Author Toolbox Blog Hop: On youth and inexperience

There’s a particular piece of writing advice that got under my skin early on in my writing ‘career’:

Write what you know.

I have gone through stages of agreeing and disagreeing with this statement, but ultimately, the spirit of this tenet wins out. After all, readers will only read your book, will fall in love with your book, if there is an element of truth in it. Not necessarily Truth with a capital T, but truth in the sense that what you’ve written is convincing enough to pull them in and keep them in your book. And to be convincing you have to, in a sense, write what you know.

My early stories were all directly lifted from or in response to things that were going in my life. I wasn’t very creative; my main characters were author avatars, and the people around me and their actions served as inspiration for secondary characters and rough subplots.

I quickly became bored with writing these stories. Though I am of the belief that every experience, from the mundane to the singular, holds the potential for inspiring a new story, there are only so many stories you can write about making banana pancakes before your mind craves something new.

As a young and aspiring author, I’ve had a hard time accepting the idea that I should write what I know since, honestly, I don’t know much. After all, I’m only twenty-five. And I’m impatient. I don’t want to wait around until I have enough Life Experience Points in order to start writing, but neither do I want to burn myself out trying to gather up experiences like they’re Easter eggs and I have to find all of them before they start to rot and reek to high Heaven.

In my experience, an Easter egg hunt has never been fun. And an Easter egg hunt is not writing.

Instead, a much more useful piece of writing advice came when I took a Creative Writing class while studying abroad in Sydney during my junior year of college. The writer Nakkiah Lui visited our class, and during her talk she gave us a variation on the theme:

Write what scares you.

If you’ve written drama but have never written comedy, write comedy. If you’ve written romance but have never written horror, write horror. It even goes into different forms: if you’ve never written poetry, write poetry; if you’ve never written a play, write a play.

In addition to giving you more writing practice (something every writer needs), writing what scares you also allows you to expand your horizons, allows you to gain life experience even if you’ve never experienced these events yourself. By putting your best effort to produce good writing in areas outside of your expertise, you’ll gain Life Experience Points and get better at writing.

There are a million more ways I could break down the advice to write what scares you, but I’ll end this way:

As a young writer, I feel strange talking about writing and giving advice, even on this blog, an ostensibly personal space in a public arena. But in my limited experience, a healthy amount of fear is a good indication that I’m going in the direction of something worthwhile. It might not result in a publication, or even in a story that I can show to anyone while I’m alive, but it results in something, that will lead to something else, that will lead to something else, that will lead to something I can be proud of. But I never would have gotten there if I didn’t go in the direction of my fears.

So what’s a writing fear you’ve been working on conquering lately? Let me know in the comments!


This post was written as part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop organized by the human dynamo, Raimey Gallant. Every month, authors at all stages of their career blog about specific resources/learning opportunities for fellow writers. To continue hopping through other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, click here.

#weekendcoffeeshare: 25

If we were having coffee, I’d first pull you over to the window where my desk is, and show you the view of the community garden across the street, and the natural light that spills in, even on a cloudy day. Though the past few weeks have been more stressful than usual (moving apartments does that), I am grateful for the light and the window.

And I’d also offer you a slice of cake or other homemade food item. I turned twenty-five this week, and I like the idea of a Hobbit-style birthday—giving things on the day rather than receiving them. And let me know if you want a refill on anything; I’m also the type to celebrate a birthday for a whole week.

Twenty-five is a funny year. I don’t quite know what to make of it. Am I young? Old? Am I right where I need to be, with all my uncertainty and discomfort? Am I ahead? Or behind?

So far, the first week of being twenty-five has been dedicated to playing catch-up. I feel like my work life has both picked up pace and maintained a steady footing, so now I’m trying to get everything else up to scratch. I opened my personal planner for the first time in months, started filling in the pages, and cleaned off my desk to signal the start of something new. I caught up with a former coworker over coffee on Thursday, caught up with another friend over the phone yesterday morning, and wrote and sent some letters I had been meaning to write and send.

Now that I have things more or less organized, I am turning my thoughts to questions that are further-reaching. Where am I going to be in the next year? The next five years? The next ten? When I was a teenager, I barely believed that I would make it to be twenty-five, let alone what I would be doing when I got here, or after. Answering these questions now is harder than I thought it would be.

How about you? What comes to mind when you think “twenty-five”?


This post was created as part of #weekendcoffeeshare. Check out more posts in the hashtag.

Author Toolbox Blog Hop: Judging books by their covers

Image from ninocare on pixabay

We all know the old adage: “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” However, as much as we’d like to believe that our novels, short story collections, and other writing would be judged by the content and the craft, so much depends on that first impression, on getting people to pick up your book in the first place. Even with the rise in e-books, covers matter.

So I thought I would do a review of some of my mock e-book covers to explore what works (and what doesn’t) when it comes to cover design. For aspiring authors looking to self-publish, having the tools to create your own book cover can go a long way for marketing purposes. For aspiring authors looking to get traditionally published, I’m not sure exactly where cover design happens in the process, but it’s probably good to know some basic design principles, just in case.

I’ll be using the mock covers I created for last year’s NaNoWriMo project, all of which were created using Canva1. Canva is a web-based design tool with a lot of free or cheap templates and images to create compelling graphics, not just e-book covers, but blog graphics, infographics, social media graphics, and more. I’ve been using it for a few years and I highly recommend checking it out.

Without further ado, onto the review!

Mock Cover #1: “Moody’s mood for love”

Hide And Seek 1

This cover is a bit dark, a bit mysterious, and I think captured the tone of my NaNo project quite well. Because the story takes place in a forest, I used a photo I had taken a few years ago of the sun shining through some tree leaves, passed it through a few filters, and slapped it into Canva. The result, I think, is pretty haunting.

Why this works: The letters are bold, the background is compelling without being too distracting, and the title is more prominent than my name.

Why it doesn’t: The way the text is placed in the photo, the light makes the “Hide” difficult to read at a distance or in a small thumbnail. Also, there’s a weird mixing of fonts here, from all-caps to lower case to serif versus sans-serif. The font mixing isn’t a deal-breaker (many great designs can mix fonts to great effect), but it doesn’t quite work here.

Mock Cover #2: “Modern art”

Hide And Seek 2

Because there was a nice symmetry to my title (4 letters, 3 letters, 4 letters), I thought I would give this one a try. The effect, I think, was pretty interesting and I do like how unique it is as a cover, even though I would probably never use this one myself.

Why it works: It’s a pretty compelling design, from the mirrored image and text. Because this novel has a few parallel storylines, this cover captured that in a unique way. The main characters have a bit of a “falling through the looking glass” moment, and the mirrored text captures that as well.

Why it doesn’t: The text of the title is too thin and difficult to read. While the background photo might be interesting, it’s too chaotic and distracting in this iteration. And finally, there’s the font mixing again, and this time it’s not that great. The serif author name combined with the sans-serif and thin lines of the title make for a weird cover.

Mock Cover #3: “What was I thinking?”

Hide And Seek 3

For this one, I used a photo I took in Central Park of a pretty enchanted spot. I was searching for a layout that would work with the photo, and came across this one. The effect is…not my favorite. But! I was still experimenting with covers at this point.

Why it works: The yellow is pretty bold, and combined with the de-saturated background, the title stands out.

Why it doesn’t: To be frank, this cover is quite ugly. The colors are all wrong, the placement of the byline and title is wrong, and the photo isn’t displayed in all its glory. Of the covers I created, this one is my least favorite.

Mock Cover #4: “The runner-up”

Hide And Seek 4

I took the same photo from Mock Cover #1 and instead of passing it through a black-and-white filter, I boosted the color and darkened it to get that same kind of grunge look. The result, again, matches the feel of the work, how the characters find themselves in this different, but similar, world.

Why it works: The colors are great. The title is bold and readable. Though there’s font mixing, it works here, because the fonts are both so different and serving the purpose they’re meant to serve. (The title is meant to be big and eye-catching, and the author name is meant to be clear, but still understated.)

Why it doesn’t: No big red flags here, in my opinion. The title font might be a little more unique, but I think that it’s perfectly fine as it stands.

Mock Cover #5: “The final form”

Hide And Seek 5

This was what I eventually went with for my NaNoWriMo project. The photo is a free stock photo from Canva, and looking at this again it’s somewhat reminiscent of the covers for Lev Grossman’s The Magicians trilogy2. Though I have some mixed feelings about that trilogy, the covers are pretty damn compelling.

Why it works: The font is clear and readable, and the image is eye-catching without being distracting. In many ways, the font and the photo work together, and neither element is really fighting for dominance. The image is also very dramatic and mysterious, a good choice for a fantasy novel.

Why it doesn’t: No red flags, in my opinion. I chose this as the cover, so it probably works, right?

Final Thoughts

Cover design is something that professional designers spend days and weeks getting just right, and so if you’re looking to create your book cover yourself, be sure to take your time and really consider what’s working and what’s not. The next time you’re out and about buying books, take a few moments to consider what works and what doesn’t. When you find yourself drawn to a book, aside from looking at the title and the author, examine the cover. What appeals to you? What made the cover eye-catching?

What are some of your favorite book covers? And what makes them work, in your opinion? Leave a comment below!


This post was written as part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop organized by the human dynamo, Raimey Gallant. Every month, authors at all stages of their career blog about specific resources/learning opportunities for fellow writers. To continue hopping through other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, click here.

Notes:

[1] Canva — web-based design tool, Canva.com
[2] The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Additional Links:

#weekendcoffeeshare: ‘Round my hometown

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you that it’s much too late in the day (er, night) to have caffeinated beverages. But then again, I’ve always been terrible at making good choices and managing my sleep schedule, so yes, I’ll take coffee anyway. The sleepless night and the compulsion to write something reminds me of my senior year in high school when I would do just this—drink coffee and stay up spinning tales. And lately, I’ve been thinking about my hometown.

There is a split in my life, a “Before” and “After”, but I’ve been thinking lately that I’ve been categorizing it incorrectly. It is not “Before Moving to New York” and “After Moving to New York”, but rather, “Before I Started Writing” and “After I started Writing”. Writing has always been part of my list of hobbies, but it wasn’t until I started journaling with some regularity during high school that my inner life really kicked off.

My best friend since middle school was in town this week, and she is the type of person I can pick up with right away. She has known me through my quietest moments, has seen me lose my cool, and is the type to correct my memory while dispensing with unnecessary niceties. The things I remember are either rose-tinted idylls or turbid voids, and not much else in between. She one of the few people I know who fills in the spectrum.

And I’ve been thinking about my hometown because of my friend, but also because I’ve been thinking about writing. Tomorrow I’ll be getting comments back from my writing class on a short story, and I’ve been nervous ever since I gave them the story. While I’m proud of that piece, it’s not as “mission statement”-y as I like. The story isn’t really representative of what I write about.

Ever since I figured out that this was the reason for my discomfort, I’ve been trying to describe, with as much precision as possible, what it is I write about. If the story I sent in isn’t it, then what is it? I used to think that not having a defined focus would allow me to explore all topics, would allow me to write anything and everything I want without fear of being boxed into a genre. I’m seeing now that there must be some underlying and narrow motivation. After all, I can’t major in “The Universe.”

I’m still figuring it out, though I can feel myself circling around something. My writing topic—the Major Dramatic Question that drives not just a particular story, but all of my creative work—is elusive, but lurking just out of the corner of my eye. Still, I feel like I’ll lock onto it soon, and then…well, we’ll see how it goes.

But I’m curious: What do you write about?


This post was created as part of #weekendcoffeeshare. Check out more posts in the hashtag.

Author Toolbox Blog Hop: Time, like mischief, should be managed

As a young/novice/aspiring author, I have a lot of other things on my plate that aren’t strictly writing-related. I work full-time at a job I really care about and want to do well in. I’m trying to get my stuff together to apply to grad school at the end of this year to start attending next fall. I have reading goals, and fitness goals, and savings goals. I’m in a long-term relationship. I’m trying to be a better friend.

A lot of young/novice/aspiring authors like me have the same or similar strains on their time.

So where does writing fit in? How are we expected to make progress in our careers if we have all of these other things we have to balance? And how are we supposed to get better at writing at all?

There are lots of books and methods and theories on time management, and it can take a long time to find the right one for you. What follows is a list of what I do to make time for writing and all the things surrounding it. Take what you need, and feel free to leave a comment on what you do to manage your time!

The way I manage my time is by establishing a routine.

One of my favorite things on the internet is an infographic1 showing the daily routines of famous creatives. While I don’t believe they followed these routines to the hour for every day of their adult life (or even when they were at their most prolific in their creative work), they probably followed these patterns to a close enough approximation.

Looking at these charts, many of these famous creatives had the benefit of long, uninterrupted time to work on their creative pursuits. After all, for many of them, it was their career. They were professional creative people. Young/novice/aspiring authors often don’t have that benefit, unless they have the resources to go to a writing retreat for an extended period of time or are in an MFA program. (And even in an MFA program, teaching and classes can quickly eat up time.)

But there are no excuses: A writer has to take (or make) the time to write.

There isn’t a magical formula. As you can see from these charts, these famous creatives had very different ways of living. Franz Kafka kept weird hours and did most of his creative work at night. Charles Dickens took long walks around London. Maya Angelou blocked off her afternoons and evenings with her husband. A decent number of these people had day jobs (and many of them did some kind of teaching).

But they all have a chart. They all have a basic outline for how a day would go and stuck to it.

Data gathering is an important step to putting together a routine that will work.

I had a Passion Planner2 for a while, and though it ultimately ended up not meshing well with my organization style, I did make use of the hour-by-hour breakdown for each day. It was useful to block off the time I had to spend at my full-time job, and then figure out how the rest of my goals fit in around it.

At the beginning of the week I would write in my expected time commitments for each day. Every time something changed, I changed it in my Passion Planner, but I would still keep what the original expectation was. Did I expect to work 10-6 but instead worked from 9:30 to 7? Did I take my lunch break at 1pm like I planned, or at 2 instead? Did I exercise that day? If I did, was it at the time I slotted for it?

After a few weeks of this, I was able to see some general patterns emerge. I can pretty reliably get up to work out in the morning, but if I’m not out the door by 5:30am then I’m probably not going to exercise that day. Most days I prefer taking my lunch at 1:30 or 2, and I’ll typically take a longer lunch break so that I can have a solid chunk of writing time. As a result, I’ll stay at the office a little bit longer. My commute is the longest part of my day, and also the most variable. Some days I’ll spend 20 minutes door-to-door, and other days the trains will be delayed and it’ll take me 40 minutes.

Once I figured out my natural inclinations, I was able to create a pretty solid routine that I could stick to.

But still, that initial routine I created a few months ago doesn’t actually apply anymore.

It’s important to build in flexibility and allow the routine to change.

My routine now looks something like this:

My routine
Light Blue = Sleep; Yellow = Leisure; Red = Creative Work; Green = Day Job/Administrative; Dark Blue = Exercise; Grey = Other

My exercise happens a bit later in the day now because I’m running with my boyfriend, who is definitely not a morning person. I’m still writing during my lunch break, but since the weather has been nicer I can write in one of the many outdoor seating areas around my office. I no longer have to walk to the Barnes & Noble several blocks away, so I don’t have to take quite as long of a break.

And I’m sure this schedule will change once again. It’s all a matter regularly reviewing what my expectations are for my time and examining what the reality is.

Time tracking can be a great motivator.

One thing I struggle with is actually taking the time to write and edit fiction. I write a lot, and fill in every crack and crevice of my day with writing, but a lot of that is journaling or planning, and not actually putting effort into fiction writing.

So I appealed to the data nerd aspect of my personality.

For several months I’ve been tracking my time with Gleeo Time Tracker3 on my phone. I started using a time tracker when I switched jobs last year and needed a way to keep track of how many hours I worked in a day. Because the tool itself is quite flexible, I decided to use it to keep track of my writing as well.

I created categories for the five kinds of writing I do: Journaling, Blogging, Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry. Then I broke these down into even simpler tasks, i.e. Planning, Editing, Writing.

From there it was a matter of being rigorous with actually tracking the time. I kept my phone screen on throughout my writing sessions and anytime I would switch tasks (from editing a short story to starting in on a new draft of a story, for example), I would switch my time tracker. I also have a category for administrative tasks, like submitting to journals, organizing the writing on my computer, and compiling my time charts themselves.

At the end of each month I plug the data into Google Sheets and make some charts:

Did I actually spend enough time writing and editing fiction? How does that compare to my other types of writing? And do I feel satisfied with the amount of work that I’ve put in?

What it ultimately comes down to is rigorously and honestly examining my writing life, and how it fits into the rest of life.

My system isn’t perfect yet. Hell, it’s hardly a system, really, and more an amalgam of time tracking, productivity, and data-gathering techniques I’ve learned over the (very short) years of my life. But every month I can answer, with solid evidence, two questions:

  1. Did I write?
  2. Was it enough?

And I solemnly swear that the answers go pretty far.


This post was written as part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop organized by the human dynamo, Raimey Gallant. Every month, authors at all stages of their career blog about specific resources/learning opportunities for fellow writers. To continue hopping through other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, click here.

Notes:

[1] The Daily Routines of Famous Creative People, https://podio.com/site/creative-routines
[2] Passion Planner, http://www.passionplanner.com/
[3] Gleeo Time Tracker, https://gleeo.com/index.php/en/

Header image from Pixabay.

Reblog from Raimey Gallant – Announcing new monthly blog hop for authors: #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

Hi everyone,

Life has been busy, but I just wanted to take a quick moment to share this new blog hop hosted by the wonderful Raimey Gallant! I’ve added my name to the list, so I’ll be posting every month about tools and resources I’ve come across that are (hopefully) helping me along my (aspiring) author journey. I also urge you to regularly check in on this hop once it gets going and read the advice from the participants. I definitely will be, and I’m looking forward to learning a lot.

As a teaser: My first post will be about time management for aspiring authors, especially for those who are working full-time and trying to make headway on improving as a writer. Be on the lookout for that closer to the start of the hop on April 19th!

Ever yours,
Caroliena

Raimey Gallant

Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2

For those who aren’t familiar with me, I created the 400-participant Nano Hop in 2016. We aren’t going to let this one-time-signup, monthly blog hop get quite so big. I think anywhere from 20 to 30 participants would be a great number for the first hop in April, and considering how many people I recruited for my last hop, 20 to 30 for a start won’t be a problem. You will get out of this hop what you put into it. Because of the way the rules are laid out, if you give 20 comments, you should expect close to that amount in return. If you’re hemming and hawing over whether to sign up, remember that those coveted top positions in the blog roll are first come first serve.

The Rules:
1. Theme:This is a monthly blog hop on the theme of resources/learning for authors: posts related to the…

View original post 870 more words

Notes from the bottomless pit

  • I have not blogged in a while, but not for want of inspiration. There is no shortage of things to write about, of news to comment on. But much of it has been overwhelmingly discouraging. I find myself wanting more than ever to isolate myself in the escape of fiction.
  • Whatever I expected out of Donald Trump’s administration did not make it easier to stomach these past few weeks.
  • I no longer want to write about writing or read about writing—these topics seem inadequate now, feel like relics of an idyllic time when we could worry about things like craft and style and publishing.(And yet—)
  • I have been diving deep into Scribophile, and I worry that I might be using the site as an escape rather than as a serious attempt at improving my writing. I have been critiquing some interesting work, have put my own writing up for scrutiny, and have been taking seriously the feedback I have been giving and receiving. But sometimes I feel like I’m not engaging with the world at large, just putting off the inevitable.
  • Where do I start? I feel as though I have hit the ground running, but what exactly am I running toward? (Something better than this is the hope.)
  • To continue living as I had before is oppressively inadequate. And yet to face the future feels equally impossible.
  • “A word after a word / after a word is power.” I have been repeating this idea in my mind whenever I put my pen to paper or my fingers to my keyboard. And yet I find it harder than ever to believe it to be true.
  • I wake up. I go for a run. It is warm for the winter season in New York. I go to work. There is so much work to be done.
wp-1486340394325.jpg
From the Women’s March on Washington, D.C., 21 January 2017.

Dozens


Here’s something from memory lane: I’m currently listening to Kelly Clarkson’s “Breakaway” from the soundtrack of The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement on loop.

The movie and song came out in 2004. I was twelve years old. Now, it’s 2016 and I’m twenty-four.

What a wild ride.

It has been twelve years since I first listened to “Breakaway,” but I remember how quickly I integrated that song into my personal canon. Like every preteen at the time, the song painted a romantic picture of leaving home, of exploring the world, of growing up and doing Big Things. The repeated plays fueled my daydreams of living an exciting life in a place that wasn’t my hometown.

For all intents and purposes, I’ve achieved that dream, and have been living it for the past six years.

When I sit and think about 2016 in particular, I am surprised by just how much has happened. On a personal level, these twelve months were packed. I made a commitment to my health, and, holiday season aside, I exercised regularly. I came out to my parents as bisexual and polyamorous in June. I changed jobs in July (something I kept referring to it as my “Big Life Change”). I won this year’s NaNoWriMo events (both Camp NaNoWriMos and the November NaNoWriMo).

My younger self would have thought these were meager accomplishments, but to me right now, they feel colossal. Right now, I’m closer to living my “ideal” life than I ever have been before. And maybe it’s different than what I dreamed up as a twelve year old, but it’s still good.

But outside of the things I’ve accomplished for myself, the world turned. We lost iconic figures who made indelible marks on human history and culture. Politicians seemed to constantly give us cause for despair, from Duterte in the Philippines to Trump in the U.S. And throughout, there was a steady thread of injustice that plagued vulnerable people.

I can already see that 2017 will be a challenging year, and not just because I will do my usual thing and force myself out of my comfort zone. The Trump administration looks more and more like a disaster every day. What we thought were mere specters of racism, sexism, homophobia, and other types of bigotry have turned out to be warm bodies, alive and kicking. We have so much work to do.

What will we say in twelve years about 2016 and all that happened after?

So here’s my (cheesy, but true) 2017 motto: “Take a risk / take a chance / make a change / and breakaway.”

This post was inspired by this week’s Discover Challenge: Retrospective. Check out a few more responses below.

New New York

I am not a native New Yorker. But, like many people in this city, I have given myself the title of “Honorary New Yorker.” I am not from here, and six years is not nearly enough time to explore the decadent history and fervent artistry of this place, but I’m on my way to getting there. I’m on my way to knowing.

Yesterday, I spent the day writing in the Milstein Division at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building of the New York Public Library. The heater next to me blew warm air onto my face as snow and freezing rain fell outside, and there was a faint rattling sound in the stacks—I found out as I left that it was the clacking of a keyboard as someone used a library computer to look up a book.

Best seat in the house.

A post shared by Caroliena Cabada (@cecaroliena) on

On days like yesterday, I can feel just how much I am a cliché—I am yet another young writer aspiring for greatness in the literary arts, and I believe that if I can make it in New York City, I can make it anywhere. I sat in that room, grinding out words as I waited for divine inspiration to strike me and make me write the next great American novel, one that will redefine what “American” is.

I came to this city not intending to be a writer. Before this city, I wrote in my journal, personal flash fictions of emotions that ran through me as I went through my teenage years. As a freshman at NYU, I wanted to capture all of the glorious hustle of living in a place so radically removed from what I had grown up knowing, and I did it in the two ways I best knew how: in photographs and in words. And New York has never stopped giving me reasons to take pictures and write, and write, and write. I didn’t come to this city intending to be a writer, but my god, it made me one.

Call number: Oversize PS.I9 G72 1973 c.1

A post shared by Caroliena Cabada (@cecaroliena) on

(A quick note about the image above; this was one of the first Instagram photos I took, about four years ago in NYU’s Bobst Library.)

This isn’t to say that if you intend to be a writer you better get yourself to New York because it will magically make you one. (Just look at me and my magical transformation in just six years from not-a-writer to definitely-a-writer!) But New York has a way of taking what was already within a person and magnifying it. The city reflects back to us who we are in our entirety, and we make the choice what to amplify.

And sometimes, New Yorkers, Honorary or not, like to return the favor, and show the city what its citizens are made of.

Union Square motivation.

A post shared by Caroliena Cabada (@cecaroliena) on

(A quick note about the sticky note above; I did not write that particular one, but it is one of my favorites from the Union Square subway station.)

This post is in response to this week’s Discover Challenge: Finding Your Place. Check out a few more responses below!