Weekly Writing Update 4

A Lovely Verse: “Chapter Two: Louisa” is now complete. I am putting this novel on hold to work on a short story for my Speculative Fiction: Horror class. The next chapter will be from Xavier’s point of view, and I’m very excited about this because I write stories with a lot of dialogue, and Xavier doesn’t really speak.

“Communion”: This short story is one I’ve been working on (off and on, of course) since I was fifteen. I just rewrote the entire story so it’s virtually unrecognizable from the original draft, but it still needs serious work. It’s a work detailing a demonic possession, something I’m apparently rather knowledgeable in. It’s nowhere near where I want it yet, but I’ll give more updates on it soon enough.

“Order, Chaos, and Diaries”: I’m still awaiting feedback on my revision before I send it out to magazines. I may need to revise it just a bit more.

“Untitled Horror Short Story”: Oh, what’s this? An untitled work with no hints whatsoever beyond genre?

Untitled Place/Travel Essay: I plan on writing an essay about my time in a mental institution when I was twelve years old. Anyone who has been curious as to what that’s like will be happy to know that it was not pleasant, and you were not missing out on anything. I plan to start the first draft over spring break (so this week).

Readings for class: Night to Dawn issue #36 (horror), That Which Grows Wild by Eric J. Guignard (horror), Boundary Waters by Paul Gruchow (nonfiction, nature)

Personal Readings (I know this list hardly changes, but personal reading is difficult thanks to class readings): The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (horror), The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin (horror, dystopian), Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson (fantasy), The Rose That Blooms in the Night by Allie Michelle (poetry), Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton (audiobook, science fiction), An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison (mental health, memoir)

Finished: Letters to a Young Madman by Paul Gruchow (nonfiction, mental health), The Amulet by Michael McDowell (audiobook, horror), Night to Dawn issue #35 (horror)

Stay tuned for blog entries on topics like From the Mouths of Dogs by B. J. Hollars, Michael McDowell’s Southern Gothic novels, and what it’s like to be accused of being possessed by demons.

Note: This blog will likely not update during my spring break while I turn my attention to writing short stories and such.

Keep writing!

So far I’ve only read three stories from this for my class, but I’m hooked. They’re weird, but good weird.

Scribbler Review

So first off, a disclaimer: I am not being paid or compensated in any way to write this review. It’s just purely for fun. Now that we’ve got that out of the way…

Scribbler is a subscription box by authors and for writers. Each month, you get “curated writing gifts,” an autographed novel, a teaching booklet from a bestselling author, an inside look into the publishing process, and a live chat with an editor or literary agent. I signed up mostly out of curiosity (partially because I’m a little addicted to subscription boxes—I mean, I even have one for my dog). So let’s see what I got in my first box:

First off, the box has a really cool design. This won’t help your writing, but hey, it’s better than a boring, plain cardboard box.

Okay, so this was dangerous. It was a box full of shreds of crinkly, orange paper. It kind of irritated my OCD. There’s no point to my telling you this, honestly. On to the actual contents!

First off, coffee! I’d love to review how it tastes, but I do not have a coffee grinder. So expect an update on that as soon as I buy one. This is a little inconvenient for those of us without grinders, but it’s a minor inconvenience.

Here’s the signed book! The title is If You Tell: A True Story of Murder, Family Secrets, and the Unbreakable Bond of Sisterhood. It is by Gregg Olsen. The autograph actually comes as a separate sticker you can place in the book, or keep elsewhere. The book itself is highly rated and by a bestselling author. Honestly, I’ll read books in just about any genre, so true crime is an exciting change for me. If you’re not a big fan of certain genres, this box might not be for you. If you are adventurous like me, you’ll love a random, highly rated book showing up at your door every month. The box also came with a booklet about the author and editing notes for one of the chapters. You actually get to see the step-by-step revision process. So in this way, it’s perfect for writers.

Here are two of the “just for fun” items. The coaster made me smile, but the “Do Not Disturb” sign stretched that smile into a wicked grin. There was also a little patch to iron onto a bag, but I don’t own an iron. So…yeah.

So, I would say this box gets a solid 4/5 rating. The coffee was a little inconvenient, and you don’t get to select a genre of book. Also, the chat with a literary agent or editor is scheduled so if you can’t make it, tough. However, writing advice and the book are excellent. Plus, the gifts are adorable (and a little creepy, but I like creepy). It’s got a fairly average price for a subscription box ($27.50 a month plus tax), so I can’t really say anything to that. I believe you do get your money’s worth IF you’re a flexible reader. I will definitely be keeping my subscription.

Weekly Writing Update 3

A Lovely Verse: “Chapter One: Gregory” is complete and will be put on Patreon later this month! “Chapter Two: Louisa” will be out sometime soon as well, possibly as soon as this month because I plan on “Chapter Three: Xavier” being workshopped by my Speculative Fiction: Horror class. The first chapter introduces the frustrated Gregory, the wistful and grieving Louisa, and the silent, autistic Xavier to the reader as they settle into their new home in Ider. You can check it out on March 15th on my Patreon by pledging at least $6.

A quick side note: I’ve received some backlash in my family for my horror writing. I’ve basically been called possessed (by not one, but seven or eight demons) by one member of my family. So I will be writing on that soon.

“Order, Chaos, and Diaries”: I’m awaiting feedback on my revision before I send it out to magazines.

Untitled Place/Travel Essay: I plan on writing an essay about my time in a mental institution when I was twelve years old. Anyone who has been curious as to what that’s like will be happy to know that it was not pleasant, and you were not missing out on anything.

Readings for class: Night to Dawn issue #35 (horror), That Which Grows Wild by Eric J. Guignard (horror), Boundary Waters by Paul Gruchow (nonfiction, nature), “The Dunwich Horror” by H. P. Lovecraft

Personal Readings (I know this list hardly changes, but personal reading is difficult thanks to class readings): The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (horror), The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin (horror, dystopian), Letters to a Young Madman by Paul Gruchow (nonfiction, mental health), Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson (fantasy), and The Rose That Blooms in the Night by Allie Michelle (poetry)

Finished: Submerge by K. Y. Robinson (poetry), The Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda Lovelace (poetry)

Stay tuned for blog entries on the unboxing of a package from Scribbler (a subscription service for writers), From the Mouths of Dogs by B. J. Hollars, Michael McDowell’s Southern Gothic novels, and what it’s like to be accused of being possessed by demons.

Keep writing!

Gruchow never actually finished this, as he took his own life while it was in the draft stages. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I am diagnosed with bipolar disorder. It helps to know we are not alone in our struggles.

Weekly Writing Update #2

A Lovely Verse: So my workshop went really well. Part of it consisted of me trying not to laugh as my classmates picked at something I’d forgotten to change. In the original, Xavier was a young boy with Autism Spectrum Disorder (which I’ve personally been diagnosed with) and was nonverbal, and Eliza, his sister, never actually had the chance to be born. In the more recent version, Xavier is a teenager, verbal, but chooses not to speak. Eliza, rather than being a stillbirth, went missing years ago and is presumed dead. Anyways, workshop definitely gave me ideas for the rewrites, and Chapter 1 will be available on Patreon on March 15th.

“Order, Chaos, and Diaries”: So this workshop was hilarious. Everyone wanted more Tanner (my husband). I briefly mentioned him in the essay as part of the “order” in my “chaos” of OCD, but everyone saw that he was meant to play a larger role. So I gave them what they wanted in my revision. I ignored some of the stranger comments, like the ones concerning my title or whether or not I’d considered telling my dog “no” when she jumped into my lap (I likened that to an IT person asking me if I’d tried turning my computer off and on again). Yeah, not all workshop tips are the best.

Readings for class: Night to Dawn issue #35 (horror), That Which Grows Wild by Eric J. Guignard (horror), Boundary Waters by Paul Gruchow (nonfiction, nature)

Personal Readings: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (horror), The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin (horror, dystopian), Letters to a Young Madman by Paul Gruchow (nonfiction, mental health), Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson (fantasy), and Submerge by K.Y. Robinson (poetry collection)

Finished: From the Mouths of Dogs by B.J. Hollars (nonfiction, essay collection), The Buying of Lot 37 by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor (Welcome to Night Vale, horror, science fiction)

I will be writing a piece on From the Mouths of Dogs soon, so be on the lookout for that! Keep writing!

This is one of the most famous ghost stories written in its time. There’s an awesome show on Netflix, too, though I warn you it’s nothing like the book.

3 Ways to Create the Perfect Writing Space

So you think you’re ready to write. You’ve got your pen and paper or laptop handy, and you’re about to write the future bestselling mystery or fantasy or literary novel. The pen touches the paper or your fingers graze the keys. Something doesn’t feel right, though. There’s a noisy neighbor yelling in the apartment over, or the sounds of the Starbucks weren’t quite as pleasant as you’d hoped. Your desk is piled high with papers you should’ve sorted through weeks ago, or maybe your dog has decided to grab his or her favorite squeaky toy and chew on it loudly right at your feet. You have to get out of here.

A writer’s space is a sacred space. It’s a place free of stress or worry (unless, of course, the writing is stressing you out, but we’ll get to that in another post). It’s a place you can come to and forget all of the little nagging things in the back of your mind—bills, college, work, chores, exercise, diet, health issues. It’s where you clear your mind of everything except the story that needs to be written. So, here are some tips on how to make that special place.

1. Decorate your space with things that inspire you, humor you, or simply make you feel good. – For instance, my space is decorated with a bulletin board filled with keychains I’ve collected and a map of Discworld. I’ve actually collected keychains for nearly twenty years, and each one has a story to tell. This especially helps me with my nonfiction writing, as it brings back good memories to get the creative juices flowing. The map of Discworld, on the other hand, reminds me of my husband. The Discworld novels are some of his favorites. Therefore, the map gives me a sense of comfort and security, just like being in my husband’s presence.

2. Choose a space with the noise level and lighting that are best for you. My space has dim overhead lighting and a dim lamp if I need a little extra light. I am fairly sensitive to light, so dim lighting really helps my focus. As for noise, I picked a place in my house that is the absolute quietest: a little room off to the side of the kitchen that my husband and I refer to as the “craft room.” If you prefer a little background noise, why not try to liven up your space with classical music or a nature sounds machine?

3. Most importantly, choose a space that’s comfortable for you. Or make it comfortable, like I did. My husband and I purchased a soft, plushy blue recliner to put next to my desk so I’d have somewhere to read or rest comfortably. My office chair is plenty comfy, but nothing beats reading in a nice recliner. If you don’t feel like investing in new furniture, maybe think of what “comfort” means to you. Find what actually allows you to relax. This could be a comfort snack, a nice blanket, a cozy hoodie, or even a sensory toy.

Also, here’s my sacred space:

Keep writing!

Weekly Writing Update – February 17th, 2020

High Fantasy Novel: Currently, my high fantasy novel is with a reader who will be returning it to me soon with her notes. I’m hoping to have the final edits done by the end of the year. The novel itself follows a woman of dragon descent as she tries to rescue her friend from an evil that threatens her world. I did a lot of worldbuilding for this story—lots of lore, unique gods, and a place that is not earth. I will release more info as I work on it, but I plan on putting this through traditional publishing so it may never make it to Patreon.

A Lovely Verse: I will be editing the first chapter after attending a workshop I’ve submitted it to. I’m currently taking a course called Speculative Writing: Horror, and it pushed me to come up with the idea. I’ve gotten some great feedback so far. If you’re worried about your first workshop, here’s a quick guide on how to survive them.

“Order, Chaos, and Diaries”: This personal essay concerning my struggle with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder will probably be available on Patreon in a month or so. It will be workshopped soon as well, and I’m really excited about it. I wrote it as my “quotidian” piece for my Creative Writing: Nonfiction course.

Readings for class: Night to Dawn (a horror literary magazine, issue #35, you can find their site here), That Which Grows Wild by Eric J. Guignard (short story collection, horror)

Personal Readings: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (horror), The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin (horror, dystopian), The Buying of Lot 37 by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor (Welcome to Night Vale, horror, science fiction), and From the Mouths of Dogs by B.J. Hollars (nonfiction, essay collection)

I also am waiting on a response from a magazine for one essay, and I am trying to find a new home for my short story, “Strawberries Bleed at Midnight,” since Nth Degree will be shutting down.

Keep writing!

Six Tips to Help You Write Every Day

I took a Creative Writing: Fiction course in college, and one of my classmates said something that will never leave me. She complained about the coursework, stating that she liked to write when “inspiration” hit.

Ah, the mythical “inspiration.”

The truth is, “inspiration” writers aren’t career writers. If you only write when inspiration strikes, you’re likely to just give up when things get a little rough. When writer’s block finds you, you’re likely to just burn your notebooks or delete your documents and find a safer career path. The truth is that inspiration is nice, but not necessary to write. So here’s six tips on how to help you write every single day, inspiration or not.

1. Find your space

Your “space” can be anywhere. It can be at a nice, pretty wooden desk in a home office/library you designed. It can be on your couch or at your dining room table. It can be in a study room at your college. It can even be one of those little tables at Starbucks, surrounded by people and the smell of coffee. It can even be sitting on your bed by lamplight, scribbling or typing away in the dimly lit space of your bedroom. Make sure it’s a place you feel comfortable. That’s it.

2. Start with a writing prompt

Personally, writer’s block is a frequent enemy of mine. The struggle with my mental health often leaves me a little stressed about writing. That’s where writing prompts come in. I personally like to time myself for fifteen minutes and just type away on a prompt. By the time those fifteen minutes are up, I have rushed garbage, but it’s still writing. It’s a warm-up. It’s proof I can still write. So start with something small, and then get to work on whatever idea you’ve been playing with.

3. Limit distractions

It may be impossible to find a place that’s completely free of distraction, but there are some things you can do to limit distractions. If you’re not someone who works well with tons of noise, try to find a quiet spot, use ear plugs, or wear noise-canceling headphones (even a cheap pair works pretty well, mine are only $80 instead of the usual $300-$400). Avoid rooms with other people or animals. Definitely avoid a room with a TV. If you’re typing, turn off your Internet connection so you aren’t tempted to check your e-mail or Facebook.

4. Limit TV in general

I know I mentioned TV in the last one, but this can’t be stressed enough. I used to watch TV for hours each day, and my writing suffered. It basically was like the creativity was being leeched out of me. I’d sit at the computer, brain numbed from the hours of television, and I wouldn’t be able to fight through the strongest writer’s block I’d known. So please, read a book instead. Your brain will thank you.

5. Listen to music or read a book

Do something that really nurtures your creativity before you write. It may be going for a nice walk or run out in nature (or on a treadmill). It may be listening to some music from your favorite band or a band that plays songs you think your characters would enjoy. It may be reading a book and getting your mind working on novel ideas of your own. It could even be a relaxing bath. Whatever the case, do whatever gets the ideas flowing.

6. Make it a habit

All of these things only work if you do them consistently. A schedule is key. If you write best in the morning, write then. If you’re a night owl, write at night. If you only have 30 minutes a day, write for the thirty minutes. It doesn’t have to be at the EXACT same time every day, but try for it. Once you have your place and time as a habit, you’ll be prepped to write every time you sit down to do so. It’ll come easier to you. Better than waiting for “inspiration” and never getting anything done, right?

Comments or questions are all appreciated! Keep writing.

12 Ways to Decrease Anxiety

Anxiety is the enemy of writers everywhere.

Think about all the times you’ve procrastinated for fear of sitting in front of a blank page or Word document for half an hour, unable to put down even a single word. Yeah, I’ve been there, too. With problems like social anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and the occasional psychotic episode, anxiety is a near-daily presence in my life. However, anxiety can be fought. With the proper tools and resources, it can be defeated. I’ve spent years compiling methods to keep myself calm. I’d like to share some of those resources with you today.

1. Be mindful of caffeine and alcohol intake
Both of these can be harmful to your writing in large amounts. Since consumption of either is fine in small quantities, limit yourself if you believe your intake is affecting your ability to write or function. I find that more than one drink of either each day usually leaves me restless, jittery, or unable to focus.

2. Deep or Mindful Breathing
These never fail to calm me down, even during some of my most intense panic states. For deep breathing, breath in for seven seconds, hold for five, then breathe out for eight. Really breathe in deep and exhale forcefully. Repeat several times. You want to feel a slight lightheaded sensation. For mindful breathing, set a peaceful sound on a timer and time it for a minute to start with. Close your eyes and focus only on your breathing. Block out all outside sounds. The trick is to practice both of these when you aren’t anxious so that you don’t need to remember instructions and can do them as a natural response to anxiety.

3. Weighted Blankets
These provide a sort of pressure to your body, and this actually has a very strong calming effect. I started using one after my fiance got a job working swing shift. Sleeping alone in our house became difficult, even with our dog dutifully curled up next to me each night. The weighted blanket had an almost instant calming effect that allowed me to drift off to sleep within minutes. You can find these online or at most big retailers like Wal-Mart or Target. These can range anywhere from $50 to well over $100, depending on the retailer and size of the blanket.

4. Sound Machine
If you’re sensitive to noise like I am, a sound machine can block out unwanted stimulus and replace it with a soothing or consistent sound. It’s much easier to block out the sound of rain than it is to block out the sound of a TV in the next room over. Most come with multiple settings. Personally, I prefer ocean sounds. These can also be found online or at Wal-Mart or Target. They often cost around $25. If you want a cheaper option, you can easily find videos with these sounds on YouTube.

5. Noise-canceling headphones
These are also helpful if you are sensitive to noise. However, unlike a $25 sound machine, these often cost $80 at the very least. If you want the sound completely blocked out, you may be looking in the hundreds. If you have the money to spare, and you desperately need some peace and quiet, these are an excellent option.

6. Go for a walk
One of the cheapest and best options is to exercise is some manner. Exercise also improves mood if you have a mood disorder like me. The most stabilizing exercise is at least thirty minutes of cardio. You want to be able to talk while you exercise, but not sing.

7. Talk it out—but watch what you say
It can be helpful to talk about your anxious thoughts and feelings, but only if you are truly getting them out. If you start to speak in circles or delve deeper into anxious territory—stop.

8. Aromatherapy
Whether it’s scented candles, lotion, diffusers, etc., aromatherapy works for many people. Try a relaxing scent like lavender. Or just find one that you like. Orange has always relaxed me despite its supposed energizing effect, so just use whatever works best!

9. Have a cup of calming tea
Many underestimate the power of a cup of calming tea. Chamomile is a popular choice. I’m personally partial to tea including mint.

10. Make sure to get enough sleep
A lack of sleep can seriously mess with your mood and anxiety levels. We have trouble functioning on less than five hours of sleep, but if your average is five or six you’re still going to be more prone to anxiety and mood issues. Aim for seven or eight hours a night, limit the napping, and try to get a decent sleep schedule going. Your brain will thank you, and so will your writing.

11. Write about it
It may seem counterintuitive. I mean, your problem is that you can’t write. Well, I’m here to tell you that your problem is you’re anxious to write about your current WIP, and writing about your anxiety may still be very possible. It may help to make a list of the things you’re stressed about. The list may be much, much smaller than you think it is. Or maybe it’ll help to pick a random prompt and write about that. Either way, it gets words on the page.

12. Mindful Thinking
This one is a bit tricky, but it is a very valuable skill once you get the hang of it. With your eyes closed, picture your mind as a vast ocean. Now, picture those anxious thoughts swimming by in the form of a school of fish (or whatever marine life you prefer). Acknowledge the thoughts, but don’t actually take hold of them. They can be present in your mind without you grabbing hold of them and letting them take over. Each time the thought tries to invade your mind, repeat this exercise. Eventually, the thought becomes less intrusive. It weakens. This exercise works best after some deep breathing.

Anxiety does not rule you. It does not dictate when you write, or how much you write. With proper effort, it can be defeated, and you can return to your WIP in peace. So take some deep breaths, sip that calming tea, and get back to what you were born to do. Write!

I look forward to comments and questions below! Keep writing!

Five Reasons Why You Should Read the Wicked Lovely Series by Melissa Marr

Published: 2007, HarperTeen (HarperCollins Publishers)

Genres: Young Adult Fantasy, Urban Fantasy

Edition: First paperback edition, 2008

This review is spoiler free!

First Book Summary: Aislinn has always been able to see faeries. Their power and cruelty frighten her, so she has followed three rules to avoid being noticed by them: don’t stare, don’t speak to them, don’t ever attract their attention. When a powerful fairy suddenly has his eyes set on her, she has to work to avoid him and the mystical world he offers. She keeps her secret hidden from her best friend, Seth, even as she finds herself drowning in a world of magic and tradition that seeks to claim everything that makes her human.

1. The stunning difference in points of view.
In the world of Wicked Lovely, several courts exist. The POVs switch around to characters of different courts, allowing you to see sides of each one that you wouldn’t otherwise see. So while someone of the passionate and playful Summer Court may see the cold as a harsh and brutal thing, someone from the Winter Court may view the cold as serene. Outsiders may view the Dark Court as bloodthirsty and vicious, but the members of the Dark Court may see the world as exciting and delightful in its own wicked way. The way Marr achieves this balancing of many POVs is masterful.

2. The fey’s bursts of colorful description.
There’s a huge difference in the way Marr writes the drab and boring human world in comparison to the vibrant world of the fey. When the fey enter the page, it comes to life in bursts of bright Summer sunshine, or maybe there’s a splash of darkness and blood from the Dark Court’s constant violence. Even the Winter fey blanket the world in soft white snow and pierce it with icy shards. The setting bursts to life in your mind as you read over the page.

3. The relationships
The relationships in this world are tinged by darkness, but are also incredibly modern and progressive. Wicked Lovely eventually opens its doors to LGBT couples. Along with this, it explores the relationships between characters caught up in the human world and the world of the fey, as well as relationships ruled by tradition and relationships hindered by trauma.

4. The World
Marr brings many different types of fey to life on our Earth. From the prickly thistle fey to the vine-covered Summer Girls to the lupine fey, there’s something for everyone who has even the slightest interest in mythical creatures.

5. The lore
A lot of the lore appears to have Irish roots. A lot of the magic is drenched in blood and vows, just the way many of us like our low fantasy magic. Everything has a price in the world of the fey.

Wicked Lovely only gets better as you read. The opening scene in the first book grabs you the moment you read it, and the rest of the book is a quick fall from the comfortable, gray world of humanity into the vibrant, yet shadow-infested, world of the fey. With Marr’s dark and beautiful style as your constant companion, open yourself to the world of the fey (even if Aislinn doesn’t want to join you).

Read the book? Want to? Comment below! Also, keep writing!

Meacham – A Writer’s Conference

October 26, 2019

Today I attended my first writing seminar outside of the confines of a college course. This particular nonfiction seminar was a part of Meacham Writers’ Workshop, a conference held in the spring and fall at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. My mental preparation slipped away from me as the day of the seminar approached. All of those things I’ve taught myself about anxiety and mood slipped away in the grip of a brief flash of mania.

The coordinator had e-mailed three articles to the entire group attending the seminar. These were all on grief and general nonfiction writing. My paranoid brain, unaware that everyone had received these articles, took the articles as a sign that my essay on grief wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t good enough. I nearly skipped the seminar, but I decided to attend mere hours before it started. The real me peeked through the mania to remind myself that it was my duty as an aspiring writer to look for feedback in any way I possibly could.

Once in the classroom, all paranoia disappeared. The coordinator had prepared a very thoughtful presentation on writing on grief because most of the essays dealt with grief or loss of some kind. There had been no personal attack. It was just the coordinator’s attempt to help us better our own works. After a few notes on her own work, she coaxed us through several writing exercises designed to polish our own essays, such as writing down the questions our essays answered.

At the end, I approached the coordinator for personal feedback on my essay, only to find there was very little left to do at all. I spent the rest of the day reminding myself that my paranoia was nothing to be ashamed of.

This won’t be the last time my mental illness throws a roadblock in my journey to publish my writing, but hopefully next time I’ll remember my own advice on decreasing anxiety.

Need help on surviving workshops? Check out this article.

Anyone else have a seminar experience to share? Comment below, or ask me anything. Keep writing!