Category Archives: Writing Life

Writing Life: A Writer’s Impact/Role in the Community

Since this topic was suggested a couple of years ago, I struggled in defining the role of a writer in both society and community.  I’ve read and researched and worked to narrow down the title of “writer” in a sea of professions.  It occurred to me recently that, maybe, it wasn’t a “profession.”  Writing is something people do from the heart, and lumping it in with “making a living” completely defaces the point.  So,  I tried again, this time without books or search engines trying to define the role of “a person who writes” on “people who don’t write.”

There are different types of writers with different end-goals in mind when they put pen to paper.  Some of us want to change the world, make it better.  Some of us want to turn a profit.  Some of us just want the experience of writing.   The options are endless and no two writers will give you exactly the same answer.  The role of a writer, as a writer, in his community and in society will ultimately be defined by the role of writing in the life of the writer.  This is a blog that centers around fiction, so, for the sake of consistency, let’s stick to the topic in terms of writers of fiction.  Also, I can’t tell you how or if a writer may choose to impact their community, I can only tell you how I hope to impact my community in terms of my writing.

  1. I want to empower women and girls.  I strive to write strong women, or girls who grow into their strength, in the hopes that someone, somewhere may read it and identify.  I want that strength to be transferable.
  2. I want to help other writers.  The road to publication and a strong reader base is not a competition for me.  Everyone needs a hand up now and then.  By reading the work of my favorite authors, my life has been greatly impacted, my outlooks changed, and my skills as a writer developed.  If there is anything I can do to pay that incredibly valuable service forward, I will put myself out there to make it happen.
  3. I want to encourage literacy, and even just the basic picking up of a book.  So many people consider reading boring, and it breaks my heart.  If I can be the one to suggest the book that draws a person into the world of reading and learning, I would consider that an amazing accomplishment.

The list isn’t long, but those three points are very important to me.  So, instead of telling you what your role as a writer should be in your community, I want you to tell  me what you feel your role is.

What parts of you, as a writer, do you feel are valuable in your community, locally and globally?  How do you translate your love of writing into helping others?

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Writing Life: Submissions and How to Play by the Rules

I really just couldn’t come up with a better title, but that’s the gist of this post.

Manuscript © sidewalk flying on Flickr

Today, we’re going to run through a few of the rules you need to follow when you submit a piece of fiction.  It’s a short list, but I think that any new author really needs to be aware of these points.

  1. Read the submissions guidelines.  That’s where the magazine, publishing house, etc. is going to tell you whether they’re accepting submissions.  Sometimes they’ll be open to a certain theme for an anthology, sometimes they’ll only be open to a specific genre or sub-genre.  Just because they are accepting for one genre does not mean that it’s okay for you to submit for any genre.  In fact, it’s the opposite of okay.
  2. Pay attention to formatting preferences.  Popular formatting guidelines can be found in ‘how-tos’ all over the internet, and every one of them is going to be different.  The bulk of publications and publishing houses will have a section in their submissions guidelines about formatting, even if it’s just a link to ‘how-to’ that they prefer.  Follow these formatting guidelines to a T!  Do you want your work to be tossed into the shredder or deleted off of their hard drive?  I swear to you, if you don’t following formatting guidelines, they won’t even read your submission before they toss it out.  They have enough to do without struggling through a manuscript by someone who didn’t take the time to format to their specifications.  No one cares how amazing your work is if you can’t follow simple instructions.
  3. When it says “do not contact before 90 days,” do not contact before 90 days!  Seriously.  They have your manuscript, and it takes time to read.  In fact, the hundreds that they have in their inboxes take time to read.  Relax, write something else while you’re waiting.  When the 90 days (or whatever grace period they stipulate) is over, then feel free to shoot them a polite email inquiring as to the status of your manuscript.  Do not be a dick and chastise them for their lack of a timely response.  You will only hurt your chances of being read at all.  Remember, this is a business.  Be professional.
  4. Be positive.  It’s not a rule, but try to keep your head up.  Rejections suck and they can tear you down after awhile.  Just remember that the more you write, the better you’ll get.  In fact, the more you read the better you’ll write, so don’t forget to pick up a book now and again.  I know some of you hate reading because it ‘influences’ your writing voice.  Eventually, your writing will get to the point where it has its own voice.  Reading might give it a nudge now and then, but your voice will have a strength that will always come through.  Keep writing, keep submitting, and don’t let rejection tear you up.

If the thought of traditional publishing doesn’t work for you, then you can always go through a service like Create Space, Smashwords, Lulu, or XLibris.  Which brings me to next week’s post: Don’t Self-Publish Without a Beta Reader!  Stay tuned!

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Writing Life: A Writer’s Role in the Apocalypse

Castle Romeo Thermonuclear Test 1954

Image borrowed from The Official CTBTO Photostream on Flickr.

Everyone seems to be on a zombie kick the last few years.  Pair that with the impending 2012 prophecy coming to (possible, but incredibly unlikely) fruition, and you’ve got some awesome apocalypse plans, stories, and quite the barrage of “THESKYISFALLING!” media.

Don’t get me wrong, I love it.  You’ve got Falling Skies, the cancelled-before-its-time  Jericho, and the coming-soon Revolution.  Not to mention the Resident Evil franchise, the Fallout series, and the list goes on.  Even The Hunger Games was a post-modern-society setting.  To say that we’re all a little disenchanted with the way things are, to the point where we have to destroy it and kill damn near everyone with our imaginations, might be a bit of an understatement.

And that brings me to today’s Writing Life topic: a writer’s role in the apocalypse.

I mean, let’s face it.  The more resourceful of us are going to survive, right?  We write this stuff.  We’ve thought up the worst case scenarios, killed off our favorite characters in our new vicious, unforgiving versions of the world.  With that small fact (we will survive this nonsense) established, it’s time to hash out just where we stand at the end of it all.

No electricity.  And where there is electricity, there will be evil street gangs or crime syndicates (ie: the US government or Gary Oldman) hoarding the generators.  Naturally, TV is no longer a staple in our daily lives.  You’ll no longer be able to schedule your week around True Blood or Extreme Couponing.  People will need the blissful escape that fiction provides.  As the years go on, books will be more useful as kindling (blasphemy, I know), and so oral tradition will probably pull itself back to the forefront of our culture.  We, as writers, are story-weavers.  We can give them the escape that they crave.

No more formal education.  We don’t know everything, that’s a fact.  But writers, on the whole, tend to be decently-read and researched people.  In our smaller communities, where teachers may no longer exist, it may fall to writers to keep the written language around for a bit longer.  In educating our hardened and deprived youth, we can keep that thread of creativity and imagination going, providing hope in a world where there isn’t any.

History is written by the winners.  But in the apocalypse, there are no winners.  (Unless they are aliens, and we don’t speak alien anyway, do we?  And I won’t learn!  Filthy, world-thieving bastards!  I’ll see your death ray and raise you an explosion on your comm tower!  Tic-Tic-Boom!)  It’ll fall, in part, to writers to keep track of things.  Victories.  Defeats.  Logs of changes, progress, failures, etc.  And if we aren’t the record keepers, we sure as hell are the ones who’ll tell those stories with some flare!

Hope.  It’s a fragile thing, and writers are some of the most emotionally resilient people I can think of.  We take rejection and defeat, and turn it into determination, progress, and an opportunity to learn.  We’ve read the greats before burning their pages for warmth!  We know the great battles of fiction and of history and we can offer our insight from a creative, non-military standpoint.  Most of all, of all of our educational and emotional exploits, we keep our heads up and keep looking forward.  Tomorrow is another day, and it can only be better than today.

So, remember, just because you’re a writer doesn’t mean you’d be useless when the world ends.  In fact, your role in the progression of mankind is critical.  

Do you know of any other ways that writers will be useful at the end of the world?  Share them!

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Writing Life: “Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll”

Today’s post comes from my friend Jade Bennett over at Jade Bennett Writes. Who also, if you hadn’t heard, launched her IndieGoGo campaign today!  She’s aiming to raise money to self-publish her first novel Mechanics of Magic, the first in a series titled Mechanical Maladies.  Check her out, and if you support her cause, please donate or share her IndieGoGo page!  Thanks, everyone!

Now, about Writing Life.

I’ve spoken on the topic of saying what you mean to say, how you mean to say it, multiple times, and this post isn’t going to change that tune.  I’ve been asked by several people why I choose to portray controversial subjects in my writing, how I approach those topics, and how I deal with the “backlash.”

Truth?  I’ve never really had any backlash.  I own what I write, and if people don’t like it, they can go complain on the internet.  (You know, like I do all the time.  You guys know.  =P)  If something means a lot to you, and you want to put that down on paper, that’s your call.  Gaining the courage to show the world is an entirely different matter.

Let’s face it: a stranger’s opinion is the difference between the cost of one book in our pocket and one less digit on our sales sheet, and that’s big.  But not as big as how we feel about, say, our mother reading that gay romance novel we wrote, chock full of drug abuse, rape, and our main character’s struggle to get by in an anti-equality society.  Or our father running across our heart-rending essays on teen suicide or our flash fiction about parental alcoholism.

It doesn’t matter.  I swear to you, write what you’re passionate about.  It may not be pretty and it may cause some controversy, but that’s okay.  Our modern world was built on controversy.  Voices rise and things change, but if we keep silent, we’re stagnant.  Even if it’s in your fiction, in a small, indirect way, say what you mean.  Even if it’s through your characters in a fictional realm on a fictional planet, address those things that call to your heart because only you can say them the way you intend them to be said.

Stand up.  Your friends and families will judge you.  Strangers will judge you.  But at least you can say that you stood for something.  So few people see what courage there is in writing fiction.

Be blunt.  You don’t have to be crass, but be honest.  If it’s not honesty from your perspective, be honest from an opposite perspective.  Fiction always displays at least two sides, if not always evenly.

Moral of the story?  Don’t be afraid to write about the hard things in life.  Your family may not approve, but you’ll be a voice for so many people who stand beside you.   More than you might realize.  Don’t let fear silence you. <3

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Writing Life: “This Sucks, I Suck, Why-the-Eff-am-I-Bothering-Itus”

Today’s Writing Life post topic is courtesy my friend Rei.  HI, REI!

We all get there.  We get to that point, especially during the revision process, where we look over our manuscript and think “What the hell is this?”  We sigh and put it down, and some of us don’t come back to it for months.  We feel weighed down, helpless, listless… We don’t know what to change and we don’t know what to keep, because, let’s face it, it’s all freaking terrible and we never want to look at it again.

You’re just overwhelmed!  I’ve made the mistake of deleting and destroying every copy of a manuscript I have in my possession, and, believe me, the regret is twice as overwhelming as the listlessness.  You try to rewrite and recapture all that you loved about the story, but it’s just gone.  It’s not the same.  The characters have moved on to other stories and mystical events that only imaginary people can take part in.  (Those characters may want to revisit the story with you about five years later, I should note.  Frost Moon punched me in the face again about six months ago, as if my main character was saying “You couldn’t do it right the first time, so let’s try this again.  Now pay attention.”)

First off?

Your story does not suck.  You fell in love with the journey and the characters for a reason.  You just need to recapture that reason.   What about the story struck you to begin with?  What songs remind you of your characters?  Take a walk.  Enjoy a few deep breaths.  Think about your characters the way you did when they started begging for their story to be penned.  Don’t touch you manuscript for a few days to a week, and let the romance with your story rekindle itself.

You do not suck.  Everyone needs a breather now and then.  That does not make you less of a writer or less of a person.  Even the strongest people need a few minutes now and again to just breathe.  You are a writer.  You are a story teller.  The stories inside you won’t die while you’re taking a vacation.  I promise, in this case, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and before long, your characters will be screaming to get out again.  Just breathe.

Why the eff are you bothering?  Because you love what you do.  Because you’re filled with more than just the base need to exist.  Your purpose is to pen a story that people will fall in love with, that they’ll learn from, that will change them.  You create souls from nothing and put them on a page, parts of yourself, and you let people share in that with you.

Why are you bothering?  Because what you do is important.  It’s important to you, and it’s important to someone else out there, maybe hundreds of someones.  Thousands.  People who need a story to relate to.

Don’t sell yourself short, and always remember to breathe.

If there is anything you’d like to see covered in Writing Life, please feel free to message me.  My information is in the contact page, and my Tumblr is located in the sidebar.  Don’t be shy!

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Writing Life: Owning Your Writing

Never apologize.

Every great writer had to start somewhere.  Every brilliant mind had a beginning, and every block of stunning prose has met its share of criticism.  We, as writers, feel the need to defend every word, comma, and turn of phrase.  When someone comments on our writing, our use of “yes, but” can make us seem defensive.

Criticism is important.

Don’t underestimate a good bout of criticism; accepting and employing changes that improve our fiction also improves us as writers.  Its important, vital, even.

What I’m telling you, though, is that you should never apologize for your writing.  If someone doesn’t like it, and can’t give you a reason, you shouldn’t apologize for that.  Not everyone will love your work, and its something we all have to come to terms with.  Life goes on.

Also, never hand your work to someone and say “I’m sorry for the quality,” or “it’s not as polished as I want it to be.”  It sets people up to either expect it to be terrible or feed you useless compliments at the end to make you feel more confident.  Trust me, I’m guilty of doing this as well.  I’m trying to get out of the habit of apologizing for my work before it’s ever read, but it’s a bit hurdle for some of us.  Confidence in letting others read your work, especially people who are close to us, whose opinions mean the most to us, is something that develops over time.  And if it doesn’t, you really just need to rein in the apologies.  =P

Moral of the story?

Your writing is important.  It means something.  Don’t make out sound like less than it is just because you’re afraid someone won’t like it.  Accept criticism with grace, employ it where necessary, but don’t apologize for your writing!

Do you ever apologize for your writing?  What’s the hardest part of accepting the opinions of others?

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Writing Life: Be the Author You’d Stand in Line For

No one likes a pretentious writer.

Scratch that… plenty of people enjoy reading the work of pretentious writers….  Unfortunately, those pretentious writers will eventually be roped into a book signing and have to meet their adoring fans.  I can promise you, being a condescending jerk (“Oh, you didn’t like that about my book?  Some people just wouldn’t understand it.”  “You think I write like ‘So-and-So’!?  Ugh…..”) isn’t going to win you any love, bro.  People like authors that don’t treat them like they’re incredibly stupid.  Funny how that works, right?

Let’s say you’re trying to promote your book, or your web series, or what have you… you generally want people to pick up the book and start reading, and, ideally, leave a glowing review on your Amazon page, blog, or website.  That’s how these things are meant to work.  In order to gain that favor, the first step is having an amazing, compelling, from-your-soul piece of fiction (or non-fiction, whatever tickles you), worthy of these people’s time and money.  The second step is to be a decent human being (or at least be able to play one on TV).  What does this entail?  Let’s have a list:

  • If they have questions?  Answer them.  Don’t explain your work in a behind-the-scenes kind of way.  Don’t act like they’re a moron for not “getting it.”  Just answer them in a concise and appropriate fashion.  (“I thought Jason’s last name was Stuart.  Why is it Aaron in Chapter 3?”  “If you read on, in the second half of chapter 3, it’s explained that Jason is adopted.”  That’s it.)
  • Don’t answer “You write like such and such an author!” with anything other than “Thank you” and a smile if you can’t say anything nice.  If that person is praising you, and you’re a dick about it, they may not read another word you write.  If they like James Patterson, and you don’t, it still doesn’t change that they feel they’re complimenting you.  Feel free to ask “What makes you say that?” if you’re curious, just rein it in, huh?  I reiterate: no one likes a pretentious jerk.
  • READ!  There are other struggling authors out there.  Authors just like you who have brand new work out or coming out and desperately need people to read and review them!  Do that.  You don’t have to be asked.  You can just pick up a book from a new author, read, and review it.  Give back what you get.  Taking without giving back makes you a jerk, and what don’t people like?

That’s right.  A pretentious jerk.  Good work.  =]

What are some practices that you take part in to be the author you’d stand in line for?

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Writing Life: What’s in Your Author Bag?

Image © udt007us

I’m curious.  Every writer has their list of “Essentials” that they take everywhere with them.  It’s important to give yourself the opportunity to record those brilliant ideas that come barreling at you out of nowhere, in the most inconvenient of situations.  (We all have our “brilliant idea in the shower” moments.  I hear they have waterproof whiteboards for that, by the way.)

Let me give you a run down of the things I carry around with me on the daily.  You’ll probably laugh, it’s a little out of control, but here goes.

If it’s my purse:

  • Full-sized notebook for plotting.
  • Smaller notebook for jotting.
  • A handful of pens in black, red, and blue.
  • 3 highlighters; pink, orange, and yellow.
  • A flash drive on my key chain.
  • A flash drive in my wallet pocket.
  • Daily planner, complete with writing “to do” list.
  • Kindle.

If it’s my backpack (which is really more often than not):

  • All of the above.
  • Netbook.
  • 2 more full sized notebooks.
  • A travel cup filled with a caffeinated drink of the day.
  • Sketchbook.
  • Several mechanical pencils and a pink eraser.
  • The kitchen sink.

I go a little overboard, especially when I’m going somewhere for the purpose of writing.

Anyway, the point is, it’s okay to go a little overboard, in my opinion.  I like to have everything so that I know I’m not missing anything if I need it.

So, what’s in your author bag, and how does it work for you?

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Writing Life: AFK, the benefits to writing away from home

Image © Simply Bike

Do you ever sit down at your desk and open your project of the moment, and think “I can’t do this here”?  Like there’s just some massive weight pressing down on you, refusing to let your imagination take you where you need to go?  Like being at home is ruining your creative flow?

Leave.  No, seriously.  Just leave.

I know, I know “I have kids, Kit, I can’t just leave.”  I’m not a parent, so I sometimes have a hard time relating to this point.  Honestly, though, if you have kids and you can’t get away, try a different room in your house.  Usually write in the office?  Try sitting in the living room.  Have a yard?  Take a notebook or your laptop outdoors and let the kids do what kids do.  Middle of the day?  Go to a playground, let the kids romp about while you sit at a nearby picnic table.  (I’d advise using a notebook and pen at a playground.  Much less likely to get destroyed, and if there’s wifi available–well, I know I can get distracted easily if I have an internet connection–from your kids, not your writing.  Seriously.  Kids are born troublemakers.  Gotta keep an eye out.  =P)

Don’t have kids?  Free to roam?  Use your writing time to discover a diner or coffee shop you’ve never been to before!  (And then, obviously, write there.)  The best part of changing up your routine?  Options.

There are chains like Panera Bread, McDonalds, Crispers, Starbucks, and Barnes & Noble that have free wifi, ample seating and outlets, and a staff that, as long as they’re open and you have a drink cup (full or empty) in front of you, don’t care how long you stay.

Then there are the hidden gems.  The mom & pops, the cute little corner shops without a ton of seating, but a bitchin’ menu with those few items that the regulars rave about.  They don’t usually have wifi (though, if you’re in a pinch, you can sometimes siphon off of a chain nearby), their outlets are either limited or nonexistent, and they usually only have one bathroom stall.  But these are the places that are writing gold.  The upsides?  No wifi = No “I’ll only check Facebook once” every five minutes.  No outlets = allowing yourself to doodle and scribble on an actual notebook for once. (There’s an old world romance to it, damn it!)  The best part?  If you go there often enough, the staff and owners are the people who will encourage you in what you’re doing while you spend your time there.  They’re usually a personable staff who connect with their regulars, and we all know how far a smile and a little encouragement goes!

I don’t want you all to think that a writer writes at his desk and toils long into the night.  You don’t have to be a shut-in to get some writing done.  There’s a place where every writer can feel at home away from home; you just have to find it.

What is your writing-home away from home?  Are you comfortable writing outside of your personal writing station?  What do you prefer: wifi or no wifi?

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Writing Life: Making Time and Motivation

Image © Simon Clayson

The biggest obstacle I face as a writer is overcoming the tendency to put writing on the back burner.  Writing is my life, my love, and my means of staying sane; I’ve put writing before friends, jobs, and relationships—

So why can’t I put more importance on setting aside time to write?

My excuses:

  • There’s a show that I want to watch.  (I have a DVR.  This shouldn’t even be an excuse.)
  • Facebook.  (Life-destroying social network paired with my apparent lack of willpower.)
  • There’s always a fresh idea beyond the one I’m working on.  (Attention span fail.)

Are any of them valid?  No.  Not really.  They waste time, make me homesick, show just how lazy I am.  And when I schedule time to write, I usually foul it up somehow: procrastinate, self-sabotage, just plain fail.  Being a “work in progress” as a person and as a writer must yield some progress if it’s going to continue to be an excuse for my shortcomings.

This post isn’t going to offer you a definite solution.  I can offer some suggestions that I should probably try myself. I suppose what people like me—people like us—need most is a support group to keep one another accountable.  I’m not sure how to go about this yet, but if I come up with anything, I’ll let you lovely people know.

So, suggestions?

  • Write it on your calendar.  Seeing “Write: 8a-3p” in your face makes it more tangible a goal than defining it vaguely in your head where you can’t physically see it.
  • Tacking/Taping sheets of inspiration, work, or development material around your work station.  It keeps your project real. I  look at it and remember little things I love about my project.  It makes me want to work on it.
  • Get other writers who need to get their work done to write with you.  Online or in a coffee shop.  Have word wars and share favorite sentences or bits of dialog.  Swap paragraphs and get opinions.  Never underestimate the support of writing with others.

Just remember that you don’t have to eat, sleep, and breathe writing to be a writer, but do make time for it.

How do you overcome procrastination and laziness?

Do you have a support network?  How deeply is your writing impacted by that network?

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