Giving Back

Advice from other writers is always something to take carefully. We all have our way of doing things and we all come to success in our own way (I’m still trying to find mine!)

I enjoy encouraging other writers or would-be writers. I know what it’s like to dream of being a writer. I know how it felt when I started and I was clueless to much of the process. I know what it’s like to fret because no one knows who I am or has read my work. It sucks.

I’ve had several writers extend a hand or helpful words of wisdom and that’s been awesome.

Whenever I get the chance to help someone else out I jump on it. Who knows where the next major talent is? In this world of indie publishing where the market is oversaturated with works from misguided “writers” to super-talented authors, I want to encourage and lift up those that need a voice, that need an audience because they’re so talented and others need to know.

Have you heard of Aaron Hamilton, Thomas Gunther, Pamela Morris, Ray Wenck, Brent Harris, or Christa Yelich-Koth? Maybe, but it’s more likely you haven’t. They’re all super talented authors of scifi and/or horror (Or in Ray’s case, thrillers). I love sharing these types of writers with others because we can all use a hand once in a while. We may write by ourselves, but we need a team to share the word about our work.

One of the things I enjoy most about selling at Cons is meeting new authors/writers that are unsure what to do with their work or how to get started. I am as transparent as possible. Indie publishing is not a guarded secret, though many who haven’t tried it are as lost as I was when I started. I share my experience with anyone that asks, encouraging them to work hard at their craft and what pitfalls to watch out for. Not that I have “best-selling author” advice, but I’m more than willing to share my experience in hopes that it will inspire them to take their own journey.

Their voice, like those of the authors listed above, might be what we need next.

I hope when I meet new writers seeking advice they seek additional voices. The more information they can gather, the better informed they’ll be and maybe, just maybe, they’ll break through and be the next major indie sensation. Or maybe not. They may simply be fulfilling a lifelong goal, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

10 Things Learned Since I Started Writing

When I started this writing journey, I was naive to the complexities of it all. I guess in it’s most basic state, writing is just me and the words on the screen or paper. It’s when I started sharing those words that things changed. Here are ten things I learned since I started (in no particular order).


Editing is your best friend. I didn’t understand the serious need for revision and editing. I knew those things were important, but as I progress in my career, it’s abundantly clear how vital good editing is to my work. And I can’t do it on my own.

Sometimes the first draft is hard to finish. The moment I start revising parts of the first draft before it’s finished, I bog myself down and the pace of my writing slows to a crawl. That’s not good. I need to get that draft out, warts and all, as quickly as possible so I can jump in and fix it after it’s done.

I’ll never please everyone with my work. As much as I love what I write, not everyone will see it that way. It’s ok. Art is never universally accepted. There will be some who it doesn’t work for and that’s fine.

articulated-male-818202_960_720Writing is not a solitary endeavor. Contrary to popular belief, writing is not an individual act. Sure, the writer creates and physically writes the story on their own. However, to make it work, we need other sets of eyes to help us tighten our prose. And once that’s done and you want to share it with the world, you need others to spread the love. It takes a team of dedicated individuals to make that happen. I find it best not to piss off those that can help.

Family and friends don’t always support you. I gotta start by saying I have a tremendous amount of support from a lot of my family and friends. They might not agree with the subject of my stories, but they’re super supportive of my work. Then there are those that can care less. Yeah I spent a ton of time working on perfecting my stories, only to have it fall on deaf ears. Just because they are family or friends doesn’t mean they’ll automatically help or buy the book or leave a review. And thats ok. They are under no obligation to do so. If they sell Mary Kay cosmetics does that mean I have to buy them? No. Same with my writing. It’s cool.

Rejection isn’t personal. Let me restate that: rejection isn’t personal. It’s not an indictment of you as an individual. For whatever reason, the story didn’t work for that person. Cool. Move on. Try someone else. Revisit your story to see where the holes are. Send it out again. And again. And again. Maybe try a different market. Whatever the case, remember rejection isn’t personal.

Success doesn’t happen overnight. You hear so many uplifting stories about people leaving their day jobs to become full-time authors. I would love to have that kind of financial success from my writing. However, unless your book goes viral and everyone under the sun suddenly wants to read it, this takes time and patience. Lots of it. Don’t be discouraged. Keep at it. If you have a passion for your craft and continually seek to improve, your chances of this happening are better, but not guaranteed.

work-1627703_960_720Everybody has advice. Take it at your own peril. Many people mean well, but that doesn’t mean they know what they’re talking about. Maybe they do. Talk to fifty different authors and you’ll get fifty different answers. Sift through this massive trove of opinions carefully. Try different things, but always be wary of the advice given. How to find the best and most trustworthy advice? I don’t have an answer. I take in a lot of suggestions and sometimes I’ll try them, sometimes not. It’s a personal thing I guess. Just be careful with what “rules” you follow given to you by others.

Self publishing is easy, getting noticed is not. I couldn’t believe how incredibly easy it was to get my stories uploaded to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple. It literally was a click or two and *poof* done. That’s it. But that’s also why indie authors are slammed by critics and readers. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. I spent a lot of time revising and editing my first collection of stories to leave the best impression I could with potential readers. I still had a few errors in my work. Then when it came to earning eyes on my stories, that was (and still is) a difficult process. I’m basically asking someone to use their hard earned cash to buy a book from an author they don’t know and invest their time with me. That’s a big ask. I better deliver with my work or they won’t come back.

You will have to sacrifice if you want to succeed. When I started writing, I played a lot of video games. One day I came to the realization that the time spent playing games on the Xbox was time spent not writing. How could I hope to grow as a writer and create new work if I spent my time playing games? I stopped cold turkey. I didn’t join my friends on our weekly game night anymore. I didn’t spend hours on a Saturday morning hunting achievements. Instead, I used that time to write more and read more. I’ve whittled down my gaming to two mobile games, that’s it. I miss those gaming sessions, but if I wanted to be serious about my craft, I had to make concessions somewhere.


There you have it, my ten things learned since I started as a writer. As you start your journey or are knee deep in it, how do these compare to your experiences?

Feel free to like, share, and comment. Thanks!

“Self to Younger Self, Come in!”

Have you ever thought about what you’d tell your younger self if you could? Or if your younger self would even listen?

I have.

I’d tell my younger self not to be afraid. Risks are the ultimate double edged sword. If it pans out, you have the opportunity to achieve something great. If it flops, there’s a possibility of physical or mental pain.

There were so many times when I was younger that I’d not do something out of fear. Opportunities would present themselves but instead of taking that risk, I’d shrink from it and who knows what awesome things I missed out on.

That’s funny to say as a former skateboarder too. The entire act of skateboarding is a giant risk. In order to improve or learn new tricks I had to risk injury. Though I skated for well over a decade, my progress stagnated and I never became a great skater, just an ok one. Most of that I attribute to my younger self worrying about failure in a physical sense and not pushing myself harder. I was afraid of the negative consequences of the risk.

JayanddDoug

Me (on the right) and my friend Doug.

Heck, I barely made the connection with a girl who would later turn out to be my wife of over twenty years now and the mother of our son. I knew my wife when I was in high school and I worked with her at a local fast food restaurant. I knew she liked me but I was afraid to talk to her, afraid of possible rejection. That was a risk too high for me. If it wasn’t for my friend Doug having break the same time as her one fateful day, who knows what might have happened? Without any urging from me, he got her phone number and gave it to me, telling me she wanted me to call. I did. We set up our first date and over twenty four years later, we’re still together. But I might have missed it entirely because I was too afraid to say anything.

Fear is tough to overcome. But if we risk it, if we just try, we might end up with something amazing. Or we might not, but the point is to try. Failure is not the end, but another beginning. My younger self didn’t understand that. I like to think I do now.

Dirty Dish Philosophy

Doing the dishes sucks. It’s never been my favorite chore.

My mom made my brother and I do the dishes as kids. We’d have the duty for a week at a time. After dinner, we were expected to get the dishes done no matter what. I remember how angry I’d get when I heard my brother outside with our friends, playing and having a good time while I was stuck inside doing the dishes. Those days were the worst.

When I got married, I didn’t have a clue about cooking. I could make the basics, but I never liked to do it. Because of all that time spent with my hands in dishwater, I made a deal with my wife that if she did the cooking, I’d do all the dishes. It’s an arrangement that’s worked pretty good for over twenty years now.

The huge pile of dishes after a big meal seems daunting. It’s disheartening. How do I get them all done?

One. Dish. At a time.

You know what, that’s an extremely valuable lesson.

Think about it. When faced with a difficult task, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. When that giant project looms large, it’s hard to focus because all your attention is directed towards the overall assignment.

However, if you take one task at a time; one small victory after another, you will create success.

dishes-197_960_720That pile of dishes goes away one dish, one glass, one pan at a time. Soon enough, that insurmountable counter full of dishes disappears and the task is over.

Difficult tasks can be tackled with the same mindset.

When writing a novel, it can be horrifying when you think about all those words you need to write. The blank page is every bit as scary as a monster pile of dishes. But adding one word at a time, you will get there. Soon they form sentences, then paragraphs, and those turn into pages. Before long, you’ll have a book. All it takes is to work on one small task at a time.

All those years of grumbling about dishes and soaking my hands in nasty water has led me to this conclusion: anything can be accomplished if you focus on doing all the small things needed to finish the monumental task ahead.

Now if you’ll excuse, my sink is full. I’ve got work to do.

 

Forgetting to Remember

Sometimes I’m terrible with names. I mean, really, really bad. I try hard to remember a name, but this brain can only take in so much information before it overloads.

There was a time I had a customer and I couldn’t remember her name. Still can’t.

I work as a sales rep. for a screen-printing company. One day many years back, I had an older woman come in to order t-shirts for her husband’s business. The name of the business was his name, Ralph’s Excavating* so she wanted everything written under his name; the account name, the contact name–everything.

I did as she asked. They also wanted names on the shirts so I gathered those from her and placed the order.

Several months later, maybe even close to a year, she comes back in to place a reorder. She called me by my name but I never repeated hers because I didn’t know it! I figured I could look at the names list for their previous order and figure out who she was. When she left and I pulled the last order, I was lost! They weren’t their regular names, but nicknames! I had no clue who she was!

remember-1750119_960_720She came back in a few months after that to place a reorder and still didn’t introduce her name to me. I couldn’t ask now! I was three orders in. I should’ve known by now. How could I possibly ask her what her name was? So for a third time I wrote the order using only her husband’s name. When we called to let them know their order was done, we’d always have to ask for Ralph because I didn’t know her name and was too embarrassed to ask.

She treated me so nice too. I mean, she was like a grandma. Always asking about my family and how things were. Telling me about her grandkids and such. But I didn’t know her name! It was awful.

Then, a few years later, I had a younger guy come in for the account. He was her son and said “mom passed away a year ago and I’m taking over the ordering.” Not, “Hey my mom Jean” or “Hey my mom Barb.” Nothing. No name.

So here I am, years later without a clue as to her name.

Ever have that happen to you? Ever date someone and not know their name? Ever know someone a while and not know who they were? Share with the rest of us! I can’t be the only one, right?

*Names, when remembered, have been changed to protect the innocent.

 

Rough Writing

This post is one I originally posted on Facebook at the end of July and was one of my most viewed posts ever! It’s a deeply personal account of a tough moment in my writing “career.” I’ve posted about it before but this seemed to resonate with many writers and readers. Here ya go!


Last year, I learned a valuable lesson in regards to my writing.

I wanted to turn one of my four NaNoWriMo novels into a publishable book. I choose what I thought was the best one and revised it then hired an editor to look it over.

When I got the edits back, I was also given a brutally honest assessment of the work. It wasn’t something I wanted to hear, but man it was so helpful and so spot on. I cannot thank that editor enough for opening my eyes to the problems it had and how far from being ready it was.

Then, a few days later, I attended a writing conference where they were doing a blind reading of submitted stories with a panel of agents and small publishers. Anyone that wanted to could submit a three page sample of their story and they’d read it out loud for the entire conference to hear. Once it got to the point in the story where that agent or editor would’ve rejected the submission, they were to raise their hand. Once a majority of the panel rejected it, they’d stop and offer a critique of why they rejected it (or if it went the entire length, why they would’ve asked for more).

I submitted my three pages. So did about a hundred other writers. They only read five submissions but guess whose got read? Yeah, this guy right here! It was the same story I had my editor work on. Already feeling bummed about the comments received so far, when they started reading mine I was in shock but also curious.

boy-859364_960_720When they got to the second page, hands started flying up. I sipped my Diet Coke like nothing was going on but inside I was crushed. I wanted to crawl in a hole and die. Their feedback was brutal. Much like the editor I worked with, they didn’t hold back, however this was in front of a room of over a hundred writers! Fortunately the only person that knew who’s story they were critiquing was myself.

Those combined experiences with that draft made me question everything I was doing. Was I good enough? Do I have a clue about what I’m doing? Was I mistakenly claiming the title of “writer?” Should I give up?

My drive home from that conference was a dark, lonely drive. However, when I finally pulled in the driveway, I determined to use this for good.

I vowed to get better, to try harder, to continue progressing in my craft because I love it. I enjoy writing and it’s a part of me now. I chose to take their criticisms not as a personal attack, but as my alarm to improve my writing. I had skill, but it needed work.

It was a tough lesson to learn, but in the end the most valuable thing to happen to me.

Writing Ideas

When you write and get stuck on a scene or stuck on a story idea, what do you do?

I’ve got a couple tricks I’ve found useful when I get in those predicaments.

My go-to method for story idea generating is to search random pictures online until I find something useful or inspiring. Normally I’d go to Flickr and start searching through the public photos. I’ve found the site to be excellent at discovering new and interesting photos.

My method then is to save the image in a folder on my computer and just sit and stare. I like to think long about what’s in the image, what could be happening, what did just happen, and more. Back when I used to release brand new flash fiction on the 15th of every month, that was my tried and true method for creating new stories. I’d also include the image in the story. If you search around on my blog long enough, you’ll eventually stumble on those.

old-book-2514411_960_720Another method I like to use to enhance my writing is to listen to music. Back when I was working on my first NaNoWriMo novel called “Master of the Drunken Fist,” my protagonist would drink various types of alcohol and go into another dimension based on the the type of alcohol he drank. For example, when he drank moonshine he ended up in a backwoods, rural setting. When he drank vodka he was on an expedition in Russia.

When it came time to write the scenes in that other dimension, I would listen to various types of music. When I did the moonshine scenes, I created a playlist on Pandora based off of the “O’ Brother Where Art Thou?” soundtrack. It was perfect for setting the mood. When I wrote the vodka scenes, I listened to Tchaikovsky non-stop.

I found the various types of music, like the alcohol my protagonist drank, transported me to a different world and helped me create scenes that were more alive and more true to the feeling I was trying to evoke.

I’ve known other authors who will do something similar. I know of an author who will search through random YouTube videos for songs to draw inspiration from. Like my random photos, they help him generate ideas for stories.

As with all writing, we come to our methods in different ways. I would never tell you to do it like I do because it might not be your thing. I can suggest you try what I do to see if it works, but I’m not gonna say my method is the only one you should use. What does matter is that you find your thing, whatever it is.

Do you have something different that works for you? Share in the comments so others can try your technique. Let’s share our methods so we can all learn together.