5 Times to Ask for Help

a picture of a beat up truck in mudWriting is a solitary pursuit much of the time. While this keeps me pretty happy most of the time (not having to depend on anyone, being alone with my thoughts, having no one to answer to), sometimes it can be a real drag. Sometimes I need to reach out and ask for help, which can be difficult. But when I get to these points, I do:

  1. When Inspiration leaves

Sometimes inspiration can be fickle. It flits through the window late one summer evening, only to trudge out the door the minute I turn my back. That idea that sounded amazing yesterday? Yeah, that was just a rock. And now I’m worried that it’s becoming a stone around my neck and Ill drown any second (I have a flair for drama.). So I reach out. Find someone. Breathe. The truth is, inspiration is probably still there. My inner critic probably just beat the crap out of it when I wasn’t looking, like Cinderella’s stepsisters. Now it’s hiding like a wild animal, and I need some help coaxing it back out again. So what would you do to recapture a frightened animal? You’d ask for help! So call a friend. Tell them you had an idea and you think it sucks. Talk it through. If they’re your friend, they’ll help you bring it back out from the shadows, make any necessary repairs to it, and release it back into the wild of your imagination.

  1. When I Don’t Know Enough

I know someone who is writing a script about competitive roller skating. Yep, you read that right. When she told me about this idea, I felt my heart beat faster with excitement. It was a fantastic idea! And then as a knot grew in my stomach, I became grateful that it wasn’t my idea or my project. Because I already knew I knew nothing about it. Knowing nothing (or not enough) can be death to momentum. You find yourself, staring at a blank page, wondering what the difference is between an Asian Swallow and an American Swallow, and why it’s important to your character, and how that shapes your plot, and why you wrote a swallow into your book in the first place. Why did you have to get all fancy and call it a swallow in the first place? Why couldn’t you just be normal and say it was a fucking bird?! Stop. Breathe. Reach out. If you don’t have a friend who knows about birds, try the Google machine. Try a zoo. Or a university. Or another book! Just try to find more information. You may decide the difference is not important, freeing you up to write whatever you want. Or you may learn that there are marked differences, which will affect your story in new and exciting ways. Either way, knowledge has given you the permission and the ability to move forward.

  1. When My Character Gives Me the Silent Treatment

Now and then, my protagonist stops talking. I don’t know if it’s because they don’t like the clothes I gave them, or if they’re too ugly or too short, but they just stop telling me what they want to say and do. And I feel like I’m dead to them, which is a horrifying place to be. If you find yourself here, call your buddy. What would they do if said story circumstance happened to them? What would another person they know do? Or how would they react? Talk about your character as if they are real (because really, aren’t they??) and work with someone else to talk through their problems. It’s like gossip, but without the harmful side effects.

  1. When I’m Tired

Sometimes I type a word and think, “What’s the damn point? No one’s going to read this crap anyway.” This is the height of self-deprecating crap that indicates I’m tired and cranky. I may be writing words, but I’m not feeling them. I’m drained, and I feel like I’m spinning my wheels. So, when your farm truck gets stuck in the mud up to the rims (or deeper), and you’re not going anywhere, and mud is just spewing in every direction, what do you do? Well, you don’t keep spinning. You go have a beer. I’d have bourbon. But the point is, find someone and unwind. Unburden yourself while the mud congeals and dries. When you come back to the truck, you may just see a new solution as if you’re looking at the problem with new eyes. Only then can you get unstuck.

  1. When I’m Almost Done

This is a two-fold time. It’s time to start celebrating, and time to double down on the seriousness of what I’m doing. Why do people always hang out at mile 25 of the marathon instead of mile 1 to cheer? Because that’s the hardest mile. It’s the place when people need the most encouragement. Their bodies are about to give out, they’re shaking and wobbly, and seeing that cheerleader yelling away and clapping is the ultimate transfer of energy. So find it. Use it. Finish, and celebrate.

PHOTO CREDIT: https://pixabay.com/

Photo credit: pixabay/925282/

5 Ways to Balance Your Work Life and Writing Life

a stack of rocks balanced on the beachMost of us find it difficult to find and maintain balance between all the different parts of our lives. I often feel like one of those people spinning plates on every body part, including my nose and forehead. But really, finding the happy place in between everything (along with bourbon on ice) is the best way to stay sane in an increasingly insane world where nothing ever stops and “quiet” is quickly becoming an extinct word. So here are a few things I do to get there, stay there, and be happy:

  1. Think Ahead. I have a general idea of what my schedule is going to look like from one week to the next. So every week, I make a list of things I want to get done, and then look at when I can do them. Yes, people say ‘write every day’. I call bullshit. Sometimes, that’s just not possible. I already get up before 6am to get to work, which means I’m not getting up any earlier, and I have to be in bed at a decent hour in order to get up for said job, so staying up late isn’t an option either. So I work with my awake time. I know that I’ll be at work during certain hours of the day, so really, I’m just looking for the pockets. Maybe during my lunch break I can close my office door and read or write something. Or maybe when I get home. And yes, there are some days, when I’m planning to have dinner with a friend, or see a movie, that there probably won’t be time to write. So I don’t plan to. That way, I don’t have to beat myself up about it when I don’t. I prefer to think ahead, see where my opportunities are, and use them to my advantage.
  1. Go Easy on Myself. I’m a master at self-loathing. If I can find a reason I did something wrong, I’ll obsess about it without end. I’m still obsessing about that time I got in trouble in middle school science class for mumbling that an assignment was stupid and got yelled at by the teacher. She was a bitch, but still. I beat myself up every time I walk past a homeless person and don’t give them a dollar. Whenever I stick my foot in my mouth (which is often). So if I can beat myself up for not writing and being unproductive, you bet I will. But I’ve learned that there is always tomorrow. Writing is kind of like being an alcoholic. Every day is a struggle to do something (or not do something). Some days you succeed, some days you don’t. But the important part is to start each day anew. Don’t worry about yesterday’s failures.
  1. Keep a Time Journal. When I didn’t know where my time was going, I started to keep track of it. I’d just write down hour by hour what I did. if you did this, you may find that it takes a lot longer to pay bills than you would have thought. I found that Facebook, TV, talking on the phone, and other activities that don’t seem to occupy space actually occupy a lot of space. I learned to see how to move those around, cut them down, or just pay better attention. I’m not decreeing that you kill your TV and delete your Facebook account (let’s not get crazy, now). Just understand what you’re doing so you’re aware.
  1. Celebrate. When I have a good day, or a streak of good days, I celebrate it. Maybe that means a nice refreshing cocktail and a few episodes of whatever I’m binge-watching (my favorite ritual). Maybe it means dinner with someone special. For you, maybe it’s a gold star on an amazing and intricate chart that you made when you probably should have been writing. But celebrate wins! (And if you did make that stupid chart, use it!) It feels good to win, and winning makes us work harder. It becomes a beautiful cycle where you have a routine of work, writing, fun, work, writing, fun. The last two are my favorites.
  1. Step Away. Sometimes, it’s not about balance, but about escape. I’m not afraid to get away from everything once in a while. Take a little vacation, be it a week in Bora Bora or a weekend on your couch doing nothing (it’s the latter for me, since I’m a broke schmuck). I take time to forget about work, writing, and anything else that stresses me out. Give my body, brain, and spirit some time to recharge, refresh, and refill, so I can dive back in with new gusto when the time comes.

Photo by Deniz Altindas on Unsplash

5 Ways to Get Words on the Page

a keyboard with the word "create" on one of the keysSometimes putting words on the page feels impossible. Like “I’m going to make out with Chris Pine” impossible. No idea why a kick in the ass is necessary, but the sad truth is, for some reason I need to get psyched up to do something I love doing. Despite this mysterious quirk, I try to employ a few techniques to get my fingers rolling:

  1. Outline, outline, outline. One of the most difficult things to overcome is the feeling that I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. You’d think I’d be used to it by now, but no dice. So I write a basic outline. Then I flesh it out a bit. Then I write a treatment (similar to a movie treatment) where I write it as a sort of story: Mike goes to the dentist and finds out he needs a root canal, but doesn’t have the money to pay for it. He argues with the dentist and they fight until the dentist knocks his tooth out anyway…. You get the idea. Then I know what I’m going to be writing, and the story is just needing the magic of the right words. I won’t be facing the page wondering what to write about, since I already have that figured out.
  1. Only write things that I am passionate about. If I don’t find myself working story problems out while driving to work in the morning, or staying up late thinking of the story line, this probably isn’t the project for me. I have to eat, sleep and breathe it. Writing is fucking hard. Writing a story that I only kinda sorta think is fun is not going to make it easier. And that obsession is what gets me to the computer every time.
  1. Don’t make a big deal out of it. My writing that is. They’re just words, after all. I love to pretend I’m being profound, but yes, even my words are just words. The world isn’t going to change, whether everyone or no one reads my work. So I grow a pair and go ahead and have the courage to write something, even if it doesn’t live up to my standards in the end. It’s not time wasted, it’s experience earned.
  1. Start small. It’s great to have goals like “I will write a novel.” Great. Wonderful. But then I sit down at my laptop and think “Fuck, a novel? That’s like, 100,000 words!” So I just start with something like, I’m going to write 500 words. Or I’m going to finish this chapter. There was a time when things got really tough for me. I was about two-thirds of the way through my first novel, and it just felt like it was impossible. Like, “I’m gonna hook up with Live Schreiber” impossible. I was never going to finish, it was too hard, I was a failure. Sure, I wallowed in bourbon and self-pity for a while, and then I got over it. I made my goals smaller. Write one paragraph. Still too difficult. Write one sentence. Most days that worked, but some days, I had to tell myself to just write one word. I can write one word. One. Shitty. Word. And I did. But the truth is, it was just getting to the computer with the attitude of “I can”. I never ended up writing just one word. Because one word leads to another and another, and that one word led me to write closer to 1000, and I eventually finished the book. One word at a time.
  1. I got a productivity app to help. I have tried a few, and the one I really have found success with is Productivity Challenge. You put your projects in, then start working. It times your work sessions, and it also tracks your work sessions so you can see what your work habits are on a larger scale. I tend to work more on the weekends, which doesn’t come as much of a surprise. But what is surprising is how much the time adds up, even during the week when I may only get one session in per day (if I’m lucky). It’s also got some obnoxious bells to remind me to work, but I need that. Lastly, it ranks me (not against others, but against myself). Right now I’m a “Persistent Slacker”, but hopefully with some more work sessions under my belt, I’ll move up. I’m motivated by spite, and when someone calls me a slacker, it lights a fire. Feedback loops don’t work for everyone, but they work for me.

One day, maybe I’ll find that magic bullet that will make words just appear on the page without having to put forth an effort, but until then, I’ll use these regular bullets instead.

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/3026190/

The Holiday Gift Guide for Feisty Writers

Do you ever wonder what to give your favorite feisty writer? It’s that time of year, and some of our awesome contributors have made gift suggestions any scribe is sure to love:

Marni’s Writer Gift Ideas:

the cover of Novel & Short Story Writers Market1. Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market 2018 is the only resource you need to get your short stories, novellas, and novels published. This edition of NSSWM features hundreds of updated listings for book publishers, literary agents, fiction publications, contests, and more, and each listing includes contact information, submission guidelines, and other essential tips.

Inside Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market, you’ll find valuable tips for:

  • How to take your readers on a roller-coaster ride by mastering the art of the unexpected
  • Weaving foreshadowing and echoing into your story
  • Discovering the DNA—dialogue, narrative, and action—dwelling inside all memorable characters
  • Gaining insight from best-selling and award-winning authors, including Steve Berry, Liane Moriarty, Junot Díaz, and more

Why I love it:  I love this gift because it answers the age old question, “But where should I send my work?”  This is the gift that keeps your work from ending up in a shoe box.  Buy one for yourself while you’re at it.  Truly worth it.

https://www.writersdigestshop.com/novel-and-short-story-writers-market-2018

2. Inspirational Book

Book Cover for Juicy Pens Thirsty PaperWrite and share what’s in your heart! Let SARK show you how. Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper is your non-judgmental witness, resoundingly supportive friend, and practical guide to the craft of writing and storytelling. For anyone who knows that a writer lives within them but doesn’t know how or where to start; for writers who need new ways to work past their blocks and be reinspired; for anyone who loves SARK’s wise words and art, Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper will help start the ink flowing and keep it going.

 

 

 

 

Why I love it:  Well, truth be told, I love every book by Sark.  She is the queen of giving you permission to loosen up, to play, to love the messy, juicy and joyful process that writing can be.  If you become a fan here are a few more: Eat Mangoes Naked, Succulent Wild Woman and Inspiration Sandwich

3. The Editor’s Tote by Dooney and Bourke

For those who want luxurious toting of their notebooks, papers and laptops…

The Editor's Tote by Dooney & BourkeThe Editor’s Tote by Dooney and Bourke

H 7.5″ x W 4.5″ x L 8.75″ One inside zip pocket. Two inside pockets. Cell phone pocket. Inside key hook. Buckle closure. Handle drop length 4.5″. Detachable strap. Strap drop length 13.5″. Lined.

https://www.dooney.com/pebble-editors-travel-tote-BSHTL0326.html?dwvar_BSHTL0326_color=2LCAPATN#q=editors+&start=1&cgid=dooney-bags-style-tote

 

 

Why I love it:  Well if you know me, you know I can be greatly cheered up with purses and totes.  I don’t know why but when I carry around my notebooks in this it makes me happy.  If you have a writer in your life who is equally delighted by pretty containers with straps, this is a lovely gift.  And guess what, it is ON SALE for the next 4 days!

4. Bonus Gift – Just for Fun

fun wall clock for writers

The Writer’s Clock at Café Press

Why I Love it:  It only allows you an hour to panic, then back to writing.

http://www.cafepress.com/+writers_clock_wall_clock,1160095998

 

 

 

 

 

Melissa’s Writer Gift Idea:

book cover for The Anatomy of Story

 

The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller by John Truby

 

This is the most comprehensive and practical how-to book for narrative writing that I’ve ever come across. It explores story from conception through execution, delving into character development, world building, thematic through line, plot, and scene construction. Truby’s concepts build upon one another, helping the writer understand their story from many different perspectives and thus giving them the tools to weave an intricate and cohesive web that will satisfy readers. And the best part is, this isn’t just for fiction writers—it’s useful to anyone who incorporates narrative into their writing, be it journalism, memoir, or non-fiction. While this book could be mulled over from time to time as ideas develop, it also includes a workbook format where the writer can do the work as they progress through each chapter. The writer(s) in your life will be forever indebted to you for this gift and—let’s be honest—there’s no shame in treating yourself to this one too!

https://www.amazon.com/Anatomy-Story-Becoming-Master-Storyteller/dp/0865479933

Karen’s Writer Gift Idea:

an index card that says the gift of 5 hours for writing

 

The gift of time to write.

That’s all I want in this crazy season. My shelves are full of books on how to write, I have very nice bags to carry 10 copies of my latest, a laptop, pens, three spare unfilled composition books. There’s one thing missing…

 

 

Paula’s Writer Gift Idea:

book cover for Big Magic

 

Liz Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear 

Here’s why I recommend it:

Big Magic grants authors and artists permission to create free of fear (or maybe in concert with it). I especially liked the early sections on the distinction between being a genius and having genius pour through you (the latter reflects the true nature of the artist) and how ideas can get sidetracked and, if they’re set aside too long, lost (been there myself recently). But, Gilbert argues, even if these ideas go away from you, they often appear elsewhere, pursued by others in a concept known as multiple discovery.

Fascinating and liberating, this book celebrates the joy of creating and gifts all authors and artistic types with the knowledge that it’s okay to just do the work, no matter the experience level or eventual outcome. Highly recommended, not just for authors, but for all who yearn to be creative explorers.

Marijke’s Writer Gift Ideas:

an open moleskine journal with drawings and writing in it1. Moleskin Journals

https://www.amazon.com/Moleskine-Cahier-Journal-Large-Ruled/dp/8883704983/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1512416238&sr=8-3&keywords=moleskin+journals+set+of+3

I’ve tried a LOT of journals and finally settled on the plain moleskin journals.  They are the perfect size to carry with me.  I have taken them on all my retreats and now have a collection, one for each retreat I’ve been to.  These are marvelous to mine for content later.

 

2. Watercolor pencils

water color pencils

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B000J6EVZK/ref=twister_B076PK1CZC?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1

These are so fun for adding pictures to my journals.  I find that it helps me relax and pay attention to my surroundings when I add a little color to my journal notes

 

 

 

 

 

3. The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life with Language by Natalie Goldberg.

book cover for The True Secret of Writing

 

https://www.amazon.com/True-Secret-Writing-Connecting-Language-ebook/dp/B008J4RQD8/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1512417133&sr=8-1&keywords=the+true+secret+of+writing

This book captures what I think are essential components of my own writing practice, which Natalie distills as this: Sit. Write. Walk. It encourages us to dig a little deeper to “mine the rich awareness in your life, and to ground and empower yourself.”

 

 

 

 

Danielle’s Writer Gift Ideas:

  1. Out of print clothing

old t-shirt

https://www.outofprintclothing.com/

I wear a lot of t-shirts. They are part of my personality and feature anything from interesting designs, to bands that I love. Lately I’ve started to add both bookstore and book t-shirts to my collection. This site has a whole host of book-themed gifts, whether it be a t-shirt with Frederick the Mouse or a scarf with Edgar Allen Poe-ka dots.

 

 

 

 

 

2. Book darts

book darts

https://www.amazon.com/Book-Darts-Bronze-Line-Markers/dp/B0030J1J30/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1512428855&sr=8-2&keywords=book+darts

I choose to read physical books simply because I spend most of my days and nights in front of a screen. I have also attempted to curb my book spending, so I’ve also been borrowing a lot of books from the library. Book darts are the absolutely perfect way to mark specific passages in books. If you’re reading a book you borrowed for the library for book club, you can “dart” your way though it and remove them all prior to returning the book. Book darts are thin, neat looking, and removable. I’ve already blown through two tins. So worth it.

3. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

The War of Art book cover

 

 

https://www.amazon.com/War-Art-Through-Creative-Battles/dp/1936891026/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1512428569&sr=1-1&keywords=the+war+of+art

The War of Art is my writing bible. Pressfield tackles one of the greatest nemesis of writers around the world – resistance. When I’m wrestling with the demons of resistance I reread the final paragraph of this book (which is marked with a book dart in case you were wondering) “Creative work is not a selfish act or a need for attention. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us all you’ve got.”

 

 

Lisa’s Writer Gift Ideas:

  1. 1. Book Map

book map

https://laughingsquid.com/street-maps-of-book-and-tv-show-titles-by-dorothy-collective/

These are fun, beautiful pieces of artwork featuring landmarks from literature in a single city map. Fun to stare at during those brainstorming sessions! They also have TV and movie maps, for those who don’t just love books…

 

 

 

 

 

2. Storymatic:

picture of storymatic game

https://thestorymatic.com/collections/frontpage/products/the-storymatic-classic

Literally a box of writing prompts. These have gotten me out of many a writer’s block jam, and there is a booklet of fun group games, too!

 

 

 

 

3. Dragon:

dragon software box

https://www.amazon.com/Dragon-NaturallySpeaking-Home-13-0-English/dp/B00LX4BZAQ/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&qid=1481404642&sr=8-1&keywords=speech+to+text+software&linkCode=sl1&tag=bookfox-20&linkId=989cb992faf4df717d127e4fe36aecd5

This is a software program for taking dictation, which is the fastest way to get words on the page, whether they are notes, prose, blogs, or whatever pops into your brain. It also learns to recognize words and spellings you use often, including proper names. Think of all the brilliance you’ll be able to get out when the words move as quickly as your imagination! (Note: this is the PC version. They have it for Mac as well, but it’s more expensive for some reason.)

5 Websites to Help Inspire and Brainstorm

a skyline with binary code on a globe in front of itI’ve been sucked into a black hole. It’s almost impossible to get out, unless one can find the wormhole to the other side. It’s a black hole called The Internet. But when I find myself swimming in that black hole of nothingness, I visit these places to at least make me feel like I’m finding inspiration instead of reading idiotic statuses with #blessed at the end of them. Gag.

  1. Fark.com: I’ve had this page bookmarked for years. My last book came from something I read on it. Basically, it’s a website that aggregates news of all kinds. Breaking news, weird news, funny news, and so on. For added fun, the people who submit the news stories to this site write their own headlines, which are funny and irreverent. Bonus: Learning what’s going on in the world. Extra Added Bonus: I started using Fark as a swear word. They love me in the office.
  1. Messynessychic.com: She’s a blogger living in Paris, and she just hunts up interesting things. It’s a simple idea, really, since she’s doing what the rest of us are doing. But somehow, she manages to find some really cool stuff. Funky restaurants, underground Parisian pirates, secrets and oddities hiding in plain sight in Paris, and so on. And she even has a special segment that she does of interesting things she found on the internet. I also signed up for her weekly newsletter so I won’t have to surf. Yes, I’m that lazy.
  1. Atlasobscura.com: Similar to Messy Nessy, but more worldly. This is weird and wonderful stuff from across the globe, and includes places, events, people, and historical findings, and sometimes some really creepy shit. They’re also on Twitter and have a newsletter. Bam. Done.
  1. Allday.com: Another collection of interesting and odd articles for the intellectually curious for “people amazed by the world.” And if I know writers, they are definitely amazed by the world. I’m amazed by fart battles: http://allday.com/post/9339-this-ancient-japanese-artwork-depicts-historys-most-epic-fart-battles/
  1. Brainpickings.org: This one has lots of posts about writers and things they said. It might be less likely to inspire a new story, but more likely to light a fire in your belly, or reignite that fire, as it were. You can also sign up for their newsletter, if you are so inclined. I didn’t, but I get a shit ton of newsletters. I just visit this site.

Of course, there are countless other interesting things on the internet, but I tend to prefer these. I do know that they’re great alternatives to Facebook.

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/2904980/

5 Inspiring Quotes to Get You Writing

a neon sign that says, This is the sign you've been looking for

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes we need a little kick in the ass, and these quotes work for me as perfect sized boots for my behind. Perhaps they will work for you as well. Feel free to add your favorites to this list!

  1. If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word. – Margaret Atwood
  2. A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit. – Richard Bach
  3. The scariest moment is always just before your start. – Stephen King
  4. I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be. – Douglas Adams
  5. I may not be there yet, but I’m closer than I was yesterday. – Unknown
  6. We rarely get what we want. We get what we expect.– Unknown (Yes, it’s 6 instead of 5, but we all get a little extra now and then.)

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Austin Chan on Unsplash

5 Places to Find Your Tribe

A black and white photo of many frogs with red eyes

  1. Writing Groups. I’ve been in a few groups, and let me tell you, they are wonderful. The sense of community is almost always immediate, and I guarantee that if you are experiencing some sort of difficulty with your work, someone else is too. I also like these groups because I get to see people develop and grow, which is fun and inspiring. Writing groups can also help improve your craft, which is never a bad thing. They support me when I need encouragement, and they call me on my bullshit.
  1. Reading Groups. It’s amazing to talk to people who love literature. Because they don’t just sorta kinda like this stuff. They loooove it. They breathe it in, over and over again until it feels like part of their soul, and they can’t help but talk about it. And that kind of enthusiasm and love is contagious. It reminds me of why I write, and how people communicate, and how sublime and transcendent writing can really be.
  1. Meetup Groups. I recommend hanging out with non-writers who are interested in something you’re interested in. I got interested in gardening a few years back, and so I went to a Meetup Group interested in permaculture (look it up, it’s pretty fascinating stuff), where I learned to air-layer a tree (similar to a graft). It was amazing and new, and I came away inspired by how many possibilities exist in the world around me. I also made some great friends and now have a yard that shows the effort of learning. Like writing a book, but it’s a yard. And the truth is, learning never hurts your writing. Never. Plus, you’re less of a moron every time you learn something, and there are definitely too many morons in the world today. **Cough**Trump**Cough**
  1. Conventions. I’ve been to things like Comic-Con and Wondercon and other random stuff. I’ve been to writing conferences, film conferences, and so on. Yes, they can be pricey, so I use them as rewards or vacations. And the people I’ve met at these things are really wonderful people. They’ve spent the money, made the commitment, and they’re in it with both feet. These are the kinds of people I want to be around. I don’t want to be around half-hearted hipsters who like things ironically and feign disinterest because they might be seen as uncool. And those people wouldn’t be caught dead at a convention.
  1. Fairs/Events. Book-signings, film festivals, art fairs, museum events, and so on are great places. Not only do you have the interaction with vendors, but also with other fans. They’re kind of like conventions in that regard. It’s also great for people watching, which is one of my favorite past times, and I remember it for when I need to write characters. Creepy as it sounds, observing people and remembering what they do is how writers find authenticity without having to write about their spouses or family (which always gets you into trouble).

PHOTO CREDIT: https://pixabay.com/1422219/

5 Apps to Keep You Accountable

computer screen with apps lined up at the bottomIt seems like every day someone is complaining about too much technology in our lives. I get it. But the truth is, it’s here to stay, and I for one welcome our Robot Overlords. I can be welcoming, though, because I’ve discovered a few things that can help me reach my goals. Bonus: All of these apps are free (Yes, I’m a cheapskate.).

  1. Todoist

Basically, it’s a running to-do list (and you know how I love lists). You can set it to have recurring items pop up, whether it’s daily, weekly, or monthly. You cross things off as they get accomplished, and it even sends you feedback with information on how many things you’ve completed. It also gives you ‘karma points’ for finishing tasks, which isn’t really anything except feeling good when you read that you completed 5638 tasks since January and seeing a graph that steadily rises as you complete even more. Super easy to use. I swear by it.

  1. Pomodoro/Clockwork Tomato

I’ve used this to track my writing time. It’s pretty cool. It times you in 25-minute increments, with five minute breaks, and after two cycles of that, it puts you through a one-hour work mode, with a 15-minute break after. It’s amazing how quickly two hours fly by when using this. I’m personally motivated by the ticking clock since I can then push myself to finish before the buzzer, or at least write ten more words.

  1. Productivity Challenge

This is very similar to the Pomodoro app, but it has a few more features. It is loud and obnoxious, but I like that. It’s almost like my phone is chewing me out when I just sit there instead of doing something. Once I opened the app but wasn’t ready to sit down and write, so I just left it there. After about three minutes, it started buzzing at me to get going or get out. You bet I sat down and got going! It also has achievements built in—I am currently listed as a ‘persistent slacker,’ which is a rung above an ‘unrepentant slacker.’ I’m determined to find out what the next rung up is, so it motivates me to keep working. It also keeps stats for how long you work, which days you work, and so on, which is good information for when you’re trying to figure out what works best for your schedule. It also has a nice visual design, so I like that.

  1. Writeometer

This can keep track of your word count. I am motivated by word count, so this is nice for me. I like to see that it doesn’t take long to put 500 words down and see how each session builds to a truly massive word count. It also reminds me daily of how many words I need to write to finish by whatever deadline I have. It’s a lot more polite than the Productivity Challenge, but I need a little softness to go with the tough love.

  1. Evernote

This is a must have. It did take some getting used to, but I’ve come to realize that the amazing idea I had at two in the morning is not going to be there come morning. So I can just jot it down here and then roll over and start snoring again. Sometimes I surprise myself with the things I’ve loaded into Evernote. A few months ago, I discovered that at some point I’d had several ideas for children’s books. And truly, most of them were actually workable. Jackpot! I keep separate lists, which includes brainstorming for various projects, blog ideas, book/script titles, interesting articles, and so on. And since I never go anywhere (on purpose) without my phone, what looks like me being cool and checking my Facebook or texting like a popular kid is actually me nerding out on my newest nerdery, which is probably some nerdy book. Suck it, cool kids.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Sabri Tuzcu on Unsplash

5 Things My Inner Critic Says and How I Shut Her Up

a face looking into a mirror with the caption, You are your biggest obstacleI always try to write, but sometimes my progress comes to a grinding halt. Usually this happens when I allow my inner critic too much volume in my head and she drowns out my inner cheerleader. She’s really a bitch. Here are the most common things she says, and how I shut her up.

  1. This is taking forever/I’m too slow.

This is a classic example of comparing to other people and is a major downer. Time is always relative, and everyone does things at their own pace. Sometimes I’m slow, and it seems like everyone else is just skipping through their books. But ultimately, I have to write at my own pace. I’ll get there when I get there. Each word is one step closer to the end. And at worst, I just say what they said on the Titanic: It’ll all be over soon.

  1. I’m not good enough (or this isn’t as good as the last thing I read/wrote)

Another comparison mistake and also a very subjective one. I often lament that I can’t write a twist ending like this person, or a love scene like that person, or imagine a dystopian/sci-fi/fantasy universe as well as those people. But you know what? I’m pretty fucking good at some other stuff. I can think of at least one thing I do well and concentrate on that. And really, just writing helps solve this problem. Not good at twists? Keep writing. Then write some more. The more I write, the better it gets. Eventually, I won’t have to worry about being good enough, because I’ll just have words on the page, typing like a boss. Next thing I know, I’m too busy writing them down to worry about whether or not they’re good enough. Besides, I can let someone else decide that.

  1. I don’t have enough experience

I look at the oeuvre of someone like Suzanne Collins or Stephen King and think, I could never do that. That’s a ton of books. How did they write all those books? I can’t do that. I don’t know anything about writing books. But the thing is, writing is experience. Everyone has to start at zero. Every lawyer has a first case, every doctor has a first patient. And every writer has a first word, first sentence, first paragraph, and first book. I just have to resist the urge to throw up my hands and give up because I don’t have years of experience and dozens of books under my belt. Ol’ Steve and Suzy had to start with one word at a time too. The only difference between them and me is that they’ve been doing it longer. Which means I still have my youth. So I guess I’m up on them for that.

  1. No one is reading my work (I.e. No one cares)

Lordy, this one gets me. It feels like I’ve been spinning my wheels, writing like crazy, and not a single damn person knows or cares. Okay, time to pack up the pity party. Stow the waterworks, and get back to writing. This is the reality check I give myself: Was that really why you started? To make people care about you? Since when is everything about you? You know those folks who stand outside supermarkets handing out flyers? How many times have you walked by them without taking one? Do you see them crying about it? No. They just keep on sharing with the next person, and the next, and the next, until someone takes one. Then they go on to the next person. Eventually, they are out of flyers and have to reload. You need to do the same. Just keep putting words on the page, pages in the world. And sooner or later, someone will read it. Then someone else. And before you know it, I’m sharing! Additionally, there is something to be said for making my mistakes while no one is paying any attention. Hopefully, by the time people are paying attention, I’ll really have my shit together, and my writing will be seen by tons of people.

  1. This character sucks. My ideas suck. I’m not original.

This is the height of self-loathing. I’m really good at this one, and it requires a full on pep talk. For one, originality is a myth, and subjective. For two, ideas are just ideas. Two people could take the same idea and do something completely different with it. This is a wall that you throw up out of fear and nothing else. If you really think your idea/character sucks, at least see it through to the end. I’ve had to struggle through some really crappy points in my stories, and getting through to the other side is the hardest part. Many things can change in that time. And when it’s all on the page, I keep what works and chuck the rest. But there’s no point in abandoning my baby until I’ve finished it and seen it fully formed. Respect the process, respect the work, and respect yourself.

PHOTO CREDIT: https://pixabay.com/en/face-boy-head-confrontation-937887/

5 Ways to Build Your Fan Base

Rock Concert CrowdBuilding my fan base is probably one of the most annoying and difficult things to do. It also creates a fair amount of anxiety, because being popular isn’t something I’ve ever had much luck with. Nevertheless, it’s something that has to be done if anyone besides my friends are going to read my work. And even they get tired of my writing eventually. But below are the 5 ways I’m trying to be popular build my fan base.

  1. Write like crazy. Write, write, write. If I only ever wanted to write one book, there would be very little chance anyone at all will find that one book. And an even smaller chance that a lot of people will find it. Keep writing. Keep publishing. Keep putting my work into the world where more people are likely to bump into it. And then write some more.
  1. I got a website. I’m not going to go into the nuts and bolts of this since there are so many directions one can go in, but I did my best to set something up that was pleasing to the eye and easy to navigate. It isn’t fancy. It does reflect what I do. I even keep a blog there. I make sure to keep my website up to date and engaging and make sure people can contact me and find my writing either for free or for sale.
  1. Build my email contacts. I’m working on this one. It’s really fucking hard. I don’t know why, but sending people an email from a list feels, well, kinda sleazy. Like I’m selling Viagra or something. But the truth is, I sign up for newsletters that are totally (okay, mostly) legit. Why wouldn’t someone want to sign up for mine? This way, I have a direct line to my audience (which currently stands at a whopping 16 people) whenever I have something to say (which, let’s face it, is all the fucking time). I try to send emails regularly. Once every four months is not enough. People forget. There isn’t one right answer for how often you should send an email to your contact list, but it’s somewhere between once a week and once a month. Right now I try to send something every other week. Do what’s right for you, then do it religiously.
  1. Set up an author page on Facebook. This is a starting point and requires maintenance. I try to post something about once a day. It’s not groundbreaking or difficult, but results can be slow. This is the long game, folks. Not instant stardom, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t see a ton of traffic for a while. I have about 100 likes on my page, and some of them I don’t even know. So I’ll take it.
  1. Talk to other authors. Especially those that write in a similar genre. Read their work. Let them read mine. The truth is, we’re all in this together, and the writer who doesn’t support other authors is in for a tough road indeed. But here’s where there is the chance for cross-pollination and synergy. Say you meet a writer, and you like them and hopefully their writing. You read their book. It’s great! Who are you going to tell? Your contacts and readers, of course. It’s not a quid pro quo kind of thing, but there’s probably a decent chance they’ll give you a shout out as well to their fan base. Additionally, it gives us contact with people who understand the joys and frustrations of being a writer, whom we can commiserate with, whether we need to celebrate or support. Either way, you’re finding more work that inspires you, and hopefully will spur you to keep writing, which takes us back to #1 and starts the cycle all over again.

Photo Credit: https://burst.shopify.com/photos/rock-concert-crowd