Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Book-Related Income: Having a Platform of Monetary Value

 This Week's Topic: How Do I Make Book-Related Income Not from Book Sales?

{sucks on upper lip}
I don't.

As Jeffe mentioned on Sunday, this week's topic is prompted by the 2023 Author's Guild Author Income Survey. The survey defines "other author-related income" as being earned from work that includes: "editing, blogging, teaching, speaking, book coaching, copy writing and journalism."

No one on the SFF Seven gets paid for blogging here nor does the blog generate revenue. Yes, that's the reason you're not inundated by ads and newsletter subscription pop-ups. We freely share our experiences with other authors who might be feeling a little lost or a lot of frustrated--and every emotion in between--because we value our community and can commiserate with the assorted challenges of publishing. Since there is no one way of being an author, our dear readers get up to seven different perspectives on how/why each of us has approached a particular aspect of the craft or business.

Why am I not pursuing the alternate-income avenue? Do I not like money? Pfft. I'm not yet at the stage of having the bona fides to establish a platform of monetary value. For the time being, my attention is focused on writing the books to build a backlist that produces the sales that would allow me to feel as though I have sufficient success and insights of value to prospective students from which I could craft a for-fee class/workshop. I look forward to the day I can do that. No, really. Although I'm an introvert, I love public speaking and have led many workshops in my non-writer lives since I was a yewt.  (Long-time readers of this blog may recall I wanted to be an actor when I grew up. To me, public speaking is acting while educating through engagement.)

One day. Yep. One day a KAKler workshop will be a thing. {evil laugh}

Sunday, January 28, 2024

Beyond Book Sales: Other Ways to Earn Income as an Author

 This week at the SFF Seven, we're asking about book-related income that is specifically not from book sales.

There was an asterisk to that, specifying that the question was in relation to the Authors Guild 2023 Income Survey, which I didn't read. (I have Opinions about that survey, which I won't go into.) But I assume the question comes from the survey dividing author income into book-related and not, and the person asking is wondering what the "not" might be. It's a good question because I'm a firm believer that long-term success in this fickle business relies on diversifying income streams. 

I actually have a line on my income spreadsheets that says "Other Writing Income," as opposed to the "Book Sales" line. What kind of income is that?

  1. My Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/JeffesCloset. This is how I offer mentoring and coaching to other writers. Plus, it's a great little community that's truly supportive and positive in a non-toxic way.
  2. Other kinds of coaching. I also offer various kinds of one-on-one mentoring and coaching.
  3. Workshops, presentations, and master classes. I love giving talks and I especially love it when they pay me!
  4. Articles and similar nonfiction writing. Love getting paid for those, too!
  5. YouTube. I have a podcast, First Cup of Coffee with Jeffe Kennedy, with enough subscribers that I earn income from the views. 

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Finding Your Voice: How Your Writing Can Change


When I sat down to write this post, I realized I had a lot to say. So hold on to your bootstraps! I am blessed to watch young writers develop their craft because I teach a senior creative writing seminar at my university. This experience has led me to think extensively about what young writers need to learn.

Some of the students have been writing for years: they've shared their work since high school, published poems and stories, and won awards. Others are brand new to sharing their writing with others and honing their craft. It's a lively environment, bubbling with talent and new ideas. And I am grateful to be a part of their journey. As we all evolve as writers, I have learned a few things about the process.

Hone Your Craft

If you haven't seen Pablo Picasso's early work, you need to do this right now: https://mymodernmet.com/picasso-early-work/. You can't skip working on your craft and understanding the fundamentals and technical aspects. 

In my seminar, there are common technical elements the newer writers are still learning: paragraphing, punctuation for quotations, deleting filter words, and moving from telling to showing, for example. Info-dumping, effective first chapters, and deeper pov are elements all of them are still developing. There are any number of craft books to help you work on these skills. Sharing your work with your peers is also a great way to learn from others.

After that essential piece of advice (which includes the important reminder to read, read, read), the biggest piece of wisdom I share with my students is to find your voice.

Easier said than done.

We are all influenced by the many books and stories we're read - and reading a lot is crucial to becoming a great writer. But it's more than imitating or synthesizing the stories we've imbibed. We have to embrace our individual perspective of the world. And we have to let go of the negative voices in our heads and listen to ourselves. 

Embrace your Unique Perspective

Embracing our quirky individuality is a courageous act. Social media and consumer capitalism work on us every day feeding us messages to conform to society's values: watch this tv show, buy this product, do this thing everyone else is doing on TikTok, you are never enough. How do we resist these forces if we can't hide in a hole by ourselves with on wifi?

Turn off your phone and tv. Think about your unique experiences and interests. Consider your learning style and how you interact with the world. Lean into that.

  • Are you a cinematic writer who sees landscapes and colours first?
  • Are you more of a director who can visualize dialogue and character movements?
  • Do you feel everything intensely and write emotion-driven scenes?
  • Do you value the pov of the underdog, or the villain, or the racialized characters?
  • Do you see some injustices in the world that you'd like to change?
  • What are the common themes in your writing?

One of my students was worried that her stories were too violent. But an underlying theme of her writing was telling stories about gender-based oppression from the survivor's point of view (and sometimes the survivors got justice or revenge). We know (cue the MeToo hashtag) that these stories are too often covered up or ignored. By bringing the subject to light, this writer showed us violence for a reason: to affirm the fictional experiences of her heroines. Social media or naysayers might say it's too violent. But tell that to the many, many survivors of gender-based violence and oppression who've been told they're wrong or they need to keep silent. 

This writer's courage to delve into difficult topics helps to challenge social norms and strives to make the world a better place. We need that.

Let Go and Listen

Your inner voice--your connection to the universe--is somewhere inside you. Maybe it's hiding or getting drowned out by all those social media and consumer capitalist messages, things your teachers and family told you, peer criticisms and bullies' words and actions, and all the other stuff that can hold us back and tell us our voice--our craft, our gift, our unique pov, the stuff that makes you an original--isn't good enough. My writer friend calls these the brain gremlins and they can be fierce! They are noisy. They can overpower the little voice inside you and make you doubt it's even there.

So how do we find it and listen to it? We need sensitive artist types to tell their stories and share their values. Empathy and humanity are key beliefs we share and transmit in our work. But we can often feel like they are being targeted and we're living in Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower (oof, I just looked it up and the novel is set in 2024! Please, for the love of the goddess, will someone make it into a tv show! It's the Handmaid's Tale of the moment!)

There are not shortcuts to finding your voice. For me, it's a combination of lots of writing practice, a heap of therapy, and a good helping of my writers' group's support and encouragement. It boils down, in my mind, to believing in yourself and tuning into the experiences, values, and unique perspective you have, then channeling that into your writing. 

The medieval Christian mystics had a practice of self-annihilation, where they tried to rid themselves of all the external noise and devote themselves solely to the will of God. I see writing as a secular or agnostic form of this practice: you need to have faith in yourself and in the creative process, and to do this, you need to let go of all the noise and doubts and gremlins that try and separate you from this faith. Write from your heart, from your soul, and you will never go wrong.

Some of you might be wondering where the writing to market argument fits into this philosophy. I think you still can write to market while being true to yourself. But that is another story from the riverbank...

Friday, January 26, 2024


None of us lives in stasis. We change moment to moment, day to day. Writing does, too. Sometimes for the better. Sometimes not. When my first novel was published, I imagined I'd found the magic and that I'd just freeze in place and keep doing what had worked that first time. As if it were possible. Which, of course, it wasn't. Even if I hadn't changed from one book to the next, the story I was telling did change and demanded something different of me. I struggled with that. Still do some days. 

The first book was action-packed. It had a lot of white space. Description and narrative were spare. Subsequent books have swung too far the other direction for my taste. So I'm working on that. While at the same time working on showing and inviting the reader into the emotional hits and . . . 

Yes, my writing has changed. I'd like to think that what I write and how I write it is an ongoing journey of transformation. I don't know if or when my writing will emerge from its cocoon or what the wing pattern will look like. But in the meantime, I'm going to keep working on change and on painting those wings.

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Writing is Like Riding a Bike

purple, orange, and pink roses and flowers in plastic tubs

The first time you rode a bike you would’ve been a bit wobbly, unsure, and tentative. Or maybe you cruised for a brief second and then crashed. But if you stuck with it and after hours and hours of riding, you could go with the wind in your face and your hands out at your sides. 

Writing is like riding a bike. 

Do one thing over and over, and you’re going to become more efficient at it. You’ll innately find ways that make it easier for you. In short, the more you write, the better you’ll get. 

It may not feel like your writing is changing in the beginning, but give it a few years, look back, and be amazed at how far you’ve come. Sorry this is short this week, but my time is consumed with prepping for a non-profit gala I volunteer with. Like writing, I discovered after a few years of putting together flower center pieces, I’m faster at flower arranging! 

Happy Writing!

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

The Evolving Writer: A Foundation in Romance

 This Week's Topic: Has My Writing Changed? How?

I'd like to think my writing has improved, though I suppose that's a bit subjective. I do know that after two decades of crafting stories, I'm more aware of my weaknesses, my stylistic habits (which are not to be confused with my voice), and my creative goals. That's a long-winded way of saying I know me better. Useful, no? 

Has my writing changed in ways perceptible to others? Well, I started off writing romances. PNR-Shifter and High Fantasy (what is now known as Romantasy) to be specific. Romance is where I learned to place importance on developing characters and relationships against a fantastical backdrop. Telling a story in dual POVs that express unique perspectives of shared situations pushed me to think through goals and consequences and how they must vary by character. This unquestionably helped me improve as an author.

I moved away from Romance because I wanted to tell broader stories around a central character where the development of a core intimate relationship wasn't the main plot. That's not a diss on romance; I still love the genre and am a big fan of the authors who write it well. I've blogged before about how my storytelling didn't deliver on romance reader expectations and how important it is for an author to meet those expectations. With my foundations firmed thanks to Romancelandia, I'm much more confident when writing Fantasy. 

So, yes, my writing has changed since I started my journey. I thought I was a Romance writer, but I discovered that I'm really more of a High and Contemporary Fantasy sort of storyteller. 

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Leveling Up Your Craft as a Writer

This week at the SFF Seven, we're asking each other if our writing changed - and, if so, how?

It might seem disingenuous to say this, but yes my writing has changed: I've gotten better. 

I mean, one would hope so! 

And I realize that "better" is a nebulous descriptor, so I'll attempt to define it. One thing about writing skill that it seems I end up telling newbies over and over is that I absolutely have gotten faster at every stage of the process. It's like when you learn to drive a car. (And I learned on a stick shift, so there was an extra layer of learning curve there.) At first you consciously think about a hundred different aspects of the task: the brake, the accelerator, (maybe the balance between the clutch, the brake, and the accelerator, which was a real treat), steering, watching the front, the side, the rear view, reading street signs and traffic signals, and thinking several cars ahead, and remembering where you're going... It's a LOT to think about and overwhelming at first. But later, after you've been driving for years, you don't think about all of that anymore, right? Mostly I think about where I'm going and how to best get there - and sometimes I zone out and forget even that, defaulting to familiar routes - but otherwise the rest is subconscious.

Writing is the same way! (I include revising in this.) After time and practice, you don't have to think about the zillion details of craft, liberating your mind to focus on storytelling. 

I think this is something that more experienced writers forget - how much we've internalized the mechanics of the process, allowing us to allocate more resources to our creative selves. This freedom allows us to try new things, write more difficult and complex stories, to test our writing chops. Maybe it's like, to extend the analogy, learning to drive a race car or fly a plane. Going for the fancier skills is predated by learning the basics.

The thing is, I think a lot of us who grow up reading the works that inspire us (which should be all of us, really) have this idea that we can leap directly to doing THAT. Everybody loves the concept of the wunderkind, the prodigy, the creative who makes a list like "30 under 30," as if that's meaningful in any way. Spoiler: it's not meaningful; it's just unusual, which is why we're fascinated.

So, do what I advise the writers in my mentoring Discord: take your time, learn the basics. It *will* get easier. And THEN you can deliberately choose to make it harder!


Friday, January 19, 2024

Bringing the Fun - Hobbies

Everyone on earth should have something they do just because they like doing it. Y'know. Within the bounds of legality and not harming others. I suspect most writers started out writing simply because they liked doing it. We write for ourselves first, then one day, it crosses our minds to write for an audience and on that day, something fundamentally shifts. No matter how much we talk about writing books or stories of our hearts, once we've committed to the thought of showing our work to someone else, we're no longer strictly writing to please ourselves. Even if we want to. Every whisper or overheard conversation about The Market is looking over our shoulders. It isn't to say that writing can't still be fun - it can. Fun, edifying, and engaging. But. There's also a weight that's been added to it, a pressure to perform, to be good enough. That weight, pressure, and subtle (or not) fear take a little extra helping of cognitive and emotional energy to sustain.

That's why is so vital to have other outlets that don't carry that charge of weight or pressure or fear. We still need to pursue some creative thing that isn't for anyone else. We need the freedom to be bad at something - not because it's fun to be bad at something but because there's space and joy and light around doing something that no one else cares about, where we aren't being badgered to turn fun into a side hustle of some kind. There's grace in getting to just enjoy something without succumbing to the drive of constant improvement. Hey. This is for fun. If I learn something and enjoy what I'm doing? Great. If I just have fun with what I'm doing and never learn another thing? That's great, too. Though, to be fair, it's legit to *try* turning a hobby into a side hustle and then noping out. Been there. Did that with cooking. Catered two big events, got rave reviews, took a look around and went 'oh, hell no' and went straight back to being a cooking hobbyist because yeesh. 

These days, I make random things from cardboard. Cat forts. A spirit house in very early stages. There's a massive stack of huge cardboard boxes on the back lanai waiting for me to build a kitty castle. When my box knife comes out of hiding, that project will get underway. At this point, I may have to go buy a box knife cause it's been a minute since I've seen the last one. 

I still cook. I like finding new recipes and trying dishes I haven't had before. It's taken a turn since I went whole food plant based vegan a few years ago. I had to learn a whole new set of cooking skills that upended a bunch of the conventional wisdom I'd been taught about cooking. It's a good time getting to try a new technique and new flavors. Sometimes I win. Sometimes I have to throw stuff away - not often, mind, but it does happen when I totally misjudge a recipe.

There's also gardening. I do enjoy getting out into the yard to work in the soil and create an oasis for my pollinators. It's a hobby both Mom and I enjoy, so it's a communal activity and the bonus is getting to work in cooperation with someone I value. And hey. Flowers. What's not to like?

Thursday, January 18, 2024

A Hobby That Counts As Writing Therapy

a green garden on both sides of the path that Alexia, in a long floral print sundress, is standing on. Behind her is a greenhouse with four long windows.

Writing can be all consuming. It can dominate your every thought, keep you up at night, and make you worry about the smallest details. Which means we all need an outlet, a hobby, a secret skills, something to take the pressure off of writing. 

I’d say my hobby is gardening. You’re all familiar with the rabbit holes that is research. Well, the same goes for me when I start researching plants and planting techniques. Hours disappear! Hours that my mind isn’t stuck on my current WIP. So that’s a win.

Getting my hands in the dirt is also relaxing. It sounds strange because a lot of gardening time is weed pulling. But research says getting dirty means we expose ourselves to Mycobacterium vaccae, a natural soil bacteria, which increases our happy juice! Happy juice is serotonin. If your serotonin is low, in comes depression. Another win for gardening! 

I’ve already given you a win-win reason to garden. But I’ve got one more. The absolute best part of gardening is seeing your plant grow and produce because it will fill you with a strong sense of accomplishment that’s wrapped in sunshine. A patch of feathery, canary zinnias is impossible not to smile at. Vegetable vines and bushes bursting with produce beg you to pick and sample, right where you stand. And you know you can’t stop yourself from giving those red tomatoes a little squeeze. 

Gardening is mentally rewarding. Seeing flowers bloom, ones that you grew from seed or planted as fragile seedlings, does something inside of you. Harvesting vegetables that went from itty bitty seed, or seedling, to near unruly plants brings so much satisfaction. 

No matter how frustrating the writing is, or how many roadblocks you hit, or how many fails you have, gardening will lift you out of your wallow and remind you that you succeeded, that you’re capable of something nigh magical.

Seriously, have you ever seen a carrot seed or lettuce seed? Tiny is too big of a word. The fact that you can stick a carrot seed into the ground and end up with a bushy plant with thick, colorful roots is undeniably magical. 

So, are you going to give gardening a try? If you haven’t yet, I highly suggest it as writing therapy. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Hobbies: I'm Going to Un-Mess That S#%& Up!

 This Week's Topic: Secret Skills - Hobbies That Take the Pressure Off Writing

I really love Jeffe's description on Sunday of a creative's hobby being a non-monetized artistic/creative outlet. The importance of giving ourselves permission to not monetize our every effort feels like we're breaking a rule of The Hustle or as if we'll lose our self-employment "privilege." Yet, as Jeffe mentioned, it's imperative for authors to have means to clear our minds, to allow ourselves to rest in a state other than sleep. 

Three Cheers for Hobbies!

Me? I enjoy decluttering/organizing other people's stuff -- defeating chaos soothes me. Weird right? Yeah, you'd think that's a stress-inducing hobby rather than a stress reliever, but hey, we long ago established I'm playing with chipped marbles. 

I also like painting. Walls. Rooms. Signs. The practice of transformation with a tangible end result (that takes less time to produce than a novel) is soooooo satisfying. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a muralist. I'm not that talented. I've made attempts. I've also made spectacular failures. But that's the beauty of a hobby, it's judgement-free learning (at least, for me. My dog has opinions, sure, but they're mostly about the weather and whether she wants to come inside).

When I engage in my hobbies, I check all the way out of writing and go deep into the work-avoidance other project. I am fully committed to (un)messing that shit up! 

Sunday, January 14, 2024

The Secret of Hobbies in Keeping Us Sane

 This week at the SFF Seven we're talking about those hobbies that take the pressure off writing.

This is relevant for more than curiosity because hobbies are key for creatives to fend off burnout. It's interesting, because it seems like when we talk about "hobbies," we're already assigning whatever project it is a lesser status. A hobby is something you do on the side, for pleasure and no other reason. I'm going to add that a hobby usually doesn't generate income (until it does). You might not even be that good at it, because if you were good at it, people would pay you, right?

We talk about hobbies in a slightly indulgent, somewhat disparaging way:

"Oh, my spouse's hobby is woodworking, but mostly they just putter in the garage."


"My spouse reads countless books. It's a cute hobby, but an expensive one!"

See what I mean?

The thing about hobbies, though, is that they are critical to our wellbeing. They keep us sane. For creatives, hobbies refill the well, which is what we need to avoid burnout.

What happens for a lot of us making a living from our creative work - I'll stick with writing as my example - is that what started as a hobby becomes a job. The thing we did for fun, for pressure release, simply out of love, becomes the thing we must do to pay the mortgage and keep the lights on. We lost our hobby and frequently don't replace it. Because we're doing what we love for work! That should be enough, right?

Spoiler: it's not enough.

One of the most important things any creative can do is have a non-monetized creative outlet or two. AKA, hobbies. The non-monetized aspect is important, because it allows us to be creative without that feeling of needing to pay the bills or track sales or make business decisions. I met a US Poet Laureate who also painted - and very well - but had a solid rule never to sell his work. He only gave his paintings as gifts. I've remembered that lesson ever since.

What do I do? I confess that, in the eight years since I became a full-time, career author - as in supporting my family with my writing - I have not been super great at keeping up hobbies. I've burned out once, too, and come close to it a couple of other times. I'm trying to do better. What do I do?

  1. Gardening
  2. Reading
  3. Interior Decorating
  4. Hiking
  5. Yoga

It was instructive to make this list coming at it from the lens of a "hobby" rather than "non-monetized creativity." I've been trying to implement creative things I can do, but I'm just now realizing that these other activities - even something as prosaic painting my living room (I decided to include an in-process photo), as I'm doing this weekend - also count as leisure-time, restorative activities. Theoretically, everything on my list could be monetized.

(Maybe not. Can you be paid to hike? And I will never, ever be that good at yoga! Trust me: a yoga teacher I will never be.)

Anyway, celebrate those hobbies! They aren't silly or pointless. They're what feeds us as human beings.


Saturday, January 13, 2024

Skillsets That Take the Pressure Off Writing

As writers, one of the most important things we do is tell stories. But sometimes the pressure that comes from trying to craft a compelling story can just grind our progress to a halt or build up too much tension in our own minds and prevent us from getting those words on the page. 

When that happens, it can help to fall back on other skillsets to help reduce that tension and figure out a way forward. These are a few of my favorites to turn to when the pressure of a story starts to get to me. 

As a bonus that really isn’t a true skill so much as it is an activity, I’ll add that walking is just one of my favorites. It’s gentle and contemplative, and it allows me to process things from my stories to life. So if you just need something to organize your thoughts, walking is a good option. 

But for something a little more, here are my favorite choices for taking the pressure off writing, having some fun, and sometimes getting a new perspective. 


It’s rather handy because we do all have to eat. For almost as far back as I can remember, I’ve loved cooking meals and snacks inspired by what I was reading. Soon I realized I could transport that excitement and gain inspiration by preparing meals that were inspired by what I was writing. Bound By Blood (which probably should have been titled Bound By Soup) is the first book where I actually really delved into building out segments around recipes and in which I cooked almost everything I wrote about. But it helped so much in completing the draft and getting the right mindset down that now I incorporate it far sooner. 

Thinking about what my characters would eat and their general culture provides so much inspiration, and really it’s just fun to create recipes based on scenes or that I could imagine being prepared at certain points. Not all of them though. And never spider. Never again at least. There are some limits to how far I’ll go for creative inspiration in storytelling. So if I am writing about a character or world that is far afield of my actual tastes (or frankly budget), I just come up with fun alternatives or focus on what makes me feel inspired to keep going (which sometimes is basically just cheese). 


I chuckle a bit because of how truly dreadful I am at drawing. While I am a decent cook so long as you don’t expect artistic presentation, my drawing skills run in the opposite direction. Once when I was trying to explain to an artist what I wanted for a cover illustration, I roughed out a sample image, and the artist messaged back “lol, I can see why you’re hiring an artist.” I definitely agree.

But that doesn’t mean that drawing doesn’t help take some of the edge off of writing as well. While I don’t do it every day, I regularly sit down and work on sketches. Being dreadful at it and accepting that also removes even more pressure. All I am trying to accomplish as I draw is expression, and a good drawing session with terrible lines and roughened forms. After one of those, I often find the words come along far smoother


While perhaps a little less obvious, dance is another of my favorite skillsets for taking the pressure off. And, like drawing, it isn’t actually because I’m good at it. The best term for what I do is probably balter. Graceless but enthusiastic. 

There’s something about switching on music and moving in time to it (or even in rough approximations) that shakes up the mind in all sorts of good ways. Even better if it’s to music that reminds you of the story you’re working on or the characters or the world.

For each story I create, I have at least one playlist. Sometimes one for each of the characters if I need to get into their heads. 

Putting that on and dancing around the room to it can help me enter that space while also getting the blood flowing. And on low inspiration days when I have the energy, songs like “Bad Romance” are just excellent for enjoying movement period whether they actually fit my story or not. Even on bad pain days when I can’t really move my legs as much, chair dancing and interpretative swaying are fun options.

As a bonus, sharing those playlists with readers is also quite fun. In fact, all three of these include creating something that you can share with your readers if you want to let them in on that part of your life. (If you’re feeling really bold, I suppose you could record your dances and share those too, but that would probably increase the tension for me).

Amid the hosts of skillsets out there, cooking, drawing, and dancing are the three I love most for getting the pressure off storytelling. 

What about you? What skillsets help you reduce the pressure from writing and get you into a better place for your storytelling? 

Jessica M. Butler is a USA Today bestselling romantic fantasy author who never outgrew her love for telling stories and playing in imaginary worlds. She lives with her husband and law partner, James Fry, in rural Indiana where they are quite happy with their two cats and all of the wildlife and trees.

Friday, January 12, 2024

Building Skills


This creative development question is my topic. It came to me because years ago, a friend who is now a very successful author decided to write her second book. She sat up in our local writer's meeting and said, "I want to make readers cry. I'm going to try to write a book that makes 'em cry." It stuck with me. She's continued with having a goal for each book - something that stretches her skills and at the time, I was envious of and intimidated by the conscious decision to attempt something like that. What if you failed? I've since gotten over that fear of failure silliness. New skills are new skills whether you execute them perfectly the first time or not. In the spirit of 'what doesn't kill me makes me stronger' nothing new that's attempted is ever wasted.

At the moment, however, I have only one goal. Recover from burn out and finish the book I'm working on so I can write the book that was due a few years ago. My goals for books are currently in a really simplistic place. I want to tell a competent, compelling story. I'll worry about technique after. I need the story to feel right before I can fuss with heightening whatever skill I stumbled on accidentally -  which is what usually happens. As an example, the book I'm currently working on requires that I learn how to handle a little bit of horror technique. I have no clue whether I'm doing it correctly. That will be for readers to decide. I'm *trying*. But it wasn't a conscious decision. It was simply what this story needed. It's the story that intrigued me enough to write and as I wrote it, the story revealed to me that it needed a reasonably high creep factor. This was a skill I did not (and to this day, may or may not) possess. But yes. I sought out a class. A couple, in fact. 

My next book requires me to tackle a theme that isn't entirely my forte. We've been eyeing one another, that theme and I. There's been research and some free writing around the associations and emotional loads. Now lets see if it will mature into a plot that won't bore readers to death. If I don't stick the landing, so what? I'll still have learned something that I'll carry forward into the next story. And the next.

As a part of the recovery process, I'm doing my best to keep writing as nourishing as possible. Some days that means fun. Some days that means challenging. Some days it means trying things I've never done before - with the awareness that such experimentation might not end up being ready for anyone else's eyes. That's okay. I look at it as building strength. It's also a useful way to break up writerly monotony. Experiment builds upon experiment, and eventually, there a new skill is likely to emerge.

Planning for specific skills for each book? No. Not yet. I'm not there yet. I aspire to be. Working on it. For right now, the stories lead the way. What they want, I attempt to deliver. Succeed or fail, I at least give it my best shot and trust I'm learning from the process. I expect that at some point, I'll learn enough that I'll be able to declare an objective like "I want to make them cry!" and be able to rise to the challenge. But for today, finishing is good enough.

Thursday, January 11, 2024

Old Skills and New Skills

Ullr the black and white Siberian husky lying down in a smooth blanket of snow with the sun angle behind him casting his shadow before him

We’ve reached the middle of January and the new year has yet to shed all of it’s glitter and shine. It’s a great time to pursue goals and think about trying new things…like new writing skills? This week we’re asking if we try new skills each year or with each book.

To date, I’ve written four complete novels and roughly a dozen intros with synopses. Over the years I’ve found my writing groove: best time of day, chapter structure, outlining, and word count expectations. All of this was determined by use of a spreadsheet. I don’t sit down to work on any novel without first pulling up its spreadsheet. 

Yes, I’m a Virgo. I’ve got spreadsheet skills.

I’m not going to say I won’t learn new tricks or processes, because I fully expect to. I want to grow as an author, I don’t know how you can write multiple novels without growth, though I expect it to be a gradual thing. For now, I do feel comfortable with my writing skills and how I go about turning thought into book. At this time I’m not looking for new skills, I’m looking to strengthen the ones I’ve got. 

My spreadsheets—they’ll continue to be tweaked as I determine which parameters need to be tracked more closely. My plotting graph—that’ll stay the same handy form that it is. And Scrivener—it’s capable of gobs of options I don’t use, but the ones I do are irreplaceable. 

That’s the rundown on my writing skills. How about yours, do you try out anything new when you start a new manuscript?

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Creative Development: By Book or By...

This week's topic: Do I look for new skills to try each year or with each book?

Intentionally? By series. I definitely like to attempt something new-to-me with each series for three reasons: 

  1. I'm always trying to improve as a writer
    • There's a difference between the natural growth that's a result of practice versus the deliberate pursuit of a challenge, of reaching for a higher rung. 
      • Book-to-book within a series my storytelling inevitably improves as I become more comfortable with the characters, the world, and the conflicts.
      • Series-to-series I push myself to take on a creative challenge. Sometimes I succeed (and those series make it to print). Sometimes I fail (and those messy attempts never leave my cloud storage).
    • I keep an eye on the higher rungs that are my creative goals. Similar to what Jeffe mentioned on Sunday, there are series I want to write but lack the chops to do my concept justice. Those partially drafted Book Ones languish in notebooks or on my cloud, waiting for the day I have the skills to properly convey my vision.
  2. It prevents me from writing "the same book with different names." 
    • I don't feel I've reached my fullest potential as an author yet. I certainly don't want to lose my creative drive by repeating a storytelling formula that's comfortable or easy. I like the excitement of challenging myself and improving.
      • Note: There's nothing wrong with developing a storytelling formula that works best for you (and your readers) and applying it over and over and over. There are plenty of famous authors who use a tried-and-true method to great financial success. Many readers find comfort in knowing exactly what they'll get from that author.
  3. No Bait & Switch
    • Once I introduce a series, I don't want to change the voice, style, or structure whilst in the throes of the greater story arc. I feel that's an injustice to the reader, a violation of the storytelling promise I made in the opening book.
    • By contrast, I don't want to be locked into a specific storytelling style for the rest of my career. I feel that changing my style from series to series is a clear enough indicator to the reader of Achtung! Different Book Ahead!
Sometimes we grow as authors through intentional acts, and sometimes we grow through myopic focus (hello, contractual deadlines) where we don't realize the breadth of what we've accomplished until it's behind us. In whatever manner your progress happens, I encourage you to take a moment to reflect on how far you've come--even if it's not as far as you'd hoped--and be proud of yourself. You did it. Congratulations! 

Sunday, January 7, 2024

Leveling Up - Whether We Want To or Not

This week at the SFF Seven we're asking each other: do you look for new skills to try each year? Or with each book?

My first reaction is that this isn't an annual process for me, but an ongoing one. Because it's absolutely something that happens with every book. And not because I plan it that way! Quite the reverse. With 65 published titles, I often go into new books thinking something along the lines of "This one will be a fast and easy write because x, y, z."

I am, inevitably, always always wrong.

That's not to say that some books don't write easier than others, but they all pose unique problems. It seems to be the nature of the beast, that the creative process goes to a new and more challenging place every time. 

I have two caveats to this:

  1. I do kind of look at this on a yearly basis because of my agent, Sarah Younger at Nancy Yost Literary Agency, who sets up annual chats with all of her clients at the beginning of each year. (She jokes that she has to dig some clients out of their caves once a year for this. You know who you are.) I really love this about Sarah because it's part of what she brings to the table: long-term career strategy. She says she keeps a goal book for each of her clients and we revisit those goals and set new ones each year. For me, a big part of this conversation is always how can I grow and expand? What do I need to do to level up?
  2. The second caveat is that I save some ideas for when I have the chops to execute them. Writers often talk about (and are asked) where they get their ideas and how we choose what to write next. (See above for that.) For many of us, ideas arrive all the time, but that doesn't mean we're ready to write them. The second novel I ever wrote was like that - only I didn't know that I didn't have the chops to execute the concept. So, over the years, I've gradually been adding skills as the stories demand them. In Shadow Wizard, book one of the Renegades of Magic trilogy, I added extra points-of-view (POVs). That was the first time I wrote in more than two POVs. In book three of that trilogy, Twisted Magic, I had five POVs. Who knows where it will end??

Except that someday (maybe?), I'd like to go back and rewrite that second novel. I bet I could pull it off this time.


Inspiration and Community


Although I'm an introvert, I gain a lot of inspiration from the people around me--writer friends and groups, my family, and, of course, my book friends (they count, don't they?). After a day of work, parenting and household chores, and writing, it's great to take a little time for myself and connect with someone(s) who will make me laugh or make me think or make me cry. All good things to fill up the creative well. 

Thanks to the FaRoFeb group

Let me begin today with a big thank you to all the FaRoFeb contributors for 2023. They gave us insights into being a writer and writing fantasy romance, thoughts on current topics, and tips and hacks we can use every day. I've learned a lot and gotten to know my fellow authors better. I'm so proud of our group and thrilled to see what FaRoFeb has in store for 2024!

Family matters

My extended family is big--I have 11 aunts and uncles (not including their spouses) and over 40 cousins, all of whom are amazing individuals and are creative in all kinds of ways! Many of my characters begin with one or more traits from a family member, as they are wonderful inspiration. As we have grown older, we see each other less often, but Facebook and family weddings (and funerals, sadly) give us opportunities to catch up. I have so many fabulous memories to remind me I'm loved and I belong. My family gives me the courage to express myself creatively and believe in myself.

Reading Women

Like all good writers, I am a confirmed bookworm. Like many of us, my childhood was filled with fairy tales, science fiction and fantasy, and world myths--a perfect training for writing fantasy romance. In addition, I have advanced degrees in English literature and teach at the postsecondary level. One of the great joys of my job is reading books and stories and calling it work.

I will read almost anything as long as it's written well and isn't misogynist or racist, etc. Now that I'm older, I've decided life is too short to waste my time and energy on hateful or toxic materials. Fill the well with good stuff, I say!

Today I read for fun and also to learn the craft and spark new ideas. I love learning about plot reveals and turns in crime fiction, creating action-packed scenes in suspense, and how to make a relationship compelling in contemporary romance. From fantasy and science fiction, I explore new worlds and societies, from historical novels I glean ideas about setting descriptions and family dynamics. Women's fiction helps me see the nuances of telling women's stories and seeing a variety of viewpoints. We can learn from everything!

Happy new year and wishing you lots of inspiration for 2024!

Friday, January 5, 2024

Pick Your Size Well Refilling

Refilling the creative well is like drink sizes at one of those massive gas station / truck-stop arrangements. You can get the kiddie cup, something approaching medium, or the ridiculous, last-for-days and have-to-pee-every-hour grand gesture hydration solutions. Filling the creative well comes in all those sizes, too. If it doesn’t for you, I argue it should.

Kiddie cups: These little sips are daily practices. Work out, maybe. Meditation. Breathing exercises. Yoga nidra/NSDR. That twenty minutes after work and before the dinner rush wherein you sneak- read a few pages of a book. Journaling. Singing when you’re alone in the car. Spending ten minutes outside in the early morning sunshine admiring the trees and plants and flowers. The daily kiddie cups may be small, but they keep the well topped up and the workings clear of debris. There’s a saying among hikers: It’s the water in your body that keeps you alive, not the water in your canteen. Refilling the creative well feels very much the same. In the throes of stressful daily live, whether there’s a deadline or other pressures, most of us can’t afford anything more than a few short, stolen moments to pour a few ounces back into ourselves. A few ounces at a time won’t keep us topped up, but they will sure slow the draw down.

Medium-ish: These rehydration investments are bigger investments, whether in time, effort, or cash. A class. An entire day alone with no one else setting the agenda. A solo trip to an art gallery or a museum or a bookstore. A day of enjoyable outdoor activities. Sailing, hiking, biking, exploring, whatever. It can be short writing retreats or a local conference. The point of the medium-ish creative well refill project is to tip a lot more into the well to bring the levels markedly up. If you’ve watched any ancient Egyptian archeology shows in the past decade, picture the Nile measuring systems the Egyptians built to keep track of flooding. They knew that if the Nile floods didn’t hit a certain height, it meant famine and they could plan. We’re using our medium drinks to bring up the level of the Nile. We don’t want creative famine. So, we need a cadence of regular pours to inch that level back up above the uh oh mark.

Grand gesture: These are huge, major investments in well refilling. They’re great emergency measures akin to getting an IV in the ED. The grand gesture can be life and soul saving after major burn out. Everyone’s grand gestures will look different. It could be a major conference (San Diego Comicon, DragonCon, etc.) It could be a longer-term writing retreat or even an artist-in-residence situation. The grand gesture is meant to be a big adventure, preferably undertaken solo. You shouldn’t have to share your Big Gulp. Not when you need it. It’s supposed to shake you up. It’s supposed to be faintly scary. Refilling the well like this should feel a little wild and uncontrollable as if you might be swept out to sea by the force of the flood. I mean, okay. My analogies are breaking down and getting tangled up. In my case, it was a ten-day trip to Ireland. Ten days of beginner mind because everything was new and bright and shiny and well-filling. Your grand gesture may, like mine, be a once in a lifetime event. That’s fine. I just hold that everyone trying to refill a creative well should indulge in a grand gesture at least once in life, understanding that grand gestures may need to be scaled to accommodate budgets, schedules, and envious spouses.


Thursday, January 4, 2024

3 Ways I Refill the Creative Well

Ullr the husky pup, black and white Siberian husky standing in profile in a blowing snow drift with a line of dark pine trees behind him

Happy 2024! What better way to start the new year than by talking about inspiration. And not simply where do we find inspiration, but three sources of inspiration. 

I have forever, and will forever, love hearing about a story’s origins. When I fall in love with a book I want to know what inspired the place, the characters, the events. Isn’t it fun to hear an author say the idea struck them as they sat in a specific place and watched [fill in the blank with basically anything that’s ever happened and it’s likely to have inspired someone]. That’s where my mind goes when I hear: book inspiration. But what about a source of inspiration? 

A source insinuates a well, a continuous refilling. A place, or a mood, that is guaranteed to inspire the story muse. Now that’s a horse of a different color. And here we all thought simply being inspired was the trick! 

Well, what do I do when I’m drained—besides take a nap? I give in to my husky pup and go outside. Like Jeffe said, nature refills my well. Fresh air combined with rain, sleet, snow, or sun revitalize me. I suppose gardening and getting my hands in the dirt fall into this category as well. But being outside, which pretty much always means I’m at least walking if not doing more, can unlock my brain like nothing else can.

As a runner up I’d say yoga is another source of inspiration. Not necessarily the physical act of yoga, though that feels fantastic and the more limber the body the more limber the mind, but the mental aspect is what I would pinpoint as the source. You can yoga with friends, you can yoga with goats, you can even yoga in a high temp dance-like studio. Or you can yoga and focus on your breath and slide into the quiet headspace where I’m emotionally and mentally refilled. You can call it meditation, though I’m still learning and meditate better when I’m doing certain poses since it helps me focus on my breathing or certain muscles and then suddenly I’m not thinking of anything else! Yoga is a source because when I’m done I’ve got clear headspace and am ready to create!

And in third place, which sounds sad, but really isn’t, would be reading. It doesn’t matter how wonderful or flawed the writing is, reading is a source of inspiration for me because it jumpstarts my imagination. Love them or hate them, characters interact with your imagination. Homey or alien, worlds make you feel like you want to hang around or run away screaming.  And head-scratching or applauding, plot lines are like parallel universes, one choice spins the story in a whole different direction.

There you have it, my three sources of inspiration that I return to again and again. What well do you draw from?

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Inspiration & The Value of Social Media

 This Week's Topic: 3 Sources of Inspiration

Happy 2024! On this second day of the new year, some of us are reluctantly emerging from the haze of excessive consumption, questionable decisions, and the bitter confirmation that we are, in fact, too old to keep doing "this." Whether "this" is guzzling a magnum of champagne by yourself or writing 30 books in a year, you're not alone. Across the globe, people woke up not to New Year's resolutions but to New Year's realizations.

I salute you, my fellow members of Team Realization.

I realized that something I detest has somehow become something on which I...rely. 

{huge dramatic sigh} 

Social media has become the means through which I discover my inspiration. My first two sources of inspiration haven't changed no matter my age or circumstance: music and folklore. However, novels and movies have taken a step back as social media swaggered into third place. 

I know, I know. I am pained to admit it.
Yet for you, dear readers, I do confess.

Improved information accessibility via the evolutions of technology and the intense social pressure to perform for the world if one has a mote of talent (for better and worse) permit me to fall down deep, deep, deep rabbit holes chasing videos or teasers from amazing creatives whose works I discovered due to a post on social media. 99% of the time I didn't discover those artists directly from their feeds, but through others linking to a post about an article about a TikTok about a technique, a myth, a song, a story, an animation, etc.

That's the kind of viral marketing every author (and everyone selling anything) dreams of happening. It's not a pathway of discovery that the source can measure or of which they are even aware. True, this fan-based trail is typically rife with click-monetization, yet it creates a symbiosis in the discovery environment. Truer still, the creative at the end of the trail probably sees less than 0.0001% of the monetization (if any money at all). Despite that, the feat of being discovered in a sea of billions holds immense value. When talking heads speak of social media being necessary for creatives, this is why. This elusive interlinking Gordian knot of passions, fans, creatives, and products is wonderful even when the artist never knows if or how their efforts are working. 

*Note: This description of the value of fan-directed, interest-related discovery in no way supports the pirating, scraping, or theft of any works or content. Nor does it support the exploitative practice of "exposure as payment."

To my fellow authors and artists who feel like they're shouting into the void, keep posting. You never know when your talent will fuel another creative's inspiration.