3 Reasons Why Writers Should Never Stop Learning

Learning new things is important. It seems like such a simple thing to say, but it isn’t something we always prioritize.

So many people stop challenging themselves, stop learning new things. They get comfortable and think themselves exempt from continuing to learn and improve. And that’s a good way to stagnate.

And as writers, it’s especially important to keep learning because…

You never know what you might need to know.

Writing is a strange process in that any piece of information could come in handy at some point.

Your first book might require knowledge on the healing process from a stab wound to the gut or how long someone could live without water. Your next might require learning how bears show affection or what appliances were common in turn of the century kitchens. Another might require knowledge of food storage that requires no electricity, how to make candles, or even the exact speed of light.

Depending on the book and the characters (their hobbies, their jobs, their interests), there’s no limit to what you could conceivably need to learn.

(Btw, all of the things listed above are things I’ve either researched for a book or knew ahead of time and used in a book.)

You can never know everything.

There’s just so much to learn. Every new thing you learn can potentially open up more questions.

Which could provide perspective for your book or potentially inspire another.

People who don’t think they need to keep learning just aren’t aware of how much they don’t know.

It turns out that people who think they know everything and have nothing more to learn… really know very little. They haven’t learned enough to see what they’ve done wrong and thus think themselves the best.

And no one wants to be that person.

So, keep learning.

Keep improving.

Because if you stagnate, your books might.


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Write as weird as you want.

Sometimes, our ideas carry us away. That’s why we do this, right?

But other times, we let doubt get in the way.

When writing fantasy and science fiction, we question whether or not we can expect people to believe something, whether it’s realistic. All these strange and fantastical things in our heads just seem too big, too different.

But it’s fantasy. It’s science fiction.

Anything can be realistic if you make the world support it.

And honestly, there are some truly weird things in our world that people don’t question, or maybe barely question. (Vulture bees making honey from meat. People keeping the baby teeth of their children.)

Anything can be realistic for a fictional world if you shape the world to make it work. The history of these fictional worlds can support any tradition. The evolution of these worlds can produce any species we want.

The believability of an idea isn’t the problem.

The real problem is deeper.

We question ourselves and our ability to pull these things off.

We’re making up entire worlds, entire people, entire timelines. We’re doing things that are truly amazing.

A planet with rivers that flow up into the air may as well happen. Maybe it’s a hollow planet, and those rivers are inside it? Maybe there’s a gravitational anomaly caused by a malfunction in a lab? Who knows? You just have to put in the time and the effort to explain it. And then stand by it.

What we’re doing is meant to be fun, but that doesn’t always mean it’ll be easy.

And sometimes, we’re the ones making it harder for ourselves. We doubt our ideas at every turn, cutting ourselves off at the knees.

Stop worrying about whether it’s realistic to have an animal the size of a whale fly through the sky. In our world, no. But in your world? In the world you’re building?

Go for it.

Give it some sort of mechanical support or engine. Enhance it with magic.

Make it work.

That thing you have in your head that you’re doubting might be the thing that a reader loves the most about your book.

Just build the supports for it into the framework of the world and have a little faith in yourself.


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Writing Strengths and Weaknesses: The Art of Double-Edged Swords

Sometimes, we build our characters up in our heads. We get so enamored with them, with all their beauty and powers, that maybe they get a little overpowered.

Which might make for a too-easy victory.

I tend to do the opposite, falling for their weaknesses, the things that make them human and relatable, and breaking them down maybe a little too much.

But luckily, this little trick cuts both ways.

A character’s strength can also be their weakness, and vice versa.

It all comes down to the situation, how they perceive themselves, and their ability to harness (or combat) aspects of their personality.

Personalities and psyches are strange, complicated things, and life is no simple matter. A person with a generous spirit may give too much and wear themselves out. A person who tends toward extreme caution may save the life of a friend by warning them of dangers otherwise unthought of by a normal person.

So, if you’re struggling to flesh out your character, take the big defining features of their personality, and look at those things in different lights. Twist them up and drop them into new circumstances.

In case it sounds like I’m talking in circles (because making strengths into weaknesses and weaknesses into strengths can kinda become a circle), here are a couple examples.

In A Heart of Salt & Silver, I played with this a lot. So much so that it made it into the title. Salt and silver are the things that can kill demons/demi-demons (Ness) and silver kills werewolves (Nolan) thus, a heart made of those things is just saying that they’re their own worst enemies. Which… they definitely are.

Nolan is a werewolf, a veteran of several wars, and an former slave. Now, he goes out of his way to help others, to stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves.

Sounds like a pretty solid strength, right?

What could go wrong?

Maybe running out in the middle of a meal with the woman you love to go galivanting into gods know what sort of conflict isn’t the best thing, but it fits with that “strength,” that hero complex. She’ll understand, right?

Unless she has virtually no self-worth to begin with and that desertion ritual happens over and over… and over… and over.

It becomes a weakness pretty quickly in that light, breaking a relationship into pieces.

As for Ness and her complete lack of self-worth… She sees herself as less than human. She’s half demon, so she’s not quite human, but she isn’t less than anything. She’s actually insanely powerful. But she thinks herself some beast that doesn’t deserve to exist.

She doesn’t think anyone could ever want her around or ever find value for her.

Pretty obvious weakness, right?

It certainly is in most circumstances, and it definitely played a role in splitting up her relationship with Nolan.

But it means that she considers her actions from perspectives other than her own, considering what others want or need and tempering the violent emotions that can so easily overthrow the fragile self-control of demons and demi-demons.

Which makes it a twisted kind of strength.

The way she copes with that weakness makes her a better person to be around.

So, when writing your characters, don’t forget that their defining traits can be used for and against them, depending on the situation.


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How to Survive (And Succeed in) Camp NaNoWriMo

It’s almost here. Do you have a goal set? Are you intimidated by the whole thing?

If so, you’re definitely not alone.

Goals have this way of either putting us on edge or spurring us into action. Or both.

But there are some ways to make it easier on yourself to meet your goal.

Realistic goals

The most important thing you can do to save your sanity is to make realistic goals, otherwise you’ll just intimidate yourself and shoot yourself in the foot before you even get started.

Think back and figure up what your average is for writing. Then, total that up for the month, and add a realistic amount if you want to push yourself. If you want to push yourself to maintain your average on a daily basis, come up with the total and set that as your goal.

Find your down time

Every household has a natural lull. For some, it’s right after kids go to bed. For some, it’s early in the morning before anyone else gets up for the day.

Figure out when that lull is and use it to your advantage. Set that time aside as your writing time.

Prioritize

Treat this like a priority. This may mean giving up an hour of tv a day. It may mean spending less time on social media.

But if you make your writing a priority, it gets easier to keep up with.

Do one or two small, high impact chores first

Sometimes, getting something stereotypically considered “productive” out of the way first helps assuage the guilt and anxiety of taking the time for yourself. (Guilt and anxiety that you should probably work on tackling, because you don’t need to feel guilty about taking time to pursue your passions, but that’s a topic for another day.)

So, choose a quick, high impact chore, and do it first. Load the dishwasher, clean the counter in the bathroom. Something quick that makes a much larger difference in terms of mental state than we typically give it credit for.

Breathe

This is meant to be a fun endeavor. If you fall behind, try not to sweat it because at the end of the day, you’re still making progress with something you’re enjoying.

Join a group

There are many writing groups out there who do special chats, threads, or posts geared toward helping writers survive the NaNo process and spur people on to meet their goals.

My favorites are World Indie Warriors (Website, Facebook Members Group, Facebook Page, Instagram) and The Writer Community (Instagram, Website).

Writing doesn’t have to be a solitary process. Having writer friends to vent to or celebrate with can make all the difference.


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How to Write Guns in Your Books

Sometimes, the bad guy just needs a hole put through them, care of: a bullet. It’s an unavoidable reality in some genres. (Post-apocalyptic/apocalytpic, dystopian, suspense, crime thrillers, etc.)

But if you haven’t been around them, guns can seem like a whole other world.

And they kinda are.

But I have a few tips/things to consider to help you write guns into your books without eliciting eye rolls and groans from people who know about guns.

So let’s start simply.

And also with the disclaimer that this should be used for writing purposes. Not for actual violence in the real world.

You don’t need to get uber specific.

Unless you’re writing military fiction, most readers aren’t going to give a shit what the exact model and history of the gun is. Unless it’s relative to the story, you probably don’t need to talk about the Winchester house and the ghosts it’s meant to confuse. You don’t need the serial number or the production history, either.

In most instances, you can supply the caliber and type of gun and be just fine. (9mm pistol, for example)

If your character is comfortable with guns, setting aside the amount of research you need to do, they’ll probably refer to them by caliber. If they have a couple guns in that caliber, they’ll likely refer to them by brand.

So, “The Beretta,” or “The .45.”

Mobility

Everyone knows the scene in the movies where the quirky character has to disarm themselves and pulls one weapon after another out of pockets and holsters and boots.

But if you’re not going for comedy, if you want any realism at all, you need to consider how mobile your character needs to be.

If they’re going to be stationary, set up within a guard post or something, go ahead and give them an armory if you want.

But.

Carrying a shotgun, a rifle, two pistols, two revolvers, a machete, and a couple other knives is not only overkill, but it’s massively impractical and the weight will add up.

Good luck moving without banging weapons together.

Good luck switching between those weapons quickly.

And good fucking luck reloading (since all your pockets are going to be covered up by guns).

Which brings me to…

Weight of ammo

That shit isn’t weightless. Bullets may be light, but they add up.

So, if you decide to have a character that carries ridiculous amounts of ammo, it will bog them down. Even more so if it’s loaded into a ton of magazines for easy reloading.

Given a reasonable magazine capacity of 10 (more if you get a banana clip or a drum for an assault rifle), those will add up, too.

And who has that many pockets?

Certainly not a female.

For the sake of some realism, here’s an article with ammo weights, easily found with a quick google search.

Certain gun for a certain job

So, let’s say you’re brand new to guns. Some things to consider:

Shotguns are typically better up close. Bird shot and buck shot are comprised of lots of little balls that spread out. The closer the target, the more of those little balls will hit.

Pistols are good up close (up to 25 yards), but headshots are not as easy as movies make them out to be, even less so if the target is moving. Center mass (torso) is much better and just as effective, unless your character is shooting zombies.

Revolvers are also a close range thing, but not as practical as pistols simply because they hold fewer rounds.

Rifles are good for long range, but you should get the scope sighted in. They can be pretty unwieldy in close quarters and have a big ass barrel that can be batted away or grabbed and controlled.

Automatic weapons are hard/next to impossible to come by legally. I don’t know of anywhere off the top of my head that allows civilians to have them, at least not in the United States.

Machine guns are incredibly heavy, not that carrying them is a great option. You can do it in Fallout, but that doesn’t make it a good idea. A submachine gun kinda solves that problem. In either case, they burn through ammo fast. (Obviously.)

Larger caliber bullets hit harder, but typically don’t go as far as fast and will tumble at a distance.

Smaller rounds travel faster, farther, and are typically more accurate. But they don’t have as much stopping power.

So consider the gun and ammo your character needs for the situation you’ve dropped them into.

Recoil

A light gun with a high caliber ammo is going to kick. A lot.

A gun with some weight to it will have less recoil.

A .22 rifle has virtually no recoil.

Higher gauge rifles can and will kick and split the skin on your face if you hold your face too close to the scope.

You need to consider your character’s proficiency with weapons and their upper body strength when choosing their weapon.

How common?

This isn’t so much of a problem if the character has ready access. But in a post-apocalyptic situation, you should probably stick to common rounds.

9mm, .22, LR, 12 gauge, .308, and .223 are the most common.

If you’re wanting to circumvent this by having your character fire reloaded bullets, note that some guns will not fire reloaded rounds. They’ll jam up every time.

Some are even machined to prevent the use of reloaded rounds, ostensibly for quality control and safety, but if you’re into conspiracy theories about capitalism and market manipulation, it could also be to make sure people have to keep buying ammo.

Now, go forth and write your books a little more accurately.

This is by no means a comprehensive guide. As I stated at the outset, firearms are their own world.

If you’re planning to write a character that knows a lot about them or uses them frequently, you should do some serious research.

But I hope this was a good jumping off point.


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Why You Should Just Start Writing Already

There’s this fear among new writers that they just aren’t good enough to write the books they have ideas for.

Some want to start with short stories to ease into writing. And if that helps you, go for it. But short stories are a different skill set altogether.

But for most, it isn’t that short stories are the best introduction to writing. It’s just fear.

And I get it.

Writing a book is a daunting task.

But here’s why you should just write the book already.

You have to start somewhere.

If you never start, you’ll never finish. That book will not write itself, believe it or not.

And all the intricate subplots and character arcs that make the book “too complex for a new writer” might fade from memory before you ever actually sit down to write.

And let’s face it, you won’t get better if you don’t practice.

That story idea might be the least complicated story you ever come up with, and it may be the perfect way to practice for the more complex ones that come later.

Some writers say that you don’t get good until about… ten books in.

Because you haven’t practiced enough yet.

That doesn’t mean the first book will be hopeless.

Editing and rewriting are major parts of writing a book. Everyone’s first draft sucks, and the part that comes after writing the rough draft actually takes far longer.

But that’s the part that helps you learn.

Critique partners, alpha readers, and beta readers can help point out your strengths and weaknesses, that way you know what you actually need to work on.

Then, you do more editing.

And more.

And more.

Then, you enlist a professional editor, and they show you what you’ve missed.

So, your current skill level is not the skill level you’ll finish your book at. You’ll grow and get better, and by the time your book is done (not just written, but done), it’ll be what you want it to be, regardless of your current skills.

But you have to start writing.

Because that’s how you’ll improve and more importantly, how you’ll find your voice, the thing that keeps people coming back to your books again and again.


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The Inspiration of Allmother Rising

Ideas for books can come from anywhere. Annabelle came from a figurine made of starched doilies. Soul Bearer came from a dream and a character floating around in my head.

But Allmother Rising sprang from the same strange well that A Heart of Salt & Silver came from.

Anxiety and an inability to fall asleep.

Basically, there’s this thing I do when I can’t sleep. I close my eyes and just picture a random character, sometimes two. Then, I just let the scene fill in around them.

It gives my mind something to focus on, drawing my attention away from the million things my anxiety is grasping at and holding my focus in one place.

That helps me relax, which helps me sleep.

If I like them or their scene, I come back to them the next night.

If I like the character but not the scene, I let them live in my brain for a while until I find a world for them.

That’s what happened with Aurisye from Soul Bearer. I liked her but the world I’d pictured wasn’t right. So I kept her until I found a world for her.

Aurisye was an outsider, so filling in the world around her took a little longer.

But Veliana of Allmother Rising is so much a part of her world that the scene that filled in around her was perfect. She is connected to all of it. The history of her world, her goddess, the animals, the trees all around… She’s connected to every last bit.

And when Tyrvahn waltzed into that scene, he fit too, connected in a different way.

After only a couple nights of thinking about their scene, I started writing. I had to tweak that initial scene, of course, once I learned about Veliana’s broken heart and Tyrvahn’s recent losses. The way they saw each other shifted, and I had to reflect that.

But the bare bones of how they met were born in anxiety and sleepless nights. And once I wrote that scene, the rest of the story followed quickly on its heels.

Now, I did have to go back a bit first. There were scenes I had to add to explain why they were both in an abandoned temple in the middle of the forest.

But only a few chapters.

So chapter (THREE OR FOUR, CHECK!) Is what started the book.

As I wrote their journey to save their Realm, we found Garle and Kivala somewhere along the way. They made the whole picture complete, filling in gaps I didn’t even realize were there until we found them.

All together, they made the book complete.

I’ll be going live on release day (Tuesday May 25th) at 3pm Eastern for a reading of the scene that inspired the whole book and for a Q&A session.

Don’t forget to order your copy while the ebook is on sale! It’ll be 99 cents until June 1st.

Hardbacks are also available, and paperbacks will be soon.

You can find it on Amazon here and add it on Goodreads here.


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A Guide to the ARC Reader Process: Part Three

Okay. So your book is ready for ARC readers, and you’ve found (or chosen your method for finding) them.

Now what?

Whether you’re doing this the good old-fashioned way and sending ebook files to each individual reader or uploading to Book Sprout or Book Funnel and sending a handy dandy download link to your readers, there’s one more thing to do first.

You need to convert your file into several different formats. And you can think of this as a preemptive step since you’ll need it converted from a .doc or .docx to whatever your chosen publisher requires (unless you’re going traditional, in which case, your publisher will likely handle this and the ARC process for you).

Why do you need different formats? Because there are many different ereaders available.

You’d think that, for the sake of simplicity, they’d all read the same file type.

But no.

That’s far too sensible.

Each one has a specific file that it works best with, and in order to seamlessly send ARCs (or upload them to Book Sprout, Book Funnel, etc.), you’re going to need to convert your normal word document to all these other formats, including:

EPUB (Nook, Android, many others)

MOBI (Kindle)

PDF (phones, tablets)

Word will export to PDF (but it has a weird thing with refusing to embed fonts at random, even when you have the box checked to embed fonts, and then you have to print to pdf instead of export). Word WILL NOT convert to mobi or epub.

BUT.

If you’re like me and the thought of all that money and the process of learning new design software is a bit daunting, there is another option for converting ebook files.

There’s a free program available for download online that can do all these conversions. This is why it irks me so much that some Vanity Presses flaunt their ebook conversion as an excuse to charge authors money. (Don’t pay your publisher, btw. They should pay you.)

Anyway… There’s a program that does this for free. It can convert to so more file formats than I even know what to do with.

It’s called Calibre.

It’s simple to use, and there are free how-to guides to show you what to do once you download it. There’s even a demo on their website.

I use this for all my ebook conversions, and I’m… not exactly tech savvy.

It’s quick and uncomplicated. And as far as computer programs are concerned, that’s kinda my jam.


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Why you should Write your Characters with Continuity

Something I always strive for in my books is the integrity of a character’s personality and their decisions. Not necessarily that the characters have integrity, but that the things they do line up with who they are.

Their choices and history, their thoughts and their opinions and the things they do and say.
I want these things to mesh, to make sense.

The way that I write makes it a little easier since the characters drive. I don’t force their hands or push them into neat little boxes. They become fully formed people with something akin to a level of autonomy. (Yes, I know that logically isn’t the case, but that’s what it feels like.)

As such, their decisions are aligned with their personalities, the way they fit into the world (or don’t), and the traumas they’ve dealt with/ran from (because let’s be honest here, all my characters are dealing with at least one traumatic event).

But for people who don’t let their characters take the reins from the get go, or anyone who’s ever suffered writer’s block (so all writers), it may not always be that simple.

Sometimes, you write yourself into a corner. Sometimes the characters make so many bad choices that they get stuck, which really just means that you, the writer, are stuck.

Some people consult their highly detailed character bibles or rehash their outlines at that point.

If I get stuck, if I don’t know what a character would do, I may just listen to the playlist that I’ve crafted for them, composed of every song I’ve heard that made me think of them. Or I may look at them through the lense of my psych degree.

Or maybe I’ll do something repetitive but active enough to get my blood pumping, then let my mind drift. Add the playlist to that, and it really helps.

Why am I telling you this?

Why do I strive to maintain integrity across their personalities and actions?

Because it matters.

Because reading a book packed with characters that act in ways that don’t make sense for their personality or their past is infuriating.

If a character that gets into trouble all the time for speaking out of turn and telling everyone exactly what they think suddenly has trouble expressing themselves the one time it’s convenient for the plot to have a misunderstanding… it’s going to piss off a lot of readers.

A character that’s never drank or even had the desire to do so suddenly gets plastered the one night you need them to not remember anything?

Probably going to piss off readers.

These things need to have a logical progression leading to them. The characters shouldn’t do things that don’t make sense for them to do.

Their actions may be stupid or the wrong choice to make, but if it’s a choice that’s consistent with their previous decision making processes or the evolution that you’ve already showcased, then it works.


Check out my gritty, literary sci-fi and fantasy books here.

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Cruel and Unusual Punishment: Asking Authors How Many Books They Sold

There’s this tendency for non-writers to ask how many books you sold. And as an author, that question always causes a spike in anxiety.

Why?

Most authors wish more copies of their book sold. Plain and simple.

We’re happy to have sold the copies we’ve sold, of course we are, because that means people are reading our work.

But many of us want to do this full time, and selling 50 or 100 copies of a book does not a full time wage make.

So, as happy as we are to sell any copies, there’s always the weight of not selling enough to be a full time author hanging about our shoulders.

Many non-writers are unaware of what it takes to manage to sell even just a handful of books (or how many $2-$5 royalties it takes to make a living wage). Even without considering the writing, editing, formatting, metadata and publishing (if indie), querying (if traditional), there’s an absolute shit ton of work that goes into selling books.

Months, or years, of social media posts. Newsletters, networking with other authors, blog tours, and Instagram tours.

Then, there’s advertising, which is a hellscape, in and of itself. So many authors (myself included) hate advertising because it feels as if there’s just too much to learn, and if you do it wrong, you’re literally just dumping money down the drain.

It’s intimidating.

And then, of course, there’s the vicious cycle of being afraid to check your sales and your ads (even though it’s necessary to tweak ads to get them to actually work), thus leading to ads running and doing nothing, then finally getting up the nerve to check them (or giving in to the shame/self-blame of knowing we’re not doing what we should, thus finally checking the ads) and seeing that they’ve done nothing, because they haven’t been adjusted. Which just hurts and confirms the self-doubt we all harbor.

Writing is a very vulnerable process.

We’re basically putting ourselves on the market, because a lot of ourselves go into our books, not to mention the time and effort to get them written and ready.

So, to all the non-writers reading this, if a book is selling well, the author will let you know. They’ll be ecstatic.

And even if they aren’t chomping at the bit to tell you, it’ll likely appear on material promoting the book. Because selling a lot of copies is actually a good tool to sell more books.

That’s why you see awards on book covers or the title “USA Today Bestselling Author” or “New York Times Bestselling Author” above author names. It’s a tool to sell more books, to let you know that you can trust that book and that author because so many other people already have.

So, please, if you know an author, don’t stress them with talk of sales. If you’re curious about the fact that they write, ask about the main character of the book they’re working on/just released.

For all the authors out there wishing you’d sold more copies and comparing your numbers to the whole “most books sell less than 250 copies” thing, don’t forget that this average includes all the bestsellers, who skew that number quite a bit.

Look at your audience (excluding follow loop numbers), and 5% of that number is where you should aim for preorders. If you get that (or exceed that) then not only are you doing just fine, you should celebrate.

Like… a lot.

Keep reading. Keep writing.

Later.

Check out my gritty, literary sci-fi and fantasy books hereSubscribe for sneak peeks and updates on my upcoming books (and get a free short story). Or if you’d rather pitch in for editing and other writing-related expenses, you can support me directly here.