Tag Archives: writing

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!

Photo Art © Alexander Ishchenko | Dreamstime.com

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.

Photo Art © Vetkit | Dreamstime.com

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.

~~~~~~~~

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