Writing is an Uphill Climb

Writing is an Uphill Climb

Writing is an uphill climb.  It starts as an interesting idea worming its way into your brain, slowly taking root.  The idea turns into an obsession threatening to consume you from within unless you let it out. So you start writing.  One word at a time, the obsession hashes out into a story.  Rich with characters and complexities serving to convey the premise upon which the idea began, you finally write those long-awaited words, “The End.”

And then the real work begins.

After taking a break from your creation to clear your head, you come back to it and read it out loud.  You correct the obvious spelling and grammar errors missed by your Word Processor’s less-than-stellar spellcheck.  When this is done, you read the manuscript aloud again, pulling apart every sentence to make sure it flows with the one before and the one after.  Slowly, but surely, the rough draft evolves into the novel it was always meant to be.

But it’s not quite there yet.

You hand your manuscript over to a trusted, unbiased critic (hopefully with an outstanding grasp on grammar, spelling, and the English language) and allow them to slice into your words and make them bleed.  Blood red errors and nuances to be improved come back at you to remind you how easy it is to overlook your own mistakes.  So you run head-on into the cleanup process, mopping up the red and replacing it with the black that should have been there in the first place.

Once you’re ready to reveal your story to the world, you set to formatting the manuscript so that it’s ready for publication. Once you’re sure it’s the way it’s supposed to be, and you’ve emailed the .mobi file to your Kindle device for the one hundredth time, you click submit and you’re story is available on Amazon.

But no one buys it.

The masses do not flock to your story, reading in a frenzy, showering it with reviews and accolades.  Traditional publishers don’t knock down your door, fighting each other for exclusive rights to turn your book into a profit for their company.  No one has heard of your book—or you (unless you already have an audience; in which case: lucky you).  It collects e-dust on the e-shelf of Amazon Kindles endless annals of self-published e-books.

It’s time to change hats.

You’re not a writer anymore; you’re a salesperson.  A marketing guru.  A social media whiz.  An entrepreneur.  Effectively, you become your own agent.  I know. I hate this part too.  Self-promoting is such a weird thing to do.  What if people don’t take you seriously?  How many times do you ask people to buy your book?  And once you get them to buy it, how do you get them to read it?  And never mind getting the few people you’ve haggled into reading it to take three-to-five minutes of their precious time to leave an honest, critical review on Amazon!

By the time you get an author website, establish a page on Facebook, search out advertising and promotional options to generate awareness about your book, and tell every living soul you come into contact with you start to realize a terrible truth.

Writing is an uphill climb.

And it never ends.  After you put in the time and effort to do what you love (writing), and do the same for the not as fun but necessary parts (editing), you focus your time and attention to marketing and promotion.  Somewhere along the journey you start to realize that it is WAY harder to sell a book than it is to write one.  The most frustrating part about it is the struggle to find a balance between working on your next writing project, and promoting the previous one.  It’s easy to lose heart.  Typically, something’s got to give and one area or the other suffers.

But there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

The good news? You’re a beautiful, talented, creative writer passionate about your art and taking it seriously enough to put in the work required.  You’re still here, and you’re not going to quit.  Never quit.  That’s the only way you can truly fail.  Some authors wait years before their work receives any recognition or return.  When the going gets tough, you have to take a long hard look in the mirror and tell the individual staring back at you, “It’s gonna be worth it.”  Because it will.  Being a writer is not a sprint; it’s a marathon.  Even this is an imperfect analogy as there is no finish line in this race.  Once you’ve made it as far as you ever thought you would, there’s more on the horizon.

I hope you found this post helpful and encouraging. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below. As always, thank you so much for reading!

Writing: How to Start

Writing: How to Start

How to Get Started

Most of the articles on this blog are geared towards seasoned writers. One of my readers brought to my attention not everyone has the same level of experience, and some people just want to know how to get started. For those of you who are venturing into writing for the first time, here is some helpful information to get you started.

The first thing you have to do is show up, sit down, and do the work. Simple, but profound. You have to stop thinking about writing, stop talking about writing, and actually write. It takes time, and effort, but it’s the only way the ideas swimming around in your head will ever turn into words on a page.

Writing is a journey, a process. You’re not going to sit down and write an entire novel in one sitting. You have to piece it together like a puzzle, one word at a time. Setting aside time to write regularly is the best discipline to develop. If you don’t stick to it, those words will never be written.

Try this as your first venture. Jeff Goins wrote a fantastic article about this very topic entitled, The Secret to Developing a Regular Writing Habit. Breaking it down, set aside time every day to write at least 500 words for the next 31 days. It helps you form a habit to fit into your life schedule, is a small enough task to be done daily, and large enough that you’ll have something substantial if you stick it out. You’ll have more than 15,000 words when you’re done, and that is a great start.


One thing that has helped me tremendously in my writing endeavors is making acquaintance with other writers. I expand on this in my article Why a Writing Community is So Important. Having one or more persons in your life who will take the time to ask you, “So what have you written lately?” keeps the desire to write alive, and throws fuel on the commitment fire. If you know other writers, get in touch with them. Ask them about their work. Take the time to look at theirs if they’re willing to share, and give constructive feedback. You never know when you might need the same.

The Right Tools

Here’s another rudimentary yet essential snippet. Some people prefer to write the old fashioned way with pen and paper. While I prefer to use a word processor, I cannot deny the enriching and visceral feeling of scratching ink onto a page and watching it transform. If this is your preferred method, get yourself a good pen and a notebook dedicated to writing. Don’t use this to jot down telephone numbers, addresses, doodle (unless you’re writing a graphic novel) or etc. This notebook is reserved exclusively for writing. Keep it in a safe place and keep close eye on it so as not to lose or misplace it. There’s nothing more frustrating than losing hard work.

If you’re like me, and you prefer typing to writing, you will need a functioning computer and word processor. Most people use Microsoft Word as it comes installed standard with most PCs. If you’re a Mac user, Pages works too. Stay organized and keep a folder with nothing but your work in it. Don’t forget to back it up on a cloud or portable hard drive. I learned the hard way what happens if you don’t, and believe me, that is not the kind of devastation you want to suffer.

Hone Your Skill

We’ve all heard the age-old saying, “Practice makes perfect.” When it comes to writing, a more accurate statement would be, “Practice makes permanent.” If you write every single day, you’re bound to get better, but what that will do is help you form a habit. Writing good work takes a firm grasp of the English language and how it works. Taking an extra English college course couldn’t hurt. Better yet, there are plenty of Expository Writing and Creative Writing classes out there designed to exercise the imagination muscles it takes to come up with original stuff, and help you hash those ideas out into words.

Here are some great online video tutorials I found helpful. Here’s a quick five-minute video by Rick Davis on YouTube, and another 30-minute presentation by Mich Nicolson I found informative and helpful.

Try New Things

Don’t get so stuck in one groove you neglect the opportunities to venture out. Writing is such a broad horizon and there are so many opportunities and experiences to be had. If you fancy fiction, don’t be afraid to try poetry. If you’re writing an autobiography, perhaps a fun short story will help break up the monotony. Online magazines and newspapers oftentimes accept articles directly from the author (without the need of a literary agent). Ever think of starting a blog? What about a screenplay?

The possibilities are limitless. Shaking it up can keep thing fresh and interesting. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Living in the Age of Information, we can find a how-to for pretty much anything we want.

I hope you found this article helpful. Thank you for reading and feel free to leave questions or comments in the comment section below.

How to Write a Query Letter

How to Write a Query Letter

“Querying is like dating, interviewing and auditioning all rolled into [one]. Sending that first query will be one of the most vulnerable moments of your … life. …The first rejection (and the next twenty…) will make you question your determination, your fortitude and your talent. …But even if you don’t get “the call” on this manuscript, querying will leave you with a better sense of self, a greater awareness of your strengths and weakness and, yes, perhaps the need for a good therapist.”

– Emily Bleeker, author of When I’m Gone (2016) and Wreckage (2015), represented by Marlene Stringer of StringerLit.

My name is J.E.Cearlock, and like many of you, I am an aspiring author. First and foremost, let me thank Caleb J Hicks for the opportunity to write for his blog and impart what little knowledge I can spread to all of his readers.

Today, I am sharing information on every writer’s absolute most favoritestest topic EVER: query letters. Today’s topic will focus on writing a query letter for FICTION. Non-fiction and academic writing require a different set of rules of which I have little experience.

If you are reading this, you are probably a writer. This post will be blunt. I will not sugarcoat the querying experience. As an author, thick skin is mandatory. If the querying phase scares you, traditional publishing is not for you.

What is a query letter?

Excellent question! Let’s K.I.S.S. – Keep It Simple, Stupid.

First and foremost, a query letter is a business letter. It is a formal introduction to you and your work. The purpose of a query letter is to showcase your writing skills while giving a brief overview into the plot of your novel. The end result is to entice an agent or a publishing editor to request more of your work. It is formal, it is well-written, and it is grammatically correct.

 What a query letter is NOT.

A query letter is not a letter to your best pal.

It is not a therapy session (agents don’t care why you write.)

It is not an opportunity to ask questions like, “What can you do for me?” or any other display of pompous douchebaggery.

It is not a chance to say, “My mom loved my book so I thought I would send it to you.”

It is not riddled with mistakes and typos.

It does not reveal the final twist or ending of your novel.

How to structure a query letter:

Before I advance any further on this topic, I want to make one thing perfectly clear: writing a query letter has few mandatory rules. The sole requirement all agents agree on is simple – entice the agent. But make no mistake, there are guidelines query writers are expected to follow.

  • Queries are limited to ~250 words, but an absolute maximum of 300. Any more and it’s a guaranteed rejection.
  • White space is crucial. No blocks of text. None. Ix-nay. Break the paragraphs every three to four sentences.
  • Personalize every query you send to the agent you’re sending it to.

Do: Dear J.E.Cearlock

Dear. Mr. Cearlock

Do Not: Dear Agent

Hey, buddy, how ya doin’?

Dear Mr./Mrs./Mr. No Name

Additionally, an agent will be interested in learning where you found their name. If you found their name through an interview or an article about them, mention this. It shows you have done your research.

  • The query needs to be roughly 95% about your book. This one. The one you have finished. Not the one you plan to write in the future or the one you have sitting on your shelf from three years ago. The other 5% should be about yourself, relevant publishing or academic credentials, and maybe where you found the agent’s information.
  • A general consensus among querying authors is to focus on events in the first 1/3rd of your novel. But this is not always necessary if you can create a working query otherwise.

What should my query contain?

Another excellent question! And I’m here to tell you, less is more. But these following things are mandatory for the query. How you present the information is up to you.

  • Who is your protagonist?
  • What does s/he want?
  • Who is the antagonist?
  • What does s/he want?
  • What is stopping them from reaching their goals?
  • What are the stakes? What will the protag lose if s/he does not succeed?

Simple, right? No matter what genre you write, no matter if it’s middle grade, young adult, new adult, or adult, all of these categories will follow this same guide. Some authors break these “rules” and do so with success. I believe you must first learn the “rules” before you can break them.

Crafting the Query.

So how should a query look once it’s been written? Well, each author has his own way to write these. However, most beginning authors start with the basic “Three Paragraph” form.

First the subject line of the E-mail should read this style: Literary Query – Author: Title (Category and genre).

Subject: Literary Query – J.E.Cearlock: AN UNGODLY CASE OF THE FEELS (Adult Romance)

Paragraph 1: The Hook

“Frejya is the Norse God of Love, which is hilarious because her own love life sucks.”

Something like this to set up who your main protagonist is, and possibly what their central problem will be.

Paragraph 2: The Dilemma

“Frejya believes no one will ever love her like her old husband Odin. Until she meets a human names Geoffrey, that is. The only problem is, Geoffrey is engaged, his wedding only three days away. Humans are not allowed in Asgaard but this doesn’t stop her from showing him the life they could have together, by her side for all eternity. But when his fiancée Valerie discovers Frejya’s intentions, the God of Love will need a God of War to stop the human’s wrath.”

Here we’ve set up the dilemma, the antagonist, and what both of the characters seek.

Paragraph 3: The Stakes

“Frejya has violated millennia-old laws by bringing a human to Asgaard, but she doesn’t care. After all, what could compare to true love? Certainly not an immortal life of loneliness. But Valerie has made it clear she won’t give Geoffrey up without a fight. Now Frejya has a decision: either cast down a human and face banishment from Asgaard for her own true love, or fulfill her divine duties and bless the couple with wedded bliss. Either way, she loses either a happy heart, or her position of power amongst the Gods of Asgaard.”

We as the reader now have a sense of the stakes for both the protagonist and the antagonist, but remember, a query doesn’t reveal the ending of the novel, only the choices and the cost of each of those choices.

Paragraph 4: Book info, bio, and agent research

“AN UNGODLY CASE OF THE FEELS is adult romance, complete at 75,000 words with series potential. My name is J.E.Cearlock and I am the author of (book) and written articles for (magazine/publication). I saw an interview you gave with Writer’s Digest and thought my book might send your heart to Asgaard.”

Here I have the title, category, genre, and word count. All of this is necessary. If you don’t have it, an agent won’t reach out. But word of warning: when it comes to previous publications, you cannot use self-published works as credentials un you made around $50k+.

Paragraph 5 – Salutation

“Thank you for your time and consideration.”

This. This line. Verbatim. Every single time. Without question. Nothing else is needed.

Final – Author signature and information



Phone number

Website or blog (NO Twitter or Facebook)

Other pieces of advice:

  • Voice is key. Your query must be captivating and enticing. It must be enthralling and flow naturally.
  • The tone of the query MUST match the tone of the novel. If you pitch a horror novel but your query sounds like it was written by a drunk Chelsea Handler, chances are it won’t appear before an agent.
  • No cursing in queries except for the occasional “hell” or “damn” and only if it fits in the query.
  • Queries are … queries are hard. They’re harder than hard, they’re brutal. They’re The Hunger Games created by Loki with Voldemort as the main judge. They will make you question everything about your life choices and as Emily Bleeker said above, possibly seek out therapy. This step is the single greatest reason many great writers stop writing and give up their passion.
  • YOU CAN DO IT. No matter what you think, you can. You have resources galore at your fingertips. QueryTracker.net and agentqueryconnect.com are forums designed to help you write and polish your query letter.

Good luck, my fellow writers. Don’t let the daunting task of querying scare you away. We all hope to see your work on bookshelves one day.

Why a Writing Community is So Important

Why a Writing Community is So Important

The writing life is a lonely one. It takes dedication and requires time shut away from the world. The struggle to keep from becoming a shut-in is real. Annie Evett illustrates this dilemma in her blog post The Lonely Life of a Writer. Loneliness is discouraging, and leads talented people to give up on their dreams all the time. This is why it’s so important for us ink-slingers to stick together.

When I moved to Springfield, Illinois I was delighted to find SpriFiWri, an organized group of local writers. They welcomed me with open arms, and for the first time in my career, I had peers to interact with. The group meets twice a month for critique sessions. We divide two hours up among those of us in attendance, read segments of our work aloud, and receive helpful suggestions for how to improve our work. One of our New Year’s resolutions was to hold each other accountable to setting aside time to write more. So twice a month we have ‘write-ins’ at a local coffee shop. I was blown away by how helpful this proved to be. Three of us hashed out almost 10,000 words between us!

Because writers tend to spend so much time alone, we oftentimes develop the mentality that we are alone. I have a large circle of friends, but very few of them are writers. It’s difficult for them to relate to what my life and the effort I put into my work is really like. In SpriFiWri, I found myself surrounded by skilled, talented, hard-working writers with voices and styles all their own. Impressed by the work they shared, it served as a reminder of the talent out there. It gave me a sense of belonging, but also helped me up my game. It reminded me of some wise sayings I heard growing up.

“Show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future.”

“You become the company you keep.”

For the first time in my life, I had people to show my work who were just as talented, just as skilled, just as passionate, just as hard-working, and probably more so than me. It’s important to have people in your life who challenge you. Kevin Daum wrote an excellent article about this very subject: Want Success? Surround Yourself With People Who Challenge Your Thinking. As writers, we shouldn’t write to impress people, but there’s nothing wrong with letting others inspire you to do better.

I know some of you are reading this thinking to yourself, “This sounds great. I wish my town had something like this.” First, it might have one already. Research local writing groups online; you might find a group established already.

“But what if I’ve searched high and low, and there are no groups in my area?”

Excellent question! The answer: take initiative, and start one of your own. Find a place to host a meeting. You can start with the Public Library. They’ll let you hang a sign on their bulletin board, post it in their newsletter, and help get you started. If you’re in college, you could do the same thing there. Make a post on Facebook announcing it to the world. Encourage your friends to share your post and spread the word.

You don’t have to emulate the style of SpriFiWri. It can be a social gathering where you meet up, mingle, and uplift each other. You can host critique sessions, or write-ins. Perhaps you want to initiate a group writing project for your community. Maybe a writing convention is coming to a city near you, and you want to plan to go together. The sky is the limit! Find something that works for you and stick with it. Commitment is the greatest challenge in this endeavor, but is so worth the effort to build a community. And don’t be intimidated if you come across someone more skilled or talented than you. This is a good thing! You’ll never learn anything from people who are looking up to you. Only by seeking those greater than ourselves can we truly hope to grow.

If you have questions about how to organize a writers group, please feel free to contact me or leave questions or comments below. Helping other writers succeed is one of my greatest passions. I hope you found this encouraging and helpful. Thank you for reading!

A Guide to Editing and Revision

A Guide to Editing and Revision

The Golden Rule

The Golden Rule when it comes to people is: do unto others as you’d have them do unto you. But The Golden Rule of Writing is: rewriting is always better writing. There exists among us rare and exceptional people capable of producing a perfect manuscript with a first draft. They are, in fact, aliens from outer space inhabiting the bodies of humans, and are here for the sole purpose of making the rest of us look incompetent. If you’re one of these aforementioned body snatchers shelling out Pulitzer-winning words on your first attempt, then you can stop reading now. For the rest of us, here’s a guide to help you refine your work to the luster intended upon inception.


Not every writer fancies making a skeleton outline or road map before they start slinging ink. For some, they work better in the spontaneity of making it up as they go. However, I find it extremely helpful, especially when encountering writer’s block. Taking the time to write a paragraph summarizing the chapter gives you the power of organization. It acts as a bookmark for writing. With the busyness of everyday life, if I don’t schedule time to sit down and write it will never happen. To make sure I don’t sit staring at a blank screen for two hours, I look at my outline, and it tells me what I should be working on. If I don’t feel the inspiration for a certain chapter, I have a whole list of unwritten segments to choose from. Never underestimate the power of Copy and Paste.

First Draft

A lot of writers still prefer the old fashioned way: by hand, with pen and paper. I am not one of these people. I like my word processor very much, finding it more economical in the way of time. Regardless of your method, the goal in this stage of the game remains the same. Your focus should be getting as much as you can on the page. Don’t stop to fret over the perfect word or phrasing; when you come back to edit and revise, you can use a thesaurus to make sure you’re saying exactly what you mean. Getting the story out of your head and onto the page/screen is half the battle. You’ll have plenty of time to smooth rough edges when it comes time to edit.

Take a Break

When you finish your first draft, do yourself a favor, and set it aside. There’s no cut and dry amount of time, and if you’re working on a deadline this might not be possible. Though in most cases, you can afford to take a rest. Why? I’m glad you asked. Your brain gets into a groove, and your story and words start to consume your thoughts. When you edit immediately, you’re likely to skip over errors like missing words because you know what you mean, and your brain fills in the rest. My tradition, upon finishing a first draft of a novel, is to pick up a book or two in the same genre with rave reviews. Take the time to appreciate the work of your contemporaries, and take note of the things you liked or enjoyed. Personally, I take 30 days to keep my work out-of-sight and out-of-mind so it feels fresh when I read it again.

Proofread, and Read it Aloud

Don’t groan—and stop making that face. I’m serious! You’ll hear a lot of people tell you it’s not necessary, but trust me when I say this is one of the most important parts of the editing process. Here’s why it’s so important. It’s easy for your brain to organize your own thoughts, but you won’t know what it’s going to look/sound like to your readers until you read it out loud. If something sounds wordy or gets you tongue-tied, rest assured it will do the same to your audience. I won’t go into exhaustive detail here, but I have a helpful article entitled How to Improve Your Manuscript outlining four pitfalls writers oftentimes fall into. It’ll get you started on the road to editing. If spelling and grammar isn’t your forte, don’t be afraid to hire a professional editor. Investing a couple hundred dollars for your future is worth it to produce quality work. Don’t forget: your name is attached when it’s published, and they won’t blame the editor for mistakes.

Seek Help

Perhaps the best advice I can give you is to connect with other writers. Give your work to someone whose skill and opinion you trust. I belong to a local writer’s group called SpriFiWri stationed in Springfield, Illinois. We meet twice a month to share our work and offer criticism and feedback. Using red pens, we ferociously attack the work, and call it ‘making it bleed.’ Seeing lots of red is not a bad thing; it’s a great thing. If you’re serious about writing, nothing is more valuable than criticism. Lose the sensitivity, let go of the sentimentality, and grow some thick skin. If they read something you wrote and they hate it, you say, “Thank you for taking the time to read it. I appreciate your feedback. What can I do to make it better?” Then, listen to what they say, and take it to heart. Remember, you’re far more interested in what they didn’t like than what they did.

Tip: Print your entire manuscript when you give it to someone to review. It guarantees your file doesn’t go places it’s not supposed to, and it’s harder to overlook. Ever been sent a file and left it forgotten in your email inbox or saved in your Downloads folder? I have. They might do the same. But a printed, physical copy serves as a better reminder. Double-space so there’s room for them to take a red pen to it.

Read It Again

After you’ve made the changes you want, you might want to take another short rest from working on it. No need to wait 30 days this time; a week should suffice. Get your manuscript in the format you like to read best (e-book, printed, on-screen) and read your ‘finished’ product. You’re almost certain to find things you’ll want to change. At this point, you’re looking less for grammar and spelling, and more for whether the chapters flow together well. Are they in the right place? Do certain points in the story drag? You might want to shorten these segments. If there are bothersome things, however minute, bothering you, they’ll bother your readers too.

Try not to write the parts that people skip.

—Elmore Leonard


Writing is about what works. Following this guide to the letter might not be the best thing for you. Take what’s helpful to you, and apply it. Modify the rest, or throw it out completely. If you take anything away from this article, let it be the Golden Rule of Writing: re-writing is always better writing. A painter starts with a blank canvas and fills it with something that wasn’t there before. A sculptor starts with a block of stone and slowly chisels away until his or her creation takes form. Both principles apply to writing. Once you hash out what you want to say, take the time to smooth and polish until it says exactly what you want it to say—no more and no less.

I hope you enjoyed this article and found it helpful. Feel free to leave questions or comments below. Thanks for reading!

An Alternate Route to Publishing

An Alternate Route to Publishing

How It Used to Be

Twenty-five years ago, when a writer wanted to get published and get paid, first they sought out a literary agent to represent them. Upon finding one, this agent queried publishers hoping to find one looking for the kind of work the author produced. The author, if he or she took the initiative, also queried publishers accepting manuscripts from writers without a literary agent (while few and far between, some still do). This slow process typically results in a pile of rejection letters, and has driven many a writer to give up on his or her dreams of ever finding a traditional publishing contract.

Seeing a marketing opportunity, a vast number of vanity presses popped up in the late nineties and turn of the millennium. These dime-a-dozen companies offered joint-venture contracts to writers, saying they would publish the manuscript, but at the author’s expense. This method rarely resulting in success and notoriety, many writers fell victim to what most consider a scam. The author pays the publisher a fee under the impression they’ll turn their book into a hit, only to find out they paid for overpriced printing. When I was a naïve nineteen year-old with a story and a dream, I suffered this devastating indignity.

How It Is Now

Fast forward to the twenty-first century where e-books and self-publishing is as easy as uploading a file and clicking a ‘Submit’ button. With visual media available with no more than the touch of a button, fewer and fewer readers emerge from each generation. Those who do, typically read from a tablet or smartphone, and no longer bother with printed books. Now, you’ll still find those old-fashioned folks like me who maintain the opinion that the feel of turning a printed page cannot compare with virtual simulation, but we are a dying breed.

The dream come true for writers is still a traditional publishing contract from a large firm able to throw money into marketing a book and building an audience. It still happens, but it’s like catching lightning in a bottle—or winning the Powerball. Anyone with a few thousand dollars to invest can hire a vanity press to turn their story into a printed book, but are left to do marketing and promotion themselves. Not every writer is a salesman or marketing guru, and books published this way usually sell less than 100 copies, and do not offer a lucrative return on investment.

Get Inspired

The publishing game has always been a competitive market, more so now than ever. With expert-level difficulty awaiting anyone attempting the audacious endeavor of using words to generate income, fewer people bother trying. But adversity is no reason to give up on a dream. You can’t lose if you don’t quit, and there is no shame in reaching for some low-hanging fruit. This dilemma has inspired some writers to dedicate their life’s work to helping other writers keep trying and not give up on their dream. Jeff Goins is one such writer. His book You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One) addresses the modern writer’s frustrations and gives practical, easy-to-apply advice to help overcome some of these aforementioned obstacles.

An Alternate Route

Self-publishing is not the easy way out; it’s hard work, but it CAN yield results. Instead of waiting around for someone to pick you, why not pick yourself? There’s a few things you’ll have to do yourself that will be out of your comfort zone, but isn’t learning something new worth it to make your dream come true? The answer is yes, of course. We’ll start with the easy ones.

An Author Website

You need one. Don’t let someone tell you otherwise. If you’re not a web designer, don’t worry. There’s easy-to-use products out there to help you make a website in just a few hours. Squarespace offers professional, streamline templates with a user-friendly platform, hundreds of how-to tutorials, and knowledgeable customer service reps to help you along the way. I used them, and had my author website up and running in two days. I’m thrilled with the results and my only regret is I didn’t use them sooner. Check them out, and use the coupon code NERDIST to save a little money on your purchase. It’s not an investment you will regret.

Social Media

This is how the world connects and is the fastest way to spread the word. It’s free and easy to set up an author page on Facebook as well as to invite your friends to like it. You have to market yourself as well as your work. To do that, you have to get your name out there. Don’t stop at Facebook. Get Twitter, Google Plus, Tumblr, and LinkedIn too. If you use a business card, have an email subscriber list, a blog, or anything you send out to your readers, welcome them to follow/subscribe to your pages. Check them frequently and take the time to update them.

Word of Mouth

This is the most powerful tool at your disposal. Change your way of thinking when you meet new people. The question most-often asked by new people is, “What do you do [for a living].” If you’re like me, you have a nine-to-five day job to pay the bills, and writing is something you do on the side. Our first inclination is to say, “I work at such-a-such a place doing this-that-and-the-other.” Stop. Don’t do that. Your new response, from now on, should be, “I’m a writer.” Tell them about your writing, where to find it, about your website, and your social media outlets. Live your dream by simply being what you are at heart: a writer.

Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)

Let me start by saying this: it’s free. That’s right. When your manuscript is ready (story, table of contents, copyright, and cover art) you create an account, upload it for free, and when people buy it you get paid. Instead of the months-long wait a publisher will force you to endure, your book is available between 24 and 48 hours. Wow! This changes the game. No more literary agents, no more query letters, and no more waiting months—years, potentially—to find someone to publish you. Amazon/Kindle has effectively transformed publishing into something DIY, by making it free and easy.


Make no mistake; self-publishing is still a long, uphill climb. It will force you to work harder and learn things you never knew. But it’s not without reward. You don’t have to wait on someone’s approval. When people start reading your stuff, leaving reviews, and the buzz leads to more sales and you get that royalties check in the mail, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you earned every cent. This method is not for everyone, but it is for anyone. Self-publishing is no small topic, and I intend to expand on many of its components in the future. I hope this article helped you. Feel free to leave any comments or questions below. Thanks for reading.

Top Writing Blogs

I set out to compile a list of truly helpful articles for my readers, but it turns out that Bryan Hutchinson from positivewriter.com beat me to it.  This is the post for 2014’s Top 25 Writing Blogs in which he promises to deliver 50 this year.  I am anxiously awaiting that because every single one of these articles proved to be much-needed advice and encouragement.  Give them a read.


Writing: How I Started, and Why I Never Stopped

Writing: How I Started, and Why I Never Stopped

My history with writing goes back a long way—all the way to the second grade.  I loved to read as a young child.  During those years, the Goosebumps series by R. L. Stine was largely popular with kids.  My parents encouraged me to read, and between buying the books and letting me check them out at the library, it didn’t take me long to read every one published at the time. These books were produced and published fairly quickly, a handful released every year—but patience was never my strong suit.

Without a book to keep me entertained, I decided I would write my own Goosebumps story. Using a plain white piece of construction paper and a purple marker, I started writing—and I never stopped.  Construction paper and markers turned into spiral-bound notebooks, pages upon pages written on an old typewriter, and finally, to thousands of words saved on files on our family computer.  It was more than a hobby; it was an obsession.  I did it every day for as long as I can remember, but I always did it for fun.  I never dreamed of publishing a series of my own—until the summer of 2006, a year after I graduated high school.

Still an avid reader, my friend Adam recommended a book to me called Eragon, by Christopher Paolini.  Working at the shaved ice shack my parents owned, I cracked it open in my downtime. Instantly captivated, when my shift was over, I went home and finished it that evening. I drove to Walmart afterwards, hoping and praying the sequel would be there.  To my delight, I found a hardback copy of Eldest staring back at me from its place on the shelf.  I took a little more time reading this one as it’s quite a bit longer. So impressed with writing style and story, I decided to look up the author.

When I found out Christopher Paolini was only five years older than me, and was my age at the time (nineteen) he published his first book, I thought to myself, “If he can do it, so can I.”  He ended up being the second author who truly inspired me, setting me to a year-long task of building the world of Espiria.  It all started with a map drawn on Microsoft Paint.  Before I wrote a single word of narration or dialogue, I mapped out the names of the months, how many suns, how many moons, how many races, where they are located geographically on the map, the names of the kings and people who ruled there, and some history to give it the feeling of a real place.

So, with delusions of grandeur, a nineteen year-old naïve kid with a dream set to writing his first novel.  Writing was never a difficult thing for me, and before long, I had a 350,000-word manuscript no publisher would look at, let alone touch.  I split the original into two books, and focused on selling the first one.  Learning the publishing game is akin to feeling around in the dark unless you have someone showing you what to do every step of the way—which I did not—and I settled for a vanity press that did not help me like I thought they would.  Conspiracy didn’t sell very well, and looking back, it’s no surprise.  But two things my father taught me: failure is never final, and you can’t lose if you don’t quit.

My adventures in writing had only just begun.

Eric, another friend of mine, bought a copy of The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson.  I read the prologue three times because it was so captivating and well-written.  I loved the feeling of being thrown face-first into a world I didn’t know or understand, and watching the plot unfold on the page before me through the eyes of characters rich with complexity.  It was around this time I realized where I had gone wrong with Espiria.  I had done so much ‘telling’ in the world-building, I neglected to ‘show’ my readers anything they hadn’t seen before.  I promised myself then and there I would not make the same mistake with the second installment, and set out to write Crusade.

Partway through writing the first draft of a manuscript, Alex, a former co-worker, started pestering me to watch the HBO hit series, Game of Thrones.  After weeks of telling him I would get around to it, he finally brought the first season DVDs to work, and told me to take them home and watch them.  I watched the first episode, stopped, and drove to Target where I picked up my own copies of seasons 1 and 2, knowing this would be my next great obsession.  I hosted a one-man marathon over the next two days, and then went to purchase the books.  For those of you who have not read A Song of Ice and Fire, the fantasy series by George R. R. Martin, let me tell you, the plot is larger and more complex than your average fantasy epic.  Hundreds of characters, dozens of places, and an immersive world to fall into await the reader on every turn of the page.

I changed the approach, style, and format to Espiria, taking what I’d learned from Stein, Paolini, Sanderson, and Martin, and applying it to the manuscript.  After I finished Crusade, I knew that I had something special.  It dwarfed the previous novel so dramatically, I knew I had to re-write Conspiracy and release it as a second edition.  This turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.  Taking the words that came from my original dream, and making them into the story they were always supposed to tell.  I had grown up, and so had my work.

My inspiration story is like so many others.  I stumbled upon the work of damn good writers who not only impressed me, but inspired me to do better.  Without Stein, I would have never even tried my hand at writing.  Without Paolini, I never would have believed I could write professionally.  Without Sanderson, I never would have learned to live vicariously through my characters.  And without Martin, I would never have dreamed Espiria could be so big a place.  I owe a lot to these men, not just because they produced  great work, but because all of them were part of the journey that led me where I am today.  All of them continue to inspire me to keep going in spite of past failures.

So here’s to a New Year, a fresh start, and making my dreams come true.  Here’s to remembering that failure is never final, and you can’t lose if you don’t quit.

4 Practical Ways to Overcome Writer’s Block

4 Practical Ways to Overcome Writer’s Block


“Every writer I know has trouble writing.” – Joseph Heller

Ever sit down in front of your computer in full preparation to do some serious writing, and then draw a blank? Yeah, me too. I think it happens to all of us. It can be frustrating and disheartening, especially in this day and age where everyone is constantly on-the-go and in-a-hurry. This article will offer some practical, easy-to-apply advice to help overcome writer’s block. With any luck, you’ll be tickling those keys and filling pages in no time.

Keep a Journal

Keeping a journal has gained a very 90s-teenage-girl connotation, but can serve as a helpful tool. My mind gets cluttered with day-to-day life. The dishes in the sink. The laundry in the basket. The bills needing paid. Dinner to be prepared. The list goes on and on. Taking the time to write out what’s on my mind, what I’ve done, what I have yet to do, and when I plan to do it helps me to process and clear my thoughts.

Another tactic is free writing. Open a notebook and write everything you’re thinking until all your thoughts are hashed out. Once you run out of things to write, set it aside and put your focus into your work. You might find this kind of clarity extremely helpful in the creative process.

Read as Much as You Write

This one is a tough one for me because I write all the time. I try to devote every spare moment to my work, but I find if I’m not pouring into myself, my work suffers. My primary project is Tales of Espiria, a fantasy series, so I try to read in the same genre. I recommend you do the same; read what you write. I discovered quickly that I have developed quite the critical eye when it comes to my genre. When reading work by renown others (Sanderson, Martin, Jordan, Tolkien, etc.), I take the time to appreciate it more. I take note of the authors’ methods, make notes of the things I like and the things I don’t like to better improve my work.

You don’t have to read the same genre you write. Sometimes it’s good to pick up a feel-good or self-help novel for motivation. Topics like organization or time management help encourage me to stay on the ball and keep working. Regardless, make sure you’re taking the time to take some creativity in so the creativity you’re putting out stays fresh.

Write Something for Fun

If you’re a writer, I hope you’re not doing it for the money—or at least just for the money. It’s a long, hard road and takes a lot of time and dedication before the payoff arrives (in most cases). For me, I get so caught up in Tales of Espiria, I forget that I’m allowed to write other things. To break up the monotony, I take the time to write short stories, poetry, blog articles, book/movie reviews, or fan fiction. Writing is fun and fulfilling for me. Sometimes finishing a few small projects keeps me driven to continue the big ones.

Fan fiction is so much fun. I have written a couple of them and plan to continue. You can create a free account and post on Fan Fiction. Write about your favorite TV series or comic book universe. It doesn’t have to be long, there are no deadlines, there’s no pressure to market it since you’ll never get paid for it, and you will probably have a lot of fun doing it.

Story Cubes

My husband bought me a gift one year for Christmas. I opened a set of dice to find a random assortment of pictures and words printed on them. They might be the best gift he’s ever given me. When I’m itching to write something but find difficulty focusing on the project I want to work on, I give these dice a whirl and build an impromptu story based on the random assortment provided. They’re short, sweet, and to-the-point stories, typically less than 100 words, but sometimes that’s all it takes to get the creative juices flowing.

There are several varieties available online. I recommend Rory’s Story Cubes. They are marketed as children’s toys but do not be dismayed; these things are awesome and worth every penny.


The best advice I can give is to mix it up and find something that works for you. Each individual has his or her own process and way of thinking. Take these tips and cater them to your methods. Whatever you do, don’t just sit there staring at your screen for an hour and expect your work to write itself. I’ve been there, done that, and know nothing makes me feel worse than feeling like I’ve wasted valuable time.

I hope you enjoyed this article and found it helpful. Please let me know and feel free to share with others. If you have any advice on what you do to overcome writer’s block, feel free to contact me so I can feature it in a future blog. Thanks for reading!

How to Improve Your Manuscript

How to Improve Your Manuscript


This article will give you some practical, easy-to-apply writing and editing tips guaranteed to improve the quality of your work and reduce your word count. While it is more geared towards long manuscripts (novels and novellas) most of it will apply to short stories, essays, and blogs too. Publishing is a competitive market and roping in readers sometimes proves as difficult as nailing Jell-O to the wall. By shaping your words in a format more easily read and bringing your word count down, you give your work a much better chance of catching attention.


Adverbs clutter up your narrative with unnecessary description. These words end in L-Y most of the time and writers tend to overuse them. A good test as to whether a word belongs or not is to strike it out of the sentence. If it still makes sense, leave it out. Let me show you what I mean.

Damiar crept silently down the hallway, hoping and praying his footsteps did not catch the attention of the guards roaming the castle.

Read that sentence without the underlined word. See? It still makes sense. The part about him hoping and praying not to catch the guards’ attention implies he’s trying to remain silent. Never assume your readers are dumb. That sounds basic, but it’s the truth. If you get in the habit of overstating your action, your narrative gets wordy and annoying. Here’s another example.

“Would you like me to show you the right way to do that?” Damiar asked.

“I don’t need any help from you,” Farrina snapped icily. She continued assembling the weapons vigorously, intent on doing her share without the assistance of others.

With a few exceptions, it is not necessary to say how a character says something. Using ‘icily’ to define a cold tone is overstated here. In the previous sentence, we glean Damiar’s condescension from his word choice. Context tells us she does not reply with a cheery tone. The same can be said of using the word ‘vigorously.’ Her intent is stated in the phrase afterwards, the sentences still make sense, and the same picture is painted.

Here you see a sample of sixty-three words, but you see how easy adverbs find their way into narration. Using some basic math, let’s assume a writer uses 3 adverbs per 63 words in a 100,000 word manuscript, or 1 adverb every 21 words (and this is a conservative estimation). Rounding down, that’s 4,761 words, an entire chapter’s worth, most of which do not belong. By minimizing your use of adverbs, you can cut thousands of words out of your manuscript.

Use of the word ‘That’

We love this word and I have no idea why. Perhaps it adds a bridge or transition while speaking on some subconscious level. I’ve seen writers use this word when they should use a comma instead. Just like adverbs, ‘that’ is an unnecessary word 99% of the time. Let me show you what I mean.

“I just wanted to say that I love you and that you mean the world to me,” Farrina said. Gazing into Razael’s eyes that turned blue after the incident on the waterfall. She knew that she loved him more than anything that she ever loved before.

I admit I overdid it here, but I want to paint a clear picture of just how little this words serves a narrative. I’ll let the story speak for itself here; read this excerpt with the word eliminated. Better yet, read both of them aloud. Remember, whatever it sounds like out loud is how it will sound in your readers’ heads.

I just wanted to say I love you and you mean the world to me,” Farrina said. Gazing into Razael’s eyes, turned blue after the incident on the waterfall. She knew she loved him more than anything she ever loved before.

The proof is in the pudding. In this case, every single use of the word ‘that’ proved unnecessary, serving no other purpose than to cluster up the words and upset the flow. But as I stated before, we love this word for some reason and use it all the time in everyday speech. Regardless, this should not reflect in our work. You see how easy it is to use ‘that’ in just a 46-word sample. Let’s do some math again using the same hypothetical 100,000-word manuscript. So, 5 uses of the word ‘that’ for every 45 words (rounded down for easy math), or 1 use for every 9 brings us to a whopping 11,111 words! Here’s some free professional advice you can take to the bank: any time the opportunity to cut more than ten thousand words from your manuscript presents itself, do it!

Use of ‘To Be’ Verbs

This piece of advice is less about word count, and more about the quality of your narrative. Our job as writers is to paint a picture in the minds of our readers. Free-flowing description can accomplish this far better than the use of ‘to be’ verbs: am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been, do, does, did, has, have, had, can, may, might, must, will, shall, would, should, and could. These words are lazy—plain and simple. Let me give you an example.

Lorrick and Damiar inched closer to the oasis. Through the trees, they could see there was a waterfall. Standing at the top of the rock face, there were several guards standing at attention, on the lookout for anyone who would intrude. With guards before them and behind them, danger was on both sides.

Writing this caused me pain, but for the sake of learning, I endured. Here’s the problem with using ‘to be’ verbs too liberally: instead of painting a picture, it reads like a list. He was six feet tall. He had brown hair. He was dressed in nice clothes. He did carry weapons with him. As a writer, our jobs are to show, not tell. ‘To be’ verbs only tell. Let me show you a better way to write the same passage and watch it come to life.

Lorrick and Damiar inched closer to the oasis. Through the trees, a waterfall cascaded over the rocks into a flowing river below. Standing at the top of the rock face, several guards stood at attention, on the lookout for intruders. With guards before them and behind them, danger lurked on both sides.

Without meaning to, and using more sensory details, I managed to rewrite this excerpt and use 1 fewer word (the first is 53; the second is 52). This tactic will increase your word count most of the time, but the good news is if you applied the other tips given so far, you’ll have plenty of room to fill your novel with rich description instead of monotonous lists and unnecessary words.

Verb Tenses

This is a tricky one as there are twelve tenses any verb can take in the English language. Past, present, and future, and then the simple, continuous, perfect, and perfect continuous of each one. Most writers write from a third-person limited perspective, and in a past tense. Since this is the most common style used, my examples will reflect as such. Let me note, if you write your narration in the present tense, this will not apply to you as much.

The tendency to utilize a past-perfect or past-perfect-continuous form of a verb when the past-simple form of the verb conveys the same message is hard to overcome. This is the area in which I struggle the most with the tips mentioned so far, and for several reasons. Both versions of the examples are grammatically correct and both versions convey a similar message. However, only of them is technically correct and is much more efficient.

Coralyn had been to the council chamber once when she was young. It had scared her then to stand before the elders, and it scared her now. Trembling with anticipation, her imagination ran wild as to why she had been summoned. She could hear her brother’s voice in her head. If he had said it once he had said it a thousand times. “You need to think about the consequences before you speak or act.”

Once again, I overdid it for the sake of illustrating a point. This excerpt is rife with past-perfect verbs and most of them unnecessary. The urge to distinguish one timeline from another prompts the writer to change the tenses of the verbs, but here’s the catch: all of the things described above happened in the past and can all be described with past-simple tense. Let me show you.

Coralyn went to the council chamber when she was young. It scared her then to stand before the elders and it scared her now. Trembling with anticipation, her imagination ran wild as to why she had been summoned. She heard her brother’s voice in her head. If he said it once, he said it a thousand times. “You need to think about the consequences before you speak or act.”

Do you see how both passages convey the same message, but one uses fewer words (9 to be exact)? You’ll notice I left one of them unchanged to serve as an example for when using a tense other than past-simple is necessary. Even still, personally, I would change “…why she had been summoned,” to, “why her father summoned her,” because it eliminates the words and gives the reader more of a story. Now they know who summoned her to the council chamber with the same amount of words used and no change in the verb tenses.

It’s math time again! The first example is 75 words, and the second is only 69. Using the same hypothetical 100,000-word manuscript, let’s assume using this tip will allow us to eliminate 6 words for every 75, or 1 word for every 12 (rounding down again). That’s 8,333 words less by applying the principle to its entirety. The best way to catch these is to read your manuscript aloud, take note of your verb tenses, and change them to past-simple tense if it still makes sense and conveys the same message.


As you can see, the best thing you can do for your work is to say as much as you can with as few words as possible. Fill your story with sensory details, not boring ‘to be’ verbs. Show your readers something they’ve never seen before, don’t tell them. For those of you are numbers people like me, the running tally of words reduced in our ongoing hypothetical is 24,205. That is almost 25%! Let me tell you, it’s much easier to sell 75,000 words to a publisher than 100,000—especially if every words counts.

Let me know what you thought of this article and if it helped you with your writing and editing process. Thank you for reading!