Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Happy Halloween!

 This Week's Topic: On My Mind

What's on my mind today? Pfft. Sugar highs, candlelight, and spooky sights!

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Cover Tough Love

 Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is "Judging a book by its cover: cover trends and what you look for as an author or a reader."

There have been excellent posts this week exploring why we buy covers, what we look for and love in covers, even being misled by covers. What I'm going to talk about is what a cover ISN'T for an author. And yes, this is something that's hard to hear. Stop now if you're not ready for a little tough love.

What a cover isn't: It is not an expression of the author's creativity.

I say this because I've heard more than one - usually a newer author - say that they want it to be. I recall one time that my aunt asked me to talk to a friend of hers who was a first-time author working with a small press to publish her memoir. She was super unhappy with the cover they developed and fighting with them about it. I think she fully expected me to give her ammunition in that fight. Instead, I gave her this tough love talk:

The cover of the book is not an expression of your creativity. The BOOK - what's inside the front and back cover - is the expression of your creativity. You got all those words and pages to convey the story you want to tell. The cover is not, and should not, be an extension of that story. 

Now, I'm not saying that the cover CAN'T reflect the story, but a book cover has two jobs:

  1. Catch the reader's eye in a pleasing, enticing way.
  2. Convey genre or some sense of what kind of story it will be.

That's it. Simple, but also very difficult. That's plenty of work for an image and a few words to do. Those jobs don't need to be further complicated by putting the author's story-vision into an image. In fact, when authors try to insert that vision, they can get in the way of the primary two functions of the cover.

So, I know it's hard. I have been there and I have had covers I hated, where the characters looked NOTHING like what I had in my head. I have had covers I loved that did nothing to sell the story inside. I've had horrible covers that I'm convinced tanked sales. I've had covers that readers rhapsodized over for no reason that made sense to me. When I work with my cover designer on the covers of my indie books, I really have to take off my author hat and put on the publisher one - and remind myself of the two rules. Tough love for myself, too!

Saturday, October 28, 2023

What's in a Cover?


Reader Me:

I bought a Sherlock Holmes retelling at a used bookstore the other day. The cover looked spot-on: dark blue background and silvery fog, a hypodermic needle in the foreground, flowers along the border, and the cityscape in the background. All the spooky murderous emblems I needed to pick up the book.


I didn't look closely enough at the names of the authors. 

When I got home, I realized that an NBA basketball star has co-written this book.

In fairness, I should have noticed. My bad. In fairness, this novel is part of a three-book series published by Penguin Random House and the series is a bestseller. Like Marcella Burnard describes in her post this week, I was lured by the pretty cover.

If I had noted the basketball star's name, I may not have given it a chance. So the book cover creators did their job properly. The name was prominent--for those who might think that is of interest, with the co-authored name also listed prominently so we readers might rest assured that someone with an MFA contributed to the book--and the other elements told me exactly what kind of book I was getting.

Have I started it yet?


But I plan to. If only out of curiosity. And after looking it up, I'm actually intrigued to see how it turns out.

Author Me:

Book covers are easier when you have a traditional publisher, since they have people for that. I can weigh in with my preferences and comment on a draft design, but I don't need to come up with the entire concept, find appropriate images, and put them together to suit the book. This is a weight off my mind, since I'm a perfectionist and I second-guess myself a lot. 

Too many options! What if purple is better than red? What font should I use? What elements should stay consistent across the series and which ones can change? These decisions are best left to the professionals, imho. (And I am certainly not good enough to do this myself, although many of my indie peers are.)

There are also lots of freelance book cover artists that indie authors can use: many produce premades and will do custom mades. These can be expensive, although you can always find deals. And the quality will vary. There is more onus on you to determine the look and find what you need, but it can be worthwhile.

Some good advice I received (at a workshop run by 100 Covers) was to scroll through the Amazon bestseller lists on a desktop to see what the top 100 books in your category are using in their covers. A quick scan through the thumbnails can give you a good sense of the features that readers expect to see - for more on these features, see K.A. Krantz's post this week. Then, you work the same magic as you do when you write genre fiction: just as you use the tropes and conventions in an exciting way to attract and keep your reader's interest, so you incorporate the cover elements that readers expect but in a fun and exciting way.

BTW, I'm not an artist, so every book cover that's presented for my work seems like the best thing ever made. Like looking at your newborn's face for the first time. BUT a little objectivity can be a big help--ask your friends and fellow authors for advice to see what they think. 

And enjoy the process! It can seem fraught with pitfalls that can fill one with anxiety. Still, it's important to remember how exciting and wonderful it is to put your book baby out into the world. Revel in the wonder! 

Friday, October 27, 2023

Cover Contrarian

 Who among us has not been lured by a gorgeous cover only to find the contents between the covers lacking? Who among us has not had this happen multiple times? 

Is it just me? It might be me. 

Honestly, I admire covers for what they are. Covers. I do not at all judge my books by them. Not anymore. Maybe it's a function of my age, which we will not discuss, but the fact is I had to navigate a number of cover trends that left much to be desired. Covers were not how one picked a book. For several years, books sported single, solid color covers with contrasting title colors that would never pass a usability test today. Then someone got bold and started putting racing stripes on covers! In clashing colors that made your teeth vibrate just to look at them. (Look, y'all, it was the 70s and I was a kid, but I was THAT kid, reading stuff well above grade level and yikes those covers sucked.) 

Anyway. Long story slightly shorter: I have cover trauma resulting in serious trust issues. I am eternally grateful that recent cover trend history has tended toward artistic endeavors with an eye for conscious design. Covers are a thing to behold now. I love that. Still don't trust 'em. It's back cover copy for me. I expect back cover copy to convey genre and a hint about the story. If it hits my particular 'might be yum' buttons, I'll crack the cover and scan the first page. I'll know right away whether the story and the author are going to work for me. If the cover is pretty? Bonus. But yeah. 

You kids get off my lawn.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Book Cover Deliberation

six books sitting in a circle: Dead Silence, Poison's Kiss with a green snake on the cover, Her Radiant Curse with a woman's profile, Isle of Blood with a black background and an ancient sea dragon drawn in blue. Contagion with sci-fi green tech, and Take the Lead with a man and woman in salsa clothes dancing

Books wouldn’t be nearly as much fun to pick up if they didn’t have amazing covers. Covers give you a glimpse into the story, they set the scene, and they set expectations. And for me, book covers mean different things depending on if I’m looking at them as an author or a reader. 

Reader View: If I see the back of a woman running away in the dark, I’m getting a mystery thriller, possibly some romance. These covers don’t do much for me, likely because I don’t read a ton in the genre. If I see a big ol’ sword in hand accompanied by anything foresty, I’m expecting an epic fantasy. If I see flowers or snakes or another inanimate object surrounding a sword then I’m expecting a different kind of fantasy, one likely written by a woman and there’s a good chance there’ll be kissing. If I see a solid colored cover with anything tech or medical related I’m expecting a thriller, hopefully sci-fi bent, especially if the image evokes robotics or machinery. 

As a reader I clearly use covers to tell me what kind of book I’m checking out. I frequently pick up books because the cover art caught my eye, especially fantasy books with incredible art. There are many book covers out there deserving of their very own gilded-frame!

Author View: I’m looking at book covers to tell me what kind of press/publishing house produced them to then decide if it’s the right kind of look I’d want for my books. The covers with a photoshop image superimposed on a background with un-matching font isn’t a place I’m going to look into. Covers with the right tone for the genre, well matched font, and/or beautiful art are definitely places I’m checking out. 

As an author I use covers as a quality gauge. The more professional looking the book, the more likely I am to put them on my list. Even if you have an agent it’s a good idea to do your homework and be knowledgeable of what types of books certain publishers produce. Then you’ll have an idea of what editors are more likely to enjoy reading your words. And when I say types of books I mean more than genre. Angry Robot is going to have a totally different fantasy flavor than say Wednesday Books. 

So, how do you look at book covers? 

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Fantasy Covers: Elements Convey Sub-Genre

 This Week's Topic: Judging a Book by Its Cover
Cover Trends and What I Look for as an Author and a Reader

Hell yeah, I judge a book by its cover. If the cover looks like crap, I'm assuming the story was written like crap too. I don't have to use the "Look Inside" feature to know it wasn't professionally edited, either. Life's too short and my TBR pile is too big to waste time on a book with a shitty cover. A good cover is more than well-rendered art, there's the matter of the appropriate font too. I've seen eye-catching art ruined by bad font, and I weep. Anyone trying to resurrect ye ol' WordArt should be shot from a cannon, FWIW. Bad font screams "amateur" and "badly written content inside." 

Buuuuut, what about those covers that look like every.other.cover. in the genre? Are they bad for being too much alike? Ahahahah. Welcome to the wobbly line between delivering on reader expectations and trying to stand out in a listing of millions. Urban Fantasy covers tend to look a lot alike, and that's because readers identify that similarity with the genre so authors/artists deliver for the sake of sales (chicken->egg->chicken, yes). The core elements of a UF cover are: 

  • Hot chick (or dude) on the cover
  • Magic representation (aura, array, shifter-sidekick, etc.)
  • Urban-ish nightscape
  • Weapon (8 times out of 10)
    • A gun or a sword are the most likely, though there is an occasional dagger or crossbow.  
Does the formulaic cover mean the book is formulaic too? Uh, maybe. Does it mean the story hits the big UF tropes? Probably. That's what the artist and author are trying to convey with the composition of elements on the cover. Wanna read a shifter novel? Look for an animal on the cover. Wanna read a vampire book? Look for the fang with a blood dribble. Witches? Pentagrams or familiars. Angels? Wings. Demons? Serpentine eyes. As long as the humanoid on the cover doesn't look like remedial Poser and the other elements have been properly layered and blended to create a cohesive picture, then we're headed in the right direction.

On the other hand, Fantasy books--be they High, Epic, Grimdark, Hopepunk, RPG, etc.,-- have a wider pool of "typical" from which to draw. Some don't have people on the cover at all, it's mostly symbols and swirls. Some have the caped man in various landscapes. Some have brilliantly illustrated--straight from a graphic novel--look to them. Regardless of the composition, it's the quality of the art and the appropriateness of the font that matters. Fantasy readers are picky as fuck about quality. It's not a genre where DIY covers are a good idea (unless you're a professional designer/artist in your other life). 

When it comes to using AI art on covers, keep in mind that most of the art produced by AI is stolen from artists and then remixed by algorithms; therefore, it doesn't have the appropriate commercial image licensing that's legally necessary for book covers. Yes, yes, yes. I know authors are publishing books with AI covers, but just because it's possible doesn't mean it's legal or ethical. 

Saturday, October 21, 2023

Ergonomics for the Healthy Writer and Faroween!

Guess what? I'm a participating author in Our World or Others: A Faroween Scavenger Hunt October 19 - 29! Visit the FaRoFeb website on October 19 to choose your quest and compete for a chance to win incredible prizes including giftcards, paperbacks, ebooks, and more! There are six main prize packs as well as some bonus quests and games.

Everyone who completes one of the quests will win something! This is for anyone who loves reading fantasy romance, paranormal romance, and urban fantasy romance. Can't wait to see you there!

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is "Tools of the Trade Ergonomic Edition." Because, let's face it, writers are notorious for experiencing various physical pains. Comes of sitting for hours everyday, hunched over a keyboard or paper (writing and reading!), forgetting to move but never forgetting those important snacks that keep our brains going. So, what do I do? I walk!

Yes, I have a walking desk with a treadmill, and have had one for nearly ten years now. Best investment I ever made! The current treadmill is from iMovr and goes from 5mph to 2.5mph. I usually walk between 1.5 and 2.2mph - the variation is really important! I have a hydraulic desk, the same one all these years, originally made by GeekDesk, which I can adjust to allow me to sit, stand, or walk. The minute height adjustments are particularly great, allowing me to have my forearms and wrists flat on the desk, my back straight, and my monitor at eye-level. I also vary them slightly from day to day and even hour to hour, so my body won't solidify into the same position for too long. 

No more butt in chair, hands on keyboard, people - get that writer body moving!


Friday, October 20, 2023

How Not to Hurt

I’d been ready to say that I didn’t think much about ergonomics, but then I took a look around. The lifelong pursuit of anything that might keep migraine pain to a dull roar has given me a whole lot of tools in my ergonomics toolbox. Some are things I just like. The rest are attempts to mitigate or prevent pain.

In the ‘I just like it’ category:

  • Positive click keyboards. Straight. I expect some acknowledgement from the keys when I type. I need that sensory feedback or writing isn’t writing and I will be deeply dissatisfied.
  • Writing in front of the fake fireplace on the sofa, usually with a cat in my lap – NOT ergonomic but warm, cozy, and purry.
  • Writing in bed. Also not ergonomic, but at the end of a day, it’s a lovely segue into sleep.
  • Noise canceling headphones. I swear to you these are why I am not currently doing life in a deep, dark prison somewhere.
  • Creeptastic playlists. Ambient music has grown up on YouTube. I can find SciFi themed creepy stuff, I can find stuff that’s themed to particular fandoms – Alien, Cthulhu, zombie movies all kinds of stuff to write mayhem to.

In the ‘No Pain, Please’ category:

  • Putting my monitor at eye level and my keyboard at waist level. I have an adjustable laptop desk with legs that can be adjusted any number of ways. I use it to get my laptop up high enough, so I look straight ahead at it. I use an auxiliary keyboard and mouse on my work surface to promote upright posture and to keep my head in a neutral, upright position rather than tilted down or carried forward of my spine. There was physical therapy involved in learning that this posture was my goal.
  • Stand/sit desk – this is basically a desk that lets me stand when I want or sit when I need to, I also have a treadmill desk with one shelf set at eye level for the laptop and a waist high work surface for the keyboard and mouse. Variety, it turns out, also helps prevent pain.
  • Blue blocker glasses. These really help reduce migraine pain. Not incidences of migraine – but with blue blockers, I don’t start a migraine and go from 0 to 60 on the pain scale in a few seconds flat. The blue blockers give me a much gentler ramp to ‘hey stupid, get flat’. If you need these, don’t cheap out. Real migraine glasses target two specific wavelengths of blue light. Cheapy glasses just throw a filter on some plastic and call it good. The real thing gives you targeted protection that’s worth the extra cash.
  • Taking a daily 20-minute NSDR break. This isn’t just for posture. It’s for the brain and your entire nervous system.
  • Exercises - I have a set of specific back and neck exercises designed to keep the shoulders pulled back and to counteract overstretch in the back of the neck. Those help.

In the normal course of generating a story, writing shouldn’t hurt. If it does, there’s likely a reasonable ergonomic solution. Sometimes, it means getting a professional like a physical therapist involved. Sometimes it means breaking up a repetitive motion cycle and giving weary muscles a rest. Ergonomics come down to you conducting a set of informed experiments to find out what helps you. It’s hard to have fun when what you love hurts you.

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Ergonomic Free Here!

a light colored pine table holding a lap top with near floor-to-ceiling windows revealing a mountainous hills covered in pine trees under a blue sky

This is my writing view today. Beautiful, pine covered hills, blue sky, and a hand-made pine table. Which is definitely not in line with the week’s theme: the Ergonomic Edition.

No, this pine table doesn’t adjust. But it’s smooth and filled with wood grain character. No, the matching hand-carved pine chair definitely doesn’t adjust and turns the butt numb after an hour. But it’s got arms for me to rest my elbows on as I gaze out at nature and imagine what our near-future sci-fi world is filled with. And no, my laptop doesn’t support my wrists and gets a pretty good glare when the sun comes up. But it can travel from table to patio table with ease, enabling me to smell the pine and hear the wind rushing through the needles. 

At home I have a split keyboard which my wrists do love. I can work for hours without pain. And my desk chair at least goes up and down, but the best part about it is that it has a wide seat so I can sit crosslegged when I want to. 

Out of all the ergonomic options, I wish I were adept at using voice to text. How wonderful would that be! To walk around, pace the room, stroll outside while simultaneously writing? Amazing. But I haven’t trained my brain to use that tech yet. Someday, maybe. 

How about you? What ergonomic tools do you use and love?

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

I'm Not The Poster Child for Ergonomics

 This Week's Topic: Tools of the Trade Ergonomic Edition
Split keyboard or straight, laptop or desktop, phone, voice-to-text, etc.

This is another post where you'll likely not want to emulate me. Despite being a middle-aged broad, I don't give much thought to ergonomics and my writing setup. 

I don't write at a desk or a table, which is where a lot of ergonomic preventative measures are applied. Instead, I am Goldilocks, sitting in whatever comfy recliner, armchair, or couch fits my mood. Sometimes I use a cushioned lap desk to elevate my screen; though most often I just eat more holiday cookies to fluff up my thighs. {cough} {looks askance}

I write on my laptop (backlit keyboard + number pad). I don't own a desktop, and the few times I've used my phone for working on the WiP were total disastrophies. I've had the big ol' 18-inch screen and the small tablet 11-inch, but find a 14-inch or 15-inch is the sweet spot for text-heavy work. The only thing I hate about composing on my laptop is that the trackpad is centered under the QWERTY keyboard instead of the whole keyboard. I'm forever right-clicking when I want to left-click because of that. (Yes, I'm a PC user. Yes, I must have the number pad or I'll really go 'nanners.)

I don't use voice-to-text for drafting; though, that may be a "yet" statement. Mostly because speaking the punctuation breaks my train of thought faster than seeing the world's longest run-on sentence on my screen. For me, there's something almost subconsciously affirming about the clickety-clack of typing that keeps me in the creative thrall. That said, I do use text-to-voice for editing. I like having the computer read my mss back to me so I can catch missing and redundant words, along with nonsensical statements. 

So far, I'm fortunate to not suffer carpal tunnel, so I don't need a wrist brace. I am diligent about getting up and taking a short walk every two hours to avoid blood clots (my dog is trained to pester me at the appointed hours).  

Looking up/away frequently from my screen to allow my eyes to shift focus happens whenever I think, so I've got that guidance well covered. My computer screen is permanently set to "night mode" to minimize blue light. Recently, the news that viewing the world through rose-colored glasses helps relieve light sensitivity for migraine sufferers crossed my feeds. The power of FL-41 tint could be pure marketing hype or it could be scientifically proven, either way, I just received my pink glasses. 

So, uhm, yeah, thar' be the ways this couch potato avoids the ouchies of sitting on her ass all day. 😇

Friday, October 13, 2023

A Change of Scenery

Happy Friday the 13th. Watch out for weirdos bearing knives. And chainsaws. And . . .

Listen. I haven't been to a conference in a very long time. I'm not likely to hit a conference for a very long time. Between Covid and cash, me traveling to conferences just isn't likely. So count me out on those. Networking with like-minded authors will have to happen some other way for the foreseeable future.

But writing retreats. Mmmmm. Let's chat about writing retreats. Here's my TLDR:

1. Writing retreats are best done solo.
2. Writing retreats are best done when you're the kind of person who needs a shot of the unfamiliar to jolt you - to put you in beginners mind where you wonder at all the things you've never seen before.
3. Writing retreats are *necessary* if you feel like you are in an environment in your home wherein you cannot fully inhabit your creative self without masking.

Here's my attempt to explain. Aka: The deep dive.

1. Writing retreats - go solo. Unless you are some titan of discipline, going on a writing retreat with other people means no writing will happen. I know going in when someone says 'let's go here and write' that what will actually happen will be lots and lots of talking, lots and lots of eating, and absolutely zero writing. We might talk about writing, but we won't actually put words on paper. The point of a writing retreat, for me, is to isolate long enough to begin hearing my own voice. Not everyone else's. Not my partner's. Not my parents'. Not my boss's. Not even my own set of 'shoulds' that I plague myself with on a daily basis. A retreat needs to present a place where I can exist without any responsibility to any other living thing other than myself for a few days. 

2. A retreat works best for me If there's something new and different to see or experience. A simple change of scenery can work magic. Going somewhere I don't know kicks me out of cognitive ruts and I can come to my stories with new vision. Beginners mind sees everything as if for the first time - without preconceived thoughts or ideas. That allows room for new approaches, if they're wanted.

3. We all wear masks. Most, we wear joyfully: parent, partner, friend, etc. Some are less joyful, but they are the sum of what helps make us acceptable to others. This is basic socialization and there's nothing wrong with acknowledging that we live in community with other humans and should probably strive to work and play well with others. The trouble comes from not having a safe place to unmask. Some of us are lucky enough to be partnered with someone who values who we are when we're not masking. Some of us aren't. Because masking accrues a cost, it can contribute to burn out. So retreats are a lovely option for people who need a safe place to take off all the masks and remember who they are in and of themselves - not who they are as defined by anyone else. This may not be a universal experience. It may be a spectrum thing. Take it if it resonates for you. 

So yes. I love writing retreats. I love wandering off into isolation, to exist in silence for a space of time, speaking only to order food, if I want. I love spending all that silence listening to what's going on inside, writing as fast as I can, uncovering whatever needs to be heard or seen or perceived.  I often pick up new stories on retreats. I hope they can be as fertile for you. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

TWISTED MAGIC and Writing Retreats

 First things first, if you preordered TWISTED MAGIC, you'll have gotten a notice that I've delayed the release. I know, I know - yet again. (Well, first time for this book, but I really thought I'd given myself enough time.) The new release date is November 28. That should give me plenty of breathing room. (Famous last words!) Seriously, I am at midpoint and on the downhill run. I just knew I couldn't have it completely done by October 26 (two weeks away!), which was the upload drop-dead date. 

Apologies. I know you all are waiting. But it's going to be awesome!

More on topic: this week's subject is writing retreats. We're asking each other if they work for us and, if so, in what way?

I'm pretty sure I suggested this topic because this continues to be a conundrum for me. I love the IDEA of writing retreats. When I see writer friends posting about being on retreats, I am invariably envious. I want to go! I want to be there, with the friends, in the pretty places, thinking and talking about writing all day. 

In truth, I have gone on very few writing retreats. The only one I can think of in recent years is when I went to Kauai almost a year ago and stayed in the gorgeous beachfront home of a friend along with three other writing companions. It was a fabulous group and we did have wonderful conversations. 

I got very little written. 

What I think it comes down to for me is that I'm fortunate enough to have a serene home life which is entirely built around enabling me to write as productively as possible. For many people, it seems that going on retreat gives them time and quiet away from the demands of home. For me? Being around people at a retreat is considerably "noisier" than my daily life. 

So, I've come to face that, for me, writing "retreats" are truly excursions. They aren't time away; they're time into. 

That's not necessarily a bad thing. As KAK noted on Monday, there can be other reasons to go. But I have to realize I'm not going to be maximizing wordcount.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Working It: Small Retreats & Big Conferences

 This Week's Topic: Writing Retreats -- Do They Work for Me?

I should start by clarifying that a writers' retreat--to me--is a small gathering, versus a conference, which has more attendees and a set program. Writing retreats are wonderful for the sake of camaraderie, catching up on industry scuttlebutt, analyzing emerging technologies, and refilling the creative well. The social aspects and the change of scenery are undoubtedly refreshing. The casual, low-stress, mutually-supportive atmosphere can be lovely, even for a hermit an introvert like me, whether I'm meeting new people or renewing acquaintances. Because it's an intimate gathering, there's less pressure to be "on," and the interactions seem more genuine. The retreats I prefer have one or two events/sessions planned per day while the rest of the time (outside of meals) is up to the attendees. We have the flexibility to work through plots or big-sky concepts in pairs or groups, or to be alone and write. 

Writing conferences require more energy from me, more public-persona performance, and more all-around investment. The educational opportunities are greater at a con than at a retreat--from collegiate-style coursework to peer-led workshops to official industry presentations. Conferences are also good for buckshot networking (the kind where you exchange business cards with a lot of people and then build select relationships later). Conferences do offer the chance to meet more peers in your niche, yet breaking through the cliques can be a challenge.

Now, I will admit there were (are?) a few thematic "academies" with a fixed program that seemed fun and useful, where I could learn a specific thing for say, a week or long weekend. The number of participants was kept small so they're akin to a retreat, but there's focused coursework. The Police Academy for Writers was one such thing (I don't know if it's still around ). Writing with Historical Accuracy for the XXXX Period, where you were hands-on with the clothes of the period, you ate the meals of the time, you learned the proper address for the social structure, you experienced the commoner side and the aristocratic side, etc. Getting Medieval: Armor to Sword Fights, where you got schooled in what's real and what's make-believe. I think a lot of the niche programs folded with the advent of COVID (alas), but for a time, there were some really neat ones out there that I kick myself for not attending.

Of Note: Be they retreats or conferences, I don't attend them with the intention of hitting wordcount goals, much less exceeding them. I can do that on my own time. I go because there's something specific I want from the event, and I'm clear with myself about what that is before I plop down money. 

As long as you're clear on what you want from the retreat or the conference, give it a go.  

But, maybe mask up to avoid Con Crud. 😷

Friday, October 6, 2023

In the Company of Like Minded Others

 I am a contradiction. I complain about never having time alone in which to write, yet I do write in company. Most of the time, I rather like having a set meeting time and space. It does wonders to lend legitimacy to my endeavors in my family's eyes. If I want to write for an hour but there's no one else involved, my family are more inclined to interrupt. The instant I say I'm meeting so and so online to write for an hour, they back away, loathe to interrupt what their brains interpret as a 'meeting'. The cats are inconsiderate writing companions. They won't judge my facial expressions but they will judge me for paying attention to a keyboard and not them. Usually by walking on or crashing on said keyboard. Or paralyzing a typing hand because your hand makes the best pillow.

I currently have three groups running at any one time. One meets painfully early in the morning on Google chat. There's a brief good morning said, maybe a check in on how everyone is doing, and then we get to words for an hour. The other two are on Discord. One group is enormous and is for reporting purposes only. There's very little chatter. It's self-driven. Other people are out there writing at the same time you are, but you may never know who or interact with any of them. Though there are live write ins offered on YouTube for the next few weeks. They generally run in 30 minute sprints with a break. The mod is on camera guiding (and writing). That group emphasizes spending time in your story and focuses less on word counts. Sprints are available and certainly you can arrange to hang out with someone and write and chat. Competition is not my strong suit, however, and sprints offer mixed results at best. The other space is very personable and friendly and encouraging. We all make an effort to lift one another and celebrate any success.

The secret of my success in these spaces is that no one can see me. At no time am I on a camera for these meet ups. If there were a need to for me to be writing with my web cam on, I'd be locked out of focus. Yeah, I don't know why. I just know it's the case. I'm told to know myself and in this case being perceived while writing is bad. It's the core of my protests about needing to be alone to really dig deep and write. I prefer to pack up and leave the house to write because resting bitch face is my default. It goes really, really grim, though as I'm working on story conflict. I'm out here murdering people in fiction in some terrible and gruesome ways. I'm not going to be smiling while I do it. I have to be there in that scene as I write it. If you're around while I write it, you're going to see stuff in my face you do not want to see. I'm done and super impatient with my family freaking out and asking if I'm okay while I'm in the middle of a horrific scene or really tense conflict. Worse by far if I happen to be in the middle of a sex scene. Long way of saying that I am not in the least interested in being perceived by someone on the other end of a web connection while I write. I don't want that deep into their writing process and I do not want them all up in mine.

For me, there's inherent discipline in knowing that someone is waiting for me to check in and get started. On the days I'd just skip writing because I wasn't feeling it, having someone waiting for me drags me to the page regardless of my feelz. And that's a habit I want to encourage. Turn to the story no matter how I feel. That feels like a solid foundation.

Thursday, October 5, 2023

Writing Buddies For the Win!

black and white husky resting his head on a closed rose colored MacBook on a floral skirted lap

Wow, is this week’s topic timely: writing partners and accountability buddies. We’re not talking about collaborators, authors you write with on the same projects, but the writing buddy! 

I’d been struggling to get back into writing mode. You know, the zone where you go every day because you’ve trained your brain to know when writing time happens. 

I’ve had it before. Loved it. Used it. But I lost it. 

What made me use it was a mental block. Oh how I wish it’d been more along the lines of block party. But I had a mental block that I needed to deal with. So, I did. 

Healthy Mind = Healthy Body

I focused on my health along with working on my mind. Meditation and yoga are things that work incredibly well with me. And when I fall off, travel usually bungles up my routine, I definitely notice both in my mental acuity and physical aches and pains. 

Once I was feeling good and confident in my writing again…I’d lost my writing mode. Until a month ago when a writer friend reached out and asked if I would be interested in doing writing sprints together. I’ve heard of other people doing this, Jeffe mentioned it yesterday, but I’d never written with anyone before and wasn’t sure how it would work.

Writing Sprints: we meet on Facebook video, mute ourselves, and write for 15 minute increments. We check in, stretch if needed, and go right back to writing. We’ll do this for a few hours, or until Ullr the husky pup decides it’s walk-time and then we take a lunch break. We do 15 minutes because it’s a short enough time that our brain’s can easily maintain focus. We have done half hour sprints, which also work well. 

This works well for both of us because we had a tendency to edit as we wrote our first drafts. Let me tell you, this does not work! I’d been creeping along in my manuscript. A hundred words here. A couple hundred there. With way too many days in-between. I keep a word-count spreadsheet and the day I started doing writing sprints with my friend my daily count skyrocketed. Now I’m able to average 1500 words in 4 hours. 

Now, writing is like lifting weights. You can’t compare yourself to others. You do the best that you can do and work on improving your skills and abilities. You may look at my average word count and laugh or it may make your jaw drop. Either way, I share it because I used to average 100 words in 2 hours. Writing sprints for the win!

Having a writing buddy has clearly made all the difference for me. And for me, the goal of the writing sprint is to write. No looking back, no editing. Just getting the words down, first draft style. Because you know what they say—you can’t edit a blank page. And I think it’s partly accountability, and partly having someone there that understands what I’m going through and working towards. 

Hopefully you have someone in your life that supports your writing goals. But it’s highly likely that they aren’t a writer and therefore don’t understand it. Only another writer knows how mentally draining it is to write for hours. Only another writer can share the misery of rejections and/or bad reviews. Only another writer knows how sweet it is to receive a yes or a yellow banner or a 5 star review. Writing is a lonely occupation, but we don’t have to be alone to do it. 

Side note to writing-sprints first drafts - If I hit a spot that needs research, or a name I don’t have yet, or anything that I’ll need to come back to I enter [] and keep typing. You can use whatever code word or character you want, it’s a placeholder you can search for and fill in the blanks later. 

So, have you ever been part of a writing group? Do you have a writing buddy? If you haven’t ever given it a try, I urge you to. It might just be the key to unlocking huge word potential.

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

You're Not Alone: Writing with Others

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is: writing partners and accountabilibuddies. Those people we don't write with, as in we're not collaborating, but the people we write alongside. Simultaneously or not. In tandem. In company.

See, the thing is, writing is by nature a solitary activity. Unless you're collaborating with someone, writing comes down to the writer and the words. For many writers, however - it's certainly true for me - that silence and uninterrupted time to concentrate on story flow is key to getting the stories written. It can be isolating, even lonely.

But, it doesn't have to be! There are lots of ways to foster a sense of camaraderie without violating the fortress of solitude we need to be focused. I often co-work with Darynda Jones, for example. We "meet" on Zoom, minimize the screen and mute for one-hour sprints. Then we break, chat, compare progress and angst, then go again. It's a great way to work together, while being separately in our writing studios, 200 miles apart.

I'm also super gratified to see writers gathering in the #laying-bricks channel of my mentoring and coaching Discord, Jeffe's Closet. People asked for a place to post that they're settling in to write, to enjoy the community and positive accountability of other people doing the same. The "laying bricks" aspect refers to one of my favorite analogies for writing novels: that it's a process of laying bricks, day after day, patiently progressing. I love popping in and seeing everyone getting their words on for the day. 

We're not alone.


Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Accountability Buddies and Feral Cats

 This Week's Topic: Writing Partners (not collaborators) and Accountability Buddies 

I'm having flashbacks to my Girl Scout days and the Buddy System. Good times. Lots of mischief. Usually got my buddy in trouble. That's probably when my deeply ingrained rebellion against having someone else be accountable for my actions (or lack thereof) formed. Whether it was quitting smoking, exercising, making word count, or any other personal motivation initiative, I haven't found the co-accountability approach to be helpful. It's a me thing. Totally. I get all itchy and hissy at the notion of someone behaving like my parent. I love my parents. I love my friends. I don't want to ruin relationships because of my angry feral-cat-like resistance to authority. 

That's not to say I can't do teamwork. That's an entirely different beast. However, asking a peer or loved one to co-own the responsibility for me hitting my goals? Nah. I don't respond well to that motivational method. 

Now, the money gods paying me to hit my milestones...that'd do it. 💰🤑💰


Huge Disclaimer: I understand why and how other people find the co-accountability method helpful. If you're someone for whom the agreement works, good on you. Glad you have something that pushes you in a way you find comfortable. Please don't allow my orneriness to make you feel a single tremor of disquiet. You do you. Seriously.