Getting To Know Aila, Self-Care, Writer's Life

The Blog Post That Almost Wasn’t

WhatAmIWatching

I almost missed a blog post.

But, I’m here! I had something important I needed to take care of tonight, so this got pushed off for a little bit. Also, the thing that is important which I needed to tend to…has me a little frazzled, so, I’m not exactly sure what this post will look like. Perhaps I’ll just write until I figure it out.

If you’ve caught on to how my blog has worked as of late, my Monday posts are geared toward writing or publishing advice, and my Thursday posts are supposed to be more general life updates. Truthfully, I’d rather research publishing trends and convey my findings to you than I had update you on what’s going on with me. I guess it’ll come off as self-deprecating, but I am no one special.

My two loves other than writing, gardening and hiking, aren’t exactly in full-swing, so I can’t get all jazzed about either of them. Nor do I think you’d find it interesting to tell you I go to work, come home, tend to my spoiled mutts, make dinner, and then I put on my writer’s hat. Sometimes I watch Netflix or YouTube.

Ah! That’s it. I’ll tell you the last five things I’ve watched on Netflix, starting with the most recent and then I’ll tell you about my favorite YouTube channels.

1.| The Paradise. A BBC show…I think. It centers around a beautiful department store called The Paradise, and a new shop girl named Denise, a sweet soul from Peebles who just wants to make a good impression. Emun Elliot stars as her love interest, and in my opinion, he really steals the show. It’s a neat show, but only lasted two seasons. So, don’t fall in love with it too easily, because it’s gone for good.

2.| Oceans Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen. I guess I could’ve cheated and used each movie as its own entry, but I thought this better. I don’t think I have to explain what these movies are about. Every once in a while I get on this heavy Frank Sinatra kick and I just need something Frank Sinatra-y to satiate me.

3.| Very British Problems. Hi. My name is Aila, and I’m an anglophile. This show is hilarious and hosts some of my very favorite British people, mostly comedians, talking about what it’s like to be British. This suits my sense of humor flawlessly.

4.| The Queen. Again, anglophile. If you don’t know what this movie is about, it’s about the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death and how HRH The Queen Elizabeth dealt with the fallout. I remember when Lady Di died, and I remember seeing how heartbroken all those people were, but I was too young to appreciate it at the time. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie.

5.| The Seventieth Pirates of The Caribbean Movie. It…didn’t do it for me. Not going to lie. It wasn’t the worst in the series, but I am glad I didn’t see it in theaters.

Since I’m always looking for new things to watch on Netflix, give me your recommendations!

Bonus: If you’re also an anglophile, give The IT Crowd a shot. Hilarious.

As for YouTube, there are a lot of channels I watch, but only a few I watch consistently. 

Kristen Martin. Her channel is chock-full of amazing advice for both writing and personal growth. She’s got adorable animals who often make appearances, but what I take away most is her passion for the #GirlBoss lifestyle.

Jenna Moreci. While not so much about personal development, Jenna is all about writer development. Toss in a ton of F-bombs and sprinkle in a few cameos from her adorable fiance, and you’re in for a good time.

Good Mythical Morning. It’s just fun. Two middle aged men joke and laugh and eat disgusting things while making fun of each other’s reactions. It’s a hoot.

Until next time my lovelies! xoxo



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Let’s Talk: ROMANCE

steps up to 2018 (5)Romance makes the promise that no matter how bleak things sometimes look,
in the end everything will turn out right and true love will triumph — and in
an uncertain world, that’s very comforting.
-Leigh Michaels

We’re just a few days away from Valentine’s Day, so it’s only fitting we talk about romance. What makes a romance story a good romance story? Is it the flirting? The first kiss? The tension? The sex? The constant fear it might end?

Yep. It’s all of that.

Today I’d like to examine what might make a successful fictitious romance, and what might make a not-so-successful one. Also, peppered throughout the post you’ll find tips from fellow writers, and even a couple of excerpts from their work. Feel free to click on the images, they’ll take you directly to the author’s Twitter page.

Where should we start first? I vote tropes.

Is there any other story line as bloated with tropes as a good old-fashioned romance? I struggle to think of one. Let’s have a look at five common tropes.

1.| Billionaires. Someone rich falls in love with someone poor, but they struggle to woo their intended because they rely on their money to do so—effectively offending them.

In a certain trilogy-turned-major-motion-picture-trilogy, however, we see a BillionaireWriting Tip_ Allison Temple, Large who most definitely flaunts his wealth on every page. Occasionally it amuses his love interest, but often it just offends her. He still manages to get her in his red room, though, because…well…reasons full of clichés. More on that in a few.

2.| Forbidden Romance. Your two lovebirds’ passions are flamed by the fact something, or someone, wants to keep them apart. The most infamous example of this is Romeo and Juliet. They loved one another dearly, but their families were long-standing enemies.

Writing Tip_ Vania Rheault3.| Love Triangle. Three hearts, two loves. Usually this pits two men against one another as they vie for the affections of a lovesick, indecisive woman…or sometimes a woman torn between a vampire and a werewolf.

4.| Reformed Playboy. The hero in the story is known for his roguish ways. He’s had many lovers, he doesn’t play by the rules, he’s tatted up and drives fast cars…until the day he meets her, that is. I don’t know why, but when trying to think of an example of this, I instantly thought of Uncle Jesse and Rebecca Donaldson’s budding courtship in Full House. Have mercy. 

5.| Scars. Be them physical or mental, one person cannot fully give themselves to the one they love until they overcome the anguish of their scars. The movie Pay It Forward comes to mind.

Writing Tip_ Tante Willemijn, LargeFor a complete list (if there is such a thing) of all the tropes, you should do a Google search. It’s mind-bogging.

My least-favorite tropes:

Instant-Love: Instant attraction is one thing, but if two people go on a date and at the end of the night they’ve already said they love one another? Yeah, I’m probably going to pass.

On again/Off again/On again/Off again: I am all for a break up. Have the fictionalHot and Steamy Excerpt_ ALIGHT1 couple argue and dissolve their love, and then have them fight to repair it. Just…don’t make it happen in every chapter. More than two (maybe three) break-ups in a novel would be hard to keep my interest.

Wimpy Woman: This might be a case of lacking character growth, but I’ve found more than one book where the woman is abused, whether physically or emotionally, and she just accepts it. I often write about abuse, but I hate when the abused doesn’t do anything to change their circumstance. I haven’t come across a book where the abuse happens to a man, but I’m sure it exists and it’d be just as wrong. Let your characters grow and evolve.


Tropes vs. Clichés

Tropes are bad, yes?

Not necessarily.

Tropes are common plot devices, like the ones we just discussed. They’re familiar and grant your readers an idea of what they might expect. You can turn a trope around and make it your own. It isn’t always easy, but it can be done. (Boy meets girl is a trope, perhaps the oldest trope, but you can expand upon it and make it unique.)

Writing Tip_ Harley La Roux, Large

Clichés are what readers usually find annoying: The virgin who is suddenly a sex kitten. The hero who can fight in epic battles and then make love to a duchess, despite having a slew of new wounds he should probably have seen. The woman who runs off at every misunderstanding. Avoid clichés at all costs. Readers have seen them more times than they’d wish to count.

 

Keep it real.

Just like last week when we discussed Sex Scenes, your love scenes and romances should usually be realistic. That isn’t to say you can’t have aliens who are in love with warlocks, but there are certain things to keep in mind when attempting to make the heart sing.

Writing Tip_ Christina L. Olsen, Large

 

1. | Keep Your Characters In Mind. This may sound like duh advice, but how many books have you read where the heroine does something wildly out of character, and for no apparent reason? If your characters are straight-laced, would they really jump in the sack after just meeting each other?

2.| Don’t Forget It Needs a Purpose. If you’re writing a romance novel, then the romance is definitely the point of the story. If you’re writing a paranormal thriller with a romantic subplot…that subplot needs to do something. Everything, including your romance, should further your plot. If it’s just tossed in, it’ll read that way.

 

3.| Keep your purple prose in check. 

I am all for a Hot and Steamy Excerpt_ ALIGHTbit of flower in my descriptions from time-to-time, but if your love scenes are overstuffed with long sections sugary-sweet prose, the effect you’re going for is ruined. It probably shouldn’t take four paragraphs to describe the fleck of gold in the lover’s eyes.

4.| Milk the tension. Don’t underestimate the enormous power of milking both romantic tension and sexual tension. The will they/won’t they trope is one with the capacity to keep your readers turning the page…and it also prevents the Insta-Romance. Love at first sight isn’t really a thing. Lust at first sight is. Know which one you’re writing, if you must.

5.| Don’t forget about chemistry. Your characters need it. Opposites might attract, but it has to make sense. A billionaire isn’t likely to fall in love with someone who is homeless. If they do, then there needs to be a solid reason, otherwise no one is going to believe it.

Excerpt_ Vania Rheault6.| Each of your lovebirds should have their own issues. If Partner A is always the one who has problems to work through that put a strain on the relationship…your readers are going to wonder why Partner B is even sticking around. Let there be some back and forth, for tension’s sake!

7.| Keep it age appropriate. I’ve seen way too many young couples written as if they’re in a mature relationship like middle aged married people. This just isn’t realistic at all and may contribute to unhealthy relationship goals for younger people. If you’re writing for young people, it doesn’t mean you can’t tackle difficult subjects, just do so for them.

8.| Don’t forget your research. Love is love, right? Maybe, but it was handled differently throughout time. If you’re writing about a romance in 1545, it’d behoove you to research what the dynamics were between men and women during that time. Don’t forget about age of consent when writing historical romances…it might be younger than you’re comfortable writing.

9.| Are your characters flawed? (They should be.) So should their romance. I’ve read one or two books in the last two years where the author attempted to write the perfect romance. Meaning the couple always stood by one another, never argued, had a string of tender moments, and nothing ever threatened their happiness. This isn’t only unrealistic, it’s also boring. Bring on the tension, baby!


That’s all today! Please give my contributors a click and check out their social media pages and websites. They are dear, sweet people and I couldn’t be more thrilled they were willing to participate.

I had dozens of submissions and couldn’t use them all, so if you don’t see yours today, I apologize. I appreciate so much your time and effort, and I promise I will keep you in mind for the next blog post like this one.

Until next time, I hope you have a lovely, romance-filled Valentine’s Day! Hot and Steamy Excerpt_ ALIGHT (1)

 

   Love ya!

   Aila xoxo

 

 

 

 


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Self-Publishing, Tips, Work In Progress, Writing, Writing Advice

Let’s Talk: SEX

steps up to 2018 (3)“Love scenes feel very mechanical. But our whole job is to make it look real.”
– Erika Christensen 


 

**Disclaimer: This post may not be safe for work.**

When most people think of February, I bet Valentine’s Day isn’t far from mind. When people think Valentine’s Day, I bet sex isn’t far behind.

Sex has become less and less taboo over the years, but people still seem to be a little squeamish when doing the deed becomes the main topic of conversation—so as writers, let’s put aside the nerves and talk about it for the sake of well-written sex.


As a writer and a reader, I want a couple of things from sex scenes. I want a natural flow. I want showing, not telling. I want heat. I also want a point. This doesn’t necessarily apply to erotica as a genre, because the sex can be gratuitous, therefore this post is not about erotica. You erotica writers write your sex scenes with a flourish and without abandon!

But a gratuitous sex scene in any other genre is generally a no-no.

You’ve heard the advice before that everything, everything, should further your plot. Every decision your characters make. Every conversation. Every accident. Every minor character…everything should drive your plot forward.

And this definitely includes sex.

**Disclaimer: I am about to share three of the most common things achieved by writing in sex scenes, but these are not the only reasons to include them.**

1.| Start or end a relationship.

I do not mean that a new relationship can’t occur without sex. Of course it can. Most of the time it should begin without sex to keep things realistic. But, it can be used to strengthen bonds between two people, or if used to show infidelity, it can be used to shatter bonds between two people. Sex can cause conflict just as easily, if not more so, than it can solve it.

Maybe two people have what they think will be a one-night stand, only to discover there is a much stronger connection than originally thought.

Maybe a husband succumbs to the flirtations of his next door neighbor.

Maybe a married couple make love before one of them goes off to fight in an intergalactic war, one where no one has returned alive…and a pregnancy results.

The possibilities are endless.

2.| Change a character’s personality.

This could be a good thing or a bad thing that happens to the character. In Sex, Love, and Technicalities I wrote a very bad experience for one of my characters that led them down a self-destructive path. I’ve read other books where a character has exceptionally good sex and came out of the experience renewed with self-confidence. Either the light or dark path can change the trajectory of a character’s path.

Maybe a princess is violated by one of her suitor’s guards, and she abandons castle life to live among the commoners.

Maybe a slightly depressed woman in her mid-fifties is pursued by a younger man, and when she gives in she realizes how much more she has to live for and it turns her whole life around.

Maybe an otherwise sweet and unassuming young man has a sexual experience that leads him down the dark road of sexual addiction.

Again, the possibilities are endless.

3.| Achieve a goal.

Let’s not pretend sex can’t be used as a tool to get what one wants. A promotion, maybe. To get out of trouble. Revenge. To gain information. There are any number of things one might obtain by using sex.

Maybe a young spy uses sex as a way to gain entry into someone’s room and finds the incriminating evidence she needs.

Maybe a young teacher has sex with a school board official to secure funding she needs for classroom materials.

Maybe a reporter has sex with a politician to get the big scoop.

If you guessed I was going to say the possibilities are endless, you’re right.

So, now you know what you want to accomplish in your story by having your characters hit the sheets. How do you go about writing the act?



**Disclaimer: I am about to share with you three of the most popular ways to approach sex scenes, but these are not the only ways to approach them.**

1.| Hide it. 

I know. How is this writing in a sex scene? More or less, the sex is hinted at, followed by a scene break. Let’s look at what hiding the sex looks like:

Fiona and Devon enjoyed their bottle of wine, laughing at each other’s bad jokes, and learning about one another’s childhood fears. When her glass emptied, Fiona slipped off her heels and let them fall to the floor. “Come with me,” she said, and held her hand out for his.

Devon paused a moment before entwining his fingers with hers. He had an idea of what she wanted, and the bulge in his pants proved he wanted it too, but what about their working relationship?

“Don’t be frightened,” she said, leading him into the bedroom. “I don’t bite…unless you ask me to.”

We don’t see them have sex. It’s heavily hinted at, what with the wine and presumed excellent conversation and entering the bedroom, but then we’re left to wonder what went on once the door shut. How might the next scene begin, then?

Devon woke at the squeak of the bathroom door. He sat up in bed, his head still swimming in the clouds. “Everything all right?” The memory of their earlier activities stirring his manhood to attention again.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Fiona said, peeking her head from around the door, her toothbrush dangled from mouth. She disappeared again for a few moments, finally emerging wearing nothing but a sparkling smile. “Since you’re up, mind if we renegotiate the Parisian contracts?”

When might hiding the sex in a story be better than actually writing it?

1.| Writer inexperience or discomfort. Nothing reads as awkwardly as a poorly written or rushed sex scene.
2.| The act of sex in itself isn’t significant. In the above example, it didn’t matter that Devon had ripped abs, or that Fiona looked like a Greek Goddess in her black, lace teddy. All that mattered was, from what we can surmise, Fiona used sex as a bargaining chip for contract negotiations.
3.| Genre/age appropriateness. If you’re writing something younger audiences might pick up, it might be better to leave a lot to the imagination.

What about when things need to be shown?

2.| Go for emotional vs. physical reactions.

This is actually how I prefer to write my sex scenes, and how I wish some other authors I’ve read would’ve written theirs. We aren’t so focused here on the mechanics of sex: His arm here, her legs there, the angle of thrust, etc. Let’s rewrite Fiona and Devon’s scenario so we don’t see a scene break, and instead we see more of what happened in the bedroom.

Fiona eyed Devon as he sauntered across the room. Delicious was a word that came to mind, and one she hadn’t expected. Eager to get things over with, she’d already abandoned her dress in a heap on the floor, but Devon seemed pleased to prolong the experience, leaving a trail of clothes with each step.

She gulped. “You must do cross fit.”

“I do. Yoga?”

“Pilates. Only for a year,” she said behind a smile. “Thanks for noticing.”

He snaked his arms around her waist and eased her onto the bed, pulling her into a kiss so laced with desire she lost all memory of how she’d gotten there. He moved with much more expertise than she thought proper for a pencil-pusher. Fiona knotted her fingers into the sheets and cried out in glorious release. She had had no intention of enjoying herself, but the evidence of her good time pooled beneath her.

We still didn’t get into the mechanics of sex, but now we are at least in the room with them. Without a flashback, internal dialogue, or future conversation, we could never have known by skipping the sex scene that Fiona enjoyed herself despite only intending to get her way in negotiations.

When is this route the most appropriate way to write the sex?

1.| The details are in the emotions. If you need your character to experience something emotionally during the act of sex, but the mechanics of the sex aren’t of high importance, this is a much more highly effective way to write it.
2.| Writer ability. This particular way of writing a sex scene is more palatable than writing it explicitly for writers who aren’t comfortable with it, yet who still need to convey something with sex.
3.| Genre/age appropriateness. If you’re writing for an age bracket where sex is a part of life and it wouldn’t be natural not to include at least someone having sex, but it also wouldn’t convey what it needs to if you hid the scene, then this gives you a happy median.

3.| Get down and get dirty.

Quit wagging your tail, I’m not going to be rewriting the scene again. There’s plenty of good smut for you to turn to after this post. (Might I suggest three of my favorite writers with erotic works out there: Vania Rheault, Jewel E. Leonard, and Joshua E. Smith, all links to Twitter.)

Tips if you choose to go this route:

  • Don’t get bogged down in the mechanics. Unless it matters where her elbow is, or that his foot is balanced on the second shelf of her bookcase, don’t include details like this, they’re distracting. You also run the risk of head-hopping and giving details that shouldn’t be known. If someone is on all fours, they aren’t likely to know their partner is gritting their teeth.
  • Don’t use silly euphemisms for genitals.  In fact, most of the time you may not even need to name body parts, silly or otherwise. If you do, and you start using names like her secret garden or his glorious man-rod, you’re going to lose your readers. This reads comically. If you’re writing a sexy comedy, then these may work for you. Your readers will get the giggles. Clinical words don’t work well either most of the time. People read penis or vagina and they’re sent straight back to sex-ed, where, again, they got the giggles.
  • Focus on other body parts, instead. When you have your characters in the throes of passion, readers know they’re connected at the genitals. Stretch your skills and expand the reader experience by directing our attention to other areas, evoking all five senses. The scent of her perfume mixed with perspiration. The guttural growl he makes. The crispness of champagne juxtaposed with saltiness as it is lapped up from one’s navel. The glimmer of moonlight striking her diamond necklace. The sting of a riding crop on one’s buttocks. All. Five. Senses.
  • Make it real. Real sex isn’t a highly choreographed pornography. People think during sex, they get toe cramps, they laugh. Positions sometimes do not work. Sometimes climax isn’t achieved. Real sex is far more interesting to read than porn. Let your characters be vulnerable to all that can go wrong during lovemaking. This especially holds true if you’re writing about someone’s first sexual experience. First times are often times awkward and the things someone notices or obsesses over during their first time are different than someone who frequently has sex.
  • Don’t forget your research. I’m not being coy here and encouraging you to watch porn. But if you plan on writing about something you have no experience in, you’d damn well better research it because someone out there, lots of someones, are experienced and they will call you out on it.  Want to write about a man using Viagra, but you’ve never encountered it? Research it. Want to write about a dominatrix, but you’ve never made it out of missionary? Research it. Don’t talk about butt plugs and nipple clamps if you flush at the mention of flavored lube.

Aside from writing erotica, where this type of sex scene reigns supreme, the number one reason I can think of to incorporate this type of scene is because it is what works best for the story. I have read a few books over the years where this sort of scene was used, but it was apparent there was little to no thought behind why. Perhaps it’s just fun, and that’s okay, but it should never come across as thrown in just to, I don’t know, pad your word count, unless you’re aiming to win the Bad Sex in Fiction Award—yep, that’s a real thing.

That is all I have today. Feel free to tell me your favorite and least favorite traits in sex scenes, you never know who you might help.

Until next time, my lovelies! Happy reading and writing! xoxo


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Getting To Know Aila, Goals, Organized, Positive Mindset, Self-Care, Self-Publishing, Success Mindset, Writer's Life

One Month In: How’d I Do?

steps up to 2018 (2)

We’re a month into 2018 and I have talked an awful lot about productivity and turning your wish lists into “did lists.” So…how have I done?

My successes:

My blog | I am pleased to announce I have kept up with my blogging schedule without failure since December. My engagement has gone up, and I have gained roughly twenty new subscribers in the past month alone. (Thank you one and all who have taken the time to read and subscribe! You lot are amazing!)

My newsletter | While I haven’t gained quite as many newsletter subscribers as I would’ve liked, I have gained more than I thought I would…if that makes sense. Also, I am aware I’ve only had occasion to send out a couple of newsletters, but I have met my deadlines and I am proud of what I came up with.

Self-Care | I have done more to take care of myself in the month of January than I ever have before. I’m already enjoying the benefit of better sleep, even if the quantity hasn’t changed much.

My neutrals:

My word count | I am currently sitting at 12,407 words into Alabama Rain, which isn’t where I want to be, but I’m further than I was when the year started, so that’s good. I have managed to write something nearly every day…though I did cut and rewrite a certain chapter three times and took on an unexpected project or two.

Personal Goals | I had a couple of personal goals I kept private, and I’m floating somewhere in the vicinity of 60% on track and 40% stalled…so not quite a fail, but not quite a win, either.

My failures:

Social Media | I’m still using Twitter regularly, but my Instagram usage isn’t where I’d like it to be. Facebook? I’m never going to enjoy Facebook…I’m not giving up, necessarily, but I think it is time I reevaluate my Facebook goals.

What this tells me:

I’m writing, but not enough | When I first owned up to this shortcoming, I immediately came up with a laundry list of excuses and determined this will sort itself out…and while this may be mostly true, I don’t want to rely on letting this work itself out, so I am carving out writing time whenever and wherever I can instead of waiting to get cozy with my laptop at home.

I am getting better with keeping self-imposed deadlines | When someone else puts me on a deadline, I don’t dare disappoint them. When I assign myself one? Until just recently I was okay with making any excuse, telling myself the only person I was letting down was myself so it didn’t matter…but I had a long hard chat with myself and realized it is far from okay to continually let myself down. My employers are not invested in me or my goals anywhere near the way I am invested and dedicated to theirs, which means if someone is going to care about my goals and successes, it’s got to be me.

I am not a quitter | No matter what falls into which category, I am not giving up–not even on Facebook, which annoys me greatly.

How are you doing on your goals so far this year? Please let me know in the commentary!

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The DNA of Bad Cliffhangers

www.ailastephensbooks.com (1)“Would you dare to walk with the beast on the dark side of the moon?”
– Demetri Daskova

The other day I was firing off what I had hoped would be the last few emails before I could punch out for the day and come home. It was all standard stuff: Warning about system updates, W-2 notices, meeting reminders. I was even chatting with a coworker friend of mine on the phone, indulging in a little light, office gossip. As she and I mused over trivialities, several emails piled up in my inbox in rapid succession.

See, if I’m on my office phone and someone calls me, an email automatically pops up telling me I am missing phone calls and from whom.

Missed call.
Missed call.
Missed call.
Missed call.
Missed call.
Missed call.

Within the span of thirty seconds, I had a total of six missed calls from my boss’s boss and my boss’s boss’s boss.

I hung up on my friend and started dialing.

No answer.

Where were they? They just called.

Another email pinged, from the boss’s boss: “I just called you twice. Don’t leave. We need to talk.”

Five minutes later, as I stared blankly at my computer screen, three stern knocks at my door were almost my undoing.

This is a true story, and after everything was settled (which, by the way, while I was being blamed for something, it turned out not to be my fault) it took a few minutes for my adrenaline to die down.

On my way home that day I couldn’t help but replay the events in my head and it dawned on me how perfectly this cliffhanger had been set up and it got me to thinking about how to build a successful cliffhanger…and how to build an unsuccessful one.

For the newbies in the back, what is a cliffhanger?

It’s a plot device where something happens suddenly and there is no immediate solution. (Like how I couldn’t figure out what the pandemonium was for) Sometimes there is a physical danger, sometimes the cliffhanger is emotional.

Authors want to construct a cliffhanger that compels their readers to keep reading in order to find out how the character is going to be affected. Will they die? Will they get the girl? Were they in the car crash? Did they get out before the house fire? Did they burn dinner? Did they have the dress in the right size? Did they get into their number one school?

I’ve read, or attempted to read, lots of Indie novels over the course of the last two years and one thing I’ve seen many authors forget is how and where to incorporate a cliffhanger.

Notice how I said I’ve attempted to read lots of Indie novels? Yeah. There’s a reason I, and many other readers, have put so many Indie books in the DNF pile.

Let’s look at some of the common issues I’ve had with cliffhangers in Indie novels.

1.| Not enough cliffhangers. I’ve tried to get through more than one Indie novel where the author seemed hellbent on waiting until they reached the climax to give any sort of cliffhanger. When someone is reading a novel, the place they are most likely to put it down to tend to other things is at the end of a chapter or at a scene break. I’m not saying every scene break needs a cliffhanger, but it might be a good idea to sprinkle in some mini-cliffhangers to spur readers on to the next scene, and definitely a good idea to do something at the end of each chapter that will captivate readers and make it hard to put the book down. If the writer doesn’t make it hard to put the book down, they make it easy not to pick up again.

2.| Repetitive cliffhangers. The one I have seen several Indie novels use over and over again is the will they/won’t they cliffhanger in more than a few chapters. Repeating the same cliffhanger creates the-boy-who-cried-wolf scenario and quickly leads to disinterest. I read a certain fan-fiction-turned-major-Hollywood-film and found myself thinking oh good, they’re fighting again. Look, they’re in love again, I wonder if they’ll argue again…yep, yep, there it is…well, this chapter is about to end, so I guess they’ll think about breaking up, yep.

Inversely, some cliffhangers are unsuccessful because they came from far out in left field. If an author is writing an epic western drama, and the first fifteen chapters give no indication of science fiction but then out of nowhere an alien spaceship lands in the middle of a shootout at high-noon…that’s just…no. The cliffhanger needs to make more sense than that.

3.| Not enough emotional development. Cliffhangers should happen to characters in which your readers have invested some time. A writer can’t expect readers to be all that concerned someone mentioned once, sixteen chapters ago, was shot…There should be enough of a bond between the reader and the character the writer is inflicting fear/pain/harm upon that finding out what happened is a necessity.

If at the end of a chapter a writer wants to entice me by having the great uncle I’ve never heard of call to say he’s coughing up blood, I’m going to be left with questions, yes, but not ones the author wants me to ask.

Let’s look at couple of examples:

A.

After shopping, Leslie walked her usual path home. She and Greg had worked out a lot of their issues and she looked forward to their night. As she waited for the crosswalk, she blacked out and hit her head on the asphalt, moments before the bus was due to arrive.

B.

Dangling her shopping bags from her index finger, Leslie’s heart skipped a beat thinking of what Greg’s reaction would be to her new lingerie. They had worked through so many issues, and he’d taken therapy much more seriously than she ever imagined. Maybe we have a chance, she thought while waiting for the crosswalk light to give her permission to cross. Eleven years. She still couldn’t believe they’d made it to their anniversary. Her thoughts drifted to what wine would pair best with their dinner when her lungs failed to draw in her next breath. She looked down at her arms which now felt like anvils. She dropped her bags and fell forward, her head bouncing on the road’s fresh asphalt.

Onlookers screamed as a bus screeched to a halt.

I won’t believe you if you say gave you a more emotional response.

I just made that shit up, but let’s pretend that is the end of an amazing chapter. My readers are thinking oh, no! What happened to her? Did the bus hit her? Is she dead? OMG! OMG! OMG! OMG! OMG! OMG! OMG!

I’ve successfully created a cliffhanger my readers are invested in, and they’ve decided to forego finishing the laundry to keep reading. Is my job as an author done?

Nope. A successful cliffhanger must be followed by its resolution—and a bad resolution will ruin the cliffhanger. How might a resolution kill the cliffhanger, you ask?

4.| Rushed resolutions. Cliffhangers are supposed to be a swift kick in the groin. They happen and then the writer enters a page break. Your reader should feel a reaction. They need to think oh shit! What just happened? I need to know! And be inspired to turn the page.

I’ve seen Indies who write a decent cliffhanger and then resolve it before they start the next chapter or scene, leaving no sense of urgency to turn the page. We don’t want this.

The resolution should usually come in the next scene or chapter, but not right away. Milk this emotional thing your reader has going on for a little while. Get them invested in the chapter. If the resolution happens in the first sentence or two, the reader isn’t likely to keep going, as they will have gotten the instant satisfaction of knowing what happened next.

Which sounds like a chapter opening that will get the most out of this emotional buck?

A:

Sitting up in her hospital bed, Leslie stretched and took a sip of cool water. I wonder where Greg is, I’d like to do a crossword puzzle together.

B:

The incessant beeping of machinery would be Greg’s undoing. He couldn’t peel his eyes from his wife, her face was so swollen he barely recognized her. All he wanted in the world was to trade places with her. He had been the one who screwed things up for so long, it wasn’t fair she had to fight this battle, too.

Greg closed his eyes and pictured their last fight, the one where he came so close to hitting her. He was a different person then. Never again, he thought.

“Greggy,” Leslie said, her voice soft and scratchy—just like the doctor warned would happen from the feeding tube. “Greggy, where I am I?”

If really sounds better to you, then you’re going to love a lot of Indie books.

Does the resolution always need to occur in the next chapter? No. Delayed satisfaction can be a powerful tool, but it shouldn’t feel forgotten. Maybe Leslie doesn’t wake up in the next chapter. Maybe there are two or three chapters where it is touch-and-go, but if in the next chapter Greg is out drinking with his buddies and never once mentions his wife, and in the next two or three chapters he starts seeing some chick named Hildi and finally in that fourth chapter Greg gets the phone call his wife has woken up…readers are going to be a little angry.

An author can also delay gratification by giving the resolution in smaller doses. Leslie is awake, but can she remember who she is? Can she walk? Will she be in a wheelchair? Will she ever dance again?

5.| No resolution at all. This is the king of cliffhanger mistakes. A writer has successfully gotten his reader to turn the page, desperate to find out what happens next, and then nothing ever happens. The cliffhanger has turned into a loose end. A plot hole. When, if, the reader finishes the book, they are going to be bummed they never found out what happened. This is not a good feeling when one has finished a book.

But what about endings, you ask?

If an author is writing a stand alone book, I caution using a cliffhanger at the end because of the fact there will be no resolution and the reader will be left unsatisfied. I can’t think of a time this is a good idea. Feel free to show me one in the comments.

If a writer plans on a sequel and wishes to employ a cliffhanger, the author should be aware that this cliffhanger isn’t just getting someone to turn over to the next chapter, but it must entice them to buy another book. People don’t part with money easily, so plan on making a humdinger of a cliffhanger.

Also keep in mind that no matter how good your cliffhanger, if you wait to publish the sequel, people will probably have forgotten the first book and the cliffhanger. So make sure the second book is ready relatively soon thereafter…if you’ve succeeded in developing an amazing cliffhanger, you’ll increase the sales of book two by leaps and bounds.

What is your favorite cliffhanger, either on the page or on screen?

That’s all we have today, my lovelies! Until next time, happy writing! xoxo


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Getting To Know Aila, Uncategorized

Aila Factoids. Factoids about Aila.

Aila Factoids.
I’ll say a lot of things I might not mean before I’ve had my coffee. No, wait. Sorry. I might say a lot of mean things before I’ve had my coffee. Where’s my damn coffee?
-Aila Stephens

When I said I had mapped out my blogging topics for the quarter, it was the absolute truth.

Thing is, I don’t want to talk about what I had planned to talk about.

I had planned to talk about dialogue today. I’d tell you things like show the action around the dialogue instead of telling with an unnecessary tag. But I don’t want to. You can find that advice anywhere—and might find it here at some point, I’m not sure. But you won’t find it here today.

Instead, I’m going to just tell you a few of the most random facts about myself you may or may not know. Enjoy. (Also, it’s possible may need coffee.)

 

ds-63-qua-duds
This may be an accurate representation of what I looked like after the incident.

I was once attacked by a swarm of yellow jackets. Or as I like to call them, Hell’s Flying Minions. It was a horseback riding incident. We were way out in the mountains and the lead horse stepped in a nest and the bees started swarming. My horse was third from the back, and I can vividly remember seeing all the yellow little shits on my horse and thinking how it looked like the most terrible case of chicken pox I’d ever seen.

I was in terrible pain, as the bees had gone up the legs of my pants, down in my boots, in my shirt, and one was stuck in my helmet. After stinging me just above the eye, it continued to bite me multiple times. I stayed on my horse, miraculously. I also had to be put on steroids to save my eye, which swelled to nearly twice its size.

 

I love to go hiking. I also have more hiking gear than I’ll ever use. I just think life makes

photo (4)
To get here, you have to walk between two boulders about 18-24 inches apart.

more sense when I’m out on the trail. My thoughts are clearer, my spirits are lifted…and damn it, food just tastes better when cooked outdoors.

Hiking isn’t easy, but that’s one of the things I love about it most. I love having a challenge; hell, I even love when I’m three seconds away from my breaking point and feel like giving up. Overcoming the odds and laughing in the face of adversity is thrilling, addictive.

I don’t go in the summer, though. I may enjoy a challenge, but heat stroke isn’t something I’ve ever cared to try. I love it the other three seasons of the year. My favorite trail is the Kephart Prong in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. I am so grateful I have a husband who indulges me and enjoys getting his boots dirty, too.

 

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I’m unashamed: I love Noel Fielding.

I’m a British television nut. Of course I love the ones we’re [almost] all familiar with: Doctor Who (always a Tennant girl) and Sherlock, but I’m also into lesser known shows like The IT Crowd, The Paradise (two seasons was not enough, damn it!) The Tudors, The Detectorists, and Never Mind The Buzzcocks, Peaky Blinders, The Crown, the list goes on and on and on. I can’t fathom what life would be like without the Big Fat Quiz Show of The Year. What’s amazing is that I don’t have cable television, and must stream anything I want to watch, so while I don’t watch TV a lot, when I watch it, I watch a lot of it. It makes sense if you really think about it.

 

Youth
I want my first two goats to be named Lucy and Ethel. Or Rose and Donna.

I want my own hobby farm. Hang on, let me amend that, I really, really, really want my own hobby farm. I grew up hearing stories about my family’s farm, and I loved traipsing around its fields, though they grew very little by the time I was born. I’ve always liked growing things. I used to have quite the little raised garden which produced some of the finest tomatoes I’ve ever eaten. If I’m being totally honest, my ultimate dream would be to have a hobby farm and be SAHW. (You can use writer or wife there, they both work and they’re both true.) It’s kind of hard to do in an apartment, but I did find a community garden I can rent a plot or two from this spring and grow some things.

 

pexels-photo-708587
Pepperoni is not my friend, nor am I a friend to it.

I’m allergic to sodium nitrate/nitrite. I spent quite a while in a hospital when I was in kindergarten from eating a hot dog during a school field trip. I won’t describe what happens to me when I accidentally consume it. I’m pretty sensitive to it, though. When I was in culinary school we had to learn to use it in its raw form, which is this very fine, very pink powder and I basically had to don a hazmat suit in order to participate in the hands-on portion of the lecture.

 

black-and-white-cartoon-donald-duck-spotlight
Someday, Duck. Someday.

I have this knack for disappointing myself every year by planning a vacation I’ll likely never take. I’ve never been to Disney World despite the fact I plan a trip there every year, and have planned a trip there every year for at least the last fifteen years. One of my yearly traditions is ordering the Vacation Planning DVD from their website and watching it, eyes wide like a seven-year old. I have booked and cancelled more WDW vacations than Elizabeth Taylor has planned weddings.

 

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Here we see the delicious red gummy bear breaking the news to all the disgusting green gummy bears that while they shouldn’t be ashamed, they are vile and will be passed on to someone else.

I don’t eat green gummy bears. 

Which is weird because green is my favorite color. We’ll call that a bonus fact.

I also like gummy bears. Especially the sour ones. I’ll also tolerate sour green gummy bears because they’re sour apple. I don’t know what the regular green gummy bears are supposed to mimic. Vomit-coated death, maybe? I don’t know. All I know is when I treat myself to a bag of Haribo (there is no other kind of gummy bear, mind you), I must first pick through the bag and get rid of all the green ones. My husband’ll take them, but they can go in the trash for all I care. It is possible I feel a little too passionately about this. I’m not a fan of the clearish ones, you know, the pineapple ones. But I don’t insist on their exclusion.

 

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got for you today, as I think I’ll save some for the next time I don’t like what I’ve chosen for myself to write about.

Until next time, lovelies. xoxo


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Getting To Know Aila, Positive Mindset, Self-Care, Writer's Life

Aila Loves The Snow, and other stuff!

Aila Snow BW

When it snows in the South, it’s a big deal, y’all. My Northern friends get a good laugh at us because it’s such a big to do around here. We buy up all the milk and bread, gas up our cars, and start calling our friends to see who is the most well-stocked with provisions.

I get it’s funny when our world shuts down with three inches of snow, and our neighbors to the North don’t bat an eye with a foot of powder. But let me tell you something.

I LOVE THE SNOW.

There’s something about it that cleanses my soul. Maybe it’s because it reminds me of a blank sheet of paper, therefore giving me a boost of creativity. I’m not sure. But we just had a surprise five inches of snow and it has more or less shut the city down for two days and I couldn’t be happier. I took some pictures, but since I’m unwilling  totally incapable of leaving my house, they’re all around my apartment, so not terribly impressive…but they’re all I have to share.

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Also, this is a picture I took after our last snow in December. I totally slacked on doing another book photo shoot, but I do want to share what my babies look like when they’re playing in the snow:

BooksInSnow
No books were harmed in the making of this photo, there is an unseen prop underneath keeping the books from harmful moisture. Always practice book-safety when photographing near/around elements dangerous to books.

I swear I’ve done more than just stare at the white fluffy stuff…though I’ve done quite a bit of that.

I’ve written. (And wrote some more, then a little more, then I cut out about 1000 words because it was shit, so then I wrote some more.) I’ve cleaned. (I’m talking I cleaned out my pantry, my refrigerator, and my cabinets.) I’ve watched a couple of movies. I’ve taken walks outside in the snow, I’ve delighted in watching my dogs play in some fluffy stuff. This suits my introverted personality quite well, being snowed in.

Truthfully, the roads are probably clear enough I could go to the grocery if needed, maybe Target or the Haywood Mall. But, I much prefer using this wintry wonderland as an excuse to stay in and cook comfort food and stay in my slippers all day.

That’s the long-winded way of saying I’ve been kicking ass at self-care these past two days.

Which is what I had originally scheduled to blog about today…then snow happened.

Self-care is something I wanted to take a lot more seriously this year, for a variety of reasons; the most important of which is that I matter. My happiness matters. My mental-health matters. So, I’m making this a priority.

Not only is it a priority, but I got myself a “Self-Care Accountabilibuddy,” a term coined by my dear friend, Jewel E. Leonard. [Jewel’s Twitter | Website | Interview] She and I decided we would help each other by being self-care cheerleaders for one another. Just the other day we agreed that if I would get take-out and spend some time healing myself (horrible, lingering headache), that she would go attempt a nap. It instantly made me feel a little better knowing that she was doing what she needed to do for herself because I know she’s had a rough go of it lately.

It’s also just a nice boost having someone to remind you that you matter and to insist you take care of yourself. (Thank you, Jewel! I appreciate you for telling me to make myself a priority!)

Self-care means a variety of things to different people, but I thought I’d share a few items from my list if you’re looking for ways to make yourself a priority. Remember, some of these are probably unique to me, but feel free to adopt whatever looks good to you!

  • Buying a fellow Indie’s eBook
  • Reading for at least a half-hour
  • Dancing as silly as I please to music from my teen years
  • A relaxing foot bath with Epsom salts and essential oils
  • Buying a new shampoo
  • A ride in the mountains
  • A short hike
  • Playing with my dogs until they, I, or all three of us are tuckered out
  • Play around with a new recipe
  • A husband-provided neck and back massage
  • Going out for sushi
  • Watch a movie
  • Meditate for ten minutes (I try to do this nightly!)
  • Buy an essential oil I’ve never tried. (I use Piping Rock)
  • Order take out instead of cooking dinner
  • Talk to my 4-year old nephew on the phone
  • Go on a fun date with the husband (think arcade games and miniature golf)
  • Doodle or color one of those zen coloring pages
  • Make something out of clay
  • Search Pinterest for pyrography ideas, then burn some wood
  • Watch Dirty Dancing (I know this may seem redundant because I already listed watching a movie…but this is Dirty Dancing, and deserves its own bullet point.)
  • Enjoy the whole process of crafting a cup of coffee with my French press
  • Enjoy a cup of hot tea
  • Scour through a thrift store

This list is fluid and growing. Since I’ve really made caring for myself a priority, I’ve noticed a huge shift in my mindset. I’m happier and these acts, even the simplest ones, recharge me.

I urge you to make time for yourself. Even five minutes where you put yourself above everyone else can make all the difference in the world for your psyche. It’s difficult, especially if little ones are in your charge–or big ones, if you’re a caregiver to a parent or spouse…hell, it must be, because it’s still difficult for me and all I have is a husband and two dogs, the former capable of tending to himself, and the latter prefer to burrow under blankets all day.

We’re trained to think that putting ourselves first, even for just a few minutes, is selfish and wrong. That somehow we’re supposed to be everything to everyone except ourselves. Like all things in life worth pursuing, it’ll take practice, but the benefits you reap will be amazing, I promise.

How do you self-care? What is on your list that I might like to try? Please share in the comments!

I’m going to go gaze at this snow before it all melts away.

Until next time, my lovelies! xoxo


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Getting To Know Aila, Goals, Self-Publishing, Success Mindset, Tips, Writer's Life

The Success Mindset For Introverts

Copy of steps up to 2018.png

“That’s the thing about introverts; we wear our chaos on the inside
where no one can see it.”
-Michaela Chung

We’re two weeks into the new year! How are you doing on your goals so far? I’m going to be honest with you, I’ve been writing every day—just not always on the right project. But, I’ve managed to stay on track with my goals for Alabama Rain anyway, though ideally I’d like to be ahead of the game. Which I’m not.

As for my other goals, I’m really pleased with how I’m keeping up with my personal goals. Things are happening and it’s nice. With my author goals, I’m pacing myself. I’ve learned I’ll burn out quickly if I do everything now, now, now. I’m still daydreaming, though, of new things to try. Different avenues of reaching readers and new writer friends.

The other day at work I shared some of these lofty new ideas with one of my employees, along with a general update on how I’m tackling some of my current, active goals. And she posed this question to me:

“How will you react if your dreams come true?”

Listen, if you’re an extrovert (or even an ambivert—which, by the way, lucky you!) who hasn’t a single issue with public speaking, or hell, even speaking one-on-one, who is visibly happy around people, who never gets sweaty palms, who is bubbly and bright in every situation, and has never met a stranger…this post is probably, most definitely not going to mean much to you. I encourage you to read on so you know what the rest of us go through.

Guys. I’m so introverted (not to mention some social anxiety) that sometimes I need a vacation from myself. And while being a successful author might not mean I’d have to be in front of people as often as if I were a, say, actress, attaining even a modicum of success will put me in situations far outside my comfort zone.

I tried to reconcile this by saying that I’m good at what I do in my current field and that I’m no longer scared to death to speak during meetings. I interview people, do performance reviews, and I even have to tell people no who are otherwise not used to hearing no—and I do it with relative ease now. So, for a few seconds I thought this might segue nicely in my writing journey.

But, no.

 Being an introvert isn’t going to stop me, though. It doesn’t stop me in my current job, so why should it stop me at reaching high on a path I truly love? 

The answer: It won’t. You and I are going to prepare right now! Here are five ways introverts can prepare for meeting new people and public speaking engagements.

1.| Shun the notion that being an introvert is a character flaw. It isn’t. It isn’t a crutch, either. We are just as capable and just as deserving of success as our extroverted friends. Being an introvert isn’t something you can fix because it doesn’t need to be fixed. We’re perfectly fine just the way we are. It may mean we have to prepare in different ways, but it is nothing to be ashamed of. Don’t apologize for being introverted—to yourself or anyone else.

2.| Start small, but push your boundaries. It’s called reaching for success for a reason. If success was just sitting around at arm’s length, everyone would have it. But maybe don’t send out press kits to your local TV stations before you’ve been interviewed by someone for their blog. Growth should always be a goal. One of the ways I’ve begun working on this step has been simply to tell people in my personal and professional life that I am a writer. This has garnered lots of questions, some I was prepared for, some I wasn’t. But each time I have told someone new, I’ve gained a little confidence and it has become less difficult each time.

3.| The 12.12.12 rule. Have you heard of this? I’m fairly certain I’ve also heard this referred to as the executive presence rule. This is something you can, and should, practice if you’re going to present yourself to the world when your natural inclination is to hide from it.

This is all about first impressions.

Get a friend or a loved one who doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable and ask them for help. How do you look from twelve feet away? As writers, we aren’t usually found in the wild in business attire, but do you look clean and presentable? Most importantly—does your body language make you approachable? What are the first twelve words you say in response to common questions? And finally, what tone do you give off in the first twelve seconds of conversation?

4.| Right along side #3, Distinguish between introversion and a lack of confidence.

The two are not mutually exclusive. You can be an introvert and also hella confident in yourself!

You want to present yourself as someone who is confident in their abilities, you want a certain degree of authority when you speak—without sounding arrogant, of course. So say, for instance, you’re seeking out small speaking engagements like I am: know the gist of what you want to say and research the hell out of it. You can’t bury your nose in your note cards, so you will want to know what you’re talking about without having to sound rehearsed. Don’t sign on to speak at an event on how to pitch to agents and publishing houses if you’re an indie writer who doesn’t know anything about traditional publishing. Don’t go to speak at a technology conference about [insert something impressive here] if your area of expertise is [insert something equally impressive, but not in the same ballpark here.] Yeah, shows you how much know about technology, huh? But you get what I’m saying.

A lot of times introverts think no one will want to listen to what they have to say. We may feel we sound less impassioned than our 417ea4037d82e6f8494c9a900524c2bcextroverted friends, and often times the world thinks of us as geeks or nerds. But have you ever asked a geek or nerd who their favorite Doctor is and why, or what they’re doing these days with Raspberry Pi? You’ll get some of the most impassioned answers you’ll ever hear, most likely. (By the way, guess which Doctor is my favorite.)

Your dreams are probably something you feel quite passionate about, and it’s perfectly fine to exude it. (And stop apologizing for it!)

5.| Use your introversion to your advantage. In most situations, you don’t have to be the first one to speak. If you’re in the position to let others speak first, do it. Gauge the room. Listen to what others are saying and how they say it. This isn’t for you to mimic them, but it’s for you to strategize. Did someone leave a vital piece of information out, that you can now offer? It isn’t that you want to make someone else feel stupid—you should never, ever do that—but it may help you to listen first. One of the traits of an introverted person is that we sometimes feel other people won’t want to hear what we have to say, so why bother? But if you listen, you’ll often times find you have more than plenty valuable thoughts and ideas to bring to the discussion.

If you find yourself in a one-on-one situation where the other person isn’t likely to drone on and on, you can still use this listening strategy by asking broad, open ended questions that will give you time to listen and gauge the trajectory of the conversation.

Use those listening skills to your benefit!

Bonus Tip: If you haven’t checked out my blog post from last week, we discussed setting goals using the SMART method, which I believe is also a handy-dandy way for us introverts to prepare for success. Especially the part about acknowledging the hurdles between specific steps in your process and achieving them. So give it a glance.

If you have any tips for introverts I didn’t cover, leave’em in the comments below!

Until next time, my lovelies! xoxo


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Stepping Up for 2018—The SMART Way

steps up to 2018“There are two types of people who will tell you that you cannot make a difference in this world: those who are afraid to try and those who are afraid you will succeed.”
– Ray Goforth

 

We’ve survived a full-week of 2018, ya’ll. 🙂 I hope it’s shaping up to be a good one for you—so far it has personally been 1000x better than 2017’s first week for me.

Last week I divulged some of my #WriterGoals2018 with you and already I’ve added a couple of projects I’m going to hold close to my chest…my to-do list grows! So, this week we’re going to talk about setting ourselves up for success this year by making our goal setting and goal chasing a little less scary.

I touched on this last week when I said that saying you’re going to write 80,000 words in X number of days is a lot scarier than saying you’re going to write 500 words per day. Taking any lofty goal—writing or no—and breaking it down into simpler terms will significantly increase your chances of turning that goal into a reality.

This is where the SMART method comes in to play. Sure, it’s simple enough to say your goal is to grow your business. That’s a perfectly sound goal to have, but it’s extremely vague. Wouldn’t you agree? Growth can mean all sorts of things.

Seeing as how I’m a writer, we’re going to use growing an author platform as our example but the SMART method can be applied to literally any goal. Let’s dive in!

SMART blog graphic v2

Those are just some of the words associated with the acronym SMART you’re likely to find if you choose to search the web for the SMART method of goal-setting. This concept is not a new one to me, though it is one I haven’t put into practice nearly enough in my life, and thus is probably one of the reasons I’ve fallen short on some of my goals.

I’ve chosen to apply Sensible, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely as my focus words for goal-setting this year, for reasons I hope become clear as we apply this to the example of growing an author platform.

Goal: Growing An Author Platform

Looking at the goal, what is the logical next step? If you don’t explore that, then you’ll be all over the place, not applying focus to any one direction. When you don’t see the arbitrary marks of platform growth, you’ll likely count your goal as failed. You will not have set yourself up for success. Growing an author platform should be viewed as the broad goal, or the ultimate goal. Now it’s time to break it down sensibly.

Sensible:  You can break your ultimate goal into as many sensible goals as you find necessary. At this stage, you’re really brainstorming impactful ways to make your ultimate goal a reality. I’m going to break our example into two sensible goals.

1.) Grow blog’s reach     2.) Grow Instagram following

Measurable: Here is where you want to define tangible results, as we’re still a little vague. Often people will combine these two steps together without even thinking about it, but sometimes this step is forgotten altogether, but it is very important.

1.) Grow blog subscribers to 500     2.) Grow Instagram following to 1000

Attainable: Do you currently have the tools for obtaining the goal? If not, can you readily obtain them? What do you need to make this attainable?

1.) Creating useful content and tools, hold more frequent giveaways, better visuals
2.) Utilize Instagram more often, create stunning visuals, use Instagram to get blog visits

Realistic: Are these goals feasible for you at this time? Do you need monetary funds to accomplish these goals? Education?

1.) Set a budget for giveaways, do not forget to include shipping costs.
2.) Research photography, photo editing, and shop around for fonts–keep in mind licensing for visuals and fonts.

Timely: When should you start working toward this goal? Do you have a target date for completion? How can you track progress to keep yourself on track?

1&2.) Start immediately. Track monthly progress using built-in analytics. Target date for completion is December 31, 2018.

Applying the SMART focus words will help you discover the feasibility of your goals. Let’s face it, sometimes we bite off more than we can chew—and that shit is disheartening. So I encourage you to take a few minutes and run each of your goals through the SMART method and set yourselves up for a more focused, successful 2018…

And I’m here to help! I’ve created some free, printable guides I hope will help you turn your goals into success stories.

photo (2)

 

 

Please excuse my horrible handwriting. Also, don’t feel obligated to try and make me feel better about it. I’m 32, I’ve accepted the fact my penmanship is sorely lacking.

In this document, my intention is for you to start with your ultimate goal. Your main goal. The over-reaching goal.

Then I want you to begin breaking it down with the SMART method.

 

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Obviously this is just for show and tell. 😉

Once you’ve broken down your main goal into more sensible goals, I’ve got you covered with the tools to turn that goal into a success. Give yourself a deadline, define your baby steps, acknowledge the barriers between the task and success, and brainstorm solutions.

 

Track your monthly progress so you can see if what you are doing is working or if you need to tweak things somewhere.

Focus on why you’re doing this by giving yourself a reminder as to what you stand to gain. Motivate yourself. And give yourself a reward if you complete it on time.

 

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Do you need to stick to a daily or semi-daily habit in order to make these goals into realities? Got you covered there, too. I’ve seen weekly habit trackers, but I want to see my year as a whole as I progress, so I created a perpetual habit tracker with a reward sidebar. Brainstorm reward ideas for yourself to keep you motivated.

In my tracker X’s mean I’ve worked on my blog in some fashion, and I’m going a step further by highlighting my posting days.

 

Why these printables when there are so many organizational apps out there to help you stay on top of things? (I’ll let you know my favorite organization app in a few)

Because research shows that when you write something out by hand it will stick with you far better than if you type something out. Your brain and your hand have to coordinate on a different level than when you do everything digitally. Maybe it’s hogwash, but it certainly seems to work for me and I think it will work for you.

 

Copy of SMART Goals - Ultimate Goal Breakdown v2.0

 

 

 

 

Get it as shown:

SMART Goals – Ultimate Goal Breakdown v2.0

Get it in blue!

SMART Goals – Ultimate Goal Breakdown v2.0 BLUE

 

 

 

Copy of SMART Goals - Sensible Goal Reality Maker v2.0

 

 

Get it as shown:

SMART Goals – Sensible Goal Reality Maker v2.0

 

Get it in blue:

SMART Goals – Sensible Goal Reality Maker v2.0 BLUE

 

 

 

 

Copy of SMART Goals - Habit Tracker v2.0

 

 

 

Get it as shown:

SMART Goals – Habit Tracker v2.0

Get it in blue:

SMART Goals – Habit Tracker v2.0 BLUE

 

I sincerely hope these will be of help to you. I updated the borders to allow more writing room as well as I just think it’s a cleaner presentation.

For those of you who participated in the poll I did on Twitter to decide my second color, I say a fond thank you!

So, you’ve downloaded, printed, and started using those guides. What now? Now it’s time to get digital. There are countless organizational apps for every smartphone—how the hell do you choose which one to use? It may take some time and experimenting before you find the one that works just right for you, and there is no way possible for me to cover each and every one of them…I do have a novel to finish writing, after all. 😉 So instead, I’m just going to tell you about the one that is working super, awesome, amazing, wonderfully, perfectly for me right now.

That would be Trello.

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The beautiful thing about Trello is that the website and the app communicate so flawlessly. As soon as you update something in one, it is immediately available in the other, unlike some of the apps I’ve tried where there is a weird lag and pieces of information go missing.

As you can see, I have a board for each of my writing projects, one for social media, and one for blogging and newsletters. Each one of those boards is a hub for ideas, pieces of inspiration, resources, etc.

 

 

photo (5)When you enter a board, you can add categorize your cards, and they can easily be shuffled around by the touch of your finger—dragged and dropped so things are just right.

I can’t show you the scenes for Alabama Rain, but this drag-and-drop-move-em-where-you-please feature is helping me execute this novel with ease.

Even if you aren’t planning a novel, this will help you prioritize and re-prioritize as things change.

Want to collaborate with someone on a project? Trello makes this super easy by inviting collaborators to certain boards, while allowing you to make other boards private. Couldn’t be easier!
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See those little green rectangles with dates in them? That’s because I assigned those cards deadlines, and I have it set to give me a reminder the day before so I have no excuses for not completing my goals.

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What about clicking on a blogging date? What good will that do? I’ve given myself blogging topics to alleviate the stress of always having to figure out what to write about. Not only that, but I can add in websites that will come in handy for researching that particular topic. I can attach pictures so I’m never without a blog graphic, and it doesn’t matter if I add it from my desktop or phone, because it syncs immediately: and if you use Instagram, you can probably imagine how valuable this can be.

As I complete a deadline, I virtually check it off and I get the happy green rectangle as a visual reminder that I have completed a task. This makes me a very happy girl.

 

 

Now that you’ve downloaded those free printables and properly broken down your ultimate goal(s) into manageable pieces, this will help you greatly when you start setting up your Trello boards…so what are you waiting for?

Oh, yeah. You’ve got to finish reading this blog post first. There’s something sorta, kinda special coming up. Maybe. It is to me, anyway.

You’ve done the aforementioned things! Fantastic! On paper, both analog and digital, you’re set up for a very successful year, no matter what your dream happens to be. That’s all there is to it, right?

Not even in the slightest. But what could possibly be next?

Doing the work, of course! You can plan and plot a novel and never write it. You can join a gym and never go. You can get an education and never use it. But that’s not what you’re going to do this year, is it?

This is the part where I can’t hold your hand. I can be your virtual cheerleader, but I cannot join you at your desk and help you crank out your best-seller, nor can I run your miles, lift your weights, or get you that promotion you’re vying for. This part you have to do on your own. And there are literally hundreds of thousands of websites, blogs, vlogs, etc. that will tell you how to coax yourself into being more productive and shake off that decade-old case of the lazies. I’m here to tell you, this will take a metric-ton of trial and error. It will be hard and frustrating. You will have to give up certain things in order to make your fantasies realities. Instead of spouting every conceivable way to boost your productivity, I’ll tell you a few of the things I have done.

  • This may seem extreme, but I got rid of my cable television. Years back, actually. It doesn’t keep me from sitting down to binge-watch something on Netflix from time-to-time, but I sure as shit can’t get mired in mindless channel surfing. If I watch something it is a conscious effort. If I do make the decision to forego writing in one of my WIPs for watching a movie or bingeing Californication for the fifteenth time, I will still use this “downtime” for working on my various social media platforms, making blog visuals, or even researching blogging topics. I rarely ever use my television time as an excuse not to work on my author platform in some fashion.
  • No matter what you do, there will only ever be twenty-four hours in a day, so you have to get creative on how to score some extra time to work toward your goals. I’ve taken back an hour or two each week by ordering my groceries online. This option isn’t available to everyone, depending on where you live. But if you can, try this for yourself and see if it will work for you. Several grocery stores have this option, but the two I use are either Walmart or Lowe’s Foods. (Lowe’s Foods charges $4.95 for this time-saver, but for me it is well worth it! I love their meats and fresh vegetables!) This small change gives me so much more time to write and it can really help your budget by keeping you from impulse shopping!
  • Positive reinforcement is wonderful, so I created a reward system. You’ve seen a hint of what might  be on my list of rewards. Give yourself a good mix of rewards. Cheap and easy, mid-level, and high-end. This will vary for everyone based on your financial means, but for me a cheap reward might be doing a special face mask or treating myself to my favorite smoothie. Mid-level might be going out for sushi, or getting that sweater I’ve been eyeing. High-end would be a new purse, a special day-trip. You’re catching my drift…I know you are.
  • If positive reinforcement is wonderful, negative reinforcement is painful. Which is why I’m utilizing that as well. I laid out my goals for you guys, and I’m going to have to fess up if I fail. If I fail, you’ll lose faith in me. It’ll be that much harder for me to gain your respect as an author and human being…I could let this spiral out of control if I wanted.

And I suppose it wouldn’t be a blog post on goal-setting and productivity if I didn’t toss this old chestnut at you: Show up and do the damn work.

So, I said something special was coming at the end of this blog post, didn’t I? Well, if you liked those free printable pages up there, I am offering additional free printables to my newsletter subscribers that are specifically tailored to growing your social media audiences. If you’re interested, you’ll need to subscribe here. The form is at the bottom of the page. (That’s right—I don’t annoy you with pop-ups!)

But wait! That’s not all! (I did that in my very best infomercial voice!)

I’d love to see you using the sheets I created. If you use them and like them, please snap a picture of how they’re helping you and tweet them (Or Instagram them!) using #WriterGoals2018 and don’t forget to tag me, @AilaStephens. In anticipation of these beauties helping you buckle down on your goals, I’m doing a little giveaway! I’m calling it the “Be Successful” toolkit.

What might you win, you ask?

A paperback copy of Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit
A really awesome book of motivational stickers for your planner
(not pictured) A super-helpful journal
(not pictured) A pack of my favorite writing pens
Coffee–DUH!
Tea–DUH!
+ Other little prizes to help make achieving your dreams fun!

Enter the giveaway. You know you want to.

Entries accepted until February 4th, 2018.

In the meantime, let me know in the comments how you’re keeping motivated after the luster of a new goal is beginning to wear off.

Until we meet again, my lovelies! xoxo


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Alabama Rain, Getting To Know Aila, Work In Progress, Writer's Life, Writing

Say Hello To My WIP: Alabama Rain

 

Social Media (2)“Besides, don’t God’ner the devil want me. I reckon I’m fine right where I am.”
– Corrie Bryant, Alabama Rain

 

Is it lame to say Happy New Year to you again? I don’t think so. Is it? I’m thinking it’s perfectly all right to pass on this wish throughout the first week. After that it might be somewhat overkill. But we’re only on day four of 2018, so what the hell: HAPPY NEW YEAR, YOU!

I hope you’re all busy working toward your goals for the year, whatever they might be. Unless it’s world domination. (Looking at you, Don.) Be it weight loss, a promotion, saving for a house, writing your first novel or your second, third, or twentieth—I am rooting for you!

As you’ll recall from my last post, I mentioned my new WIP: Alabama Rain. AR first came to me while as I dozed off one night while I was still writing Technicalities. I read once that you never have to erase what you get up to write—which is exactly what I did. The line of dialogue underneath the image up top is the exact line I heard just before the Sandman got the better of me, and my eyes flashed open as the rough plot unfolded in my mind. I sprang from the bed and grabbed a pen because I didn’t want to forget anything.

An affliction many writers suffer from, known as the shiny new idea syndrome, had bitten me and made it all but impossible for me to concentrate on finishing Technicalities, then made it difficult to start Formalities. I had no choice but to write a little here and there, and my husband can attest that it took me a long time to shut up about it—but now that it is my official WIP and not just a lovely idea flirting with me in the dark reaches of my messed up writer brain…I don’t really have to shut up about it.

So, what’s the gist? A part of me would happily sit here and divulge every secret because I am all kinds of excited about this story, but I will resist. Here’s a blurb-in-progress, instead:

Alabama Rain follows the enigmatic life story of Corrie Bryant, an elderly lady who hasn’t had a filter for her thoughts in years and who has recently been accused of the brutal murder of her husband, Jed. In order to sort out what actually happened to her father, Sarah Johansen, a lawyer from Columbus, Georgia, comes home to Dry Creek to spearhead her own investigation. Of all the things she’s seen during her practice she isn’t prepared for the secrets she uncovers, and isn’t sure finally getting to know her mother is the silver lining around the dark cloud as she hoped.

This story I’ve tasked myself with is stretching me, forcing me to grow as a writer. While the investigation takes place in 1994, Corrie’s story takes us all the way back to The Great Depression. This is a brand new challenge for myself, as I’ve always worked lineraly, and in modern times.

I don’t know about you but sometimes it is hard for me to imagine a world without easy access to the internet—though I can remember not having it. The same applies to cell phones and GPS, satellite radio and high-definition television…see where I’m going here? In 1994 it is estimated only 10,000 websites existed, and only 2 million people were readily connected to the internet. (Compare that to today’s ~50 billion websites and 4 billion people addicted to using the internet!)

So I can’t give my character a GPS, or even have them download and print directions from MapQuest. (You remember MapQuest, right?) I’ll have to reorient myself with primitive objects like paper maps that never fold correctly and bulky landline phones that hang on the kitchen wall. Payphones instead of cellular, and libraries with backlogs of newspapers instead of sitting down at a computer and having any bit of information at my character’s fingertips.

I look forward to sharing snippets from this book here and there, as well as some of the struggles and triumphs. I’m sure I’ll learn a slew of new tricks of the trade both with writing and self-publishing.

If you’d care to join me during the gestation of Alabama Rain, don’t forget to subscribe to my blog and especially don’t miss out on subscribing to my newsletter—when you sign up for my newsletter you’ll receive a welcome aboard email that contains the first, raw chapter of Alabama Rain and you can expect chapters two and three to float into your inbox before you know it. Sign up at my website, submission form is at the bottom of the page.

All that said, I’ve got some writing to do. 🙂 Take care and see you on Monday when I examine some ways to make that crazy-long list of writing goals less scary, more manageable, and easier to cross off.

See you soon! xoxo


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