Posts Tagged ‘writing advice’

Five Ways to Keep Writing While Stressed

So I just finished moving and somehow managed to not pull out all of my hair even though I really wanted to. Along the past month I spent a lot of time stressed out and trying to hit a deadline with an office in boxes. So here I am back with a blog post about writing when stressed out and some tips that helped me live through box fort island.

Moving Mess


1. Write first thing.

Get out of bed even just 15 minutes early and use that time to write. It’s easy to get drowned in the chaos of the day and stress. But if you get some words down before the rest of the day can beat you up then you can get some great work done.

2. Writing sprints.

Another way to get some writing in is to just do a writing sprint for 10-15 minutes. Waiting for the next appointment and have some down time? Grab your phone, tablet or paper and write. It’s impressive how much you can get done in these little chunks. I started writing on the train ride to work to just get words down.

3. Break out.

Go somewhere new and spend time writing. Getting out of a stressful environment can help you get some writing done. (Please don’t actually break anything)

4. Put it on your calendar.

Make a date with your laptop and commit to it. Block it off on your calendar and stick to it. This can be tough to manage but it’s incredibly effective.

5. Don’t.

I know, I know! But sometimes there really is too much going on and you need to accept that words are not happening. Don’t beat yourself up about it and don’t say anything mean to yourself. It’s ok.

Those are a few pointers for writing while stressed but I’d love to know your tips.


Interview with Lisa M. Collins

I have the pleasure of having Lisa. M. Collins on my blog to answer a few questions. Lisa is a talented author (and an amazing friend!) and I’m happy to have her here to talk about writing and her new novella, The House Bast Made: Reid Cannon Archaeologist.  You can buy her new novella here.

So without further ado… here’s Lisa!

Lisa about to take flight!

Lisa about to take flight!

What’s your new book about?

The book is novella length. The House Bast Made is an adventure where a young archaeologist, Reid Cannon, learns myths need not be fairytales. The story is set on a dig near the Valley of the Kings in Egypt.

Do you write for a set time every day or aim for a certain number of words each day or do something else?

I work a 40hr a week job. Often I can find time on my breaks or at lunch to jot a few words down, but those times aren’t really productive. I hit my stride around 5pm-8pm, and if it wasn’t for the pesky commute I do at 5:30-6:30ish that would be my ideal time to get my word count. For now I write after my shift while waiting to be picked up, after dinner while I’m hanging out with my family, and on the weekends.

Do you outline or just run with an idea?

Oh, Lordy, you really want to know about my process? LOL. OK.

For shorter works like 1,000-8,000 words, I pretty much fly by the seat of my pants. My imagination works much like watching a movie—I can see the cuts and the action, and all I have to do is add the dialogue. Now for works that are longer I usually make notes and do a bit of research. I very rarely outline or do story boards, but I think that may change in the near future.

I recently read Rachel Aaron’s book: 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love. Rachel has so many great ideas to get you productive. I decided that I would take her advice on my next long format novel. Who knows this could be the end of my footloose and fancy free days!

What was the hardest thing about writing your newest work?

I have a deep and abiding love Egyptology and specifically the Valley of the Kings. When dealing with a large pantheon of gods and goddess you have to keep your stuff straight. Each of them has a unique personality leading them to actions. Keeping the good guys and the bad guys batting on the right team took a bit of notes.

The House Bast Made: Reid Cannon Archaeologist

The House Bast Made: Reid Cannon Archaeologist

What are you currently reading?

The Atlantis Gene by A.G. Riddle.

What is your favorite piece of writing advice?

First drafts are where the writing happens, but editing is where the authoring happens.

So many writers think each word perfect must be perfect, editing as they go. The problem is nothing is ever perfect, even in Pulitzers you will find grammar errors or misused wording. What is the difference between a writer and an author? Authors finish. Churn out that first draft, don’t worry, no one has to read it but you. Editing is where the magic happens.

How can readers discover more about you and your work?








Pen and Cape Society:

Wookiees for Cookies Racing team

For Deep Fried Dixie Goodness follow Lisa as Tea and Cornbread

And at the Tea and Cornbread blog

“I love Southern charm and food. I think everyone should get a taste of what we have cooking down here in the South…and not just in our skillets, but what we have cooking in our industry and our general Faulkneresque attitudes about life, liberty, the Oxford comma, and pursuit of happiness.”  – Lisa M. Collins aka Tea and Cornbread

Looking for more of:

Healthy Writer Series

Author Interview Series

You can buy The House Bast Made: Reid Cannon Archaeologist here.


Lisa M. Collins has always been interested in Outer Space, Adventure stories, and Southern culture. She was born in Dixie and has always lived south of the Mason Dixon Line. She graduated from the University of Arkansas with a bachelor’s degree in history with specializations in American and Russian history. Lisa lives in central Arkansas with her husband and an adorable cat, Baby Girl, who believes she is Lisa’s co-author. Lisa has one adult son who is married to his high school sweetheart.

Lisa’s non-fiction has been published in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and the Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. . She copy edited and researched on Understanding Global Slavery by University of California Press. Her science fiction story, The Tree of Life, is in the 2013-2014 anthology by Holdfast Magazine. These days she edits for Metahuman Press, and is an upcoming creative contributor with Pro Se Productions and Mechanoid Press. She is a Sally A. Williams Grant winner from the Arkansas Arts Council for writing.


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Patient Zero- The first draft

I’ve been working away on my latest work in progress, and just crossed the 60,000 word mark last night. I’m hoping to finish it up before the end of this week.

At first I thought I was writing my first draft. And I suppose in a way I am, aside from my outline, this is the first time these characters have seen the light of the page and the first time I’ve told this story to anyone. But, about halfway through, the story veered in a direction I hadn’t seen. I realized I needed to change a major character and rework my main character and the plot in a big way.

For about a day I just stared at this mess of a draft and considered just starting it over again and making all the changes.

I’ve been down that road plenty of times before where I write the first 20,000 words over and over and over in a perpetual groundhog’s day loop of writing.

Instead of sending myself into that kind of hell, I decided to just make a note to myself (set aside with XXX) and keep going as if those changes had already been made.

What this means is that a minor character named Virgil became a main character at word 31,008, and that a main character named Darcy completely disappeared at 40,000 and I never backtracked to fix the words behind them. I’ve even gone back and rechanged the changes I made. So maybe for about 3000 words, Darcy existed again and then was erased for good.

This draft is going to be a mess when I finish, like a Frankenstein monster sewn together with hands on his head instead of ears, and eyes for a belly button. It’s ugly, and gross and going to have to be ripped to pieces to be put back together again. That’s why I’ve decided to call it a zero draft, and not a first draft.

But now that I’m nearing the end of this story, I feel more confident in the characters, in the voice and the story I’m telling. It’s changed drastically, and that’s okay. I’m sure it will change a dozen more times before it’s ready to be unleashed onto the world as a (mostly) right-side together Frankenstein.

The advice I most frequently people at any of the writing panels I’ve been on is to finish what you start, but I’m terrible at following my own advice. I want my first draft to be a perfect story and that just can’t happen (at least not with the way I write) so I make do with what I can make. I paint in the lines as best as I can, and then I go back and clean up.

This now hangs above my desk as a gentle NUDGENUDGE in bright blue.

This now hangs above my desk as a gentle NUDGENUDGE in bright blue.

So, draft zero I hope you’re ready to be finished off…and don’t worry, I’ll get your foot out of your eye socket soon.


But is it organic?

Every time I try to start eating healtheir, more fruits, and veggies, walking and running and yadda yadda it always turns out that I then feel guilty because I’m not doing enough. Maybe I’m eating veggies but are they from my local farmer AND organic? Am I juicing and meditating? Well then I’m not doing it right because I should be doing it better.


I get disappointed, and slide off back into the land of mac and cheese and french fries for every meal.

This always makes me think about writing, I get on a streak, writing every day and I’m proud of myself but then invariably I see someone writing more, doing more and I start to slide, thinking why am I not doing more? I start to feel lazy, and unproductive, and from there it’s easy to start slacking on my words, and projects.

Depression creeps in, and I start writing less and less because I feel like a failure because I’m not doing it ‘right’ whatever the hell that is. I worry about the ways I could be doing better and end up doing nothing for fear of not getting it right.

I still fight with this feeling, with eating healthy, and with writing. When I do something, I like to do right, and perfectly. But slowly, I’m starting to realize that I can’t be perfect and great at everything. I can find what works for me, and stick with that. Reading advice and tips that have worked for other people might help, but at the end of the day, I have to live with me and what I’m doing whether it works for someone else or not.

Some things that have worked for me:

Calendar with stars

Shiny stars!!

Keeping track of my daily word count. Every litle shiny star represents 1000 words written that day. It’s a little grad school, but it’s great looking at the calendar and seeing all those stars and knowing they represent words written!




I love to-do lists so putting my writing goals in a to-do list format is awesome! I really love this app Wunderlist because it syncs across all my devices, and you can seperate everything into seperate lists and add sub-tasks. (PS now you can see what I’m working on, exciting!)


So those are just a few things that work for me and make me feel like I’m getting stuff done. What are some things that work for you whether they’re ‘organic’ or not?

10 Things I Wish I’d Learned In My Creative Writing Degree

When I finished my BA in English with a focus in Creative Writing, I was convinced I knew everything. Then I went to try to get a short story published in something besides the college run literary magazine and realized I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. For a while I was really angry about how little I came out of school knowing how to do. (Some days I still am.) It felt like my entire degree had been geared towards learning how to write what my professors wanted me to write, certainly not for me. I learned how to write for the deadline, make the changes the professor wanted, and to turn in a paper on time.

Learning how to turn things in on a deadline is a great skill to have learned, but I still get upset when I think about all the things I wished I’d learned in my program, and the things I wished I’d even known to ask about! Here’s a list of 10 things I wish I had learned about with my degree.

… continue reading this entry.

Spiffy Gidgets, Gadgets and Gizmos for Writers

So the title here is a little bit of a lie since some of these things aren’t gidgets, gadgets or gizmos, but are instead just websites that I find really cool or helpful.

This post is a long time in the making, and it’s basically a list of things, places, and things that I’ve fond helpful in my own writing and wanted to pass along. Share the wealth and all that jazz, right?

First off is the Aqua Pad which is insanely cool. Showers are one of the places where I get a ton of ideas, and trying to write something down while sopping wet and covered in soap doesn’t go so well  as I have learned after several failed attempts to get an idea onto a notepad while in the shower. The Aqua pad lets you do just this, writing while IN THE SHOWER.

Second is a fantastic website (and now an app!!) Coffitivity. I know a lot of people love writing in a coffee shop but that can get expensive after your third $3 mochai chai dance party latte. This is a great way to save money, but still get the soothing ambient sound of a coffee shop.

Nex up is another website, 750Words which I’ve written about before. They will track your writing, and help you meet the goal of writing 750 words a day. What’s incredible about this is that it will track how long it takes you to reach those words, how many times you were distracted, as well as commonly used words and the emotional tone of the piece. All in all, really awesome and amazing if you like stats!

If you haven’t read On Writing yet then you’re missing out on one of the best books about writing the craft behind it. Whether you’re a fan of Stephen King’s stories or not, the book has an incredible amount of insight and help for writers at all levels.

Another book that has been incredibly helpful is Save the Cat. While it’s mainly discussing screenplays, the prinicipals behind story telling can apply to almost any medium. I loved this from beginning to end and think everyone could use reading this.

The last helpful spot on the internet is Terrible Minds a blog put out by the awesometastic Chuck Wendig. His posts on writing are helpful, funny, and NSFW. The best of all worlds! He also has a ton of  books out on writing, and just some incredible stories. You should go buy them all!


Now that I’ve shared a few of my favorite places and things tell me some of yours. I could always use new gidgets, gadgets and gizmos!

How do you write what you know when you don’t know?

One of the first pieces of writing advice I was given was the age old adage of ‘Write what you know.’ I always thought it was strange advice since I wanted to write fantasy and had no idea what riding a dragon, or fighting an orc was like. How was I ever suppose to write about those kinds of things if I was suppose to write what I knew?

I still hear that advice given out on a near constant basis, but it’s not advice I’ve ever been able to give anyone. It’s taken me a while to figure out exactly how it even applies in my own writing.

Then finally, it clicked. It doesn’t mean to write about your day to day life (unless non-fiction is your thing, in which case, huge kudos to you, that’s an awesome talent!) but to use the things you know to write the things you don’t. I might not know what riding on a dragon’s back is like, but I know what it feels like to ride a horse.

Take inspiration from the  world around you that you know and manipulate it into your writing to make your world more belivable. Use the details of things you know and experience to draw your reader into your world.

Everyone has a wide range of experiences in their life: love, loss, pain, joy, fear, sickness, etc. Take those emotions, or experiences to use to give your writing a solid, belivable background.

Write what you know into what you don’t know.

Guest Post: Responsible Borrowing by Aaron Smith

Looking back on the five years since I seriously started writing, I consider myself lucky to have come into the business through a door opened to me by what is now known as the New Pulp movement. I’m still doing pulp work and loving every minute of it, even though I’ve expanded my work to include projects with other publishers in other genres.

Being a New Pulp writer has allowed me to learn to write in two very different, but equally satisfying ways. Sometimes, I write my own characters. In those cases, I have complete control over everything. I decide the personalities, looks, and circumstances of the people I create to populate the worlds I write about.

But on other occasions, I’ve entered pre-existing fictional universes and been given opportunities to work with characters and situations originally conceived by others, some of them very well known. I’ve written numerous stories featuring Sherlock Holmes and the associated cast of characters. I’ve used various characters created by Bram Stoker, and I’ll soon be celebrating the publication of my first story about H. Rider Haggard’s 19th century adventurer Allan Quatermain.

As I often bounce back and forth between two in-progress stories, I sometimes find myself thinking about the differences in mindset when it comes to writing my own creations versus borrowing characters who did not originate in my imagination.

In many ways, writing my own stuff is easier. There are no rules except the one all-important law that says that once I decide on something, it must remain consistent. But writing other author’s characters requires, in my experience, a certain amount of restraint. I can write in my own way (and I must, for I’m not going to pretend to be Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or Bram Stoker!), but I feel compelled to demonstrate a certain amount of respect for those who created the wonderful characters that I’ve been privileged to be allowed to borrow from time to time.

I recently said on Facebook—and this statement seemed to hit a positive nerve with a lot of people—that being a writer is like having a big box full of action figures and getting paid to play with them. This feels most true when I can write about Holmes or Quatermain or others that came into literary being long before I was born.

To put it simply, I play with those characters in a way that reflects who I am as a writer but also, I hope, retains the essence of what made them great characters to begin with. I try very hard to make sure I include the souls of the characters, and the qualities that have made them last so long and made them beloved enough that people are still willing to spend money and time to read about them even if the new stories are not by those who created them.

Using Sherlock Holmes as an example, this is how I approach working on the character: I do not try to write like Doyle, but I do try to maintain the atmosphere and style of his stories. It’s not hard to do, considering how many times I’ve read Doyle’s work, and I seem to have been at least somewhat successful at it, if the reactions of readers are any indication. Watson is the narrator, of course, and I try to keep the personalities of Watson, Holmes, and all Doyle’s supporting characters in line with what Doyle showed in his stories. I will not have Holmes facing supernatural threats. Something might appear to be supernatural, but must have a logical, earthbound explanation in the end. (A semi-exception was my novel, Season of Madness, in which Watson teams up with Dr. Seward of Dracula, but Holmes himself did not appear in that story, so I technically didn’t break my own rules!) I will not bring any elements into one of my Holmes stories that scream to me that they would not fit into the world depicted by Doyle when he created the character and made him one of the most popular characters in the world. I try my hardest to write Watson as Doyle’s Watson, Holmes as Doyle’s Holmes, etc.

In other words, it comes down to respect. Respect for the original author’s intentions (so far as we can recognize those intentions from the works left behind after the author’s death), and respect for the millions of readers who love Holmes as he was brought into the world by Doyle.

When I get the chance to work on a character I’ve loved reading about, I go into the project assuming that those who will read my work want the character to be as he’s always been. I know I feel that way about my favorite characters when I encounter the work of someone new adding to the body of work based on that character. And I’m incredibly disappointed when someone who’s been entrusted with a great character or set of characters drops the ball and makes changes that strip the character of their original essence and appeal.

I don’t want Sherlock Holmes as an action hero. I want him as a detective with a razor-sharp intellect and a brave, smart companion. There can be action scenes in a Holmes story, but a certain recent series of Holmes-based movies has gone too far in that direction. I cringe at the de-intellectualizing that’s been done to Star Trek. I can’t stand the majority of the recent product from Marvel and DC comics: characters I grew up reading about who are now unrecognizable near-parodies of what they used to be, stripped of nobility and other inspiring qualities. I’m tired of altered versions of my favorite characters.

Maybe some readers or movie-watchers do want updated, drastically changed versions of classic characters. If that floats their boats, fine. Let them have what they want. There’s plenty of that going around. But I’m confident that there are fans of Sherlock Holmes, Allan Quatermain, Dracula, and many other long-established fictional icons that like things as they long have been. There’s an audience for continuations of the traditional versions of those characters and that’s the audience I hope to entertain when I’m handed those action figures to play with, and many of my fellow New Pulp writers seem to feel the same way.

I’m fortunate to have the opportunity, from time to time, to borrow great characters. I see that as a serious responsibility and I promise to do my best to maintain those characters as I think their creators intended them to be. I won’t dumb down Watson or de-age Quatermain or rearrange fictional history by having Moriarty stand atop the Reichenbach Falls shouting, “’Lock…I am your father!” And I probably won’t resurrect Dracula and have him stalk new victims in the modern era (although that last one’s pretty hard to resist sometimes!). After all, I’d be horrified if I looked over a future writer’s shoulder in my ghostly form long after I’d died and saw him doing something like that to my characters.

I don’t own Holmes and Watson. Allan Quatermain is not my property. I stake no claim on Dracula. I just borrow them from time to time and I try to do that responsibly. I hope I succeed in that task.

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Aaron Smith is the author of published stories in genres including mystery, horror, science fiction, and fantasy. He often visits the 221B Baker Street in his mind to write new stories for Airship 27 Productions’ Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective series of anthologies. His latest novel, 100,000 Midnights was released in 2012. Information about his work can be found on his blog at

Where do I begin?

One of the questions that seems to come up a lot with new writers is the age old debate about where to start the story. There are countless places to choose to begin the tale. You can drop the reader straight into the action and then explain the story, you can give them backstory, you can start many years ago, you can start at the end, and anywhere in between.

Just like there is no one right way to write, there is no one way to start a story. Each one requires something different.I, personally, do not much care for starting the story with back story, but it is becoming common (it has been a staple in fantasy for years) and can be very well done.

When people ask me about how to determine where to start a story, I always suggest the same thing: start at or just before the moment of change. Your character has been a farmhand for years and years, but then is found to be the heir of the king. In that situation, start your story either at the moment your character discovers the truth, or perhaps with the arrival of the person who will tell him the truth. This makes for a stronger start than an entire chapter of the character working on the farm, and gets the story moving immediately.

The opening is one of the most crucial parts of the story. Consider that you have one sentence to a paragraph to convince your reader that this book/story/poem is for them. Whether you start with an action or a scene or something else, you need to make it memorable. How is the best way to do that for your story?

Consider theses examples:

“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” — William Gibson, Neuromancer

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” — George Orwell, 1984

“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.” — Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

“I come from a family with a lot of dead people.” Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” The Hobbit, J.R. R. Tolkein

“It was the day my grandmother exploded.” The Crow Road, Iain Banks

“Mother died today.” The Stranger, Albert Camus

These are all considered some of the greatest opening lines in Western Literature. They vary in tone, and how they open the story. Some start immediately with a bang or moment of change, some introduce the narrator or greet the reader, some describe the world of the story, but all of them hook you in.

The details are what make them stick. The first question makes you question, makes you curious about what is going to happen, and that moment is where the story should being.

Here’s one last quote to remember about finding the start of the story:

“A story has no beginning or end; arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.” The End of the Affair, Graham Greene.

Writing Words of Wisdom from the Trenches

If you haven’t seen this great article featuring tips from some amazing authors, than you are really missing out. There are some fantastic words there. Here are a few of my favorite:

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