When I take my shot

I sometimes actually hit the mark.

At the start of this year, I set the goal of submitting at least one hundred times in 2019. It’s a realistic goal, and one that many writers take on at some point in order to increase their chances of publication.

I haven’t been keeping pace to meet it, but I have been submitting way more than I have in the past.

And I’m happy to say that the effort has been paying off.

I entered the Iowa Poetry Association’s annual contest. Though I didn’t win one of the prizes, I received word that my poem, “When I start paying attention,” will be appearing in the annual Lyrical Iowa anthology. You can order the anthology here: https://iowapoetry.com/orderbooks.htm

I recently had my very first poetry publication in an online magazine called From The Edge. My poem, “Sonnet Feeding Friends,” was included in the Autumn 2019 issue. The editor included this note in the Editorial description:

…and Caroliena Cabada handles with sensitivity marriage  with an enviable extended metaphor that shows a great knowledge of the bible.

From The Edge poetry magazine editor Fiona Sinclair

And finally, a flash fiction piece I wrote around this time last year, called “How To Grow Basil,” was accepted for publication twice (after initially being rejected 16 times). The story will be appearing in Issue No. 11 of Barren Magazine, and will be subsequently reprinted in the anthology Heat the Grease, We’re Frying Up Some Poetry published by Gnashing Teeth Publishing.

There is more to say about determination, resilience, and taking chances, but that’s another post for another day. I’m grateful to the publications that have given these pieces a home, honored to be included in the company of so many talented writers, and excited to be able to share my writing both online and in print.


Header image from Pixabay.

Being green (with youth, with envy)

When I was stressed out about my schoolwork and wanted to take a break this semester, I started re-reading the Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante. When I first read them in 2018, I read them faster than I’d read pretty much any book in the past few years. I couldn’t stop thinking about them. I loved (and still love) the books so much I’m trying to emulate the narrator’s voice in writing exercises in my journal. I recommend them at every possible moment. I evangelize these books so hard.

And I feel like the novels are a cleverly-disguised grab bag of ideas; everyone finds something in there that’s tailor-made for them. Based on the Goodreads reviews, readers grasp the intricacy and complexity of the novels, but they also subtly highlight the defining quality that held the books together for them, whether it’s the strong connection to a place, the intensity of the central female friendship, or the turbulent political atmosphere that’s more explicit in the later books.

For me, what holds the story together is the narrator, Elena Greco, and not just because the books stay in her point of view. I feel that I am Elena, especially during her early adult years. Her relationship with her mother is tense and rife with conflict, but also contains moments of affection. Education is her way of advancing her status, but when she does succeed in that new arena, she is still dragged down by an intense self-doubt. And then, probably the characteristic I felt the closest to most of all: Writing eventually becomes the lens through which she sees the world.

In the novels, Elena Greco publishes her first book after graduating from university, around the age of 22.

For me, I have not yet experienced that kind of success.

Throughout the past few years, I’ve absorbed all kinds of advice on writing and publishing. (I’ve even sometimes dispensed my own, somewhat meager, advice on the former.) And there is a certain kind of combo advice and motivational speech that published authors dispense when asked to give some words to the aspiring: “Never give up.” “I was rejected a hundred times before I published my first piece.” “You never know if the thousandth attempt is going to be the lucky one.” Et cetera. And I feel like I have taken this advice to heart. I have my rejections, and I have even flaunted them in a way (i.e., occasionally in my Instagram story where it will disappear in 24 hours). But it is still hard to take sometimes, especially when so many success stories seem to emphasize youth and vitality.

I am 26 years old now. This coming week, I’ll be turning 27. I’m still laughably, sickeningly young, and yet also worried that the youth card will be revoked soon. Who cares if I publish? I didn’t do it fast enough.

When I was 21, I had my first ever short story accepted by a literary magazine at my university. I was taking an introductory creative writing class while studying abroad in Australia, and the first story I had workshopped was the one I decided to submit, on a bit of a whim, the day before the deadline. A few months later, I ended up getting an acceptance, when I was expecting a rejection.

That early success went to my head in much the same way that Elena’s first invitation to submit a short piece to a magazine unleashed a torrent of daydreaming about writing. I started having grand ideas of submitting somewhere every month, of getting story after story out into the world. But, as you can see from my somewhat paltry publication record (at the time of posting this), that hasn’t been the case.

Here’s what I didn’t take into account in the throes of my immature ambition: I did a lot of writing to get that first story to a good place. I had written three different stories before stumbling on the one I would eventually take to my class for feedback. I edited. A lot. I sat at my desk for hours copying it by hand, making tweaks to it as I went, then spent more time marking it up, then typing it again, tweaking it again. I did this because early in the semester I had the energy for it. My other stories submitted to the class later on didn’t get that same attention. And it’s no wonder they ended up not going anywhere.

Since that first success, I’ve grown a little more realistic about writing and publishing. I’ve stopped seeing my twenties as this benchmark, this window of time when I can launch my career as a writer. And I’ve also become more familiar with the things I personally need to do to get my stories to a good place. Write. Rewrite. Edit. Become intimately familiar with every word of a story. Step back and give it time. All things that writers before me have said.

I revisited the Neapolitan Novels a lot this semester because I had a lot on my plate. I was in a Fiction workshop, a Poetry workshop, and a Science Fiction class that had a workshop component; I co-taught an undergraduate Creative Writing class; and I also took a class on climate change. I have felt euphoria in my writing and intense self-doubt on re-reading it. In those moments of self-doubt, I returned to a book I admired. On my second full read-through of the series, I am finding so much more in it than I had initially.

And this is the only way I know how to ripen from green to a full-flushed color: Reading and re-reading. Becoming familiar with every word of the stories (and people and places and experiences) I love.

Stepping back and giving it time.

Breaks and beginnings

Even-numbered years, for me, tend to be split in two. In 2014 I graduated from college; the first half of that year was characterized by my being a full-time student, and the second half of the year by my being a full-time employee. In 2016 I switched jobs from that first full-time job to a new one more in line with my passions and interests. And in 2018, I left that job to return to school and start my time at an MFA program.

Maybe it’s the nature of even numbers, cleanly bisected, that lends them to before-and-afters. Maybe it’s my pattern-seeking brain finding recurring themes in the even-numbered years (elections, Olympics, decades, etc.). Or maybe it’s the timing of my birth; born in the first half of an even-numbered year, my graduation milestones typically happen in even-numbered years, splitting them between one education level and another (with an interminable summer in between).

Whatever the reason, it’s the split years that have felt the most satisfactory, in a way. I feel like I’ve changed the most in these even-numbered years (before-and-afters, of course) that I’ve started to develop some nervous anticipation around odd-numbered years. On some level, I’ve already unconsciously decided that 2019 couldn’t possibly be as good for me as 2018 was, so I’ll save my energy for 2020.

Then again: 2011 was the year I got together with my partner (with whom I’m still in a relationship); 2013 I studied abroad and took my first creative writing class; 2015 I did my first NaNoWriMo; and 2017 I started pursuing creative writing and publishing again in earnest. If even-numbered years are characterized by before-and-afters, odd-numbered years are characterized by beginnings.

I can only speculate what beginnings are in store for me in 2019. One of my projects this winter break is to plant the seeds for summer vacation as much as possible. Apply for summer writing workshops, fit in as much travel as I can, and save money in the meantime for these pursuits. But the thing about beginnings, for me, is that they happen somewhat suddenly. I can never really plan for what next desire will derail me onto a whole new track.

Whatever it is, I’m looking forward to it in the new year.

Author Toolbox Blog Hop: Building a reputation (beyond writing and publishing)

Let me say this first: The best way to increase your writing reputation is to get published. Whether it’s publishing a well-received indie or self-pubbed title, or getting published in literary journals or widely-read magazines, getting your work out there, from what I understand, is the way to demonstrate that you are a writer of repute.

But sometimes, the publishing game can become a vicious circle. Publications may rely on name recognition or your past publishing history to determine whether or not to take your work, but how can you build that history if no one will publish you? While some of this advice may feel like putting the cart before the horse (i.e., giving marketing advice without having something to market), I do think that building your writing reputation can help you get off on the right foot when you start gaining traction with your writing.

To start, let’s talk about online relationships and network building.

This semester, I’m taking a course called Teaching of Literature and the Literature Curriculum, and it’s part pedagogy course, part literature criticism and analysis. One of the course requirements is to be somewhat active on Twitter, not just to extend the discussion from the classroom into public, online spaces, but to also connect with other teachers to share ideas, resources, and engage in some digital networking to inform our future teaching careers. We’re required to follow teachers on Twitter, participate in Twitter chats, and share our thoughts on English education using the course hashtag.

It has been really fascinating to use Twitter as part of a class, having used it in a personal and professional capacity. It’s helped reveal to me some of the aspects of social media that I’ve picked up somewhat unconsciously, and I’ve been finding some ways in which my use of Twitter for class can inform the ways I use Twitter for my writing. Engaging in hashtag games, Twitter chats, and more are all relatively easy ways to connect with fellow writers and also reach potential readers. There’s a lot of talk about having an “online presence” and the do’s and don’ts of being online (DO tweet regularly, but DON’T have your account be just purely promoting your book, etc.). But it’s more than just having a place people can go to find out more information about you and your writing. It’s also a place for you to go and find people who are doing interesting things.

All this said, there is still something to building connections offline; it’s a matter of meeting people where they are.

Working in social media, marketing, and communications, the main argument for using social media is that it is “where everyone is.” It’s where conversations and sharing are happening, and we should be meeting people where they are. However, there are still limitations to social media. There’s a minimum requirement for tech (a smartphone or laptop, a reliable internet connection, etc.) that may be difficult for many people to reach. The ethereal algorithm makes it so that it’s not a guarantee that what you share on social media will actually reach everyone you want it to reach. And then there’s the fact that people are in a love-hate relationship with social media right now, and the advice to occasionally disconnect from the online world becomes more and more prevalent.

Which is why I also recommend disconnecting every once in a while and finding in-person events to attend. This past weekend I went to the Twin Cities Book Festival and got to see a lot of different vendors and presses, even chatting occasionally with authors and asking questions about their work. I’ve also taken in-person creative writing classes in New York with Gotham Writers, and have been to events in the Asian American Writers’ Workshop space. Attending these classes and these events have broadened my horizons and also put me in contact with people who have become essential to my writing life (and my life in general), from new writing friends to mentors who believe in my journey as a writer.

Sometimes location can make it difficult to find events to attend. I’ve moved from New York City to Ames, Iowa for grad school, and there has been a dramatic change in the kind of access I have to writing events. However, I’m lucky that my university has a robust lecture and event series that I can take advantage of, and there are nearby cities that have more of the literary events that I’m looking for. Plus, in an area that might be bereft of literary life, it might be an incentive to start a new events series.

Another possible way to build your writing reputation is to volunteer in specific writing capacities.

This past year or so I’ve been volunteering as a reader for Empire and Great Jones Little Press for their three journals, Ember, Spark, and Zetetic. As part of my MFA I’m also reading slush for the journal Flyway, which is run by the program. These can help build my writing reputation because I’m part of these literary publications and am getting experience in this part of the writing/publishing process.

Other ways to volunteer in specifically writing capacities that I can think of: Teaching or running an after school writing program, being a Municipal Liaison for a local NaNoWriMo chapter, creating an in-person meet-up for writers at your local public library. All of these are great ways to build local connections but also demonstrate to others outside of these local contexts that you have experience and have immersed yourself heavily in this world.

All this said, remember to step back and appreciate the time and effort you have put in so far, and recognize your achievements.

Maybe it’s been a while since you’ve published, or maybe your social media growth is stagnating for one reason or another. These periods will happen, and it can be a great time to reflect back on all that you have done so far to build up your reputation as a writer. View them from a different light, share the memories with people on social or in person, and use them as a way to focus where you want to go from here.

What do you think? What are other ways writers can build their writing reputation (aside from publishing)?


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.

Header image from Pixabay.

Author Toolbox Blog Hop: Duotrope and the resume of failures

I regularly review my resume about once a month, not because I’m always actively looking for a job, but because it’s generally a good idea to keep it updated. My job responsibilities might have changed, or I might have some professional achievement that I want to put on there. And every time I do this review and update, I also think about the things that I want to put on there.

I want to have more publications to list, I want to add more soft and hard skills related to writing, I want more relevant experience to show how my professional life has developed and changed. And when I think about the things I want on my resume, I think about the work that I need to put in behind the scenes to get there.

Alongside the resume I regularly update, I have another document that gets a similar treatment that’s almost like my resume’s shadow. It’s my resume of failures, and it’s a concept I came across a few years ago from scientist Melanie Stefan, Ph.D1. The title is pretty self-explanatory: This is a document of my rejections, not just from literary magazines, but from other things like colleges, fellowships, and other things I’ve applied for and didn’t get. There’s the saying—”You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”—and this document shows me all of the shots I did take.

In general, it’s a good idea to keep track of submissions and the final decisions, if only for purely practical reasons. You want to make sure you’re not submitting multiple times to journals that don’t take multiple submissions, or making sure you’re not breaking guidelines around simultaneous submissions. For data and tracking like that, I rely on Duotrope2. Duotrope is a database of projects, publications, and even literary agents for writers and artists to submit work to. The site has a number of tools to track your writing and can also calculate stats like acceptance rate and turnaround time. A $5 monthly fee lets you create an account and access all of the resources available. To me, it’s worth it just to be able to keep track of submissions, though the calculations are also extremely useful.

However, although Duotrope is a powerful tool to help me keep track of my submissions, I still have this resume of failures. Because like my normal resume, I feel galvanized to try and add to it. It motivates me to take more shots, because even if I fail, those attempts still have a place to go. I turn a failure into a success, and that helps me continue writing and submitting.

What about you? Would you consider building a resume of failures? What helps you stay motivated in pursuing writing?


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.

Header image from Pixabay.

Notes

[1] A CV of failures, Melanie Stefan, Ph.D., Naturejobs.com

[2] Duotrope.com — from the site: “Duotrope is an established, award-winning resource for writers and artists. We help you save time finding publishers or agents for your work, so you can focus on creating. “

Author Toolbox Blog Hop: The limits of being an introvert

This past week, from March 14th to through the 18th, I attended session 1 of the 2018 Northern California Writers’ Retreat. I learned so much during those five days, and the experience was incredibly rewarding.

But I am (still) very jetlagged as of writing this blog post, so the full rundown of the retreat will have to be saved for later.

What I do want to talk about is the limits of being an introvert when it comes to building a writing career.

According to a personality test I took a few years ago (that still rings true today), I am an extreme introvert. So one of the many reasons why fiction writing has always appealed to me as a full-time job was this idea that I could find a way to work while being allowed a certain amount of solitude. I have this perception of writers, and creative types in general, as working in relative secret until the work is ready to be revealed. I believed that writers could dedicate themselves to their craft, and recognition (and money) would naturally follow as long as the quality of the work was there.

There is a small amount of truth to this; certainly, if your work isn’t good (or at the very least, effective), then it won’t launch you anywhere. But what often goes unreported is the kind of work that goes into getting that publishing deal and selling your books—the work of putting yourself out there.

I’m not just talking about marketing your book. That’s a separate discussion for a different blog post. Nor do I mean having an online presence so that readers can find you. That’s part of it, but isn’t enough. There are many, intermediate steps from writing a book to publishing it that require writers to regularly interact with other people, whether they’re fellow writers, potential readers, editors, or agents. For example, going to conferences to attend panels, pitch fests, and meet-and-greets can go a long way in making connections with decision-makers in the publishing industry. As an extreme introvert, just the thought of these events terrify me, even though I understand how crucial these interactions are.

This isn’t to say that introverts must become extroverts in order to succeed as career writers, nor am I saying that all introverts will fail to get a publishing deal. After all, the introverted writer stereotype persists. But I must recognize that my extreme introversion will come up against its limits as I advance my writing career.

The internet and social media have, of course, changed how much this is true. There are Twitter pitch events that have resulted in book deals, and self-publishing in general has become more lucrative, especially with the rise of e-books, crowdfunding, and other monetization strategies. But I do think that there is no real substitute for making connections. The definition of being there “in person” may change as technology does, but there will still be some requirement to be there as much as possible.

(Sidebar: This discussion about “being there” connects to the limits of accessibility for comes to writers with a physical disability. I recognize that I am privileged in the sense that I can physically access the places where these writing events and networking take place, but there are plenty of extremely talented writers who do not. If being present and participating is essential in order to grow a writing career, how can we make sure that these spaces are accessible to everyone?)

I am still trying to figure out what I can do to be more comfortable in these interactions, but I wanted to share some final thoughts, based on my experience at the Northern California Writers’ Retreat:

  • It’s easier to interact if it’s about writing. I may not be able to speak like a normal human being in casual conversation (I die from secondhand embarrassment at my past self making small talk), but when it comes to talking about writing, the conversation is easier. It’s still awkward if I find that I haven’t read the same books or have common texts with the people I’m talking to, but it’s easier to talk about writing and storytelling than anything else.
  • I may not always have something to add to a conversation, but I can always react to what others are saying and ask questions. The participation portions of my grades throughout college were always dismal, so it gives me a lot of anxiety to think that I have to participate in everything all the time. But 1) I am not being graded, and 2) I can always listen closely and actively to what others are saying, and sometimes that is enough.
  • I don’t have to think about many of these things right now. Whether it’s agonizing over a pitch or attending conferences to make connections, I don’t have to think about them right now. Why? Because I have to write my damn manuscript.

What do you think? Are you an introvert or an extrovert? And how do you think these things will help or hinder you in your publishing career?


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.

Header image from Pixabay.

Author Toolbox Blog Hop: Learning how to write

When I took a step back at the end of the 2017 to think about what I wanted to accomplish writing-wise in 2018, I reflected on the times I felt most excited about writing. As I was making my list, a specific trend emerged: I was most excited about writing when I felt I was learning the most about it. Whether it was through reading blogs in the Author Toolbox Blog Hop or taking classes with the Gotham Writers Workshop1, learning about writing inspired me to write more.

So I’ve decided to be more intentional in my writing goals for 2018. Yes, I have my word count targets, submissions milestones, et cetera, but I’ve decided to incorporate more writing practice into my, well, writing practice. As much as I like to think that I can learn writing simply by doing it—by writing short stories and novels and revising and rewriting and repeating the cycle over and over—the classes I took last year helped me realize the value of writing just to practice a particular element of storytelling.

For this blog post, I’ve decided to share the current iteration of my learning plan for 2018. This will likely change as I figure out what’s realistic in terms of daily tasks, but I’m excited for what I’ve laid out so far.

Part I: Back to the basics

I recently took a trip through memory lane and looked at essays I wrote through my undergraduate years. Aside from the numerous lab reports (all of which I’m really proud of; I put a lot of work into those and it really showed), there are only two, maybe three, essays that I felt were decent pieces of writing.

So I’m re-immersing myself in the world of expository writing. While this isn’t strictly improving my fiction writing, by re-learning expository writing I hope that I’ll be a more effective communicator overall. Plus, expository writing doesn’t have to be a bone dry subject. I’m taking advantage of MIT OpenCourseWare2 and will be going through the syllabus for the class Writing and the Environment3. It won’t be a perfect imitation; I have limited access to some of the main textbooks and I won’t have the same kind of collaborative environment found in a college classroom, but it’s a start.

And I’ll be spacing out the readings and assignments like I’m taking a real college class4. My first assignment is “due” next week. Hopefully by the end of April I’ll have a few halfway decent essays and have a deeper understanding of composition, all while learning more about environmental science.

Part II: Daily practice

As I mentioned earlier, one of the most useful parts of taking the Gotham Writers classes was having regular exercises that focused on a specific part of storytelling. The exercises would never go on for more than ten minutes, and though I very rarely incorporated what I generated in those exercises into a story, the practice pieces informed the stories I did eventually complete.

So I’ll be including short, ten-minute writing exercises as part of my daily writing routine. I’ll be planning out my exercises at the beginning of the week, writing down the daily prompts in one place so that I don’t have to spend too much time every day hunting for a decent prompt. This also allows me a chance to think about what story element I want to practice. This month is all about characters, so I’ve been compiling decent character-building prompts. Though I often make my own prompts (I’ve often found writing prompts to be largely disappointing; more on that subject in a later blog), I’ve found some decent character prompts through resources like Writer’s Digest5, Poets & Writers6, and Writing Exercises7.

Part III: Reading more intentionally

Every year I set my Goodreads challenge8 at 50 books, and every year I’ve failed to reach that goal. (To be fair to myself, if I actually took advantage of the “reread” feature on the site, I think I would actually reach the 50-book goal. However, I don’t think my annual reread of the Harry Potter series really counts; I want to read 50 new books every year.)

This year, my goal is still 50 books, but I’m also going to be more intentional with my book choices. As nice as it is to read widely, in genres I would normally have no business reading (the Outlander series is a guilty pleasure of mine), I also recognize that I must have a deeper familiarity with my chosen genre of literary fiction.

So this year I hope to focus on reading American literary classics, contemporary literature, as well as more nonfiction. In addition to being more focused in my choice of reading material, I want to regularly reflect on the books I read. I’ve done this informally for years, in my journals and in the odd book review blog, but I want to be more systematic about reflecting on my reading. Nothing too heavy, just answering questions like “What made the book an enjoyable read?” or “What did I not like about this book?” or “What do I think of the treatment of the subject matter?”

Why am I studying writing?

2017 was a mixed bag of writing for me. Some highlights of the year included taking classes with Gotham, volunteering to read submissions for a few literary publications, and starting to submit my own work to literary magazines I’ve been reading regularly. But I also failed in a few ways that were disheartening. I started several blog posts only to let them languish in my drafts. I wrote 40,000 words of a new novel during the first half of the year, but I haven’t added any more words to it since June. I missed deadlines for literary magazines. I failed the aforementioned Goodreads challenge. I failed all my NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo attempts in 2017, whereas I blasted through them in 2016.

To me, my failures were all clues that something needed to change about the way I was going about writing, and figuring out the patterns of what excited me most has helped me decide what to change. Plus, there will never be a point in my life where my writing reaches “perfection”—whatever that is. Writing will be a lifelong pursuit, and I will be constantly learning new things in order to keep growing as a writer. This learning plan that I’ll be testing out this year will hopefully extend beyond this year, into the rest of my writing career.

What about you? What are you learning this year?


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.

Header image from Pixabay.

[1] Gotham Writers Workshop

[2] MIT OpenCourseWare

[3] Writing and the Environment, Spring 2005

[4] Google Calendar of W&E “due dates”; follow along if you’re interested!

[5] Writer’s Digest Weekly Writing Prompts

[6] Poets & Writers

[7] Writing Exercises

[8] My 2018 Goodreads Challenge

Author Toolbox Blog Hop: The balancing act

I am the type of writer who would much rather be writing something new rather than editing a project I’ve already started. Even when I know that something isn’t ready for publication, is nowhere near “finished,” I have a hard time sitting myself down to edit. It’s not even that I dread the task of editing—it’s the feeling that I only have so much time, and so I need to be filling that time with writing.

My strategy so far has led to a backlog of projects, with completed drafts but very few finished stories.

There are others who are the opposite way, who find starting something new a difficult task when there’s something else that needs refinement. Either way, writing and editing are never-ending tasks, and it’s important to find a balance between creating new content and putting the finishing touches on a story.

Here’s how I (try to) balance things:

I establish a routine.

The importance of time management and setting up a routine is something I’ve talked about in a previous blog post. But in terms of balancing editing and writing, I try and have designated days or times of day where I’m making the conscious decision to be either editing or writing.

For example, I’m trying to keep my Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays dedicated to editing the short stories I already have drafts of. There are a number of fall submission deadlines and contests coming up, and I want to try and have at least a few stories ready to send out to journals I’ve been keeping up with. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the days I allow myself to focus on writing new stories. Setting the designated times to do each task gives me some comfort that I’ll have time to do everything I need to do, and allows me to focus on the task immediately in front of me.

I stick to the plan.

Easier said than done, right? I certainly have had the experience of knowing exactly where a story was going, only to have it take a sudden turn and go in a totally new, but exciting, direction.

But when it comes to these meta-skills of being a writer, I think it’s important to stick to some semblance of a plan as much as possible. Don’t let editing bleed into the time you’ve set aside to write new material. Don’t let brainstorming go on for so long that you never return to an idea you’ve already started. Et cetera.

Of course, if inspiration strikes, it strikes, and I certainly don’t want to fight it too much. But when I’ve veered off the course and am ready to get back into the swing of things…

I get back on whatever horse I’ve fallen off of.

Erika Beebe wrote a fantastic blog post on the topic of getting back into the habit of writing after being away from it for a while. For me, the main takeaway is the re-establishment of a writing routine. Something as simple as revisiting certain times of day when you would write, even if you don’t end up writing during that time, can be a good way to ease into the routine again.

I reward myself with the parts of writing I enjoy the most.

And, like I said, the part I love the most making something new. So if I’ve stuck to the plan, gotten back on the writing horse, and have hammered out a routine that works, I let myself indulge a bit in making something new.

How do you balance different parts of writing? 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.

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.

Author Toolbox Blog Hop: Judging books by their covers

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: