Category Archives: Superstars Writing Seminars

Why Finding Balance is Impossible.

A Guest Post by Jen Greyson

I’ve recently returned from two weeks immersed in writing conferences—the Superstars Writing Seminar and LTUE—with many of my writing mentors and peers, people I admire both professionally and personally. They’re both phenomenal and I always come away with lots of great nuggets about the business and industry. But this year I came away with something a little different.

While my professional life has been on a solid upward trajectory, my personal life has been headed in the other direction. The day before I left for Superstars, my husband asked for a divorce. It’s been a long time coming for lots of reasons, and I’ve asked for one prior to that day, but it still left me trying to find my feet as I showed up on the first day of the seminar.

For the days that I interacted with the people of my tribe, I was emotionally unable to stay upright. There was no balance in my life. In the same hours I was riding a professional high, my personal life was crumbling beneath my feet, making balance impossible. The juxtaposition had me leaning on the emotional strength of the people around me in an effort to find my footing (something that’s incredibly difficult for me).

The struggle to find balance is a common theme in every life, especially for artists as we often get to add our passions in the “extra” hours of our days after work and family take up the rest.

During the days of the seminar, I realized that I’d been looking at the balance of my personal and professional life through the wrong set of lenses; I’ve always thought balance was a set of scales, but I was wrong.

The balance we seek isn’t finding a way to make the scales weigh the same; the balance is finding our equilibrium.

One of my favorite life lessons came from the last line of Glennon Doyle Melton’s Carry On, Warrior. She said (I’m completely paraphrasing), “Stress creates pressure and we all know the feeling of it pressing in so hard on us that we think we can’t bear another second. We’ve been taught that pressure is bad and painful and uncomfortable, but what if it’s not? Maybe that pressure is what holds us up. It would be a great tragedy to have nothing important pressing in at all.”

Without that pressure, perhaps we’d fall over.

It’s the same with balance. Balance is finding your equilibrium in the middle of a storm standing in raging seas, dealing with the loss of support groups, or support at home, or a job, or financial support, or one of the many forms that support comes in. Our support needs shift and change just like everything else in our life and we are constantly relearning how to find our equilibrium. I think the secret to blending a writing life with a normal life is finding our equilibrium and doing it not by thinking we have to stand on our own two feet 100% of the time, but rather by not being afraid of leaning on the people in our lives when we must.

On the last day, I heard the perfect thing that summed up so much of what I’d misunderstood about how I’d been feeling for the days leading up to the end of the most favorite week of my year. Lisa Mangum (from Shadow Mountain Publishing), when asked about finding balance between a writer life and a normal life, said, “We think the two lines of our lives run parallel to each other when in fact they’re completely interwoven. They criss and they cross and zig and zag, some times they’re very far apart, sometimes they’re very close together, sometimes they’re overlapping so closely that you cannot see one from the other.”

Again, I’m paraphrasing what she said, but within the imagery that came as she spoke was a clarity that there is no way to separate writing from normal life because as writers—probably true for all artists—we see beauty and art in everything we do, whether we’re driving a car, or help our kids get dressed in the morning, or listening to a news story. There’s always a what if, there’s always a story idea that comes from everything we touch and see and smell. Switching out one life for the other isn’t as simple as changing hats or closing our computers and walking out of our office. Being a writer is not something we do—even for those who’ve been able to turn it into a business and treat books like products and not babies—but no matter what kind of writer you are, it is still who we are inasmuch as it’s what we do.

Storytellers were the community builders, they were the ones who drew people together to share common emotions, whether they were telling a thrilling story of a hunt, or a scary story about the woods, or a legend about two lovers. All those stories held one thing in common, emotion and connection. That’s who we are as storytellers, but we must not forget both sides of the story. Too often we focus on the emotion that comes in the telling of the story and we forget about the connection that comes in the creating of the story.

Balance (equilibrium) comes when we search out—and accept—the connection during the creation.

Balance is impossible because we can’t weigh the tasks and pressures, taking one kilogram from this scale and adding it to that. Equilibrium is possible. Equilibrium comes from setting our feet, and looking ahead, and being okay with the people who come alongside us and shore us up in those moments when a sneaker wave crashes against the boat and makes us lose our footing.

Jen Greyson:

Jen Greyson was first published by the international publishing house that launched the blockbuster, Fifty Shades of Grey. She has written over 45 published books and her ghostwritten works have appeared on the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists. She writes new adult fantasy and science fiction along with NA and adult contemporary romances. Sign up to receive alerts about her next release:

Don’t “Find” Time, Make the Time

A Guest Post by Wayland Smith

I was asked to write about finding a balance between work, life, and writing. Instead of talking about my writing credits, I’m going to run down my weekend as a way of showing what I know about the struggle to find time to write. It’s something I understand.

My regular shift is a long, overnight one. Thursday I went in to work with my shift starting at 6 PM. I was supposed to get off work at 6:30 AM, but there were some issues and our usual shortage of staff, and I ended up being released at about 12:30 in the afternoon. By the time I got home, I had been up for 24 hours. I had the rest of Friday and Saturday off, then worked a different job Sunday from 4 in the morning until 9 at night with one break in that stretch. With all that, I still got a few thousand words done over the weekend, and finished a chapter of one of my current works in progress. That’s not, “Hey, I’m cool,” that’s me showing that it doesn’t matter how busy you are, you can write if you chose to.

I hear people asking all the time, “When do you find time to write?” The answer is a simple one, but it’s one a lot of people don’t like. You fight for it. You make a commitment to yourself and you stick with it. Some people write every day, some have a word count per week, or month. It doesn’t really matter what you set for yourself. What matters it that you DO it.

Sometimes that means you don’t get to watch the game with your friends. Sometimes you don’t get to the movie you wanted to see. But, as I’ve heard many other people who are much more successful than I am so far say (and this may be part of why they are successful): Writing is a job. If you’re at all serious about it, you have to approach it like that. Jim Butcher has said, “I don’t have a muse, I have a mortgage.” That’s the attitude you need to get the words down.

So how do you find the balance? Well, that’s something you have to think about carefully. I believe the usually accepted statistic is that something like ten percent of writers manage to actually make a living off their writing. The rest of us have jobs in addition to writing. And, if you’re fond of eating, not living in a relative’s basement, and occasionally going out (or to cons), you need to keep the job.

Family is important, whether it’s a traditional tied by marriage and blood kind, or people who have become your family over time. You need these people in your life. If you don’t have them, you’re not well balanced, and that comes out in your writing, which suffers.

You need to manage your time, and you need to do it carefully. It’s going to be full of compromises. Occasionally, you’re going to have to go to work when you’d really rather be chasing the latest story idea. Sometimes, you’re going to have to tell your nearest and dearest and that you have a deadline coming up and you need some uninterrupted writing time. And sometimes, the voices in your head, or your imaginary friends, or however you like to think of it, are going to have to take a back seat so you can spend some time with the people you love. Or at least like.

You need to manage to be nice about it, but really firm. If you’ve promised time to your family, don’t slip out and start writing. If you have a goal that’s important to you and you need to put in a big push to get there, turn off your phone, shut off your internet connection, and write. It’s both the simplest and the hardest thing about writing. Writers write. Not talk about writing, not say, “I really should get some words down.” They write. And then write more. And revise and edit and rewrite. And while they’re doing all that, they have to keep a job and relationships with the people who are important to them.

All that said, I can offer a few suggestions about making some time. Note, making, not finding. You’re not going to suddenly trip over an extra hour somewhere. If you do, let me know how that happened. A few standbys that a lot of people I know use are either getting up half an hour earlier and/or writing during your lunch hour. If you bring your lunch to work, then A) it’s generally cheaper and B) the time you spent going somewhere, waiting in line, buying something, and then finding a table to eat it is time you can write. Yes, this requires some planning and dedication. So does writing. Remember those bits about it’s a job and making the time?

If your writing is really important to you, if you’re going to pursue a full time writing career no matter what, find a job that lets you write. I’ve heard Brandon Sanderson say he got a job as the night desk man at a hotel for just that reason. Night time security guard works, too. Yes, those are really radical changes to make to your life to get time to write. But then you’re back to the balance issue again. What are you willing to give up to move forward with your writing?

I’m not trying to scare anyone, or paint a picture of doom and gloom. I have a full time job, and work a few part time ones, and have a decent social life. I also managed to write just shy of 500,000 words last year. It can be done. You just to plan your time carefully. It’s worth it to me. Whether it is to you or not is something only you can decide.


Wayland Smith:

WAYLAND SMITH is the pen name for a native Texan who has lived in Massachusetts, New York, Washington DC, and presently makes his home in Virginia. His rather unlikely list of jobs includes private investigator, comic book shop owner, ring crew for a circus (then he ran away from the circus and joined home), deputy sheriff, writer, and freelance stagehand. Wayland has one novel out so far, In My Brother’s Name, and short stories in the anthologies “This Mutant Life: Bad Company”, “HeroNet Files, Vol 1,” “SNAFU: An Anthology of Military Horror,” and “Legends of the Dragon,” among others. A black belt in shao lin kung fu, he is also a fan of comic books, reading, writing, and various computer games (I’ll shut Civ down in one more turn. Really). He lives with a beautiful woman who was crazy enough to marry him, and the spirits of a few wonderful dogs that have passed on.

Writing is Life

A Guest Post from Scott Lee

I pulled in to the house, just back from my third time attending the Superstars Writing Seminar. I had spent the ride home rehearsing the arguments I would present to my wife as to why I should pull out the credit card and immediately pay for Superstars 2017. After all, the price was the lowest it would ever be, it was set to go up in the morning, and we had a rough idea that our tax return was going to be pretty sweet… Argument in the bag, right? In. The. Bag.

Then I noticed that our little car wasn’t in the drive way. Huh. Becca wasn’t home. Perhaps I would end up waiting awhile before delivering my winning Superstars argument. Or then again, Becca wasn’t home…but no, I’ve lived enough to recognize that thought as a trap.

So, I walk into the house, playing it cool, calm and confident. I had an argument to make.


So here I am. Blogging. About writing. And life. And balance. Feeling that I owe you, dear reader, some modicum of advice, insight or wisdom. So here goes.

As I’ve thought about this over the past few weeks I knew pretty quickly that the story I started the blog out with—I’ll finish it later, don’t worry—would have to be included somehow. It is too ironic not to be, and it embodies what thoughts I’ve managed to gather.

First off, I find that framing the question as finding balance between life and writing, writing and real life, or between art and life—creates a false dichotomy. When I considered opening with this point, I had to ask myself if I wasn’t nitpicking. Was I just giving way to personal prejudice against any dichotomy? Everyone talks about writing this way. But I don’t think I’m just picking nits. We can talk about balancing priorities in life, we can talk about where writing fits in our lives, but as long as we split life from writing, even subconsciously, we’re self-sabotaging.

My job doesn’t define me. I am a teacher, but it’s a single facet of who I am not the sum of my identity. Even so, I don’t separate my role as a teacher from my life. It’s not something I go and do when I’m not living. And my role as a writer is no different. If you allow yourself to separate your writing from your “life,” then you make any pursuit of writing time, let alone balance, much harder.

Furthermore, in my experience, most writers are likely to experience things in exactly the opposite direction. It is writing that feels most like life. If we adopt a mental stance where we’re saying that isn’t true, suddenly we’re trying to find time for and balance with, a triviality. Good luck with that.

Second, in practical experience I’ve most often found “balance” by being a binge writer. My typical day didn’t include writing at all. And then when the muse struck in the form of some deadline, I became a zombie with an IV drip of caffeine who taught school and was hubby/daddy during the hours in a day that a sane person was awake, and, during the late night and early morning hours, I wrote like mad in order to get the paper done while the house was quiet. I wrote my grad school papers, my published short story, and my published short story collection/thesis, in this fashion. By the way, 16-19 hours of work/family followed by 5-8 hours of writing, is not balance, it’s insanity. But when I had to, I got writing done, and that seemed like enough. Not an approach I recommend.

I began to make headway a few years ago, when we went on our 10th anniversary vacation. We picked a destination vacation rather than a running-around-seeing-things vacation, and our schedule was determined almost entirely by my writing. I got up in the morning a bit before Becca and wrote my morning pages—three pages, long hand—a daily journaling/meditation exercise I encountered through Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Way books. Then, later, we made our way down to the public library where I’d get a guest pass and a computer and write while Rebecca patiently read whatever caught her eye. I never wrote for more than an hour and a half in a sitting, and most days I wrote for just at an hour, if not a little less. In those five days I wrote well over 10,000 words of new fiction. Not the most I’d ever put together over five days, but I did it without a deadline, without having to try to kill myself in the process, and without suddenly achieving the miraculous hours and hours of writing time I had been subconsciously waiting for before I could “get serious.”

The point isn’t go take a long vacation to Telluride, Colorado without any kids, it’s that in less than two hours-a-day, I put out one of the best steady chunks of words I ever had, and at the end of the process I was neither dead, high on caffeine, delirious, nor stressed out of my mind. I did it as a small part of my ordinary life.

When I got home I had to admit to myself—for the first time, although it seems painfully obvious in retrospect—that I could in fact find balance. Make time to write without killing myself. And I started doing so.

I would love to tell you that I immediately became incredibly disciplined and dove into writing what is now my bestselling novel an hour or less at a time over the next few months. That’s not what happened. My life wasn’t transformed. Nor was my writing. But I wrote more than I ever had, with greater regularity, greater ease, and less stress. And I produced more than I’d ever produced on any single project before.

So here’s my two tiny bits of wisdom: (1) You don’t need a ton of time. Just because Kerouac supposedly wrote On the Road as a highly caffeinated high speed physical endurance test doesn’t mean you have to somehow trade life for writing time. You don’t. Make writing time a part of your life. Make it routine, work-a-day, consistent. Don’t bargain for hours, days, weeks, months, or a year’s sabbatical with your work or your family. Bargain with yourself for an hour or so at a shot, or when you get really smart for any tiny snatch of free time. Make writing life. And you will discover more time and more peace than seems possible if you haven’t done it yet.

(2) Writing isn’t separate from life. In Neil Gaiman’s excellent “Make Good Art” commencement speech, he suggests that the response to negative experiences in life ought to be make good art. I often hear people simplify this to “When life happens to you, make good art!” I know what they mean, but it makes me sad. Because it’s wrong. Art isn’t the counter to life. It’s the ultimate expression of life, and its beauty, tragedy, and value. Art—or writing—isn’t just a record of life, it is the most positive and life affirming of human of acts—the act of creation. So don’t pit your writing against your life. Because the minute you pit anything against your life instead of embracing it as part of your life and making it essential, it will lose. Every. Single. Time.

Now I promised you the rest of the story…


My wife was waiting for me back in our room. I felt something coming, kind of the way the lady tied to the tracks in a classic melodrama must feel something coming.

“Hi Becca,” I said. “What happened to the car?”

“Well,” she said, “about that. I was driving on the other side of town today and every warning light on the dashboard came on at once. So I took it to the Toyota dealer. They say the transmission is shot. It’s going to be $5000 dollars to replace it.”

I asked about Superstars 2017 anyway. Why? Because writing is part of my life. An essential part. My wife knows and supports this. We talked about it. I didn’t apologize for asking, and she didn’t yell at me for being stupid, selfish or ridiculous or impractical.

I haven’t paid for Superstars 2017…yet. And I won’t for a while. Seems we need that big tax return elsewhere. I didn’t insist on paying for Superstars immediately, or get down about not being able to. Instead, we made plans for exactly how to pay for it later.

I’ll pay for my car now, because that’s part of my life, and I invest in it. I’ll go to Superstars next year, because writing is part of my life, and I invest in it. In the mean time I’ve had a few hours here and there, and I’m about finished with draft one of a new short story. I’ve loved writing it. I haven’t had a lot of time, but I’m getting it done, and every minute so far has been pure pleasure.


Scott Lee:

Scott Lee is a strange individual who chose teaching and writing as his two primary careers. Obviously he has no desire to make any money, and on that count has largely succeeded. He has, however, written much poetry, some individual short stories, published a short story collection entitled Singular Visions, directed 15 plays, and fathered several human children to go along with his less material offspring. He has thoroughly succeeded, in his own humble opinion, at living a worthy and interesting life.

A Game of Horns


game of horns            If you’re one of our newer readers, you might not know that the Fictorians were formed at the first Superstars Writing Seminar in 2010, or that our regular members are all alumni of the course.

There are lots of writing courses out there.  I took a creative writing course in university, which was a great way to explore new ideas, work outside my previous comfort zone, and receive feedback from both my fellow students and my course instructor.  But this course didn’t do anything to teach me how to sell the stories that I had written.

Superstars is not a course on how to write.  It is a course on how to write as a career.

The best way to learn career craft – how to get an agent, how to read a contract, how royalties work, how to present yourself, how to create buzz about your work, how to turn your hobby into a career – is from the people who do it for a living.  That’s what Superstars is all about.  The instructors are not making a living from instructing; they’re making a living from writing.

Superstars Writing Seminars took me from a fanfic writer with a desire to publish original fiction, to a multi-published short story writer who now has a book contract.

I was able to go thanks to the generosity of those who helped me afford the trip.  We know that not everyone is able to afford the tuition fee, and not everyone is lucky enough to have people in their lives who are able, or willing, to help.

That’s why WordFire Press and Superstars Writing Seminars, with Lisa Mangum as editor, launched the Unicorn Anthologies.  Inspired by a quote from Kevin J. Anderson – “if you agree to write a purple unicorn story, write the best purple unicorn story you can; that’s professionalism” – the proceeds from these anthologies goes towards a scholarship fund, named for Superstars alumnus Don Hodge, to assist writers who want to go to the seminar and need help affording the tuition.

One Horn to Rule Them All:  A Purple Unicorn Anthology was the first.  Now A Game of Horns:  A Red Unicorn Anthology is available!

The second anthology focuses on stories involving strong conflicts.  Red is the colour of war; the colour of blood; the colour of passion and will. Conflict is an essential aspect of plot.  It drives the story forward; it takes place when characters confront obstacles.

My contribution, Queen of the Hidden Way, is the story of Anpu, a royal daughter whose kingdom is under another’s rule.  A third player wants to take the throne by capturing and ensorcelling a karkadann, a desert unicorn.  With death and treachery all around, Anpu must choose her conflicts wisely, and in the end, decide what battles are truly worth fighting.

You can pick up A Game of Horns on Amazon in either paperback or ebook.   Proceeds will help provide Don Hodge Memorial Scholarships for future Superstars attendees in financial need, and provide you with a showcase of the excellent talent of the Superstars.