#WritingTips: 6/25/19

There are times when I try to give advice to authors and I feel like I’m failing. I know “time” is hard to negotiate between “real life” and our make believe sessions at a pen and paper (or computer, etc). The real question is, “Is this your real life? Or is it a hobby?” The question lingers overhead like a giant thought bubble taking up the space of breath between me and said author.  Do you think I don’t understand? Oh, I do.

Accountability: Own it. Whether it’s a mistake, a failure, a success, a lie, a truth … just own it.

If I don’t make time to write, that’s on me. No one else. I choose to not make that time. No one else but me owns my time.

You say, “it doesn’t pay the bills.” No, it doesn’t. Not yet. Because you’re not taking inventory and ownership of it. Trust me. I run a small press. No one is making a living off of this. Whose fault is that? Mine, theirs, ours. When my brain wants to explode and I shut down? I own it. When they need a break and life overwhelms? They own it (most of them, anyway). We all do the best we can.

Let’s finish with the coddling, now.

Only you can sit and write your story down. You have to do it. You have to push through the dry spells, the hectic life, the exhaustion, the depression, the loneliness, and the mania.

Make. It. A. Habit.

Give yourself a set amount of time a day. Most of us have a certain period (night, day, morning dump, etc.) where we are unbothered and can jot down a few words. Carry a notebook with you and jot ideas down. Seriously, this isn’t hard. Grab a napkin. Grab an old receipt. Keep all your notes in one spot and keep them organized. Maybe an index card box? A shoe box with cardboard dividers? An accordion file … whatever.

You have to believe you want to do it, in order to be motivated. You have to be your own cheerleader.

Stop listening to everyone else and listen to YOU. Are you proud of your progress? Are you proud of your growth? Are you proud of your words? If not, work for it. Earn your own approval. Stop wallowing in self-deprecation and make yourself worthy of YOU.

What I can do is give you the tools you need. What you can do is use the tools.

Now, stop what you’re doing and give me 100 words.

WRITING: Make a Plan

One of the things I do with new clients and/or authors is have them take me through their process. Some authors are “Pantsers” and others are “Planners”. Regardless of what your process is, you need to have a plan for when the story gets long enough. Keeping everything in order is a huge task. There are several ways I teach the process because everyone is different. Some are OK with hearing the explanation, others need to see it.

Stick with me a few min’s here while I go through a couple of steps. If any of them help you, please comment and let me know! I always like to hear feedback so I can continue to get better and help more authors!

Map One

The picture above is what I call “sorting it out”. Notice they are all chaotic and out of sorts? That’s OK. It’ll make sense to you once we go further. For those of you who say this is a lot of work? Trust me. For authors/writers whose thought process is all over the place, this is a good tool to use to learn how to sort through the whirlwind of ???’s they have bouncing around an overactive mind.

So, you have this amazing idea, right? Great!

Now, what you want do is throw the thoughts out like darts. Get them all out! You can use different color pens, different symbols, etc., to keep things in order and to differentiate. Stars can be characters or minor details, the pink circles can be larger ideas you want to connect (the lines) so you know how to put it all together when you begin to write.

Once you’ve done the sorting (think laundry!) you can move onto one/more of the next process:

This map is where we begin to streamline and make sense of the chaos. Remember! More experienced writers may not need to sort the dirty laundry. It’s fine to start where you feel comfortable and what your skill level allows. A lot of my clientele say, “I have this concept but I have no idea where to go with it!” In those cases, we need to analyze how much of the story we really have to work with before we start throwing words down.

As much as it’s important to “just write” it’s also important to have a direction. Many new writers can get hung up on details, or not having an end in sight. It’s similar to being tossed in a city you’re unfamiliar with then left to find your way home. It can be daunting and discouraging. Taking an author by the hand and helping them to sort through the storm while encouraging them to listen to their own inner voice is the best assistance you can give them.

Now, on to the next step:

Map Two

Take all the “darts” and start arranging them by importance to your story. Answer the “W” questions, figure out the “How” and develop your “Resolution”. Once you’ve completed a portion of these things, you should-in theory-have a great foundation for your piece. If you want to stop and jot some words down, this is the best time to do it. It’s fresh in your mind, the creative juices are going, and you’re developing ideas you may want (or have forgotten) to integrate.

SUGGESTION: Fill in the blanks with pencil so you can erase/change/alter.

Do you have a story you’re stuck on? If so, do any of these maps help you? If you use the techniques, I would love to know if they helped/hindered you! Comment below and let’s write!

Stay tuned for the next tutorial and more “maps” for getting the story out. If you like what I have to say, you can also follow me on Twitter, Instagram, or on Facebook.

Step 1: Begin

One of the hardest things to remember in any part of your life is to stop and return to the beginning. Think about it for a moment: You’re deep within a plot of a story you began with so much excitement. You’re staring at the words but you get frustrated because something isn’t right. Maybe the characters are flat, your protagonist isn’t doing what (s)he’s supposed to, or perhaps you can’t figure out where to go next.

Any of this sound familiar?

When I mentor, one of the things I try to convey is how to keep connecting things. Connections are a constant reminder to your reader. It says, “Hey, pay attention”, and it gives tiny fireworks of moments to the readers mind.

They don’t have to be big things. It may be a secret thought, something subtle and delicate, connecting your character and the reader. But it makes the connection personal and intimate, and in turn, unforgettable.

It can also create a three dimensional version of your character, allowing the suspension of believability to become stronger.

Example: Your character seems to know a lot for their age.

Go back to step one. The character knows a lot because…?

  1. Maybe they were a gifted student
  2. One of their parents taught them things at an advanced level due to their own level of expertise
  3. They were part of an experiment which enhanced their learning capabilities
  4. They are supernatural (vampire, werewolf, etc)

Do you see how it gives opportunity for storytelling? You know these things about your character. Now you have to create this for the reader without a boring info dump.

Which is more engaging?

Marie was smarter than most girls at her school. She was always getting A’s without ever studying.

Or

Marie glanced at the page. Her father taught her to speed read as a child, allowing her to take in more information at a rapid rate. She smiled when she overheard her classmates making up wild stories of how she never studied.

In the second example we are in on the secret. We know Marie’s dad taught her to speed read, she enjoyed the speculation from her classmates, and it increases our perception of who Marie really is.

When I write, I like to create time lines. When your eye has a guide, it stays focused. I know where my story starts and where it ends. Everything between must connect the two points. If I get stuck, I slide back to step one.

Who is my main character?

What is the connection between the main character and the story?

What is the conflict?

What is the resolution?

Asking these questions will always circle you back to the beginning. Knowing your roots is only the first part. Letting them expand and settle into the earth is a skill we can all learn.


If this article has helped, please pass it on and comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

The Guide to Handling a Bad Review

One of the things I hear a lot about or get asked about are reviews.

Let me begin by saying this: as a new author I fell into this trap and it’s a very ugly trap to be in.

Reviews are never going to be 5 star across the board. In fact, having some bad reviews mixed into the gushing and glowing reviews is a good thing. It gives you and your book credibility. If a reader sees nothing but five stars they believe the reviewers are your friends and family.

So rule number one? Embrace the negative reviews.

Embrace them? Absolutely.

Every well thought out review has validity to it. Read it. Process it. Do better. The end.

Rule number two: Do. Not. Respond.

A lot of bad reviewers are also great “trollers”. Don’t get caught up in the fodder storm. You’ll end up wearing shit even if you “win” … which you won’t. It only makes you look bad in the end.

Rule number three: see rule number one, rinse, repeat.

Trust me, I know the temptation to chime in and set people straight. Let’s pick one of my own and put it out there.

I had a “duo” pick up a free copy of my book and review it. A review which seemed to be done in Facebook messenger then copied and pasted on their “review site”.

Reading the review was torture. It felt like a text-based, Mean Girls episode. It was incredibly juvenile but the worst part was when they said I needed serious edits when they themselves could not spell. Including “LOL” in a review is the first clue to run. Anyone who uses “OMG” and “LOL” in a review meant to be taken seriously isn’t worth my time of being upset, let alone a response. And believe me, I value my time.

You’re sending out a piece of art. Art is subjective. Not everyone gets your art and not everyone should. You’re not writing a how-to book so don’t expect everyone to understand your idea.

However, if your negatives outweigh the positives it might be something you need to consider. Take it as a learning experience and move forward. If you’re too busy reading and lamenting over a review you’re not writing and working towards something new. Your readers who enjoy your work are waiting. Get over it, dust your shoulders off, dry your tears, and get to work.

If you allow a nasty reviewer to keep you from doing what you love you’re not meant to be an author. This industry is cut-throat and you are supposed to be the expert. Get back to it or get into your cage. There’s no room for weak spines in horror.

Have you received a bad review? How did you handle it? Want to share a bad review and let us critique it for a good laugh? Leave it in comments!

Remember this one important fact: You write because you love to. Who cares if a couple people don’t like it? Are they so important it’s worth you losing your passion? Let me help you with the answer. No. No they aren’t.

And if you’re a reviewer who likes being nasty and rude for kicks? Go get a hug. Internet trolls are so 1997. It’s time to grow up. And get spellcheck “LOL”.

Get Serious About Writing

Image result for quill and ink

Having done enough conventions and literary panels this year, I wanted to address the question I seem to get most often: How do I stay on track?

Many authors, especially those are who “new” to the craft, struggle with this but it is not exclusive to them. Veteran authors have this issue, too. So how do we stay on track? Stick around! I’ll break it down for you in a couple ways which have worked for me. These aren’t guarantees, nothing works for everyone. Take what works for you and discard what doesn’t.

Comment, share, and re-post if you found something helpful!

Exercise


Physical exercise works for a lot of people but what I’m talking about right now are mental exercises. You have to write often if you’re to get acquainted with the process of writing. Oh yes, there is a process.

The writing process is complex and intricate. You have a singular idea and you must tell it in such a way your readers are able to follow. The trick-no, the skill, is to not allow your reader to be removed from the story. It involves having engaging characters who they can relate to in some way, rhythmic flow and cadence, and making every word count.

Dedication


Work ethic is imperative to becoming a serious writer. Deadlines can be crippling to some authors, and some are invigorated by them. Either way, deadlines are a real thing and a part of writing, like it or not. If you’re writing for “fun” deadlines don’t figure into the equation.

Depending on how long your story is, dedication is required to get through an entire length of story. Day in and day out, you must spend time with the characters you brought to life. It’s a relationship which doesn’t end until the story does.

A writer’s dedication is test when they go through the editing process. You may think you’re done when you type “The End” but the end is only the beginning. Refining your words is the crux of many authors who put in the time, only to go through it all over again. Repeatedly.

The biggest challenge to dedication is your own resolve. Are you committed to this? Yes? Ok, great! Now the real work begins.

Critique/Mentoring


Though these are two different things, I put them together because you must go through at least one (both preferably) to earn your quill. No one shits out gold. Everyone requires editing and critique of some form.

We know what the story is from our perspective. Now, we need to know what others get out of it. This does not mean you must write to appease everyone. If you try, you’ve failed before you’ve put a single word down. What I mean is you must understand how your words form images in other people’s minds. If you have to explain it to your mentor/critique person, you’ll more than likely have to explain it to the readers. This is my mantra and you should also take it into consideration. It’s always better to have several eyes on the story.

Read Your Work Aloud


This is an important skill to learn.

Why? Because

  1. if you’re looking to get published, you’ll face live readings.
  2. it helps you connect the words you write with the flow of natural speaking/cadence/flow

If it doesn’t sound right to you, it most likely does not sound right to readers. I think this is pretty cut and dry.

Having a timeline or outline helps, too.  More in the next post about that.

Read all the time. Read Everything.


Reading works of other authors is non-negotiable. Pull from what you read and learn from it. What works? What doesn’t? What did you love? What did you not like? How can you do better?

Some authors use the excuse, “I don’t want to be influenced by what I’ve read.”

If you’re writing fiction, read non-fiction and vice versa. There’s a way around the “influence” card. Read a shampoo bottle, read up on marketing, check out a book on “How to write” in your own genre.

And oh yeah, last but not least …

Stop Making Excuses


Write every single day. It can be 50 words, it can be 1000 words. Don’t let anyone tell you what your own goal is unless they suggest you aim to be better than you were yesterday.

Excuses are road blocks you set up for yourself. Without them you can accomplish anything.

A Little of This, A Little of That

Sometimes when I sit down to write a blog post, the idea is clear in my head. As soon as my fingers hit the keys, I let out a sigh and realize it is a chaotic mess. I attempt to get all the ideas down into one post and discover I need to break them up. This is my challenge. I know a good blog is one where updates are made regularly but my thoughts don’t work this way. Conversations with other authors give birth to new ideas and, like the change of the wind, they dissipate into another direction.

I decided when I sat down today, this post doesn’t have a main goal. This post would be a menagerie of thoughts poured out in its raw format. I suggest grabbing a nice cup of java and curling up. This might take awhile.

I started this year with a goal. My goal was to help Stitched Smile Publications grow while simultaneously helping my authors grow. It is a daunting task. Stitched Smile Publications, affectionately referred by me as “The House of Stitched”, has approximately twenty authors. On any given day, almost all of them are active. This is a fact, and I love it. Because most of them are brand new, or have less experience than your average published writer they are hungry for guidance, input, attention, and direction. You may think this sounds like a bad thing but it is not. It’s a good thing, trust me. I don’t mind the pressure. I don’t mind the hours I put into it. Believe me when I tell you they reward me in ways I cannot begin to list here.

It can be stressful, yes. Publishing life is not conventional by any means. You have a due date. The due date can change. Running a company in this industry is like creating a monster and having to care for it without knowing anything about the species. You run tests and experiment, you sit back and watch, you keep them on a leash, and then you let them off … hoping it doesn’t turn around and devour you.

It helps knowing I publish horror and dark fiction which makes sense since I give birth to a stable of monsters … and some awesome books from those monsters (wink, wink).

Daily life is never boring. It is never predictable. I never use pen unless I’m signing a contract. My calendar is a living breathing entity.

Starting the year, I planned on attending maybe 3 conventions. As of right now I have surpassed this number. Each one is both exhausting and exhilarating. You walk in looking like a tourist and walk out feeling like you’ve aged 10 years. No matter what, I wouldn’t change a thing. Like all life “on the road” I miss my family, long for my own bed, and wish I could shut my brain off, but while I’m there speaking to each one of you I am fulfilled. This was my calling all along. Having discovered it before it was too late is my blessing.

One of the things I put off this year was mentoring. I had way too much to do, those who were in my group had “real life” stuff taking priority and then I lost one of them. Their time in this world came too soon and it rocked me harder than I thought it would. I wasn’t sure how to proceed and figured it was best to take a moment to heal. The staff of House of Stitched was understanding. Their leader had taken a near fatal hit and not once did they ever waver in their commitment or loyalty. Aboard our vessel you are either all in, or you’re all out. There are no gray areas because each person is a vital organ to the entire whole. We are a family. No one gets left behind.

Reflecting back over almost four years, I have to smile because I never thought we’d be where we are right now. I knew we’d be successful. If you don’t believe something will succeed, there’s no sense diving in. What we exceeded in my expectations was the strength of our bond. I don’t often get emotional, or “sappy” but when I sit and think of everything we’ve been through to get to this exact moment … I’m overwhelmed. Listen, it’s a fact. Horror is a male dominated genre. It is what it is. It doesn’t mean I won’t-or haven’t-earned my place. It simply means I’ve had to fight a little harder. I’ve learned not everyone is reliable, loyalty is hard to find, and people will jump ship at the first signs of a leak. Not everyone who glitters is gold. Not everyone is your friend. I’m sure I can come up with a hundred more cliche’ things to toss out at you. As an adult you think you know them until you wake up and find you’ve missed the signs.

Oh, how many times I wanted to give up!

Each time I threw my hands up and said, “That’s it, I’m done!” another person would message me and say, “You have no idea how much you’ve helped me.”

How can I let them down? How can I let myself down? I can’t just quit. Who are “they” (those slithering naysayers) and what makes them so much better than me?

I keep telling my authors, “Don’t give up.” I’d be a hypocrite if I threw in the towel because things got tough. LIFE is tough. Finding a solution isn’t always easy. Leaders are who and what they are because they can sort through the debris to find the hidden clues. They have insight to carry the ship through the toughest storms. My staff, my authors believe this about me, and so I must believe it about myself. I sound like a self-help book, now. It’s dawned on me. I don’t need a self-help book or inspirational speaker to tell me I can do this. I need to hear myself say it.

I’m glad I fought to stay focused because I’ve met amazing people, and have pushed myself harder and further than I’ve ever pushed myself. I still make mistakes (man, I make mistakes!) but I own them and learn from them. I eat up experience like Wheaties and push to the next benchmark. So, too, must my authors and my staff.

Four years.

Four years and I have full-time, dedicated staff who have learned more with us than in their college classes. Four years and I have life long partners (next stop, SSP Island!). In four short years, I’ve moderated literary panels, been invited to conventions, produced over thirty books, signed over twenty authors, traveled to different states, sold more of my own books, grown as a person, an author, a leader, and as a friend. There is no price I can put on what I’ve attained because I gave myself a chance to follow my passion.

My final, stray thoughts as I close this post?

I think of my parents who didn’t give up when we were so poor we had to hunt through couch cushions to find change for pizza. Who stood by one another, supporting each other’s dreams no matter the sacrifice. Who worked from the ground up to build a business from their dreams and elevated their life due to hard work and sound business sense. Who taught us it was not only OK, but imperative to speak our minds and to let our voices be heard.

I miss my dad who would’ve loved to be here with me, going to these conventions and meeting people who shared his passion. This was the life he loved but he passed before I could share it with him. I know his influence is always there with me but it still replaces the emptiness with a longing.

Most of all, I think of my SSP family and how they made this monster a little more human.