Friday, July 28, 2023

Write a Map for Failure

Have you ever counted up all the euphemistic, pseudo-inspirational bullshit this society generates around failure? The only failure is never trying. If you don't fail, you aren't trying. Fall down seven, get up eight. I mean. The list is onerous.

No matter all the empty, pithy sayings, I assert that failure gets a bad rap. I know because I'm in the middle of it. It's been four years since I've published a book. It's been four years since I finished a book. A writer not writing. Does that not define failure? It feels like it does. But just because I'm standing in the middle of this vast creative desert, it doesn't mean I've given up. I won't give up until I'm dead. Granted, some days that feels closer than others. But in the meantime, I clock what matters about failure.

1.Failure is inevitable.
2. Failure teaches.
3. Failure is temporary if you want it to be.

To handle failure, you need to know what it is. Define it. What does it look like? What does it feel like? What does it say? What does it smell like? Taste like? Is it a bad review? Those are guaranteed. Is it writing and never being traditionally published? In this market, that is a very real risk. What's your back up plan? Also, why are you writing in the first place? If it's to get published, you've put your power and happiness into something you cannot control. 

Recognize that failure of some kind visits us all. If you define that hell before you catch sight of it, you can develop plans to help dodge it before you get stuck in it.

If and when failure comes knocking, look for what that failure has to teach. No one ever learned anything useful and long-lasting from success. Our mistakes are our teachers when we don't get bogged down in emotion about them. Maybe I took on  a story that exceeded my skill, and I failed to stick the landing. The critics hate me, and the book isn't selling. Yet i gained incredible new skills for having dared to try this hard thing. So it's not perfect. The next book will be the better for it, and I now have a set of skills no one can ever take from me.

Failure doesn't have to be a destination. It can be a place you pass through. It feels like you'll die there, trust me. Occasionally, I guarantee you'll wish you could, just so you can stop trying and just rest. The path through failure includes a lot of flailing, a lot of crying for help, and a lot of looking outside yourself for answers to the 'what's wrong with me' question. The hard truth, though, is that the only route out of failure starts inside you. It starts with determination and the refusal to wander off into the sunset never to be heard from again. It means adapting. Developing new ways to work when the old ways either aren't available or no longer work.

I don't mean to imply that help isn't available and shouldn't be sought. I will be the very first advocate for addressing mental health issues immediately.  That is, in fact, a prerequisite. But barring the need for medical diagnosis, you aren't likely to find one class or one guru or one quick trick that's going to rocket you out of failure. Classes can be valuable tools. Writing groups, too. They're good supports to lean upon along the way while you're clawing word by word out of a failure state. But they cannot take the place of the work required of you for you.

No one wants to fail. No one thinks it will happen to them. No one wants to have to sit down with their already over-active imagination and mentally play through worst-case scenarios and then come up with plans A and B to address those worst case scenarios. Trust someone who didn't and ended up mired in failsville for too long. Your stay in failure will be much, much shorter if you come into it with a roadmap for getting back out.

Thursday, July 27, 2023


Alexia standing beside a poster wall in the high school, black background with multi colored paper wings and the word SOAR above

Writing is hard. If you’ve tried it, are doing it, or have done it, you already know that. But we’re not talking directly about that this week. We’re talking about failure, which is also hard, and necessary, and what wise words do we have for our past selves.

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying failure means growth. That applies to writing as well. You write. You fail. You query. You fail. You publish on your own. You fail. You go on submission. You fail. You pay for marketing. You fail. 

The trick is to persist. 

Once upon a time I was a finalist in a national contest and found myself part of a group of talented, women writers. We called ourselves the Persisters. We celebrated, we toasted, and we had so many doors open. 

When you reach a high point—that first contract, that first sale, that first yellow badge—you think that’s it! I’ve made it. I’m a writer who belongs. And then, undoubtedly, something will unravel and you will fail. 

As a newbie writer you watch those overnight successes, which are never overnight successes, and you think that once you get there it’ll be smooth sailing. It looks like once you get there you’ll never hear a no, there will always be clamoring for your next books. 

Truth time. It’s not like that in real life. Even those best sellers have ideas that don’t get picked up or don’t sell. 

My wise words to my past self: Being at the top doesn’t mean the failures have ended, but persist. Because failure only means you’re growing and getting better. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Contemplating Failure

Know what this is?? It's a teaser for the cover of TWISTED MAGIC, Book #3 in Renegades of Magic!!

Yes, I have the cover - and have had for a while - but I've been hanging onto it until I could set up a release date and preorder link. I'm a bit on tenterhooks at the moment, waiting on feedback from Agent Sarah on the book I wrote that fell on me from out of the sky and insisted on being written: ONEIRA. Once I know whether she wants to take it on submission to traditional publishing or if I'll self-publish it (in August!), then I'll be able to set a date for the TWISTED MAGIC release. Meanwhile, you can preorder the book via my website store!

This week at the SFF Seven, we're talking about failure. Ostensibly, the topic is reassuring ourselves that we are not failures and offering wise words to that effect. I say "ostensibly" because I don't think it's possible to say that we are not failures. We are all failures, at some point, in some way, on the large or small scale. Failing at something is a natural part of life. Everything, everywhere, fails to do something or another, usually multiple times, probably more often than they succeed.

I'm being persnickety about this because I think the concept of failure gets a bad rap. As if it's something we're supposed to avoid at all costs. I can't be honest and tell you you're not a failure. I can't be honest with myself and say that. I've failed at all kinds of things I've tried to do. I wrestle daily with facing that I've failed to reached certain goals. But the answer isn't some pep talk where I pat myself on the head and console myself with the comforting words that I haven't actually failed. That doesn't benefit me. Instead I have to look at why I haven't succeeded at what I set out to do. A lot of it may not be within my control. A great deal of publishing isn't. And it's good for me to look at that and cut away those things I can't control - and then focus on what I can control. What can I do better? How can I change my strategy? What can I learn from this failure?

Let me emphasize: failure is okay! We learn from failure.

I'm not going to tell you that you're not a failure because you are one, just like every other living creature. Life is about the attempt; failure and success are only metrics by which to measure the result. Learn, and live. 


Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Failure & Reasonable Expectations

This Week's Topic: You're not a failure
Wise words to your past self and those who are struggling

The Key to Success is Great Reasonable Expectations

We're told from the cradle to aim high and dream big. Nothing is unattainable if we put our heart into it. That's charming advice for inspiration and aspiration. It's not so great for implementation. Our big dreams tend to ignore the necessary micro steps. Thus, before we even begin, we've set ourselves up for frustration, disappointment, and...failure. When things don't unfold as we imagined, we deem ourselves incompetent and spiral into surrendering our lofty aspirations. We limp away, defeated, relegating ourselves to the status of a dreamless cog. 

How heartbreaking.

The major flaw in our Grand Plan wasn't that we were stupid. We simply made a mistake. We kept the view at 5,000ft when we had to take the footpath. We didn't plant for the weather, enemy, and terrain. We disregarded our physical and emotional limitations. We didn't acquire the necessary foundational knowledge in advance, so we didn't know what we didn't know. When we don't know better, we don't do better. We sabotaged ourselves from the get-go by setting unrealistic expectations. 

Failing to achieve a goal does not equal being a failure.

We are allowed to make mistakes. Mistakes are a measure of progress, even when we have to take a few steps back to modify our path. Our mistake taught us to take a different fork in the road. Sure, we suffered a loss or two, but time spent learning isn't time wasted. As long as we are willing to reflect on where and how we went wrong, we can revise our plan to correct what we can control. This is how we learn to create reasonable expectations for ourselves and others.

This is when we revise and resume.

We succeed when we do our best. It's fine to compare ourselves to others, but it's not okay to punish ourselves for not achieving their success. It's human nature to gauge our place in family, community, and career through comparisons. We use the experiences of others to identify the milestones on our chosen path, and we strive to achieve similar goals in order to keep ourselves motivated; in order to reward ourselves for the small accomplishments along with the big ones. However, learning, truly learning, means we take in information, analyze it, process it against all our other knowledge and experience, and then customize it before applying it to our circumstances and our individual quirks.

Author, Know Thy Self

In a creative field like ours, it is critical to understand ourselves. Only through recognizing our strengths and foibles, our motivations and distractions, our procrastination triggers and our manic gateways can we set reasonable expectations for ourselves. We are not Nora Roberts nor are we James Patterson. Their methods and their paths are not ours. We are our own delightful oddities and our paths to success are as unique as we are. We are accountable to ourselves. We define what success is for us. The success we define is attainable when we have reasonable expectations of ourselves.

We are not failures.
We are Works in Progress. 

Saturday, July 22, 2023

Three essential traits of the non-AlphaHole hero


There has been a lot of talk in the romance writing community of late about dark heroes and whether they are ‘AlphaHoles’ (alpha male arseholes) that are setting a poor example. The conversation usually revolves around main male characters (MMCs) as they appear in F/M romances, but of course AlphaHoles can be gay, or they can be of any gender. In this article, I’ll be talking predominantly about MMCs in F/M romance, but the principles apply in other situations too. The popular examples I give at the end aren’t even from romances. Because of course, what we learn of character from romance can apply to other genres.

Personally, I prefer a gentle MMC. Think butler or scholar vibes. It’s what I write, and it’s what I prefer to read (though as a writer, I often read outside my comfort zone). But in gay romances, even when there is one gentle MMC, the other one is often not so gentle for contrast (think A Rake of His Own by AJ Lancaster).

Also, despite my own preferences, I have a policy to not ‘yuck someone’s yum’, so when I sat down to think of three traits of a non-AlphaHole hero, I thought of traits that could be applied equally to gentle and, er, more forceful heroes:

They are aware of the personhood of other people, particularly their romantic partner

A non-AlphaHole hero knows that everyone is a person with their own wants and needs. He knows it’s not all about him. He remembers his love interest’s likes and dislikes, and he respects their commitments to the other people in their life. If he is pushy, he checks first to see if it’s OK to apply that pushiness in new situations (e.g. the bedroom). This knowledge may be something he has a handle on from the beginning of the story, or it may be something that develops over time as part of his character development.

If the MMC is forging ahead with only his own plotline and other characters have to fit their own stories into the gaps around him, he might just be an AlphaHole.

They know how to use their power for the sake of others

A non-AlphaHole hero will, at some point in the story, put his own goals aside for a while to act on behalf of someone else. This may be something he is actively choosing to do if he is aware of how his power affects others, or it may be something he instinctively does, and then along the way he learns about his influence.

If the MMC continues to draw all the other characters into his own plotline and use them for his own ends throughout the story, he may just be an AlphaHole.

They reject toxic masculinity and decide for themselves how they will ‘be a man’

A non-AlphaHole hero may be masculine, but he’s not ‘toxic’. The exception may be for some toxicity to appear at the beginning of the story, but for the hero to learn how not to be toxic and to be a man on his own terms, in a way that doesn’t hurt those he cares for.

If the MMC acts even remotely like an internet incel after act 1, then he is an AlphaHole.

Put these three traits together, and you’ll see that you can have a very dark, very dangerous hero who is nonetheless not an AlphaHole.

There’s a reason that recently in SFF TV, the beloved ‘daddy’ of scifi is Pedro Pascal’s Din Djarin in The Mandalorian, and everyone’s favourite fantasy hero is Henry Cavill’s Geralt of Rivia in The Witcher. One is a masculine, arse-kicking man who has dedicated his life to looking after a lost infant, and one is a masculine, arse-kicking man who has dedicated his life to looking after an orphaned girl. Each one has made choices about how to live his life that take into consideration the needs of other characters and uses his own power for the sake of others in a way that is the opposite of toxic masculinity. It has been wonderful to see men in protective caregiving roles get so much love and attention. Their popularity as hardened warrior characters is because of their attentive care of these children, not despite it.

A non-AlphaHole doesn’t have to be looking after children, but he does need to look after someone, and let himself be looked after in turn. Because it’s that reciprocity that shows us he remembers that he’s still human, no matter what dark turns his fate has made.

Calanthe Colt (pen name) is a SFF romance author from Aotearoa New Zealand. She writes romantic books that balance exciting adventure or tense situations with the quieter moments of life. Her stories usually have magic, almost always have cooking or gardening, and definitely always have sweet romances that, no matter the heat level, are comforting, like a snuggly blanket and a mug of hot chocolate on a rainy day.
Her debut book Goddess Found, a standalone fantasy romance with cosy vibes, is out now. 

Friday, July 21, 2023

How to Not Write a Jerk

Fiction isn’t reality. Most of us are clear on that. When we look at romance novels or any story with a romantic element, we aren’t dealing with any kind of reality. We’re dealing with fantasy. The kind seen in ancient mythology where the gods descend as golden motes in a ray of light. Romantic fiction engages the older brain wiring, the part that needs to be romanced and adored by someone or something more than human. I suspect that’s part of the appeal of the so-called ‘alpha hero’. No shade. They just aren’t my cup of tea unless they’re either getting taken down a few pegs or shanked by the heroine. The problem, in my mind, is that alpha heroes go too far and cross the line into abuse. The trope, as a whole, hasn’t aged well as social media has peeled back the curtains on women’s experiences with men in real life. Our line for what’s acceptable behavior from potential partners has shifted. Our male protagonists need to shift, too. I have an internal list for how to walk the fine line between a capable, confident leader and a spacious-walk-in ash-hole.

1.       Biology – Recognize that the biological concept of an ‘alpha’ is deeply flawed. The initial notion came from a wildlife biologist observing the behavior of wolves in captivity – not in the wild. The concept of alpha came from disordered behaviors brought on by unimaginable, unremitting stress. We could call it toxic, even. It’s also at odds with how wolves behave in their natural habitat. Recognize also, that it isn’t a gendered behavior. Any gender can act as an alpha, whether the disordered version or the soft, gentle, collaborative version.

a.       Opportunities: You can leverage this dichotomy in a protagonist, turning them into alphaholes in a moment of extreme stress. BUT if you don’t want a complete jerk in your book, that shift into ‘I’m the boss of you’ behavior must make the stress/danger worse. Assuming it’s our hero slipping into toxic masculinity in an ‘oh shit’ moment, any self-respecting heroine must push back and call him out. Or simply walk away.

b.       Position: Alpha can be useful. It can be worthwhile using disordered alpha behaviors to show up a protagonist’s flaws and to give the other protagonist a chance to draw a line in a relationship. Lots to explore. It’s okay to be an alphahole *for a little while* and so long as that alphahole gets schooled and subsequently changes.

2.       Psychology – understand that in humans, hard shell alpha behavior from any gender (and no gender) is a mask. It might sound trite, but that mask is a cover for trauma. Disordered alpha behavior stems from an attempt to control one’s environment to the point of needing to control others which stems from soul deep distress. Again, it sounds trite, but if you pry beneath the dominating behaviors, you’ll find terrible wounds. The person with these wounds is rarely consciously aware of them. The alpha mask is a coping mechanism meant to armor the person both against the wound and against anyone else perceiving the wound. Because this mask was likely put on early in life, it feels integral to the person’s being, but it’s a desperate attempt at protecting oneself that, when taken to extremes, does untold damage to self and to others.

a.       Opportunities: If your hero is a dominating alpha, you can let your heroine and your antagonist glimpse the wounds beneath the mask. The antagonist will use the wound against your hero to destroy him. The heroine can work on bringing the wound to light so it can scab over. It might not entirely heal, right? Wounds leave scars, but better a scar than a wound seeping poison everywhere (and that a bad guy can leverage to manipulate you.) Look for ways to turn the trope – I love showing up alphaholes as either the cowards they are underneath, or the deeply wounded, flawed people they are underneath.              

b.       Position: nobody gets to be a jerk for long on my watch. I don’t mind using the convention for a little while, but no hero is going to get to be a jerk in a heroine’s presence without having his metaphoric ass handed to him by her. I do love the process of a heroine unmasking a hero and holding out a hand in offering to help heal him. His first step is swallowing the massive stone of ego to get up and meet her halfway.

3.       Character arc: No alphaholes without change. No jerk goes unchallenged. Or unalived. Characters must change. If they refuse to change, they do not survive. It’s the tale of our species. Adapt or die. Somewhere wrapped up in the genome are memories of watching the inflexible die in the far distant past. Stories play on that unspoken, unexamined racial memory. The road to change starts somewhere, though. And I’m willing to bet that our distant ancestors adapted because of love – love of children, love of partner, community, life, learning, curiosity – whatever it was. The drive to survive and adapt comes from having a why.

a.       Opportunities: Soft spots. Weaknesses. Alpha heroes need a soft spot or a weakness for something or someone. They need a line they will not cross (and then, of course, you make them cross it in one minor-ish transgression that brings them up full stop wondering who and what they’ve become.) A current hero I’m working on has a massive, do-anything-including-die-for-her soft spot for a woman who isn’t his heroine. It provides the heroine a chance to get in under his armor and find out he isn’t what he pretends to be.

b.       Position: This is me again, questioning the alpha premise by turning ‘alpha-ness’ into something the heroine wields against the hero and exposes the alpha mask as a weakness. Her promise to him is that by unmasking and integrating his wounds, he’ll be stronger, happier, and freer. And just to subvert the trope even more – you can reverse the whole thing. Heroines can be alphaholes, too, those most readers just say ‘wow, she’s a bitch.’

Whew this got loooong. Sorry. Didn’t realize I had this whole big thing in my head about character power dynamics and personalities.

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Three Traits of Jeffe's Kind of Male Protagonist

 I'm teaching a worldbuilding master class in Portland, Oregon on August 4, if you're in the area or want to be! Check out the Willamette Writers Conference here. 

This week at the SFF Seven, we're talking about writing male protagonists and how to avoid creating an "alphahole." For those not in the know, an alphahole is an ostensibly alpha male who is actually an asshole, or is perceived as an asshole by the reader. This is a more complex issue than it seems on the surface. The alpha male hero is a popular trope, particularly in Romance, but in other genres, too. The alpha male is a leader, bold, confident, a protector. In some ways, he is often the idealized male. Some readers don't like this trope or have greater sensitivity to certain aspects of the typical characterizations. 

I tend not to take this too seriously. Personally, I like my alpha male heroes like I like my fiction: no relationship to reality required. 

That said, I don't really write alpha males very often, largely because my books almost always center the female protagonist and her journey to complete the quest, etc. The classic alpha male hero doesn't intersect well with that kind of arc. Though I do love to have two strong, determined leaders butt heads and find common ground in love, learning to lead together. 

Three traits of a guy like that?

  1. Enough self-confidence not to be threatened by a competent woman.
  2. Secure in his masculinity so he doesn't need to "prove" it to anyone.
  3. Integrity and compassion that allow him to adhere to his principles and lead with care for his followers.

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

The Hero's Three Cs

 This Week's Topic: Writing Better Heroes -- 3 Traits of a Non-Alpha-Hole Hero

Oh, how I loves me a capable, confident, and compassionate hero. 

Wow, that's the shortest post I've written. 

Maybe I should elaborate.

The Capable Hero: This guy (and it's just a guy for the purpose of this post, the hero's gender could be female as easily as it could be fluid) has his own thing. His own specialty. He's earned his bones; he's gone through the wringer, screwed up, and learned from it all to excel. Others consider him an expert in his field (whether he considers himself one is a flexible point). Though, if he's not an expert, then he's got the passion and humility to learn that makes up for his lack of knowledge and experience. Now, this hero isn't an ace in every field because that would make him boring, but what he knows, he knows. 

The Confident Hero: Confident not Arrogant. He shows his ability rather than boasting of it. He knows he's capable but doesn't need the adulation of others. He demonstrates respect for himself and others (albeit only others who haven't given him a reason to lose his respect for them, those guys he quashes beautifully). He's not competing with his partner for one-upsies nor is he attempting to fill in as a father figure. He may exude a dominant aura but he's not domineering. He's as equally content to lend a supporting hand as he is to lead the whole affair. He's good with letting others have the spotlight, but if it shines on him, he handles it gracefully and remembers to share it with those who helped him. 

The Compassionate Hero: More often than not, this guy knows when to step back and when to step up. He's a classic protector stereotype without the narrow mind. He handily checks his ego to let others have their moment just as readily as he cares for the wounded comrade, the lost dog, and the elderly. Most importantly, this hero offers support, both emotional and physical, to his partner when it's obvious they need it and when it doesn't seem like it. He understands the value of respect and how allowing dignity can be priceless.

As you can see, the Three Cs of a great hero borrow attributes from each trait and build on each other.  No Alpha-holes here. 

Friday, July 14, 2023

Writing Resources and Tools


The photo is from a park in Fremont, WA. They'[re tucked into a place you could all too easily miss them and that's what delights me about them - that they're there patiently waiting to be noticed.

Writing tools haven't changed for me for years now. I've found a cluster of reliable solutions that work for me. And maybe, after all this time of trying to find the one Right thing that would suddenly make writing easy for me, I've learned that no tool on this earth is going to change how or whether I write. That's on me entirely. As a result, I've stopped looking for the next great thing. AI turned out to be a fun little toy for about three weeks, then it, too, went by the wayside. Thus, I've come to say that I don't think tools matter much. How you get words on paper isn't nearly as important as the fact that you do. Sure, a computer, a word processor of some kind, and an internet connection make a writer's life a lot easier, but strictly speaking a paper and pencil is all that's necessary. (Side note: Do you know why you should always write in pencil and not pen for long works? Ink runs. Spill the slightest moisture on your handwritten pages and you lose your content if it's written in ink. Graphite won't fade or run in water. Courtesy of a bit of time as a yeoman for a Sea Scout ship.)

The only item I have to recommend is the only thing I've added to my writing toolbox this year: mentorship. Not entirely because I need training, though there's always something to learn, I need a bit of bolstering these days. Day job, complicated and drama-filled family situation, and general feelings of overwhelm have utterly sapped my ability to produce. I'd lost some of my why. So I approached Jeffe about joining her Patreon group for company and accountability. Already, the group has been a morale boost. It's helpful, too, to know there are others out there writing at the same time I am and getting to offer one another support.

It's okay to not be okay. It's better to remember to ask for help and then accept it and act on it. These things don't sound like tools because our society does a terrible job of setting us up with healthy coping skills. Asking for just enough help so you can do what matters to you is absolutely a tool. Whether you can hold it in your hand or not.

Thursday, July 13, 2023

Useful Writing Tools!

yellow hibiscus like flower with red center, okra flower, atop dark greenery

As I worked through my writing session this morning I kept wondering what is the most useful resource I have for writing

Jeffe’s post yesterday named ourselves as the most important piece. And I absolutely love that. It’s so true because if you don’t take care of yourself your well will run dry and you won’t be able to create. 

But I can’t be redundant, right? Even when it’s a really good point. 

So let’s say you’re taking care of yourself. You’re feeling good. The writing vibe is strong. You’re typing along and then—[fill in word here]. You need a synonym, or you need the word to describe a specific piece of something, you need—the Thesaurus. 

I have the Thesaurus bookmarked and yes, I went to it nigh two dozen times this morning alone. I’m a stickler for not using the same description on the same page. But how do I know what paragraph will end up on which page? Great point! So I aim for no repeats within 350 words. 

All that means is I love the thesaurus. Do I go overboard and find archaic words nobody will understand? Maybe. Did I attempt to avoid repeating Jeffe's pick for most useful writing resource only to nearly mimic KAK's? Definitely. But what's a thesaurus without a good dictionary?!

How about you? What’s your most used writing tool?

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

The Most Important Writing Resource: You

A new local bookstore, Purple Fern Books, has a lovely display of my books.

This week at the SFF Seven we're asking: What is the most useful resource you have for writing?

Usually with this sort of topic, we talk about reference materials or computer programs. I think this time I'll riff on last week's topic, which included an array of really good advice on self-care and avoiding burnout. I'm thinking about this because one of my Unpopular Opinions is that writers really don't need Stuff. It's one of the lowest overhead creative enterprises there is. Yeah, okay, to submit or publish work, a writer needs access to a computer at some point. That's the world we live in. But no writer actually NEEDS a fancy program or reference books or, or, or...

There are only two necessary resources for writing: a way to put the words down and ourselves.

I mention this because, in our quest for great tools, we tend to forget that WE are the critical component in the equation, the limiting reagent in the magical, chemical reaction that is bringing a book into the world. And yet we don't always treat ourselves as the treasure we are. Imagine if you had a laptop as expensive as the single-use body and brain you were gifted with. How much would you baby that laptop? Do you treat yourself that well?

I think my most useful resource is a rested body and quiet mind. Do I always go the lengths I should to make sure I'm running at top operating condition? Not always - but I try. I often get in bed around 8 or 8:30pm, if I'm sleepy enough, because getting plenty of sleep is key for my ability to sustainably create. Do people sometimes think I'm weird and crazy for doing that? Yep. Do I care? Nope. It's easy to let other people push and pull us to suit their ideas of how we should be, but we are the only ones who know what we truly need. Treat yourself as that expensive, delicate, and precious resource that is most important for your writing and see what happens. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Most Useful Writing Resource Isn't a Surprise

 This Week's Topic: What's the most useful resource I have for writing?

Is it too glib to say it's Merriam-Webster Online? Believe it or not, I'm not being cheeky when I say a dictionary is my best writing buddy EVAR erm, EVER! A significant portion of my vocabulary is built upon words I've read, whose meanings I've derived from contextual clues, which means there's a chance, a wee bit more than a tiny bit of a chance, that what I thought that word meant ... is not what it means. D'oh! I've given my line editors and copyeditors fits of giggles with my, let's call 'em "curious," word choices. Fortunately, my editors are professionals who use an MW link to suggest a better word for what I clearly meant. (I wouldn't be surprised if I've gone down infamy in their private circles. I'd totally deserve it for some of my slipups.)

Then, there's the great conundrum of "is that one word or two?" 

Hyphenated when it's the adjective but not the noun? 

Homophones will be the death of me.

Contronyms: fun for the writer, annoying for the reader.

That's the British spelling, not the American.

Starts with E, no, I, no E? Whadda ya mean either is an option??

Spellcheck, grammar check, and even AI can't save me from screwing up words. A bail isn't a bale. A slip up is a slip-up unless it's a slipup. There are so many shades of gray and grey that culling them takes time. It's all rather grizzly, or is that grisly? Yep, as an author, a robust, queryable dictionary is my most useful resource. Though, my copyeditor comes a close second. 😇

Friday, July 7, 2023

The Way Out of the Wasteland


This handsome dude is looking for his forever human and home. And this totally has something to do with our topic this week. You see. I write my blog posts on Thursday evening for publication on Friday morning. But this man. He had his neuter surgery Thursday. When I picked him up and got him in the car to come home, he went into respiratory distress. Our regular vet was closing down and they'd already sent techs home. So off we hied to the local urgent care veterinary place. An insane amount of money later, we discover that Ramases has pneumonia. Initially, they diagnosed it as aspiration pneumonia, which is dreadful, awful stuff. The urgent care vet wanted the cat hospitalized, so they transferred us to an emergency hospital nearby. We go there. That vet disagrees with the treatment plan and long story short, we get out of there at half past midnight with sick cat in tow. I'm operating on three hours of sleep. 

Drama over the 4th of July holiday has upended my current living arrangement. The ripples on that are slowly building to a tidal wave that I suspect will mean everyone packs up and moves. But in the meantime, HERE have an overdose of uncertainty! 

Whether it's my brain or whether it's rational to feel this way, I'd like to say everything's on fire.

I used to think these were things that needed to be recovered from - as if writing were something that needed to be held in reserve for when conditions were just right. I still suffer from this because I know a little about how my brain works best. But I am starting to realize that 'best' is an unobtainable ideal. All of these events in my life that make me feel like I'm going to explode, pack the cats into a car, change my name, drive into the middle of nowhere, and buy a house for under $200k to live in peaceful obscurity aren't one off events. They're life. My life. There is no calmer. There is no 'when stuff settles down'. This is it. It takes an act of radical acceptance to digest that realization. Then all that remains is to ask whether writing in the midst of all that life makes everything better or worse.

For me, the answer is better. I made writing my retreat - the little hit of dessert you sneak when you think no one is watching. It gives me energy and helps keep me sane. Because it keeps me saner than I would otherwise be, most of my family are invested in leaving me alone while I write. Sometimes. But this reframe isn't necessarily enough to refill an empty well. Silence, technology fasts, sensory walks (where you walk slowly and rotate through observation - what do I hear, what do I smell, what do I taste, what do I feel on my skin, what do I feel internally, what do I see) and any thing else that generates energy for you will help. Maybe you cook the world's hottest chili. Or you build model ghost ships inside bottles. If they make you feel better for having done them, they fill the well. Rescuing gives me energy when I finally match a cat like Ramases to his forever person. So hey. Anyone in FL or neighboring states what a handsome, sweet, spotted tabby who drools when he's happy (and he's happiest when you're petting him and giving chin rubs). I'll even deliver. 

I think the important bit is to know what's important to you. Writing takes a toll. Rest and breaks are necessary. We tear up a lot of cognitive and emotional ground while writing - but it's *different* mental and emotional ground than our life dramas. Leverage that while recognizing that eventually, all those synapses need rest and that rest will not be rushed.

Thursday, July 6, 2023


a black and white Siberian husky in the midst of chest high pink blooming clover

Have you been staring at your blinking cursor, wondering how you’re going to fill the page? Have you been sitting down to write only to find yourself doing the dishes or scrolling your socials? Have you been experiencing burnout?

There are numerous ways burnout hits. Which also means there’s a lot of options to work through it—yay! But none of it’s easy–boo. 

I’ve been through burnout, I wrote about it here. And the most important takeaway I can share is that you have to be able to give yourself grace. If you can’t write. It’s okay. If you can’t focus and lose every writing minute you had in the day. It’s okay. If you couldn’t bring yourself to even open your WIP. It’s okay. 

Give yourself grace and avoid piling on the guilt. In my experience, guilt adds to the burnout. Refilling the well takes time, if you don’t have time and are on a deadline check out Jeffe’s post from yesterday. 

How do I take care of my writer self? Surrounding myself in nature refills my well. So does being creative in any way that isn’t writing. When burnout is really depression in disguise, it’s okay to ask for help. You’re not alone.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Self-Care & Refilling the Well When Things Are on Fire


Exciting news!!! For all of you who have been waiting waiting waiting for the audiobook of ROGUE FAMILIAR, it is liiiivvveeee! Just on Audible for the next 3 months, then it will be wide. If you'd like to review, I do have some free downloads available. Comment here or email Assistant Carien via the website contact form.   


Amusingly enough, our topic at the SFF Seven this week is self-care and burnout. I say amusing because this has been a topic of discussion in Jeffe's Closet, my Patreon and Discord, these last couple of weeks. One thing I love about that space is that people can ask me questions and it gives me the opportunity to mull answers I hadn't previously given thought to.

One gal asked me about advice on getting through when you're faced with deadlines and your well is empty. I talked about this on Monday's podcast, too, but I'm going to reiterate here because I think our group mind hit on something really important.

We often think of refilling the creative well as something lovely, peaceful, and largely passive. Self-care often carries the sense of similar calm. We think of leisurely strolls, hot bubble baths, a glass of wine, gazing at the sunset with friends, lingering over moving art at museums and galleries. All of these things are lovely... And not terribly useful when you're facing deadlines, dealing with crises, and you're already short on time with a well so empty you've got nothing left to put out the fires, much less create something to meet those deadlines with.

So, what do we do then?

The thing is, burnout is something we must take very, very seriously. I've been there - and once you hit full burnout, the bottom of the well is dry as a bone, then it can takes months or years to recover. It's easy to put off our mental health, to decide that refilling the well can wait until this family member is doing better, or this deadline is met, or after some future date when we have time to deal with it. Except that mental health and burnout don't obey our schedules. Taking this approach is like deciding that an infection can wait until we've finished some other projects - by the time we're ready to deal with it, we could have blood poisoning or lose a limb.

What's the answer then? This was my advice to her: cut out everything that is not actually on fire and aggressively fill the well.

I was concerned that this was too vague, but it worked for her! Sometimes we need permission to ignore everything that is not a crisis - to ask ourselves "is it on fire?" and set it aside if not. As for aggressively filling the well - an image that seemed to amuse everyone - I can't tell you how to do that. We all have to find what refills our own wells. But as for going about it aggressively, that is the key. That means you're prioritizing those activities, going after them with gusto, rather than waiting for the water to seep in. Muster your army of brooms and aggressively fill that well!

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Self-Care and Burnout: A Writer's Cycle

 To all our US readers:

Happy Independence Day!

This Week's Topic: Self-Care & Burnout

Burnout is caused by us caving to pressures both external and internal. There is no taskmaster like our own conscience, is there?  It can make us gleefully ignore all the warning sirens of impending collapse with the intoxicating refrain of "just one more..." On occasion, we are blessed with the sweet, sweet glory of being in the Writing Zone. The words are flowing, the technology is cooperating, and there are no interruptions. We double our average word count for the day. We finish the WiP in record time. We publish the mss ahead of schedule. And then...

We can't come up with bupkiss.
Total burnout.

Whilst in the throes of burnout, the very notion of creativity causes us to wander off and drool in a corner. Our brains throb as if we were beamed with a fastball. We spend days, nay, weeks trying to recover from overachieving. Deadlines for other projects zoom past as we remain listless. We are such gluttons for punishment that we know the dire consequence awaiting us at the end of the Great Writing Jag, yet we sprint towards it, lost in our fugue, giddy at all we are accomplishing in the moment. 

We promise to pace ourselves next time. 

Another lie. We won't. We will rejoice whenever we stumble into the Writing Zone. We are willing prisoners of the cycle of overachieving and burning out. Naughty writers. We should take better care of ourselves. We should apply the lessons from all those self-care workshops. We should find the balance between creativity and healthiness. 

Bwaahaha. No. 

Not at the expense of our Beloved Story. Our fictional progeny take priority over our mental and physical well-being. Manic episodes? You betcha. Knowing better but not doing better? Ayup. Self-sabotage? Masters of it, we are. We will bitch about burnout and falsely vow to adhere to the principles of self-care, yet we will not change. There's another story crawling around our brains and we can't wait to tell it. 

That's the real reason writers are weird. 

Saturday, July 1, 2023

In Search of Emotional Resonance


Photo by Clark Young on Unsplash

The question this week is, do I have to feel the exact emotion I'm writing? And my answer is more complicated than a yes or no—like many aspects of writing, there is nuance here!

To me emotion is at the heart of story. Readers seek out the stories that they do in order to experience emotions vicariously. Sometimes that emotion is even right there in the name of the genre, like in thrillers. Romance novels tend to have a wide range of emotional expectations, from swoony love interests to heart-wrenching action and as a fantasy romance writer it is always my goal to bring those emotions to life. 

Getting authentic emotions onto the page requires a certain level of vulnerability and being in touch with my own memories and visceral reactions, so in that way I do go through the same emotions as my characters. At the same time, I don't usually experience those emotions fully while writing. It would be pretty hard to type while weeping or fuming, so if nothing else, my characters live and express and experience their emotions in a much richer fashion than I do. 

One of the joys of writing fiction is the chance to dramatize actions and events, bringing characters and situations vividly to life. Even when I tap into a particularly powerful memory or experience, fictionalizing it takes it to a new level. Creating emotional resonance with my readers is the goal, which sometimes means reaching for higher highs and lower lows than I experience in my everyday life.

Jaycee Jarvis is an award winning fantasy romance author, who combines heartfelt romance with immersive magical worlds. When not lost in worlds of her own creation, she lives in the Pacific Northwest with her spouse, three children and a menagerie of pets. 

Find her at 



Twitter: @JayceeJarvis