Category Archives: Motivation

Eight Tips for the Aspiring Writer

JaceA guest post by Jace Sanders

From the age of five until about fourteen, anytime I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I was quick to answer that I wanted to be a writer. In seventh grade I had this discussion with my dad who thought I ought to pursue the new industry of computers, as the writing world might have high barriers of entry. My naïve mind made the argument that every author I knew was famous and so they had to be successful. All I had to do was write.

Years later, I found myself in a steady job as a college graduate. I didn’t realize that I had satisfied my internal drive to write, by creating business plans and financial articles and by reading.

One morning I awoke from a fantastic dream with an incredible plot full of twists, drama and revenge. It was a story that had to be told so I resolved to write a letter to John Grisham, deeding him irrevocable rights to my dream. After showering I realized that that would never go anywhere. As I shaved, my reflection in the mirror posed the question, “why don’t you write it?”

I knew that I didn’t know the first thing about proper writing so I called around and found a writing group led by a real-life published author. I will not forget the first critique by the group, where they destroyed my novel in progress. Seems I didn’t understand Point of View. That critique has forever impacted my writing. At first I wanted to throw my hands in the air and abandon the childhood fantasy. But it was too late to go back; I had rekindled my desire to write. So I buckled down and mastered Point of View.

Not long after that I moved and I made the apathetic mistake of not finding a new group of writing peers. Years passed, the economy tanked, and the author in me receded to the back shelf of my mind.

Last year, a friend of mine informed me that a publisher had picked up his book. I didn’t even know he wrote. The author inside of me begged to be let out. Then I learned that my neighbor was a talented writer. She asked to see some of my work so I pulled out a piece, blew off the dust, and sent it over.

The experience was very similar to when I learned about POV. This time I was introduced to the concept of Showing versus Telling. I again wanted to abandon the childhood fantasy, but determination replaced pride and I studied, read, and learned all there was about Showing versus Telling.

This neighbor has become somewhat of a mentor. When I told her that I was serious about writing and willing to put forth the effort, she gave me a list of tools. Here are her suggestions:

  1. Watch Brandon Sanderson’s creative writing class on YouTube. Watch one class each day.  They can be found here:
  2. After step 1, listen to his podcast at Listen to one a day, any more than that may overwhelm your brain.
  3. Accept that the first million words that you write is probably crap. Join the 100 Club. Write at least 100 words each day. Before you know it you’re manuscript is taking shape and you’re becoming a better writer.
  4. Join a writing group. Try to find people that are better than you and are willing to give you honest feedback.
  5. Read. Read a lot.
  6. Read books on writing. Some great ones are:
    • Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Brown and Dave King
    • Million Dollar Outlines by David Farland
    • Writing the Blockbuster Novel by Albert Zuckerman
    • Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card
    • How to Write Magical Words by Edmund Schubert
  7. The best thing to do is to learn all the rules of writing, internalize them, then forget them and just write.
  8. If you’re really serious. Go to Superstars Writing Seminar.

I am still aspiring to be a published and successful writer and I know that I am getting closer every day. I write at least 100 words daily. I read a lot. I continue to work with a writers group and value the feedback I receive. I’m starting to just write. The best thing I’ve done in furthering my writing career has been attending Superstars Writing Seminar. If you are serious about being a writer, go.

Guest Writer Bio:
JaceJace lives in Arizona with his wife and five children. In addition to writing he enjoys music, photography, and anything outdoors. He holds a Masters in Business Administration from Utah State University and is the Chief Financial Officer of a biotech company.

Relax, and Dial Back the Desperation

SOTRA guest post by Travis Heermann.

Writers are some of the most desperate people on this planet.

We pour our poor, tender subconscious out into an endless void, where most of the time nothing comes back to us but endless rejection. Except for Mom, who loves our stuff. The writer’s life is a long, lonely road through a thunderstorm, the aloof gaze of a bazillion passing headlights washing over you in the pouring rain as you drag your luggage behind you, which contains your most precious things–your dreams, your stories, your underwear. And all you want is someone to notice you, pull over and give you a ride, someone besides your mom, someone in the industry who’ll drive you to that cocktail party where the real authors hang out. Many of us walk this road for years, and it breeds a kind of desperation akin only to that experienced by would-be starlets bound for Hollywood, suicidal painters, and musicians living in their van.

On the advice of several people, I attended my first World Science Fiction Convention in 2008 to stick out my thumb and hope for a ride.

I was there with singular purpose: meet editors and pitch my next novel. But the hard part was, I knew practically no one there. There was an acquaintance I had from back home, a fellow writer, and he was literally the only person I knew. As most writers are introverts for whom assertiveness and social intricacies are secondary skills–that’s why we write, for frak’s sake–this kind of situation is a like a death-trap designed by our arch-nemesis.

I could not help but walk around just agog, thinking “Oh, my god! There’s Favorite Writer X.” Such people were thick on the ground, writers I had been reading for years. If Heinlein (were still alive) and Bradbury had been there, I would have collapsed into a puddle of nerveless protean goo.

When one is walking around an event like this, a world of incredible conversations spin about us. It is not uncommon to see four or five established, A-list authors just sitting around chatting. The newbie can only imagine what spectacular deals and secret insider news they must be discussing, what great mind-blowing works they’re forging next, and then one is stabbed by that dagger of silent desperation to be in that circle. And then one stands there, perhaps twenty feet away from the august gathering, mooning like a stalker, until finally sighing and shuffling off, all but drowning in the soul-crushing certainty that one will be an utter nobody forever.

At conventions like World Con and World Fantasy, the two principal cons for professional networking, the air is redolent with the scent of Desperate Newbie Writer, an aroma unique and distinguishable from Unshowered Fan or Get-Me-The-Frak-Out-Of-This-Rubber-Costume-I’ve-Been-Wearing-In-95-Degree-Heat-For-Six-Hours. Many of these desperate newbie writers–and having been one for many years allows me to spot them in a crowd–brim with the same purpose as I had. Meet that editor. Meet that agent. Meet that publisher. Why? To break in! To enlist the aid, or at least snare the momentary attention, of one of those revered, overworked gatekeepers.

Given the speed at which publishing works, and the infrequency and cost of conventions like these, the newbie’s mistake is thinking that anything is going happen within the lifespan of a Galapagos tortoise. Yes, lightning does strike, but would you really want to expect your career to be built on one lightning strike? Ain’t gonna happen, get over it.

But here’s what does happen.

At that first World Con, my friend from back home introduced me to some people, who introduced me to others. I met a few other people who were further down the path that I was. In the five years since, as I attended other cons like World Fantasy, and this year for the first time, Dragon Con, those initial acquaintances have become friends and mentors, and as my social network has grown, so has the potential for professional development. Let us not fail to mention that the respect and camaraderie of one’s peers feels pretty good to a writer’s soul worn ragged by screaming into the echoless void. I should also not fail to mention that I have built up my publishing history with a few more novels and some short stories.

At about this time, I had also launched an Author Interview Series for my blog, which I had conceived as a way to not only build traffic, but also to network with writers I admired. So I had a secondary purpose: to secure contacts for interviewees. Most authors are hungry for exposure, so I found most of the people I spoke to receptive to an interview. I came home with an armload of interviews, and months’ worth of blog content. And because I had asked questions that were not run-of-the-mill fan questions, questions that attempted to get at the heart of how one became a career author, which is what truly interested me anyway, they remembered me. The Author Interview Series became a form of networking.

Here’s the disheartening truth: you will never be part of that circle you so desperately wanted to join, not even if you do break in and build a fabulous career. Because those circles are made up mostly of friends who have known each other for years, and often came up through the weeds from Newbie Land together.

Now here’s the encouraging truth: if you keep at it, if you write, if you sell, if you persist, you will eventually be part of your own circle of long-time friends sitting around at cons, talking shop, bitching, gossiping, all the things that professionals do at professional events.

And you know what? Trusting that this will happen is enormously liberating; it removes all that pressure, assuages all that desperation, blunts the edges of that longing to be “one of the pros.”

So here’s what you need to create your own circles of professional friends, acquaintances, and contacts.

  1. Basic social skills. Most people, especially other writers, recognize that writers are themselves eccentric folk, so they’ll likely forgive a rookie gaff or two. But the better you are with people, the more confident you are with yourself and your work (and oh, isn’t this the tricky one!), the faster your network of acquaintances will grow. If you’re going to World Fantasy, imagine a four-day cocktail party, and prepare yourself for it. Study social dynamics if you have to.
  2. Street Cred. That’s right. You have to write, and keep writing. Eventually, you will pick up some sales. People will start to notice. People will remember you from conventions (hopefully positively), and it will get easier and easier.
  3. Patience. We all know how long it takes to build a real writing career. If you’re in this demanding overnight success, quit now. Go away. You’re deluded. I used to envision Harlan Ellison and Ray Bradbury toiling away at the typewriter, struggling but getting by on the money they made from their short stories. I saw an interview with Ray Bradbury wherein he described how it him about seven years to make any kind of appreciable income from his fiction writing efforts after he sold his first story. Along the course of your career, there will be likely a few big leaps, but mostly it consists of thousands of meandering baby steps.

Now, there are still a lot of people who are further down the path than me. They always will be. But I can also look back and see that there are many, many people behind. Some will give up and turn back. Some will get lost in the Swamp of Despair, or take a wrong turn into the Valley of Evil Counselors. I have come a long way since that first World Con. I can go to major conventions now, guaranteed to know people there. My circle of professional friends and contacts continues to expand.

So relax. Take heart. Your network will grow like a tree that has taken root, and fruit will eventually start to appear on some of the branches.

Guest Writer Bio:
Travis HeermannFreelance writer, novelist, award-winning screenwriter, poker player, poet, biker, roustabout, Travis Heermann is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and the author of the Ronin Trilogy, The Wild Boys, and Rogues of the Black Fury, plus short fiction pieces in anthologies and magazines such as Weird Tales, Historical Lovecraft, and Shivers VII. As a freelance writer, he has produced a metric ton of role-playing game work both in print and online, including Legend of Five Rings, d20 System, and the MMORPG, EVE Online. He enjoys cycling, martial arts, torturing young minds with otherworldly ideas, and zombies. He has three long-cherished dreams: a produced screenplay, a NYT best-seller, and a seat in the World Series of Poker.

Building My Tribe

TribeA guest post by Michelle B. Cori.

My dreams of becoming a writer came late to me. I was inspired during one of the most challenging times of my life. Just before my 28th birthday I found myself pregnant, laid-off, on the other side of the country from my family and about to be newly single. Needless to say it wasn’t one of the more cheerful times in my life. But I was inspired by an interview I saw with J.K. Rowling and an author who happen to live down the street from me. It was Jim Butcher, and the fourth book of the Dresden Files had just come out. Hearing about their successes gave me an idea.

Many years later I’m sitting in Starbucks writing this blog after a week crammed with excitement and inspiration found at Salt Lake’s first ComicCon. My story takes place over ten years; at the beginning of 2003 I started writing with the intent to become an author. In those early years I wrote, many times in my local coffee shop. I was too afraid to show my writing and had no idea what steps to take to become an author. Things continued on like that for years, and probably would have had I not seen a post in December 2009 on the website of Sherrilyn Kenyon. She was coming to Salt Lake. I assumed it was for a signing, but it wasn’t. She was apart of a writing workshop called Super Star’s Writing Seminars.

As a single mother two weeks before Christmas it was a scary idea to take my last $500 to attend the seminar. After several hours of thinking about it and pulling my hair I took the plunge, more worried about paying bills because by some miracle I had finished Christmas shopping. That decision was as important and life changing as the decision for a used up Art Director to attempt to become a writer. In February of 2010 I met many people who would come to change the course of my life and work.

I was bombarded with information about the writing industry in my first couple seminars. Thing were changing so fast, Borders shut down three weeks after that seminar and I was headed to my second seminar Life the Universe and Everything. Those two seminars were the start of what I know now would be life long friendships, knowledge, work and partnerships. The interesting thing about the seminars and Cons is often for me it wasn’t the information, but about the connections. More than ten conventions later I can say the moments that stick out are having a beer the last night of my first Super Star’s with Kevin J. Anderson or having dinner with James A. Owens or Sherrilyn Kenyon. It is the connections, which have made the difference and keep me inspired. I have a tribe, as James A. Owens would say. The tribe is increasing all the time and the bonds growing stronger. With the tribe I am apart of something and not alone anymore.

My inspiration comes from seeing a author my age who I met more three years ago, go from winning Writers of the Future to being nominated for a Hugo, Nebula, and Campbell in the same year, to now being a many times published author and a new author at Baen.

My advice to anyone wanting to be an author is to find a community or tribe. This is accomplished thru going to workshops, writing groups, conventions, web seminars or classes, seminars or getting to know people at your locally owned book store or comic store. You need a support system and network. This is what helps to keep you going through rejections or dry spells. Ideas, inspiration and friendship come from joining with other who are doing what you are or what you hope to.

The funny thing is I wouldn’t be writing this blog had it not been for a dinner one night earlier this year in Colorado Springs. I sat next to a new member to the Super Star’s tribe and offered him advice about developing a self-brand and helping him find cover artists. He contacted me and asked if I would be interested in doing a blog. While at Salt Lake ComicCon I connected with authors I know and have walked away with some interesting possibilities for future work.

The web is also a get place to find communities and workshops that are free or very affordable. Places like Fictorians, the Eric Flint’s Grantville Gazette blog, Scribe’s Forge (web classes and seminars), Writer’s of the Future blog. All of these places are a great place to begin. Remember to always be courteous on the web or in person. You never know whom you are talking to. My favorite example of this is I once was at a World Horror convention after party talking to a man. I made a funny and G rated joke about clowns. He handed me a card and said, “I’m editing a analogy of clown horror stories. Would you be interested in submitting?” Or being at World Sci-Fi in the dealers room looking at a signed copy of one of my favorite books. As I proceeded to get excited it turned out the author was standing next to me. You never know whom you will meet and were things can lead.

So here is my point, if you want to take the next step in your writing start with writing a lot. Be prolific. Next plan and set aside time and money for workshops or conventions so you can begin to network and grow your tribe. But remember your tribe is a support system met to lift you up and inspire you. You still have to keep drumming away on the keyboard too and it shouldn’t distract from your writing but add to it. So go forth and find your people.


Guest Writer Bio:
MBCoriM.B. Cori is plugging away on her first paranormal romance, with hopes of finishing and publishing early next year. Followed close by with a middle grade book. She spent many years as an Art Director in corporate and publishing doing design and illustration. Currently crashes in Salt Lake City, Utah where she can be found behind a keyboard or bar serving drinks. A girl has to making a living while she pursues her dreams.

Taking Back What Was Stolen

Today is an important day.

Politics and economies and foreign policies aside, September 11th is a day to remind us of standing up after something is destroyed. It’s a day to rise above adversity, to strive to rebuild and rework and hunker down and not let others take away what lies within ourselves, no matter what.

I’m old enough now that I don’t remember how old I was in the 5th grade. I actually had to think about it. That’s another epiphany regarding time in a growing list of them as I get gray at the temples.

I guess I was nine when I discovered a love of writing because of what it could evoke in readers. What started it all off was a story about an alien world and lava pools and molten spiders. The teacher loved it. My classmates loved it. It was the first time I ever heard someone read out loud what I had written. And in that moment a fire was kindled—a dream born.

So I kept writing—here and there—because it was a way to explore new places, even play god by creating them and setting lost souls adrift within them. But, while all this was going on, reality struck hard and took hold.

My father was born in 1929—in Brooklyn, New York. While you probably didn’t hear about the birth of my father till just now, you may have heard of something else that took place in the same city and the same year. It was called Black Tuesday, and in its wake lay the Great Depression. These were the formative years of the man who would eventually raise me. He had very specific ideas on career choices and artists and stability and retirement. Being an author wasn’t in that mix.

Like it says on the bio I have on my website, I was “…waylaid by bandits armed with the age-old adage, ‘So you wanna be a starving artist the rest of your life?’” Those words came from my father. More than once. And they killed the dream I had… or, it seems, pushed it into a deep coma. I don’t blame him for what he tried to do. There’s no doubt that my father cared deeply for all three of his children, and he did have the very best of intentions. He thought he was helping.

So, one day, after having spent seventeen years in IT and pursuing a career that wasn’t mine for reasons that belonged to someone else, I found myself staring down the barrel of a layoff. A few mornings after, I woke up wondering what the hell I was going to do with the rest of my life. I was forty-three, a bit long in the tooth to start a new career, but totally disinterested in going back to IT.

And then the writer within me, the one that had slept soundly for over two decades, woke up. You know what he told me? He said that he’d rather die a starving artist than live another day as a slave to the corporate grind. And then he became me.

Don’t get me wrong. I still have a day-job, and it’s still somewhat in IT. I write technical documents for a software company. It’s enough to pay what few bills I have while I whole-heartedly pursue the dream. And that’s the lesson here.

I’m reminded of the Will Smith movie “The Pursuit of Happyness.” If there is one quote to take away from that film, it’s when he’s talking to his son. They’re living on the street and his boy talks about becoming a superstar basketball player. Will’s first response is to shoot down the dream because it’s risky and many don’t make it, and he’s raising his son on the street. Then he stops. And ponders. And then fixes what he broke with his words by saying, “Hey. Don’t ever let somebody tell you… You can’t do something. Not even me. All right? You got a dream… You gotta protect it. People can’t do somethin’ themselves, they wanna tell you you can’t do it. If you want somethin’, go get it. Period.”

I still get teary-eyed when I think of that. I was that little boy, but I never got the fix. My own father didn’t figure it out till after I started having successes in the writing game, and that was twenty-five years later… after I did it myself.

But I’m telling you now: if you have a dream, don’t let anyone take it away from you. Ever. You may fail over and over again, but that’s what dreams are for, to give us a moon to shoot for. And if there is a better definition of what this life is about, I don’t know it.

So go get it.