Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Quitting the Day Job - What's It Really Like?

THE LONG NIGHT OF THE RADIANT STAR - a midwinter holiday fantasy romance in the Heirs of Magic world - is out in the world!


This week at the SFF Seven, we're talking Secret Identities! As in, the work we do on the side to make ends meet, partners helping to support us, and quitting the day job.

I'm fortunate that I was able to quit the day job - 18 years of a career as an environmental consultant - about 7 years ago. It was one of those things where the day job quit me: my team was downsized, I got laid off with affection and good severance pay, and I decided to try making a go of it writing for a living and NOT getting another day job. In truth, I was more than ready for that moment. At the same time, I kept waiting to make as much money from writing as I did from the day job (including the value of benefits), which was never quite happening. If I hadn't been kicked from the nest, I might never have voluntarily left it. 

That said, it's the best thing that ever happened to me. My husband has Parkinson's Disease and is no longer able to work, so apart from a small retirement income and his social security payment, keeping us afloat is up to me. That reality has made me really hustle with my writing. Between self-publishing and traditional publishing, I'm now making what I was with the day job.

And I'm ever so much happier. Seriously, after having essentially two careers for over 20 years, it was such a relief to focus on just one. Plus, all the meetings and phone calls I have are about books and writing. It's the best life!

I don't do much work on the side. I do some author coaching and teach the occasional workshop - I'm considering doing more classes - but it's important to me for the happiness quotient. I want writing and making books to be the priority. That's what I quit the day job to have. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

FT Writer and The Fluctuating Monies

This Week's Topic: 
Secret Identity: Do I work on the side to make ends meet? 
Do I have a partner in crime? 
How long was I at it as a writer before I could successfully quit the day job, or have I quit yet?

My partner in crime after having cancerous masses removed

It's that last question that many authors use to gauge their success, which...isn't a reliable metric. Being a creative means there are seasons of feast and famine, and famine is more prevalent. You may have one six-figure year followed by a year in the low five-figures followed by a year in the upper fives chased by a year where you don't make 4 figures. Revenue from sales is, by its nature, unstable income. Even if you drop a new book like clockwork, there's no guarantee that Book 3 will sell even a fourth of Book 1. Some series tank for no reason while others rise like a phoenix from a backlist. Gods forbid you're depending on a publisher to pay your royalties as part of your annual income...Sure, royalty checks are more attainable than winning the lottery, but even lottery payouts occur at a fixed amount and on schedule.

You need to be a master of budgeting and a hard-core realist (even a pessimist) when forecasting writing-derived revenue. There's a reason finance companies don't like to give creatives loans. There's a reason a lot of full-time authors have spouses who own the burdens of reliable income (and health insurance) or they have investments that supply livable income. There's no shame in being part of the hustle of having a job that pays your bills while also having a job that feeds your soul. 

As in all things, balance is necessary.

Friday, November 25, 2022

Offering a Hand Up

Mentors come in a lot of shapes and sizes in my life. I can't point to a single person or one single piece of insightful advice. When I look back, I see the long line of people who dropped tidbits of encouragement, advice, and tutoring. I look back across the vast sea of books I'd read that taught me how stories come together. I had RWA teaching me everything I needed to know about writing an about the business. I also had Jeffe trying to mentor me in networking - I was not her brightest pupil. Eventually, it was the people willing to critique my work and talk me through what was right, what was wrong, and how to fix it. I needed someone to take me by the hand and say this is wrong, do you see it? Here's how you fix it. I learned so much that way and I was so grateful for that education.

As for reaching back to help those coming up, I critique for others. Usually it's within my own critique groups, but the real fun is critiquing for contests. I want to help newer, younger writers learn what I learned from critique. 

I needed direct 'this is wrong, see? Do this. Or this.' I have come to understand, however, that I'm in the minority and most people do not want me approaching their fiction in that fashion. So I've had to adapt. I've learned to say things like, what's the goal of the scene? What does this character want right here and why? I guess I've had to learn to lead people to see their own issues themselves rather than have me come right out and say hey this doesn't work here's why and here's how to fix it. It's a running joke with my critique groups that you'll always here me say 'I feel like you have an opportunity here to do xy or z' which is my way of saying hey you missed a potentially potent story thread. I hope it helps.

As for me, I still need a mentor. I need someone who can mentor me in cloning myself so that one of me can do the day job and care for the elderly parents and the other one of me can write and take care of cats and the rest of the household. I'm not sure that kind of mad science is in anyone else's best interests, though. 

Thursday, November 24, 2022

We're Thankful

wooden table with a variety of yellow and green, fall squashes and round loaves of sourdough bread all surrounding the word Thankful

Today is a reminder to be thankful—for those who have reached out to lend a helpful hand, for those who lift us up, and for those who inspire us. 

Here at the SFF Seven, we’re thankful for all of you readers and we hope that our words help you on your writing journey! 

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Mentored by a Community

This Week's Topic: Paying It Forward:
Did anyone give me sound advice? Did I have a mentor?
How do I pay it (mentorship) forward without getting buried by requests?

Once upon a time, in the days of snail-mailing hardcopies of queries and manuscripts, I had the good sense to join a writing guild that was both local, virtual, and national. I could attend a monthly in-person meeting and make social connections as well as learn from experts in writing and specific trades that heroes and heroines often occupied. The person in charge of our local special programs was brilliant and well-connected and we had an absolute blast. The virtual guild gave me access to free classes taught by agents and editors. It also kept us up-to-date with the latest scuttlebutt in our niche market.  Alas, the local guild was forced to disband by the national organization, the virtual guild crumbled to infighting, then the national guild imploded. 

I'll be forever grateful to the organization in its many aspects because it was one of the few that accepted total n00bs and taught us everything from story structure, to how to query, to what the hell a synopsis is (long and short), and it gave us access to the gatekeepers of publishing--who were 97% inaccessible to anyone outside NYC back then. 

So, to answer this week's question: Did I have a mentor? No, not as a specific individual. I had a community. It was through that community that I met the founder and original bloggers of this very blog. Back then, we were known as the Word Whores. 11 years later, we're still sharing our experiences with readers.

How do I pay it forward without getting buried by requests? I'm not connected to any particular community anymore, so requests aren't often made of me. I'm akin to a crow sitting in the branches watching the goings on. When a cry for help catches my attention--if I'm suited to fulfill the ask--then I offer. 

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Paying It Forward Without Breaking the Bandwidth


THE LONG NIGHT OF THE RADIANT STAR - Jak and Stella's midwinter holiday wedding - is out now!

This week of U.S. Thanksgiving, at the SFF Seven, we're talking about Paying it forward. We're asking:

Did anyone give you truly sound advice?

Did you have a mentor and if so how do you pay it forward without getting buried by requests?

I've been truly blessed in having numerous mentors and lovely, gracious people willing to give me advice. The one I'll single out today is SFWA Past-President, Nebula-Award winner, and wonderful author of science fiction, sf mysteries, fantasy, and near future thrillers, Catherine Asaro. When I was shopping my first fantasy romance novel, sometime around 2008/2009, Catherine did me the huge favor of reading the book for me. I kept getting enthusiasm from agents and editors, and full manuscript requests, but they all came back with "no," saying they didn't know what to with the book or how to market it. I'd run out of ideas for how to revise the book so it would sell.

Catherine read it and said - the first person to say this to me - that the only "problem" was that I was writing cross-genre. She told me the story was good and that I was a good writer (things I desperately needed to hear), but that if I kept writing this fantasy + romance cross-genre, it would be like wading through hip-deep snow to succeed with it. She also told me she thought it was worth doing. 

She was right on both counts.

As for paying it forward... I do that as much as I can. I volunteer to mentor through SFWA and other fundraisers. I offer advice in various arenas where I think people genuinely want to hear it. (Few things are more frustrating to me than putting energy into offering advice to people who don't listen.) I have my podcast, First Cup of Coffee with Jeffe Kennedy, where I talk about writing and publishing (and other random thoughts). All of these venues allow me to control how much bandwidth I devote to mentoring others. In truth, I started my Author Coaching side business entirely so I'd have a way to charge money for my time and energy, when the bandwidth wasn't enough. 

That said, if you catch me in person at a con, I'm always happy to chat over an adult beverage. Offerings of chocolate are also acceptable!

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Telling vs. showing – when is narrative exposition necessary?


Ah, the old “telling versus showing” debate. My pet peeve in terms of feedback because it's often lazy feedback. You can point to any book and identify “telling”, because, well, if we were to show EVERYTHING, we'd be here for decades. We’d have to invent unnecessary situations so our characters can experience things (or add endless dream, vision, or flashback scenes) rather than just saying, "King Tella and Queen Showa's feud had lasted over a decade, ever since the Queen had stolen the King's favorite courtesan." Do you really want me to show this? Because that's a story in its own right … a juicy one at that.

Granted, pages of exposition are often tedious and confusing. Some fantasies start with a whole section of weighty exposition setting out the lore and history of the world, and on more than one occasion, it’s put me off to such a great degree, I’ve given up on the book altogether. Some people love it, but it’s not my jam. I’m more of a throw-me-in-at-the-deep-end-and-explain-stuff-along-the-way kinda gal.

And as part of that, I love a bit of timely exposition, which in fantasy worlds especially, is essential. Readers may need to know that gravity doesn't work the same way in the Sky Kingdom – even if the characters aren’t there right now – or that there are seven gods, or that the magic fled the kingdoms along with the dragons.

I often find this makes the first half of the first book in many fantasy stories feel slow, because of the necessity of creating depth in the world. There’s a lot the reader NEEDS to understand, and showing everything is neither practical nor entertaining. Exposition is the solution – so long as it doesn’t drag and become boring – although hey, we've all done it. No one's perfect. 

A single line of exposition can pack a big punch. For example, “Marcus couldn’t tell if the damnable Alexander had used magic, because he hadn’t paid attention during his five years at the Sparkle Academy for the Magically Talented.” This single line tells us magic exists, the world has at least one magical school, that Marcus thinks Alexander is damnable (ooh, tell me why?), that Alexander and Marcus both have some level of magical abilities, and that Marcus can’t use his effectively, because he didn’t pay attention in school. Is he a bad-boy rebel? Was he saving the world on the side? Distracted by a love interest? Or did the backwards education system simply leave him behind?

The point being, exposition isn’t only there for understanding and worldbuilding, it can drive intrigue as well as helping to build emotional connections between readers and characters. 

Character introspection (when we hear a character’s private thoughts) is also a form of exposition, yet seems to have largely escaped the "telling versus showing" criticism. Characters’ thoughts are often my favorite things to read, because a single line can color my entire outlook on a character and all their actions, not to mention, cast the actions of others in an entirely new light. Perspective is everything, after all.

Again, most things are good in moderation. Telling isn't necessarily bad, but the criticism “telling versus showing” has become something of a cliche. I wish people would instead say why this was annoying to them. Was the exposition too long? Confusing? Unnecessary? Did it take them out of the moment?

There is no right or wrong way to write a book, there is only what is conventional and what is popular, which you may or may not enjoy. No one's word is law, our tastes differ, and thus, there is no perfect amount of exposition. Some readers like to have everything laid out on a platter up front, others enjoy not understanding everything right away, viewing finding out as part of the fun. And neither of these preferences is better than the other, it is just that, a preference. But if I were making the rules, I would ban the criticism "telling versus showing" because, well yes, sometimes exposition is not only practical, but desirable. Surely it’s about balance, as in all things.

HR Moore writes escapist fantasy with dangerous politics and swoon-worthy romance. She’s known for pacy writing, plot twists, and heroines who take no prisoners … and she loves a cliffhanger. HR also started FaRoFeb (Fantasy Romance February), a community for readers and authors to elevate and celebrate the fantasy romance genre. 

You can connect with HR Moore here:

Friday, November 18, 2022

Show and Tell Short Hand

Totally off topic, I'm going to brag for a minute. This handsome man with the nearly opposable thumbs is Hemingway, the neighborhood feral. He found me shortly after I moved in. I established a feeding station for him and all was well until  he showed up limping. After a lot of blood (mine), tears, and hoping, and wishing, I got him healed up. I also managed to convince him that he might be a great big marshmallow underneath that tough feral exterior. Last weekend, I delivered him to his HEA - his forever family. Hell of a delivery trip. They're in Erie, PA. You'll note I am not. As I was completing the trip home, his new family texted to say they were sitting with him and petting his belly. I think he's turned in his feral card. 

I'm grateful for the gift of his trust and for his new family. I'm also going to miss him.


 Show versus Tell

It confused me for years. Which one should I use when? Sure, I heard the advice about showing deepening character POV. It didn't click for me until someone suggested I draft everything in first person. That did the trick. It became obvious that immersing myself into the story and the character with a simple "I" brought the world, the other people in that world, and the reactions into much better focus. It became easier to understand that my characters needed to describe what they saw, heard, smelled, tasted, and felt. It helped, but didn't entirely eliminate, major POV violations where my characters assign meaning or motive to someone that they couldn't possibly know without being psychic.

Tell Example: He saw a tree.

Show Example: Cool shadow punctuated by glints of sunlight painted the ground beneath the limbs of the oak into a patchwork quilt of fallen leaves, acorns, and sticks. This passage tells you a little about the character who's taking in all of that detail. Could be someone looking for a shady spot to rest. Could be a squirrel hunting nuts for a winter food stash. Regardless, you probably see that scene. You may feel something from it. 

Lovely, Marcella, but this doesn't address when to use one and when to use the other. Not to worry. I got you. I think.

Showing is for deepening reader connection with your characters and your story. It's for pointing up what's important to the character and to the plot. The detail inherent in showing offers your readers hints about what they should pay attention to - this is where red herrings go if you're writing mystery. It's also where the actual clues go. Showing conveys emotion and sinks deep hooks into readers. Showing lends weight to whatever it is you are showing through your character's senses and experiences. Showing takes a reader by the shoulders and shouts PAY ATTENTION.

Telling is for passing action and transitions. The more detail you offer me in a tell, the more I, as a reader, think the detail matters to the plot. Unless you've poisoned it, I do not need you to show me someone reaching for the dull, aged bronze doorknob that's oddly warm in their grasp as if someone else's hand had just left it. Telling passages are for conveying the most necessary stage directions. He opened the door is perfectly adequate if he truly just opened a door without running into fire, zombies, or a hell mouth on the other side. If the important bit is to get the character through the door to the actual scene on the other side, tell me and move on.

Show what matters. Tell stage directions that do not impact plot or character. How do you keep them straight??

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Narrative Expo—what?

a woman's silhouette as she stands on a rocky outcropping facing a pine forest and distant, bare mountain peak
I will show you a picture 
and tell you how soft and dark the pine forest looked from above

When I pick up a book, or listen to a book, I want to be sucked into the story. I want to experience what the characters are experiencing—see what they’re seeing and feel what they’re feeling. So, what does that have to do with narrative exposition?

This week we’re talking about telling versus showing and when is narrative exposition necessary. If you’re not one of those technical writers, like me, this kind of jargon may float over your head as superfluous. Anyway, here’s the definition:

Narrative Exposition: is when background information is dropped into the story to catch the reader up on necessary details

Every story needs to give the reader background information. If you’re reading a mystery/thriller you usually learn it as the character is searching for the truth. If you’re cracking open a sci-fi you’ll likely get a few paragraphs describing some aspect of the advanced world you find yourself in, just enough to ground you. And if you’re digging into a fantasy you might learn about the background from a helpful healer or a guard who likes to talk. 

As Charissa mentioned in her Sunday post, every story needs what it needs. Show enough detail to settle your reader into the story. And, as Jeffe’s agent says, sometimes you need to tell your reader in a line or two to get the info out so you can move on and wax poetic. 

If you’re not sure if you’re writing is too heavy on the telling, find a bookish friend to give it a read! I highly suggest finding someone that reads in the genre you write in, otherwise what is common and expected could be flagged as confusing. But after all is said and done, don’t be afraid. Just write. Don’t get hung up on writing-rules because it’s always easier to fix a bunch of showing or telling than it is to fix a blank page. 

Happy writing! 

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

When to Ditch Showing and Just Tell


This is a novella in the Heirs of Magic series and occurs after THE STORM PRINCESS AND THE RAVEN KING. It's Jak and Stella's wedding on the longest night, the Feast of Moranu. I think I'll release it on Monday, November 21, 2022. No preorder this time. I'll post when it goes live!!


 At long last, Jakral Konyngrr—lowly sailor, gambler, and sometime rogue—has won the heart and hand of Princess Stella of Avonlidgh. Never mind that Stella’s mother is determined to make their wedding the event of the century, he’s happy to endure any trial to marry the love of his life and his guiding star. Very soon they can sail away together into the rest of their lives. Unfortunately the wedding becomes delayed for several months, until midwinter.

Stella—sorceress, empath, and bearer of the mark of the Tala—has been through great trials. But nothing has tested her as sorely as her passionate and flamboyant mother planning their wedding. Even Jak’s steady love and companionship isn’t enough as Stella finds herself crumbling under the pressure of being snowbound in a castle with the press of so many minds and emotions. When she lashes out, she hits the worst possible target, jeopardizing her chances for happiness.

With several kingdoms and a former enemy empire bearing down on them, Jak and Stella’s wedding on the longest night of year might not happen at all… Unless they can create their own happy ever after. 


This week at the SFF Seven, we're talking about Telling vs. Showing, particularly we're examining when some narrative exposition is needed.

It's an interesting question, and one very much focused on genre fiction. Many of you know I began my writing career in creative nonfiction. For many years I wrote and sold essays. My first book was an essay collection. At no point in that time - in classes, in critique groups, in discussions with editors - did anyone bring up Telling vs. Showing. It was only after I began writing fantasy romance (etc.) that the concept was introduced to me. I had to learn not to use the narrative exposition that had worked so well for my creative nonfiction voice, but to "show" instead.

Why is this a thing?

The oft-cited example is attributed to Anton Chekhov: "Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass." It turns out this exact quote is probably apocryphal. A passage from the article I linked to says:

In May, 1886, Chekhov wrote to his brother Alexander, who had literary ambitions: “In descriptions of Nature one must seize on small details, grouping them so that when the reader closes his eyes he gets a picture. For instance, you’ll have a moonlit night if you write that on the mill dam a piece of glass from a broken bottle glittered like a bright little star, and that the black shadow of a dog or a wolf rolled past like a ball.”

It's salient to note that he's talking about description here. When my genre-fiction editors and critique partners introduced the concept to me, they framed it as a way to deepen the point of view (POV). In genre fiction, in particular, readers love to be immersed in the characters and world, thus the incentive to deepen POV.

I worked diligently to learn to show, not tell.

Fast-forward to my current agent, the insightful and incisive Sarah Younger at Nancy Yost Literary Agency. One day, after reading one of my manuscripts we planned to take on submission to traditional publishing, she said, "Jeffe, I know you work really hard to show, not tell, but sometimes we just need a line or two telling us what the heck is going on."

And she was right. I was so busy describing the glint of light on broken glass that I was failing to explain that this world had three moons.

In the end, as with all things, it comes down to balance. We need both in order to tell effective stories: immersive description and deep POV, along with some clear narrative exposition to ground the reader in the world. 

I'm getting better at it!

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

3 Tells, No Shows

Telling vs Showing: When is narrative exposition necessary?

Pithy answer: whenever I want it to be. What? I know, I know, "Show Don't Tell" is one of those fundamental "rules of writing" every novice has beaten into their skulls. Like most rules, once you understand the reason such guidance exists, then intentionally breaking it is NBD and often done for effect. 

I write character-driven stories, which means a character learns and grows through a series of trials and events to achieve their goal(s). There are times the reader needs to know why the character is acting/reacting in a particular way, but showing that is a whole other story--literally. Thus, an expository summary (a short summary) is the best way to tell the reader what they need to know to understand the scene. 

Here are three instances where I tend to tell not show:

  1. The Character isn't Learning, The Reader Is: If the character is in the throes of learning a lesson, then show the process. If the character is recalling an experience pertinent to the current challenge, then tell.  
  2. Perception is Priority: Since I write in close third POV rather than omniscient POV, how a character perceives circumstances, history, people, or locations conveys a lot about the character. So, when I have the POV character tell the audience something, it's because the priority is on the character's perception of their situation.
  3. Memories Shape Characters: Those backstory infodumps we have to exorcize from our WiPs to keep pacing and linear storytelling, but we really, really, really need the reader to know what event from the past made the character the way they are in the current moment; those backstories get super-shortened into narrative exposition. Let me emphasize the important word again: short.

Admittedly, my style is to go overboard with narrative exposition during drafting because my priority is to get the story written, regardless of how craptastic that draft may be. Hey, I'm still figuring out the nitty-gritty of the character(s) during drafting; cut me some slack. Then, during edits, I shorten those infodumps. I also ask myself, can I turn this into a showing moment? Will showing be more impactful than telling? Sometimes, the answer is "yep, rewrite to show," and a new scene is born. Sometimes, the best answer is "delete, unnecessary to plot or character." Every once in a while, the narrative exposition stands as initially written. gasp.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

To Tell Or Not To Tell

Hi all! This week's topic at the SFF Seven is Telling vs. Showing: When is narrative exposition necessary?

I'm not fond of giving too much writing advice. I really don't like specifics either, like saying when something is or isn't necessary in crafting a story. I think it can evoke fear or a feeling that there is a definite right and wrong way when it comes to writing. The way I see it: Every writer is different. Their storytelling is different. The way they process and deliver story is different. And readers? The diversity in reader expectation is immeasurable.

As a reader, I love novels that give me loads of essential info at the beginning of the tale and make me feel a connection to the world and main characters. But I've also read novels (and loved them) that start with a bang and catch me up on the background later. Different stories demand different methods, and I think that's part of the beauty of the writing craft.

One thing that has helped me with exposition is this question: Does my reader need to know this information right now in order to understand what's happening?

But again, this can mean different things to different writers. I've found myself thinking information wasn't important until later in a book when I realized the author had a plan, and that certain exposition was laid on the page for a reason. I've done this myself. But in the beginning stages of being a writer, plans can feel thin as water. It can seem like EVERYTHING in your story is important, making it difficult to decipher what background a reader requires to understand the story as it's unfolding on the page. This is often painstaking because--until the author knows the story they're trying to tell--how can they know what information to share?

Here are two things to consider:

  1. Maybe try not to worry about things like too much exposition until you have a draft and know your story. Once you have a better grasp of how things play out, then go back and trim what needs trimming.
  2. Examine other author's work. Look at bestselling and beloved books in your genre (and even outside your genre). Really pay attention to how they deliver background information. This is part of studying your craft, and it keeps you in tune with what your general readership is used to in the current market. You may still do things differently. That's okay. But I do think it helps to analyze well-written works.
So that's my very not-so-specific advice on telling vs. showing. I hope it helps!

~ Charissa

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

The Intuitive Approach to Avoiding Writing Repetitive Scenes

 Yesterday I took Kelly Robson on the mandatory-for-all-creatives pilgrimage to see Georgia O'Keeffe's home and studio. This was my fourth time and as shimmeringly inspirational as the first time.

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is how to avoid writing repetitive scenes. 

I confess not much springs to my mind on this topic, probably because I'm much more of an intuitive writer than an analytical one. Even in revision - arguably the most analytical phase of my process - I don't pay a lot of attention to whether scenes are repetitive. I do notice repetitive information, or emotional exchanges that have happened before. But so far as analyzing for goal, motivation, and conflict (GMC) - which is where this topic seems to have sprung from, regarding questions to ask to cull out repetitive scenes - that's just not how I think about story.

So, how DO I avoid repetitive scenes? I think it helps that I'm a linear writer. I write from beginning to end and thus the story trajectory is always in my mind. That's part of holding the thread to me. 

It also helps to approach the story from a character-driven perspective. This is part of what people are getting at with GMC - it's an analytical lens on character. If you're an intuitive writer, like me, you'll want to be in the flow of the character's thoughts, emotions, and personal journey. Sometimes they might regress, as our growth isn't always linear, but those steps back before the moving forward again can be important to the story.

Finally, probably the most analytical I get, I look at each scene as I'm revising and pay attention to what it's accomplishing in the overall story. What aspects of the plot is it advancing? What questions are being asked and answered in the scene? How does this deepen or strain the relationships between the characters. Occasionally I'll have two scenes doing more or less the same thing, and then I might consolidate them - or tweak the later one to be adding something new and different.

One thing I think is really important to keep in mind - especially in the face of the GMC/analytical types, who tend toward making a clean (and therefore somewhat sterile) formula for the story structure, to my thinking - is that not every scene has to "advance the story." This is especially true in genre writing/escapist fiction where some of the story is there for the sheer joy of it. There is nothing wrong with having parts of the story exist entirely for sensual delight. Even in the most rollicking plot, we sometimes need a bubble of space to breathe, to relax a moment, for the characters to remember what they're fighting for. 

In fact, don't we all?

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Vote, Damn It!

While I should be blogging about 6 Tips to Avoid Writing Repetitive Scenes, I'm dragging out my soapbox instead. What wild hair is poking my patookus? Well, for those of us residing in the US, today is Election Day. It's the midterms, which means we aren't voting for the US President, which --historically--also means voter turnout is significantly lower. Shame on us. 

My people, we cannot "meh" our way out of the crisis and hope "somebody else" takes care of what matters to us. So, if you're a US citizen, please, please, please, go out and cast your vote today. I won't tell you for whom to vote or what issues you should prioritize. I could. I have an abundance of opinions. I will, however, tell you to do your damn duty as a member of this republic.

Remember, if you don't vote, you can't complain about the outcome.

Saturday, November 5, 2022

Writing tools I can't live without


As an independent author with a full time job and mother of two under four, efficiency is imperative. Things have changed so much since I first self-published back in 2003! Back then, it was vanity presses. And then again in 2010, we mostly just had Microsoft Word and InDesign to make files for Smashwords and CreateSpace. I’m so excited by the opportunities we have today, and want to share some of my key tools.

Bright Bird Press stationery 

The note pads, journals, and notebooks from Bright Bird Press are made specifically by a writer for writers. Everything is undated, so it doesn’t matter when you begin or when you have to stop, you can just open another page and keep going. I use the writing sprint sticky notes to help me keep track of my stats no matter which journal I picked up. There are tear off daily notepad sheets helping you focus on your writing goals for the day. There’s a popular year-long planner that allows you to track two fiction projects, break your goals down into monthly and weekly tasks, and provides quarterly self-care reminders specific to writers. I love this stationery set and just know you will too. 

I’ve been a pantser my entire life, but when I realized I wanted to make a series out of one of my books, I realized I needed a place to do some reverse engineering. is a document repository with some light relational database features. There are kanban, calendar, gantt, meeting notes, etc. It’s a free service, so if you’re looking for a way to organize the business of writing, I’ve loved

I use as my story wiki to hold all the metadata about my stories. Marketing blurbs, back cover copy, elevator pitches, character profiles, plot summary and story beats all live on template pages I created in my Notion. I have a promotions calendar, table to calculate estimated royalties from paid ads, etc.


Making sure I have a clean file is so important when it comes to saving editing fees. People seem to fall under two camps: Grammarly and ProWritingAid. I like the latter, because it has extensions for your browser and Microsoft Word. It allows you to create your own dictionary and you can pick your grammar style, whether it’s academic or creative. I love knowing that when I hand off my draft to my editor, I will have caught most of the obvious problems, saving my editor’s time to worry about the content instead. I went all-in and bought the premium lifetime license using a deal from AppSumo. 

This tool changed my life. Promised to always be a one-time fee, this tool has a writing mode and formatting mode. When in writing mode, you can write in the browser or via the downloadable app. You can create reusable pages, so if you have a standard author bio, newsletter sign up, back cover blurbs, etc, you can create once and use them across all your books. Updating is super simple as well. Just update what you need, then push the changes to all your books. This was a huge time-saver! And in formatting mode, you can use their existing templates or create one from scratch. I’m planning to have a template for each series of books.

Otherwise, if you’re looking for a more traditional alternative for formatting your books, I like Affinity Publisher. It’s a one-time purchase that’s a great alternative to InDesign, if you’ve used that tool in the past. You won’t get the benefit of reusable pages, but at least you’ll save money.


I’ve been a Canva user since 2014, but only recently became a pro user to take advantage of their scheduling tools. I use Canva to make my book covers, character profiles, newsletter and marketing graphics, and also schedule content for my Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and Tiktok accounts. Their template library has exploded, making it really easy to schedule content weeks in advance, freeing up your time to get back to writing. You can make reels, stories, and regular posts… I’ve also made book plates, stickers, posters, and t-shirt designs, too. It’s a great, easy-to-use tool that has made my graphics generation process so much easier.

So that’s my core writing toolkit! Journals and stationery from Bright Bird Press. Business and series planning with Notion. Pre-editing via ProWritingAid. Writing and formatting via Atticus. Graphics via Canva. It took a lot of trial and error for me to get to this core set, so I hope I’ve saved you some time in the process. Let me know what you think of these tools! You can find me on Instagram as @worderella.

Belinda Kroll writes sweet and cozy Victorian fantasy. You can find her on Instagram as @worderella or via her website at She was the 2017 winner of the Self-Publishing Review award for her Civil War fiction novel, THE LAST APRIL. 

Friday, November 4, 2022

What We Use to Write

Everyone is going to be bored with asking this question year after year because my answers haven't changed in a very long time. 

Writing Applications:

1. Word for Windows. I started with Word way back in the stone age. It's what we're required to use in my professional life. It's where I am most comfortable. Could I learn something else? Yes. Other authors extol the virtues of Scrivner, for example. But there's significant learning curve. Why spend time on that learning curve when I could be use the time and brain space for story? Not to mention that whenever I see authors compare notes about something like Scrivner, I invariably hear that plotters love it and pantsers hate it. Add into it that in the day job, it's literally my task to learn all the technical things. I don't have to fully learn a thing. I dip my toes in just enough to understand a technology, write about it, and then walk away to go learn about the next thing. I am not all interested in forcing myself to do that super deep dive into a new writing software. Word is simple. I don't have to think about what needs to happen to create a file I can submit to an editor or to format for self publishing. I've learned enough tricks in the application that I can make it do just about anything I need it to do. The only down side is the fact that grammar and spell checker in Words are idiots. They are tweaked for business speak. Not fiction. For that reason, neither can be trusted. I fully admit to being horrified at how many actual words aren't in the spell check dictionary. I wish I'd kept one example for you but I naturally can't think of one at the moment.

4theWords: 4theWords is an online gamification of word counts. It isn't a competition - you aren't competing with anyone else or even with yourself. You fight creatures who have been infected. If you defeat them, you've helped cure them. As you 'battle' creatures by attaining a word count in a set amount of time, you win in-game cash and prizes. This really is a case of the pen being mightier than the sword. There's a narrative story arc through the game that you can follow and a million special events that take place in the game through out the year. It works because there's a vibrant community in the game and with the developers. It's a fun, supportive, no pressure way to practice. To experiment. It's private enough that you can try out anything you'd like with writing and not have to worry about it being seen. If you like what you come up with, you can publish your work to the other writers on the site. Or take your work out into the broader world. I like it just as a means of experimentation and a bit of a sandbox where I can low-stakes mess around with words and bits of story and thought.

OmmWriter: OmmWriter is a lightweight environment meant to eliminate distraction and help silence the critic. The writing screen is tiny and sits within a full screen landscape. OmmWriter blocks all other alerts and notifications that run underneath. You won't hear your email pinging into your inbox, for example. You determine your preferred landscape, your preferred color scheme, and your preferred background sounds. Some are natural, some are musical. You can decide whether you want a key stroke sound or not. If you do, you pick from a variety of sounds. This is purely a drafting tool where the point is going fast without much thought into spelling, grammar, or structure. It's about getting words down and shutting down analysis until you copy and paste the words into something more formal. Like Word. Upside: Very inexpensive. Very zen. Does reduce distraction and helps induce flow. Downside: No formatting at all. When you pull your text over to Word, you will need to format the text into something decent.

Bonus tool
Tidal: Music streaming. I do not live by words alone. Music is vital. Especially whilst living in a house of four adults, three of whom are hard of hearing. I am not being facetious. Everyone in the house but me has or needs hearing aids. It is very loud where I live. A good play list and noise canceling headphones are a necessity.

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

4 Useful Writing Apps

 This week's topic: The writing software/programs/apps I can't live without.

Weeeeeellll, Imma show you just how old I am. {grabs walker, adjusts tennis balls}

  1. MS Word -- once Wordperfect was pried from my cold, collegiate hands and I was forced to learn Word for corporate life, I haven't left it. Despite "improvements" that Microsoft insists I need just to please their stockholders, it's still the most widely used word-processing software app that's readily accepted by editors. Yeah, yeah, I know Google Docs is trying to make fetch happen, but it's not there yet...
    • MS Word "Read Aloud" Feature -- before I send a book to be formatted, I have Word read the entire manuscript to me. Yep. It's the final, final, no-really-final editing pass. I learned the hard way that relying on visual-only review exposes me to the great "feature" of the brain that sees what it thinks should be on the page, not what's actually there. Also, Read Aloud helps catch skipped/missing words and excessive word repetition. E.g. Did my OC just "giggle" six times in the last chapter? ACK!
  2. Merriam-Webster Online -- "You Keep Using That Word, I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means." (Princess Bride) From homophones to synonym searches to that word that's on the tip of my tongue (or should it be the tip of my [finger] tips?), it's MW for me. Why this dictionary over the others? 'Cause my editors use it when they send me corrections. I find collaboration easier when working from the same reference source. 
  3. Urban Dictionary -- For us olds, it's sadly necessary for us to verify that what we just heard/read means what the yewts meant for it to mean. Definitions don't always align with Merriam-Webster, since language is a living, evolving thing. I don't tend to be too slang-trendy in my writing, but I like to make sure that certain words/idioms from the last century (I can't believe I just typed that) still mean what they used to mean. *Caution: because this site is open to unvetted public contributions, it contains a lot of cruel, homophobic, racist, misogynistic, etc. definitions. Make sure you have a sea of salt at hand and are wearing your "ugh, humanity" t-shirt when using this site.
  4. Grammarly -- I usually run my manuscript through this twice. First, to catch All The Things that MS Word "Editor" misses before I send it to my professional line and copy editors. Second, to catch post-editing errors because, godsdamnitall, it is absolutely possible to correct a mistake while simultaneously creating a new one. {shakes fist at sky}