Peter Jones – Author & Public Speaker

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Managing Your Story's Timeline #spreadsheet #authortools

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Post-it_Desk_Art

Many moons ago, back when writing was just a hobby, something that my wife would encourage me to do in the evenings whilst she planned world domination with the cunning use of post-it notes – back when The Good Guy’s Guide To Getting The Girl was still in first-draft and barely a few thousand words long – I discovered a problem that I suspect is fairly unique to fiction writers.

I was having one of those rare writing moments when (it felt like) everything was going well – words were pouring out of me. I was bashing out scene after scene with unparalleled delight. Never mind that most of those scenes seemed to start with the phrase “the next day” or words to that effect. That could all be dealt with in the edit. The edit which would happen when I’d finished the WHOLE book. I’d learnt that much about writing: Write first. Edit later.

Although, as I wrote “the next day” for about the fiftieth time that evening I started to realise that I might have a problem that couldn’t wait until the grand ‘fix-everything’ edit. And the problem was this; in my head the chapter I was writing was supposed to span roughly a month, sometime in the summer, a year or two before the turn of the millennium. But as I scrolled through my manuscript and counted the number of times that dreaded phrase appeared I realised I’d successfully created a month with 47 days. And given that most of the action was supposed to happen during office hours…

Crap.

Which is when I turned to excel. Because obviously, that’s what you do when a crisis of this magnitude happens. There’s nothing in this world that can’t be fixed with a good spreadsheet. Trust me. I partially built an entire career in banking with my mediocre excel skills. But I digress.

I present to you the timeline spreadsheet. A way of keeping track of your novel / script / short story, when & where each scene takes place, as well as how old each of your characters are on that day. And because it’s a rare author who has the luxury of not having to worry about word count, there’s a bit of that thrown in for good measure.

Feel free to download it and share it all you like. And if it works for you drop me a line. If it doesn’t work for you, or you’d like it amended in someway, or you screw something up and need it fixing (in the spreadsheet I mean, not your story) – well drop me a line anyway and I’ll see what I can do.

In the meantime here’s a brief tutorial on how to use the sheet

Basics

This is a Microsoft Excel (office 97) spreadsheet. A basic knowledge of spreadsheets is probably useful. You should be able to open it in Open Office (which is free) or Apple’s Numbers. There are three tabs to the spreadsheet (you’ll find those at the bottom). To avoid breaking the spreadsheet (which is really, really easy to do) only change what’s in the blue areas, everything else should change automatically. The sheet comes pre-filled with example data – just delete this when you’re ready to start work.

To see any of the images below bigger, and in a new browser tab, just click them.

timeline - word countTab One – Word Count

The least interesting of the three tabs, but still useful. Delete the example data in the blue box and enter the maximum word count you’re allowed. As you populate the rest of the sheet this tab will tell you how many words you’ve written and how many you’ve got left!

timeline - the actual timelineTab Two – The Timeline

Right then. This is where all the good stuff happens. As you write each scene tell the spreadsheet (in the blue boxes) where that scene takes place, the date, as well as what happens. You’ll notice that column E works out what day of the week that date falls on (pretty cool eh?) and over there on the right hand side it tells you exactly how old your main characters are (once you’ve completed the third tab). Use column B to make a note of what chapter you’re writing, and then in Column C put either the word count for the entire chapter (as I have), OR for each scene (although personally I found that a bit labour intensive).

Even though I recommend only tinkering with the blue boxes you can still use formulas. For instance, if you’re writing a scene that takes place the day after the previous scene don’t type the date in, click the date above and add +1 in the formula editing thingy. This way, if you move a date earlier in your story everything should recalculate automatically. This is where the spreadsheet really comes into its own.

timeline - eventsTab Three – Events & Characters

Use this tab to make a note of your main characters and their birthdays. Why? Because then the spreadsheet can calculate the age of your characters on this and the previous sheet. Useful if you’re the next David Nicholls and you’ve written a story that spans years.

Use the events section to make a note of significant events that happen outside of your story, but still that have some sort of bearing. For instance, if your story starts 10 days after the aliens have invaded, put the date the aliens invade on this sheet, and use a formula to calculate 10 days later on the timeline tab. Then if you decide that the aliens have to land on a different day, you merely change the date on this sheet.

Start Dating, Stop Waiting

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heart-love-romanceBefore I started on my quest for happiness, I was using my problem solving skills to figure out what actually works when it comes to courting the opposite sex. From the pen-pal clubs of the early eighties, to the lonely heart newspaper ads of the nineties, from postal dating services to the more formal introduction agencies – there hasn’t been a dating service that I haven’t tried!

And after many, many years of seemingly making every dating mistake there is – scouring every scrap of scientific research I could get my hands on – I finally cracked it. There’s love in my life. And it wasn’t an accident.

If love, lust or romance feature in your goals for this year let me see if I can impart some of my dating prowess to you now. Here are my top five tips for dating success.

Dating Tip Number 1: What do you want?

Figuring out who it is you’re looking for is probably the most effective thing you can do to kick start your love life. You might think (as I used to) that you can’t afford to be picky, that finding someone who doesn’t repel you too much and is content to remain in your company might be the best you can hope for. I’m here to tell you that the reverse is true.

After months, possibly even years, of less-than-satisfactory relationships with long periods of nothing in-between, I sat down and wrote out what I actually wanted. A list of qualities that I hoped for in my ideal person. And about six weeks later I met my wife, Kate.

Now – that’s not the whole story, obviously. There were a few stages between writing my ‘perfect woman shopping list’ and choosing to sit next to this beautiful blonde I spied from across the room, but a few months into our relationship I looked back at that list and I was amazed at just how many of the criteria Kate met. Coincidence? Perhaps. But for the time it would take you to create your own list isn’t it worth the effort?

Dating Tip Number 2: Go online!

By my calculations online dating websites are responsible for one in five marriages. Include relationships that haven’t got as far as the altar, throw in the likes of facebook and other social media websites, and I estimate 50 percent of all romances probably start on the internet. Which means that simply using your computer to meet people could double your chances of dating success.

Dating Tip Number 3: Pick a good dating website

There are a LOT of dating websites out there – finding a good one can be a challenge. My current feelings are the free-ones can be just as good, sometimes better, than the paid-ones. For extra oomph pick a site that does some form of compatibility matching!

Dating Tip Number 4: To meet ‘the one’, you must first meet ‘the many’

Very, very few people go on one date and hit the jackpot first time. In fact, in the years I’ve been chatting to people about this stuff I’ve never met anyone who has. Dating is a numbers game. If you find someone you like online send them a message. If they respond toss a couple more messages back and forth. If you still like them arrange to meet. Meanwhile; continue to browse the dating sites, continue to send messages, continue arranging dates. Exclusivity should be reserved for that special someone you’ve dated more than once, in real life, and even then only if you want to.

As well as a numbers game, dating is a skill. The more dates you go on the better you’ll get.

SDSW drop shadow colour smallDating Tip Number 5: Have fun!

Dating is tough. It has to be said. Some days it can feel like a slog. But if it always feels like a slog, if it’s tough without being the slightest bit pleasurable, well, then you’re doing something wrong!

Try changing your mindset. Dating can be a fun. An adventure. Exciting. It’s a little like a lottery; Sometimes it’s just OK. Sometimes it’s better than OK. Occasionally it’s a total disaster, but every now and then it’s magical. And those moments make up for everything.

Secondly, make sure you’re doing things you actually enjoy. For me, a good first date takes place in a coffee shop, if it’s going really well I might suggest wandering across to the pub over the road. Dinners and first dates don’t mix well. But that’s just me. Maybe you’re into bungy jumping, or white water rafting or long walks in the countryside. Picking an activity you enjoy will significantly increase the chances of your first date going well.

Want More Tips?

If you want to delve into the detail behind the five tips above, pick my brain for more nuggets of dating gems, or need a little more hand holding, then I have some very good news. How To Start Dating And Stop Waiting, my third self-help book, is available in paperback and as an ebook. An audio version – which includes the companion guide From Invisible To Irresistible will be available any day now.

FREE TALK

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Wednesday 15th January 2014 – 7:30pm (sharp)

I’m delighted to announce I’ll be giving a *FREE* one hour talk at the Therapy Life Centre in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, January 15th next year.

I’ll be chatting about how and why I came to write How To Do Everything and Be Happy, briefly discussion some of the ideas in the book, as well an answering any questions you might have.

Bring your book if you’d like it signed, or better still, give the one you have to a friend and buy a brand new copy from me on the day! 😀

No need to book – just turn up. Talk starts at 7:30pm sharp as there are other free talks scheduled in that evening – see the Therapy Life Centre website for more details, nearer the time.

Where is the Therapy Life Centre?

We meet at The Therapy Life Centre, in Southend On Sea, Essex. (the old driving test centre) – there is reasonable parking.

The address is 11 Prittlewell Chase, Southend-on-Sea, SS0 0RX
The nearest station is Prittlewell (just fifteen minutes walk away) which is on the Liverpool Street – Southend Victoria line.

Map

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Any questions?

Drop me a line via the contact page if you have any questions. Operators are standing by.


Visit the Therapy Life Centre’s website
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Book Signing 10th Feb! Help me celebrate the re-launch of 'How To Do Everything And Be Happy'

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smiley-hatSo, the new paperback version of How To Do Everything And Be Happy has been out for a good couple of weeks now and if you missed the flurry of activity on facebook, twitter, various radio stations up and down the country and, oddly, Spain – where have you been!??!

Needless to say, I’m pleased as punch, and for the first time in my short writing career I suddenly feel the need to celebrate with all those people who helped me get to this point. In other words, YOU. How does the afternoon of Sunday the 10th of February sound? From 1pm. Here in sunny Southend on Sea, at Waterstones Bookshop. Put that in your diary.

There’s no need to feel compelled to buy a new copy of the book if you’re an existing reader – I’ll sign whatever copy you have – but most of all I’d like to shake you firmly by the hand and thank you for your support.

As well as handshakes I can say with reasonable certainty that there’ll be FREE pens, badges, lollies, and glasses of fizz! Possibly with alcohol in them! And if none of that’s enough to entice you then there’s always the official How To Do Everything and Be Happy Balloon Hat! With his big smiley face and out-stretched arms, your smiley-balloon-hat will either communicate love for your fellow man, or stand in for you should you be feeling a little light in the love-giving department. And when you’re finished with him, just pop with a pin and pretend like it never happened. Definitely recommended for kids of all ages.

bookshopObviously feel free to just ‘rock up’ if you find yourself walking past the store that Sunday afternoon – though it would be mildly useful to get a feel for the number of people likely to show. You know, just so that I have enough bottles of fizz. Use the comments below or click here to let me know on facebook. Oh, and bring your friends.

Waterstones Southend is opposite Marks & Spencers at 49-51 High Street, SS1 1HZ. Map below.


Go With The Flow Day

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pocketful of smiles
Don’t tell everyone, but one of my dearest friends – author Wendy Steele – turns 50 this week. She also publishes her fifth book! Fifth! I’ve barely managed to announce my second, and I’ve only got myself to think about – whereas Wendy has a houseful! How on earth does she manage it all? And more to the point, does she ever find time to just ‘be’? Well apparently so. Here she is to tell us about ‘Go With The Flow Day’

With the evenings drawing in and less sunshine to brighten our days, I can feel lethargic and unmotivated. For me that suggests I need to book a ‘Go With The Flow’ day.

Do you sometimes get tired of the same routine? Do you find that your weekends feel just like working days? Do you sometimes wish you could do just what you feel like doing right now? You need a Go With The Flow Day.

This day is easy to achieve for some, requires forward planning by most but is impossible for very few of us. In order to make this time, you need to book a day in your diary to do it. For those with small children, this may need to be when grandparents are available to babysit, or with partners, decide if you’re going to ‘go with the flow’ together or separately.

A possible Go With The Flow Day for me would be when my children have plans where they are staying over, I’ve seen my mum the previous weekend, there is tasty home made food in the freezer and I’ve worked hard to get washing, shopping, chores etc relatively up to date. Upon waking, I might decide to have my first cup of Rooibos in the garden or the summer house. A leisurely bath with essential oils gives me time to think; a walk in the woods feels like a good idea. Wrapped up warm while walking, I remember the book I bought about spirals on ancient monuments and I indulge that feeling on my return home and curl up in front of the fire with my book. A cat or two comes to join me and I relish their warmth and their company. Before the light fades, I retrieve dahl and rice from the freezer and as I decant it into oven proof dishes, I remember the cooking apples in the cupboard, wash them, de-core them, fill them with brown sugar and sultanas and pop them in the oven with the curry. I return to my book but my mind recalls that I haven’t read one of my favourite books, ‘Moon Magic’ by Dion Fortune for a while and I abandon one book for another.

Everyone’s Go With The Flow Day will be different but try not to get distracted and fall into everyday mode. If you want to work, then please do so. Sometimes I write on these days but don’t feel you have to or you should. If you want to paint the spare room, go ahead, but only if you want to. Treat yourself to a day of doing what you feel.

Book a Go With The Flow Day in your diary now. After one of these days, I return to my routine refreshed. Even the chores seem less tiresome and I feel more in tune with my surroundings.

You can find 100 more ideas to bring happiness to your days in my new book ‘Wendy Woo’s Year – A Pocketful of Smiles – 101 ideas for a happy year and a happy you.’

To celebrate the launch of Wendy’s book, you can download ‘A Pocketful of Smiles’ and all her other titles for FREE, from now until the 5th December.
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How To Do Everything and Be Happy – The Second Edition – is finally here!

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Oi! Pay attention!
This post has been ‘archived’  because things have moved on quite a bit since I wrote it.
To read something a tad more current, click here 

TEN THOUSAND sales after its initial release,  the long awaited Second edition of How To Do Everything and Be Happy is now available in ebook and audio format

New Stuff

The new edition has a numerous updates throughout, including some great reader feedback, and the following new sections:

  • Potential Boxing Day Problems‘ (revised and updated)
  • Advanced Boxing Day
  • Potential Now List Day Problems
  • Determining Your Next Action
  • Advanced Diary Tips

But, for me, the most exciting part of this re-launch is the fact that it’ll be available in an entirely new format!

Now Available in Audio!

From TODAY you can also download the second edition of the book from audible (.co.uk | .com), an amazon company and the internet’s largest supplier of spoken word audio entertainment, and listen to the book “read by the author” (in other words, me)!

Happy reading 🙂

Peter

Ten thousand sales later…

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Oi! Pay attention!
This post has been ‘archived’  because things have moved on quite a bit since I wrote it.
To read something a tad more current, click here 

Fifteen months and 10,000 sales after its initial release,  the second edition of How To Do Everything and Be Happy will be officially available (in two formats) from this Friday (8th of June, 2012 ). To say I’m pleased, is something of an understatement…

Who’d have thunk it. It’s probably a little under two years since I first penned the opening chapter to what became How To Do Everything and Be Happy. And now, all these months later, a revised an updated version of the book, featuring new sections and reader feedback, will be coming out on Friday.

For me, the most exciting part of this re-launch is the fact that it’ll be available in an entirely new format – audio!

Click here to search audible and see if the book's available!

The audio version is part of a three-book deal that I signed with audible – the internet’s largest supplier of spoken word audio entertainment – back in February. This was a very exciting moment for me, not least because I myself have been a long time member of audible and many of the books that I’ve “read” over the years have actually been read to me whilst I’ve driven to and from various places of work. Some authors don’t feel fully-published unless they can pull their book from a shelf and riffle through the pages. Bizarre though it may sound I feel the pretty much the same about what my mother describes as “talking books”. Having my book available in all three formats feels like a significant achievement.

So, from this Friday you’ll be able to download the second edition of How To Do Everything and Be Happy from audible (.co.uk | .com),  and hear the book “read by the author” (in other words, me)!

Before you do that however…

Any Questions?

If you have any comments, questions, glowing endorsements, please feel free to drop me a line via the contact page or the comments box below.

In the meantime, Happy Reading – here’s to the next ten thousand sales 🙂

Peter