen to share their enthusiasm and will provide valuable “leads” – who to interview and which archives to use. Special interest groups such as Researching Far East Prisoners of War can also put you in touch with useful contacts. Start your own journal. Research is as much – if not more – fun than writing a biography or family history and you might decide to weave a sense of this drama into your book.” This page has lots more but concludes with “Draw up a timeline of the major events of the period you’re writing about and put it in a file side by side with the timeline for the key happenings in your subject’s life (see above). Include in this second timeline events in the wider world – this might be the publication of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, the Beatles performing their first gig, the election of a new prime minister”.
  • is the home of the Government’s National Archives. You can ‘discover our vast collection of records and guides on family and military history’ and find quick links to births/marriages/deaths (bmd), census records, citizenship and naturalisation, divorce, passenger lists, wills and research guides A-Z. One of the links on this site takes you to an arm of the website which mentions other websites of interest including,,, (which looks suspiciously like ‘bmdindex’,, and the one heavily advertised on British TV:
  • is the Federation of Family History Societies. There are some great tips, especially for beginners, on the home page and their research tips page.
  • (again The Genealogist-looking) contains all the information of the 10-yearly censuses up to 1901. Unfortunately although the details are released every 10 years they are never less than 100 years old but it will help you with distant ancestors.
  • Other useful contacts include the ‘Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives’ (AGRA) and the ‘Association of Professional Genealogists’ (APGN).
  • We only have time on our Monday night sessions to give critique (and plenty of friendly chat!) and I can only go so far in these handouts, so if you feel that you’d like to learn more about the craft of writing you might like to look into Oxford Open Learning’s Writing School. Their About us subject info page lists their courses: creative writing (a bit of most genres), children, romance, family history, novel and business.

Hints & tips

  • has some great tips on writing an autobiography. The page first lists ten steps (understand your reasons for writing an autobiography, read some autobiographies, think about your audience, develop your theme, organize your autobiography, jog your memory, start writing, edit your completed work, preserve your work and finally, Build a relationship using your autobiography) and at the bottom of the page is a warning (‘an autobiography is different from a memoir; make sure you know which you want to write. An autobiography is like a self-written biography; it outlines the events and experiences of the author in a factual way. A memoir, however, is more intimate and focuses on emotion and perspective. Be sure you use the right term for your work, the different titles target different audiences.’). Following this there are links to relevant pages (how to write a saleable life story, how to make a memorial book, how to self publish a book, how to copyedit and proofread written work and how to copyright a book) and then articles for you to write (includes how to write a professional autobiography, how to develop memory power, how to start a memoir, how to write a family biography). In between there are four tips:
  • Make your story vivid. Use descriptive words. Think about the Who, What, Where, When, How and Why of each memory. Use your senses to help describe your stories. Show, don’t tell. At the same time, don’t get bogged down in unimportant details.
  • Honesty is the best policy, but you don’t have to include every horrid secret you may be hiding if you don’t want to. Conversely, you may decide to spruce up your legacy a bit by embellishing your accomplishments just a little. After all, it’s your story.
  • If your writing is atrocious, or if you just need some help getting your thoughts in order, consider hiring a ghost writer or a professional personal historian. Celebrities do it all the time.
  • Other things to include in your autobiography: Dedication, Foreword, Vital Statistics, Chronology Sheets, Family Tree, Epilogue. is a page of tips on writing a biography:

  • Decide whom you want to write about, your parents, grandparents, great grandparents, ancestors, other relatives, friends, idols, heroes, yourself or any other special person.
  • Collect as much information as you possibly can, from his or her birth date to the most relevant facts of his or her life through letters, journals, newspaper clippings, pictures, and most importantly, through conversations with elder family members (it would be a good idea to take notes or record conversations).
  • Organise your thoughts before starting to write, think of that part of the person’s life you would like to highlight. Some useful questions can be: who?, what?, where?, why? and how?
  • Other questions to ask would be: what makes this person so special and interesting? How can he or she be best described? Which were the events that marked or changed his or her life? In what way was he or she an influence to family, society or professionally?
  • When writing about somebody else, describe his or her appearance, habits, features and way of talking. If you do not remember a name, use replacements such as: friend, mate or boss.
  • Edit the biography; read it aloud to feel of the rhythm and the sound of it, it will also help you notice if you are repeating information.

Biography-related publications

  • Amazon currently has 471,005 biography-related books under the categories of artists/architects/ photographers, British royalty, business & finance, children’s & young adult, essays/journals/letters, film/tv/music, gay & lesbian, general, historical, holocaust, medical/legal/social sciences, novelists/ poets/playwrights, political, reference, religious, science/mathematics/technology, social & health issues, sport, theatre & performance art, tragic life stories (which are hugely popular), true crime, war & espionage and women. So the genre is well worth looking into – even if you don’t write your own you could write someone elses. Amazon’s home page by the way lists the Booker Prize for Fiction 2009 nominees which includes A.S. Byatt’s ‘The Children’s Book’, J.M. Coetzee’s ‘Summertime’ and Sarah Hall’s interestingly titled novel ‘How to paint a man dead’ (which you can look inside). On Sarah’s page is reference to ‘Me Cheeta’ a comical autobiography of Tarzan’s companion by James Lever.
  • Amazon also has a good array of books on writing biographies and the first listed is ‘Writing Biography and Autobiography’ by Brian D Osborne. Others include ‘How to write your own life story’ by Lois Daniel, three ‘Writing Lives’ books; one by Midge Gillies, another by Kevin Sharpe & Steven N Zwicker and the third by Catherine N Parke. Below these are ‘Writing Medieval Biography’ by David Bates, Julia Crick and Sarah Hamilton, and Writers on Comics Scriptwriting (Writing Biography) by Tom Root & Andrew Kardon. The page (there are many more pages) ends with ‘History Makers: a questioning approach to reading and writing biographies’ by Zarnowski and ‘Writing Biography: Historians and their craft’ by Lloyd E Ambrosius. Some interesting names there!

Biography-related websites

  • which the Writers & Artists Yearbook 2007 describes as “good for checking people’s dates and incorporates the Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography”.
  • is the website of the Biographers’ Club. TBC is “an umbrella organisation which seeks to educate, inspire, promote and foster a better understanding of the art of biography and its relevance across the broad spectrum of human endeavour. Through our events, we create a forum for this understanding, a public benefit for all in the art of biography across all media and disciplines, and a professional and social interaction among its membership”.


Here I provide a couple of story ideas or ways to get new ideas then list seven sentence starts which are listed on my ‘sentence starts’ blog page; each one, if you’d like to use them, for a daily writing project.

  • Write a diary. This may be a simple tip but even if you’re not planning to write a biography it’s interesting to see what you were doing on the same day the previous year(s). My mum’s been writing for years and tends to go for a page-a-day whereas mine’s a week-to-view, she tells me that she even includes what the weather’s doing.
  • Talking of diaries, something I thought of last weekend was to suggest buying a diary (if you don’t write one; or two if you do) for creative writing use only. In your c/w diary, instead of writing what you did that day, you can write ideas, part of a poem (or a whole one if you can manage it – Wendy Cope writes a poem a day!) or continue a piece of prose. Buying a day-to-a-page may be too daunting, so you could buy a week-to-a-page (ideally A5 size) on which you could get 40 words a day so at the end of the week you would have an average of 280 words which doesn’t sound like a lot but it’s 1/3 of a magazine-guideline story and it’s 280 words more than you would have had without the diary. In three weeks you could have (after some editing) something submittable and will hopefully spur you on to writing more in a notebook. In a year you’d have 15,000 words – well on the way to a novel or novella! Of course you can write 40 words a day in an ordinary notebook but by having the dates (an old blank diary will also do the trick) there to remind you, you’re less likely (hopefully) to miss any days.
  • I know they’re short, but take a look at biographies on Wikipedia. You can look at modern examples such as Brad Pitt or more classical subjects such as William the Conqueror. Wikipedia has a fairly routine format so really you can pick any biography you like (just put the name in the left-hand search box) and see how a life is summed up in a few hundred words. Perhaps useful for a synopsis?

The podcast concluded with News & Feedback, On This Day in History and a piece of flash fiction.


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