Give Me 10 Minutes and I’ll Make You a MS Word Track Changes Pro

In my work as an editor, I often run into authors who aren’t familiar with the MS Word Track Changes feature. It’s easy to learn, even for the technologically challenged.

Rather than divide this tutorial into parts, which seems common, I put everything you need to know into one, short 10 minute video. I don’t get into all the little quirks of Track Changes, just the basics.

At the end I share a pretty handy tip you may like if you work with large documents, even if you’re NOT using the Track Changes feature.

What you’ll learn:

  • Tracking changes
  • Adding and deleting comments
  • Accepting and rejecting changes
  • Navigating comments
  • Different viewing options
  • A quick tip if you’re working with large documents

Check it out:

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How Offering My Book in Print Yielded 4 Surprising Results

Gift of the Phoenix fantasy books on a shelf

When I first published my fantasy novel, Gift of the Phoenix, I almost didn’t offer it in paperback. I knew as an Indie author I wouldn’t have national distribution in book stores. I figured most of my sales would be digital. After all, we’re in the middle of the e-book publishing revolution, are we not?

But I wanted copies for myself, my kids, my parents. People like that. And I wanted readers who preferred print to be able to get it that way.

Little did I know how critical offering those paperbacks would become to my career.

Here are 4 benefits I didn’t expect:

1. More Opportunities to Connect with Readers

I’ve done book signings in Idaho, Utah, and Arizona. I’ve signed my books at regional events and national fantasy conventions.

My print book has found loyal readership outside the Amazon e-book paradigm. And there is no underestimating the value of a loyal reader.

Also, it’s just plain fun. I love talking to readers. I love the energy at the conventions. All experiences I would have missed out on.

2. Timely Encouragement

In the beginning, while I struggled to figure out online marketing and had lackluster e-book sales to prove it, I would have been tempted to quit.

Over and over, the following things kept me going:

A real live person, standing in front of me, reading the back of my book, then looking at me with excitement. “Oooh! Sounds interesting!”

Someone coming to a signing just to tell me how much they loved the book.

Significant sales at nearly every event.

These are the kind of things that kept me going. When I wondered if my book was any good, these face-to-face experiences helped me feel I had something worth fighting for.

3. Market Research

Aside from seeing the positive reactions to the cover and the back-of-the-book blurb, I was able to test the reaction to the cover for the next book before it even releases.

My husband, Kevin McCain, happens to be a professional artist and illustrator. He created my amazing Phoenix (I hear kudos to the illustrator at every event).

While I was signing print books at fantasy conventions this summer, dear hubby sat in my booth and worked on the illustration for the next book.

I got a live, unfiltered view of readers’ reactions to the illustration. Their enthusiasm assured me that this cover will do what I need it to do. There’s no better market research than that.

4. Significantly More Sales

Almost EIGHTY PERCENT of my sales are in paperback.

That’s huge.

That’s 80% more readers than I would have had if I had decided publishing print books was a waste of time. My book being read by an actual reader is, after all, the entire point.

Which leads me to…

5. Bonus Result Number Five

My book has made its way into libraries. It’s difficult to calculate the effect of this, but I can tell you that the local libraries, at least, often have a waiting list for my book.

I totally dig that.

Those paperback copies are pulling their weight and finding readers.

I didn’t foresee any of this, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt grateful for that decision to offer my book in print. The book industry is tough, no matter how you look at it. Interacting with readers at shows and signings has been absolutely invaluable.

If you’re one of those readers, I give you a wink and a smile.

Thank you.

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The Goal-Setting Question You Don’t Want to Forget to Ask

As you write down your goals, keep this in mind.

As you write down your goals, don’t forget to keep this in mind.

‘Tis the season for goal setting… and goal forgetting. Lured by the fresh promise of a new year, many of us set our goals with hope. And then hope we don’t screw it up.

Even if we start out strong, so many of our goals fall by the wayside.

Why is this?

Well, there are all kinds of hurdles we may fail to overcome. I won’t try to list them all. But there’s one hurdle I think we sometimes create for ourselves from the get go. One hurdle which, if eliminated, would drastically increase our goal-setting success.

The Goal-Setting Guideline We All Know

But first, for my own sake if not for yours, I’ll briefly review the golden standard for goal setting: S.M.A.R.T. goals.

You’ve probably seen this before. It stands for






These are the elements we want in our goals. If we say, “I want to lose weight,” that’s not a S.M.A.R.T. goal. It’s rather vague and wishy washy.

But if we say, “I want to lose a pound a week over the next 10 weeks, which I will do by consuming no more than 30 grams of fat a day and going for a 20-minute walk five days a week,” now we’re getting somewhere.

But I didn’t come here to write about S.M.A.R.T. goals. You probably already know about them, and if you don’t, you’ve probably already Googled it to find out.

I want to talk about the questions we ask ourselves when we set goals, and the one question we often fail to ask.

The Goal-Setting Questions We Often Ask

What do I want to accomplish this year?

What do I want my future to look like?

How do I want things to be better?

What did I fail to do last year that I want to do this year?

What’s the most important thing on my bucket list?

These are excellent questions. These are the kind of questions that help us build the life we want, rather than letting the current of life take us wherever it wishes. This is how we turn dreams into reality.

Many of my past accomplishments came about because I asked these kinds of questions.

The One Question We Often Forget to Ask

What do I want my life to look like right now?

This isn’t, what do I wish my life looked like right now. As in, I wished I were more fit… better off financially… the world’s greatest bocce player. Whatever. Those are still goals for our future.

But what about our goals for today? This very day.

Let me explain with a personal example.

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you may suspect I’m an A-type personality. And you’d be right. I love to set goals. I love lists. I love the challenge of accomplishing something I wasn’t sure I could accomplish.

I’m also a dreamer. I dream big. I envision a certain kind of life and rather than wistfully pine for it, I ask myself, how can I get there?

For the past six years or so, I have been (and will always be) a recovering codependent. For those of you who think codependents need other people, I’ll clear things up for you. You can be contentedly single and still be codependent.

Codependents tend to be the strong ones. The little go-getters of the world. We get things done and we get them done in a hurry.

But we also tend to overschedule, overcommit, neglect ourselves, struggle with boundaries, torture ourselves with perfectionist ideals, and… well, I could go on for some time. There’s a mighty long list of dysfunctions common among codependents.

Once you really know what it is, you’ll see it everywhere. Many codependents have no idea they have this problem. For years, I had no idea either.

So, tuck that little factoid about me into the back of your brain.

This year, as I set to setting goals for 2015, my little A-type self started quivering with anticipation. I started envisioning all the grand things I’d do this year. Aside from the obvious book-writing goals, there are all kinds of things I’d love to do on the editing and teaching side of things.

They went on the list.

Then there were the usual new year’s resolutions. I’d like to get back in shape, get back to dancing, eat better.

I’d like to read more books, spend more time with my kids (who are growing up at an alarming rate), and build up my savings account.

All worthwhile goals.

Next, I pulled out my calendar and started working on the specific and measurable aspects of these goals.

It did not take long to realize something. In order to accomplish all these goals, there was one goal I’d have to scrap. One goal I didn’t mention in the list above.

It goes something like this:

“Be mentally and emotionally healthy.”

I suppose I could phrase it, “Continue to be mentally and emotionally healthy,” but codependency is (literally) a type of addiction. And like most addicts, regardless of how many sober days you have behind you, you always start each day from the beginning.

So, what does “be mentally and emotionally healthy” look like, for me, if rephrased the S.M.A.R.T. way?

In part, it means not overscheduling myself; leaving time for my children, my spouse, and myself every day; accepting the limitations of what I can reasonably accomplish in a year, let alone in a day; and scheduling time to breathe. Every day.

Among authors, it isn’t difficult to find examples of people who work day and night week after week, and month after month, in order to build their career more quickly. I sometimes see this held up as a worthy example to follow.

And because the end result is so enticing, that pathway is sometimes tempting.

Isn’t this true for so many of our goals? We want that final destination. That’s where we focus our attention and our desires. As a result, we sometimes fail to consider what getting there will really mean. We fail to recognize that the path we claim we want to follow has more hurdles than we’re truly, honestly willing to climb over the mere course of a year.

We set ourselves up for failure before we’ve even begun.

Thus the question, what do I want my life to look like right now?

How much of today am I willing to sacrifice for the sake of tomorrow?

There’s no right answer to that question. It will depend on the individual and our individual circumstances, which change from month to month and year to year.

My answer to that question may very well be different ten years from now, when my children are out of the house.

It may have been different right now, if my children hadn’t already lived through some difficult years and I didn’t want to give them more difficult years for the sake of accelerating the pace of my personal accomplishments.

It may have been different if, over the past three years, I have not lived with an acute sense of my own mortality. There are no guarantees in life. None.

I’m 41. I might be at the half way point. Or I might be far closer to the end than I imagine.

If I knew I only had a year to live, would I spend it working night and day? No. No, I would not.

Of course, I don’t have any idea how long I have to live, and the notion of living each day as if it were your last is kind of misguided. Can we really spend each day saying good bye to all our loved ones? Spending our last dimes on a trip to Italy? (Cuz if I’m ever told I have six months left to live, my butt is on a plane to Italy for sure.)

There has to be a balance between working for our future and living life right now.

As I realized my little codependent shadow self had popped up and written this overly ambitious list of goals for 2015, my sober self started crossing things off.

There are other years to accomplish some of those things. And if it turns out there aren’t, well, I will cherish those close to me as much as I am able.


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The One Thing That Matters About Whoopi and Rosie’s Argument About Racism on The View

There’s an awful lot of fuss about Whoopi Goldberg and Rosie O’Donnell’s recent “heated” argument about racism on The View.

Too bad everyone’s fussing about the wrong thing.

Before I go on, let me state a couple things for the sake of clarity. I don’t watch the View with any regularity. I’ve seen the occasional clip and that’s about it. I don’t follow celebrity news and spats. I see the trash rag headlines in the grocery store and catch bits on the radio, but in general I don’t really care what all the celebrities are up to.

And, to my detriment, I don’t follow the news very well in general. Between my inclination to internalize the world’s woes to the point that I can’t sleep (seriously) and the inevitable irritation that accompanies almost any news broadcast because 90% of what they’re covering is neither informative nor relevant, I tend to just tune it out. The resulting ignorance about current issues is a problem I haven’t figured out how to solve, but that’s another topic for another post.

Back to the View. While listening to the radio this morning, I heard about Goldberg and O’Donnell’s latest argument. The DJs played a clip of the worst part. They talked about how horrible it is that these ladies can’t get along and have a respectful conversation instead of shouting at each other. I gathered this was not the first time these two have gone at it.

Naturally, I thought this might be a lighthearted thing to Tweet about. Something I could make a little quip about. Hollywood drama.

That’s what everyone’s talking about isn’t it? The drama.

Drama, drama, drama.

I Googled it, read 3 or 4 articles about it, and watched a long clip of the discussion. Well before Whoopi and Rosie’s yelling match.

(Here’s a good-sized clip if you’d care to watch it:)

When I finally saw the clip for myself, what I found was an interesting discussion about all the various elements of racism and discrimination and ignorance that plague our country.

The fact that things got heated isn’t what interests me. I mean, first of all, we’re talking about a show designed to facilitate debate. People disagreed with one another?? Shocking!

Second, the subject is racism. A hot button topic like religion, politics, and poverty. Racism is one of the ugliest aspects of America’s past and present. A complicated issue that Americans of every color are struggling to resolve.

I wish this overblown celebrity spat was doing more to prompt an intelligent discussion of the issue at hand.

I wish more people were taking into consideration the various points discussed. I loved Laverne Cox’s intelligent remarks about implicit bias.

As I listened to the discussion, I thought one of the things going on was a debate on linguistics. Is the definition of racism limited to the perpetrator’s desire to harm, as Whoopi implies, or is it simply prejudging a person based on color, as other panelists suggested?

I think Whoopi was trying to say there’s a difference between wanting to shoot a person of color and assuming they’re there to park your car. I agree. Both situations are horrible, obviously. But it seemed to me she was saying we need to measure our responses to these different kinds of situations. I do think there’s wisdom in that.

However. That implicit bias Cox mentions is the common denominator in those two situations, and that is a problem we must continue to address.

racial-segregation-67692_640 (2)

Near the end, as things really heated up between Whoopi and Rosie, Whoopi pretty much said you can’t be white and know what racism is. But, based on her earlier comments about “white people that get it” and her reaction when people come up her asking, “Is that racism?”–her reply was, “I don’t know!”–I suspect she was caught up in the heat of the moment.

Do you have to be a person of color to know what racism is, or did Whoopi maybe mean a white person in America may not know how racism feels? For a lot of white Americans, that’s true. Perhaps not all, but I sure don’t know from personal experience what it’s like to be a victim of racism.

(Though, that doesn’t mean I can’t do my level best to try to understand, and it doesn’t stop me from being outraged by the racism that freaking STILL exists in this country. Nor does lack of personal experience automatically make one racist or apathetic.)

A man may not know what it’s like to give birth, but he knows what pregnancy IS. Heck a WOMAN who’s never given birth doesn’t know what it’s like. How could they?? And even women who have given birth really only know what that experience was like for them.

Obviously racism and giving birth are two completely different subjects. I’m not comparing them.

What I am saying is all the millions of people living in this country, regardless of color, have different experiences with and opinions about racism and if we want to continue to make progress toward eradicating it, we need to consider what people are saying.

I thought the women on the View brought up some excellent points. It was a good discussion.

It would be great if more people were talking about that instead of petty celebrity drama.

Then again, maybe I’m expecting too much from articles reporting about a television show.

What do you think?

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Convalescence and Story Binging

This has been the season of unexpected interruptions. The latest? Surgery, followed by way more recovery time than I would’ve liked.

But, all went well, I’m healthy, and I at least had a chance to story binge. I can’t really complain about that last part, can I?

Here’s what I read:

These Is My Words

One of my favorite books and one of the few I’ll re-read. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read this book. I even got to meet the author once.

It was a rather interesting experience this time, though. Usually I laugh, I cry, I can’t wait to re-read it even when I’m only half way through.

This time around my brain was in such a fog it was almost like I was numb to the entire experience. I didn’t laugh. I didn’t cry. I closed the book and thought, “That was weird.”

Ah well. There’s always next time. :)


The Last Blind Date

Not my normal fare and something I’ve been reading off and on for several months. I suspect my brain fog affected how I felt about it at the end. I enjoyed it more at the beginning. Either way, I’m glad I tried something new. And I’m glad I finally finished it.

My brain fog made it easier to watch movies than read books. (Is it blasphemy for a writer to say that?) I limited myself to what I owned or could rent for free on Amazon Prime. Don’t ask me why. As a result, I watched three movies I probably never would have tried otherwise.

What I watched:


Julie and Julia

A re-watch. Lighthearted and easy. Julie’s storyline reminds me of my own passion for writing, so I like that part. It gets me through the fact that she’s a whiny brat.

Julia’s story is just plain fascinating. Throw in Meryl Streep’s amazing performance and there’s nothing to lose.


Breakfast Club

Another re-watch. One I haven’t seen since the 80s. Naturally, it inspired that out-of-body experience in which your inner teen still loves it and your outer adult thinks, “What in the heck?”

Many of my old 80s favorites inspire this response.


Spectacular Now

I am exquisitely impressed with Shailene Woodley. Let’s say that first. Second, I did enjoy this movie in general. It’s the darker, literary side of me. I love stories like this.


What If

A Daniel Radcliffe movie wherein I forgot I was watching the Harry Potter kid. His acting has really matured. This movie has a bit of an Indie movie feel to it, with some playful elements (like the animated drawings). My husband thought it was weird. I liked it.


In Lieu of Flowers

My least favorite. I figured out the mystery based on the trailer, so I knew that one going into it. Yeah, that’s about all I have to say. I’m glad I at least tried it, though.

What do you read or watch when you’re sick?

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The Best Thing a Reader Has EVER Said to Me

Some pretty awesome things have happened since Gift of the Phoenix made it out into the big, wide world. It’s received wonderful reviews, seven awards, and (most importantly), an absolutely fantastic response from readers.

This may just top all of it.

Meet Jeremy.

Donna Cook author and Jeremy at Boise Christmas Show 2014

Jeremy wasn’t much of a reader. He read what he had to for school and that was about it.

Last year, Jeremy’s mother met me at a show and bought a signed copy for Jeremy for Christmas.

Since it was signed to him, he decided to give it a try.

Know what happened next? Know what he said to me?

“Your book made me a reader.”

Oh happiness! Oh joy!

I admit, I could not contain my excitement. I wanted to know what else he was reading now that he’s a reader.

Leven Thumps and Fablehaven.


And there’s so much more out there for him to discover. Just think of all the wonderful books waiting for him in his future.

I’m so stoked about this!

You know, I’ve always believed that kids who say they don’t like to read just haven’t found the kind of books that interest them yet. Whatever they’ve been exposed to at school hasn’t lit them up so they figure all books are going to be that way. But something out there will light their fire.


That’s why I don’t think it matters what kids choose to read, whether it be graphic novels or science books, so long as they’re reading on their own.

I never thought my book could be that book for someone. That my book could be the one to introduce someone to the joy of reading.

Jeremy, you made my entire weekend.

Thank you.

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A Desert Rat Experiences Snow for the First Time

Growing up in AZ, I think I’d been up in the mountains and seen snow on the ground just a couple of times. It was just in clumps on the ground. The hard, icy kind of snow that’s no fun at all. I’ll never forget, though, the first time I saw it actually snow.

I was a freshman in college sitting, appropriately enough, in my poetry class, in a third story room of Old Main. I looked out the latticed windows and saw snow, real snow, falling from the sky. (Okay, well, it wasn’t real snow. I realized later it was just flurries. But still!)

I was so amazed and enamored by the sight of it, that I turned my chair around, and with my back to the teacher stared wide-eyed at the miracle before me. My poetry professor stopped her teaching long enough to ask me what I was doing. I explained that I’d never seen it snow before and wanted to watch. Since she was a flakey writer type, I got away with this no problem. I knew all I had to do was write a poem about it later and all would be forgiven.

It totally rocked.

I came to love the snow, and went through a pair of boots each winter because I thought it was far more fun to tromp through the snow than to try not falling on my (*cough*) walking on ice-ridden sidewalks. I also loved making snow angels (complete with halos).

As a bonus, here’s the proof:

Snowangel halo




Snowangel triumphant 2

A much younger me.

What’s your favorite memory of the snow?

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Top 3 Mashup

My top 3 favorite web finds of the week:

Creation of TEDx human kaleidoscope

If you haven’t seen this yet, it’s worth a look. I keep watching it. I had my kids watch it. I love that they did this by hand instead of with CGI. Check it out.

A warning for parents of teens and preteens

Head over to and read their article about the kind of porn our young kids are running into on the internet.

I personally know teens and preteens who have been affected by this. I think as parents we need to be diligent in protecting our kids, which includes having open, frank, age-appropriate discussions with them from a young age. In addition to teaching my boys about sexual health, we talk about healthy relationships and why inappropriate use of pornography can damage our minds, our sense of self, and our future relationships.

The disease of being busy

This is a concerning symptom of modern life. I thought this article at had some interesting insights.

How do we reverse this trend of busyness? I don’t over-schedule my kids. I embrace downtime and opportunities for them to get bored.


As for me, I’m constantly fighting my tendency to do too much. Then there’s the fact that if we’re to survive financially, we will be busy. So what do we do? I honestly don’t know.

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Gift of the Phoenix Wins the North American Book Award in Fantasy

North American Book Awards Fantasy winner Donna Cook Gift of the Phoenix

First place, Fantasy.

I’m starting to feel like I’m bragging. This was pretty fun though, so I thought I’d share. :)

In case you’re interested, this brings the total award count for this book up to 7.

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The Messy Middle – 6 Fixes When You’re Stuck Writing Your Novel

pen and notebook

Ah, you’re chugging along at full speed. Your characters are interesting and compelling. Your plot is exciting and captivating. You’re the most brilliant writer of your day.

Then, without warning, it all comes to a halt. Your mind draws a blank. What happens next?

Try these six tips to get out of that messy middle.

1. Make sure all characters are fully developed

All of them. Flat characters breed problematic plot lines. Fully developed characters have needs, desires, memories, fears, and activities that can inspire elements in your plot.

2. Try on a different point of view

Imagine looking at things from your antagonist’s point of view. If you were going to make that person the main character, what would they be doing? Too often, stories focus so much on the protagonist that the antagonist is quietly sitting in the background twiddling his thumbs waiting to show up on stage for the finale.

On occasion, I’ll see the opposite problem: a busy, interesting antagonist and an inactive, flat protagonist. In this case, it may be that your main character needs more development. Or it may be that you’ve miscast your story and the real hero is the one you keep writing about.

3. Develop your world

If your story takes place in the real world, this step involves fully developing the immediate world of your character. What does your character do on a day-to-day basis? What do they do at work? After work? At home? Radiate outward from your main character.

If, for example, your character works as a manager at a seaside resort, spend some time writing about the operation of that business both as it relates to your character, and how it functions independent of your character. Same with your character’s family. If your character is married, do you know how the spouse spends each day? The kids? What about your character’s extended family? What are relationships like with parents, siblings, cousins, and so on.

This is your character’s world.

If your story takes place in an invented world (think Lord of the Rings) or in our world with a twist (think Harry Potter) you have even more world building to do. A fully developed world will inform your plot. Consider how different people collide in this world. Is there a conflict you can use to your benefit? How might this affect your character?

4. Change directions

Instead of working from the beginning and trying to get to the end, try switching that up. Think about your ending and work backwards. Ask yourself, what happened right before this? And right before that?

5. Raise the stakes

You do know what the stakes are in your story, right? They should be high, externally and internally. If your story is stuck, look at your stakes. Even if you think they’re high enough, ask yourself, how could I raise the stakes even higher? Explore those ideas. You may be pleasantly surprised to discover a story with more zing.

6. Nuclear option

Do you like your story? Let’s say you’ve spent time developing a plot and it’s just not speaking to you anymore. You like this aspect of it and that character there, but this other part just doesn’t light your fire the same way or (worst of all) that part there is b.o.r.i.n.g.

Do this exercise. Pretend you’re going to take out everything you don’t like, keep only the fun parts, and start over. Try filling in the gaps in a way that excites you. Because, after all, if you’re not excited, your reader won’t be either.

As a final note…

I reject the notion of writer’s block. Assuming you’ve already tried working through it with the Butt-in-Chair-Hands-on-Keyboard approach, pick a method above and see what happens.

What tips do you have to get through the messy middle?

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