The Seven Deadly Sins of Writing

Howdy, howdy!  Welcome to June.  How’s everyone doing?  Is the year going the way you were hoping so far?  Things have been weird for me with random bursts of productivity and bouts of “why bother?” generously sprinkled throughout.  I’m having more trouble than usual coming up with blog post topics, if you can’t tell.  It got me thinking about the writer’s life and wondering where I’m going wrong.  I Googled writer problems and found a few lists of “deadly sins,” but none of them quite worked for me.  Don’t get me wrong, they were cool in their own right, but many were directed toward the technical aspects of writing which aren’t where I’m having trouble.  So, I came up with my own list of seven deadly sins.

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The Seven Deadly Sins by Marta Dahlig.

1. Vanity/Pride.  The mother of all sins is dangerous for a writer, especially when we start thinking our stuff doesn’t need to be revised or changed.  When we’re not open to critique from our peers.  It’s perfect as is.  But art is never perfect.  The story may be great, but there’s always room for improvement.  A great story could become fantastic if you listen to others’ thoughts.  I never used to revise things, because they were “good enough.”  I learned a long time ago that that thinking was flawed.  Granted, I still hate revising pieces, but it’s usually because I’m not sure how to implement the changes I want to include.

2. Avarice/Greed.  Writing isn’t really a gig to get into if you’re just looking to make some quick money.  I mean, it would be nice to earn a comfortable living off of it and it’s totally fine to daydream about, but let’s be honest… we aren’t all Stephen King or J.K. Rowling.  And that’s okay.  It doesn’t make us any lesser as writers.  They work hard just like we do, but they eventually got lucky.  If we persevere, we might get lucky too.  But don’t expect an easy payday in this line of work.

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Don’t be like Greed from FMA.

3. Wrath.  If constant rejection and critique upsets you, writing isn’t the job for you.  This is one of the few things I haven’t really been bothered by.  If someone dislikes my work or thinks I need to change things, that’s their opinions.  I take what’s useful to me and put the rest aside.  As far as rejections go, in total I’m nearing 300.  It’s just part of writing.  It stings sometimes, which is fine.  We’re human.  We’re allowed to get upset.  But if it stops you from submitting, then you won’t last long as a writer.

4. Gluttony.  If you do anything too much, you’re going to burn yourself out.  This includes writing and reading.  I do this a lot on both fronts, but especially with writing.  I’ll get in a good rhythm and forget to take a break until I hit a wall and the words just won’t come, then I fall into a bout of laziness (see Sloth).  I know it’s super hard to find a balance, but remember to take a break now and then.

5. Sloth.  You remember that laziness I was just talking about?  This is that.  For me, sloth is putting off writing until I know what I want to say, which never happens.  I have a general idea of the story, but I don’t really know where it’s going until I start writing.  I know this.  Yet I still get lazy and use plotting as an excuse not to write.  But if you never actually write anything, you’re not really a writer.

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Because sloths are cute.

6. Envy.  I am guilty of this.  Of course I support my writer friends unconditionally, but I admit to feeling the occasional twinge of jealousy.  Humans do this and as much as I hate to admit it, I’m human.  I don’t let it get in the way of being excited for them and cheering them on, though.  Writing is lonely enough.  If you start getting upset and jealous at others’ successes, it’s just going to get lonelier.

7. Lust.  I had a hard time making this one work for writing, but then I thought about the fact that we all have authors we lust after in one way or another.  A lot of times it even appears in our work because we imitate them.  Imitation is a good teaching tool, but if writers don’t make the style their own, it comes off as derivative.  So, lust after whoever you want, but don’t just copy them.  Make it your own.

And that’s how I interpret the seven deadly sins for writing.  What do you agree with?  What would you change?  Feel free to share your thoughts and comments here or on my social media pages!

That Didn’t Go Right

Hello, hello!  How is everyone doing this week?  I’m a bit annoyed at myself if I’m being honest.  I was going over my story’s timeline and looking at the revisions I’ve made when I realized I had made a stupid mistake.  There were two main plot points that I meant to reverse, but apparently in my zeal during my rewriting sessions, I forgot to switch them.  So, today, I’m going to ramble until I figure out some kind of solution for my dilemma.

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Me when I realized why something felt off with my story.

The more I think about it, I have a couple of solutions.  The easiest one would be to leave the story like it is and follow my original plotline.  I admit that I liked this section the way it was, but it drags a little in between scenes this way and there’s no good transition that will speed things up.  Slowness isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  It gives the writer a chance to build up the setting or show the characters in different types of interactions.  All of that can give the story depth.  But, it can also cause the reader to put the book down and makes it easier for them not to want to pick it back up.  Which makes this option dangerous.

The other solution would be to go back and add the chapter I wanted to move in the first place.  This would require reading through what I’ve already rewritten and finding the best place to transition to the “new” material, then figuring out how to make that section flow into the old one.  Luckily, I haven’t gotten too far ahead of the switch, so it shouldn’t be that difficult to go back and find a place to insert the other plot point.  And it should speed up the pace of the story.  Plus, some of the scenes in that section would really benefit from appearing earlier in the novel anyway.  My main concern is that, while it sounds great in my head, it won’t work as well on the page and I’ll end up switching everything back to the original order in the next draft.

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Because I’m too lazy to think of any others right now.

Honestly, since my first instinct was to flip these two plot points when I was working out the timeline for the revision, that’s probably what I’ll end up doing.  It’ll be more difficult and time consuming because I’ll have to read through what I have thus far and find a good place to insert a chapter.  However, I think the potential benefits are worth the risk.  It’s not as if I’m on an official deadline or anything.  If it sucks, I have time to switch it back.

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Maybe not always, but enough to trust it.

Have you had any moments where you realized you made a stupid mistake in your creative work recently?  Did you decide to go back and do what you had originally planned or did you go with the flow?  Feel free to share your stories or comments or thoughts here or on my social media pages.

Writer’s Block AKA Stubborn Procrastination

Hello, hello!  I hope everyone has a wonderful Valentine’s Day or Singles Awareness Day or Excuse for Chocolate Day or whatever you want to call Thursday.  I have no plans, but I do have chocolate.  Huzzah!  Anyway, that’s tomorrow.  Today is about confessions of a writerly nature.  Namely, I haven’t done anything productive since January 20th (the day before the sickness of doom took over).  Yeah, I can blame the illness for about two weeks worth of laziness, but what about the last week and a half?  I had no excuse for vegging out.  So, I thought I would talk a little about what some people call writer’s block and my plan to deal with it.

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This is true.

First off, I want to say that I don’t particularly like the term “writer’s block.”  It sounds like something that just happens, something you have no control over.  For some people, that might be true.  Other people might enjoy having the excuse, being able to say that their lack of writing time is out of their control.  Not me.  I fully acknowledge that when I’m not writing, I’m usually procrastinating.  It’s rare for me to run out of words, at least on fictional things.  Motivation is my biggest issue.  And sometimes, I admit that the procrastination bug digs deep and stubbornly refuses to let go.  It’s what’s happening right now.  My motivation is low due to an influx of rejections I’ve been expecting (because of my year-end submissions that are just now being looked at).  It’s hard to want to write and revise when you keep getting told “it’s not for us, but good luck elsewhere.”  So, when the opportunity to procrastinate presented itself, I didn’t bother fighting it.

However, it’s about time for me to get over myself and get back to writing regularly.  Before the sickness decided to knock out all my will to work, I was actually struggling back into a decent rhythm.  How?  I joined a sprint group and one of the leaders happens to write around the same time I do during the week (early evening).  So, I have the support of checking in after each sprint and being held accountable.  Even if the leaders aren’t doing sprints, I can still create my own sprints and see if anyone wants to join me.  It’s a super helpful group for me and I plan to get back into it this week.

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I feel this on a deep level.

Aside from the sprint group, I need to find other forms of motivation as well, otherwise I know I’ll eventually fall back into the procrastination pit.  The problem is that I don’t respond well to self-appointed rewards.  Mostly because I usually forgo the rewards.  I promise myself anime or manga and by the time I get everything done, I’m either too lazy to find something to watch/read or it’s time for dinner and TV with Dad.  I guess all I can do is keep trying different things until I find something that works for me.

What about you?  How do you battle writer’s block or the procrastination bug?  Feel free to share your thoughts and comments here or on my social media pages!

What’s Your Novel Really About?

Howdy, howdy!  Have you ever run into one of those people who asks what your novel-in-progress is about, but after you explain it to them, they’re all like “no, what is it really about…”?  They’re usually English majors or something along that line: people who can’t accept that sometimes, in writing, blue curtains are just blue curtains.  These are the deep thinkers, the over-analyzers.  And they’re usually pretty cool people.  But if you aren’t prepared for the question, it can be annoying and frustrating.  Especially if you’re like me and don’t consciously build underlying themes into your work.  So, I thought I would take a minute to ramble about hidden meanings and all that fun stuff.

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It’s the controversial meme of (writerly) doom!

Like I said, I don’t go into a writing session with the purpose of bringing a particular lesson to the page.  I don’t know many people who do.  The few I know who have tried doing this come across as preachy and, in all honesty, more than a little douchenozzly.  (This was a long time ago and in no way reflects my current circles.)  I like to let things happen naturally, especially in a first draft.  If the story is good, themes and hidden meanings will bury themselves into the story and eventually make themselves known.

How do I know this?  Because when I was doing exercises from Sandra Scofield’s The Last Draft: A Novelist’s Guide to Revision, one of the things I had to do was state the main vision of the novel I was preparing to revise.  I had no idea what LR was about in any deep sense.  I didn’t really care.  The story and characters were fun, so why did it need to be about anything other than dragons and war?  Then, I started reading through it and noticed a weird trend.  When everyone listened to each other and thought things through, there was forward momentum.  When everyone just argued and ignored things, everything stalled out.  So, I ended up with a sticky note on my computer that says “Vision: Looking at conflict from multiple angles (including the enemy’s) allows one greater access to the Truth and the ability to make difficult decisions.”

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At least he’s honest.

It turns out that listening and understanding are things I write about a lot.  I don’t know why.  It’s kind of like when Nancy Holder told me that young people getting dragged into new worlds was “classic Shawna.”  I had no idea.  Apparently, it’s what I gravitate towards without realizing it.  Granted, listening isn’t the only thing hidden in my stories, but I think it’s a lesson we all need to consider getting into the habit of, especially right now.  Maybe that’s why I notice it cropping up more and more in my stuff.

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Surprises are… fun?

Anyway, I suppose all of this just boils down to the fact that I think it’s kind of neat to see things I never intended to write about pop up in my stories.  So, while I may not know what my novel is about when you ask, I’ll eventually figure it out during revision.  What about you?  What themes pop up in your work?  Feel free to share your comments or thoughts here or on my social media pages!

Writing Stints: I Should Get Back to Those

Howdy, howdy!  How is everyone’s year going so far?  I’ve been fairly productive in getting ready to dive back into revisions in a serious manner.  I read through the revisions thus far, made sure I knew where I was going with things, and reviewed the plot to come.  But I admit that it’s a daunting task to sit down and seriously work on the story.  That’s why I’ve been looking into different variations of writing stints/time management methods.  I thought I would ramble on about a few of my options today, since I have nothing else to write about.

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This is not wrong.

For a while, a friend and I did a couple of hour long stints a day (or when we were both writing at the same time).  In other words, we’d check in with each other with our goals for our stints that day, write (or revise or blog or whatever we needed to do) for an hour, take a short break to check in and rest, then repeat the last two steps until we met our goals or were exhausted.  That method worked for me.  It helped me concentrate and reporting in with said friend helped hold me accountable.  Unfortunately, life gets in the way of these things and makes it impossible for us to do this at the moment.  And, honestly, I don’t know if I could keep up that kind of momentum on my own.  An hour is a long time.  That’s why I’ve been looking at other options.

One of the most popular options for time management seems to be the Pomodoro Technique.  Yes, it means tomato.  Supposedly, the guy who started it used a tomato shaped timer.  In this one, you select a task and work for 25 minutes, take a 5 minute break, and repeat 4 times, after which you take a 15 minute break then start all over again until you’re done.  It sounds useful and there are tons of apps to use that will help with my accountability issues.  I might try this.

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Apparently this is a thing.

Some of my other friends have recently started doing a 15 minute stint followed by two half hour stints and another 15 minute stint to finish up.  They take short breaks between each stint to check in with each other as well.  It’s a method they found on Twitter through Leigh Bardugo.  Our writing schedules just don’t mesh, so I haven’t been able to join them, but it seems like a helpful style.  Maybe live tweeting progress during breaks could even work for me.  Or at least posting progress on my private Facebook page.  I’m not sure I’d be brave enough to publicly announce how slow I am.

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Because cunning is better than speed.

Anyway, this is all to say that I need to start doing stints again.  I’ll probably try my old way on my own for a while.  If that fails, I’ll try the Pomodoro Technique.  What about you?  Do you have any time management tips?  What do you do to get yourself on track?  Feel free to share your thoughts, methods, or comments here or on my social media pages!

A Time For Goals

Hello, hello!  Welcome to 2019!  Since it’s only the 2nd day of the year, I thought I would share my goals.  I did this type of post for last year as well, but I failed pretty miserably.  In 2018, I finished the first draft of DS1, started revisions on LR1, wrote 3 new short stories/flash fiction pieces, submitted 2 short stories/flash pieces/poems a week (earning myself a publication and a handful of personal rejections), and I read 29 books.  I started out strong early in the year, but eventually lost steam.  Hopefully, I can find a steady pace that won’t wear out on me in 2019.  On to the goals!

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True.  Also, I guess 2016 just kind of disappeared into the aether.

1. Finish revising LR1.  I still have a lot of work to do on this book, but I adore the characters and the story line.  I’m shooting for a finish date of early April.  At least finishing the second draft, at which point I’ll have to find some trusty beta readers (always the hardest part in my experience).  I might even look into prices for professional editing, so I can get some expert feedback.  We’ll see how it goes.  First, I have to finish revising it.

2. Revise DS1.  My mind has been randomly drifting to this book for the past couple of weeks.  I’ve been reading so many cozy mysteries that I really want to get back to working on my own.  It’s a series I’m considering using a pseudonym for, though that means I’m getting ahead of myself.  I have to revise it and get an agent or publisher interested, then I can worry about names and all that fancy stuff.  A woman can dream, though.

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Non-existent Jekyll. Has a nice ring to it.

3. Submit short stories/flash pieces (at least 2 subs a week).  I want to keep this habit going for as long as I can.  It’s sometimes really difficult to find at least semi-pro paying places to submit a story that’s been out in slush limbo on and off for over a year, but I keep looking.  I haven’t had to retire a piece because of that yet.  Hopefully this year will bring more acceptances and more awesome venues for submitting!

4. Write 5 short stories/flash pieces.  A break between revisions is always a good thing.  Last year, I aimed a little too high on my short story goals, so I decided to be more sensible.  I already have one short story brewing for a project with some friends.  Maybe getting that one written will help grease the wheels, so to speak.

5. Shop LR around to agents.  This is a goal that is a tad ambitious, which is good.  It all depends on how well the revisions on LR go and whether or not it requires another round of them.  It’ll give me something to strive for.

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Look at the cute puppy!

6. Read 30 books.  I didn’t include a reading goal last year, but my goal was 24 books.  I managed to read 29 books, so I thought I would try to one up that.  But I’m a slow reader.  Hopefully, I can get through 30 books.

What about you?  What are your goals for 2019?  Feel free to share them or your thoughts here or on my social media pages!

Guest Post: Marriage and Writing

Hello, hello!  Welcome to the year’s final guest post.  This month, we have my friend and fellow Stonecoast alum, J. R. Dawson.  In the following post, she discusses the importance of support and being believed in.  It’s pretty awesome.  Read on!

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The lovely J. R. Dawson!

Marriage and Writing

When Shawna asked me to do a blog on her site, I didn’t know what I was going to write about. And then I got sick. And then the deadline came and I was sick and didn’t know what I was going to write about. I assumed I’d end up doing some kind of intro or motivational piece about how to keep on keepin’ on. But then I realized there was something I’d heard discussed a lot, had experienced myself, and had never really seen a blog post about.

I think it’s been simmering since I spoke to a beginning writer a year ago and he mentioned that his wife doesn’t believe in him. She bemuses the fact that he wants to write, but she doesn’t support him. It doesn’t pay the bills, it’s so hard to break through, and she didn’t think he was very good.

“Can you give me something to tell my wife so she won’t think I’m hopeless?” he said. “What can I tell her?”

And I said, “Tell her to support you.”

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Spouses or partners don’t have to be writers, they don’t even have to like your writing, but if writing is your jam and it’s what you do, then what sort of partner isn’t going to back you up?

It seems like such a superficial fact, or maybe it’s giving too much power to this dude’s wife. But for real, if she’s not supporting him in this, what exactly is she supporting him in? It’s total disrespect to look at the person you’re supposed to love and say, “I don’t believe in you.”

Do you absolutely need a partner to succeed? Absolutely not. One of the most successful writers I’ve gotten to work with is a single mother. Some people purposefully do not want a partner, let alone a spouse. But for those of us who do enter into a pair, that other person has got to be behind us.

My past relationships are riddled with non-writers who thought I should give up, or writers who were in constant and violent competition with me.

Then eight years ago, I met my spouse.

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He isn’t a writer (although he’s very talented and I think of him as one, he’s off doing other things). He didn’t necessarily love books when we met. And sometimes we argue over my descriptive style when he wants more active (and grammatically correct) scenes. But he has supported me emotionally the entire way.

Actually, the short story “Marley and Marley” came from him literally jumping into my writing room every ten minutes going, “Keep going! You can do it! This story is important!” My latest publication, “When We Flew Together Through the Ice,” was resurrected from an early grave because he believed in me when I couldn’t believe in myself.

If writing is my heart, and my partner is supposed to love the deepest parts of me, how would he not love my act of writing?

When he proposed, I literally said to him, “This is not going away. I will always have one foot in our life and one foot in whatever project I’m working on.”

And he wholeheartedly agreed. “And so will I,” he said.

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Could I still be a writer without him? Of course. But if I’m going to be with someone, that someone better damn well be with me. All of me.

And does that mean he has to be completely devoted to every move I make with pom poms ready at the go? No. But he can’t tell me, “I don’t believe you’re going to make it.”

My heart broke for the dude with the wife who said such a thing. I hope they figure out their business.

But I guess what I wanted to say, in this here blog, is that you as an artist need to surround yourself with people who will raise you up. And if someone is too close and is pulling you down, you deserve better.

We all deserve to be believed in.

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J.R. Dawson holds her MFA from Stonecoast. She is an Active Member of SFWA and Codex. Living in Omaha, NE, with her pupper and husband, she enjoys working as a freelance teaching artist, writing science fiction adventures, and traveling to Disney World. Her short story “Marley and Marley” was in Rich Horton’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2018, and her new story, “When We Flew Together Through the Ice,” is in the November/December 2018 issue of F&SF.

December Goals

Howdy, howdy!  It’s December again (didn’t we just do this?).  Happy holidays and all that jazz!  I don’t really have anything to talk about this week and I’ve been super slacking on the writing front (and at life in general), so I thought I would take a minute to make my goals for the month known.  This way, you can heckle me until I succeed.  I know these posts are pretty boring, so I try not to do them a lot.  Apologies in advance.  But here are my goals in no particular order!

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Cute pictures are fun.

December Goals:

1. Submit stuff 10 times (2 every Monday).  I’ve consistently submitted two stories a week all year long.  Granted, it wasn’t always on Mondays, but it got done even when I really didn’t feel like it.  I’m super proud of that.  Now, I just have to keep it up the rest of this month and do it all over again next year.

2. Revise more of LR.  Revising has been beyond slow and I have no one and nothing to blame but myself.  I love the story and I’m excited about it, but I can’t get into a good rhythm with the revisions.  I get into it a few days then can’t bring myself to open the files for a while.  It’s weird.

3. Read 2 books.  Actually, I need to finish two books (at least) this month.  I started them both last month.  When I got the okay on The Razor, I stopped in the middle of European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman.  There was just no way for me to finish both last month.  And I decided to start this month’s review book before I finish European Travel.  I somehow clumped too many long books together and it’s thrown my whole reading schedule off, but I’m past my goal for the year, so it’s okay.

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The lazy voices in my head often enable me by telling the productive ones to shut up.

4. Make time for people.  It’s just really hard to talk to people when I like being a recluse so much.  Luckily, around the holidays, I randomly text people to wish them well and usually end up chatting with a few of them.  It’s the only time of year I’m not a completely shitty friend!

5. Decide on a couple of days to go through my files and tidy everything up.  I seriously need to do this.  I used to know exactly where every song, picture, and file was on my computer.  Now, I can’t find half the stuff I go looking for.  It’s a mess.

6. Start ripping old CDs to my computer.  A few months ago, I got a new radio because my 60 disc player stopped working.  Do you know how hard it is to find a new 60+ disc player that is it’s own stereo, not a component to a make-your-own stereo system?  Impossible.  In other words, I have a bunch of CDs that I need to transfer to my computer so I can play my old favorites and annoy the crap out of Dad.

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Okay, I have that one on my computer, but this made my smile.

7. Attack the slush pile.  I’ve been sporadic with my first reader duties over at Pseudopod.  I need to buckle down and help get through this period’s submissions.  It’s always a fun experience.

Those are my goals.  What about you?  Do you have any stuff you want to focus on this month?  Feel free to share your thoughts or comments here or on my social media pages!

Going With The Flow

Howdy, howdy!  How is October almost over?  Next week is book review time and I have no idea what I’m going to review.  I thought I was more organized than that, but surprise!  I’m not.  I’m also super behind on a lot of my goals for the year.  It has just been really hard to find a balance between writing and life that doesn’t make me sick of either one.  When I hit those points of burnout, it throws off my schedule and everything gets stressful.  So, I thought I would ramble a bit about being organized vs. being flexible.

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Most of the time, I’m in mood number one.

I’m actually a super organized person, even though it doesn’t really look like it.  And by organized, I mean that I verge on the obsessive, especially when it comes to my routines.  I like plans.  I build my writing and slushing (I’m a first reader for PseudoPod) schedule around plans.  In fact, I keep goal lists for the week, month, and year.  Daily goal lists are something I make most days upon getting up.  Knowing what I’m supposed to get done each day eases my anxiety.  It also makes it easier for me to say yes or no to random errands (like when Dad asks if I want to go to the grocery store or Home Depot or out for dinner last minute).  Being organized is great because it even lets me build flexibility into my schedule.

On the other hand, shit happens.  People flake on you.  Allergies attack.  Computers randomly die or the Internet goes out.  Or a million other stupid little things that can’t be controlled happen.  Sometimes, I can foresee that my plans are going to be shot for the day (like when I have a doctor’s appointment that should only take 10 minutes, but I know I’ll be there at least an hour), so I make that a “do whatever” day.  Other times, I get burnt out by my routine and end up procrastinating for weeks.  But usually, life just gets in the way and I have to accept that.  Going with the flow isn’t my strong suit, but I’m trying to get better at it.

616498_1I’m trying to be more flexible, to just go with the flow.  I’ve come to the point where I can acknowledge that I won’t finish all my goals some of the time.  I even push less important things back a week (or month or year).  It’s not a huge step toward being flexible, but I’m making progress.  Building flexibility into my schedules is probably the closest I’ll ever get to being the type who rolls with whatever.  As long as I get my main goals done each day, I think I’ll be fine with the flow.

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Go with the Flow by Amanda Cass.

What about you?  Are you super organized?  Do things messing up your plans freak you out or tick you off?  Or are you the flexible kind who can shrug things off and follow the new path with ease?  Feel free to share your thoughts or questions here or on my social media pages!

Guest Post: Raising a Novel – Writing and Marketing in Today’s Publishing Climate

Hello, hello!  Welcome to another guest post.  Today we welcome my friend and fellow Odd Stones Alliance member (the writing group we’re in), David Simms.  Between parenting, playing in a band, teaching, and many other awesome things, he’s managed to complete and publish his second novel.  Here, he shares some of his experience with the whole process from writing to publishing to marketing.  Read on!

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Raising a Novel – Writing and Marketing in Today’s Publishing Climate

The birth of a novel in 2018 is a vastly different experience than it was just ten years ago. It begs the question, when you spend years toiling over your story and nobody cares, or reads it, does it count? With the market today, too many authors take the route of simply dropping the book into a forest where nobody will see it, hear it, read it, or know about it. The gestation and birth is easy – barely anyone teaches writers how to raise the damn thing. When I embarked on the adventure to pen my second novel, Fear The Reaper (Crossroad Press), I knew it would be a different experience. My first novel was a blast to write. Sure, it was painful at times, but the writing was pure bliss. The research was 90% imagination and the rest drew from experience.

This time, I decided to take on the behemoth of a mental hospital down the hill from my new house. After learning its dark history and discovering that no other writer had ever published a novel on this topic, I dove in headfirst and cracked my skull on the task of writing a historical thriller. A true historical fiction piece scared me bad enough, but wrapping one of America’s darkest, dirtiest secrets around a fast paced story sounded much more enticing. After poring through several nonfiction texts, studying the town’s historical society while fending off dusty spiders, and interviewing former doctors, nurses, and relatives of patients, I had my story.

Writing the beast of the novel felt like bliss. Getting every detail of clothing, cars, food, drink, and sports team correct felt just right. By the time I hit the finish line, 109 thousand words glared back at me, daring me to edit them. No problem. It took several months, but editing it happened. Mostly, it was a pain-free experience.

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Postpartum (a term meant sarcastically, as I’d never be able to handle that experience), the book sat in my hands and I realized that books need to be raised, like petulant children. In this literary age where it seems a million books are published every week, writers must become warriors to get anyone to read it. Unless he/she is blessed to be with paired with a god/goddess of a publicist with endless funds, the writer must go ballistic and strategic if success is going to hit.

Without an agent or army, I hit the trenches alone and launched the second career of an author – the marketing. This is just as time-consuming as writing, yet without the fun. Thankfully, I’ve met and/or befriended many of my favorite writers, which helps networking – tremendously. Most of this has occurred because of the band I’ve played for. Follow that up with reviewing for four high profile venues and even more doors open. When it came time to secure blurbs for Fear The Reaper, I reached out and nailed down four out of six quotes. That’s better than most newer writers but it happened solely because of connections, not because I’m an amazing writer (I’m not).

My advice here: bite the bullet and social anxiety. Go to cons. Friend fellow authors on Facebook. Talk to them. Ask them for advice – most of them will happily oblige.

The second round hit harder. With a million books out there multiplying like germs in the Oval Office, how could I get my novel to stand out? My publisher is great but doesn’t do much marketing, which is normal (wish I would’ve know that earlier). So I reached out to people who know marketing best. Surprisingly, some self-pubbed authors really nail this aspect of the career. “Run a Facebook ad,” said one. So I did, and it sucked. Then I ran another but was bright enough to share it with a few who had much more experience with it. When I began receiving comments from across the globe, I knew it worked. Leading with one of the blurbs from a NYT best-seller obviously helped. Comparing my book to others (Shutter Island crossed with The Firm with a touch of The Shining – not my words) drew in even more readers.

Does this mean I’ve sold a ton of books? No, but it does mean I’m free from eating cat food for a few months.

I noticed that several of my “successful” writer friends kept posting news of their book tours, multiple signings, and interviews (online, radio, television).  How does one accomplish this on a budget, I pondered. An extreme, teacher budget. Some suggested a publicist. Sure. Once I learned that most of them only asked for my first born and random organs, I decided not to go into deep debt. Upon further investigation, I discovered that much what they offered wasn’t substantially different than I could accomplish on my own. I asked about television. They countered with radio. Does anyone still listen to talk radio anymore? If so, how many would purchase a novel after hearing an interview? Not many.

Yet the other avenues still appealed and seemed within grabbing distance. I sent out swarms of press releases to newspapers, television stations, colleges, libraries, bookstores, and that creepy guy who stands on the corner downtown. Even he ignored my requests. For a book of this importance (the subject, not my writing), one might think there would be interest, especially since it was a local book tackling a horrible part of history that most aren’t aware of. After so many cold shoulders, the offers did trickle in – at glacier speed. But still, I persisted. 

Five interviews later, most reaching across the world, I’m pleased. An invite to a black tie event where I’ll be paid? Sure. A dual signing with an author from California in NYC and DC? Definitely. Selling books by the side of the road before my ghost tours? Awesome.

It seems that there’s a course for just about everything in writing, except for how to actually get people to notice that your book is alive and out there in the wild. The ones that are in existence, that are legit, are harder to find than a unicorn riding a leprechaun. Maybe that should change. For those of us who spill blood on the pages for years to conceive these extensions of our souls, getting the world to notice them would be pretty nice.

But it’s possible. I’m proof of that. Keep reaching out in the dark. Eventually, you’ll find something. Hopefully, it doesn’t bite.

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Bio: David Simms lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with his wife, son and trio of furballs after escaping New Jersey and Massachusetts. A special education teacher, college English instructor, counselor, music therapist, ghost tour guide, and book reviewer, he moonlights in the Slushpile band on lead guitar after co-founding the Killer Thriller Band with several best-selling authors. He gives workshops in three states on using music to help students of all ages to learn and de-stress, getting teens to write, and combating burnout for teachers in schools. He has sold several short stories which have been published in various anthologies, such as TERRIBLE BEAUTY, TRAPS!, and DARKNESS RISING and academic publications on music therapy, creative writing for teens. DARK MUSE was his first novel, a YA musical dark fantasy. FEAR THE REAPER is a thriller that’s mostly true story about the eugenics movement in America – basically, how we directly influenced Hitler and began a truckload of horrors right here in the states.