Category Archives: Writing

A Writer’s Path Writers Club!

Hello everyone! A fellow blogger of A Writer’s Path, Ryan Lanz, has announced the launch of his new initiative: A Writer’s Path Writers Club.

After looking at the writing market for years, he noticed a need for a Writers Club of this kind. Sure, there are Facebook groups, writers groups, etc., but there aren’t many associations that are more than just a gathering of writers.

He wanted to create a club where the sole purpose of it is to solve headaches for writers. Here are some of the headaches he’s looking to solve:

  • It’s hard to find reviewers for my book
  • Writing-related service providers (editors, book cover designers, etc.) are expensive
  • I don’t know if my writing is good enough and I need feedback
  • I need more promotion for my book
  • I don’t know if my blurb or summary is good enough
  • Not enough readers know my book exists
  • I don’t know enough about what other successful authors have done to be successful
  • I don’t know if my book cover encourages readers to purchase it

And of course, there are fun stuff to be had too, such as giveaways and contests. Here’s the full list of benefits for the Writers Club:

      • Discounts from writer-related service providers, such as editors, book cover designers, proofreading services, ghostwriters, social media marketing, book advertising, template design, audio book narration, and more.
      • Contests and giveaways for free services and books.
      • free book promotion posts on A Writer’s Path blog every year(example here). Every post generates a social media shout-out of your book to my Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Tumblr, and Google+ account (total of 12,900 followers). he’ll set reminders for himself to notify you when your next post is ready.
      • Exclusive articles not seen on the A Writer’s Path blog.
      • Access to free blurb coaching.
      • Book of the Month” lottery. Winner gets their book featured for a month on A Writer’s Path blog in a tab along the top of every page/post. Also included is a promotional post featuring their book, summary, cover, and purchase links to all 25,000+ subscribers. One drawing per month.
      • Help to find you reviewers and critique partners (optional).
      • A free copy of his eBook, The Idea Factory: 1,000 Story Ideas & Writing Prompts to Find Your Next Bestseller. ($2.99 value)
      • Free critique of your book summaries and book covers (optional).
      • Insider tips from published authors in short, bite-sized articles.
      • Links to free books normally at full price.
      • Opportunities to show off your book to the other members.
      • Exclusive author interviews.

Feel free to check out A Writer’s Path Writers Club here.

The Dos and Don’ts of Dialogue Tags

by Ryan Lanz

Writers use dialogue tags constantly. In fact, we use them so often that readers all but gloss over them. They should be invisible. However, there are ways to misuse them and make them stand out.

In an effort to avoid that, let’s take a closer look at dialogue tags. Toward the end of “Tag travesties” is something I sorely wish someone had told me before I started writing.

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Why Do We Use Dialogue Tags?

The simple answer is that we use them to indicate who’s speaking. In visual media, such as movies or television, the viewer can easily tell who’s talking by lip movement and camera angles. When reading a book, obviously that’s not an option.

Tag Travesties

There are certainly ways to misuse dialogue tags. When I was a new writer, I felt compelled to overwrite. I ‘m sure every new writer goes through a version of this. I observed how successful writers used simple tags like “said/asked” and thought to myself, that’s boring. I’m going to be an awesome writer by making them more interesting. You don’t have to admit it aloud, writers, but we all know that most of us have. Let’s look at an example of this:

  • “We can’t cross this river,” Alanna exclaimed repugnantly.
  • John crossed the room and shouted disgustedly, “I’ll never take you with me.”
  • “This has been the worst day ever,” Susie cried angrily.

For those of you who still aren’t convinced, let’s up the dosage with a paragraph:

Hank crossed the room and sat down. “We should have never waited this long for a table,” he seethed, leaning over to glare at her. 
“If you wanted a better spot, you should have called ahead for a reservation,” Trudy returned pointedly.
“Well, perhaps if you didn’t take so long to get ready, I could have,” he countered dryly.

Can you imagine reading an entire book like that? *shiver*

So why do new writers feel the urge to be that . . . creative with their dialogue tags? Back in the beginning, I thought the typical tags of “said/asked” were too boring and dull. It didn’t take me long to realize that dull (in this context) is the point.

Image your words as a window pane of glass, and the story is behind it. Your words are merely the lens that your story is seen through. The thicker the words, the cloudier the glass gets. If you use huge words, purple prose, or crazy dialogue tags, then all you’re doing is fogging up the glass through which your reader is trying to view your story. The goal is to draw as little attention to your actual words as possible; therefore, you keep the glass as clear as possible, so that the reader focuses on the story. Using tags like “said/asked” are so clear, they’re virtually invisible.

Now, does that mean that you can’t use anything else? Of course not. Let’s look further.

Alternate Dialogue Tags

Some authors say to never use anything other than “said/asked,” while others say to heck with the rules and use whatever you want. Some genres (such as romance) are more forgiving about using alternate dialogue tags. I take a more pragmatic approach to it. I sometimes use lines like:

“I’m glad we got out of there,” she breathed.

The very important question is how often. I compare adverbs and alternate dialogue tags to a strong spice. Some is nice, but too much will spoil the batch. Imagine a cake mix with a liter of vanilla flavoring, rather than the normal tablespoon. The more often you use anything other than “said/asked,” the stronger the flavor. If it’s too powerful, it’ll tug the reader away from the story and spotlights those words. In a full length book of around 85,000 words, I personally use alternate dialogue tags only around a few dozen times total.

By saving them, the pleasant side effect is that when I do use them, they pack more of an emotional punch.


Related: How to Write Natural Dialogue



Action Beats

I have a love affair with action beats. Used effectively, they can be another great way to announce who’s talking, yet at the same time add some movement or blocking to a scene. For example:

Looking down, Katie ran a finger around the edge of the mug. “We need to talk.”

That added some nice flavor to the scene, and you know who spoke. The only caveat is to be careful of not using too many action beats, as it does slow down the pacing a tiny bit. If you’re writing a bantering sequence, for example, you wouldn’t want to use a lot of action beats so as to keep the pacing quick.

Dos and Don’ts

Sometimes, action beats and dialogue tags have misused punctuation. I’ll give some examples.

  • “Please don’t touch that.” She said, blocking the display. (Incorrect)
  • “Let’s head to the beach,” he said as he grabbed a towel. (Correct)
  • Sam motioned for everyone to come closer, “Take a look at this.” (Incorrect)
  • Debbie handed over the magnifying glass. “Do you see the mossy film on the top?” (Correct)

Conclusion

Like many things in a story/novel, it’s all about balance. Try alternating actions beats, dialogue tags, and even no tags at all when it’s clear who’s speaking. By changing it up, it’ll make it so that no one method is obvious.

Ryan Lanz is an avid blogger and author of The Idea Factory: 1,000 Story Ideas and Writing Prompts to Find Your Next Bestseller. You can also find him on TwitterFacebook, and Tumblr

Image courtesy of Onnola via Flickr, Creative Commons.

Travel & Writing

It’s that time again! This Saturday, I will be leaving on a jet plane and heading on a month-long backpacking trip to South Africa and Spain. Not to worry, friends, while I am not the greatest at following a blogging schedule (read: I suck pretty hard), I am planning on uploading a few photo journal posts throughout my trip. Minimal effort for me, good travel photos for you!

But now: the point. Traveling so soon has me in a travel mood. Consequently, being in a travel mood puts me in a writing mood. Why, you ask? Shouldn’t I be YouTube spiraling and watching every video I can find on my backpacking destinations?

Yes, I should, but instead, I feel so inspired. For me, traveling has a huge impact on my writing and is definitely the pick-me-up I need when I feel uninspired. In fact, there are huge benefits for writers who travel, even if it’s only for a couple days away.

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African Sun, here I come!

Traveling Calms You

While this may not be the case for everyone, traveling can be calming. For me, it’s waiting in an airport and people watching. It’s sitting on a beach with a book and having absolutely no plan for the day. It’s waking up on any random day and asking a travel companion “what are we doing today?” knowing that we could do anything we like or nothing at all.

Travel has a way of relaxing people, even on the busiest of city streets. And guess what? Being relaxed is a great way to write. Ideas form easier, the words come smoother, and writing seems less like a chore and more like a spa massage.

Besides, have you ever tried writing while stressed out? Yeah, I’ve gone on DELETE-EVERYTHING rampages too…

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So beach. Much calming.

Traveling Exposes You to New People & Different Cultures

My absolute favorite part of traveling is the new people I meet and the interesting cultures I experience. Living in Canada, sometimes it’s easy to forget that people all around the world live in a completely different way than I do. Beliefs, traditions, and existences vastly different from our own occur EVERYWHERE, and it’s a pity not to experience them.

But why is this beneficial for our writing? Two reasons. Number One: characters are the soul of our writing, and what better way to create interesting characters than to meet interesting people? Number Two: a huge aspect of the fiction industry is the Science Fiction and Fantasy genre, and while it may be hard to travel to the moon or Westeros for inspiration for your next novel, a quick flight to a foreign country could inspire the location of your next piece.

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Oh, what’s that? The scene of your next novel?

Traveling Enhances Your Prose

Speaking of locations, traveling allows you to better describe the setting of your story. Novel set in a windswept, mountain town? Time to see the Rockies or the Alps. Medieval, seafaring city on the ocean? Round trip to Croatia. What about the desert? Egypt it is.

I find it way easier to more accurately describe the setting of my novel if I’ve actually been to a place that has a similar landscape. Besides, that’s why I take so many photos. When I get home and I’m working on setting in my prose, I can look at the photos and remember not just how a place looked, but also how a place smelled and felt.

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A great setting for a novel… Or just a good place to write it!

Traveling Puts Life (and Writing) in Perspective

One of the best feelings traveling gives is the feeling of being small and insignificant.

Sounds depressing, right? Well, hear me out.

In our everyday lives, it’s really easy to get wrapped up on everyday things: wake, eat, drive to work, do work, eat lunch, do work, come home, make dinner, watch Netflix, drink wine, sleep… The cycle goes on and on. Worse: we toil over the news, toil over social media, toil over whatever drama Sassy Sally or Donald Downer is conjuring up.

But when you travel, that cycle gets interrupted. You experience new and exciting things. Best of all, traveling helps you put your whole life into perspective: you realize that there are billions of other people on this Earth, and their lives can be extremely different than yours. Further, these people exist without being influenced by your life (or Sassy Sally’s drama) whatsoever. To me, that’s really humbling, and when I’m in a writing rut, it comforts me to think that somewhere out there, there are people facing life in all its forms, and suddenly, my life doesn’t seem so overwhelming, and I can get back to what I find important.

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Oh, how small we really are.

Story Ideas Can Strike at Any Time!

This one is self-explanatory. With travel opening up the world to you, it also opens your mind to new story ideas. These can come while people watching at the airport, overhearing a discussion at a restaurant in Bangkok, or in the bush in Mozambique, waiting for a lioness to show her face.

In a world of 8 billion people, there are at least 8 billion stories, and by traveling, you give yourself the opportunity to one you may not have heard before.

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So, get out there, writer! Experience something new! Where are your favorite places to travel for writing inspiration?

 

Dear Writer: STOP Releasing So Many Novels!

As I’m sure you know, dear readers (or Mom… Hi, Mom!), I’ve come to a couple realizations over the past year or so since the release of my first novel. The biggest revelation, the one where I decided to go back to writing for myself, I’ve written about extensively already, and you can read that post here (plus, there’s a potato! Who doesn’t like potatoes?!).

Scalloped Potatoes

Hmm… Scalloped potatoes…

But the focus of this post will be on something I’ve wanted to say for a long time, but I’ve been a little wary of the potential backlash I might face. I’d first like to preface this by saying that everyone’s writing/publishing journey is different. Every individual writer is unique, and what works well for one writer may not work well for another. And that’s two-fold: I acknowledge that what I’m about to say is simply my opinion, and it by no means is meant to shame other authors or demean their work. Besides, you do you, fellow writer, you. There are no rules in writing. Well, there are, but you know…

Okay, deep breath. Here goes.

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SLOW DOWN!

I’m not on board with the culture of write-fast, publish-much that’s taken hold of the publishing industry lately. Okay, amendment: I’m not on board with the culture of write-fast, publish-much that’s taking place in the indie author sphere (because, let’s be real, long production times are the norm, albeit necessary, with a traditional publisher).

What is the write-fastpublish-much culture, you ask? Today in the publishing industry, especially in the indie-author market, quantity is king. I’m not saying that quality isn’t being taken into account, because to some extent it probably is, but there is a new mantra for indie authors like myself: write a lot and publish as often as possible. That means that some authors are publishing three or more novels a year, sometimes as many as ten novels a year.

“But that’s not a bad thing, Michael,” you protest. “If I write three or more novels a year, and I’m able to release them, whether through a small press or a self-publisher or on creased rolls of toilet paper, why shouldn’t I? Besides, I’m building my brand, and to expedite the process, I’m growing a catalog  of my titles so that readers can discover my work.”

Well, in my opinion, there is a big problem with that mentality.

The Eternal Quality vs. Quantity Conundrum

I’m not going to lie, I judge authors who feel the need to release more than two books a year. Okay, second amendment (and I’ll be generous): I judge authors who release three or more books within a year ESPECIALLY if the three books are not part of the same series. I’m sorry: a writing career shouldn’t be a puppy mill of stream-of-consciousness vanity projects. I just don’t see how anyone has the time to publish more than three novels a year AND maintain consistent literary quality.

To me, releasing novels rapid-fire-style is indicative of premature work. If five or ten or *gasp* fifteen individual novels are being released per year, how much time was spent on each one? How many drafts did you write? How long did you spend on developmental editing? Copy editing? Proofreading? Getting notes from beta-readers? What about that break you should take between the final edit and the final read-through to clear your palate? I’m pretty sure a single evening of binge-watching Netflix doesn’t count.

Sure, if you’re a full-time writer and you have a really quick team of beta-reader/editor-robots, you could have a really good, polished manuscript in a year. Eight months if you’re lucky. But a quality novel every month and a half? I just don’t believe it’s possible. Sure, if you have a back catalog of novels you’ve written since childhood and you think they’re all ready to go at the same time, by all means, release away. But three or more is overwhelming, and did you ever think that maybe those back-cataloged books are in the past for a reason?

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“You get a new novel! And YOU get a new novel! NEW NOVELS FOR EVERYONE!”

So, where’s the sweet spot? How many novels should you release a year in order to ensure highest quality? I don’t know, frankly. But I have a hunch: unless you’re J.K. Rowling or Shakespeare or Stephen King, or you’ve had independent third parties verify your equivalency, I’d focus more on the quality of your work and not on the quantity if I were you.

And Now: A Moment for Cheese

Because let’s be real. The number of books released in a year is just that: a number. The ratio of novels to years is arbitrary. But you know what’s not? Quality. In my opinion, books are like good cheese or wine. Good cheese and wine need time to grow–time to mature. That’s why older cheeses and older wines are more expensive: they’re better because they’ve been given time to sort their sh*t out. I’m just doubtful that the sixth novel you’ve released this year is any good.

What’s the rush for? Take your time. Be the aged cheddar of the publishing industry: digestable and dependable and a classic. Be the brie: smooth and double-creamed served with red pepper jam. Hell, be blue cheese: an acquired taste but oh-so-prolific.

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Please excuse my drooling.

Just don’t be processed cheese. Got it?

But wait!

I’m not saying it’s not possible to draft a novel in a month or less. That happens all the time, and even though sometimes I take  upwards of a year to complete the first draft of one of my novels, I know that is not the norm. Drafting a novel quickly is not the problem; rather, the problem is releasing everything that touches a Word document within six months of conception in an attempt to inflate the number of works attached to your name.

What do you think? Is it a good idea to release a lot of novels in a short time span? How many books will you release this year?

The 8 WORST Cliches in Fiction

As a writer, there is always a pressure to write something that can sell. I have a weird relationship with this notion, but for the sake of this post, let’s just say that it’s true.

However, as a freelance editor, I encounter authors every day (whether I do work for them or not) who cave to the pressure of writing something marketable by incorporating cliches into their stories. Don’t get me wrong: using a cliche here or there won’t destroy a novel for me. There are many novels I adore that employ many a cliche.

On the other hand, not all cliches are created equal, and some make me more annoyed (read: inexplicably furious) than others. Here is a list of cliches that I just. can’t. STAND.

Chosen Ones

This cliche is at the top of the list for a reason: it is my least favorite cliche. Actually, amendment: it is my most hated cliche. The chosen one cliche stipulates that a character is destined to be the hero and save the entire world because everyone around them or some silly prophecy says so. It completely allows an author to be as un-creative as possible and abstains them from having to think about a character’s motivation. I mean, who *actually* wants to save the world anyway?

Yes, J.K. Rowling did it in Harry Potter, and J.K. Rowling did it well, but other writers are not J.K. Rowling, so they should just stop.

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“It was all a dream…”

Dreams are the worst. Whether the story opens with a dream or, *gasp*, gets all the way to the end to reveal that the entire story was a dream, there is no simpler way to piss off your reader. Seriously. It is the equivalent of your friend telling you about that one time they went to Los Angeles on vacation, met Zac Efron, went on his private yacht, and then after yapping for an hour, they’re all like, “PSYCH! There was no Zac Efron. I didn’t even go to LA.”

Not only do you feel cheated, but you likely have a headache.

That’s what the “it was all a dream…” cliche feels like. A writer spends a whole scene creating something or developing some plot point, and then BAM!, it never happened. Or worse, the author spends the ENTIRE GOSH-DARN BOOK creating this great story, and then at the end, the character wakes up, pulls the pajamas out of their behind, and is like, “Whoa, that was a weird dream.”

No kidding, sleepy head!

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Young Adult Fiction

Just as a whole… there are far too many cliches in young adult fiction. I wrote a post about this last year, but I do declare that we are at a state of no return. Young adult fiction has completely taken over, and rightfully so because it’s pretty awesome, but the cliches are out of control.

Whether it’s love triangles or teenagers saving the world or it’s the end of the world, I don’t want to read about it any more. Don’t teenagers live normal lives these days? Does *everyone’s* teenage years have to be a sludge-fest of action scenes, heartbreak, and sexual encounters with supernatural beings?

Don’t answer that.

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Super Geniuses & Super Humans

I am sick of characters who miraculously know everything and can do everything. Think Robert Langdon from The Da Vinci Code. That guy was so smart, it was annoying. Why do characters have to know everything? Can’t they just be normal people? And to top it all off, the worst super-characters are the ones who miraculously figure out that solution to a problem that no one else could figure out… and the solution was so simple that even I could figure it out.

AND the worst part: these picture-perfect, I-do-no-wrong-and-know-everything-about-everything characters always fall unconscious during the most intense moments. Battle scene? Unconscious. Robbery? Unconscious. Tragic moment where their sister dies? Unconscious. Venomous alien-alpacas burst in through the toilets because it turns out the character’s fireplace is one of those suburban fireplaces without a real chimney? UN-FRICKING-CONSCIOUS!

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Venomous alien-alpacas? I think I just got a new manuscript idea.

RELATED: The Reluctant Hero

I spoke about this a bit in my post about the heroes of young adult fiction, but this same cliche happens in adult fiction of all genres as well. It consists of a main character who is tasked with saving the world (or just solving a problem), and their crippling self-doubt leaves us with paragraph upon paragraph of sniveling self-deprecation. Don’t get me wrong: a healthy dose of uncertainty keeps characters realistic, but stop whining already!

If a character can’t get it together and embrace their purpose, then bring in a stronger character who can!

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“Mirror, mirror…”

To me, when a character looks in a mirror and says stuff like “I comb my long, black hair and look into my eyes of chocolate brown“, I want to toss the novel out of my window. We all examine ourselves in the mirror, but who describes themself to themselves? Better yet: who uses a copious amount of obscure adjectives to describe themselves? In my opinion, this is lazy storytelling. Incorporate physical descriptions in other ways. Leave the snore-fest of mirror description out.

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Mirror, mirror, on the wall… I look like an unrealistic cross of Ben Affleck, Ted Cruz, and a donkey trapped in a wind tunnel.”

Love… as a Whole

I hate to say it, but love is boring. I know there’s a whole market for novels about love, but I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about novels that throw love in for the sake of throwing love in. *Yawn*. And even worse: I can’t stand novels that have nothing to do with love but then at the end are like, “everything worked out because love is the most powerful force in the world“.

No. Just GTFO.

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*barf*

Wise Old People

Don’t get me wrong, I love the elderly (Hi, Nonna!). But they don’t know everything. Stop making old people these all-knowing, wise, do-no-wrong seers that feed the main character quasi-philosophical ramblings and unwanted life advice. Old people want to be left alone. They worked hard all their lives, and the expectation that they’ll provide life-altering guidance is frankly too much weight for their hip replacements.

Unless your wise old character is Yoda. Yoda is a boss.

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BONUS: Cliches in Prose

Ding, ding, ding… It’s your lucky day! Not only have I listed the 8 cliches you should avoid that have to do with storytelling, but now I’m going to talk about the most stomach-churning, fist-clenching, rage-inducing cliches of them all.

CLICHES IN PROSE.

I hate it when characters turn on their heelGentle waves lapping on the shore is not calming to me; it’s cringe-worthy. Breaths of wind are making a single tear roll down my cheek. I’m sick of glares from good-looking people totally disarming me, and then their caresses making me squeal. Trust me, when I find someone attractive, I don’t feel butterflies in my stomach and then feel something lower (ahh. Eww. Stop it.). So, come to a halt with darn cliched expressions already, they’re putting my stomach in knots and setting my teeth on edge.

Get the picture? Use original language.

And I detest the word gingerly. Stop using the word gingerly.

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I wish the character would just gingerly fall down the stairs…

AND VOMITING! Why do characters vomit so much? I get it: bad sh*t happens, and sometimes it’s so terrible that you feel like being sick, but in some books it happens more often than it does at a homecoming frat party. I worry for these people’s esophaguses (esophagi?).

What are your least favorite cliches?

 

My State of the Union Address (Why I Quit Writing)

The long and short of this post is that I’d like to say that 2015 was a mess: a good mess in some ways, and a terrible, pull-my-hair-out-and-cry mess in others. I’ve debated about doing this blog post for a while because I’m not really sure what will come of it, let alone where it will go or what it will and will not talk about. But I’ve decided to just do it (in lieu of the freelance editing I *should* be doing, lol) because I think I owe some people an explanation (and a blog post or two) and I definitely owe myself the release of saying some things and letting them go.

So, without further ado, this is my February 2016 State of the Union Address, the state referring to my state (more mental state than anything, as my hobbit stature leaves little to be desired) and the union being my writing career.

Also, I’ve been watching the US primaries on TV a lot lately, and I’m quite political at the moment. But that’s for another post…

First things first, let’s paint the scene: it’s March 2015, I’m working a 9-to-5, I’m getting paid well enough, but my contract is ending at the beginning of April and I know I’ll be flung into the jobless abyss soon enough. But that’s okay! I have a novel releasing in May and dreams of being self-employed as a freelance writer and editor while continuing to work on my fiction career, so I’m hopeful.

Spring 2015 comes, and I’m in the thick of doing final prep for my debut novel “The Black Oracle“. I’m working tirelessly at a freelance writing career, making modest returns but ultimately working more hours than I’m being paid for. At one point, I calculated I was working for $5.00 Canadian an hour after all was said and done — and that was when I was being paid… (We won’t mention the guy who commissioned work and then, when payment time came, disappeared off the face of the world). But again, it’s okay! This is what being a struggling artist is all about, right? I’m happy (tired, but happy), and I feel like I’m moving in a direction that I like, and at the end of the day, I’ve always said I’d rather be poor and happy than rich and miserable. And to prove that, I take a trip to Calgary the week before my release date to celebrate.

And then it’s release day! Copies of “The Black Oracle” arrive at my house, purchase links go live online, and to top it off, an agent (yes, a REAL, live, accomplished agent! THEY EXIST!) responds to a query for a separate novel and says she’s interested in reading it in full. Five days later, I’m at my book launch event, and friends and family and even people I don’t know are buying my book, and even though I’ve only had one hour of sleep (‘cuz I partied a touch too hard the night before), it’s a success!

Needless to say, I’m on top of the world. My dream is coming true right in front of my eyes, and I’m doing everything I said I was one day gonna do. Take that naysayers!

But at that moment, that’s where everything started to fall apart.

I can’t pinpoint why it happened, but it started around June. For lack of a better word, I started to become depressed. This isn’t a woe-is-me post, and I promise I’m not going to focus on this for too long because the POINT of this post is still to come, but the truth is, I just wasn’t happy anymore. After the initial sales bump of The Black Oracle’s release, sales fell drastically. No one was reading my book, few people were reviewing it (even when I was offering it for free), and I fumbled on marketing the book (mostly because I just didn’t know what to do). Further, the agent decided she didn’t want to represent my next novel (which is completely okay!), and the signings I went to depressed me more than anything. For most of them, I sat in the back of a bookstore while customers avoided eye contact and my cookies (who avoids cookies, though, for real?).

This feeling peaked in July after the final signing I went to. I carried my box of books into the store in the pouring rain (pathetic fallacy, much?) and literally did not sell a single copy over the two-hour signing. To add insult to injury, the manager of the store came up to me after the signing was over and told me that I should be more interesting. As an introvert, not only do I not know how to be more interesting, but I wasn’t even sure what that would mean (“Should I dance? Do readers like it when authors dance?”).

Besides, was I not interesting enough already?

The next few months were hard for me. I stopped marketing completely. I stopped looking for freelance work completely and watched my income plummet. I couldn’t write anything, and when I tried, I just made myself angry, like delete-my-document, throw-my-laptop angry. I remember one day talking to my mum on the phone and practically crying.

On top of it, I was for all intents and purposes unemployed. I was unproductive and unhappy. I focused on side projects and watched them crash and burn. I was ashamed and upset and embarrassed for myself and for my work. I was a failure, and I felt like I was wasting time on something that I had a hard time identifying with anymore. I was ready to give up writing.

And then I did.

One day, I just decided to stop. I had some writing-related obligations, some of which I finished, others which I flubbed on entirely. But in essence, I had given up. I wasn’t going to write anymore. I didn’t want to write anymore. I stopped writing completely and became focused on getting a full-time job (the one thing I SWORE I would never return to).

And in a way, giving up was exactly what I needed to do.

*Cue turning point in post. I apologize for the dramatics.*

In that moment, quitting was good for me. I broke away from writing. I didn’t touch it for four full months (after writing non-stop since I was 15, that was a big thing). I moved back in with my parents. I redecorated my childhood bedroom. I decided to start tutoring French and English as a way to create income while I waited for a full-time job (okay, my mum encouraged me, but we made it happen).

And then all at once, the tutoring became the full-time job. I was making enough money to pay the bills (yes, I live with my parents, and I pay bills…). I was tossing around the idea of travelling again and moving out again and starting a business and hiring employees. I noticed my mood was improving (being on unemployment insurance is soul-destroying), and I was enjoying myself more, and I was allowing myself to do things that I hadn’t done in years because I had been so fixated on becoming a full-time writer.

But what was troubling was that I was surviving. I had gone four months without writing, and of course I missed it, but what I didn’t miss was the pressure. I didn’t miss advertising my book and my “brand” to every available ear and eye. I didn’t miss tirelessly emailing reviewers and scouring websites for someone–anyone!–to care about what I was doing. Most of all, I didn’t miss the pressure of writing for some magical, probably non-existent audience that would propel me to the status of full-time writer.

And all of this was troubling because it meant that maybe I could survive without writing. That maybe I was more than my writing.

That maybe I wasn’t meant to be a writer.

So, I gave myself a window. I said, “Michael, go back. Write something. See where it goes. If you’re happy, keep going. If you’re not, stop.” I was giving myself the freedom to give up again if I wanted to. I was allowing myself to be creative without worrying about what audiences or editors or literary agents would think.

I was allowing myself to have fun again, something I hadn’t done in years because I had been so obsessed–nay, sick with the pressure of taking my writing and making money on it.

Because what I realized during that time was that I didn’t need to make money on my writing to be successful. I could redefine what success meant to me. If success meant that I never published again but I could have fun doing what I loved doing, then that’s what I was going to do. If success meant writing for myself and not giving a flying f*ck about what would sell or what was marketable or what was interesting (I’m still not over it, bookstore manager!), then that’s what I was going to do.

In short, the purpose of my writing had shifted over the course of 2015, and the focus on the financial side of the arts industry was robbing me of my creativity and depressing me because I was equating sales numbers and review counts with my definition of success. Once I took the money out of the writing equation, once I had stopped freelance writing and editing (minus a few good, reputable contracts), I was left with just the thing I loved in the first place.

And that thing was writing.

So, I’m glad I quit writing. I’m glad I gave up. Quitting writing gave me the opportunity to start to rebuild myself and rebuild my life. I guess the purpose of this post is to say that if you’re in the place that I was at (Editing Note: “In the place that I was at” is sloppy, but I think I’m gonna leave it to make a point), in that place where everything feels hopeless and you’re ready just to give up on your dreams (writing or unrelated), honestly, just do it.

Just give up.

Because if you love it enough, it will come back, and if it doesn’t, maybe it was never meant to be.

Thanks to everyone for sticking by me the past year, and thanks for reading this if you made it all the way through the post.

As per 9gag community etiquette, here’s a potato. Sorry for the long post.

Potato.jpg

Faces

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Writing Book #2

An odd atmosphere has enveloped my writing life recently. Aside from the fact that I found myself practically unable to write after the release of “The Black Oracle” and I took a nearly two-month break from productivity wherein I dabbled in random short story endeavors that resulted in no finished products, I am now in a new writing phase.

I’m attempting to write a book #2.

No, it’s not a sequel to “The Black Oracle” (cuz seriously, I’ve been asked that a lot recently). I have played with the idea of writing a sequel or a prequel or both to “The Black Oracle”, but right now, it feels best as a stand-alone, and though I won’t say never, I will say not now.

In fact, my book #2 is for that Inception-meets-The-City-Trilogy new adult speculative fiction I completed back in May. Further, I have a second book #2 for my middle grade paranormal/horror novel that I wrote over this past winter (even though the first book is trapped in editing hell where I toil fruitlessly to get the tone right).

So, I’m in a weird place. After writing stand-alone novels for almost all of my writing life (the better part of eight years), I am facing the fact that I am writing not one but TWO sequels. It’s odd. I feel like it’s akin to raising the dead. In terms of the Inception-meets-The-City-Trilogy story, I knew very early on it would be a series, and I currently have four books planned. But after reaching a point of finality on the first one this past May, resurrecting the tone and the characters and the plot feels kind of foreign — almost unnatural to me.

It’s not that I feel directionless, I just worry I might ruin the stories by adding more to them. I mean, what if subsequent novels don’t live up to the first one? What if there is no more story to tell, and I’m just stretching it out for who knows what reason?

How did he even write so many?!

How did Lemony Snicket even write so many books on one topic?!

And even though I’m only 2500 words into writing the sequel, I find myself having to search through book #1 to make sure things are consistent. Did I use kilometers or miles as measurement? Has Character A ever met Character B before? Have I already used this metaphor to describe this situation?

But ultimately: how do I stop this sequel (and inevitably other sequels) from becoming stale? I guess I’m just worried the story won’t be exciting. For me, a new idea is everything. I fall in love, I become obsessed, I get on this high of a new manuscript. But with a book #2, that newness is gone. It’s like revisiting an old friend. What will we even talk about?!

Anyway, enough rambling. These are just some thoughts on my writing life for this hot afternoon, I guess.

Have you ever attempted a sequel or a prequel? What are your worries? Do you find writing the second (or third, or fourth) as exciting as writing the first book?

4 Things I’ve Learned About Blogging

Happy one year anniversary to me! As of yesterday, I have been blogging for a year. A lot has happened in that year: I launched all of my social media/blogging efforts for my writing career, I saw the release of my first novel “The Black Oracle“, and I shaped pieces for future releases.

But during that year, it’s safe to say I learned a lot. Some of my most popular posts had to do with query writing (Why Your Query Letter is Making Agents and Editors Cringe and How to Write a Query Letter that Makes Agents and Editors Swoon), and these posts garnered the most views on this blog as well as nods from agents and editors themselves (pretty awesome, right?). Even ones that had nothing to do with writing got some attention: who knew that 20 Goals for a 23 Year Old was so damn interesting?

But despite the success, there were times when blogging felt like a failure: some posts garnered very little interest at all, and some posts ended up having spelling/grammar errors much to my horror when I re-read posts months later. In retrospect though, these things weren’t failures; they were steps to growth. In fact, there were quite a few things I learned about blogging and about writing during the inaugural year of my blog. Check them out.

Keywords Do Matter

I know it’s almost spammy to say (and to acknowledge), but I’ve discovered that content is hard to make known without using effective keywords. I am in no way advocating for click bait, but in order for my posts to be seen, I had to make sure it was turning up in the right places. Let me explain:

When I first started blogging, I created titles out of the blue and came up with a bunch of random (albeit funny) keywords. In those days, I thought adding the tag “chimp” or “burrito” to a blog post was clever, but I soon found out that these same tags were excluding my posts from typical and topical search engine queries. I also found that when I tagged my posts appropriately with keywords such as “how to write a query letter” or “20-something goals”, my content became relevant to search engines, and more people read my work.

So maybe keywords aren’t the evil, CLICK HERE media scams that they’re made out to be. They can be really helpful too.

It’s Impossible to Predict Which Posts Make an Impact

Perhaps the hardest blogging pill for me to swallow was the fact that I didn’t know what impact (if any) a particular post would have. For example, a post I worked hard on and thought was sure to be a hit might only get a dozen views and a few likes. Another post that I’d thrown together in merely an hour on the thrill of inspiration, for example, might end up my most viewed post ever, and may get more likes on my website and on social media than I ever expected.

What does that mean? Well, it means that expectations are futile. It also means that instead of *trying* to write posts on things I think people will want to read, I had to just write posts on things I wanted to read. And sometimes, it worked. Sometimes I got more visitors than I knew what to do with. But even when it seemed no one was reading, it was okay because I made sure I delivered quality content and not simply click bait.

Blogging is a Medium on its Own

When I started blogging a year ago, I thought it would be easy. I was a writer, right? I had written three manuscripts between 50,000 words and 85,000 words. How hard could a few blog posts a week be?

Anyone who blogs already knows the answer to that one.

Whether it’s trying to think of ideas for new content or trying to secure a couple hours to produce a post, blogging isn’t always fun and games — it’s hard. And the hardest part for me was finding a tone that was effective. When I first started, I tried to have a literary atmosphere about my blog posts. Funny enough, that seemed contrived (and I’m not surprised). Why? Because writing a blog isn’t like writing a novel. There should be very little distance between the writer and the reader. There needs to be a personable quality to it, something that I had to learn over time.

Blogging is About Community

I don’t always excel in this part of blogging, but it’s all about progress, right? Over this past year, I’ve found out a successful blog isn’t only about delivering good content or getting a billion likes, it’s about building a community. It’s about replying to comments on your own blog and commenting on other people’s. It’s about *reading* other blogs and writing guest posts if possible. If blogging was only about writing, we’d be doing it alone on Microsoft Word documents for no one but our cats to see.

So while I’m here talking about how much I’ve learned from blogging, I still have a long way to go, darn it! But I’m happy I’ve stuck with it for a year. I never thought I’d make it this long.

Bloggers: what have you learned during your time as a blogger. Readers: what makes you return to a blog to keep reading?

PS. HAPPY CANADA DAY! (as of yesterday) and Happy Fourth of July on Saturday for my American friends!

Wednesday Writerly Update #7

This week’s been a week of ups and downs. Not completely sure what’s to blame for my off mood, but I’ve recoiled a bit in terms of being so scatter-brained and tackling 50,000 things at once, and I’m trying to refocus (successfully?) on what inspires me to write: reading.

Anyways, progress on editing the YA horror novel has stalled. I haven’t edited any of it since last week, and I’m contemplating putting it on vacation indefinitely. The YA contemporary has been planned for what… two weeks now? Yeah, not much progress there either (read: none at all). In better news, the Middle Eastern fantasy novelette has seen an additional 1,000 words which is nice, but it’s nowhere near finished in a first draft form. I did however do another free write (I’m on a roll!), and I hammered out a 4,000 word short story. It’s a horror about teenagers but for adults, and I’m just teasing out plot points now. I’m thinking I’ll add another 2,000 words to fix pacing, develop characters, etc. before starting a comprehensive edit.

As for the NA speculative fiction novel, it is still in limbo. But we shall see, my friends.

Okay, so, goals. I’m not sure I want to make any for the coming week. Frankly, I’m not good at meeting goals. Yes, I like to goal set, but I’m thinking that by attaching expectations to what I’m writing is making me stressed out and a little weary (hence, my weird mood). So, let’s just say I want to write, and it would be nice if I could finish something for the time being.

Now for The Black Oracle news:

  • Reviews have been slowly trickling in which is awesome! If you’ve finished the book and wouldn’t mind leaving a review on Amazon or Goodreads, that would be great!
  • In addition to the signing at Roxanne’s Reflections Card and Book Shop in Fergus, Ontario on July 4 from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm, I have another signing on August 8. That one is at Chapters Woodbridge in Vaughan, Ontario, and will be from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm.
  • Chapters Woodbridge, you say? Well, yes, “The Black Oracle” is now available at that location. If you’re in the area, drop by and snap a picture of it.
Chapters Woodbridge

Derp faces all around!

Until next week!