My Top 10 Favorite Writing Facebook Groups/Pages

As writers, we constantly hear how we need to have an online presence. Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Goodreads, Tumblr, etc., the more people we can connect with, the better our book sales. But exploring pages and finding a writing community can be difficult when you don’t know where to start, or you’re introverted like I am. So I’ve compiled a list of my top 10 favorite writing Facebook Groups/Pages that have helped me find a community, get published, create a marketing plan for myself, and much, much more.

1. Write.Publish.Sell: Created by Alexa Bigwarfe, Write.Publish.Sell is an excellent place to go if you’re trying to figure out how to publish your manuscript from the ground up. She describes it as, “a place for writers who need help and support with writing, publishing, and marketing your book.” Bigwarfe provides tons of tutorials, posts, and other resources on her website, where one of my own blog posts appears. Her group also posts daily encouragements or prompts Monday-Friday: Monday Blogs, Tell Us Tuesday, Wednesday Promo, Ambassador Tips Thursday, Friday Social. It’s a fantastic way to connect with other authors, learn about them, promote your books or blog, and get help with your writing. She has paid services through her website, too, if you need more than what her free help can offer.

Bigwarfe’s knowledge and connection with authors has also helped her create the Women In Publishing Summit which runs from March 2-8, 2020 this year. The first online writing and publishing conference dedicated to women, the Women in Publishing Summit is a FREE 5-day online conference, featuring over 40 authors, publishers, editors, graphic artists, marketers, book sellers, mindset coaches, & more!  You can register through the event here. I’m one of the speakers this years, and you’ll get to learn all about how to find writing contests. Seriously, it’s a great resource.

2. Socially Aware Fiction Writers: Created by Yukimi Wintel, this group is “for people who love writing imaginative fiction and want to make sure they are being representative without being offensive.” While the page is geared more towards fantasy and sci-fi, writers of other/multiple genres are welcome to participate if they have questions. I’ve discussed many times how it’s important to have a sensitivity reader if you write about characters outside your lane. This is one place to turn to, and you don’t have to be afraid to ask questions. Just be willing to be open minded about the responses. I love this page because they actually helped me better develop my character Shen Yanlei in Wolf Pit. Now, keep in mind, this is just one form of research you can do when writing about diverse characters. Be kind, respectful, and understand that when you ask a question, you may be surprised by the answers. 

3. The Mixtus Media Meet-Up / Mixtus Media: This has been one of my go-to sites since I first started promoting my Purple Door District series. Created by Jenn Hanson-dePaula and Marcus dePaula, Mixtus Media focuses on helping “authors navigate book marketing with a simple personalized process that works.” They post blogs on Instagram and Facebook that I have found invaluable during my marketing process. I actually originally found them on Instagram. They cover tons of marketing topics such as, “How to Market Your Book if You’re an Introvert,” “One Month of Instagram Posts for Authors,” “How Authors Can Consistently Sell Books- Even after the Release,” “70 Conversation Starters to Boost Social Media Engagement,” and more. Their site is what inspired my blog entry “Engaging Your Readers.” All their material is free, but as with Bigwarfe, they do provide paid services as well. 

4. Fiction-Atlas Author Builders and Promotions: Do you want to build your newsletter audience and meet new readers? This is the place to go. Created by C.L. Cannon, this group “is specifically for promotions and builders offered by” Cannon “and Fiction-Atlas Press.” These builders include Newsletters, Bookbub, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook likes, etc. She’s constantly running these events to help authors grow their reader base. In the past year of working on just a few of these builders, I’ve gained 2,000 people on my newsletter! And the best part is that they’re reasonably priced, coming in anywhere between $10 and $20 depending on how much information you want to promote yourself. Cannon also runs Fiction-Atlas Press LLC and has published several incredible anthologies. I was in her “Unknown Realm” book last year. She has two more anthologies open this year which you can find under Submissions.  She’s currently accepting pieces. 

5. The Otherworld Home Community: Created by Tamara Rokicki, The Otherworld “is a growing platform in the literary community. Serving as the main hub and home center, it hosts portals that facilitate members into reading and writing worlds.” I’ve been part of this group since near the beginning, and I’ve met many fantastic authors. The Otherworld has released three anthologies and hosts a Book of the Month group where readers can talk about the book together and win prizes. Rokicki has also put on several amazing launch parties that have helped authors promote their books while also showcasing the upcoming anthology. I was recently selected as a resident author, and I can tell you we have some fun plans for the future. 

6. Indie Author Book Expo: Need a way to set up signing events? Then you should definitely check out IABE! Created by Jenn Thompson, IABE is a “nonprofit devoted to uniting readers, writers, and authors to build better books.” The daughter group IABE Must Have Books! allows you to promote your novels. Thompson works tirelessly to create signing events for local authors around the Midwest. She started in Des Moines and is booking events in Mason City, Peoria, Chicago, Omaha, and hopefully even more to come! She’s a friend to authors and brings writers together through her site. She’s also published anthologies and is trying to get a printing press to help make publication easier for writers. 

7. Rising Tide Publications: I’d be remiss not to mention this group created by Brian K Morris who has become a mentor to me. He encourages authors to lift one another so we all rise together, an ideology that I can get behind. His mission is to “provide positive entertainment in books and comics and to provide assistance to other creatives with low/no-cost solutions whenever possible, and encouragement always.” He runs two live shows every week where you can promote your books and get to meet other authors.  If you have a fundraiser or book event happening, he’s one of the first to promote it. He’s never afraid to offer advice and a kind ear. 

8. The Writers’ Rooms: Of course I need to mention the Writers’ Rooms. The Writers’ Rooms is a non-profit corporation that focuses on providing a free, safe environment to all writers. Essentially, we’re writers helping writers. In Iowa, we provide two-hour sessions that include a literary lesson and an hour of writing throughout the month.  You can find multiple groups through The Writers’ Rooms Facebook page based on different genres like Fantasy/Sci-fi, Poetry, Horror/Mystery, All-Genre, Romance, and also LGBT-based groups. We have a big author signing event happening later this year (applications are now open) and we produce anthologies for Iowa writers. As the Director of the organization, I try to provide helpful information to our group members and other authors through the main page. And what you can’t find there, you can usually find contests, events, and more in our individual groups. 

9. The Iowa Writers’ House:  Founded by Andrea Wilson, The Iowa Writers’ House is another incredible organization with the mission to “provide writers with the support and necessary tools to bring their literary dreams to fruition. From lectures and inspiration, to first putting pen to the page, to seminars on tips and how-to’s for the publishing world and everything in between, the Iowa Writers’ House exists as a writing launchpad for all who seek it.” IWH has consistently put on fascinating workshops hosted by published authors and professionals. Writers from all around the US have come to learn the tools of writing and build a literary community. You can check out workshops here. More recently, they have hosted a residency for Bicultural & Immigrant Writers in Iowa, publishing and distributing their voices through anthologies titled We the Interwoven. If you ever have questions, you can always ask me since I’ve been a volunteer practically since the beginning. 

10. Fantasy Writers Support Group:  Founded by Beth F Brownell, the Fantasy Writers Support Group is exactly that, a group “designed to assist authors in writing.” It’s a great way to find support for fantasy writers. You can ask questions, they provide tips, promotions, display book covers, allow you to discuss the world you’re building, etc. They have specific rules about when to post things, so make sure you check out their about page. If you’re a fantasy writer, this is one you’ll want to follow. 

I hope that these groups and pages help you find more ways to show off your writing, learn literary tips, and meet fellow writers and readers. I’m considering creating a group myself to help other writers. What things do you look for in writing groups/pages? 

10 Tips for Writers

I interview authors every month to learn more about them and their craft. One of the questions I always ask is, “What are common traps for aspiring writers?” The answers have been very enlightening, and I’d recommend checking them out here. But it got me thinking, what tips do I have for fellow authors? Here are a few important ones that came to mind.

1. Writing is Incredible 

Writing is amazing. You create your own worlds, characters, plotlines, twists, magic, god systems, creatures, etc. And then you get to see printed on a page. When people ask me why I love to write, it’s all of this of course, but it goes deeper. There’s a moment when I’m writing when the world falls away and it’s just me and my book. I feel a sense of peace I never usually feel and a warmth in my heart that makes me sure that this is what I’m suppose to do. It doesn’t always happen, but when it does, I don’t know a better feeling. Being a writer is just a part of who I am, and I can’t wait to share more stories with people. The best part, though, is when your book has an impact on a person’s life. Whether it encourages them to start writing, or it helps them feel a little less alone, it’s an incredible feat to accomplish.

2. Writing Also Sucks 

Yep, you heard me. As wonderful as writing is, it comes with a set of drawbacks: writer’s block, self-doubt, hatred of your writing, fear you’ll never be published, fear that everyone hates your book, etc. Writing is quite the mind game. One day you love your writing, and the next you think it’s the worst piece of crap in the world. That’s what editors are there for. Writer’s blocks can be overwhelming, especially when you have a looming deadline. That’s why it’s good to have backup plans for when you hit a block. Do you have writing topics you can work on to pull you out of the slump? Prompts? What gets your creative juices flowing? As for hatred of your writing, I can promise you that we all go through it, and it’s just something you have to learn to work through. But it’s easier to do that with a support group.

3. Support Groups are Important

During some of my darkest moments, when I’ve hated my writing the most, my literary support group has helped pull me out of my funk. They’re there to support and encourage you, provide advice, and share in both the joys and hardships of writing. You can find many online through facebook, twitter, and instagram, or through National Novel Writing Month. I’ve met some of my best writing friends there! And of course, if you’re in the Iowa area, you can always reach out to The Writers’ Rooms.

4, Take Care of Yourself

With all the mental games that occur with writing, it’s important to remember to take care of yourself. I’ve written several blogs about this, but as a reminder, if you don’t get the proper sleep, food, and rest, you’ll struggle with your writing. Take care of your body and mind so you can be healthy while writing. Also, be kind to yourself. Even if you think your writing is awful, try not to beat yourself down. Think of what you would say to another writer. If you wouldn’t say their work sucks, or is awful, or they’re the worst writer in the world, you shouldn’t say it to yourself either. When you get into this headspace, turn to your support group.

5. Set Goals 

Create goals for yourself so you can stay productive. Set a word count you want to meet, or an amount of time you want to write. Aim for a chapter a month, or a book a year, whatever works best for you! Start the goal out small so you don’t overwhelm yourself, then go up from there. You might be surprised how fast you can go from writing 250 words a day to 2,500 if you pace yourself.

6. Save Your Work

Obvious, I know, but you won’t believe the number of writers I’ve met who have lost novels because they didn’t backup their work. My preference is saving everything to Dropbox and then doing an additional back up on an external harddrive or flash drive periodically. Heck, when I spilled tea on my computer, I even saved some of my most important files to my e-mail, just in case. Protect your work!

7. Do Your Research 

Whether it’s fantasy, sci-fi, romance, non-fiction, etc, do your research. Readers are notorious for picking out inaccuracies, so if you write about a particular location, you better know a lot about it. Likewise, when you develop a character, you have to stay consistent to it. He shouldn’t have a scar in chapter 1 and no scar in chapter 8. And while Wikipedia is a nice place to get general information, compare it against other sources. Do research on stereotypes too if your book is diverse. The best way to do this is to find a sensitivity reader who can point out any racist undertones.

8. Find a Good Editor 

Editors are vital to producing a well-received book, especially when it comes to Indie publishing. You can’t just write the book, edit it yourself a few times, then send it out to publish. You need another pair of eyes on it. No matter who much we read through our books, we always miss something. Editors can help us fix those big mistakes. And make sure you pay the editor what they’re worth. You wouldn’t want to write something for free; they don’t want to edit it for free either.

9. Don’t Compare Your Chapter 1 to Their Chapter 12

This is one of my favorite phrases. Writers have the bad habit of comparing themselves to other writers, often by the amount of books the other author has published. We’re all at different places in our writing journey. I might be just starting out my writing career with chapter 1, while a fellow author is already at chapter 12 and putting out books yearly. All you can do is work to your own pace and do what’s best for your style. Use these people as inspiration if you’d like, but don’t use their successes to beat yourself up. It’s not productive.

10. You’re Not Alone

I try to remind people of this constantly. No matter the hardships you’re going through with your writing, there’s someone out there who has gone, or is going, through the same thing. That’s the best time to reach out to see if you can find advice from people to break through your problems. Writing is a solitary art and may feel lonely at times, but that’s why it’s important to reach out to fellow writers. Authors on twitter and facebook have both helped me through difficult times with my novel. I might have quit if I hadn’t realized that others understood my problem and had ideas how to get out of it.

What about you? What top tips do you have for writers?

Should You Create Characters After Yourself?

I’m sure you’ve heard the joke: be careful not to tick off a writer, she might turn you into a character and kill you. It’s pretty common for authors to create characters based on people they’ve run into in their daily lives. Maybe they borrow aspects from them (an interest, a talent, a job) and insert them into new characters in their books. But what about turning yourself into a character? Is it a good idea, or are you running the risk of making the book too personal?

Memoirs and biographies aside, writers generally try to create new characters for their books rather than inserting themselves or their own life stories into the pages. However, this trope can be pretty common in the fanfiction world. People fall in love with a movie or book and dream about wanting to live in a world with them, so suddenly author Jenna becomes Harriet in the book with possibly the same appearance, likes, and loves as the actual author, with some embellishments (maybe the character is prettier, more popular, etc). It comes as no surprise when she becomes best friends with the main characters. This is how Mary Sues and Gary Stu sometime come into existence.

Now, that’s not to say that a person’s life makes them a Mary Sue/Gary Stu, but it’s a common factor when someone puts themselves in a fanfic work. Long story short, “Mary Sue is a term used to describe a fictional character, usually female, who is seen as too perfect and almost boring for lack of flaws, originally written as an idealized version of an author in fanfiction” – Dictionary.com. Gary Stu is the male equivalent. These types of characters appear in non-fanfiction work as well (there have been arguments about whether Luke Skwalker or Rey are Mary/Gary). So if you decide to write yourself into your story, be careful to avoid these kinds of tropes. There are a ton of quizzes that you can take to find out if a character qualifies as a Mary Sue or Gary Stu.

Other ways people write themselves into stories is to make themselves a person that they want to be. Perhaps the author struggles with anxiety so he creates a powerful character who isn’t afraid of anything. Someone may feel like she’s not beautiful so she designs her character the mirror opposite. It’s a writer’s way of seeing themselves in a different or “better” light. While this isn’t inherently bad, it can still lead down the path of a cliche character.

When it comes to my own writing, none of my characters are exactly like me, but some of my personal traits do end up in some of my lovelies. That’s not to say that I’m trying to make myself into a character, it’s just both more meaningful and a little easier to write about someone who has had my experiences. For example, Tess from PDD and Wolf Pit, struggles with anxiety (maybe not to the level I do) and we take the same medication. She also loves musicals, especially Sweeney Todd (shout out to my dad who introduced it to me). Am I Tess? No. But I took some personal parts of myself and added them to the character. In the third PDD book (don’t worry, no spoilers), I’m developing a character named Evelyn who is obese 1. because we don’t have enough of those characters represented in books and 2. because it’s nice to see myself represented. Shen Yanlei, a new character in Wolf Pit, has a father who works at the Diamond Headache Clinic of Chicago. I chose that because I’ve been there for my own chronic migraines. Again, I take elements of myself and add them in, but I don’t make the characters completely like me. I think it’s fun to include those little easter eggs to see if people who know me catch it.

The danger of making a character after yourself is 1. you run the risk of making them too 1 dimensional like with Mary/Gary, and 2. if someone critiques your character, it  becomes a lot more personal. How many of us clutch our books to ourselves like our precious children when people tell us something’s wrong with them? It happens to everyone. Now imagine if you made someone after yourself entirely and a reader said the character was boring, unbelievable, or dumb. It’s hard enough not to take that personally as the author, but to have it said about you in your own book? Ouch.

So what do you do? What if you really want to put yourself in a book, is it really all that bad? As with every writing element, how you do it determines a good or bad outcome. Maybe only include some elements of yourself and make the rest unique. Use your own personal experiences that can add flavor to the story rather than taking it over. Write it for yourself personally with not intentions of publishing it (goodness knows I have plenty of tales that will never see the light of day). Practice with it and see if close friends or family can point out whether this character is like you or not. If you turn yourself into a character and that person is unique, has a purpose, and fleshed out, then maybe it isn’t a problem.

What about you? Do you write characters that resemble you? Do you think it’s a good or bad thing to do?

Should Books Have Trigger Warnings?

Last year, I attended ICON, Iowa’s longest running sci-fi/fantasy convention. During a panel in which I shared information about myself as an author and my books, the audience and I started talking about trigger warnings and parental advisory notices on music and movies. This led us to wonder, should books also have warnings as well? Yes, we divide the books between children’s, YA, NA, Adult, Erotica, etc., but is that enough? One YA book may be tame, but another might deal with suicide, rape, or abuse. Is it reasonable to warn readers about the contents of the books?

To start off, let’s just talk a bit about trigger warnings and parental advisory labels in general. Trigger warnings are basically statements at the beginning of a piece of writing, video, music, games, warning the reader/viewer that the piece may contain distressing material (ie. grief, suicide, child abuse, manipulation, spouse abuse, domestic abuse, rape, etc.). Viewing/reading this material can “trigger” someone and create a psychological reaction in the person and perhaps cause them to relieve traumatic experiences. To learn more about triggers and how they originated, check out “A Short History of Trigger Warnings”  by Nick Haslam, Professor of Psychology, University Melbourne.

Parental Advisory Warnings are a little different in that they just warn parents if material, often music and games, is appropriate for children. You can read more about Parental Advisory Warnings here. These can also appear in tv shows or on covers of musical albums, especially if there’s explicit language.

Shows and movies have ratings that list the type of content that may be contained in the film. I’ve seen some shows start to show trigger warnings at the beginning to prepare people for sexual assault. The one thing that all of these generally have in common though is that they are forms of media that are often used in public. So it’s not just protecting the user, it’s sending out a warning to people around the user (ie. kids who may hear music blaring from a cars).

My question is, should books have trigger warnings as well? I’ve met people who can’t read certain chapters of books because they bring up memories of traumatic experiences or it’s just something that makes them extremely uncomfortable. Should they be warned that a book contains potentially harmful themes? And how detailed do you get? Early lists for trigger warnings typically included subjects related to sexual assault and rape, but now lists are starting to include bugs, vomit, spiders, etc, things that can actually cause someone to have a visceral reaction.

I know some have argued that trigger warnings are becoming ridiculous. It’s as if we can’t produce anything without a warning going with it. And if you create a warning for one thing, it’s going to lead to warnings for everything. There’s a stigma that goes with this too that trigger warnings are “coddling” people.

Personally, I think the warnings are very helpful. Even if they don’t pertain to me, the fact that writing “This story contains elements of X, Y, and Z” can help other people is important. So what if there’s a label on an album or an extra screen before a movie warning of these things? Is that really so bad? Books could include a page at the beginning that talks about content elements so people can decide if they want to read it or not. If someone doesn’t care about trigger warnings, skip over it.

The folks I talked with at ICON agreed that having a warning page for a book was a good idea, especially for people dealing with traumatic memories or PTSD. If you go onto writing sites like Wattpad, they include a “mature” button for a story, and have also encouraged people to list out triggers in the topics category.  If I’m about to read a story that includes a suicide, I personally would prefer a warning. Sometimes I can handle reading that. Sometimes it triggers my depression, anxiety, and my own suicidal thoughts. So if online sites can do that, why not published books?

I think it’s an interesting thing to discuss. I’ve considered putting it in for Wolf Pit because there are some talks of assault and abuse, not to mention violence (they’re in a fighting pit after all). But if you include warnings, how far do you go? Is there such a thing as going too far?

What are your thoughts?

 

Dealing With Deadlines

You may have noticed that I took a break from writing posts in November. No, it wasn’t because of NaNoWriMo, unfortunately. It was due to me needing to focus entirely on editing and finishing up Wolf Pit. I’m happy to say, the files were approved by Ingramspark, and I clicked print today.

NaNo resulted in about 400 words, which is the first time in many years that I’ve lost. I was up against several tight deadlines, and while the book will indeed come out on the 14th, I won’t have the printed copies in hand. Not exactly the results I had hoped for, but at least the book will launch, and it’s given me some time to really understand the importance of setting up reasonable deadlines.

When I wrote The Purple Door District, I completed the first draft in November 2017, over a year before it would come out. I decided around March 2018 that I wanted to publish the book, so I worked to get an editor and started my marketing campaign.  I spent months editing, promoting, finding artists, creating swag, lining up readings and places for the launch. It was nonstop, however, I evened out my deadlines enough that I was able to edit the book in a reasonable amount of time, create a proof copy, and get the paperbacks with weeks to spare. In the end, the launch went great, the book ended up being around 73,000 words, and the pieces came together.

Wolf Pit was much different. I wrote 50,000 words of the book in November 2018, expecting it to come out around December 2019. But then roadblocks got in the way and my health plummeted. Writer’s block forced me to put the pen down, and I ended up in the hospital twice in early 2019 both for cellulitis and mental health issues. When I finally came out of it, it still took me longer than I had hoped to finish the book. I was still shaky with the deadline, but I thought December would still work, so I pushed to get it done. What I didn’t account for was the fact that the book was over 100,000 words, my team and I would run into life and health issues, and printing times would change. In the end, I will still have a book out on December 14th, but I wish I had had more time.

So what does that mean for book 3? Well, first off, since I was completely devoted to Wolf Pit in November, book 3 did not get written. So after I take about a month off, I’ll start writing it. A printing date will not be decided until long after I’ve started the edits so I can produce the best book for my readers.

I know now that if I had the chance to go back and do things differently, I would have written all three books before I even published the first one so I didn’t run into these issues. That’s the ideology I followed for my medieval fantasy (even if that’s still sitting on the back burner), and it made the books stronger because elements that popped up in book 3, I had to add in book 1. That’s not to say I don’t have an outline for PDD 3, but I think this would have helped with the deadlines and the stress that came with the mishaps over the past year.

So what can you do to set up, and stick to, deadlines for your book or creative piece?

  • Cushion Time: Set up an initial deadline with plenty of cushion. If you run into trouble, you’ll still have extra time to get the work completed.
  • Be Considerate of Everyone’s Schedules: Don’t overexert yourself or the people helping you. Make sure you’re giving everyone a reasonable amount of time to get the work done so no one has to rush, especially when polishing the final piece.
  • Change the Final Dates: Be willing to adjust final dates. As an indie author, it’s a lot easier to change the publication date than in traditional publishing. If you don’t think the book will be done on time, or it’s not as polished as it could be, push the deadline. Yes, it may frustrate some people that it’s not coming out when promised, but I think most people would be happy to wait for a cleaner story.
  • Personal Time: Create down time for yourself. Seriously, pushing yourself to work on the project every single day is not good for your health. You need to allow yourself time to rest so you can come at it refreshed.
  • Ask For Help: Whether it’s with marketing, revising, or formatting, don’t be afraid to reach out to your community and ask for aid. I never would have been able to get Bianca’s necklaces done for book 1 had Amanda Bouma not helped me. And my eyes were so tired after  reading Wolf Pit, I was happy to rely on AE Kellar to give the book formatting a final review.
  • Calendar: Keep a planner or calendar handy to help you visually plot the days when you want things to get done. Mark any days that may give you trouble, or days you know you’ll have extra time to work to make up for any setbacks.
  • Make Lists: Set up lists of things you need to get done to help you reach deadlines. Make sure to include even the little things, because it’s really satisfying to mark off tons of tasks.

You can find other tips here:

What do you do to help you stay in line with your deadlines?

Preparing for NaNoWriMo

It’s that time of year again. NaNoWriMo is just around the corner, and writers are either outlining their latest and greatest masterpiece or waiting until the last minute when inspiration strikes at midnight. Each year I talk a little bit about NaNo, so I thought I’d share some preparation information that Alex and I wrote for The Writers’ Rooms and has been modified for classroom use. A lot of these tips can actually be used in your everyday writing as well, so even if you’re not doing NaNo, you can still benefit. 

It’s that time of year again. NaNoWriMo is just around the corner, and writers are either outlining their latest and greatest masterpiece or waiting until the last minute when inspiration strikes at midnight. Each year I talk a little bit about NaNo, so I thought I’d share some preparation information that Alex and I wrote for The Writers’ Rooms and has been modified for classroom use. A lot of these tips can actually be used in your everyday writing as well, so even if you’re not doing NaNo, you can still benefit.

If you’re looking to add a buddy to your list, I’m SilverRose Brighteye.

What is NaNoWriMo? 

NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month! Writers get together and attempt to write 50k words (1667/day) in the month of November.  NaNo has spawned a ton of offshoots as well: NaPoWriMo (poetry), NaNoEdMo (editing), and… more (http://www.wikiwrimo.org/wiki/List_of_timed_artistic_challenges)

Camp NaNo: A less-stressful version of NaNo that is held twice over the spring/summer months that allows you to set your own word count or editing goal.

Story A Day: Write one short story a day for the month of May–there’s no word limit, and if you don’t finish your story you move on to the next one at midnight.

YeahWrite: Online community which provides weekly writing challenges, and editorial review with a membership.

52-Week Writing Challenge: Write something (anything!) once a week for a year.

NaNoWriMo Website: https://nanowrimo.org/

Perks of Signing Up on the Website:

  • Finding your community through the Region feature
  • Meeting and friending fellow writers
  • Keeping track of your word count
  • Receiving updates on local group meetups (Iowa City and Cedar Rapids both have NaNo groups).
  • Validating word count and receiving awesome rewards (discount on Scrivener, discounts on editing and publishing programs, etc).

Pre-planning

  • Do your research on your challenge.
    • What are some pitfalls other writers fall into? NaNo usually provides helpful tips through the month on how to get through the challenge.
    • What are your general goals?
    • What resources does NaNo provide?
  • Think about your goals.
    • Are you going to stick hard and fast to the challenge’s goals, or are you going to adjust them for yourself? (ie. will you write 1667 words a day, or will you aim to write more on the weekend to create buffers?)
    • How are you hoping to grow as a writer?
    • What would you like to do with the finished product?
  • Create a schedule.
    • Check your calendar for days you’ll be able to write vs days you can’t get much done.
    • Schedule sleep (seriously, you need rest).
    • Hold yourself accountable.

Resources:

http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/nanowrimo-prep-30-tips-resources-strategies-for-writing-a-book-in-30-days

Are you a plotter?

  • Think about how much work you want to do before NaNo starts.
    • Do you want to worldbuild?
    • Do you want to outline?
    • Do you want to create character biographies?
  • Do the structural work.
    • Plan out your daily writing time.
    • Get your Scrivener project (or whatever file system you use) in order and ready for your writing spree.
    • Put together your world-building materials and research so they’re at hand when you’re writing.
    • Have your outline ready to go.

Are you a pantser?

  • Gather inspiration.
    • When it hits you, write down sketches of ideas or characters.
    • Put together a playlist of music for your book.
    • Read or watch works that you’re going to get inspiration from–what has similar tones, settings, or magic/tech systems to your writing?
  • Get ideas together.
    • Set up mini-challenges for yourself for when things get tough.
    • Set up a quiet, inspirational space to write in.
    • Set up self-care plans so you take care of yourself mentally and physically during the challenge.

Resources:

https://www.apronwarrior.com/nano-prep-nano-jar.html

http://pikespeakwriters.blogspot.com/2014/10/your-guide-to-nano-prep.html

Tips During NaNo:

  • Create buffers:
    • If you have days you can write more, fill up that word counter just in case you have to take breaks later on.
  • Participate in writing sprints:
    • NaNo is all about writing and not editing. Schedule 10 minute writing sprints with friends where you race to write as much as you can in 10 uninterrupted minutes.
  • Find a support team:
    • Find friends who write NaNo too so you can commiserate with them when your characters are driving you nuts. Turn to them for support and guidance.
  • Set up writing “meetings”:
    • Set up times for yourself that you treat like meetings. Do homework, clubs, social events around that time so you can be sure to have enough time to write.
  • Don’t Edit:
    • NaNo is a time for writing. You can clean up the language and any errors later one. Editing will slow you down and possibly cause you to lose words.
  • Update Your Word count:
    • Make sure to update your word count every night so you can see the progress you’re making. Even if you don’t think you can make 50,000 words, be proud of the work that you end up doing. Whether you write 2,000 words or 50,000, that’s still more than what you had before.
  • Sleep, eat, and breathe:
    • Remember to go to meals, get rest, and take breaks here and there. A 50,000 word challenge is intense, but you need to take care of yourself.

Productivity Tools

  • Write or Die (or other pressure inducing apps): These apps encourage you to write without stopping, otherwise your text will be erased.
  • (Offtime) app: Disables specific apps on your mobile phone, but allows you to access apps you may still need. Difficult to disable, so it forces you to stay focused. You can use Forest app which allows you to grow a tree while you work and kills it when you stop.
  • (Internet blocker): An online app that will block you from using the internet for a certain amount of time.
  • Motivational posters/memes/calendars: Have these set up in your work area, so if you start feeling stressed or down, take a break and look at those.
  • Musical playlist: Put together music that inspires you to write. You can make specific ones for different stories/books.

Mental Health

  • Take care of yourself. Life gets hard. If you feel like you’re pushing yourself or writing is stressing you out too much, take a break and step back.
  • It’s okay to change projects. You’re not a failure for not completing one before moving on to another. Sometimes we need a change of pace, and there’s nothing wrong with that. NaNo challenges you to write 50,000 words in a month. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to stick to one project.
  • Don’t let your goals get in the way of you taking care of yourself. The better rested and fed you are, the better you’ll be able to think and write.
  • Reach out to your writing support group when you’re having a hard time so they can remind you that you can do this!
  • Jot down an emergency list of “What to Write When You Hate What You’re Writing”: Specific world building questions, backstory notes for a project, things to research later, or just your feelings on why writing is difficult for you right now.
  • Don’t compare yourself to other writers. Don’t compare your progress to the progress of other writers. Work to your own pace. That’s what matters.

Table Swag

I love attending book conventions, not just because of the books, but because of the swag. Face it, we all love free stuff, but some items catch our attention more than others. So what’s hot and what’s not when it comes to table swag? I reached out to Twitter, Facebook, Google, and used my own experiences and got some interesting answers.

A bit thank you to Jenn Thompson and Indie Author Book Expo (of Des Moines) for inspiring this post with their blog Writer Resources: The Best Book Swag Readers Actually Want. If you haven’t heard about IABE, you really need to check them out. They’re currently running a Kickstarter to help raise money to buy a printing press that will allow them to print other author’s books for cheaper. You can check it out here!

What’s Hot? 

  • Bookmarks: This one had mixed reviews, but the majority of readers leaned towards liking bookmarks, especially if they have interesting art on them. As an author, this can also double as a business card. Make them unique either in style, size, or material.
  • Pens: I can’t tell you how many people have tried to swipe my pens out of poor #yorick’s head! I’ve finally started buying purple pens for people to take when they visit my table. People love things they can use, so this is definitely a hot one.
  • Sand jars/ keepsakes: While these can be expensive, readers really love the sand jars I keep at my table.  I sell mine alongside my book, but, if you can find a cheap creator, this is a great item to give away.
  • Buttons! Believe it or not, but buttons are coming back. Have a nice mix of buttons that people can go through to find the one that they want.
  • Stickers: My stickers have flown off of my table faster than anything else. Some people use logos. I personally have character art on mine, helping to show the diversity in the book. It gives me an opening to talk about my story, too.
  • Themed Swag: You write erotic romance? Maybe provide something with a penis on it (thank you Cassy Albee lol). Is your story music-based? How about giving away guitar picks? Fantasy? Little plastic dragons will hit the spot (thank you Beth Hudson).
  • Candy! Seriously, you should see the people flock to the table when you have a bowl of candy available. I have purple kisses to go along with the color of my book. If you can make little treat bags and put a label with your book info on it, that’s an easy way to get your name into people’s hands. Just as a note, though, if you leave your swag in the car…don’t have chocolate with you.
  • Jewelry: Have a necklace with your book cover on it? A bookmark that doubles as a bracelet (I grabbed one of those really fast). Earrings or bracelets that can promote your work? It’s a great way to get a reader’s attention.
  • Free E-book: This is a wonderful idea if you have a large series and someone’s looking to get started. Have a QR code available at your table that allows someone to get a free e-book. Maybe even provide a sample of your book for free.
  • Mini Journal: You can have either plain ones or have small notebooks with your cover on the front. While the latter might be a little more expensive, it may stay with a person longer.
  • Character Art: Whether on postcards, posters, stickers,  or cards, character art is bound to draw in people’s attention, especially if they can collect them all.
  • Posters of Book Covers: Once again, this is something I sell, but you can also turn it into free swag. Many book covers are absolutely gorgeous and would make a fantastic piece to hang on your wall.
  • Mugs/Tumblers: Who doesn’t like a mug/tumbler, especially with special art, logos, or characters on it? While this can get very expensive, it’s also a great thing to offer in a giveaway. (I may or may not be having a tumbler made for Wolf Pit for a giveaway *wink*).

What’s Not? 

  • Cheap Swag: You get what you pay for, and if your swag is lacking in appearance, color, and quality, it’s not going to leave your table.
  • Swag that Falls Apart: Handmade stuff is fantastic, but again, make sure it’s a good quality. A reader will be disappointed if they take something and it falls apart on them.
  • Glasses or Screen Wipes: These often end up in the trash.
  • Unrelated Swag: Items that have no connection really to the book or to you as an author is sometimes overlooked. There’s a big difference between giving away a generic tube of chapstick and one that actually has art or something themed on it. Even getting a tube that’s the same color as your book can brighten up your table.

Things to Consider: 

  • Budget: As I mentioned, you don’t want to go cheap with your swag, but you want to make sure you stay within budget. Notebooks, mugs, and usb drives are all awesome, but that can really drain a bank account. Find what’s most cost effective and what you can get in bulk. Look for coupons online, too, or check out printing sites on discount days.
  • Where Do I Start? It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the idea of giving away free stuff and finding the best way to make your items. Some places to check out would be Etsy, Vistaprint, Printrunner, Sticker Mule, Discount Mugs, or your local artistic friends.
  • Don’t Stretch Yourself Too Thin: It’s better to have one or two high-quality items than to have several low-quality items. Put your time and effort into focusing on key elements that will help you sell your book.
  • Goals: What’s your goal of having the swag? Do you want to give it away at book events? Are you planning to put them in special giveaways? Know why you’re creating the items and how they’ll help you promote yourself and your book.

Is there any kind of swag that you love or dislike? Feel free to share below!

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and Writing

Fall has finally arrived (despite the 80 degree weather today). Orchard trees are heavy with ripe apples. Pumpkins and Halloween candy already line the shelves. And Starbucks has a line a mile long for a new pumpkin-spice drink.

Oh yeah, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is kicking in.

In short, SAD is a type of depression that’s brought on by changes in the seasons. While most people are afflicted during the fall/winter months, there are those, like a few close friends of mine, who struggle with spring/summer SAD. Both are forms of depression, but while winter depression leads to oversleeping, craving carbs, weigh gain, and low energy, summer depression deals more with insomnia, weight loss, and anxiety. Of course, each person is different, and your symptoms may vary.

I can concur, though, that when winter depression starts to set in, I generally want to hibernate. The dream of wrapping up in a warm blanket with hot cocoa and carbs and nesting on the couch with pumpkin bread sometimes gets me through the day, even if it does make me less productive later.

I know there are people out there who don’t believe that SAD is a thing. How can the weather have such a change on people’s moods? Well, if weather changes can lead to someone having migraines, why is it so unbelievable that they can cause depression as well? For winter depression, the longer nights and lack of light tends to set off people’s circadian rhythms in a negative way. I already have trouble sleeping, and winter depression makes it harder for me to get up in the morning to face the next day. I find myself wandering around my house at night, unable to get myself to sleep because I don’t want to face the morning, and then I’m even more exhausted come sunrise, which doesn’t prep me for a good day at work.

The low energy, trouble sleeping, and difficulty concentrating can have a very negative impact on my writing as well. When my brain is snarling with negative thoughts (guilt, worthlessness, hopelessness), sometimes the last thing I want to do is put my fingers to the keyboard. NaNoWriMo can pull me out of that mood for about a month, but then it’s back to me curling up on the couch, not wanting to move or even look at my screen. I’m probably the least productive during my winter months simply because I just don’t have the energy to come up with ideas.

It’s a wonder I’m actually able to launch books in December.

SAD isn’t something to take lightly. When things get bad, it’s not unusual for people to have thoughts of death or suicide. That likely is what pushed me towards my near attempt in February. The depression was just too much to handle, and I slipped over the edge.

So what can you do to combat it? Treatments can include light therapy, medications, or psychotherapy. I started light therapy last winter, and I could tell it made a difference. I set up special light boxes and just sit in their glow for 30-45 minutes everyday. The light is supposed to simulate sunlight, which can help with my circadian rhythm and mood. I’m actually going to start using the boxes again starting today before it gets too dark outside, just so I can start to feel their affects.

I’ve been told, too, that an increase in vitamin D can also help with your mood during winter depression. However, you want to be sure you talk to your doctor about that before you take pills, to make sure you’re not getting too much vitamin D.

Other things to consider if you’re struggling with SAD:

  • Be kind to yourself. You’re not alone in this struggle, so don’t beat yourself up for feeling this way.
  • Create a safe, comfortable environment for yourself. If it means setting up blankets and pillows for you to snuggle in after work, then do that. At least you’ll know it’s waiting for you.
  • Reach out to friends or family if you’re struggling and maybe go spend time with them to get your mind off of the depression.
  • Hot baths or showers, massages, or other things that bring physical comfort.
  • Light-hearted movies/shows. My depression often gets worse if I watch sad stuff, so try to have back-up things you can watch to make you feel a little better.
  • Put up Christmas lights. I know this sounds silly, but I’m always a little happier when I have bright Christmas lights up during the dark months.
  • Keep a journal and write out your emotions. Writing can be very cathartic especially when you don’t understand why you’re feeling so bad.
  • Have the suicide hotline available: 1-800-273-8255 If you feel low enough that you’re afraid you might want to take your life, please call the suicide hotline, visit your local hospital, or reach out to someone you trust. It will get better.

Depression can feel like a dark tunnel without a light at the end, but in the case of SAD, it doesn’t last forever. The changing seasons can bring you relief after a long, difficult episode. There’s no shame in admitting that you’re feeling this way. Like I said, this affects many people, and you’re not alone at all in your struggles. Just know what steps to take to help you safely through it.

Do you struggle with SAD? What kinds of things do you do to help yourself? List them below!

Choosing Weapons for Your Fantasy/Sci-Fi Character

Whether you write fantasy or science fiction, it’s not uncommon for weapons to make an appearance in your story. Choosing the type of weapon your character uses can be an important defining characteristic both for your character and for the world that the story is set in. Today we’re going to talk about different weapons you might find in fantasy/sci-fi worlds and things to consider when giving them to your character. 

Just as a note, some regional weapons will be divided up between fantasy and sci-fi based on how often they are used as stereotypes across these genres.

Fantasy Weapons: Many fantasy stories end up revolving around Medieval Europe/ Middle-Eastern weapons. Depending on your world, the weapons might be modified based on the race holding them (dwarves, elves, humans, halflings, etc), or if magic is involved. 

  • Medieval Europe Weapons 
    • Swords (short sword, longsword, bastard sword, claymore) 
    • Rapier 
    • Dagger
    • Crossbow
    • Bows
    • Pullarms (spears, pikes, halberd) 
    • Javelins 
    • Bolas
    • Sling 
    • Scythe
    • Scimitar 
    • Tulwar 
    • Dirk
    • Maces
    • Axes
    • Morningstars 
    • Staff

Science Fiction Weapons: Sci-fi weapons are often based on a mix of technology, integrating different cultures, and creating things from scratch. Writers can get really creative with these, (especially if they’re able to turn a medieval-like weapon into a gun, ie. RWBY). 

 

  • Blasters
  • Lazers
  • Phasers
  • Sonic Screwdrivers
  • Focused Radiation Beams
  • Lasso 
  • Katana 
  • Bokkan
  • Lightsabers 
  • Particle Beams
  • Gun

Resource: Coolest Science Fiction Weapons, Ranked

Characters and Weapons: When you create your character and decide they should use a weapon, there are a few things that you should ask yourself and remember. 

 

  • Why does your character carry a weapon? Is the weapon a reminder of a family member or friend? Is your character a warrior? Was it the only weapon they knew how to wield? Are they fighting a war or living in a dangerous place? Make sure you give a reason behind why your character has the weapon in the first place.
  • How did your character learn to use the weapon? Too often characters have weapons but there’s no explanation on how they learned how to use them…or they somehow master them unrealistically (*cough*LukeSkywalker*cough*). Schooling? Personal lesson? A prodigy? It’s more believable if the reader knows just how the character was trained. I think Game of Thrones does a pretty good job of this when it shows Arya learning how to master her sword Needle thanks to her “dancing” teacher. 
  • Does your character use the weapons to kill? There’s a big difference between using a weapon to defend oneself and using it to kill another person. Why would your character kill someone with it? Why wouldn’t they? Do they follow a code that causes them to act a certain way with the weapon? This brings to mind the character Morgan from The Walking Dead/ Fear The Walking Dead. After going through a bought of insanity, Morgan ends up meeting a man who teaches him how to use a staff to fight, but not to kill. Morgan starts to follow the ideology that he shouldn’t take a life because otherwise he’ll lose a part of himself. The staff becomes that constant reminder. 
  • Consistency: First of all, don’t forget that your character has the weapon. If she’s wearing a dagger or a blaster in chapter 3, she better be wearing it in chapter 8. Second, make sure the weapon itself stays consistent. Don’t have her using a dagger one moment that seems to be as long as a broadsword in the next. Or if she’s shooting a gun, make sure you know how many rounds she can actually fire and the damage it can do. Third, if the weapon is special in any way (size, color, weight, appearance), it needs to stay that way through the whole story. 
  • Know your facts: Once you choose a weapon for the character, make sure you know as much about it as possible. For example, you likely won’t have a short character wielding a claymore that can be up to 55 inches. If using a gun, know how many bullets it has, or its target range. The same goes for a blaster, phaser, etc. Sword lengths vary depending on the blade. If you’re trying to stick to a particular era, don’t have a gun show up in a medieval setting. 
  • Knighthood/Status: Does your character wear a weapon to signify knighthood or perhaps a higher social status? Is your character part of an army where they all use the same kinds of weapons? 
  • Magic: Is the weapon magical in someway? Can it burst into flames if a spell is cast on it? Can it hurt certain beings over others? Does magic fuel it to make it work? 

 

It’s easy enough to say your character picks up a sword and fights with it, but knowing the history behind that character and the weapon is vital. Some characters become very attached to their weapons and even name them (Jon Snow’s Longclaw, Ruby’s Crescent Rose, Bilbo’s Sting). Do your character, and their weapon, justice by making the weapon part of the story instead of just a meaningless item the character lugs around.

Learning Self-Care as a Writer

I know I’ve talked about this topic before, but it never hurts to get a reminder. I definitely need one right now. Self care can come in many different forms. It can be as “simple” as getting more sleep or eating better to nourish your body. But for writers, there’s even more that we can do to treat our minds and bodies kindly.

So where is this coming from? It’s probably no surprise that I have high-functioning anxiety and depression. My default is to keep doing more and more things to keep myself busy so I don’t have to deal with some of the nasty internal thoughts. I also deal with the feeling that I’m “not good enough” and my accomplishments mean I’m just a little bit more worthy to exist. I really wish I hadn’t tied my self-worth to my writing (or my weight), but unfortunately it’s happened, and I’m trying to learn to let go. I could feel myself trying to do too much again and I realized, begrudgingly, that I needed to step back.

I just finished running the big I.O.W.A. author signing that I’ve written about. In the past week, I’ve been in a lot of physical pain due to the anxiety and tension that had built up over the months leading up to it. I have a book coming out in December that I’m still working on editing, and a few book signings on my plate. To top it off, I was considering making massive edits to my YA fantasy book, Dragon Steal, to participate in #Pitchwars later this month. All last week and part of this weekend, I could feel myself practically choking on the anxiety, and I knew that I had to make some changes.

You see, my health has been pretty awful this year. I’ve gotten cellulitis four times since January, my migraines have gotten worse to a degree, I’ve gained weight I lost, and my sleep has suffered. Most of that I attribute to being too busy and not focusing on taking care of myself. There’s always some other writing project, or work, or volunteer thing to get done. I’m terrible at staying still and resting, (and saying no), but it’s come to the point that if I don’t start making changes, I might not be around to do all the things I want to do.

So, I decided that I would step back from #Pitchwars this year 1. to give myself a break and 2. to give my book the time and care that it needs. I cancelled one of my book signing events that would have equated to a 7 hr drive in one day all while I’m still trying to mend my legs from cellulitis. I’m trying to eat better foods and get more sleep, which means not working myself to the bone until 1 or 2 am to meet self-imposed deadlines.

Living a writer’s life is hard, especially with jobs and volunteer work on top of it. I think it’s easy for us to stop focusing on our bodies and put our full attention to our work. Yes, sometimes when the deadlines require it, it’s necessary, but at other times, we need to remember to breathe and take care of our bodies and minds. Depression and anxiety are both so common among writers because many of us tie our self-worth to our writing. So what can we do to break away from that?

I don’t have the answers, but I implore you to take some time and reflect on your own self care. Here are just a few ideas to try if you’re pushing yourself too hard.

  • Take a break. Your book will still be there when you come back to it.
  • Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, if not for your health, then to help your mind stay awake and creative.
  • Don’t create unnecessary deadlines for yourself. Focus on what projects are important, and go from there. You don’t have to participate in every writing contest.
  • Make meals for yourself. Living off of fast food sucks.
  • Give yourself a real vacation. Taking days off just to focus on writing isn’t a vacation, it’s work.
  • Find other hobbies outside of writing that make you happy (I play PokemonGo).
  • Snuggle with a pet. They need love too.
  • Remind yourself that your worth is not dependent on your book.
  • Stop and smell the flowers. Enjoy the little things in life that are so easy to neglect.
  • Meditate.

Have any other self-care tips? Feel free to post them below. And remember, you are not alone in this. We all struggle with self care and self love. I believe in you.