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

Aila’s Day Out : Smoky Mountains

QG - Smokies.pngThe mountains are calling, and I must go.
-John Muir

I have this terrible knack for saying I’m going to do something for myself and not doing it. I wind up feeling guilty for a multitude of reasons and can come up with more excuses than George RR Martin can come up with characters to kill.

Tuesday I felt those familiar pangs rising up, threatening to thwart my plans for yesterday. Chief among those guilty feelings was the fact I was going alone. I’m not opposed to being alone. I’m one of those people who sometimes feels lonelier in the company of people than I do when I am, in fact, by myself.

I devoted some time to exploring these feelings, though—something I rarely do, but should do more often. I realized I felt crummy about it because I’d penciled in some locales that my husband and I hadn’t experienced together. I guess it’d equate to if one of us watched an episode of one of our shows without the other one. So, I scratched those ideas and decided I’d go to some of my tried-and-true favorites. Places I don’t mind seeing over and over again, which isn’t really the husband’s cup of tea. (Not that he doesn’t enjoy these places, but he’s not one for as much repeat business as I am.)

Now, this may sound odd, but while I’ve never lived in the Smoky Mountains, I feel more at home here than anywhere else. There’s a certain sort of peace of mind that washes over me when I lay eyes on these hills. Maybe it’s what an addict feels when they get their fix. I don’t know.

I left my house at 6:00 am.

Let that sink in.

I’d leave this early for all of my trips if my husband would too. Leaving this early meant I’d gifted myself the sunrise over Flat Rock, NC (just minutes away from Carl Sandburg’s House. It was a little foggier than I’d like, but that’s the mountains for you.

(Also, since I was by myself, I wasn’t able to capture pictures. Cue sad face.)

When I got into Asheville, North Carolina it had started raining. But I wasn’t afraid, this is also just par for the course in the mountains. Weather is extremely unpredictable.

But when I got on the Smoky Mountain Expressway?

Fog. Oh my goodness.

But then when I got into Maggie Valley?

F. O. G. FOG, FOG, FOG!

I’d planned on walking around Maggie Valley to take some pictures, but that didn’t happen. Here, to see what I saw of Maggie Valley, close your eyes for a second and picture a gray box.

That about covers it.

I hadn’t intended on getting on the Blue Ridge Parkway, but I thought maybe I would elevate above the blasted fog and actually see something. You tell me:

photo (34)

This was actually the best view I had on the Parkway for several miles.

I began to get a little discouraged. I mean, I’d come early for a reason, and that was to beat the crowds, not get swallowed by a thick pea-souper. So I meandered down the BRP, even slower than required, because the freakishly thick fog required it.

And I’m glad I didn’t give up, because eventually, somewhere past the Bunches Bald overlook and the Thomas Divide (Elevation change -1190 feet), Mother Nature must’ve had a cup of coffee, because the fog lifted and I couldn’t have been more elated!

IMG_3039

Now, if you are ever on the Southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway (which, I suggest adding to your bucket list) look for Balsam Mountain and take that road all the way to the end where you’ll really find Balsam Mountain road, which is a twisty, winding little one-way road (meaning do not begin this road if you don’t intend to finish, because you have no choice. Have snacks, drinks, and above all else make use of the facilities located conveniently before the road starts.)

If I had been in my SUV, and if it hadn’t been so foggy, I’d have taken you down this road with me. There are some excellent chances to see wildlife: I.E. BEARS.

Instead, I journeyed on to a very special place, one I’ve been visiting since I was, as they say, knee-high to a grasshopper.

Oconaluftee Visitor’s Center has changed much (new facilities built in 2011), but it’s better than ever. First thing on my agenda was the mini-museum.

Normally we fly through this, if we even visit it at all anymore. But I took my time reading the signage and watching the videos. It really is a neat stop.

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It might be hard to see in the slide, but the chair is the one used by Roosevelt at the dedication ceremony in 1940, the site of the ceremony is just about a 25-30 minute drive up the mountain toward Tennessee—unless it’s peak tourism time (especially leaf season), then you’re looking at closer to an hour or more.

After I’d had my fill of the museum and shopping (where I bought a jar of chow chow for husband and peach preserves for me) I decided to explore the old farm, braving the cold (and boy was it cold!) and really allowing myself time to study the buildings and the information stands.

I hadn’t realized how ingrained in my memory that cabin had become over the years, because it is nearly a carbon copy of what I envision for Corrie, Nelly, and Mabel in Alabama Rain (though, not with a second story).

I also walked along the Oconaluftee River as long as I felt safe doing so. I wasn’t as worried about bear here as I was Elk. They are notorious for being in this area of the park, and with it being springtime, I wouldn’t have been excited to happen upon a pregnant Elk, or worse, one with a baby.

After I’d finished with the farm, I felt a rumbly in my tumbly and thought it best to have lunch. I’d packed my own, so I decided to drive up to Newfound Gap and teeter along the NC/TN line just so I could say I’d been in four states in one day (Georgia would come later). My view for lunch:

IMG_3119

Not shabby, eh?

Now, when I left Greenville at 6am it was over 70F.

It was 34 at Newfound Gap. I didn’t care to be outside the warmth of the car very much. I did volunteer to take a picture of a nice elderly couple. She took his picture first, then he took hers. I stepped out and asked if they’d like to have one together. I think it was like Christmas for them! I chatted with them a while. They were fascinated that I’d travel there alone, what with the bears and snakes (not in 34F!) and general scariness of being alone. Truthfully, I was enjoying the solitude.

I contemplated driving the seven miles to Clingman’s Dome, but if it was 34 at Newfound Gap, it was likely to be mid-20s at Clingman’s, so I thought better of it. I did see some worn-out hikers coming up the Appalachian Trail, which is always neat. I envy them so much.

It was still only a little after noon, so I decided to stop in at Mingus Mill (which you saw pictures of already. Here are some that didn’t make the video.

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If you notice the trail that runs along side the water, aptly named Mingus Mill Trail, that’s a really neat one to follow. A little rough, a little steep, but really worth the effort if you’re ever in the area long enough.

When I departed, I decided to make a loop. Going back the way I came would’ve been just fine, but why not see more stuff?

Not to mention, the loop afforded me the opportunity to stop in and surprise my parents.

Once I made it into Georgia there were two stops I wanted to make. One of which, and I’m sure you’ll agree, is one of those places that could only happen in The South.

It’s freaking Goats on The Roof.

Goats. On the Roof.

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I’m a sucker for goats.

There are actually some neat gifty things inside, and if it had been warmer I’d have gone to the sweet shop and taken pictures of how they make ice cream (liquid nitrogen!)

But, be forewarned: Walking in some areas may result in goat poop raining from above.  They are living creatures. They’re on the roof. It’s got to go somewhere. Do not let children run amok here, I’ve seen them try to feed the goats hamburgers. Not cool.

My final stop (with pictures) was in Tallulah Falls, Georgia. Most people mistakenly call it Tallulah Gorge (though, that is why people come here.)

I didn’t go to Jane Hurt Yarn, but you should. I’ve been there many times, and would’ve stopped in on this trip had I not planned on stopping in to see my parents. I did, however, stop at the best overlook in town that happens to have one of the neatest shops!

(Also, I think it’s fun to note that even though it was roughly 20 degrees warmer here than at Newfound Gap, the wind coming off the gorge was insane, thus making this the most frigid stop on my trip!)

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Why the moon pies?

You’ll find out when you read Alabama Rain.

This concludes my day trip yesterday! I hope you enjoyed reading about it and all my pictures. If you haven’t been in this area, I totally suggest it. It’s gorgeous and full of character. I wish I could be your tour guide through my mountains!

Now, about the giveaway…

I know I was supposed to announce what all is included, but I am still waiting to hear from one of the companies, so while I do want to share it today, I also don’t want to potentially disappoint. So, please bear with me and come Saturday if I haven’t heard back from this company yet, I will select another one and go from there.

I will give you a hint, though, already locked in for the giveaway is a full-year’s subscription to one of the services you’ve seen popping up on my blog lately.   Including this one. Quite possibly below. 😉 Nod, nod, wink, wink.

See you soon, friends. xoxo


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Writer Resources: Marketing Edition

WR_ Marketing

I wasn’t supposed to blog about this today. I had intended on blogging about another resource, but as I was writing it, I realized I didn’t quite have enough information and it felt incomplete. So, here goes plan B.

It’s a three-fer.

The resources I’m introducing you to tonight will help as you dive into the wonderful world of marketing. [enter gagging sound]

Pexels

Cost: Free
Pros: Free High-Quality Stock Photos
Cons: Limited library
Ease of Use: If you can use Google, you can use Pexels
Website: http://www.Pexels.com

Pexels

This is pretty straight-forward. You enter a search term and you surf for images. Sometimes when you search for something, there will be pages upon pages of images to choose from…other times there will be only a few.

There is a sister site that advertises at the bottom, often times with nicer pictures you can purchase. My advice, though, is always search for free images before you decide to purchase. Especially on things such as a graphic for Twitter or Instagram. Save your picture budget for photo covers or paid advertising.

Let’s pretend I’m making some materials for Alabama Rain, and I’ll look up pictures of barns.

barns

Now, let’s say I want the bottom left-hand barn. I click it, and then what?

No attribution
There are a few things I want you to pay attention to after you’ve clicked on the photo and before you click the free download button.

Check to make sure the photo is okay to use for commercial use.

Check whether attribution is required.

Don’t be that person who uses an image you aren’t supposed to. You wouldn’t want someone to replicate or use part of your work without permission.

If the photo requires attribution, give it.

Now, do you see the down arrow to the right of the Free Download button? Hover over it and you’ll see a drop down menu.

Choose A Size
You can choose from several sizes or create a custom size if that works best for you.

Outside of this, there’s not a whole lot more to tell about Pexels.

Are you a photographer? You can also share your photos on Pexels to help other creatives.

So, now you’ve got your image, but what are you going to do with it?

Pixlr Editor

Cost: Free
Pros: Fairly powerful web-based image editor
Cons: Takes a little time to learn, sort of mimics Photoshop
Ease of Use: If you can use Photoshop, this is easy to learn, not for beginners
Website: http://Pixlr.com/editor

Pixlr

Create
The first thing you want to do is create a new image.

New Image
Name your image and give it some parameters.

A lot of people guess what their size should be or they aren’t concerned about it at all and think the platform they upload it to will automatically convert it…this isn’t always the case.

A simple Google search can tell you what size to make your image based on what you’re creating it for.

New Image AR

These parameters and file name can be changed if needed.

Anyway, let’s see what we can accomplish fairly simply with our barn image and some of Pixlr’s capabilities.

Here are just a few of the options and tools in the Pixlr arsenal:

 

As you can see, if you are familiar with Photoshop, there are a lot of similarities. Now, if there is any lingering interest in learning more about Pixlr, you’d do well to look up some tutorials on YouTube, though if you shoot me a message, I’ll do my best to help you.

So, what was I able to make really quickly in Pixlr with that image we got from Pexels?

The before:agriculture-barn-clouds-248832

The after:
New Barn

Not bad for about fifteen minutes.

PlaceIt

Cost: Varies
Pros: Simple, easy to use, takes little to no effort.
Cons: Could do this on your own if you learn Photoshop (Not necessarily Pixlr)
Website: http://www.PlaceIt.net

PlaceIt

Get ready to settle into your desk chair or couch, because if you’re anything like me you are going to find yourself obsessively searching through these mockups.

omg.PNG

SO. MANY. OPTIONS.

undone

While I was looking through the above page, this picture jumped out at me.

I hadn’t planned on actually creating a mockup for this post, but this one wanted me to. It practically whispered at me to announce my second summer project. So, this is a surprise even to me, but here goes nothing.

Within just a few clicks and uploading a few images I had a really nice little image for marketing. (Seriously, this took only about two minutes to upload all the images, crop them, and download it.)

Sure, I could probably make something similar in Photoshop with a little time and a lot more effort, but for $8.00? Think of all the time you could save making things like this and actually writing. Without further adieu, let’s see what two minutes and eight bucks got me:

placeit (1).png

That’s right, it’s time to release the prequel novelette I’ve had stashed on my hard drive for about two years. I’ll be doing this sometime this summer, after it’s all edited and polished. 🙂

That’s all I’ve got for you today, my friends. I hope these resources will help you along your marketing journey! Have something you’d like to share with the class? Please tell me all about it in the comments!

Sometime before this series is over, I’ll be revisiting marketing resources and giving you a glimpse of how I put together my book trailers.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!

I know I’m not scheduled to write another blog post this week, but I’m doing something for myself on Wednesday, and I am going to be publishing an extra post on Thursday to tell you all about it.

Be sure to check it out because I’m also going to announce the super-awesome-mega-amazing giveaway that is accompanying this series. Trust me when I say, you are not going to want to miss out on this one.

Until Thursday, lovely people!


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Q1: How’d I Do?

Q1 - How did I do

I promised I’d be honest with you guys. No matter how much it hurts. It’s time to pony up and tell you the truth about how I did with my goals for quarter one.

If you’d like to see the full blog post where I laid out my plans, click here.

Here goes nothing, ya’ll.

1.| Print business cards. I did this, but I didn’t like them. Which, technically, wasn’t my fault. So, I’m going to count this as done, but it’s something I need to redo.

2.| Print bookmarks. DONE!

3.| Get signed copies of my books for sale. DONE!

4.| Write 65,000 words of Alabama Rain. Oh, so not even done. I’m about 20k shy…which is embarrassing.

5.| Update the website at least once per month. DONE!

6.| Send three newsletters. DONE!

7.| Keep up with the blogging schedule. DONE!

8.| Utilize Instagram 5x per week. Oh, yeah, no, I did not do this.

9.| Update both the cover and interior of Sex, Love, and Formalities. DONE!

10.| Attend the Writing/Book Festival in Dahlonega, GA. Sadly, I did not get to go. 😦

So, I accomplished 70% of the goals I gave myself for this quarter…but I’m really upset for not hitting my word count goal. That one stings a lot.

Going purely on testing standards, I passed for the quarter. By my standards, however, I should be flogged. I mean, sure, I could give some solid excuses—especially for not getting to the book festival—but I won’t. Besides, I said in that blog post that I’d only consider myself a success if I accomplished 8/10.

I am stupidly proud of keeping up with my blog schedule, and also for not giving up on my newsletter. Also, while I didn’t hit my count goal, I am proud of the feedback I’ve received on Alabama Rain thus far, so even if it is taking me a little longer to write, I am proud of how it is shaping up. I guess that matters more? I’m going to tell myself it does.

It was a busy quarter both as a writer and in my personal life, and I’m going to try not to give myself too much grief for not accomplishing one more of those goals.

So, what about Quarter Two?

Here’s what I hope to accomplish over the next three months:

1.| Tweak and reprint the business cards.
2.| Reach 80,000 words in Alabama Rain.
3.| Form a solid book launch sequence/plan.
4.| Send three newsletters.
5.| Keep up with the blogging schedule.
6.| Finalize Alabama Rain’s cover.
7.| Utilize Instagram 3x per week.
8.| Host a giveaway.
9.| Update the website at least once per month.
10.| Explore three ways of increasing sales of SLT & SLF.

Again, I will consider the quarter a success if I accomplish 8/10 of these goals.

I will update you on how I’ve done on Thursday, June 28, 2018! That’s all I have for you today! Have a fantastic weekend! xoxo

P.S. If you haven’t checked out the interview Vania Rheault did with me, click here to check it out! Her blog is fantastic…which isn’t a surprise, because she is fantastic!

 


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Writer Resources: SkillShare

WR_ SKILLSHARE

Happy Monday, everyone! I hope you’re in for a fantastic, productive week! I had a really nice weekend, though not as productive as I’d hoped—but our oldest nephew spent the weekend with us, which was worth it. My husband took him to the SC ComicCon, and then we went downtown for some Pokemon Go, and stayed up late playing Boss Monsters…a card game based on 8-bit video games. (Side note: I’m the reigning champ!)

But the weekend is gone, and it’s time to get back to all things writerly. This week, in my Writer Resources series, I am super excited to introduce you to SkillShare!

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Costs: You can access SkillShare for free, or you can upgrade to a Premium Membership
Premium Membership Costs: Monthly: $15.00 or Annual: $8.25/mo billed once
Ease of Use: If you can navigate YouTube, you can navigate SkillShare.
Usefulness: Amazing

What’s The Big Deal?

Being an indie author means you must wear a lot of hats. You’re a writer, an editor, a designer, a marketer, a publisher, an accountant, a social media manager. You are taking on every single role filled at a publishing house and the ones they outsource.

It’s all on you, baby. 

Your forte may be crafting your story, but you don’t have a clue about design—but you need an advertisement, or a book cover, or a simple blog post visual. You might be tempted to jump onto Microsoft Paint and give it your best shot, thinking you’ll do better next time.

Don’t.

You owe it to yourself and your work to give every aspect of the writing process the best chance it can have. If you can’t afford to outsource everything (which, most of us can’t), then you need to make learning these things a priority.

Enter SkillShare.

What Kinds of Classes Are There?

SkillShare1

As you can see, there is a category to help the indie author in almost every stage of the writing process.

Here are just a few writing-centric things I’ve personally sought help with in SkillShare:

• Storycrafting
• Outlining
• Drafting
• Editing
• Character Development

There are literally thousands of classes for writers.

SkillShare2

Take a look at the enrollment stats of some of these classes! This is because these teachers have incredible passion and have gone to great lengths to provide you with a valuable learning experience.

Some of the classes are shorter, around a half-hour long, whereas you can see some are longer, like the one approaching two hours (top, middle). Never fear, though. These longer classes are broken into shorter, more appetizing bites, making it a lot easier to complete classes on your own time table.

What about those other hats we talked about moments ago? You know, the ones that are a little more difficult, the ones that might make us scream into our pillows or drink an extra scotch. Let’s look at just a few of the other topics close to the writer’s heart:

SkillShare3

A quick search for cover design gave me over six-thousand results.

Whether you’re aiming to learn how to design in Canva, PhotoShop, InDesign, or GIMP…there are classes for you. Learn to use the program, then learn steps to design something highly professional. There’s something for every skill level.

SkillShare4

Marketing: Aila hates it. It’s true, I find marketing to be the single most-daunting aspect of being an indie author…but with SkillShare, I’m trying to change that.

Classes Vs. Videos

I’ve talked about SkillShare with someone before and they asked me what the point of it was, since there’s this little thing called YouTube where you can learn stuff, too.

Well, here’s the thing: YouTube is great, and sometimes I also go to YouTube in order to learn something…but SkillShare is comprised of classes.

Enrolling in classes means you’re going to have teacher-led videos. Many, if not most, of the teachers I’ve found on SkillShare have homework assignments or projects attached to their classes, and you have the opportunity to complete solo-projects, interact with other students for support, guidance, or simply to do a little networking.

Often times when you complete a project, the teacher will review it and give you personal feedback…not something you’ll find on YouTube.

SkillShare5Why Premium Membership?

I wholeheartedly recommend signing up for the free membership first and looking around to see if SkillShare is for you before signing up for the Premium Membership. But, it does have its perks. (See the list on the left.)

Regardless of which membership level you choose, I truly believe you’ll find SkillShare’s platform beneficial for you and your creative business endeavors.

Do I Use It?

I do.

I’m currently taking marketing classes, but I’ve also used it to help strengthen my storytelling, learn new methods for outlining, and web development.

My experience with SkillShare has been nothing but positive.

 

Learn on Skillshare*Afflink*

Recommended Teachers

• Daniel José Older
• Jenna Moreci
• Laurie Wang
• Gary Vaynerchuk
• Mike Pickett

If you’re tired of feeling like everyone else is passing you by or that you’re the last to know something, but you aren’t being proactive in your own journey…what are you waiting for? Sign up. Take some classes.


**Disclaimer** Afflink means an affiliated link. Clicking and using one of my Afflinks in no way changes the price of any product or service you sign up for, but does provide me a small commission. I will never post affiliated links for products or services I do not believe in or use myself.


That’s all I have for you today, folks! I do hope you’ll give SkillShare a shot! If you do, give me a shout in the comments below and let me know which classes you’re taking and if you discover a favorite teacher.

See you Thursday when I get to tell you about all the quarterly goals I’ve failed…yeah, I’m not looking forward to writing Thursday’s post.

At all.

Wait! One more thing!

Just a little head’s up…Check out Vania Rheault’s blog tomorrow, March 27th! 🙂 Actually, check it out any time, but most definitely tomorrow. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

Have a fantastic week, my friends! xoxo



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Writer Resources: Wix

WR_ WIX

Welcome back! In this week’s post, I am bringing you Wix. I’m sure you’ve seen their advertisements on YouTube—Rhett and Link from Good Mythical Morning are currently spokespeople. You might have seen some advertising on television too, though I’m not entirely sure about that, since I haven’t had television service in about five years now.

If you’ve seen it and you question whether it could really be as simple as they make it out to be, let me spoil the rest of this post for you: IT IS.

The Particulars

The Price: You can use Wix for free. You won’t have a custom URL, which I like, but it will look like this: username.wixsite.com/sitename/page-url. If you want to upgrade to a premium plan so you can use your own domain, here is the price breakdown as of today’s posting:
Wix Prices (1)

Ease of Use: ♦♦♦♦♦


What’s The Fuss?

Before I stumbled onto Wix, I spent several weeks fighting with another hosting site which, at the time, seemed to advertise more. This other website, let’s call them SquireSparce…claimed to provide a website building platform which was super simple and gave highly professional results. It…didn’t.

Wix really does.

Not only can you drag and drop, resize, and generally edit your website flawlessly, they also make it super easy to edit the way your mobile site looks and feels, too.

SEO

Search Engine Optimization is this crazy, headache-inducing hullabaloo that eludes almost everyone. It is important, though. Wix guides you through all the tough stuff, though, and within a few clicks you’re far better off.

Newsletters

If you tossed a virtual rock around the writing community, you’d hit on at least three-dozen separate blogs and vlogs advising that writers have a newsletter and email list. You can absolutely use a service like MailChimp for this, but if you have your website with Wix, you needn’t look any further than their integrated Shoutouts system. It is just as easy to create professional-looking newsletters as it is to edit your website.

In my humble opinion, we writers should focus the majority of our time to our books. The platform-building and marketing stuff is important, too, but if you can streamline your marketing time and keep yourself in as few places as possible, that just frees up more writing time. Boom!

Tons of Apps

Want an easy-to-customize contact form? They’ve got it.
Want to integrate your Instagram feed? It’s simple.
Want to add a status tracker your readers can see on where you are for your WIP? Not hard at all.

There are hundreds of things you can add to your Wix site,
so simply you won’t find yourself reaching for the aspirin.

Easy to Use

I know I’ve said this a few times in this rather short post, but it deserves to be repeated. Instead of attempting to show you its beautiful simplicity through a series of screencaps, though, I found a short video on YouTube I recommend watching if you’re interested in learning more about it.

I Put My Money Where My Mouth Is

$14 per month, to be exact.

If I didn’t make it clear in my last post, no matter my skill level in the resources I’m bringing to you in this series, I believe in them 100%. I use Wix for my website, and WordPress (obviously) for my blog. Why? Because there is no other blogging platform I’ve found that compares to WordPress.

If you’d like to see what my Wix-built website looks like, please give it a gander, by clicking here. (Bonus points if you sign up for my newsletter!)

That’s all I have for you today, friends. I hope you have an excellent, super-productive week! See you soon!

xoxo,

Aila


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Getting To Know Aila

HBD Daisy!

HBD Daisy

Ten years ago, on St. Patrick’s Day, my mother-in-law called my husband and I to tell us

Daisy
This is Daisy around two years old. Not a single gray on that sweet face.

 her dog had had a litter of puppies.

The mama dog’s name was Biscuit, and there were two important facts about Biscuit that are important to this story: She had long, curly hair that hid her pregnant belly really well, and when she was adopted the previous owners said Biscuit had been spayed…so this was a very unexpected litter of pups.

A few days later we visited the MIL’s house to look at the new babes and I instantly fell in love with one of them.

And it wasn’t Daisy.

Penny
This is Penny, the original pupper I had intended to bring home. She’s super little and sweet as can be. Her tininess, though, brings with it a few health complications.

Daisy was the runt of the litter, and while she was cute, she wasn’t the one I wanted to begin with. I wanted the biggest pup in the litter. She was like a miniature version of a chocolate lab, and I was still grieving the fact my parents had re-homed the chocolate lab we’d had since I was a kid. (After my brother and I moved out, my parents downsized.)

So, we waited the six weeks to go back and get the brown fur ball and the puppies were all crawling around and exploring and generally the cutest things you’ve ever seen, of course. We sat on the couch with our new little dog and fawned all over her, but while we did this little runt of a thing worked very hard to get my attention and she crawled all over me and gave me kisses on my chin and yawned and fell asleep on my chest, and completely won my heart.

So, we went home with two puppies that day.

It took us a while to name both of them. It wasn’t until we went to go buy them each collars that inspiration came for Daisy’s name. She was so tiny there wasn’t a single puppy collar that fit her. We had to buy her a collar meant for a kitten, and I chose one with a daisy pendant on it.

It was still sort of big for her.

In the interest of brevity, I’ll skip ahead to when my niece and nephew (very little at the

Daisy5
Daisy won’t actually gnaw on her “chewies” until my husband or I pretend we’re trying to steal it from her.

time) visited. If memory serves me correctly their dad had just gotten word he would be doing a stint in Afghanistan (might’ve been Iraq, I can’t remember which came first), and they were both trying to be very brave about it. They wanted one of our pups, and they fell in love with the dog I had first fallen in love with—who, funnily enough, had started as the largest puppy in the litter and turned out to be the tiniest after they grew up!

That puppy is still in the excellent care of my now grown niece and nephew, and her name is Penny. All of the puppies in that litter were given names beginning with P, except for Daisy. What can I say, we’re rebels.

Anywho, Daisy has seen me through some really troubling times: miscarriages, nearly losing my father on multiple occasions, a few relocations, and the death of one of my nephews. She sticks with me when I’m sick, dotes on me when I have a migraine, and somehow she always knows if my back hurts and that’s where she curls up next to me to act as a natural heating pad.

Daisy2
About four years old, Daisy started sporting a little gray around her nose. I adore this wittle face.

Ten Fun (I think, anyway) Facts About Daisy:

• She has a plethora of nicknames, and she answers to all of them. Some of my fave are:

Doodle
DooBop
Doobie
Daisy May
Doodlehead
Angel Face

Daisy4
Around five years old, a day after surgery.

• While her favorite treat has always been cheese, a close second is watermelon.

• She and my father have a very special bond, too. If I ask her if she wants to go see her Papa, I’d damn well better take her.

• She grew up with a cat, therefore she loves cats. She doesn’t understand when they don’t love her back.

• When she was very little she had two squeak toys, a rhinoceros and a hippopotamus, and she knew which was which and would bring whichever you asked her for.

• She gets up with me at 4:30 every morning and sits in my lap while I drink my coffee. Then she goes back to bed when I leave for work.

• She’s super protective of my husband’s feet.

• She gets jealous when my husband and I hug each other, so we sometimes put her between us for a “Doodle Sandwich.”

• Like most dogs, she loved to wrestle in her more spry years. But even when she was

Daisy3
I was cleaning out the pantry and she decided I needed help.

young and rowdy, if you said, “Okay, it’s time for love now,” she would instantly stop rough-housing and go back to being sweet.

• Daisy loves confined spaces. When she was a puppy we had her on such a sleep/crate schedule that if we were late going to bed, she would get in her crate by herself and stay there all night. Now she doesn’t have a crate, but she will sneak off and sleep in the linen closet almost daily. She loves it so much, we have to leave the door open for her.

Yes, she’s spoiled. Yes, she’ll get presents and a special dinner for her birthday…and yes, I am aware she is a dog.

Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed getting to know my canine-kid. Have a great weekend and Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

PSA: Don’t drink and drive. Call a cab, call an Uber, or have a designated driver.

Until Monday, my lovelies! xoxoxo


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Writer Resources: Trello

Copy of WR_ PWA“Why do anything unless it’s going to be great?”
Peter Block

 

Welcome to my next blog series: Writer Resources!

I’ve been told on more than one occasion I come across some of the most interesting resources, and sometimes I mention one of them in my blog and I’ll get a DM on Twitter (or an email, actually) for more information about it.

So, I figured I’d bring you a series dedicated to some of my favorites, as well as navigate a few still new to me. The lineup I’m bringing you samples everything from organization, to editing, to design, and everything in between.

It was difficult to decide where to start, where to end, and how to get from A to Z! The natural choice, however, was Trello—my favorite organizational app.

The Particulars

Price: Free for Personal Use | 9.99/mo for Business Class | 20.83/mo for Enterprise
Ease of Use (Web): ♦♦♦♦♦
Ease of Use (App):  ♦♦♦♦♦

Introduction

I was first introduced to Trello shortly after its release and I used it to help me organize a 10k word paper I had to write for school. If you are familiar with the “pin board” concept of Pinterest, then you’ve already got an idea of how Trello works. Let me show you:

Trello - Web Boards

 

Great for Web | Great for Mobile

photo (1)

If you’re anything like me, you float from using a desktop or laptop to using your mobile device for all things regarding your writing career. It was important for me that however I organize my thoughts and ideas be just as useful on my desktop as it is my phone, and Trello does not disappoint.

In fact, it’s the most seamless web/mobile transition I’ve ever encountered. It is nearly instantaneous to add something on your Trello app and then find it on your desktop and vice versa.

This is EXCELLENT for people who design something on their desktop and then want to add it to Instagram.

I take full advantage of any opportunity I have at work or during travel to go over my Trello boards and examine how I’m doing on my goals (which each board contains goals) and I’ll work on my plot and character outlines.

Creating a Trello Board

Creating a board is super simple.

Trello - Web Boards (1)

I don’t want to show the contents of my active boards, so for the sake of this blog post, let’s start a sample board.

But sample board is kind of boring, so let’s make a fictitious story board. We’ll use one of my scrapped titles: Someone Else’s Dream.

Trello - SED Added to Boards

Add it to one, and it’s automatically on the other.

Now let’s enter the board and start fleshing out this novel.

Trello - SED Adding Cards
Ever had an app that didn’t function as well in landscape as portrait or vice versa? Trello works well in either. Actually, I can’t think of a thing I don’t like about it.

The first card I always add when I’m starting to organize my novel is the first little spark of the idea. I know the heading says synopsis, but that might not always be the first card I add, especially if it is a brand new idea and I haven’t actually made a synopsis. I never want to forget the first thing that sparked the idea, because, in my opinion, no matter how much the book changes from inception to publication, that little nugget of inspiration is the truth of the novel.

 

For instance, the idea that sparked Alabama Rain was a little line of dialogue from the voice of an elderly lady. “Besides, don’t God’ner the Devil want me.”

Therefore, that is the first card on my Alabama Rain board. I never want to forget the surge of energy those few words gave me, and it comes back to me whenever I read it.

(Bonus points if you guessed what I’m watching in the background by reading the character names…for the seventh time.)

Inspired Organization

Did you notice how my existing Trello boards all have different pictures for their thumbnails?

Once I have really narrowed down the feel of the book, I change the background image from the default color to an image in keeping with the tone I’m going for. It’s just one more little way I can get slip myself into the mood for writing.

See where it says menu on the right-hand side? Click that and then you can decorate!

Trello - SED New BG
Once I start getting ideas for scenes, I add a list for scenes and I start adding in cards with very loose ideas for them. The great thing about Trello is that you can drag and drop them to rearrange them.

Power-Ups

Let’s take a closer look at the menu bar.

Trello - SED Menu

If you’ve been saying to yourself that you can more-or-less do all of this in Scrivener so far, pay attention. Now, I’ll admit it’s been a while since I’ve toyed around with Scrivener, so I apologize if I have missed something, but these Power-Ups are something you cannot do in the popular writing app.

Trello - SED Power-Ups
There are an astonishing number of power-ups you can integrate right into your Trello Boards.

If you are using the free-version, as I suspect you are, you are limited to only one power-up per board. The paid-versions do allow you to use as many as you want.

There are power-ups for just about everything, from calendars to MailChimp and so much in-between.

For the sake of this demonstration, let’s set up a calendar that will help you track your word counts and writing goals.

Trello - SED Calendar

Once you enable the Calendar, you need to assign yourself some goals. Create a list of word count goals.

Trello - SED Word Count Goals

When you click on the goal, it will open up this menu:

Trello - SED Adding Due Dates

Once you’ve added in a due date, it will show up in your calendar. I will go ahead and set several due dates so you can see what it looks like.

Trello - SED Calendar with Due Dates

photo (9)

Reminders

It’s a good thing those are fictitious word count goals! 😉

The cool thing is that you can set your calendar to give you reminders. In fact, earlier, while I was writing on this very blog post I got a reminder from Trello that I had a blog post due tomorrow.

There have been a few Thursday blog posts that wouldn’t have been written if it weren’t for these Trello reminders.

Also, thanks for all the Instagram love. ♥♥♥

 

Information Hub

Beyond keeping up with word counts and scenes, Trello is great for keeping absolutely everything about your book in one place. As you’re writing and plotting and planning, it’s a great idea to start planning for how to market your book, so I always keep a marketing list in the story’s board.

I am a huge fan of having a book trailer, so let’s look at how I might go about planning for this book trailer. If your thing is getting into bookstores, or printing up bookmarks, coffee cups, pens, or anything at all, this will be helpful.

Trello - SED Marketing

Trello - SED Book Trailer

Notice how I added a due date, and added reminders such as which website to check out? These are things I would likely forget if I just scratched out “Book Trailer” in my planner.

One of my favorite things about these cards is the Checklist feature I’ve circled in the picture above.

What I use this for the most is when I want to do a giveaway. (Hint, one will be announced really soon.)

I will list everything I want to include in the giveaway and check them off as I acquire them.

Trello - SED Book Trailer Checklist

I hope this has convinced you to at least give Trello a try.

You can find the app in your App Store, or you can visit the Trello website to sign up.

If you already use Trello, I’d love to hear any hints, tips, or tricks you use to maximize your organizational experience, and if you haven’t tried it but this post has inspired you to do so, please let me know in the comments!

***I get absolutely nothing if you sign up for an account. This post is not sponsored, and all opinions are my own. I am a long-time user of this service, and am only sharing it with you because I believe in it.***

That’s all I have for you today! Don’t forget to tune in next week!

Happy organizing and happy writing!

Xoxo,
Aila


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Combating Writer’s Block

Combating Writer's Block“I’m sitting in my office trying to squeeze a story from my head. It is that
kind of morning when you feel like melting the typewriter into a bar of steel
and clubbing yourself to death with it.”
-Richard Matheson

It’s 5:03 pm on Sunday and I am just now getting around to my blog post. It isn’t for lack of desire to write, but let’s just say it’s been a really, really bad few weeks, and today just kicked it up a notch.

My husband woke me a little less than twelve hours ago and not long thereafter I had to take him to the emergency room. I won’t get into the particulars because I respect his privacy, but he was being treated for about five hours before we could come home…with a few follow-up referrals with specialists and a few prescriptions to boot.

If you read my post from Thursday, you’d know I was already having a stressful year, so his hospital visit didn’t do me any favors. But, I am taking my own advice, and I am going to keep powering through. It actually ties in quite nicely with what I am set to blog about today.

I considered eschewing today’s post entirely. I don’t think anyone would’ve blamed me…except me, of course. I checked my blogging board on Trello just to see what I’d be skipping, and I LOLed at what I had scheduled for myself for this particular day:

photoThis was so funny to me, because I remembered hating the placeholder title and subtitle I’d given myself when I was mapping out this quarter’s blog posts all the way back in December.

I almost never use the placeholder titles I give myself.

But it just fits so perfectly for my state of mind right now. It’s not that I feel like I’m suffering “writer’s block,” it’s just that I’m unable to concentrate on my world of fiction when my reality seems so hellbent on my mental destruction.

I know it’s just a coincidence, but it was almost as if I was giving myself a little push for today, even from way back then. Past me knew that future me was going to have a really crappy March.

Anyway, it’s inspired me to go on with today’s post, so let’s get started.

 

Writer’s Block: The Debate

Because we cannot have anything in this world without a debate, naturally there is one—and a rather heated one, in some circles—about the existence of Writer’s Block. We aren’t here today to decide whether it exists. I’ll let you do that in the comments below.

We can’t deny that sometimes the words flow and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they’re more like a trickle, and sometimes it’s too laborious to pull them from wherever it is they hide in our cavernous writer brains.

To the naysayer’s credit, though, sometimes we only think we’re blocked. Sometimes we’re just so steadfast in the scenes we’ve written, we forget we often times just need to change the direction of our story in order to keep it moving.

For instance, recently I was having an extremely difficult time deciding how to proceed with a certain section of Alabama Rain. It took a lot of erasing, writing, erasing, and writing before I determined the story just needed a shift. Once I zigged instead of zagged, the words began to flow again, fast and free.

For the sake of the block, though, we aren’t going to rule anything out. If you’ve never experienced a period where the words are clogged and your imagination is more stale than yesterday’s toast, then lucky you.

For the rest of us, sometimes we need to get rebooted. So, without further adieu, here are three things I do to get things moving again.

Get Outside

One of the first things I do when I’m feeling a bit stuffy in the idea department, I get out of my apartment. Writing somewhere else might do the trick, so I might take my laptop to the library or to a coffee shop.

My apartment is tiny and in itself is a rather stuffy place, therefore finding myself in a new, fresh environment helps me think of things from a new perspective.

Clingmans-3-plaas_1
View from the parking lot – Clingman’s Dome, NC

Sometimes, however, I have to go for a longer drive. There’s something about driving through the mountains with my windows down and the wind in my hair, the radio on…it’s desperately hard not to refuel my creative batteries. In fact, it was at the approach to Clingman’s Dome where I had a spark of an idea that snowballed into the loose plot for Underthings. I also had to come here when writing Sex, Love, and Formalities.

 

Going for a walk—preferably through the woods for a few hours—also helps. Exercise releases endorphins…and I think endorphins aide in creativity. Let’s not get all sciencey to prove me wrong here. It works for me. 🙂

 

Channel Your Inner Child

lego-2428035_960_720
Lego pizza, anyone?

Think about it. Children have wildly creative imaginations. I don’t have kids of my own, but I love to listen to my nephew babble on about what his vast collection of toy cars and trucks are doing, how their races turned out, etc. He’s got such a vivid imagination, and it’s impossible not to get caught up in his little tales. So, it only makes sense to me that our own, adult imaginations might check out for a vacation because they’re so keen on having fun. Bills, work, and day-to-day adult stresses aren’t fun. What are my favorite activities in which to indulge?

 

  • MadLibs | Not only is this fun and good for a few giggles, it’s also writing. 
  • Lego | It’s like real-life Minecraft. Sort of. Just don’t forget to put them away, they hurt like hell when you step on them.
  • Tactile play | Playdoh, magic sand, silly putty, polymer clay

 

Interpret A Scene

This little secret of mine is probably the one most people would scoff at, but hear me out. What I do is I’ll either turn to Netflix or YouTube and choose something I’ve never before watched—this is important. Once I have selected something, I turn off the sound and I begin to watch. I don’t want to hear their voices or the scene’s background noises.

Sometimes I take notes, sometimes I just start typing away while I watch, but I write a scene based off what I’m seeing. I’ll make up the dialogue based off the actor’s body language. If they’re in the city, I interpret what the city sounds like (are their sirens, barking dogs, people shouting, etc.)

Sometimes, I feel, our imaginations just need a little help getting restarted. I take out some of the work by watching something on my screen, but I enjoy filling in all the details.

 

Writer’s Block Traps

Hand (1)
Don’t accidentally put your muse in a cage.

Though we all have our own tricks to combat Writer’s Block, there are definitely things that only serve as distractions from it, as opposed to working through it.

  • Don’t wait for inspiration. Inspiration isn’t the same as a dog, it doesn’t come when called.
  • Don’t watch television. I know I just said to watch a scene and write what you see…but what I don’t suggest is binge watching something for hours on end.
  • Don’t compare yourself to other writers. Just because another writer has hit the word lottery and is dropping thousands of words a day, does not negate the fact you’re a perfectly valid writer. When you hit your stride again, the other writer might hit a slump. (So, when you are trending thousands of words a day, remember to encourage others!)

 

When all else fails: Fake it until you make it. Take your cue from one of our favorite Disney pals and just keep writing. This is what the pros do. They don’t wait for the words to magically reappear, and if you want to be a pro, neither can you.

That’s all I have today, my friends. I hope those of you who are struggling with your own dilemmas, find peace soon. Take comfort in your words.

Don’t forget, my next blogging series will start up soon. You really don’t want to miss this one, so don’t forget to subscribe! There’s going to be an amazing giveaway!

Until next time, my lovelies!


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Keep Fighting

Keep Fighting

Happy Friday Eve, ya’ll!

Before I get started with the meat and potatoes of this post, I’ve wanted to get in the habit of making a little list at the beginning of all my Thursday posts, so here goes:

What I’m Reading: Kitchens of The Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal
Last Song Purchased on iTunes: Pet by A Perfect Circle
Current TV Show: Just finished The Defenders.
Last Movie Watched: Actually, I’m watching Guardians of the Galaxy 2 right now.
Alabama Rain’s Current Word Count: 30,765
Weekend Plans: Visiting nephew in Atlanta, writing, blogging, and updating websites

Onto the post.

I’m not sure if I’ve made you guys aware, but my Monday blogs are thoroughly planned out ahead of time, and most weeks I’ve actually been writing them for several days before they’re published. My Thursday posts are spur of the moment. I try not to think about them too much because I want them to be true to who I am in that moment.

Today was rough. Scratch that, this year has been rough so far. I think back on those posts I made in December and January. I had such high hopes and plans for this year. I thoroughly believed that 2018 would be a far better year than 2017. Not so much.

Last year (which, comparatively, was better, as hard as that is to believe) I gave up writing for a while. I’d absolutely lost the ability to keep up with both halves of my world. Writing doesn’t pay the bills and it likely never will. So I made the sensible decision and I put my writing away to alleviate some of my stress.

But I was still stressed. I am still stressed.

Cutting out my writing ambitions was the wrong move. I know that now. Believe me, I am desperate to cut something out right now…but it won’t be my writing.

Let’s talk about stress.

Is stress bad?

Not necessarily. There is such a thing as good stress. For me, writing is good stress. I stress over getting the words right. I stress over getting reputable sources for my research. I stress over cover design. I stress about marketing. I stress over my blog posts.

But the thing is, I want this stress. It motivates me and pushes me to get better in so many areas of writing—which is all I want to do anymore.

See, I am actually in control of this stress and I utilize this stress. It, for me, is good.

Bad stress, I believe, is when you have little to no control over its origination nor its resolution.

For me that is most of my work-related stress and dealing with family health issues.

So, when I gave up my writing last year, I indeed gave up some stress, but it was the good stress and all I was left with was the bad stress. It was not a good equation.

Short of quitting my job with no notice, what am I to do?

Keep fighting.

I know you’re going through something rough right now, too. You’re fighting your own battles, and I’m sure there are days you feel you’re winning, and others when you are so damned exhausted from it all that you don’t even notice when you start to cry. There are days when you feel whole and motivated and invincible…and then there are days when you feel defeated and even simply going through the motions is so taxing you crumble.

Whatever you do, don’t give up. Keep fighting. Don’t lose your passions, because you’ll lose yourself.

How am I coping?

Not well, usually. But I have taken to closing my eyes and counting back from five. On especially bad days, I do something nice for myself. I find things around me that I like. (Something in the color green, something that smells nice, something I like to eat or drink…anything to make me focus on something positive.)

The tough love ending here is that even though lots of the things that stress us out are beyond our control, we can control how we react to it.

I nearly lost my control at work the other day. I started to walk out the door with my middle fingers up and said I’d figure the rest out later. All that would’ve accomplished would have been to trade one bad stress for a heap of other bad stress.

Instead, I have accepted the fact that my job will never again be the same for me. Coming to this realization has clarified for me what I should and should not fight for. I’m incapable of changing the company culture…but I can change the company I work for. It might take some time, but that is within my control.

I cannot change the fact I have an aunt who is fighting for her life, the stress of which is causing ripples in the family. I can, however, do what I know is right and visit her and offer my shoulder to her daughters.

These things are preventing me from devoting as much time as I’d like to my writing, but I also have to accept that I will likely not meet my quarterly goal for 2018. I imposed these deadlines and the only person who really cares if I meet them is me. I have to give myself permission to adapt my goals.

I am going to give myself permission to be human.

I hope you will, too.

See you Monday, my lovelies.

Hot and Steamy Excerpt_ ALIGHT (1)
Aila


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Let’s Talk: THE SENSES

The Five SensesAll our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to the understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason.
– Immanuel Kant

Sight.
Hearing.
Touch.
Smell.
Taste.

Since grade school, we’ve known about the five senses. We know the general functions of them and why they matter…what we weren’t taught in grade school was how to write about them.

It might seem easy, but evoking the five senses in your writing can be terribly difficult.

First, a quick note about Deep POV:

When you’re writing deep into someone’s POV, you shouldn’t use the obvious words:

She sees/saw
She hears/heard
She feels/felt
She smells/smelled
She tastes/tasted

I will schedule a blog post about getting deep into POV at some point, but there is plenty of information on the ready out there already.

Eye


Sight

Obviously, setting the scene is important whether you’re writing Women’s Fiction or a Dystopian Fantasy.

Don’t Describe Everything | How annoying would it be if the book you were reading had its characters going for a walk through the woods and the author described every stinking tree?

…then Denny and Suzette passed the sycamore tree which was thirty-six feet tall, and had four-hundred little branches, next to it was a small crop of magnolia trees, with white blossoms and three birds’ nests. One was a red bird, and the other two were pigeons, or at least they looked like pigeons, but Denny wasn’t too sure.

None of those details were important to the story, so don’t bog your readers down with information they don’t need. It’s one thing to set a scene, but if you find yourself describing every tree in the forest, you’re describing far too much.

Take the time to describe the anomalies. For instance, in Alabama Rain, my characters go through a walk in the woods, and while I don’t describe the trees, I do describe the absence of trees in the middle of the forest, and a nearly-dried up creek running through the middle. I also point out that there are dozens of little blue flowers–which is significant since they’re in the middle of a drought.

Tighten Up | This is good advice for all aspects of writing, but here’s what I mean:

The clouds hung low in the sky. [The clouds hung low.]
The recovered dolphin swam through the water with ease. [The recovered dolphin swam with ease.]
He tripped on the maze of roots in the ground. [He tripped on the maze of roots.]

Your readers will know the clouds are in the sky, where else are dolphins going to swim, and where else do tree roots trip people? Save your words.

Ear
Hearing

Very few scenes are silent. In the city cars are always honking, in the country, the birds are almost always chirping. Evoking sounds can help set the scene in your story.

Get Beyond Volume | This goes hand-in-hand with showing vs. telling.

Don’t tell me the orchestra is loud, let the timpani rumble the seats.
Don’t tell me someone whispered softly…for that is the nature of a whisper.

Smile, You’ve Got Similes | If you can’t think of a way to describe the way something sounds, you can fall back on a simile.

The violin hummed like a songbird.
The emergency test on the radio screamed like a toddler on a plane.

Hand
Touch

Sometimes a Touch is a Touch | Does the thing’s texture need to be described? If you’re in the middle of a poignant scene, where a father and son embrace for the first time in years…do you think it matters that the son’s sweater is soft? Probably not.

Good or Bad | I’m not necessarily talking that sort of good touch/bad touch. (That’s another blog post for another time) but the sensations you assign to things can have them go one way or another:

His velvet kiss…
His gritty kiss…
The silky sheets…
The stiff sheets…
The dewy grass…
The dried up grass…

 

Smell
Smell

Nostalgia | Nothing can stir someone’s memory like the sense of smell. Every time I smell bacon frying, I instantly think of my great uncle John, who carried that aroma deep within his clothes.

The sense of smell is so strong (for most people) that you can convey a lot while saying very little:

The warmth of cinnamon wafted through the house, as grandma had set a pie to cool on the windowsill.
As the children leapt from the bus, they delighted in the return of freshly cut grass–a sure sign that Summer was fast-approaching.
His cologne overpowered the entire theater.

Tongue
Taste

Food & Stuff Most of the time you describe the taste of something, it’s going to be because your characters are eating or drinking. Describing the way everything tastes is probably unnecessary. If it is important—such as your MC is a chef and it’s part of their job—or it’s the first time they’re tasting something, then it’s probably okay to describe it.

But if your character eats pepperoni pizza sixteen times in the book, don’t describe it sixteen times.

It can be hard not to use “taste” when describing the flavor of something, but it’ll read much stronger if you get the hang of it:

The dark chocolate tasted too bitter.
The dark chocolate made him sputter and spit and gargle his water.
The wine tasted expensive.
The wine smoothed over her tongue like cherry-flavored silk.

As you start your editing/revision process, be mindful that you’re using all five senses to help ensure you’ve got a balanced approach to scene-setting.

That’s all I’ve got today.

I’ve got a fantastic series of posts coming up with an awesome giveaway hitting the blog in April, so please, please, please hit that subscribe button and share my blog with your friends.

Maybe afterwards I’ll finally give in and write about dialogue.

Maybe not.

Have a great week my lovelies!

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Aila


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