Browsed by
Category: Uncategorized

Writing Takes Courage

Writing Takes Courage

This year I did something really crazy.  I published my first e-book.  It’s a short story titled “Expiration Date” you can find it here .  The first few hours after officially putting this story out there to the world I was excited.  I am officially a published author – self-publishing e-books is so simple – yay go me.

Then fear set in.

Why did I just do that?  What if the story wasn’t ready?  I know my story could have been better, I should have waited.  What will people think when they read this?  What if they think I’m weird?  What if they don’t want to read anything I write ever again?  What if they laugh at the typos I didn’t catch?  What if what if what if!

What’s funny is I’m not afraid of the criticism of strangers, we live in a judgemental world, and I know some people will hate my story and be mean enough to tell me about their dislike in a rude way.  I know I’ve done it before.  It’s easy to forget that behind every story good or bad there is an author who worked super hard and loves that story and feels heartbroken every time somebody insults it.  If I’m an author and forget this, how much easier is it for those that don’t write to forget this.

Much worse than a stranger’s criticism is the thought of having my close friends and family read my story.  These are people who know me, who I see on a regular basis.  I’m not worried about their insults, I’m worried about their hidden thoughts.  They may tell me my story is great while laughing at me on the inside.   What if they think I’m incredibly immature because of my ideas, or think my romance scenes are pathetic, or overall are just disappointed in me and think it’s cute that I’m interested in this writing thing but don’t think I’ll ever become a “real author”.

I know, a lot of those thoughts are a little dramatic, but I’m a writer, being dramatic is what I do.  

I wish I had a magic solution to this problem of fear.  I think all authors and all artists struggle with it.  Sadly, I don’t think we will ever get over our fear completely, but it never hurts to throw a little reason into the fear tornado either.

So next time you are afraid of what people will think of your writing, remember these things:

  1. Not everybody is a writer – They will be proud of you just for trying, and they won’t see all the flaws as clearly as you do, because it’s not how they are wired.  Just like if you don’t play sports you can’t tell an ok player from a great player, or if you don’t paint you can’t see the flaws in an artists technique the same goes for writing/reading.  Non-writers won’t notice the flaws in your story so don’t stress about it.
  2. You can learn a lot from failure – I published this book as an experiment, and in some ways, it’s good if I fail – because I can learn from it.  I intentionally didn’t spend an excessive amount of time on this story because I wanted to get it out there.  If you are going to fail, do it fast so you can get closer to success.
  3. Your friends and family love you – if the people in my life are going to secretly judge me behind my back then I haven’t picked very good people to share life with.  Knowing my friends and family they probably won’t have a single negative thought about anything because they love me and will be blinded to errors in my story by that love.
  4. This story doesn’t define you – This is my first published work!  If it stinks and gets terrible feedback that doesn’t say anything about me as a person or a writer.  I am always growing and changing, so what I send out into the world on one day cannot define me the next.  Just as the outcome of your first t-ball game doesn’t define what sort of baseball player you’ll be, neither does your first book.

I’ve been using these arguments to work up the courage to shout from the mountaintops that I’ve published an e-book and I’m charging money for people to read it because I take myself and my art seriously.  But the fear is still there.

That’s the thing about fear – it’ll always be there.  At some point, we have to have the courage to kick fear aside and do what needs to be done.

This whole post I’ve wanted to make excuses for my work in case it’s bad, but that’s not how you sell a story.  I loved writing this short, I think it is a fun and exciting tale that will leave you thinking. So I’m going to stand up for it.  This is an awesome story that I think you should read!  So feel free to buy it here, here and here 😉

Stay Amazing my Friends,

Love, Hate and Guilt

Love, Hate and Guilt

Summer has been crazy. You might have noticed Kayla and I have been a bit behind on our blog posts and for that we sincerely apologize. We do have some super exciting things coming up including a guest post and a “How To” on writing female characters! While getting these posts edited I was digging through my blog drafts and found this beauty that suffered the pitfalls of the editing spiral. I have rescued it from that dangerous whirlpool just for you all, feel free to applaud.

We’ve posted a lot of writer advice lately, which means it was high time for some fun, and what is more fun than talking about story elements that we love and story elements that we hate and story elements that we shouldn’t love but do. Not sure which is more fun to discuss, so here are my top three loves, hates and guilty pleasures when reading books.

Loves

1.) Romance: I love a good romance, where the characters are perfect for each other, when they pine after each other, help each other, rescue each other, and are better because of each other. There is a very fine line here where the romance gets too cheesy, or too unrealistic or just plain desperate, but when it is done right it is amazing and gets me every time.
2.) Fantasy: One of my favorite things about reading and writing is how it gives us all the ability to live lives we never will, or never could, live in the real world. When I read I want to be transported to a storyline that I couldn’t experience outside the pages of a book. Fantasy is the easiest way to do this, so I read a lot of it. But it’s not the only way. There are lots of good realistic fiction and even nonfiction books that can do the same. But the fantastic elements such as dragons and wizards and unicorns are always my favorite.
3.) Humor: I love unexpected humor in a book, those funny characters that brighten up a really serious scene, or books that don’t take themselves too seriously and allow their characters and worlds to be caricatures instead of real people. Fred and George Weasley from Harry Potter, The Martian, and pretty much every book I’ve read by Janet Evanovich are like this. With these books I’m not looking to gain some deeper knowledge about the world, I’m getting a quick and easy read that is an awesome adventure. This is also a good reminder to me as a writer to lighten up a bit. We don’t all have to write the next great American (or any other country) classic. Sometimes we can write purely for entertainment leaving behind all of the rules and just having fun!

Hates

1.) Love Triangles: These have not only been overdone, but they have been overdone poorly. Not only are love triangles unrealistic – what person in their right minds spends all of their efforts fighting over a person who can’t properly reciprocate their feelings of devotion – but they kind of make the feminist within me mad. It is almost always a girl in the middle of a love triangle with the males fighting over her like she is property. Newsflash, if you can’t pick one man, then probably neither of them is who you really want to be with and you can find someone better. Cut your losses and move on, you are better than this. Sorry, that got kind of ranty. I have read a few books that had done love triangles in a way I can tolerate, but in most cases I dislike them and have even stopped reading books because I saw a love triangle developing (I also hate these because the plot will revolve around the triangle and a love triangle does not a plot make). I know some people find love triangles romantic and wonderful and that is totally fine, they are just not for me.
2.) Descriptions that Don’t match Actions: This relates to characters in a book and how they are described. I really, really hate when a character is described as being super smart and thoughtful, but then spends the whole book making stupid choices. Or when characters are said to be confident, but then spend the whole book questioning their choices. I understand characters can change, but in the stories I’m talking about there is no progression. They are just described one way and then act another. I recently read this one book, that had this amazing plot and storyline and pretty much every element I love in a book, but the main character was described completely in contrast to how she acted. She was said to be a thoughtful, rational person who had been super sneaky and spent the past five years going full Mulan and posing as a soldier in the king’s army. But then, when her story began she immediately began making rash decisions and stupidly revealing herself as a girl to everyone she met. A character who had successfully lied about who she was for five years would not have made those choices! Grr, inconsistencies.
3.) Suspense Driven Plots- with no suspense: Ok, this is hard to summarize, but I went through a long streak this winter picking books that had this problem. It goes like this, a new boy moves into town he is mysterious and maybe a bit dangerous. The heroine is inexplicably (and I mean inexplicably) drawn to him he pushes her away at first but little by little she chips away at him. The whole time she is aware that something is off with him, he can do things regular people can’t do. And even though she knows he is bad news she continues to pursue him anyway. Then at the very end, when she finally gets a little self-esteem and demands to know what is going on, she discovers that her love interest is a werewolf or vampire or alien or fill in the blank. Now, I am aware this is a story trope, and on the surface it’s not too bad (besides the female character usually being a super obnoxious mary sue). My real hatred of this story is it takes the entire book for the heroine to figure out the male is a mythical character, but if the reader has done so much as look at the cover or, heaven forbid, read the back of the book they already know this. So, the reader is forced to endure endless pages of the female wondering what this male character is when they already know! It is supposed to be suspenseful and dramatic, but when the reader knows they are reading a vampire novel it is just boring and annoying. If the author had done this whole dance in the first three chapters of the book that would be fine, we could move on and enter into an interesting story right away instead of wasting an entire book just setting up the premise that a human and a fantasy being have fallen in love.

Guilty Pleasures

1.) Attractive Characters: I have probably been brainwashed by Hollywood, but I really enjoy reading about characters who are attractive. Even if a character is described as less than sexy, in my mind I always picture someone pleasant looking. I don’t love when everyone is described as perfection with super model builds, but I don’t mind when every character in a story is appealing with nice hair and a pretty smile. I know characters are supposed to be flawed, realistic and relatable and all that jazz, but I’m superficial and I like pretty things. Feel free to judge me.
2.) Happy Endings: I am a sap for a happy ending, even in a story that doesn’t need one. I also looove a good epilogue. I don’t want to be left hanging to imagine what happened to the characters after the book ends, I want to know how the author envisioned their happily ever after. I understand when books have sad or even neutral endings and I don’t hate it (unless the author does it literally for no reason besides shock value) and I can even enjoy a tragic ending when it really adds meaning to the story, but I almost always prefer a happy ending.
3.) Sequels, Sagas, and Series: These aren’t really bad things, they are just becoming a new norm, especially in YA fiction, which makes them sort of cliche and of course can get over done. But when authors write a good book, with great characters and keep coming up with different plot elements that work I love love love series. Once I am attached to a character I never want a story to end, and I would pretty much read about those characters mowing their lawns if that’s what the author wrote about.

What about you? What story elements do you love, hate, and hate to love? Tell us about them in the comments below.

Stay Amazing my Friends,

5 Lies Authors Need to Stop Believing

5 Lies Authors Need to Stop Believing

As writers we all doubt ourselves from time to time.  Writing stories is hard, messy, overwhelming and overall insane.  Imagine if pregnant moms had to piece their babies together by hand, every cell, every bone, every organ and get it all in the right place – that is essentially what we as authors do.  I would totally go for growing a book in my belly and having it come out perfectly formed 9 months later.  Hmmm….interesting alternative universe idea right there.

Anyways……

Because the writing process is so difficult we start to doubt ourselves.  Can we really do this?  Are we good enough?  And we begin to believe lies about ourselves and our writing.  I am here to tell you these lies need to stop!  You, dear author, are amazing.  Your story is amazing and you can do this.  

Here are the five doubts and lies you need to stop believing so you can start loving yourself and your writing.

1.) You’re Only a Real Author/Writer if You are Published:  This lie could not be farther from the truth.  Listen to me.  If you write (once a year or once an hour) then you are a writer.  You are an author if you write.  Even the dictionary says so.  

 Stop saying you are an “aspiring author”, stop putting down your stories.  Be proud of who you are, what you write, and where you are in the writing process.

 2.) To be a successful writer you need a degree:  This is a real insecurity for me.  I don’t have any formal education in writing, and sometimes that creates a lot of self-doubt.  After all, I’m competing against other authors who have master’s degrees in creative writing, and others who know all the grammar, structure, and styling rules inside and out.  I was educated on the taxonomy of invertebrates #lifeskills.    The only way to combat this self-doubt is with a serious reality check.  You do not need to be formally educated in something to be successful at it.  Were your parents formally educated in raising you?  No?  You turned out pretty okay (I mean I assume so since you are reading my blog).  Was Oprah formally educated in running a talk show?  Was George Washington formally educated about how to start a new country?  Was your cat formally educated on how to be the cutest thing in the whole wide world?  No, no, and no!  A formal education is great, but it doesn’t equal success.  Do you know how many writers have a formal degree but spend their days sitting at a desk job?  Me neither, but I bet it’s a lot.  More important than education is drive.  If you have the drive, determination, and grit you’ll make it.  The skills will come.  What matters more than your knowledge is your character. NOT the characters you create, but you.  Beautiful, wonderful, amazing you!  If you want this you won’t let anything stand in your way.  Still don’t believe me?  Check out these successful authors who all made it in the publishing world without writing degrees: Harper Lee, Michael Crichton, John Grisham, Danielle Steele, Mark Twain and Charles Dickens.

3.) You’ll Never Finish:  As I’ve mentioned before, writing books is a lot of work.  It can feel like an insurmountable hill.  There will always be edits to make, things to improve.  It can start to feel like you won’t ever be done with your story.  This isn’t a lie I permanently believe, but it is one that can really discourage me in moments of weariness.  The finish line can seem so far away that I can’t see the path that will lead me there.  The good news is we don’t need the whole path right now.  We just need our next step.  Not the big next step, the small one.  If I write this sentence, what sentence comes next.  That is it.  Word by word, line by line, page by page you will build your book and you will finish.  It might take 1 year, it might take a lifetime.  I promise it will be worth it, don’t give up.  You’re almost there.

4.) You can’t write because your writing isn’t good enough:  This lie is similar to the lie we tell ourselves about a degree, but can be so much more crippling.  That feeling of fear you get as you stare at the blank page, hating every word you try to put down, comes from this lie.  Every writer experiences this, and do you know what that means?  Every writer hates the way they write.  We are all in the same boat with this one and I have three notes of encouragement for you.  

  • The more you write the better you’ll get.  You might have a 6th-grade education and an idea to completely rip off your favorite novel.  Write that.  Write it terribly, write it shamefully, write it so awfully that it doesn’t even make sense when you reread it.  Then, keep writing, the next story you attempt will be better.  You will start at the bottom, but it will get better from there.  The only way to get better is to practice.
  • You don’t have to do this alone.  Do you ever read the acknowledgments section of books?  I always love reading that part, because it reminds me that every author needs a team.  No author writes, “I’d like to thank myself because I did all this on my own, oh and maybe my cat, she’s cute.”  No, often they have so many people to thank they can’t include all the names.  They have editors, beta readers, cheerleaders, mentors, publicists, and so much more.  You don’t have to bring your story to the finish line on your own.  Find your team.
  • You have a biased viewpoint about writing.  You can only read books written by other writers.  It is physically impossible to read something that wasn’t written by someone. That’s hard.  This means that we are only exposed to the champions of our field.  We read these completed works and think there is no way I can ever do that.  But, reading published books and thinking you are terrible in comparison is like these Olympic swimmers thinking they are awful compared to Katie Ledecky.swimming    We see that they are in the pool at the Olympics, they just see the bubbles from Katie’s feet. We need to remember that most of the people who read our books don’t also write.  They are just readers, on the sidelines.  As writers we are all in the Olympic pool, and that’s pretty darn amazing.

5.) My Story Doesn’t Matter:  Sometimes it can be hard to see how one story in a sea of books could actually be worth writing.  There is no book shortage, there aren’t even any truly original ideas for stories out there anymore.  Why spend so much time and effort just to add one more story to all the noise?  This lie and the following train of thought steals the joy you get from writing, and all the hope your story possesses.  Even in a world full of stories, yours matters.  You are a unique individual and even if you wrote the exact same plot as another thousand stories, you would tell it differently and your version would have value.  Your story might struggle to make it farther than your computer, it still has value.  You might be the next J.K. Rowling, that story matters too.  You might write a serious piece about the political climate of our world, that matters.  You might write werewolf romance novels full of bad puns and teen drama, that matters too.   Your story matters because you matter.  

Writing is hard, but it’s your passion and mine.  So, we soldier on, stop believing the lies, and write write write.

Do you have any lies about writing you are sick of hearing?  How do you boost your writer confidence?  This feels like a place to insert a sappy quote, but I think this post is sappy enough.

Stay amazing my friends,

Books & Beer

Books & Beer

There’s an old writing maxim, often attributed to Ernest Hemingway, that will forever wed the worlds of beer and books: Write drunk, Edit sober. 

A recent Twin Cities event dared to re-imagine that old quote: Write sober….Market drunk.

Ladies and gents, may I introduce you to the Books & Beer Pop-up Bookstore. Love books? Love beer? Love meeting local authors? This is the event for you.

Mid-May I popped in to see the pop-up (hey, you’ve read this blog long enough to know some amount of shameless word play is to be expected) and an impressive line up of Minnesota authors were in attendance. Now, most (not all) writers of literature are painful introverts but the authors at this event were chatting happily over their pints, promoting books, and acting unnaturally extroverted. I think the beer had something to do with it. Hence the new maxim: Write sober, Market drunk

Some Kayla trivia of the day, my favorite things start with B. Baths, bikes, books, blog, beer, baby, oh yeah and Brooke of course. I could go on (but I won’t, you’re welcome). This seemingly incongruous event combined three of my favorite B’s in one awesome literary evening: Books, Beer, and Baby.

The baby was, of course, optional. Husband and I both wanted a beer, and a babysitter – yes, another favorite B – could not be obtained on this particular evening.  But we were not the only parents desperate enough for a creative book-beer pairing to venture out of doors with an infant/toddler. No indeed. Three tiny humans under the age of two were in attendance and Lake Monster Brewing  had a child play area set up. Way to be inclusive Lake Monster! Sweet babies, please take from this experience a love of books and do not grow up to be drunks.

With dark beer in hand and husband/baby in tow, I browsed the long tables and mingled with  Minnesota authors who had set up shop. It was an awesome experience and I took home an important lesson: Drinking local is fun, reading local is awesome.

Our  community is home to so many talented folks. I met fantasy novelists with epic trilogies for sale, youthful poets, and writers of every genre imaginable. I was duly impressed. It was inspiring to see local authors, many self-published or published with small, local presses, confidently promote their books. Many offered friendly words of encouragement when they found out I too was a writer. I am happy to know that when my book is ready I have a warm, open-hearted community to share it with.

Readers and writers connecting, personally and intimately over a brewksi, is not a common occurrence. We often connect over the internet while remaining isolated in reality. But for most of human history storytellers were part of the village. They were community members, just like their listeners. They weren’t celebrity stars who lived far away in a Manhattan tower – inaccessible, unknowable, glamorous – they were your neighbors, regaling you with tales over fermented beverages. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Human nature hasn’t changed. We still love connecting over fermented beverages. We still love stories, particularly when we know the teller.

Go to Paris, Rome, St. Petersburg, New York or any other literary hub and you’ll find café bars where great writers, past and present, started their day with a caffeine hit and moved on to something stronger. Perhaps Lake Monster is destined to be the next Les Deux Magots. I for one hope beer and books become regular and happy bedfellows in our literature community.

The Books & Beer Pop-up Bookstore created an atmosphere where writers and readers could enjoy good books, good drinks, and the company of fellow booklovers and I can’t wait for the next event later this summer. Stay tuned on SS Press and I’ll let you know when it’s happening.

If you’re in need of a book to pair with your favorite beer, check out the local authors who participated in the Pop-Up:

PARTICIPATING AUTHORS:
Kimberlee Ann Bastian
Kate Bitters
Julien Bradley
Scott Burtness
W.S. Datko
J.D.Delzer
Anthony Eichenlaub
Jeff Falkingham
William Fietzer
Angeline Fortin
Kara Jorges
Kim Kane
Briana Lawrence
Catherine Lundoff
Patrick W. Marsh
Annie Meehan
Kenneth E. Olson
Dave Oppegaard
Marcie Rendon
Sam Richard
Ozgur K. Sahin
Jeff Smieding
P.V. Tkach
Tony Writ

Indie First! Buy Books Local

Indie First! Buy Books Local

Independent Bookstore Day is a one day national party celebrating indie bookstores and local book culture. Every year on the last Saturday in April indie bookstores open early and play host to author appearances, live music, doughnuts, costume contests, readings, temporary tattoos, and…literary condoms. That last one is a real thing.

17934680_828834537266082_4331784417086275584_n

Yep, the Indie Bookstore scene in the Twin Cities sure is virile. For the second year in a row the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association has printed an Indie Bookstore Passport for the big day. This year 18 booksellers signed up to be included and book lovers like yours truly spent the day collecting stamps, earning coupons, entering drawings, participating in events, and eating free doughnuts.

Everyone who collected five stamps won a limited edition Twin Cities bookstore map created by Kevin Cannon. Check out this beauty:5e41d9c335802ffc7f0736c8f3da5465

I scored an artsy map, was entered into some pretty sweet drawings, and collected eleven stamps for my passport. That means 11 bookstores in one day with baby in tow. It was a marathon but baby loved it and so did I. We visited many of my favorite shops – Magers & Quinn, Once Upon a Crime, Dreamhaven, Moon Palace Books – and had a blast with face painting, folk dancing, door prizes, bookshop bingo, A Wrinkle in Time read-a-thon (baby loved this especially, that a girl), temporary tattoos, and tasty treats. Besides visiting my favorite places I also discovered a few shops I’d never heard of – Birchbark, Addendum, and Paperback Exchange.

Indie Bookstores aren’t just for in the know hipsters. They stock all the mainstream, pop culture, and YA novel dorkiness you crave. Speaking of which, young adult lovers must check out Addendum. Get this, it’s a bookshop solely devoted to the awesomeness of YA!

If you can believe it all eleven of the shops I visited were within a six mile radius of my house. I am so spoiled. We really do have one of the best literary scenes in the world. Next year baby will be a lot sturdier and I’m hoping to bike us between the shops.

There’s growing public awareness and support for independent businesses. The buzz around buying local is loud and getting louder, but are we being loud enough? Not many among us are willing to call out the biggest threat to local bookstores – Amazon.

Amazon is the evil Empire to the Independent Bookstores Luke Skywalker.

Amazon.com is responsible for a third of online sales, and that number is growing every day. This triumphant success is owed to unfair business and labor practices. I’ve attached an infographic at the end of this post if you want more details.

Melville House was one of the first independent publishers to confront Amazon  over predatory and escalating fees assigned to small publishers, as well as the clandestine war on the publisher Hachette, which it carried out by deliberately delaying shipments and hiking prices. Not cool, Amazon. Melville House is now speaking out against Amazon’s  new physical bookstores, which they take issue with because they don’t employ booksellers. I find Amazon’s aggressive efforts to dodge the collection of sales tax particularly distasteful.

Amazon isn’t your buddy. It’s a giant monopoly that will stoop real low to make a profit.

To avoid sounding overly negative I’d like to be fair and point out some of Amazon’s redeeming qualities. It is the biggest book retailer in the world and they get books to places that people used to not be able to get books. I’m all about books getting into hands! And almost every indie author over the past three years has gone into business online, where they can cheaply and easily publish their work as e-books. I’m all about the empowerment of self publishing! (Shameless plug to please support SS Press’s own indie author Brooke Stewart on Amazon!)

I’m not saying NEVER shop at amazon, I’m just saying shop at indie bookstores MORE. Amazon is wreaking havoc on the book industry and local book culture. It’s a challenging economic climate. If we book lovers don’t support the bookstores than they’re going to disappear.

Independent bookstores are not just stores, they’re community centers run by passionate book lovers who want nothing more than to spread the joy of reading. When you enter an indie bookshop you enter a carefully tended universe of ideas, adventure, and serendipity. They are lively performance spaces, with our Twin Cities shops offering weekly readings, signings, live music, children’s storytime, and family games. Indie bookstores connect authors and readers and foster a book-loving community in a way that Amazon never can and never will.

If we support the local shops then they will flourish, grow, expand, multiply. And that’s the kind of world I want to live in. That’s the world I’ll be voting for with my money.

If you’re journeying into the wild waters of self-publishing consider other options besides Amazon. Did you know that you can buy eBooks at your favorite indie shop? All you need is a Kobo eReading app on your device and you can buy eBooks through many independent bookstores in Minnesota. And when you self publish on Kobo your readers can support an indie shop when they buy. In my experience indie shops are also very open to physical copies. I’ve approached local Moon Palace Books and Boneshaker Books and they’re both willing to take on a short comic or story (in the form of a zine) on a consignment deal. Small peanuts, I know, but it will get my stuff out there and gain me connections with local booksellers, a valuable ally.

Choose local whenever possible. You can bypass big business in favor of local entrepreneurs by: choosing farmers market over target, local cafe over caribou, and family bookstore over amazon.

You don’t have to do it every time, but a little effort from all of us will go a long way.

If you’re tempted by the price at Amazon, check with your local shop, their prices are competitive too. In my experience the local place is never more than a dollar or two over what Amazon is offering. A few extra bucks  from your wallet is worth it when you think of the local jobs provided and the awesomeness of having a corner shop in your hood. And if your local place doesn’t have a book in stock they’ll order it for you. I’m on a first name basis with a few shops and I love that. They treat me like family and I return the favor.

“Consumers control the marketplace by deciding where to spend their money. If what a bookstore offers matters to you, then shop at a bookstore. If you feel that the experience of reading a book is valuable, then read the book. This is how we change the world: we grab hold of it. We change ourselves.”

― Ann Patchett, bestselling author and co-owner of Parnassus Books, an Independent Bookstore for Independent People

I’d love to hear about your favorite bookstores, shoot me a comment with any recommendations both here and abroad. If you’re not sure where to find a store near you check out the Indie Bookstore Finder

Here’s that infographic I promised about the evilness of Amazon:
amazon-infographic
An Hour a Day is Better than No Hours a Day

An Hour a Day is Better than No Hours a Day

photo

Brooke and I are big NaNoWriMo enthusiasts and we write about it a lot here at SS Press…so if you’re sick of reading about NaNo then this isn’t the post for you. Because I’m going to talk about Camp NaNo like the happy little camper I am. Ok, you’ve been warned.

It is day 30 of Camp NaNoWriMo and I just hit the validate project button. Boo-ya.

More than any other NaNo, this Camp helped me start and maintain a daily writing habit. And, yeah, I know I should have developed such an obviously useful and wonderful habitude before now, but hey, better late than never.

I got a lot done this month and the only thing that changed is that I shifted my focus from writing a lot (word count) to writing often (hour count).

My goal was to write one hour a day, everyday in April. That might not seem like much, but that’s the point! One hour a day is only .0416% of the month. The thought was if worst came to worst on a busy day I could always just stay up an extra hour after the family went to bed. One hour of sleep isn’t a lot to sacrifice. I mean, in college I would do anything for an extra hour of sleep but I’ve evolved since then.

Not only did I write everyday, but something magical happened, as something magical ought to do when you plunge into the ocean of imagination, sometimes when I sat down to write an hour…I ended up writing 2…or 3…or 6! Yep, sometimes all you need to do is show up and let the magic happen. And of course there were days when I forced an hour and quit as soon as the timer hit 60 minutes, but more days than not I got on a roll and just kept rolling.

Here’s how it worked. By showing up everyday I developed discipline. When developing a new skill or ability the key is not how much you do it, it’s how often. If you start out spending an exorbitant number of hours in one sitting you’re going to burnout. When a person goes to the gym for the the first couple times, should they A) Workout all day pumping the iron, or B) Do several short workouts a week. B, of course. If this gym newbie gives their wimpy virgin muscles time to heal and grow they’re going to see results, and if they hit the gym a couple times a week and keep that up for a month or two they’ve got a habit. And pretty soon they’re going to be working out for longer stretches and then, voila, you’ve got a Hulk look-a-like.

Here’s advice for those of you struggling to build discipline and form habits:

Don’t write a lot. Just write often. 

Habits practiced once a week aren’t habits. They’re obligations. Like calling your mom. And if you only do something once a week it’s likely only a matter of time before you stop doing it altogether. Unfortunately writing isn’t like your mom. It’s not going to hunt you down and mercilessly attack with disappointed mom face until you are sufficiently guilt ridden and ready to give her as much quality time as her majesty demands. (Mom, in case you are reading this you are an angel and this paragraph is pure FICTION)

Show up, do the work. It’s that simple.

And yeah, it’s also that hard. But I did some amazing stuff this month, and trust me you’ve got an hour per day. It’s only .0416% remember.

Peace & Love, Kayla

 

Life is a Juggling Act and Sometimes You Drop the Ball

Life is a Juggling Act and Sometimes You Drop the Ball

3251114_263955_0c6fe80e6b_p

Life is a juggling act. At work and at home we have things to manage, priorities to balance, and too many balls to keep in the air.

Sometimes  I’m on the ball, pun intended, all areas of my life get some attention, and things revolve perfectly as I toss-catch-throw without a stumble.  Other times…I drop the ball.

I’m a busy lady with a lot on my plate. Big, luxurious blocks of time to write just aren’t possible right now. I can’t quit my job, force my mom to babysit, or stop cleaning/eating/showering/doing life like a passably normal adult. The amount of free time I have now is not likely to increase so I’ve been training myself to take advantage of little snippets of time to write. It feels good to fit writing into my hectic life – even if it’s only 45 minutes every other day.

I was on a roll for a couple weeks as I balanced a full schedule with productive bouts of writing. But then…I dropped the writing ball and I got pretty frustrated with myself.

Which got me thinking, if life in my time-strapped, chaotic world requires juggling, then shouldn’t I learn how to be a better juggler? Instead of complaining maybe I should practice. Afterall, it’s juggling – it’s supposed to be fun!

For some juggling advice I turned to a pro, check out the TED talk. Michael Moschen is arguably the world’s greatest juggler. He’s redefined the art of juggling and it’s been said that calling Michael Moschen a juggler is like calling Michelangelo a stonecutter or Mozart a piano player. Moschen has proven that juggling can be an art.

Anyone can learn to juggle. The odd thing about juggling is that it’s so damn frustrating when you can’t do it and then, when you finally can, you can’t understand why you couldn’t always do it….People always put obstacles in the way of their learning. My job is to help them confront their fear — of hurting themselves, of failure, or of just looking stupid.” – Michael Moschen

So the master of juggling says anyone can do it! But we need to practice and, more importantly, we need to get comfortable with failure. If you expect to do it perfectly every time, right out of the gate, then you are going to get frustrated when you inevitably screw up. We have to first deal with our expectations so that we can loosen up and have fun. Dropping a ball here and there is part of the process.

Balance is essential to juggling — as well as to life. But balance is not an unchanging state of perfection. It’s the ability to respond to an unexpected change. Tiny movements that create a perfect, but temporary, equilibrium. So the key to successfully juggling your priorities is the ability to shift and re-focus. At times, one area of your life will need more attention than the others.f3310d917de4083334075af00dc00a80

I had a great juggling sequence going before I dropped the writing ball. I’d been trying a variety of approaches to scheduling; taking advantage of the hour after baby went to bed, lunch break sprints, and I even did a few words at the co-op cafe before picking up groceries. I was doing great, but then life happened.

I won’t bore you with the details, but something came up at work and then a minor family crisis had me running nervously to and from my hometown. Once the smoke cleared I was a long way from reaching my monthly writing goal, but I didn’t regret taking care of the other areas of my life when they needed it. Becoming a master juggler means learning to prioritize, and learning when to drop a ball or two to keep the others in the air.

So I can’t drop the baby or my health, but writing…for a day or two, or even a week, if I need to drop it to take care of things then I will, and life will go on.

This week I put my affairs in order, finished this blog post, picked up the fallen ball, and started again. I didn’t waste a week. I spent a week caring for things that needed tending.

We’re all jugglers in some way or another, balancing our careers and our families, our passions and our laundry lists.

There is an art to juggling priorities, just as there’s an art to living. Take a look at your time and set your goals. Hold yourself accountable to a deadline BUT don’t sweat it when you need to prioritize life before writing. Try a variety of approaches to scheduling, but keep your mind open and your heart forgiving, because inevitably a variety of emergencies at work and home will conspire to pause your progress.

Try to have fun juggling your priorities, it will make life more enjoyable! It’s not about work-life balance, it’s about work-life flexibility. Be flexible enough to let the rubber ball drop so you can spend time caring for the fragile parts of your life. Beware extremes and respect all priorities.

I had a bad week, but life goes on, and everyday I’m getting better at juggling.

I’d love to hear about how you keep the balls in the air, or manage the fallout after they drop. Stay positive, writing buddies! And stay tuned to hear about our plans for taking on Camp NaNoWriMo as well as some super secret super exciting news about SS Press.

Peace & Love, Kayla

How to Get Stuff Done

How to Get Stuff Done

Last time I talked to you all about being intentional with your writing time.  How have things been going?  Good, great, terrible, all of the above?  After my extremely insensitive teaser, it’s time for the big reveal!  The most effective tool I know for stopping the editing spiral in its tracks and staying intentional in your writing time is…

– DEADLINES!

Whoa, sorry guys all caps is not the best look for any word that starts with “dead” but, far from killing you DEADLINES are what will save your story and keep you in the writing habit.

If you are a fan of any big name author (like James Patterson, Janet Evanovich or Stephen King) you might have noticed something kind of crazy incredible about them.  They publish books EVERY year!  Some of them even publish multiple books a year.  

Now, there are different strategies that help authors accomplish this feat such as ghost writers, or co-writing a novel, but still, how do they make awesome books so quickly?

You guessed it DEADLINES!  These authors have a whole crew of people holding them accountable to their DEADLINES (sorry, can’t stop won’t stop) and keeping them focused on getting their books published.

Wow, that would be amazing.  New life goal right there.  Sadly, for those of us on our first books, who still have full-time jobs and full-time lives this just isn’t our reality.  It can be hard to stay on track with writing because our desire to write is the only thing motivating us to push forward.

But what happens when we have a rough day at work, or when our kids will not go to bed, or when a new season of Fuller House comes out on Netflix, or when we just don’t feel like writing some days?  Yep, zero writing gets done.

DEADLINES are a source of external motivation that can help you push through those writing slumps, overcome the busyness of life and finally finish your novel! Ready to make some life changing goals with me?

To create good DEADLINES there are four types of goals you will need: Short-Term, Mid-Term, Long-Term and Ultimate

Short term:  These are goals that you want accomplished within a month’s time or less.  Maybe you have a daily goal of 15 minutes of writing time or a weekly goal of 2000 words.   Or maybe you have a short term goal of 50,000 words in one month (Camp NaNoWriMo is just around the corner guys).  Whatever the case these short term goals are the baby steps towards accomplishing your larger goals, or to mix metaphors, the individual bricks that are creating your pyramid.

Mid-Term:  These goals are the middle ground achievements, the big steps towards completing your ultimate and long-term goals.   Things like finish the first draft, or revise Chapter 6, fit into this category.  It might take you some more time to achieve these goals, but when combined with your short-term goals they don’t feel too overwhelming yet.

Long-Term:  Your long-term goals are the broader strokes of your story.  Finish your novel, build a successful blogging empire, publish some short stories, etc.  These are big things that without the more bite-sized steps of the short and mid-term goals would easily overwhelm you.  These are the things you are focusing to achieve when you set your smaller goals and the things that will feel SO GOOD when you can check them off of your to-do list.

Ultimate:  The Ultimate goal is your finish line.  It’s what you want to accomplish as a writer.  For me, this is get my novel published!  It could be something else for you.  Maybe your ultimate goal is just to write a complete story for yourself, or perhaps you want to make a living as a full-time writer.  Whatever the Ultimate goal, you use that to create your own set of DEADLINES

Woo, we have some goals now, but a goal does not a DEADLINE make.  To turn goals into DEADLINES, you have to take each goal and give it a “due date”.  Essentially, you’re putting all of your goals into one really big, crazy detailed timeline. Let’s break this down.

To start making your timeline, you start with your Ultimate goal.  Ask yourself “When do I want to achieve my Ultimate goal?” Now ask yourself “When can I realistically achieve my ultimate goal?”  Combine the two answers together, skewed towards the realistic end, and you have your ultimate DEADLINE!

 Example:  Ultimate Goal = Publish Novel  Deadline = 12/31/2019

Now that you’ve given your ultimate goal a DEADLINE, you need to plug in your long-term goals on the calendar.  Think of it in terms of “What do I have left to do before I can achieve my goal?”  Some of these goals can be assigned vague dates, as odds are they are still pretty far away.

Example:  To publish by Dec 31st 2019 you need:

  • Two more rounds of editing – 6/1/2019
  • Knowledge about the publishing process  – 8/1/2019
  • A Decision on self-publishing vs. traditional – 1/1/2019
  • A ready made audience of people waiting to read my book (optional) – 12/1/2019

 

The long-term goals are still far away, so there are lots of stopping points along the way to be filled in with your mid-term goals.  Again ask “What do I need to do to reach my long-term goal?

Example:

Goal= 2 Rounds of Editing

-First Round edits – 12/31/17

-Second Round edits – 12/31/18 (leaves 6 month buffer)

Goal = Learn about the publishing process

-Begin researching 2/1/2019

Continue down your list of long-term goals until you’ve given them all a start doing date, or broken them down into smaller jobs that you’ll start working towards right away.  Now you need to do the final step and make those short-term goal DEADLINES.  

I like to break these down by month, it’s enough time to get things done, but no so much that I can procrastinate and self-sabotage.  You might have to do some basic math to calculate good short-term goals

Example:  Finish first editing round

Total scenes = 72 Total Time =12 months

72 scenes divided by 12 months = 6 scenes per month

Deadlines

Revise scenes 1-6 by 1/31/17

7-12 by 2/28/17

13-18 by 3/31/17

…and so on and so forth.

The key to short-term DEADLINES is to make them concrete, and manageable.  With this strategy each month you’ll be crossing goals off your list!  Visually seeing that progress will keep you motivated and spur you on towards writing greatness!

The one caveat to all of this is DEADLINES only work if you stick to them.  My recommendation is to share your ultimate and short-term DEADLINES with everyone you can.  The more people you’ve told, the more reason you will have to stick to them.

Those are my tips and tricks to creating DEADLINES to get stuff done.  What are your ultimate goals, for writing, or just for life?  Do you have any life-hacks for how you turn your long term goals into bite sized pieces?  Let us know in the comments below!
Stay Amazing My Friends,

Sorry Kids, Mama’s Got a Hot Date with her Novel

Sorry Kids, Mama’s Got a Hot Date with her Novel

One of the hardest things I have to keep re-learning in life is that to get anything done you have to be intentional about it.  Things don’t just happen.  If I want to spend more time with my husband – I have to be intentional about setting up date nights.  If I want to have more money in my bank account I have to be intentional about budgeting each month.  And if I want to write a book, I have to be intentional about my writing.

Sigh…that all sounds like a lot of work.  

Sometimes goals that seem difficult can have simple solutions.  To spend more time with my husband I took my 2017 kitten a day calendar (I know awesome right) and I systematically scheduled one date night a month before anything else could vie for my time.  My husband is numero uno in my life so why not make him numero uno on my calendar.  

If only scheduling my writing time was that easy.

The problem with writing is before you are published, and sometimes even after, your writing doesn’t hold a value that is easy to define.  Right now, my writing does not bring income into our household, does not get shared with many (if any) people, cannot be given as a gift, and is over all not necessary to the general day to day function of my life.  All it really does is make me happy – which is awesome – but lots of other things also make me happy so…oops it’s been three days and I haven’t thought about writing.

Thankfully, I do not have to justify the time I spend writing to anybody but myself.  I am surrounded by amazing people who believe in me (probably more than I believe in myself) and help me to seek out my writing goals.

Despite that awesome advantage – often times I still struggle to justify my writing time to myself.  Oh, it’d be great to write today, but Lizzy is coming over at 6:00 and we usually eat around 5:15 and I have to walk the dog so I’ll only have like ten minutes and I’ll just write tomorrow because my story will still be there, Lizzy doesn’t come over every day.  Tomorrow I’m volunteering and that’s going to eat up most of my night, when I get home I could write, but I know I’ll be too worn out and I’ll choose watching television or maybe reading.  Wednesday looks promising but after being busy two nights in a row the house will be a disaster and it’ll stress me out too much to find my writing zen and then it’s suddenly Saturday and I haven’t written a single word all week.

The thought is always there – but with making time for writing the thought just isn’t enough.  I can’t only intend to spend time writing every day (or most days) I need to plan my day around my writing time.  

This sounds a little hard core.  Sorry mom, I can’t talk to you right now because I’m writing, I’ll call back later.  Kids make your own pb&J’s tonight because mama’s gotta hot date with her novel.  Thanks for understanding that the house is a mess Lizzy, I was focusing on writing instead of cleaning.

It feels strange, saying no to people – saying no to things that you enjoy to do your writing.  After all, your writing will always be there, but you only get so many opportunities to go out for lattes with Lizzy.  

That’s sort of the problem though – unless you get your butt in gear and finish your story your writing will ALWAYS be there.  You won’t ever finish because you keep putting other things that feel more important, more urgent or more fun ahead of it.

If you want to publish your book nothing is more important than your writing time.  It is sacred, it is holy, it is the only thing standing between a rough draft and a finished novel.  As much as I wish little writing elves would come and work on my book every night, that doesn’t happen.  I need to write it, revise it, edit it finish it.  And all that takes time.  Like a lot of time.

It takes so much time that it feels overwhelming, impossible even.  But you can do it, because if you remember my last post your writing only needs 3 things: To make sense, be complete and have something that’s special.  To get those three things you need to be intentional about creating space for your writing.  So here’s some tips to help you do that.

  1. Do it early:  I prefer to write around 7-8 at night, but that’s a terrible scheduling choice.  It’s easy for one little thing to take more time than I think and then bam it’s 9:00 and I haven’t written yet and I’ll decide to go to bed instead of write.  If I write earlier, like 5-6 before I start doing other things with my night I get it done!
  2. Schedule it: If you keep a day planner, block out your writing time.  If you like writing fewer days but bigger chunks put that time on your calendar, reserve it, be intentional about refusing to make plans during that time.  It will feel strange at first, telling your friends you can’t do something because of your “hobby” or calling a babysitter for your kids so you can stay home and write, but you’ll be so glad you made those choices once you have a published book on your hands
  3. Remind yourself why you write: If you are a writer then you need to write, you can’t deny the urge forever, put up frequent reminders everywhere that tell you why your story is more important than the new season of Project Runway Junior (But OMG have you watched it though?!?!)
  4. Don’t overschedule yourself:  the end of 2016 was really crazy for my, I overscheduled myself and was running on fumes for far too long.  Even though I wanted to write, I did not have the energy because the rest of my life was wearing me out.  To write well we need to be well first.  Make sure you are giving yourself time to relax along with write.  One thing I’m doing (which who knows if it will work) is reserving one weekend a month as off limits for making social plans.  This will give me a chance to have 2 days to reset my life and get back on track with things so I have the mental strength to write.
  5. Check out my next blog post:  This tip will be your biggest battle against procrastination, and slacking on intentionality about your writing time, but it needs a whole post to explain so you’ll have to be on the lookout for it in a few weeks (mwahahahaha – but trust me it’s worth it).

With the start of a new year (you know like two months ago) I love the opportunity to pause, and reset my priorities in life.  If writing is one of yours you owe it to yourself to start being intentional (or keep being intentional) with your writing time.  It’s going to take a lot of hours, some tears, some long days, some long nights and a whole lot of imagination but I fully believe that we will all get there!
Stay Amazing My Friends,

Plunging into Editing

Plunging into Editing

Every winter hundreds of people all over the world willingly dive into a frozen body of water. Insane, right? It’s called the polar bear plunge and it’s done in the name of charity.  I admire these brave and generous souls. It must be scary, not to mention extremely uncomfortable, to strip down to your skivvies and run full tilt into an icy lake.

This winter I will be taking a different sort of plunge. Instead of diving into frigid water, I will be plunging into the wild, wild world of editing a novel.

In a previous post I revealed how long it took me to finish my first draft – too long! I don’t want to repeat that same mistake with editing. Polar plungers know by instinct not to stay too long in the cold water. I mean, you don’t want to end up like Leonardo di Caprio in the Titanic, am I right? A quick icy plunge is all fun adrenaline and happy games, a too long submersion is death by hypothermia.

Brooke recently warned us about getting lost in the editing spiral and I am determined to make my editing journey efficient and mercifully quick. T0 do that I need to get my act together in a major way. So I am making a plan and sticking to it! Here are my five steps to a complete second a draft:

Step 1: Take a break

I’ve already completed this step. I haven’t looked at my story since August, yeesh that’s a long time, whoopsie! I can hardly remember what I wrote, but that’s a good thing for one important reason: I’m coming back to my story with fresh eyes. Fresh eyes are important because if you begin the revision process immediately you are still too familiar with your work. To edit effectively, you need to possess objectivity, which means you need time to forget. I’ve been hiding from my draft for five months so now I’m ready to tackle it with cold, objective clarity. Though I probably shouldn’t have waited longer than three months. It’s hard not to disconnect from your work after nearly half a year off. Oh well, lesson learned.

Step 2: Double check the map

When you find yourself facing a long and arduous journey through confusing, uncertain territory, it’s best to pack a map. The map of your story is an outline. I’m going to put in a lot of time up front in the editing process making sure my plot is airtight. The plan is to spend the month of February combing my draft for plot holes, timeline errors, unanswered questions, and incomplete scenes. These are the problems that cannot go unattended. As Brooke told us in her last post, a story needs to be complete and make sense. I do not want to enter the second draft without a sensical and complete plot. Knowing exactly where the story is going and how it gets there, step by step will save me a ton of editing effort down the road. Plus, a thorough read through will identify the problems that need fixing.

Step 3: Plunge into Editing

Once I have my airtight plot ironed out I’m planning to take that icy cold plunge and jump right into revising. I’ve never attempted this before and I’m a little nervous. I want to do a good job but I don’t want to spend too much time in the icy water. I don’t want hypothermia, I want to finish a second draft! The name of the game is discipline. I’m not yet sure how I will be fitting editing into my busy life but ideally I’d like to commit to two hours a day, five days a week. Stay tuned for an update on my progress.

Step 4: Contact the Beta Readers

Other human beings are indispensable to the editing process. Beta readers can be literary minded friends and family or they can be paid professionals. While they aren’t editors, they are essential. Like in step one, you need fresh eyes on the story. If you don’t get other eyes on your story then you are operating in a vacuum and your story will suffer for it. Another human is going to see things that you will not. Face it, as writers we are in love with our characters and our stories, and love, as they say, is blind. Beta readers will see flaws in your favorite character’s development and they will point out when your descriptions aren’t clear. I’m excited to have a second draft that makes enough sense to share, and I have a few literary lovers in my life who are excited to receive.

Step 5: Make it Shiny & Pretty

I’m not going to worry about step number five until I have a second draft that I can be proud of. While working on draft two I will correct and polish as I go but I’m not going to focus on nit-picking my grammar, word choice, or punctuation. I’m going to save that joyful task for later. After the first round of revisions and beta readers I’ll polish up my sentences and make my story shine. Anyway, it’s for the best if I don’t get too far ahead of myself right now.

“The best writing is re-writing.” -E.B. White

mistakes-1756958-1

Well, here I go, deep breath, time to edit. Wish me luck! Excuse me while I go stock up on red pens.