7 Reasons You Should Be Reading Comics

In my previous post about where to find motivation as a fiction author, I mentioned the beauty and inspiration that can be found in comic books. I didn’t start reading comics until I was 30 years old. Like many people who don’t read them, I figured comics were all about Batman, Superman and other heroes that had become very mainstream and commercialized. I was so glad to be proven wrong.

It was my partner who got me into comics. He has been a fan for years. The first time he took me into a comic book store, I was overwhelmed by the variety of characters and genres. In many cases, I couldn’t see the works being made into novels because the artwork was so vivid and grand.

As a minimalist, comics were a struggle for me at first because I needed the physical copies. Each volume was like a story and an art book in one. Sorry avid e-reader fans but it’s very difficult to read them on Kindles and Nooks. I do suggest purchasing the physical copies. These gems are so worth it!

Clicking on any of the pictures below will lead you to the Amazon page for that volume, providing you with detailed descriptions of plot as well as reviews. These are currently my top seven reading recommendations and also the seven reasons you should be reading comics. Enjoy!

1. Low

This was the first comic series that I picked out for myself. I was looking for something based underwater to help inspire me on a piece I was working on titled The World Beneath (still a WIP). I did a little research and Low by Rick Remender was the only thing I could find and behold- it had outstanding reviews so I purchased volume 1.

Remender has been quoted as saying that he normally writes such dark characters and how odd it was for him to write one of the main characters in Low because she is so optimistic it’s almost annoying at times. But it pays off. Low takes you into a violent and imaginative world filled with the light of hope and the darkness of despair. Not recommended for children. Expect sex, nudity and violence. The links to each volume are in the pictures below.

2. Descender

I cannot tell you what first inspired me to pick up this story but it quickly became one of my favorites! Written by Jeff Lemire, Descender is the tale of a boy robot looking for his long-lost childhood companion and that childhood companion, now grown into a man, looking for his childhood robot – amidst a war where humans and robots don’t exactly see eye to eye… A strange twist of Romeo and Juliet? Perhaps.

While there is some violence and adult themes, this series is far more child friendly than the one previously mentioned. As with Low, I believe there is only one or two more volumes left in the series so join in on the fun! As before, the pictures below will send you to their Amazon page where you can view plot details and reviews.

3. Animosity

Animosity took me a while to find. It wasn’t readily available in our local comic shops at the time and shipped from overseas when I ordered from Amazon. Now that it’s more popular, it’s easier to to get your hands on. Personally, I’ve only gotten through the first volume but I absolutely loved it. I mean there is a talking hound named Sandor after the Game of Thrones character! Who doesn’t love that?

As with many of these more “adult” comics, there is violence to be expected but no nudity.

4. Heathen

I hope that this one volume isn’t the end of the series. I want this one to continue but haven’t laid eyes on a volume two. Dealing with Vikings and gods, this all female cast portrays some very strong female characters and talks about some of society’s more pressing issues today. If the authors or reading this – I beg of you – CONTINUE!

5. Saga

It took me a while to get into this one which was shocking because it’s extremely popular in comic circles and is considered one of the top best sellers. My partner is a big fan of the series so I borrowed his volumes and started reading.

As with many modern comics, there are strong female characters but Brian K. Vaughn has created a vast ensemble of diverse male and female characters (and robots and ghosts and a cat that can tell when you’re lying…) Part of the reason it took me so long to become attached to this story was because I hate the two main characters. I don’t care for them or their love story. But like with many other popular pieces of fiction (Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings) it’s not the main characters that everyone falls in love with. Instead, it’s the vast number of supporting characters who end up with just as big of a role as the series marches on.

Contains sex and violence but not as gory as Harrow County (mentioned below). Saga is extremely creative and like Heathen, touches on a lot of society’s hot button topics on a grander scale.

6. Reborn

I picked this one up on a whim because the back cover got me hook, line and sinker! As far as I can tell this is a stand-alone and won’t have future volumes – which is fine. The story is perfect the way it is and doesn’t leave room for much elaboration.

There were a lot of things in this single volume that I did not see coming. I love it for being so unpredictable as I can usually predict endings beforehand. Any author who can fool me deserves my thanks. The picture below will take you to the Amazon page with full plot descriptions and reviews.

7. Harrow County

I don’t know why I didn’t expect to like this story. After all, I love a good horror. Horror comics usually have their own section in the store but they are still not as great in number as Fantasy and Science Fiction. That doesn’t mean they aren’t as enjoyable!

Sometimes violent yet always imaginative, there is a sense of urgency throughout the series that I love. I find each volume hard to put down once I pick it up. Props to Cullen for writing such an engaging plot and lovable main character. Check out the links below for story details!

Keep an eye out for more recommended reading posts.

Happy Reading!
-R

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3 Ways to Find Motivation as a Fiction Writer

The joy of writing had disappeared. The sense of wonder, awe and accomplishment was no longer there. Suddenly, writing became a grueling task, a chore. It became draining. All motivation was gone. Sound familiar? Has this happened to you? Because it’s definitely happened to me. That’s when I knew I had problem with motivation.

What was my solution?

I had to step away for a bit and get back into writing for fun. I had to regroup and find the joy again. If you’re struggling, I suggest you do the same. Instead of trying to force yourself into some strict routine, take a step back. Take a break. The problem for me was, I didn’t know what to step back to. If it came down to it, I was willing to go back to reading both poorly and well written fan-fiction to get my motivation back. The first thing I did was the hardest…

1. I allowed myself to slack off.

It’s one of the hardest things to do. Beforehand, I felt guilty when I didn’t write. The guilt wouldn’t put me in a writing mood and it went into this downward spiral of guilt and not writing, falling even more behind. I knew that I was doing myself a great disservice because this was my dream- this is my dream and there is no magic hand that’s going to write your book for you- trust me, I’ve looked.

I am not ashamed to admit that I tried my hand at services like Upwork where you can both be a ghostwriter, and hire ghostwriters. (Note: A ghostwriter is someone who writes but doesn’t take creit for their own work. Many times celebrity biographies are written by ghostwriters). To make a long story short, I handed a ghostwriter an outline to have them write short stories for me. In the end, no matter how talented the writer was, it wasn’t my voice- wasn’t my heart and soul. My own ideas felt foreign, strange and robotic. They lacked meaning and feeling. I refused to put my name on it and regarded the entire experience as a waste of time and money – two of my most precious resources. Looking at it as a learning experience makes it appear as less of a waste.

You can tell five different people to draw a tree and get five different distinct drawings of a tree. The bottom line is, only you can make this happen and the point of any goal is to ultimately be happy, right? Life isn’t supposed to be some grueling chore. It’s supposed to be fun. We’re supposed to live life.

2. I went back to reading fan fiction (both good and bad), novels, and I started reading comic books.

I’m not talking about your typical Batman/Avengers/Superman comic books that we all think of. If you haven’t been into a comic shop, I invite you to check out your closest one. Within comic book stores are hidden worlds from secret imaginations. My partner is actually the one who got me into them. He, too, thought of comics as many of us who haven’t read them do. Overwhelmed and not sure where to start? Here are 7 unique and imaginative comics to get you started.

Secondly, have you ever heard the phrase “evil begets evil?” Well it’s the same way with art- art begets art. Introverted? Don’t worry – most people are nowadays. Venturing out to an art gallery or museum won’t kill you. On a budget? Washington D.C. has free museums. We’ve been there several times and never see the same thing twice. I’ll be sure to write a post about our D.C. adventures and link it here.

3. I traveled more.

Piggy-tailing off of the last paragraph, we started traveling and going on more trips, trying new restaurants and experiencing new things. Instead of burying myself in our home and trying to lock myself in a room until the words came out, I got out of the room. I got out of my comfort zone and familiar surroundings. I tried new things.

You don’t have to go far. I’m not asking you to leave the country or even leave the state/providence. Try something new. Live your life and you’ll find that your writing will start to flourish.

Sometimes we often take for granted our own backyards. And by that I mean that we don’t take the time to explore our hometown or the town next door. Eat at a new restaurant, experience new flavors. While routine and habit can be nice, going to the same restaurants, ordering the same foods, seeing films in the same theater, taking the same route to work and even buying groceries in the same store can stall creativity. Your brain needs new experiences, new triggers.

Have you ever noticed that many people who retire and have no goals or ambitions, often deteriorate in health and die soon afterwards? Don’t be that person! Experience life. Set goals up and get out. Your writing will thank you for it!

Happy writing.

Blog art created with Canva

Top 3 Ways to Establish Routine

Dear readers, I’m back. It’s been several months since my last real post and for that, I do apologize. You see, many will tell you that one of the keys of being a successful writer (or being successful at anything) is routine. I confess, I struggle with routine. Big time. This is probably evident will my lack of consistent blog posts.

First and foremost, I envy you. Yes. It’s true. Said it and meant it.

I envy those of you who are students living at home with your parents and those of you who are stay-at-home parents and spouses. I envy the unemployed. Why? Because your schedule is more free and flexible than mine. You can sleep in or take naps in the middle of the day to recover from a bad night’s sleep. You don’t have to deal with people pissing you off at work or during your commute. In a way, I despise what little routine I have.

I have a problem writing at the same time everyday. Truth be told, even though I have a regular Monday-Friday 7-330 job, sometimes (depending on the work load, which is entirely reactive and unpredictable) it becomes a 6am-4pm job or a 5:30 am to 530 pm job. My hours fluctuate but are at least 7-330 and that doesn’t include the traffic (which is horrendous when you have 40,000 employees trying to leave the southern tip of a peninsula at the same time.)

Some authors say that in order to be prolific or successful you need to cram writing in every second you can-like the commute to work. Well, even if I wasn’t driving, I’m one of those types that gets motion sickness if I try to read in a car. I get headaches and nausea. So even taking an Uber would be out of the question (and a waste of money since I have a car in good working condition, as does my man.)

Do I sound like I’m just making excuses not to write yet? Writers can be good at that.

I also lack discipline. It takes a surprising amount of willpower to make yourself sit in front of a screen. As much as our society looks at screens everyday, you’d think that would be easy and it is when you’re playing a game or watching a good movie but it isn’t always great when you’re playing god. And it isn’t always great when you’ve already spent your entire workday staring at a screen, ripping your hair out dealing with HTML code or filling in MS Excel spreadsheets. After eight hours of that, your eyes need a break whether you’ve got “computer glasses” or not.

Forming a routine is not easy for everyone. I’ve heard that once you begin a habit, it will be hard to break. I suppose my current habit is making excuses not to work on my novels, the stories and ideas that I love so much. It’s true. I love those stories and ideas but I’m certainly not treating them like I do. By neglecting them like a bad lover, my creativity and inspiration had gone silent. I admit that I haven’t figured out all of the answers just yet, but I’m committed to finding them which is a huge step in the right direction.

That being said, there is all sorts of advice out there about breaking habits but little about making them.

Things I’m doing to promote routine.

1. Logging progress. There is something to be said about being able to look back and see where you started. Simply setting up a handwritten chart or tracking progress in an electronic spreadsheet can do this. I noticed that during the month of November I was far more determined to succeed at writing. It wasn’t the community and camaraderie of National Novel Writing Month participants (even though they can be great.) Instead it was seeing my goals and progress. I had a clear, defined target which was easily reachable but also enough of a challenge. That’s part of the greatness of the program is that it helps you establish routine. However, you don’t need the program to keep going every day, every month, every year.

No Plot? No Problem! Revised and Expanded Edition: A Low-stress, High-velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days

Programs like Scrivener track total project progress and writing session progress. Or you can manually track it through MS Word, MS Excel or any other word processor.

2. Forceful Repetition. Visual and audible queues that remind you to take the action. Set alarms and leave notes for yourself in places that you’ll look.

I keep visual reminders all around my desk. I have a dry-erase board, a calendar, post-its on the wall, organized folders and a filing cabinet to keep everything in order. But hey, what works for me might not work for you and that’s ok. Find out what does and go with it!

3. Having a plan. There is a movie that came out in the 80’s with John Cusack and Demi Moore called One Crazy Summer. One of the characters comes from a military family and often says something along the lines of, “Without a plan there is no attack. Without attack there is no victory.” That being said, you won’t get very far without something to drive towards. I’m not saying you have to outline your novel. I’m saying you need to have goals. Perhaps that goal is 2 hours of writing a day. Perhaps that goal is 2,000 words of writing a day. Or maybe a chapter? Or a scene? Either way it’s important to have goals. It’s difficult to establish routine when every time you sit down you have no idea what you’re supposed to accomplish.

That being said, staying organized can’t hurt. It’s one thing to formulate a plan in your head, it’s another to write it down but that is another post entirely!

I hope this post has helped guide you in some way towards your own path of success. I’ll be sure to let you all know how my organization pans out over the course of my writing career – what worked and what didn’t. Until then…

Happy writing!

-R

Photo Credit: ID 78999514 © Feng Yu | Dreamstime.com

Minimalism and the Death of a Loved One

I debated about telling the sad story behind my grandparents’ death in the summer and fall of 2016. As an introduction to what is looking to be a rather long post that is in essence about minimalism, I figured I’d go ahead and spill the beans. After all, whenever a death occurs in the family, the living are left to decide on what to do with all of the stuff that is left behind. This was the first time that I had to deal with it since I started down the path of minimalism.

To begin at the beginning…

My mother’s parents have never been in good health. At least not since I can remember. My grandfather had diabetes. He was legally blind. He had open heart surgery twice, and was pretty much deaf, not to mention grumpy. General grumpiness seems to be very common among old men. My Nana survived breast cancer, colon cancer, open heart surgery, and a stroke that left her left side fairly unusable. They had both survived a lot.

Born a few months apart, he was born in July of 1930 and she was born that November, they ended up passing away a few months apart. He passed two weeks shy of his 86th birthday and she passed two months shy of hers.

Even though they had been in poor health for decades, things suddenly went downhill fast. My grandfather went to the hospital because gangrene had set in on one of his toes. From what I understand of diabetes, the feet usually go first because of poor blood circulation.

Once admitted into the hospital for the gangrene, the doctors removed one of his toes. He swore that he must have cut his foot on something and didn’t feel it. The infection set in rapidly. Unfortunately, removing the single toe wasn’t enough as the infection spread. It spread to a second toe which they also amputated only to realize that they still didn’t get it all and the infection continued to spread throughout his foot.

It became more apparent that the entire foot was going to have to be amputated in order to stop the spread of the infection. My grandfather didn’t want to do it and I can understand why. He hated that he had to rely on other people. He knew that he was getting older and I think it greatly upset him that he was getting to a point where he wouldn’t be able to do things by himself. Being legally blind hadn’t stopped him but being unable to walk would.

Meanwhile, while he’s in the hospital my grandparents have agreed to have work done on their home. They have recently discovered a termite infestation. You see my grandfather was so distrusting of people – under the impression that everyone was out to scam him –  and as a believer in “your thoughts create your reality,” I can see why he constantly attracted those types of people into his life because he always thought the worst of people.

Years ago he stopped inspecting the house for termites. And guess what? The termites came. When the inspector came to the house, they found extensive damage. The inspector explained that termite tunnels are normally as big around as a spaghetti noodle but the ones he had found were as large as his forearm.

Just before repairs are to begin on my grandparents’ home, my Nana was alone one night and fell. She fractured her wrist, broke her pelvis and part of her spine. She was hospitalized. Shortly after that, my grandfather was informed that gangrene had been found in the heel of the opposite foot. They would amputate again.

Once out of the hospital, they arrived at the same Rehab Center across the hall from one another. He called for her often and she hobbled across the hallway with her cane, disregarding any pain she may have felt, to go take care of a man who she’s known for 70 years. One night she heard a commotion in the hallway and stood up only to see him wheeled past her. The nurses told her, “It’s after midnight. Go back to bed.” My grandfather died that night.

When I went to visit her afterwards, she cried and said, “I wasn’t there with him.” I told her that wasn’t true. I said, “had you not fallen and injured yourself, you would have been at home, asleep, miles away when he passed. Because you’re here, you were right across the hall and you were with him everyday until the end.”

She seemed to feel a little better after that explanation. After her release from rehab, she stayed with my parents while the work started on her home. The construction company said it would only take a week or two. They ended up taking over a month. During that month my grandmother was doing very well until one night she took a turn for the worse. She threw up bile all night and the next day my mother called an ambulance. She spent the next two weeks in the hospital. For 7-8 of those days she didn’t eat anything and she dropped down to 87 pounds. Is was very hard seeing her that way and it’s not how I choose to remember her. Just like my grandfather without feet is not how I choose to remember him.

She never came back home after that visit in the hospital. She died there and in October we had a joint service for both of them at St. Joan of Arc Church.

The Aftermath, a Minimalism Nightmare

I had been through the loss of both of my dad’s parents but my mom’s parents lived two doors down the whole time I was growing up there. There were often visits after school for milk and cookies. And it was especially difficult that we lost them both so close together. So next became the difficult task of cleaning out their house. And this is where the minimalism kicks in.

Because they had a reverse mortgage on their home, they did not own the home and therefore we could not sell it. The home went back to the bank and the bank gave us one month to clear it out. For two people who never had friends over, they certainly had a lot of stuff. Perhaps it was because they grew up with the mentality of the Depression era where you held on to everything you had. They owned sets of China which hadn’t been used in years. Five different sets of silverware, closets filled with bed sheets and rarely worn clothes. They kept everything. Antique furniture became a point of contention as no one had room for it but no one wanted it to leave the family.

The money that my grandparents had saved for their children was spent on hospital bills and house repairs. We inherited stuff that had accumulated over decades. It was a grueling process to go through everything and know all of the memories attached to each item. However, I think it helped my mother realize what a burden her house would be on her children when my parents pass away.

Seeing the brighter side of minimalism

Like my grandparents’ house, my parents’ house is filled with decades of memories. Items such as old batons and dancing costumes set abandoned in a back room. The attic is overflowing with toys that my older brothers had as toddlers. A filing cabinet in my parents’ closet holds drawings from our elementary school years. Why do we hold onto these things? Happiness never lies in the past. To keep a favorite drawing is one thing but to keep all of them? We certainly didn’t want them.

I once cleaned out my parents’ closet. It was overflowing with clothing that was sometimes in my mother’s case, not age appropriate. Many of the items she hadn’t worn in years or had never worn at all by the evidence of the price tag still hanging from them.

Things to take away…

The point of this story is that holding onto things isn’t the answer. You’ll find that with most material objects, once they are gone, you won’t miss them. Holding on to stuff creates more grief for your loved ones once you pass from this world. I will admit, I took some small furniture and items from my grandparents’ house. Now, two years have passed and I’ve since turned around and re-donated all of those items except 6. What did I keep?

  1. My grandfather’s rocking chair/recliner. We got rid of our loveseat and replaced it with this recliner.
  2. A small glass which I often drank milk out of as a child when I would venture up after school for cookies and milk.
  3. An old, standing rotary phone. It still looks pretty damn cool and works if you have a land line. Will I keep it forever? It’s doubtful.
  4. An incense burner that used to sit on top of their piano. My two oldest brothers would often get to light a cone of incense as a treat if they were good when they visited as boys. I will keep this above all the other items. I cleaned it with vinegar.
  5. A mirror.
  6. A washer and dryer. I suppose that’s two items but they go hand in hand. Previously, we didn’t have one and were using quarters at the apartments local facility down the street.

Try not to get too caught up in the memory of objects. Even if you’ve been a minimalist for a while, it can be tempting. Don’t let your brother guilt you into taking several sets of glassware because “they look cool” or “should stay in the family.”

In hindsight, I ended up re-cluttering my home only to re-donate. Holding on to their things can hinder people from letting go of the grieving process. It’s easier to move on when you don’t have the past holding you down. It doesn’t matter if the memories are good or bad either. Now is the time to make new memories by living your life to the fullest today.

Let go.

Anger Management: Confessions of a Customer Service Employee Pt. 1

Welcome to my Anger Management Posts! It’s that time of year, isn’t it? That time of year when if you work retail, you have dark thoughts towards the ignorant, rude customers you have to deal with. Ladies and gentlemen of the customer service community, fear not. You are not alone!

While I may no longer work in that industry, I’ve been there. I’ve heard the stupid ass questions, been called a bitch for doing my job, had co-workers with annoying crushes on me, had co-workers who hated me for no reason and had both lazy bosses, and condescending ones. I can only hope that these posts titled “Anger Management” will bring some comfort to your shitty workplace.

I truly have no idea how readers will respond to this. You might hate it. Perhaps you’ll laugh? Find some relief in knowing that you’re not the only one who sees people for what they really are (or can be). You are not a second hand citizen even though some may treat you that way. Thus begins my anger management series! At a later date, I will compile all of these posts into a memoir for physical purchase. For now, please enjoy these posts and if you’d like to receive notifications when new ones are published, please subscribe to this blog!

Confessions of a Customer Service Employee Part 1: Introduction

I keep a cardboard box on my floor near my desk. Inside are a bunch of manila envelopes that hold old drafts of stories and novels. I sat down and pulled one out labeled “Memoir Notes” with a green permanent marker. Also on the front of the folder I left myself a little note. CAUTION: Open at own risk. May cause anger. Proceed with care.

Dear Reader,
As you read this work, please keep in mind that even though a majority of these incidents are angering in nature, this work is not meant to anger you. Rather, it is a reflection on the ignorance, arrogance and selfishness of the general public.

People are rude, stupid and self-centered. If anyone dares to tell you differently, they themselves are ignorant. Please keep in mind, a great man once said, “If we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane.” This work is not meant to anger you but instead educate and perhaps even make you laugh at all the stupidity in the world even though it’s really no laughing matter.

In sharp contrast, as I’m writing these very words, I’m angry – angry because of the very things you are about to read are all experiences that are relatively fresh in my mind.

I was sitting in my car when I wrote those three paragraphs; sitting in the parking lot waiting for work to start outside of the job I absolutely hated. We’ve all been there before. It’s 5 min. until shift starts and you sit in your car, looking up at the building, dreading going in because you know that when you walk through the doors you will no doubt be yelled at for something you didn’t do, be made to fix someone else’s stupid mistake, or be blamed for something that wasn’t even your responsibility in the first place.

Welcome to customer service.

Chapter 1 (The Shortened Version)

The fact that I had graduated high school had not hit me yet. Whether you are a senior in high school or senior in college, either way, you still feel like you’re the shit. It is only until you get older that you realize how young and stupid you were. After graduation, my days were wasted with shopping trips and binge-watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Keep in mind that this was the age before Netflix and smartphones- so I was watching the DVDs.

I was wasting away with no sense of purpose or self-identity. I didn’t know much about myself at the age of 17 (who does?) Having been to a private school, I didn’t even have a sense of style or fashion. I felt lost in a world of unspoken possibilities. I wanted so much but did not know how to go about attaining any of it. Six months away from being a legal adult, I was still living with my parents, still under the shelter of the rock my controlling mother kept me under. To her, the world consisted of our city. To her, the world was a dangerous place filled with bad people. She always chose to focus on the negative and I became a product of my environment.


Defining Family

It’s important to keep in mind that the definition of ‘family’ is changing among today’s society and for that I’m glad. I feel so distant and disconnected from those who are my blood relatives. I have nothing in common with them and find them to be boring and close-minded. My family is now composed of people I chose, people I connect with. But I digress…


It was a Thursday in late spring of 2004. As part of my religion class senior year of high school, we had to serve the community twice a week. That year I chose to do community service at the local library on Main Street. On the short drive home there was an old stone building. It was an old mini-golf and arcade game venue that had gone out of business but recently opened up under new management. One of my brothers had worked there back in the 90s, when I was little.

My brother knew that with my upcoming graduation, I would need to get a job soon. He told me they were probably hiring since they had just opened on March 8 of that year. So that Thursday I decided to stop by on my way home and request an application. At this point time,  I had the horrible habit of introducing myself as “so-and-so’s sister” instead of using my own identity.

I walked up the inclined ramp and through the two sets of double doors into the game room. The floor was made of dark tile and the walls had dark paneling on the bottom half and a hideous coral wallpaper on the top. On my right where the bathrooms, the L-shaped concession counter and the office. I received my first paycheck on June 11, 2004 and set up a checking account.

September 1, 2004

…One of the last days that I worked 9 to 5. I was the only one behind the counter the entire day and I’d never had so many impatient, rude customers. Happiness would be the best term to describe my feeling when I clocked out. I was grateful to be granted time off for college orientation. I met a close friend from high school for coffee, had to endure statistics class first semester with a high school classmate who had sexually assaulted me, and I laid my 17-year-old cat to sleep.

Friday, October 1, 2004

The beginning of my college career was full of excitement and wonder. For the first time since Kindergarten, I was in a place where I knew no one. I made friends quickly. I was popular with the male upperclassmen in my department and my classmates were very warm and welcoming. Making new friends had never been easier or more fun.

I was juggling a demanding class and theater schedule along with working part-time. Meeting so many people and being young and single, I was overwhelmed with male prospects and having to deal with unwanted attention and a jealous girlfriend of a co-worker.

Monday, October 4, 2004

Somewhere deep inside my brain is this tiny trigger. It’s part of what makes me tick. But sometimes the smallest thing can pull that trigger a fraction – just far enough for me to EXPLODE.

Things that irritate me to no end:
“Are you open?

No. You just came in through unlocked doors to see employees working behind the counter, helping guests while all of the arcade games are on. Sorry, we’re not open. One time I did have a lady ask if we were open when we weren’t. I was in the process of getting ready to be open and of course she goes, “Well that’s a stupid question. I guess you’re open if you answered the phone.” For once someone with brain cells calls and of course she’s wrong.

“What can I get with this many tickets?

Well, let’s see. I told you how many tickets you had. So if you can count I don’t need to answer that question. It’s not that hard folks. Each prize has a clearly displayed number in front of it. This is how much it’s worth. So when you have 20 tickets don’t go pointing to the Hacky sacks or the basketballs, and no you can’t have a skateboard either! Not unless you can prove to me that the numbers 130, 600 or 6000 are below the number 20.

*The ticket weigher*

We have a machine that weighs the redemption tickets for us so that we don’t have to sit there and count every single one if the guest comes up with hundreds. “Does that count them?” Yes sir. It weighs them. “Weighs them?” Is that not what I just said!? I hate repeating myself. “But how does it weigh them? How do you know it’s accurate?” Because I fucking calibrate every morning.

Quiet Talkers

Customers who call an noisy arcade venue and that insist on speaking softly on the phone…use your big boy voice…

People don’t read…

Customers coming up to the doors and not reading the sign that clearly states our hours of operation. One time I went to use the bathroom right before we opened and somehow this lady came in (the outer doors were locked, the inner door unlocked so I could mop…I’m pretty sure she broke the outer door lock).  I’m in our one toilet bathroom with the door wide open, sitting on the toilet with my pants down, hoping that she doesn’t come this way. I can hear her at the counter yelling,  “Excuse me? Excuse me?” I can’t even piss in peace!!! You know what she wanted? To use the bathroom…was she unaware of the Hardees fast food restaurant right next to us that was open?

People entering through the side gate instead of the front doors.

Recently, I saw a family enter through the side gate. No big deal we just prefer customers to come and go through the actual doors. So what did I do? I went behind them and ensured that it was locked. Guess what? They couldn’t find their way out! What a bunch of dumbasses. That’s why man invented this thing called a door. Because when you enter through the gate, the employees working can’t see you. To us, you just look like another golfer who has finished their fun filled 18 holes.

The side gate is not the main entrance! It’s for maintenance! (And yes, dear readers, there is a sign…it’s also not an easy entrance to find). Another thing is when the doors are locked and the side gate’s lock isn’t fully engaged for employee access, people will take the liberty of undoing the lock, coming through the gates and strolling up to the golf counter. Hint: if the doors are locked, we aren’t fucking open.

Recently I had two fellows do this. I wasn’t too peeved because they were only paying a birthday party deposit, not buying golf. Except one of them said, “Why aren’t you guys open?” Because we don’t open till 12, sir. “But the sign on the front door says you guys open at 10 AM?” That’s on Saturdays, sir. Today is Friday. For once, someone who actually read the hours sign, and he read it incorrectly.

“Is golf open?”

Is the sky blue? No. It’s a bright, sunny day outside. Of course it’s not open. (If you haven’t picked up on it by now, this IS sarcasm).

No name

I hate it when people come up to tell me that a game is not working and they don’t have the title of the game. Which one? “The one where you shoot the ball.” Okay, you’ve just described every game back there. “The one where you put the token in and then it spins around.” Thanks that’s a lot of help but I need to know which game it is, so I can grab the right key and so I know what I’m dealing with.

“Do we keep the golf balls?”

No, you idiot. They go down 18th hole just like the rest. This is not a golf ball shop. If we gave them away for free, we would be losing money. We can’t afford to turn around order new golf balls every single day. No, we don’t sell them to you either. No, we don’t have standard size golf balls this is NOT pro-golf. It’s mini-golf. “Do you have any white golf balls?” Do you see any white golf balls? No. Pick a fun color instead.

“Pinball took my tokens!”

No, it didn’t. You just don’t know how to work a pinball machine. That being the case, you should not be allowed in an arcade.

Interruptions

I hate when I go back to fix a machine and I’m deep into my trance, hard at work, and someone comes up and tells me of 10 other problems with various games. Do I not fucking look busy to you?  And I have to hope that the fix doesn’t require opening a machine up because people love to crowd me and watch me work from over my shoulder. Sometimes it takes a little longer than 5 seconds to undo the problem they have created. Why can’t the go play something else for 5 minutes? Is that too much to ask? I’ll tell you when it’s fixed.

Or when I’m helping someone at the redemption counter and someone else comes up to me for tokens, completely cutting off the customer I’m helping. Do I have a register near me? Do I not look busy helping someone else? You’re not the Queen of England. You can be patient, like everyone else.

Refund tokens

We have this very nice service where we will refund your tokens for free if the game malfunctioned. Granted, a lot of our games were purchased used or were very old so they did mess up on occasion. But I really can’t help you A) don’t know how to work the game (like our unfortunate pinball players earlier) or B) the game is unplugged!

The other day a group of kids must’ve gotten, and I’m quoting a co-worker here, “$20 worth of refund tokens!” We currently have two air hockey tables in the game room. One is quite obviously unplugged and squeezed in between San Fran Rush 2049 and the wall. It’s near impossible to get in a position to play. Yet these idiots put tokens in it! Unplugged = not working.

One thing that does make me laugh is when little children are running around on the golf course and they fall. I know it’s mean. But I have to struggle to hold the laughter. After all, this is customer service and we have to find something to entertain ourselves.

I stayed at this venue for another two years until I moved on to another customer service adventure. Please stay tuned for another round of mini-golf/arcade venue customer service stories.

To be continued…

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Camp NaNoWriMo April 2017 Pt. 1

9:00 AM

I had forgotten about Camp NaNoWriMo. I had no intention of participating. In all honesty, I don’t think I’ve ever finished a camp session. I’ve always done the traditional November NaNo but even then, I haven’t always finished strong. So why am I participating this time around? That’s a good question.

As I was reminded of the events two days prior to its starting, I received a sudden rush of excitement and thought, “This is exactly what I need!” As luck would have it, this year’s camp starts on a Saturday, I happen to not be working overtime, and my better half has Navy duty. Therefore, I have a free weekend all to myself. With an open schedule and a project that has stalled twice, I felt that this was exactly what I needed to get the gears going again.

Nano is always an adventure.

I crawled into bed last night with the intention of waking up at midnight, driving out to the local 24-hour Wawa, buying some Vienna roast coffee, and coming back home to bleed and sweat and cry over the keyboard for hours and hours on end. In the old days of NaNo, that would’ve happened. I used to stay up until midnight, waiting for the clock to strike twelve. Or I’d wake up at midnight after a short nap, and feverishly start typing at the keyboard.

However, at the age of 30, and with a full-time job that normally has me up at 5 AM, staying up until midnight is not the easiest thing to do. After a long week at work, it was better to sleep. By “sleeping in” I mean staying in bed until 6 AM. I did allow myself to relax and rolled out of bed closer to 7 AM.

Did I head straight to the computer?

No.

I spent the first two hours doing things that I should’ve done yesterday. I wiped down the kitchen counters, cleaned off the kitchen table, put laundry away, and took out the trash. Then I proceeded to Wawa and got my Vienna roast coffee. Driving back home, I sat in front of the monitor and contemplated what to do next.

The obvious answer would be to write.

But that’s easier said than done. I wasn’t sure whether I should work on my blog, or work on my book. I wasn’t sure whether or not I should include the word count for my blog posts during this month as part of my 50,000 words. The only thing I was sure about was that I needed a new headset because the earpieces on mine are disintegrating. Gross.

I wanted to go into this one head first. Something I haven’t done a long time… I planned to update my Twitter and Facebook accounts regularly as I added words to my story.

My Project of Choice…?

The World Beneath.

The World Beneath is a story that has stalled twice. Completely starting over for the third time wasn’t as crushing as predicted. The thing is, I didn’t like my main character. I didn’t care about him. I wasn’t invested in him. This can be a HUGE block to an author. If you’re not interested in the story, how can you expect readers to be?




Some previous scenes seemed wonderful and perfect. Others seemed too rushed and out of place. I’ve learned the hard way that it’s important to never publish something that you’re not happy with as a writer or an artist. Without further ado, I started my camp journey in a very non-camp atmosphere. My story, The World Beneath, takes place in a cold, northern town and starts out with the memory of a hockey game.

12:00 Noon

In the past three hours, I have reached over 2200 words. I could’ve written a lot more since I’m dictating with DragonNaturally Speaking. Some people say that’s cheating, but anything that gets words on the page counts, in my opinion. Within these last three hours, I’ve proved that the busier you are the more productive you can be- not to be confused with multitasking. Multitasking is counter-productive. Instead, I focused on one task at a time. I focused on my writing. Then, I took a break. I did other things that needed to be done around the house.

During those 2200 words, I cleaned out my car. I checked the gauge on the AC refrigerant, I changed the cabin air filter and I refilled the windshield wiper fluid. All in all, it’s been a productive day and I’m only halfway through!

During this next three-hour session, I’d like to more than double my word count. But taking breaks is important.

Writers (or at least those of us who participate in NaNo) need to take breaks. If we were to sit down at the computer all day for 10+ hours trying to churn out a novel, we’d be killing ourselves. It’s not healthy.

It’s good for the body to get up every once in a while, stretch, walk around. Doing something different is good for the mind. More importantly, it’s good for your writing. It helps to come back with a fresh perspective. Even if it’s a matter of minutes. If you focus wholly on one new task your mind leaves your story. Don’t be afraid to step away and take care of something else.

3:00 PM

I’m proud to say that I have reached over 7000 words (7890). But just like before, I told myself I wouldn’t sit in front of the computer for all three hours. I actually took a shower (for those of you who are familiar with NaNoWriMo, you know bathing is usually a feat to accomplish every day…along with eating.) Don’t worry. I fed myself.

When I sat down yesterday to make a schedule of writing goals based on my calendar for the month, I told myself that I would write 20,000 words today. At first, I didn’t think I could do it. Now I’m starting to second-guess myself. Maybe it wasn’t such an unrealistic goal? At this point in time, I’ll be happy if I reach 10,000 tonight. That means that one-fifth of the monthly goal will be met and I would’ve proved to myself that I can write 10,000 words in a day.

For those of you who don’t write, 10,000 words a day is a lot.

Stephen King is quoted as saying that he writes 2,000 words a day. Granted, I’ve been cheating a little. Like I said earlier, I’m using dictation. Some writers are firmly against it. They say it isn’t real writing. However, I think it’s important to grow with technology. I bet when typewriters first came out, there were people against it. Hell, I still know writers who prefer handwriting. I don’t get it. You have to get it on a computer if you want to publish it. To each his own.

Dictation takes practice. Now that I’m familiar with it, I can see it is a very useful tool for writing rough drafts especially. There are ways to use it for editing but I prefer to take my time and go through things line by line for that. Dictation gets words on the page much faster. Normally, I type about 1500 to 2000 words an hour. With dictation, I can type closer to 5000 words an hour. That more than doubles my productivity.

Using dictation has allowed me to get away from the desk. It also helps with my oral communication. I’m decent with written communication but sometimes I still stutter and stammer or trip over my words, slur my words, run them together, or talk too fast. Using dictation is a great way to clear up your speech. If you don’t speak clearly, the computer will type incorrectly.




As the evening ticks by, I know that days like today will be rare. Even with dictation, I know that days with no plans are rarities anymore. This could be the only day like this, this month. I have no clue. I’m trying to take full advantage of it but at the same time, I’m trying to prepare a reasonable schedule for the month ahead. As long as you get ahead on the slow days, you won’t have to write so much on the busier ones. That is the key to being successful during NaNo. Get ahead at the start.

I want to keep trucking along and try to hit 10,000 words by 6 PM and 15,000 words by 9 PM. See you then!

6:00 PM

Let’s see. I have vacuumed, cleaned the bathroom, and reached over 10,000 words (10,311). I think it’s safe to say that if I keep going I will reach 15,000 words by 9 PM. But then comes the question, should I quit while I’m ahead? Or should I keep on rolling while it’s flowing?

When I logged into my Camp NaNoWriMo account and went to the “My Projects” page, I noticed that this is the thirteenth camp that I’ve signed up for. Only six of those previous camps did I even have a project in mind. Of those six, only two of them I wrote words for. But out of all thirteen, I never finished one with 50,000 words or more. That’s a depressing success rate.

I am bound and determined not to let that happen anymore.

NaNoWriMo is such a great resource for writers. Granted, you should be writing every day but life gets hectic. I understand that. I tell myself every NaNo, “if I can stick with this and write a novel or two every camp, I would have four to eight rough drafts a year that I could edit in between NaNo months.”

For the first time in a long time, NaNo is fun. Granted, it’s only day one but I’m having fun dictating my novel. I’m having fun writing. I don’t know where the switch happened. For years, it felt like a drag. My passion had turned into a chore.

This has been one of the most productive days I have ever had in the history of my writing life. I’ve never written this much in a day. Last November, I verified my project’s word count on the last day instead of updating through the month. That made it look like I had written 80,000 words in one day but I hadn’t. I’ll never wait that long to update my word count again. There is something very satisfying about seeing that status bar go up when you update your word count.

9:00 PM

I have 122 unread Camp NaNoWriMo emails dating back to 2014. That’s nine pages of camp email! And that doesn’t include the 70 unread emails I have on my regular NaNo account. I would hate to delete them because they are usually filled with great advice that I may need it in the days to come. Not every day is a good writing day. Not every day is like today.

Once I passed the 10,000-word threshold, I stopped. I figured I’d spend the rest of the evening relaxing and preparing for tomorrow’s writing day.

One week from today, I will post another blog in a similar format to this one since the weekends will be my most productive days.

Happy Camping!

I’m Writing a Novella, Damn It!

I’ve had it with people telling me to write a novel instead of a novella. Why do I put up with writing advice from people who aren’t writers?

I’ve spent my writing career trying to stretch my stories into something that they’re not… Going against my own rule. Often, I tell others, “A story is a story. You shouldn’t worry about length. If it’s meant to be a short story, it will be. If it’s meant to be a novel, it will be. Don’t stretch it into something it’s not, and don’t cut it short when there needs to be more.”

But here I’ve been, going against my own mantra, trying to stretch my own novellas into full-length novels. A lot of the guys I know at work (who don’t even read books, mind you, let alone write them), constantly ask me, “Why don’t you just add ten thousand words?” As if it’s the easiest thing in the world…

OR

“Just add stuff. You’re a writer. Make something up! It’s what you do, isn’t it? Make stuff up?” Easier said than done. Sure, I may have a myriad of ideas but that doesn’t mean that any of them belong together. “Why can’t you just make it longer? Why?

OR

And this is my personal favorite…drum roll, please. “What is a novella?” As if that question doesn’t get old…

What is a novella!? Are you kidding me? Have you not graduated high school English? A novella… you know, like those books you read in school…  The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, Animal Farm by George Orwell, The Time Machine by HG Wells, The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (F@#$!ng hate that book), Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury… any of these ring a f@#$!ng bell? All of them are novellas! I don’t actually say this to their faces but I’m thinking it in my head while I’m explaining to them what a novella is.

The other night, I worked on my Facebook Author page and this blog. I took a good hard look at the projects I have in the works. Most of them would make good novellas and with the new platform of being able to self-publish, novellas are making a comeback.


Check out my first novella, Laszlo: The Chronicles of Noelle 1. Don’t have a Kindle and don’t want the paperback version? No sweat! It’s also available on other digital platforms such as the Barnes and Noble Nook, Kobo, iBooks, Scribd and more.


The short novel faded out of popularity for a while. It wasn’t that readers didn’t like them but rather, publishers didn’t like them. They cost too much to make and didn’t earn a high profit. Publishers would much rather print a book and charge $20 than print a novella and only charge $10. A novella makes a profit but it didn’t make as much profit so Publishers stopped taking them. However, now CreateSpace, Amazon and other online publishers run the literary world.

Is there a market out there for novellas? I have no idea. The internet tells me there is, so I’m inclined to believe it is so (but please don’t believe everything you read on the internet!).

I’m writing novellas because it’s what I want to write.

In the hectic 21st century, a lot of people don’t have time to read the big doorstop books. Even I, who am grown fond of reading, don’t like those big ass books. I don’t have time to read a novel that’s going to take me 5 months to get through. And I’m a fast reader. I want something that I can get through in a month or less. Sometimes I read a book and it only takes a day. Sometimes I read a book and it takes two weeks. That’s my kind of pace.

So that’s it. No more negotiating. No more arguing with myself or my friends and co-workers, who know nothing about writing. I’m going to write novellas. I’m going to write a ton of them. And I’m going to be happy about it. One day, when the world gets around to it and realizes that the novella is back, I will have published 20 of them. People will say, “Oh my gosh! Where the hell did this chick come from? She’s got a ton of novellas! And she was publishing them back when it was uncool.”

If I come across a story that wants to be a novel, fine. I have a few that are going to be a series, so in the end, when the series is complete, I may combine them all into one large door-stopping tome. This way the nitpicky readers who need a book that takes five years to read can have it their way.

I wrote this blog post because I realized that this is one of my blocks. This is one of those (or several of those) voices in my head that shout and jeer along with my inner editor (the bastard!) and tell me, “You can’t do this writing thing!” I would say that all writers have that voice but really, all human beings have that voice. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying and for some reason ashamed to admit it.

At first, I thought it was the people I worked around or the area I lived in but as it turns out, there are writers across the globe who receive that kind of unhelpful advice from non-writers. It’s advice that wasn’t even asked for. Even if you’re not artsy in the slightest, we’ve all received that unsolicited advice.

Keep in mind that while it’s important to have a readership and an audience, there is one person you have to write for above all others- one person you truly need to please to find peace- and that person is yourself. If you have no passion for what you’re writing, or you’ve lost the passion, take a step back and a good look at why. For me, this was it. Writing had gone from fun and play to grueling, unsatisfying work. Don’t get me wrong, writing IS hard work! But I had reached a point where I was forcing my projects down holes they weren’t meant to go. Enforcement caused me to lose passion and I had to take a step back.

Think a novella might be right up your alley but not sure where to get started?

There are plenty of books out there on how to structure novels or how to pace a short story but not too many focus on the novella format. However, much like a short story, you CAN write a novella in one day. Yes, I said it. It bears repeating. It is possible to write a novella in as little as a day. Granted, it may take more time to edit. If you’d like guidance, I highly recommend Andrew Mayne’s book How to Write a Novella in 24 Hours: And other questionable & possibly insane advice on creativity for writers. I find that reading about writing and hearing another author’s advice to be uplifting, motivational and inspiring. I hope that you will as well! Otherwise, why are you reading this post?

Lastly, if you enjoy writing, if you have a passion for your story, it makes the craft easier. Don’t let others tell you what your story should or should not be. You, the writer, know best. It may sound contradictory to now add that one should always be open to growth and constructive criticism. Always remember, writing is a craft that no one masters. Language is ever-evolving. Never stop learning.

Happy Writing!

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How to Price Your Fiction E-book

Let’s talk about this ongoing game of e-book pricing. It can be tricky. Whether you’re new to the scene or you’ve been publishing for a while, pricing your book is not easy especially when you’re a self-published author. If people have never heard of you, chances are they’re not going to spend $15 on work they’re not sure they’re going to like. However, making your book free or setting it at a very low price undermines your work. Honestly, as a reader, when I see something for $0.99 or for free, I think, “Well this person has no faith in their writing and it’s probably of poor quality.”

This may not always be the case. Some people set a book’s price for free to get reviews. Some make their books cheap as part of an Amazon Promotional Deal like a Free Book Promo or the Amazon Kindle Countdown Deal.

If you are self-published and you haven’t found a good price point yet I suggest mixing it up. Keep length in mind. I’m not going to sell a short story for $5. I tend to keep my short stories at $0.99. This way if someone wants to sample my work, all they have to do is pay a dollar. If it isn’t for them or they think my writing sucks then they won’t be terribly upset over spending $0.99.

I also keep my short stories enrolled in the exclusive Amazon Kindle program called KDP Select. This is because with short stories that only make $0.35 per sale at a $0.99 markup aren’t going to bring in major money so I don’t see the value of putting them on other platforms. I’m still learning and scouting the field myself in this ever-changing economy. A few years from now, I may decide else wise.


A Word on Exclusivity

As far as exclusivity goes, I think it’s important to not put all of your eggs in one basket. If you only sell your books through Amazon Kindle and suddenly the shit hits the fan with Amazon, then where does that leave you? For my longer works (novellas and novels)- I make them available through other venues.

Check out my first novella, Laszlo: The Chronicles of Noelle 1 on iBooks, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Scribd, Kobo and more!

My debut novel, In Articulo Mortis (Mortis Volume 1), will be available in 2018 across all platforms!


You will find tons of blogs and forums and articles online with other authors giving you suggestions on how to price your book. Keep in mind that just like this post, they are merely suggestions. Keep an open mind, try new things and mess around with the prices to see what works best for you. If you’re self-published, you have the freedom to change the price at will. I recommend giving your price points at least six months of sales before you change them.

My Pricing Guidelines
Short Stories

My short stories range from 2,500-10,000 words. Because they are so small, I always set the price point at $0.99. In my opinion, making them free is insulting. While they may be small stories, they still took time and effort to create. You’ll come across many people who are only interested in your work when they can get it for free. Those are called shitty people. Some of them are likely to rub the “starving artist” stereotype in your face. To them, a writer is either a millionaire who hits it big or someone who pinches pennies and struggles. Heaven forbid there be a realistic middle ground.

Novellas

You’d be surprised at the number of people who don’t know what a novella is. Mine range from 15,000-40,000 words. I keep the price point for these at $2.99. This is the lowest price point at which you can receive a 70% royalty on Amazon. I also don’t keep these exclusive to Amazon. My novellas are additionally published through Smashwords and CreateSpace Distributors. This way they are available to other markets across the world. Amazon is only popular in certain countries like America and Canada. Being exclusive to Amazon can limit your audience. Keep that in mind.

Some of you may think, “$2.99! Gosh, that seems really low.” I’m still a very new author as I’ve only been publishing for two years.

Novels

For novels, I can’t see myself going over $4.99, at least not for the digital versions. I’d suggest keeping novels under $5 when first starting. People don’t know you and they’re not going to spend $20 if they don’t know who you are and if they’re going to like you. With all of the competition out there, it’s important to keep your price reasonable but don’t underestimate your worth.


Another Note on Free Stuff

So many people in this day and age expect something for free.

Writing is a job.

If you want to make money off of it, you’re going to have to get used to asking people to pay for your product. It’s a common annoyance amongst artists of all types when people ask if they can have their work for free. The same thing goes for painters and musicians. Art requires dedication, patience, time and, believe it or not, skill.

Creative writing is not easy- if it were, everyone would do it. While it may seem like everyone is, everyone’s not. I know a lot of people online who are writers but I don’t know hardly anyone in real life who is a writer. Maybe two people off of the top of my head. You know why this is? Because it’s not easy.

Some people fall into this “get rich quick” fantasy but that’s not the writer’s life. Most experienced writers will tell you that writing is a long, solitary road. Yes, you can hit it right. Yes, you can make a living from it. Please don’t mistake this post as some sort of effort to discourage you from writing. If you feel like you have something to deliver, please deliver it. Don’t let anyone stop you. But at the same time, don’t let anyone undermine your work. Writing is hard.

In short, play around with your prices. Be fair, but don’t be unfair to yourself. You worked hard on this. You probably paid for someone to make the cover art and edit your work and so if anything charge at least $0.99. Good luck to all of you out there! I wish you all the best. Happy writing.

Photo Art: © Alain Lacroix | Dreamstime.com

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9 Ways to Increase Productivity as a Writer

If you know me at all, I’m always looking for ways to be more productive. When I have down time at work, I’m running through my list of things to do in my head and determining the most efficient way to get them done. And I love lists! Here are some of the things I do to stay on target and up to par. Do I stick to them like a religion? No. I’m always trying new things but I do hope to one day become a creature of habit. A lean, mean to-do list knocking out machine! So without much further ado, here are my top 9 ways (sorry I don’t have a top 10…deal with it) to increase productivity and stay productive!

1. Have a Plan

In general, having a mode of attack is a good idea. Have a plan. Be organized and take notes. It is so important to know what you’re doing before you start doing it. I get it. Sometimes it’s nice to just get in the car and drive wherever the road takes you but nine times out of ten, you’ve got a destination in mind or a route planned.

A lot of us are pantsers and if you’re like me you’re kind of in between a pantser and a plotter. But when I sit down to write I always have an idea in mind as to what I’m going to write about. This makes my writing so much easier and less painful. On days when I have no plan and I just sit in front of the computer staring at an empty space (or an empty MS Word document) it’s very heartbreaking.

It’s discouraging. It’s depressing. I think that’s part of what gets a lot of writers down. I’ve read that the key to being prolific and producing more in a smaller amount of time, you’re going to need to have some idea- some game plan- laid out. I’m still working on the prolific part myself, don’t worry! We’ll get there one day.

You don’t have to know all the details but it definitely helps.

2. Take Breaks

This may sound counterproductive but it’s true. Take breaks. Sitting for 8 hours in front of a computer without any breaks is like suicide. It can put a strain on your eyes (think of the amount of time the average human being spends looking at a screen every day in 2017), and it’s not ergonomically smart. Use the bathroom, get a snack, get fresh air, stretch… do anything just don’t start playing a video game because then a 10-minute break will turn into the rest of the day and you won’t get any work done.

3. Write by Timer

Simple. Set a timer. This really helps for me. There are many different ways in which you can implement this one.

There’s a program called Write or Die where you set a timer and a punishment. Yes, you read that correctly. The punishment maybe an annoying sound or your words may get deleted if you stop writing. It’s actually pretty cool. I highly recommend Write or Die (know known as Write or Die 2). It’s free and you can also use “reward” mode or “stimulus” mode now, instead of setting punishments. There is a desktop version available for $20. You can find it here.

There are also sites like Write Monkey or Written? Kitten!

Written? Kitten! will show you a picture of a kitten when you reach your word goal and Write Monkey takes away all distractions so all you have is a screen to write on.

Lastly, there’s the Pomodoro method. This is one of my personal favorites. It’s called “Pomodoro” because the man who came up with this method had a kitchen timer that was in the shape of a tomato and Pomodoro means “tomato” in Italian. The man would set the timer for 20 minutes and do whatever he had to do. Then you can set the timer for ten minutes and take a break. Once the buzzer goes off again you know it’s time to get back to work for another 15 or 20 minutes. This is especially useful is you’re participating in the NaNo Word Sprints during November, April or July. It’s a great way to boost your word count during the write-a-thons.

4. Get Some Sleep

It’s very important if you want to be in your best mental and creative state, to get a good night’s sleep. Don’t deprive yourself of your health just to get your book done. Yes, there will be sacrifices. You may have to give up a social life but don’t sacrifice your health.

5. Exercise

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. If I’m exercising, I can’t be writing. How is that productive? But it’s true. Exercise is a form of meditation. It can help clear your mind and get all of that excess and mental clutter out of the way. Have you ever worked out and found that an issue you were thinking about all day long suddenly became clear- a problem suddenly had a solution and everything seemed easy? That’s what exercise and meditation does and I highly recommend it.

6. Get Rid of Distractions

I wrote a whole post on this and I’ll provide a link to it here. Don’t set yourself up for failure by creating a workspace that has a ton of distractions. Set yourself up for success by limiting the things that can take up your time when you’re supposed to be writing. Point in fact, this is why I became a minimalist. I was spending valuable writing time cleaning and organizing. When I simply owned less stuff, I had more time and less distractions. Win.

Check out my blog post on Staying Focused and Eliminating Distractions.

7. Tell Other People

Tell other people. Now if you’re anything like me, you hate talking about your writing. I don’t like talking about whether I think it’s good or not. I don’t know why. I love my writing. I love my stories and characters but I hate talking about it. My man and I have had heated discussions and yes, even fights over my writing. However, he holds me highly accountable and promises me things like trips to London…

Also, sharing on social media that I’m writing a novel or editing a novel or writing a short story creates accountability. Depending on how many friends or followers you have, that many people are going to hold you accountable.

8. Get Up Early

I know, I know. I just told you to exercise and now I’m telling you to wake up earlier…after I told you to get sleep which means going to bed sooner. Did I mention that writing requires sacrifice? I’m not a morning person either. But I will say that lately I have found myself waking up earlier and earlier, inspired to get to work and be productive.

They say that there is a huge difference in the mental states of a rich person and a poor person. Wealthy and successful people wake up 3 hours before work starts. Oh my goodness! Right now I’m working from 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. so I’m already having trouble rolling out of bed early. Waking up at 3 in the morning just seems ludicrous.

I’m so used to waking up early during the week that my weekends tend to start no later than 6 a.m. and that makes for at least two productive days if I slipped up during the week.

9. Don’t Multitask!

I have so many writing ideas. I don’t mean to brag. Some writers struggle with where to find ideas but I have so many that I want to write about- so many that I’m in love with. The problem? I tried to divide my energy and focus across all of the projects and that slows me down. (Sometimes I am still guilty of this!)

You want to set one specific goal and stick to it. Put all of your energy and focus on that goal because when your energy is divided and scattered you’re not on top of your game. So if you’re trying to work on five books, or three books and a short story and a novella… STOP. At times, it’s preferable when you get tired of one project, to have the option of spending some time with another one. This I can stand behind but please save yourself the struggle and don’t bite off more than you can chew.

Having 5+ projects going on at one time can be a huge mistake. It doesn’t work for me at all because I lose sight of focus, storyline, theme, and character motivation. Everything becomes jumbled and it makes the editing process more grueling.

For further reading, I highly recommend David Allen’s book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. There are hundreds of books out there on productivity. I’ve read quite a few but nothing got to me quite like David’s. If you read anything on productivity, please give this one a try!

I hope this helped at least one person and if you have any questions, comments or suggestions,  please leave them in the comment box below. Happy writing.

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The Story Determines Its Own Length

Some writers will tear their hair out over story length. I was sitting in my One-Act Play class during junior year of college discussing the instructions on writing a paper with my classmates. I don’t recall what the paper was about but I remember our professor telling us it needed to be double-spaced, 12 pt font, Times News Roman, and all that jazz. She also told us about all of the points we needed to cover but one thing she didn’t address was the length of the paper.

Normally, teachers and professors will tell you that your paper needs to be one page, or three to five paragraphs, or fourteen pages single-spaced. They always dictate some sort of length. I wasn’t alone. Everyone else in the class was a little perplexed because we’re so used to being told how long something needs to be. So we asked the professor how long she wanted our essays to be?

She said, “Just answer the questions.”

Our minds were blown. Just answer the questions? That had never been told to us before. Even though I did not particularly care for this professor, she taught me a very valuable lesson in that moment. When it comes to writing stories and trying to write novels, so many people are bound and determined to reach that 60,000-word goal or that 80,000-word goal and certain stories aren’t meant to be that long.

When I wrote Laszlo, it ended up being about 40,000 words. I felt like that length allowed me to tell the story. But often people who don’t write ask me, “why didn’t you throw in an extra 10,000 words?” “You came this far. Just make it a novel!” “Why don’t you beef it up?” They are very annoying questions to answer. Non-writers don’t understand and no amount of explaining seems to help them.

Certain stories have a certain length. That’s just the way it is.

If a story was only meant to be 2,000 words, then beefing it up to be a 50,000-word novel (by putting a bunch of random crap in there) weakens it. “More” doesn’t always mean “better.” Turning a short story into a novel could turn a brilliant tale into a pile of drivel. On the other hand, taking a story that should be fleshed out to 100,000 words and only writing 30,000 doesn’t let the story really express itself. I know that to non-writers that sounds like a stupid statement. But it’s true. The only thing a story really has to do it tell

The only thing a story really has to do it tell its tale. Period. It doesn’t have to make you laugh. It doesn’t have to make you cry. And it doesn’t have to make you think, feel or care. In some cases, stories don’t even make sense. I’ve read short stories that ended abruptly and seemed to have no point. I’ve watched long movies that ended on odd notes and left me confused and unsatisfied. Perhaps it wasn’t as long as it should have been? Or perhaps it would have been stronger if it were more concise? Forcing a story into a mold that it doesn’t fit only makes matters worse. Let the story determine it’s own length. You’ll know when to stop adding brush strokes to the painting.

So the bottom line is, don’t fret if that story that you wanted to be 20,000 words ends up being 60,000 words or if the story you wanted to be 50,000 words ends up being 10,000. Never fear.

Happy Writing!

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Fears and Anxieties About a Writing Career

It may seem silly to have fears and anxieties over a dream that you have had your whole life, but it’s true… we all have them. We may not realize that we have them. But let me tell you, they are there and they are real. They lurk in the darkest recesses waiting for the most inopportune moments to pounce. The best weapon I’ve found to use against them, it simply to be aware of their existence. Acknowledge the fear, accept that it’s there and that’s usually half of the battle.

Have you ever really looked at the face of a spider? I mean REALLY looked? Chances are, you haven’t. Let’s just say when you start to magnify a spider’s face…it isn’t quite as scary as it once was. I use them as an example because I’m not the biggest fan of them myself but once you look at the creature for what it truly is- it isn’t so scary. Use the same tactic with your fears. Acknowledge them, look at them, examine their inner workings and you’ll find that most of them are irrational, highly improbable or not that extreme.

So this is me, taking a good hard look at my fears and anxieties of being a writer.

What if I’m not successful?

The first thought was, ‘what if I’m not successful?’ I’ve dreamed about being a writer my whole life. Well, I take that back. I did write as a kid but I didn’t realize I wanted to do it for a living until the later years of my high school career. That was a huge wake-up call for me. Before that, I had no clue what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a little bit of everything. So to say it’s been a dream my whole life is probably not true even though it was something I’ve done my whole life.

So what if I’m not successful? I’ve only spent over a decade chasing a dream. Okay…Yea, it’s a little scary but with enough hard work, commitment and dedication, anything can happen. Besides, people have varying definitions of success. Am I looking to be a millionaire? No. I’d love to replace my day job with income from my writing. Being a successful writer to me would mean earning enough to travel as I please and live comfortably. I’m not looking to build my own Trump Tower.

Specifying exactly what I want my “successful” writer’s life to look like, helps take that ‘improbability’ factor out of the run. And now, not being successful isn’t an option. Success is only a matter of time.

What if people hate my writing?

Well, you can’t make everyone happy. Too many of us try to spend our lives making other people happy.  It sounds like a great and noble thing but the point is- it’s your life and you need to make yourself happy first.

Don’t constantly worry about what other people do, think or say about you. There are over six billion people on the planet there’s bound to be at least one that doesn’t like you and there’s also bound to be at least one who does. There’s a healthy balance. Haters are going to hate. Don’t take everything they say to heart. Most times, they are just jealous of you anyway. Even JK Rowling had haters.

What if I really suck?

You’re never going to be a master of writing. It is a craft that we all work so hard at but no one perfects it. There’s always going to be mistakes. Don’t be afraid to make them. And when you do make them, learn from them. So what if my writing really does suck? I think we all have this thought in the back of our minds even if we really like writing and have faith in ourselves. Sometimes there are doubts. I think that’s natural… even if it does sound like an oxymoron.

I’ve had people read my work before and while they had constructive criticism most people really liked it. I’ve never had anyone tell me that my writing sucked except one guy who was really upset with me because he thought I was pretty and I thought he was annoying. So I think it’s safe to say that his opinion may have been a little biased against me.

Don’t be afraid to advertise some of your work. I started getting serious about my writing when I found fanfiction. That probably also sounds like an oxymoron. But when I discovered fanfiction that’s when I decided I wanted to write for life. There’s also something called fictionpress.org. You can put your own custom stories up there for free. You won’t get paid or anything but people can give you reviews and feedback chapter by chapter.

There’s also free sites like WordPress and Wattpad where you can either sell your work or post it for free. Also, Smashwords and Amazon have made it very easy to get your work out there to make money. Some people still choose to put their work out there for free. That’s a personal choice. It’s not something I agree with but I respect other authors’ decisions on how to sell their work. It’s not my business to tell them what to do, I can only make suggestions.

So now we have the other side of the spectrum. What about the fears and anxieties about being successful?

It sounds silly. Can we say oxymoron again? How can you be fearful and anxious about being successful? We all have this underlying fear and we probably don’t even realize it.

What if I’m successful?

What if I get a ton of money and I am unable to manage it? They say that lottery winners go downhill fast. They fall into bankruptcy because they don’t know how to manage their money and they spend, spend, spend. What if I can’t manage my money? What if I lose it all? Or better yet what if someone tries to take it from me?

There will be unwanted attention. I don’t think writers have it nearly as bad as movie stars and musical artists. Obviously. But you’re still going to be in the limelight a little more and a lot of writers are introverts. They don’t like a lot of attention. What if they want to stick me in front of a camera all the time?

Also, there will always be creeps. Whether you’re a writer or not, there’s going to be creepy people, stalkers, and harassers. We’ve all experienced these people at some point in our lives. Don’t let them bring you down…

Which brings us to…

There’s going to be those that try and seek to bring you down. The DaVinci Code wasn’t my most favorite novel but it was a page-turner. Did you see all the crap Dan Brown went through? How he was going against the church and all that shit? Kind of makes you wonder if they were hiding something… Even though he had a best-seller, there were those who sought to bring him down.

To mention JK Rowling again, there’s a lot of people out there who refuse to watch Harry Potter because “it’s about witchcraft and the devil” and their religion just doesn’t condone it…(even though it’s actually not about those things). It’s actually about racism. It’s WWII, set in modern times, with magic. There are two examples of people trying to tear down popular works. Not every story will please every person. I’m a fan of The Hunger Games but a lot of people don’t like the series because it’s dark, barbaric and there are children killing each other. To each his own.

On another note, we live in a very PC world and I am not the best at being a PC person. What if something I say is taken out of context and misconstrued by the media and I sound like a horrible person? Again, I think this is more prone to happen to actors and musicians but writers too if they become successful. Bottom line is anyone who believes everything the media tells them is an idiot and those people aren’t worth your time or energy anyway. Someone who is worth your time, won’t just believe things because someone else told them about it. They will want to experience it for themselves. And always remember, if you get bombarded by internet trolls over something stupid…internet trolls have nothing better to do.

Lastly, what if I quit my day job and then I never leave the house? What if the money stops? My day job provides a source of ideas for characters and story lines. What if I become a cat lady even though I prefer dogs does that mean I’ll be a dog lady just sitting at home with the dogs? What if I can’t keep it up? What if I have 5 good years and then all the sudden I can’t do it anymore? These are all legit fears. Perhaps some of you can identify with them. Perhaps you can’t. Regardless, I think it’s imperative that we get them out in the open. Suddenly, they seem so minuscule.

I hope this helps at least one person and lets some writers know that you’re not alone. Even though writing is a solitary path… it’s hard work, there’s a lot of sacrifices to be made, but you’re not alone.

Happy writing.

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Let Your Genre Pick You

So you’ve got an idea for a story but you’re fretting over what genre or category you’re going to put it in when it’s ready for sale. Or maybe you’re just starting out as a writer and you want to build your platform and marketing base before you write anything…STOP. Don’t worry yourself over literary labels. First, focus on writing your story, THEN worry about marketing and building a platform.

People say that you need to know your genre before you start because you need to know your target audience. (By the way, I totally don’t get the target audience thing…as a writer, my target audience is anyone who can read.) Write the damn story. Don’t worry about if that grumpy guy you work with will finally be impressed or if that chick on the fourth floor of your apartment building will disapprove. Yes, your audience is important but I think it’s total bullshit to try and target some sort of generalized stereotype…especially when you’re just starting out and you want anyone to read your book.

So, I wanted to write a novel in the fantasy genre…but Horror came out?

Story of my life. When I first started writing, I wanted to be a fantasy author- strictly fantasy. I wanted to write about magic, sorcerers, and evil queens. However, all of the ideas I got were dark. Some of them may have seemed like love stories at first, but then they always turned dark. I had no interest in the horror genre and tried to fight it. Don’t do that.

Embrace what comes to you naturally. If you start writing what you intend to be sci-fi but it turns western, go with it. See where it takes you. Cowboys and Aliens, anyone?

Even now, for this year’s NaNoWriMo, I sat down to write what I thought would be a fantasy novel about self-discovery and a rite of passage with a love story intertwined but do you know what happened? It turned completely dark. The fantastical elements are more pronounced and I don’t even think a love story still exists! And I’m fine with that. I’m not going to force the ebb and flow of creativity a certain way (another writer in a Facebook group suggested that we should…because we are writers and therefore gods or something… I don’t know. They spoke about how we’re supposed to control everything. I think they had issues).

Ok. I went with the flow, finished and edited my piece. Now what?

With your short story or novel being completed, it should be much easier to decipher which genre your writing leans towards. Yet, have you seen your Netflix genres lately? There’s action, there’s drama, there’s supernatural horror thriller with science fiction elements and a strong female lead. Wait. What? Yeah. And music has become the same way. No, that’s not rock music, that’s indie adult alternative. When did everything get so complicated?

You’re not going to be subjected to a firing squad if you mark your book as “action” when it’s “suspense.” I can’t say the same for you if you label it as “romance” and it’s really a sport’s almanac. Those romantics can be feisty. But I think I’ve made my point here. What’s most important is to A) not pigeon hole yourself into a specific genre and B) don’t get tied up and concerned with all of the details right away. There is a time and a place for picking a genre and before you write the story, isn’t it. The most important things you can do as a writer are to focus on your story and continuously seek to better your writing. If you produce quality work on a consistent basis, the rest will fall into place.

I hope this helps. Happy writing!

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NaNo Series Vol. 3: Eating Right During NaNo

What’s the right way to fuel your muse?

As November continues, it’s important that those of us participating in NaNoWriMo set ourselves up for success. Part of that involves eating right.

I’ve seen a lot of NaNo Prep videos on YouTube that suggest having snacks near your workstation so that you’re not constantly running to the kitchen when you get the munchies. What do these snacks consist of? Bucket loads of leftover Hallowe’en candy, copious amounts of caffeine (sugar-laden coffee, energy drinks…I used to be that person!) and other snacks such as greasy chips, fattening sweets and anything else that will end up rotting your teeth out, giving you a sugar crash, causing you to gain weight and your immune system to shut down right in the middle of holiday season.

I’m asking you not to do those things to yourself and your body will thank you. I used to be the person who ate the junk described above. I was always thin but felt oily, sluggish and fatigued. Sitting immobile in front of a computer didn’t help either but nowadays I tackle NaNoWriMo from a whole different perspective with an arsenal of healthy snacks and habits at my fingertips.

So what are some alternatives? Below is a list of things I use to keep me up and running during the month.

Apple Cider Vinegar or Lemon Water

I suggest watering it down and drinking it through a straw so that less acid hits your teeth. However, some people prefer drinking it like a shot. What I don’t suggest is mixing it into your protein shakes…ugh! Trust me, I tried it. The benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar range from improving your nutrient absorption to lowering cholesterol, boosting energy and even aiding in weight loss! It’s also important to note that herbs and spices like cinnamon and cayenne pepper have numerous benefits instead of our commonly used salt and black pepper… Why not try a new seasoning on an old dish?

Lemon water is often used for detox. If you’re really unhealthy, a detox may make you sick. However, water infused with lemon (you only need one!) can help stave off the urge to snack and help you stay boosted and energized. Plus it tastes yummy!

Meal Replacement Shakes

Ah, the glory of liquefied meal replacement. For someone who use to always skip breakfast because their stomach wasn’t awake that early in the morning, these things helped turn me into a healthier person. Whether it’s SlimFast, Muscle Milk, Olly’s or Shakeology (my own personal fav) find a shake that tastes great to you and has all the best vitamins and nutrients. Sometimes instead of having a shake for breakfast, it’ll be my dinner when I’m in a rush. Bottom line is, it’s healthy and keeps me trucking during those long writing sessions.

30 Day Meal Preps

By simply typing in “healthy meal prep” or “30-day meal prep” into your internet browser or a Pinterest search bar, you will find hundreds of healthy ideas for all meals of the day. The best part is that it only involves cooking once a week or once a month! Now, I know what your thinking. “I have a family of six! How can that be possible!?” It is! In fact, a lot of these meal preps are made for people with hectic schedules and larger families. Just think, one Sunday of cooking can set you up for a month of success and good eats.

Yogurt, Nuts, Fruits and Raw Vegetables

I hate to do this to you but when I say yogurt, I don’t mean the kind that has a bunch of added sugars. I’m talking about plain yogurt if you can stomach it. Yogurt is not only good for your digestive system but, like nuts and seeds, it can make you feel more full, faster.  All three are good sources of protein.

Speaking of protein (and can I mention vitamins?) fruit and fresh vegetables are excellent sources of nutrients and energy. If you’ve been living off of fast and processed food it may take some time to adjust but I promise that the results are phenomenal. Ever since I took the time to look into my diet and make adjustments, I’ve had more energy, my migraines have gone away (I really attribute this to the exercise) and my skin is much clearer.

And my last suggestion for you…

Stretch, Exercise and Get Fresh Air

Staying put in an office all day can be depressing, not to mention bad for your circulation. Get up once every hour and stretch your legs, your fingers, your back, and neck. If any part of your body ever feels strained during a writing session, that’s your bodies way of telling you to stop what you’re doing. So if you get a cramp or your legs are restless, stand up and stretch or go for a walk.

It’s no secret that sitting in front of the computer can be bad for our posture or even hard on our eyes! So take an hour and turn away from all screens- no tv, no cell phone, no tablet, etc. Let your eyes rest. Go for a walk in nature. I know, for some of us it’s already snowing outside. You’re writing won’t die if you walk away for an hour. In fact, it’ll thank you.

Exercise (yes, even walking) is a form of meditation. So I encourage you to go get lost in your thoughts. New ideas will come to you. Scenes that you were stuck on will magically provide a way out…a way to move forward.

If anything, I hope I’ve convinced one person to lead a healthier writing lifestyle.  I’ll leave you with this- someone once told me that if you eat “dead,” you are dead and if you eat “live,” you are alive. Now I’m not a vegetarian, and neither was this individual but give healthy stuff a chance. You may just be surprised at how much you prefer it to the chemically processed foods once your taste buds adjust. And a good rule of thumb I always follow when grocery shopping- if I look at the ingredient list and I can’t pronounce something, I don’t put it in my body!

Thank you and happy writing!

Photo Art © Ksenija Tojeckina Zavalnaja | Dreamstime.com

NaNo Series Vol. 2: Planning A Writing Project

Most writers fall into one to three categories when it comes to their method of writing and novel planning. There are pantsers, plotters, and those who are a mixture of both (like me). When starting a writing project, it’s important to look ahead so you don’t wind up writing yourself off of a cliff or into a dead end. So what’s the difference?

Not Much (If Any) Planning: Pantsers

A pantser is someone who sits down with little to absolutely no idea what their story is about. They are not sure who a majority of their characters are, if they know any at all. Some say that this is the essence of creativity. Pantsers make everything up as they go and usually abhor the idea of an outline. I find that this is usually because they hear or see the word ‘outline’ and think of those horrid things we had to write in grade school. In fact, outlining a novel is a much different process.

Planning: Plotters

Plotters are your outliners. They decide ahead of time where their story takes place, who the main players are and ultimately what their story is about. I used to consider myself a plotter and if you get really technical about it, I am but being a plotter doesn’t mean that you know every single detail in advance. This is usually where people get confused or overwhelmed when they hear the word ‘plotter’ or ‘outline.’

I once had a classmate tell me, “Oh no! You should NEVER outline. It ruins the creative process.” This particular classmate was often rather bossy and enjoyed telling others what they should do and how they should do it. In my opinion, whether you’re a pantser or a plotter, it doesn’t matter. You do what works best for you! Everyone is different.

A Mixture of Both?

I consider myself a mixture of both a pantser and a plotter because while I do have a plan when I sit down to write, not everything is planned or set in stone. I’m flexible. I allow my stories and characters to change and evolve. After all, some of my best ideas come while in the moment of writing but pantsing leaves me with no goal or sense of direction. I also find that I’m far more productive when I have a plan. When I know what is supposed to happen in a scene, it’s easier to get the words on paper.

My main problem- I didn’t like the format of my outlines. While I kept the door open for other things to happen, I wasn’t happy with this format. I researched ‘planning a novel‘ and stumbled upon what is known as ‘The Snowflake Method.’

What is the Snowflake Method?

A software architect named Randy Ingermanson designed The Snowflake Method. Stressing the importance of design, he combines physics and fractals with creative thinking. I made that sound more complicated than it is, but he does a better job of explaining it at his website, found here.

This method is fantastic for me. You take a simple idea and expand upon it in steps until you have a full story and a hefty outline. This is the point where you start to realize that pantsing and plotting go hand in hand. After all, there isn’t an outline for the outline. Meaning, plotters don’t plot before they plot, they have to dream up the outline too. So there is still a creative process happening. Overall, I find that this structure makes the writing process more pleasurable and the editing process less painstaking.

In the end, it’s your writing and your decision on how you want to go about it. There is nothing wrong with listening to someone else’s suggestions but you don’t have to take their advice (especially when you didn’t ask for it in the first place). What works for them may not work for you. The last person I suggested The Snowflake Method to freaked out and was convinced that I was asking them to draw a snowflake…no comment.

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Laszlo: The Seven Year Novella

When I first sat down to write Laszlo’s story, I had no idea it would take me seven years to complete and publish it. However, during the long process, I learned a lot about myself and my writing. Here are some of the most common questions that friends and fans have asked me about the process.

Where did the original idea come from?

The original idea for Laszlo came from a show I was watching on the Sci-Fi (Syfy) channel back in 2008 called “The Estate of Panic.” I was a fan of the host, Steve Valentine, and somehow intrigued by this idea of coming to a large estate with a tall, dark and handsome host- A host that you weren’t sure whether you could trust or not. That’s where the story started.

Originally, there were only two characters- Laszlo and Noelle. I’m not sure if that is normal or not for writers. (As if ‘writer’ and ‘normal’ are often used in the same sentence together.) Often, my ideas start out with one to two characters. The rest step in later. As the story evolved and fleshed out, characters like Ben, Dalca, and Kim emerged. I’m so glad they did…otherwise, it would have been a really boring tale.

Why did it take seven years to finish?

I was under the impression that while I should be writing every day if I didn’t feel the muse, I shouldn’t. I later realized my mistake. A writer writes every day no matter how they feel. The muse won’t always be there.

I’m also a perfectionist and that goes against writing in a very big way, especially when it comes to fiction. I spent a lot of time editing as I went and constantly tweaking and changing things before the story was completely written. That can slow someone down big time.

What did you struggle with the most during this project?

Pinning down the plot was a struggle. I had a clear beginning and a clear ending in mind when I first sat down to write. The middle was a mess- the dreaded drag of the middle- but it ended up working. The ending evolved and ultimately, I like that I opened it up to continue Noelle’s journey because, for a time, it was going to end in that chapel. Dalca’s character changed too and he ended up becoming much more than I had anticipated. I grew to like the guy more than Laszlo. That’s why their roles tango the way they do.

What did you learn after publishing for the first time?

I learned two of the most important lessons when it comes to writing. 1) Don’t wait for a muse and 2) Have a plan for the sagging middle.

I’m halfway between a ‘pantser’ and a ‘plotter.’ I believe in the building of a skeleton and my skeleton wasn’t complete when I started Laszlo. Now, my skeletons are complete when I start the first draft of a project. It makes writing so much easier. I still edit a little as I go. That’s not a rule that I’m against, though a lot of writers are. It makes the editing process at the end a lot shorter if I’m constantly going back and fixing grammar and spelling mistakes off the bat.

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Laszlo is currently available here.

Eliminate Distractions and Stay Focused

If you want to be productive or even prolific in your craft, one of the many things you must do is identify and eliminate your biggest distractions. This is a lot easier said than done since you may have distractions that you aren’t even aware of. The easiest way to track them down is to pay attention to where your time goes.

Often times my friends and family would ask me what I did over the weekend or the night before. Anything fun? It would take some serious brain power to remember what exactly I was doing over the weekend. Where did the time go? Granted, my life isn’t super interesting but I knew I did more than stare at my SO. The cogs in my brain started turning…what do I do?

I started paying more attention to what I did when I wasn’t at work. Besides general home maintenance and errands, I came up with five things that were taking up most of my time and found ways to handle them.

1. Cleaning and Reorganizing

Throughout the years I’ve spent a lot of time cleaning out cabinets, reorganizing them or rearranging furniture in an effort to make my writing environment less cluttered and more peaceful. The problem is, this stuff never really ends unless you just stop owning “stuff.” Which is eventually what I started doing.

I followed my instinct and became a minimalist in 2015. (Check out my first blog post about minimalism here.) Now it takes me all of 15 minutes to clean our entire home. No excuses. I’m not saying you have to become a minimalist but minimizing what you have can greatly decrease cleaning time. I once dated a guy who said, “You’re always cleaning all the time but I guess that’s why your place always looks nice.” Well, yea but once I realized that the “stuff” I was constantly reorganizing and cleaning didn’t really mean anything to me or had no purpose but to collect dust or take up space…I ditched it. Now keeping an orderly home is no longer a deterrent or an excuse.

2. Social Media, YouTube and Video Games

I never realized how much time I spent on the internet until the power went out during a hurricane and I (out of habit) kept walking to the computer… Social media can be especially tough to stay away from when you’ve used it to help build an author platform. In order to keep fans and readers engaged, you’re expected to be a constant online presence.

We have forsaken the idea of cable and network television and instead, joined the Hulu/Netflix crowd. Even that can have its downsides because the show you want to watch may not be on either…it’s on HBO plus or Acorns. Before I knew it, we were signed up to 5-6 different streaming sites. While still cheaper than cable, it’s annoying. For a time, we canceled all of our subscriptions to see if we could do without. We could…but then we just spent more time on YouTube. The best solution here is to cut the internet off during scheduled writing time.

That brings me to video games. I used to be a big time WoW player (World of Warcraft) not to mention Diablo, SWTOR, Fable and a bunch of random games on Steam, PS and Nintendo. Video games can be enjoyable. They have great story lines and can consume you. They can also be filled with characters and elements to fuel your writing but sometimes it’s time to step away. If you’re struggling, some games allow parental controls that limit how long you can play or what times you can play. When all else fails, unplug the system and stuff it in a closet (especially if you’re taking part in something like NaNoWriMo).

This is the book that started it all for me with NaNoWriMo: No Plot? No Problem! Revised and Expanded Edition: A Low-stress, High-velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days

3. Research

I can’t tell you the amount of times I have allowed my research to take me off on a tangent. It can create a huge dent in productivity when you stop in the middle of your writing to look up one topic…which leads to another…and another…and before you know it, you’ve wasted two hours learning about random crap. Schedule time for research and stick to that schedule. If there is something that pops into your mind during a writing session, write it down or highlight that section/topic to come back to later.

4. Reading about writing

If you’re anything like me, you enjoy reading books about the craft of writing. I have dozens on my kindle. Have they taught me anything I didn’t learn on my own by actually writing? No. Have they taught me anything that I couldn’t find for free in a blog? No. Were most of them a waste of money? Yes. There are very few books about writing that I’d recommend but that is a post for another day. Stop wasting your time reading about what you want to do and just do it! That’s the best way to learn how and what works for you. Just write!

Yes, I pretty much just told you to stop reading this blog…

5. Fanfiction

If you have yet to discover fanfiction, you’re missing out. Some of it is fantastic, some of it sucks but ultimately it’s a huge distraction and guilty pleasure of mine. I go through phases of reading it. I don’t write it like I used to in high school. Instead, I focus on my personal projects.

What’s fanfiction? Oh, it’s when you can make whatever you want happen with characters that already exist in fiction with no repercussions. Meaning you won’t get sued for writing a story where Frodo never makes it to Mordor or where Katniss chooses Gale instead of Peeta.

So how do you just say no to fanfiction? One, you can cut the internet off as stated before or two, you can take your idea and make it original or somehow incorporate what you want to happen into your own story. Perhaps, have one of your characters write fanfiction as a hobby? Personally, I just stay away from the main site. Fanfiction.net…you didn’t get that from me!

In the end, I hope these tips help you stay on target with your writing goals. If you have any more tips or suggestions please feel free to leave a comment below and share your ideas. You never know how a simple idea may really help someone!

Suggested Reading: 9 Ways to Increase Productivity as a Writer

Photo Art © Vladimir Masilko | Dreamstime.com

Why You Should Not Serialize Your Novel

When I first started publishing, I decided that I was going to serialize my first project. In hindsight, not only was it not so great of an idea but I also went about it the wrong way.

What is serializing?

Serializing is taking a longer work and breaking it up into smaller pieces. It was more popular back in the days of literary magazines, periodicals and Penny Dreadfuls- back when printing was expensive and the literacy rate was low. Don’t get me wrong, it has been used in more modern times. Stephen King first published The Green Mile in serialized format through a magazine. However, it’s not making as big of a comeback as others may want you to think.

Is serialization making a comeback?

No. I wish it was.

The idea is appealing. In our busy world, shorter snippets are more agreeable than a 200,000-word book. But with the overflow of self-published authors (some are definitely worth their salt- Hocking and Howey to name a couple) there are a lot of budding, talented authors selling their grand novels for the same price as one would set for a serial. This opens a whole can of worms (and I’ve considered doing a series of blog posts dealing with the world of self-publishing. The pricing of e-books. Mistakes that self-published authors make. But I digress.)

Mistakes I Made During the Process

Serialization is a great way to get your name out there but it’s most likely not going to make you much money unless you’ve already got a platform and a fan base. If it’s your first publication- don’t do what I did. Don’t try and serialize when you’re virtually unknown. Why? It makes it look cheap- like you’re out for money. You’re putting three pieces out at .99 c at 15k words each…or you could put the whole project of 45k words out for the same price. In short, the competition is too high among unknown authors to release a bunch of short pieces for the same price as one long piece.

I also made the mistake of publishing the first of three pieces without having the other pieces finished. This is a big no-no. Not that there is a time limit on self-publishing but it’s like submitting your first three chapters to a literary agent and then not having the whole book written. It’s literary suicide. And I committed it…and I’m still here and publishing (so obviously it’s not the end of the world BUT-) Save yourself some grief and don’t put yourself under that kind of stress.

Thirdly, I made the mistake of making my own cover art for the two pieces I ended up publishing. Making your own cover art doesn’t have to be difficult especially when you consider yourself an artsy person and have knowledge of graphic design concepts (something I know now that I didn’t know then). The covers looked like shit. The blurbs were awful because they weren’t for the entire story as a whole.

I mean look at these:

My original self-made covers...
My original self-made covers…

24872925

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…I made a huge mistake.

Luckily, I was able to take them down and start fresh. I ended up publishing what became the novella Laszlo as one piece. I got an artist to design the cover art and studied how to write a proper book blurb. Within the first night of these simple changes, I had eight downloads. What a big difference! Yea, yea, eight downloads won’t buy me more than dinner for one day BUT for someone who was completely unknown, with nothing more than a Facebook author profile at the time, I considered that a huge success.

The professionally made cover. Much better.
The professionally made cover. Much better. (First Edition)

So should you serialize?

Ultimately, it’s your life and your decision. However, if you clicked on this blog then you must’ve been curious as to what could be said on the matter. I highly advise against serializing especially when you’re new. Could it be an option for the future? Sure. Why not? Could it be an option if your name is J.K. Rowling or James Patterson? Absolutely. And if you do decide to serialize, please don’t repeat my mistakes. I did the stupid stuff and learned the lesson. Now, I’m teaching you so that you don’t have to.

Happy writing!

Photo Art:

Cover © Teodororoianu | Dreamstime.com

Book 1 © Michele1984 | Dreamstime.com

Book 2 © Lio2012 | Dreamstime.com

NaNo Vol. 1: What is NaNoWriMo?

What is NaNoWriMo?

NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month which is in November. It started out as a national event when it was created by Chris Baty in 1999. Back then I think only twenty-one people participated so “national” may have been a bit of a stretch. Flash forward to 2016 and it has become international.

People from all over the world participate and they don’t just write novels. While it was originally developed for people trying to write a novel-length project, many use it to write short story collections, screenplays or even to tackle that thesis paper or dissertation.

Why 50k words?

The length of a novel is debatable. That goes along with other lengths of fiction as well, whether it be a short story, novella or even something as small as flash fiction and micro fiction. Genres may also play into length but to keep things simple, we will just talk about length right now.

Here is the breakdown from what I understand:

Short stories= <7500

Novelettes (I didn’t know they existed either)= 7500-15000

Novellas= 15000-40000

Novel= 50000<

That hazy area between 40k and 50k I never know where to place. I’ve seen some titles marked as ‘novels’ when they are very small. It’s possible that these fall into that gap. (Ex. The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Spears, or Brian’s Winter by Gary Paulsen.)

Also, most books that have a greater word count than 100k are often deemed ‘epics’ such as, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.

This is part of why 50,000 words became the goal; it’s the smallest length of a novel that is widely agreed upon. It can also be easily broken down over the course of a month. Many professional authors state that they write anywhere upwards from 1500 words a day. 50,000 divided by 30 days equates to roughly 1667 words per day.

The Evolution of NaNoWriMo

As you can see from some of what was mentioned above, NaNoWriMo is an ever-evolving monster. The main point that its creator was trying to drive was forming a habit of writing every day. Even if you only write 500 words a day, progress is progress and a daily routine/habit will be established.

Sitting down to write a novel can be daunting. Even if you’re doing it for pleasure (which should always be at least one of the reasons). After all, 50k words is a lot! And to think that’s just a first draft. Most popular novels are 80,000 words+ and if you write like Stephen King, he cuts 10% of his novel out during editing…so 50,000 words won’t cut it for a final draft.

The object is not to write a polished, publishable novel in 30 days. It’s just to get that first draft out. That can be the hardest part or it can be the part that’s most fun. The real writing comes in the editing process and re-writes. That is what will end up making or breaking you as a writer.

How did I first hear about NaNoWriMo?

I first heard about NaNoWriMo when I was in college. I was a member of The Writer’s Digest Book Club and one of the books I was drawn to was Chris Baty’s No Plot? No Problem! (Grab a copy here.)

Obviously, I purchased it and low and behold, he introduced me to his creation – NaNoWriMo. I’ve been participating ever since. That means that this November (2016), will be my 9th year participating. Have I hit the 50k word goal every year? No. I’ve only reached the goal five years out of the previous eight.

Why November?

November isn’t always the ideal time of year for people. In America, we are dealing with Thanksgiving and Winter Holidays, school, and travel. Whereas I have a friend in Australia who has Christmas during her summer break.

Chris explained in a YouTube video that November was the month his group of friends settled on due to family vacations. Now that NaNo has become so popular, two other annual month-long writ-a-thons were born under the name Camp NaNoWriMo. The camps take place during April and July.

My Goals for 2016 NaNo

This year, I’m trying to set myself up for success but I’m also crazy enough to shoot for a bigger challenge. There are several projects I want to work on this time around and I have no idea how long they will all be as I’m still in the brainstorming phase. However, this year I’ve told myself that I want to double the 50k word goal. I’m shooting for 100k. Yes, I’m insane but I believe it’s possible.

Rey (She is totally a Kenobi): Is that even possible?

Han Solo: I never ask that question ’till after I’ve done it.

If NaNoWriMo sounds like something you’d be interested in, you can sign up for free at their site. And if you need a writing buddy feel free to add me, Aljinon.

Photo Art © Weerapat Wattanapichayakul | Dreamstime.com

One Year of Minimalism: 1000 Item Challenge

Last September, I opened my heart and mind to the concept of minimalism. For years, I had cringed whenever I heard the word, not truly understanding what it meant. For some reason, September 2015 was a turning point and I decided to embrace it. I cursed myself for not trying it sooner.

This year, to celebrate a whole year of developing a minimalist mentality and paying off 30% of my debt, I have decided to celebrate by giving away more. I’m donating/throwing away 1,000 items.

The Minimalism Challenge

When I started this challenge a little over two weeks ago, I thought it would be tough. However, after the first weekend, I had already surpassed 700 items. By that point, I had fooled myself into thinking it was going to be easy. As you can see by my numbers below, I began to struggle.

The object is to only have things in your home that serve a purpose or you bring joy.

Days:

  1. 265
  2. 226
  3. 283
  4. 5
  5. 80
  6. 97= total of 956.
  7. 12
  8. 0
  9. 2
  10. 22
  11. 0
  12. 0
  13. 0
  14. 1
  15. 4
  16. 3

I feel like I’ve donated or thrown away everything that I can at this point without letting go of something I need or cherish. There may be things that I don’t wish to give up now that I’ll be fine parting with a year later.

Starting out, it didn’t feel like a minimalist challenge. In the course of one year, I hadn’t acquired a lot of things but I had learned to let go of things that didn’t matter; things that mattered to me last year that I wasn’t willing to part with but this year, I could. It shows personal growth. It shows a lack of need for a life filled with material things.

Keep donating!

What are some of the things I was willing to part with this year that I couldn’t last year? Here was where I got the largest amount of “stuff” from.

  1. Craft supplies. Old paint, beads, soap-making dyes and molds, candle making molds. Every craft had become a distraction from the real craft I wanted to pursue- writing.
    I use to make candles, soaps and essential oils. In this box, you can see some of the old bottles I used.

    Here, you can see old stencils, paints and materials for craft projects – some of which I never even started.
  2. Clothes and Jewelry. There are always clothes to donate, old bed sheets, a blanket. Jewelry that I don’t wear.
    I’ve never been a huge jewelry person yet I had tons of it! Most of them had been gifts from people who didn’t know me too well…

    Believe it or not, clothing and kitchenware were my two biggest culprits next to books and half-used craft supplies.
  3. Kitchenware. Bake ware that is unused. Extra handfuls of silverware, baking trays, Tupperware that is missing lids.
    A box full of unnecessary kitchen items.
    Not just these but all the junk behind them too!

    Old mixing bowls from a deceased relative…

Some of these items are more geared towards females but where I had too many craft supplies, you may have too many old car parts that need to be fixed…that you know you haven’t repaired in five years and you’re not going to. I know a number of guys who have more pairs of shoes than I do writing utensils…

…A Caveat

By default, females are going to have more things. Think about it, a man’s underwear consists of one garment. A woman’s consists of two. In addition, women have more styles of clothing and it’s socially acceptable for us to have more jewelry, make-up, hair products because society pressures us more about our appearance. These societal “norms” have been (thankfully) crumbling within the last few decades. Men and women are slowly but surely becoming more and more equal. It’s possible I’m being biased. Do you have old action figures that have been taken out of the box and aren’t worth anything? Golf clubs that never get used and can be sold for spare change?

Keep Letting Go!

As we enter the “giving” season, the season of sharing and being thankful, I challenge all of you to purge the clutter. It doesn’t have to be 1,000 items. Donate five shirts to charity, or two spare blankets as the weather begins to chill. If there are only two people living in your household, do you really need 3 different sets of plates (each a set of 8+)?? How many coffee mugs get used at one time? Drinking glasses? Spatulas? Soup Ladles?

Do not be afraid to let go. You don’t have to become a minimalist. I’m not asking you to join a cult.

If you’re not sure where to start, Marie Kondo makes a living by helping people “tidy-up” their homes. On the contrary, the “KonMari Method” (as she calls it) is not as extreme as minimalism but the concepts are the same. If you need help getting started, I highly recommend her book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.


Note: We can sometimes inherit a lot of junk from deceased relatives. I’d love to share my story about that with you. Please check out my post: Minimalism and the Death of a Loved One.


 

Photo Art © Hemul | Dreamstime.com

5 Reasons to Get a Pen Name and How I Chose Mine

When I first started writing, I typed my name into Google Search to see what would appear. To my dismay, my birth name was a lot more popular than I had realized. After all, I had met tons of people with my first name but no one with my last name who wasn’t family. I found a music artist, a discographer, a “professional spanking model” …yea. Needless to say, I wasn’t any of those and most certainly did not want to be associated with one. After typing my name into the Amazon.com search bar, I saw results for an author with my name. I made the decision then and there that a pen name was required.

Even though the other author only had two books out and she hadn’t published anything since 1999, I had seen enough. I did not want my future audience to be confused. So what did I do? I started researching pen names and began the overwhelming task of giving myself a new identity- one that I could live with should this whole writing thing work. Here are some of the reasons you may be considering a pen name.

1. Your name is already taken by another author, celebrity or popular figure. 

Just like mine. Letter for letter. Word for word. Spelled and pronounced exactly the same. It can be confusing to an audience. Don’t confuse your readers. They are your friends.

I’ve included celebrities and other popular figures in this group. If your birth name is Mick Jagger or Tom Hanks, it may increase your initial sales but I fear what sort of backlashes may come. Will you always be in their shadow? Will their agencies retaliate (even though it’s your real name and you should have a right to it)? Don’t you want your own identity?

2. Your name is very similar to another author. 

This goes hand in hand with the first one, with a twist. If your name is Stephen Kinn or Susan Collins (I believe there are two authors named Suzanne Collins), it may initially boost your sales but what kind of repercussions might there be? Would your work be constantly compared to the other author’s because readers originally thought you were someone else? It’d be heartbreaking to have a bunch of two-star reviews because your style or genre was completely different to what people expected. Yes, it’s their fault for assuming who you were but do you really want to deal with that kind of drama?

3. Your name is hard to pronounce.

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Perhaps you’re writing for an English speaking nation but you’re not from one and so your names, alphabet characters, and pronunciations are vastly different. Might be wise to switch it up if you hope to become a household name. How many times have you heard M. Night Shyamalan’s name slaughtered? And that IS his pen name! Have you tried pronouncing his full real name?

4. You’re writing across multiple genres.

If you’re writing fantasy, science-fiction, and horror, fine. They often cross one another’s lines and can be commonly grouped as “weird fiction.” However, if you’d like to write erotica, dabble in science-fiction, write a historical western and a non-fiction book on the proper care of chinchillas…consider multiple pen names.

When J.K. Rowling stepped away from Harry Potter and started writing more adult novels, it backfired. Sure, she was still raking in the money but if you’re writing novels for the money, you’re doing it for the wrong reason. (We’ll cover that in a different post). From then on, when she published a non-Harry Potter book, she published under the name Robert Galbraith. We still knew it was her. However, it allowed her to create a new identity without the pressure of expectation.

5. Your name is associated with something not-so-great.

This is for those of you out there with last names like Hitler, Mengele, Stalin… or if your name is really Pol Pot. Granted, the last name I picked is very similar to Bathory so I’m being a bit of a hypocrite with this one. I thought it was fitting since I prefer to write about darker things. And I really didn’t want people to think I was a “professional spanking model.” I didn’t even know that was a thing!?!

How I Chose My Pen Name

That brings us to how to come up with a pen name and how I came up with mine. At first, I browsed baby name websites. It’s something I do when naming characters. I thought about all the names I liked. I originally published under Elizabeth Tesla which quickly became S.J. Tesla in an attempt to hide my gender/identity. I don’t recall my reasoning.

But there I was, not following my own advice. As a fan of Nikola Tesla, I wanted to somehow pay tribute to him. Should I start writing heavy science-fiction, maybe I’ll go back? In the end, the name didn’t fit me. It wasn’t personal enough. Next, I took a long hard look at my own name and pondered how I could rearrange it. I ended up combining my middle and last names to make Bethory.

Bethory. I’m happy with that. It’s not a real surname so no one else has it, yet it sounds a lot like Bathory which points towards my genres of horror and dark fantasy. Perfect.

Coming up with the first name was a lot simpler. My birth name means “Princess” and Regina means “Queen.” Essentially I just gave myself a promotion. But Regina means more than that. It was the perfect fit. It was the character I most identified with in ABC’s Once Upon a Time and my mother has an aunt named Regina, who (to make a long story short) made some very bold and independent choices in her life which I greatly respect.

Problems You May Encounter With a Pen Name

Now, I had a pen name that actually meant something to me. The only trouble I ran across was from people who knew me in person. When I changed all of my social media accounts to my pen name, I lost a few friends. But hey, if they didn’t know I was an aspiring writer at the time then I guess we weren’t that close of friends.

The other problem you may encounter is when people you know in person find out that you’re a writer and express interest in your work. Then you have to tell them that it’s under a pen name. I once had a co-worker ask me, “What’s the point of having a pen name if you tell everyone who you are?” Well, that’s just it. If you don’t tell them and they know you by your real name…they aren’t going to find your work. DUH. Engineers are supposed to be smart

Hopefully, if you’re debating on taking on a pen name, this has given you enough food for thought. Take your time and don’t expect to settle on something overnight. If you’re successful (and you will be should you stick with it!) you will go down in history with your new identity. Make sure you love it! After all, as an author your name is your brand.

Photo Art from Canva.com

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