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

Migraine vs. The Writer

Writer's Group (1)
Happy Monday, friends. I’d like to start by saying a huge congratulations to the winner of the ProWritingAid giveaway. I announced it on Twitter yesterday, but in case you missed it…

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If you’re still interested in trying out ProWritingAid (and I highly suggest you do) you can get your free trial started…now! Well, as soon as you click the linky-loo below. (Yes, it’s an afflink, but it doesn’t affect the price of the product whatsoever.)

Writing Improvement Software

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.

Freaking migraines.

I’m writing this on Sunday evening, and it may or may not be a good thing for me to do at the moment. See, I’ve had a migraine today. I think it’s over. For the moment it’s been downgraded from migraine to annoyingly bad headache. But, I’ve dealt with these things for so long, I can also feel my body still giving me warning signs that I’m not entirely out of the woods just yet. My body isn’t happy I’m looking at a computer screen. But, at the same time it also wants me to do something to distract myself from the pain it’s in and the pain it has been in all day.

See, migraines are funny that way. They’re different for everyone, but for me there comes a point where I can do too much or too little and navigating that fine line is difficult, so, here I am.

My Migraine History

I’ve suffered them since I was a child. I’m not talking headaches, okay? Headaches and migraines are different things. For people like me, watering down the definition of migraine to meet the definition of a headache is dangerous. If I tell my employer I cannot come in to work because I have a migraine, sometimes that is met with: “Well, can’t you just take a Tylenol and come in in say…an hour?”

Nope. So, pardon me if I am one of those migraine sufferers who will prod a bit if someone says they have a migraine and yet they are playing video games.

Oh yeah, my history.

They’re hereditary for me, passed down from my father who got them from his mother, and I suppose she got them from one of her family members. I don’t know that my mother has actually ever had a true migraine. I don’t know if my brother has. I get them on average around 3-4 per month. Sometimes it’s worse.

When I was little I had them much more frequently, because not only do I have them due

balance (1)
Sympathy cards sent to:       Aila Stephens | P.O. Box 25223
Greenville, SC 29616

to my fantastic gene pool, I also get them as a reaction to eating Sodium Nitrate or Sodium Nitrite…a fact that went unknown until I was in the second grade. My reaction to nitrates and nitrites is frightening. I was hospitalized when I was in kindergarten, scarily dehydrated. It was around this same time frame that, while suffering through a nasty migraine, I pleaded with my father to please get his rifle and put me out of my misery. True story. Sad story, but true.

Once the sodium nitrate/nitrate aversion was discovered, my migraines became less frequent, but they didn’t disappear. Once, my mother was cooking something overnight in the crockpot which contained a ham hock and the simple action of breathing that in put me in terrible pain. I was put on some heavy medication as a youngster because they were so unbearable.

Aside from my nuclear family unit, though, convincing other adults that a child as young as I was at the time actually suffered migraines was a bit difficult. That’s an adult problem, was the general consensus. So, I found myself on occasion being forced to suffer through them while at school because my teacher didn’t believe me, or thought I just wanted to get out of assignments.

My Migraines Now

oLuckily I’ve gained some valuable insights as to what triggers migraine for me now. I still can’t eat things with Sodium Nitrate or Nitrites. I also can’t eat onions anymore. (Which, is probably what happened to me today. We had breakfast at a diner yesterday, and I’m guessing they probably cooked my eggs where they cooked someone else’s bacon, and there were some onions in my hash browns. Good job, Aila.)

Sunglasses are a must for me. The bigger, the darker, the better. I’ve even been known to wear sunglasses in the wee hours of the morning or the darkest parts of night in order to cut down on the brightness of passing headlights. Even wearing sunglasses, if the sun catches on the car in front of me in just the right way, the migraine is near instantaneous.

Some people go to bed when they have a headache, because a nap makes it go away…not me. If I have a run-of-the-mill headache, I cannot go to sleep to make it better. If I do, nine times out of ten, I wake up with a full-fledged migraine.

I also upgraded, for lack of a better word, to aura migraines. Most of the times I hear something that isn’t there, a sort low beeping noise. Sometimes I see flashes of light, sometimes bright, sometimes like a dim strobe.

Coping

It helps I have a supportive husband who never complains about caring for me when I have a migraine. I cannot handle much light, so we have blackout curtains hanging in the living room and our bedroom.

balance

Balance is everything for me. I usually want a light blanket, but also a cold pack on my head. I don’t want sudden loud sounds, like dogs barking, so I cope with having the TV on rather quietly, to keep them from hearing and reacting to every little thing outside. I don’t want strong smells, but I will occasionally utilize some essential oils. I take my medicine, which sometimes includes chewing up some baby aspirin (eight of those things with some tepid water can take the edge off if I catch the migraine early on.)

Even caffeine becomes a tightrope act. Too much makes the migraine worse, too little makes the migraine worse—or can actually cause migraines in some instances.

Sidelined

Migraines knock me on my ass.

Someone could offer to fully-fund my dream Disney World vacation and arrange for David Tennant himself to be my tour guide…and if a migraine struck, I’d have to pass on the adventure to someone else.

Today, for instance, Mother’s Day…I had to call my mother (after the migraine had started to ease) and tell her I wouldn’t make it. She understood, of course, because that’s what moms do, but I felt even worse for disappointing her.

As a writer, migraines can be stupidly disruptive. I’ve forgotten ideas. I have to take time away from the computer because a screen so close to my face is a bad idea. I also get really negative thoughts while the pain is at its highest points, and even sometimes on the way down—thoughts that I’ll never be good enough at this, that I’m too awkward for social media, that I should just give up and do something else, nobody likes me, I’m a burden to my husband, etc.

I’m not telling you this to get your sympathy. I’m talking about this so that other sufferers know that they’re not alone in all of this. The perceived severity of migraines has been diluted because it’s become what people say when they have a headache. If you’ve ever said that and now you’re wondering if you’ve actually ever had a migraine…chances are you didn’t. You’ll know it when you have one.

Being A Writer When It’s Impossible

So, how do I take care of business while I’m caring for myself in the throes of a migraine? To put it simply: I don’t.

There’s nothing I can do during a migraine except for try to get better. They can last for hours or they can last for days. There’s nothing to be done except wait and employ all my personal tricks.

When the migraine wanes, though, and downgrades, there’s this period of time between headache and healed when I might not be able to write but I can do something to be productive, even if only a little bit.

Today, for instance, once the migraine faded and my head stopped swimming and my stomach settled, I dimmed the screen on my laptop and tinkered around with a bookmark design for Alabama Rain. I worked slowly and took several breaks for my eyes. I stopped when my body told me to.

When I gave up on trying to come up with the wording for the bookmark’s backside, I took a breather, drank some water, refreshed my cold cloth, and then decided to reorder business cards.

I jotted down some notes on an idea I had for my next book. And while it might not have looked productive to an outsider, I shut my laptop and shut my eyes and I just thought about my current work and the trajectory it is on. I contemplated changes and also I tried to think of the story as if I weren’t writing it and instead reading it. Thinking is very important to a writer.

So, why didn’t I buckle down and write in Alabama Rain rather than this post? Either way I’d be coming up with new content…well, I figured if the pain level increased, I’d feel less guilty if I abandoned a blog post. Also, by getting it out of the way, I’m freeing up my entire afternoon tomorrow (today for you, or yesterday or last week, depending on when you are reading this.) to write in Alabama Rain.

The Unspoken Side-Effect

It doesn’t matter if you’re a writer, a mother, a father, a chef, a police chief, a coal miner, a teacher, a librarian, a dog-walker, or The Queen…suffering from a migraine causes all sorts of problems, there’s pain agony and nausea, sometimes visual and/or auditory hallucinations, sensitivity to light, sound, ambient temperature, etc. etc. etc. but there’s also one that isn’t talked about much.

Guilt.

We’re supposed to be doing something else. Anything else. We rarely plan to spend 5+ hours sitting in the dark, trying to block out smells and thoughts that are too loud. We aren’t enjoying ourselves, and no one else is enjoying us either. So, here’s my big secret. Here is how I truly take care of business when I just can’t:

I take care of myself, first. And you should, too. Not take care of me, take care of you.

So, that’s all I have. Literally, that’s all the energy I have to give today. Thanks for tuning in and I hope you have a wonderful, productive week.


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

Playing With Others

Writer's Group

I have gone against my own grain a lot lately, it seems. I’ve started bowling. I took time off from work. I started telling real-life people (oh, you know what I mean) about my books. I’ve even joined another writing group.

I’m not even sure I used to talk about the writing group I was a part of a while back, but I’ll give a brief overview from what I remember.

OMG!Real People!

I found this group on Meetup.com and I spent a few weeks going back and forth on whether I should actually join the group. At the time I hadn’t yet published SL&T and I was afraid of being the only person there who wouldn’t be published. I was afraid I would be the only one to view Indie Publishing as valid.  I was afraid of sounding stupid. I was afraid of not being as well-read as everyone else.

I was afraid of a lot.

I convinced my husband to hang around in case I needed to run. (No, I’m not joking. The social anxiety is real.) They met at a bar/restaurant that is no longer in business. It was a bit too loud for me. There was too much going on, and I was so far out of my element I couldn’t even see my element anymore.

They went around the room, of course, and asked for introductions and I choked out something about how I was on revision seven-million and forty-two, which got a lot of laughs. I eased. A little.

And I went back for the second meeting. It was at that meeting they asked for people to consider paying dues in order to keep the Meetup.com thing going and to help pay for the materials they brought each week. (Each presenter would bring worksheets they created, educational materials, etc. etc.)

I paid.

*afflink*

I can’t remember how many meetings occurred between the time I paid my membership dues and the time I decided I was sorta, kinda…done…but it wasn’t many. I never really spoke much. I think I read one or two of my writing prompts we did. Mostly, though, I sat in the back, sipped my tea, and soaked in the knowledge from the presenters—who, I should add, consisted of four different people, two I barely remember, one who was a traditionally published author, and the other a marketing professional who was finishing up her manuscript and getting ready to seek traditional publication. She got it, by the way…suffice it to say, I was ecstatic about the knowledge in the room.

But…c’mon, you knew there was a but coming…then there was the meeting that killed my warm, fuzzy feelings.

They announced a traditional vs. self-publishing pros/cons type meeting. I was skeptical, but excited.

gross

I don’t want to say the traditionally-published author was rude to the self-published author they had invited. I really, really don’t want to. It certainly felt that way to me, regardless if that had been his intention. I don’t suspect he thought she’d be so incredibly articulate, nor that she would make such valid arguments for going the indie route.

The whole thing made me feel very awkward. I cannot imagine how it made the invited indie feel. She did great, though. And while I had already decided that was the route I wanted to go, I had looked forward to gaining knowledge and insight from the pitching process and all the trad-published guy had to say. (Which was basically: I’ll take getting an advance for my book and plopping myself on a beach any day. That was about all I learned about the trad-world that night.)

That was my last meeting with that group. I kept my affiliation with the FaBo group, for reasons, but I never attended another meeting. And there weren’t more anyway, as the group quickly fizzled out (mind you, they’d been going strong for years before that) and that was pretty much that.

pigI’m giving it another go, though! It’s time to once again play with others. New group, [mostly] new faces, new ideas, new leader. No dues, as of yet anyway, but I’d consider paying again if this incarnation is more accepting of indie publishing. And maybe even if they’re not.

Our first meeting was so much freaking fun! I was a nervous wreck again, but not as much as before. I’ve published two novels now, so I’m at least not a total newbie to the indie-publishing process. I knew I’d have something to contribute to the group in that aspect, a far cry from how I felt the first go-round. I legitimately have hope this will be good for me. We’re going to meet twice per month, every other Monday. The first Monday of the month will be more of a free-for-all type meeting, with discussions, and guided topics, workshops, etc. The second Monday will consist of critique groups.

You know, not far from your typical writing group.

So, what am I afraid of this time? I’m leaps and bounds more knowledgeable than I was the last time, though I will always have a lot to learn. I’ve got more confidence in my writing than I had. I’m certain that while I may not be the most talented in the group, I won’t be laughed out of it either…so, what’s rattling my cage this time?

Not a damn thing.

Briefly I was afraid I’d cut loose if they started trashing the indie publishing world, justhero as I did last time. But, this time? I think I’ve gained enough confidence in myself, and the indie world as a whole, that I will be able to smile through it and do my best to prove them wrong. Sometimes that’ll be a tall order, because as we all know, there’s a lot of…we’ll call it examples to the contrary out there. But, if we all run away, how will we ever prove our point? So, of course I’m lying. Of course I’m afraid of all of that. But, I’m not lying when I say I’ll stick it out. I will attempt to be a champion-voice for indie publishing.

I’m going to submit the first two chapters of Alabama Rain to the critique group. I’ll see how it goes. Tell me, have you been a member of a writing group outside the interwebs? What have your experiences been like? Any ideas you’d like to share from your writing groups that I might pass along to this one? We’ve only had one meeting and we’re still brainstorming ideas for what we want to do. I’d love, love, love to hear from you!

Don’t forget!

Time is running out to enter for a chance to win a full-year subscription to ProWritingAid! This is a $50 value, but the benefits of subscription are priceless! Click the image below to enter!

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All right, my wonderfully talented, amazing, sweet-as-pie friends (and you snarky, little-bit-of-devil-in-you friends, too), that’s it for this week. Enjoy your weekend, enjoy your words, and take the time to enjoy someone else’s, too. ❤


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Getting To Know Aila, Self-Care

The Yellow Plague

Yellow Plague

It’s springtime in The South. If you aren’t from here, you might not know what that means. In some parts of the country, it’s still quite cold. Snowing, even. In other parts, it’s already hot as blazes, as my grandmother would’ve said.

So, what is springtime like in The South? And by The South I am referring to Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee…the states to which I can speak of with experience.

The mornings are sometimes freezing, followed by uncomfortably warm afternoons.

Sometimes the mornings are uncomfortably warm, followed by chilly afternoons.

Sometimes the mornings are chilly, followed by equally chilly afternoons.

Sometimes the mornings are uncomfortably warm, followed by even warmer afternoons.

The one thing that is consistent is the inconsistency of it all…except for one thing:

POLLEN.

There are a lot of nice things about pollen.

Yellow Plague (1)

Its absence would be devastating.

But for allergy sufferers like myself, its presence is devastating.

Yellow Plague (2)

In fact, this blog post is the first thing I’ve written in three days because of the cloudiness in my head, the burning in my eyes, my nose. @&$^#+! pollen! 

Couple the thick blanket of the devil’s yellow dust with the unpredictability of the weather, and you’ve got yourself a fine equation for feeling like absolute shit.

Allergy attacks can quickly mutate into ear and sinus infections. It turns people like me, people who love nature and being outdoors into damn near cave-dwellers inside our homes, venturing out only long enough to go to work or to the grocery store.

Or the freaking pharmacy. Again.

As a longtime allergy sufferer, I’ve learned a few tricks beyond taking allergy medications, and thought I’d share them:

1.| Change Your Clothes. When you come in from the yellow-dusted outdoors, it’s imperative that you change your clothes. As soon as I come in from work, I get those clothes off and into the wash. That pollen gets tracked in on our clothing and invades our poor, unsuspecting homes.

2.| Use Pet Wipes. There are these between-doggy-bath wipes you can get—use them! Just like our clothes can trap pollen and bring it inside, our pets get coated in it every time they go out. It might surprise you how much yellow stuff is clinging to your pup’s coat. (Please only use products designed and tested for domesticated animals.)

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3.| Use a Saline Spray. Every day, actually. A few years ago I had near back-to-back sinus infections during allergy season and the third doctor I visited told me I would need to use a saline spray every day, especially during allergy seasons. They work best if you use them before you show any symptoms. They help afterward, loosening up the gross junk…but you don’t want it to get to that point.

My favorite is Arm & Hammer Simply Saline.

4.| Spicy Foods. If my throat is sore, I skip this. But, spicy foods can really help open you up, even if only for a few minutes at a time. One of the things that works best for me is mixing Sriracha sauce into ketchup.

But beyond spicy, spicy foods, think spice. I know, sounds like my allergy fog is still in full swing, but hear me out. There are a lot of different spices out there that can help your congestion. Turmeric, ginger, garlic, cayenne. Personally, I like to add some turmeric to my chicken noodle soup. I eat pickled ginger on its own.

5.| Avoid Dairy. I’ve been told this isn’t an issue for everyone else, but for me and several people I know, having any dairy products makes congestion so much worse. There is one time I break this rule, though. If my allergies transform into a full-blown sinus infection and I require antibiotics, I will try to have some yogurt. Antibiotics are great at ridding bacteria, which can sometimes kill off our good bacteria. It can cause thrush in your mouth, gastrointestinal problems, etc. So yogurt might prevent all those nasty issues.

6.| Essential Oils. Some people think me a snake oil salesmen when I start talking about essential oils, so if you don’t think they’ll work for you, don’t try it. Simple as that. They work well for me, though. My go-to concoction for allergy/congestion is lemon and eucalyptus. Sometimes I just sniff the vial, other times I add a few drops into grape seed oil and rub along my throat and across my sinuses.

This is essentially the same thing as using a mentholated rub. (There’s a lot to be said for using that on your feet!)

If you’re interested in essential oils, I get mine from Piping Rock.

7.| Hot Beverages. Yeah, yeah. This isn’t a secret. But…it is. I’m sure you’ve heard a thousand times about drinking hot tea with honey and lemon…but have you heard about drinking hot jell-o? It’s true, this is not a vegan-friendly option, but if you aren’t vegan, this trick passed down to me from my mother may work nicely for you. The theory she has is the flavor is pleasing, the sugar helps to give a little burst of energy, and the gelatin helps soothe the throat…the same benefit marshmallows provide to a sore throat.

When I started writing this post, I was sipping on some warm strawberry jell-o. I mix a few tablespoons into a standard coffee mug with hot water. There’s no exact ratio, though, play around with what tastes and works best for you.

And about hot tea: It’s soothing while you’re drinking it, for sure…but be careful of overdoing the tannin. It can dry out your throat.

8.| Local, Raw, Unfiltered Honey. You might’ve heard of this one, and if you have that’s great. I’m not going to apologize for repeating it. The thought process behind the honey being local is that the pollen collected to make the honey will consist of the plants you are allergic to. Using the honey may help you build up a tolerance for it, therefore reducing your allergic reaction to it. Use it in your hot tea, on your toast, or mix it with…

9.| Honey, ACV, and Cayenne. Use your local, raw, unfiltered honey and mix it with an equal part of unfiltered, raw apple cider vinegar and 1/4 part cayenne pepper. I take a tablespoon of this whenever I’m sickly. This is especially handy if you’ve got a cough and you’ve taken all the cough syrup you can and it seems like an eternity until it’s time for your next dosage.

It’s a strong flavor, be forewarned.

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My doctor.


10.| Don’t Ignore Your Body. 
Allergy attacks can make you feel crummy. But don’t forget, they can develop into full-blown sinus or ear infections, so if you don’t start to feel some marked relief after a few days of taking anti-histamines and one or more of the above suggestions, then you might want to see your doctor.

The last couple of days I’ve had a marathon with my doctor. 😉

I hope you are well and enjoying your springtime. If not, I hope some of my suggestions help you feel better.

Please excuse my absence from social media as of late…the pollen got to me.

You know what isn’t affected by the yellow dust of face-death? My giveaway. There’s still plenty of time to enter! Click below!

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See you next week, friends. xoxo


 

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Self-Publishing, Tips

Writing With Pitches

Writing With Pitches

Happy Monday! If, you know, there is such a thing.

I hope you all enjoyed my Writer Resources series. There may be a few more I add at some point, but my research on them is, as of right now, incomplete. If you haven’t checked those posts out, here’s a list of the resources I covered:

Trello
Wix
SkillShare
Marketing Edition
ProWritingAid
Legal Stuff

So, what’s this writing with pitches thing? I’m no baseball fan—much to my Braves fanatic husband’s chagrin—but I encountered a problem in my own writing this week and I found myself naming the solution with baseball terms.

I have no idea why. Seriously…I don’t do sports.

Except bowling, apparently.

As I relay this rather odd mashup of baseball and writing, the pitcher will be the writer and the hitter will be the reader. I will be the one gritting my teeth and hoping that any of this makes the least bit of sense.

The Change Up

In baseball, the change up pitch is thrown in such a way that the hitter thinks the pitcher has thrown a fastball, but really it reaches the plate rather slowly.

Change up_

The main goal of a writer is to engage readers, and predictability doesn’t exactly get the job done. Done the right way, though, you can lead your reader to think that one thing is going to happen, but then blow their mind and give them something else.

Not all that long ago on this blog we discussed tropes. Tropes lend some predictability to your stories, which isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world. Romance readers want to see certain tropes, but imagine shaking things up just a little bit and giving them a moment that makes them gasp.

The Fast Ball

The fastball is pretty self-explanatory. It’s fast.

Fastball_One thing you might want to check the speed of in your story is pacing. Pacing can be difficult to get right, because while you don’t want it too slow, you also don’t want it too fast. The slower paced moments allow your reader to totally indulge in the emotions you endeavor to evoke or to take a breather after intense, fast paced sections.

What I am referring to as the fast ball is getting from one point in the story to the next by skipping the unnecessary bits in the middle. This might require a scene break or it might require recapitulation of the behind-the-scenes events.

Example 1:

Lucas hung his head as the clock ticked closer to the time his wife would come home. He’d fixed her dinner, bought her flowers, and even changed his shirt after work—something she’d cited as one of the many things she wished he’d do…and she’d cited it many times. The garage opened, and Lucas went through the motions, disinterested in eating but he was a man of his word. He knew they’d argue—again—afterward.

♦♦♦

“Thanks for dinner,” Tracy said. “But it doesn’t change anything. We didn’t solve anything this morning. And today, she called my office! Your whore. How do you think that makes me feel? Just when I think I can deal with this…I just can’t.”

In this example, we took the fast lane approach to their dinner. It wasn’t important to the story. Ironically, the dinner wasn’t the meat and potatoes of it. So, why waste three-hundred words on something that will likely bore your readers?

Example 2:

If we had decided not to skip the dinner scene, maybe we could recap it instead. That might’ve looked something like this:

It was just as he suspected: Tracy came home and dropped her keys before walking past him with nary a word. Her perfume stood in the doorway longer than she did. They ate, looking at anything than the other. The clink of their forks against their plates replaced the loving words they used to share. The quiet would last only as long as the potatoes.

It was no mistake he’d made so many.

So, if while you’re revising, you find you have some slower passages that aren’t giving you the desired effect, try tossing in a fastball.

The Knuckle Ball

The knuckle ball is thrown for unpredictability. The hitter has very little idea whichKnuckleball direction the ball is going to go, thus making it difficult for the hitter to decide how to swing.

The trick as a writer when deciding to write in your own type of knuckle ball is that you need to know where the ball (plot) is going to go. You may want to work up to a climax that has the reader guessing—maybe there are three people you want your reader wondering about when they’re trying to determine who the killer is.

Of course, you’ll want to weave in some subtle clues.

This was one of the pitches I threw into Alabama Rain recently. I found myself hating the words I was tacking on for a couple of days.

I am one of those writers who goes back and rereads the last day’s work before I get started on a new day’s work…and I couldn’t pinpoint what the problem was at first, but when it got to the point where I just couldn’t keep writing in the direction I was going, I knew I needed to backtrack and toss in knuckle ball and a change up.

Afterwards, the words flowed freely, and I was happy with them again.

Unlike in baseball, in writing we want these pitches to result in a home run for our readers. Can you think of any other names of pitches and how they might be a metaphor for writing? If you have any ideas to contribute, I’d be tickled pink.

Before we go, I’d just like to remind you that while my writer’s resources series may be over (for now) my giveaway for a year’s subscription to ProWritingAid and a $15 Amazon gift card is still going!

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Have a wonderful week, my friends!


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Goals, Marketing, Organized, Positive Mindset, Self-Publishing, Success Mindset, Tips, Uncategorized, Work In Progress, Writing Advice

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: 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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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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Let’s Talk: Character Building

Character Building“If you treat your characters like people, they’ll reward you by being
fully developed individuals.”
Don Roff

Happy Monday, y’all! I hope, unlike me, you had a spectacular weekend. I did manage to add a few thousand words to my manuscript for Alabama Rain, but even doing so I know I’m behind on my goals for it. Being behind is no reason to give up, though!

I had a shortlist of things I wanted to blog about today, so how did I pick the winner? How did we land on character building, you ask. Because it’s a thing I’ve seen popping up in several book reviews lately.  (Luckily not of my own.) There seems to have been a shift away from character building, and lots of reviewers are pointing it out.

DNF, too many flat characters.

I couldn’t keep reading, because the characters were so underdeveloped.

The author didn’t give me anyone to root for or against.

These are just a few examples of the reviews I’ve seen lately for books I’ve been interested in reading. I don’t always pay attention to reviews, but when one book gets multiple reviews like that, it makes me reconsider.

So let’s do something to prevent the continuation of that cycle.

Let’s talk about the six areas you need to consider about your characters so by the time your readers get hold of them, they’re reading stories about believable fictional folk and not just…mannequins with dialogue.

Growth (1)
Let’s be honest, it’s next to impossible to get the amount of physical descriptions just right for every single one of your readers. Therefore, I offer you no such advice here. Your beta readers will probably let you know if you’ve gone too far on either end of the spectrum.

When describing your character’s face or body, it might be helpful to you to look at pictures of people who look similar to the way the character looks in your mind…but don’t just describe the color of their hair or eyes, though. Literature is littered with women who have flowing blonde hair and men who have piercing blue eyes.

These cliche descriptors are completely forgettable. Instead, give your readers something they’ll remember. For instance, in Alabama Rain, one of my characters has an ear that was half-chewed off by a dog…that’s not likely something my readers are going to forget.

Does your character have a tattoo? Of what, where, and was it botched?
What about that birthmark?
Surgical scars?
An amputation?

Challenge yourself to go beyond just brown hair and pale skin.

Another thing to remember about physical descriptions: Make them organic. Don’t plop your character down in front of a mirror and have them dictate every nuance of their own face to the reader. Unless this person is a model who is having their makeup done before a runway show…most people do not do this.

 

Growth (2)

I don’t recall the exact source, but I remember hearing a piece of writing advice a while back that said if a character is worthy of a name, they’re worthy of a backstory.

This is so true. Does this mean you have to write out a lengthy paragraph or two detailing every named character’s life?

Absolutely not. But, just because you aren’t going to include it in your manuscript, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a general idea of what they’ve gone through, what shaped and molded them into who they are in your story.

Knowing your character’s backstories will help you navigate the actual story for them. If someone nearly drowned as a child, are they going to hesitate when crossing the raging waters of a river? Probably.

• Was your character bullied in school? That’s going to affect them!
• Were your character’s parents alcoholics? That’s going to affect them!
• Did their dog get kidnapped and held for ransom? That’s going to affect them!
• Did your character win a slew of pageants? That’s probably going to affect them!

We’re all products of our pasts, so you need to give your characters one. It will guide you when you have to make decisions for them.

How do you do this, you ask? How much should you know? That depends on how vital the character is. If they only appear in a few chapters, you might get by with a paragraph or two. If it’s a primary character, you should probably be able to talk about them like you’ve been acquainted for a long time.

 

Emotional

Your character’s starting emotional health is directly affected by their backstory, so now that you’ve fleshed that out, you will have a better grip on what they’re like emotionally at their introduction.

It’s important to know so you’ll be able to write how they react emotionally to the piles of heartache you’ll shovel onto them. If it is inconsistent with who they are, your readers are going to point this out. For consistency’s sake, don’t skimp on learning their emotional state.

• Is your character hot-headed? Then would they really sit idly by as someone berates them? Probably not.
• Is your character afraid of conflict? Then would they really lash out at a teacher because they scored lower on a test?
• Does your character harbor a grudge against love? Then would they really instantly succumb to the batting blue eyes of their new next-door neighbor?

If you’re going to make your characters go against the grain of their typical emotional reactions, this is something your readers will sit up and take notice of. It’s not always a bad thing, and it can lead to some great developmental points. That character from the first bullet point, the hothead? Maybe he has to bite his tongue as someone shreds him a new one because they’ve got a gun pointed at his wife’s head.

Your readers will know he’s being made to do something he normally wouldn’t, and they’ll feel the tension it creates for your character as he fights his baser instincts.

 

Emotional (1)

Just as with knowing your characters emotionally, you need to know them spiritually.

Are they religious? Yes, what do they practice?

This will also dictate how they react in certain situations…so I want to focus less on that aspect, because it does mirror emotions so closely, and focus on something I’ve seen a few authors get horribly wrong. Can you take a guess at what that is? No? Yes? If you guessed they don’t know the spirituality or religion they’ve assigned their character, then you guessed correctly! Give yourself a candy bar.

If you were raised in a predominately Christian home and you decide you want one of your characters to be Buddhist, then…you should know something about Buddhism.

I won’t name the work, but I have seen an author write about someone’s religion being Atheism, and then go onto say that character was a devil-worshiper. Only…atheists don’t worship the devil.

So, please, do your research.

 

Intellectual
This is another area I’ve seen in several books that needed a little more attention.

How many times have you read a book where the character is said to have attended some major university, graduated at the top of their class, and now they run a multi-billion dollar corporation…and then they do the dumbest shit you’ve ever read in a book? Come on…how many? I’m guessing it’s been more than once.

Don’t get me wrong, I know there are plenty of highly-educated idiots out there, but your novel probably shouldn’t be filled with them.

If you’ve got a character who never made it past the sixth grade, then they’re not likely to have the same vocabulary as their long, lost sibling who graduated Magna Cum Laude from Princeton.

But let’s reverse this. Your Princeton grad is also probably going to sound crazy awkward if he tries to acclimate to an inner-city way of speech. Ebonics is going to be hard, foreign even, when you’ve spent over twenty years speaking straight out of an English textbook.

Also: intellect doesn’t just come from the classroom, remember that. Wherever your characters got their education, be it school, college, on the job, the streets, the military, or on the farm, make sure their intellectual voice coincides with it.

 

Strengths
As we’ve made our way down this list, you can probably see how all of the above traits have mingled with one another and how they can all have an effect on one another.

This one is no different.

Your character’s strengths and weakness can stem directly from their physicality, back story, emotional health, spirituality, and their intellect. So, when you’re getting to this stage in the character mapping process, take all of those things into consideration.

All that said, I want you to keep one thing in mind: Characters need Kryptonite.

Is your steadfastly Baptist woman unable to have a weakness for bondage? Nope, not at all…this would be an incredibly interesting juxtaposition to flesh out, don’t you think? There is all sorts of internal and external turmoil that might come from such a fascination from such an unlikely person.

Hell, Indiana Jones is afraid of snakes.

Sure your Princeton grad might be hella strong in all things science, but what if he develops a fear (or weakness) of fire? That Bunsen burner is now something he can’t face…so what is he to do?

Do you see where I’m going here?

This brings me to the bonus point I’d like to make about Character Building:

 

Growth
This is perhaps the number one complaint I’ve been seeing in reviews as of late. These complaints are coming in from both Indie novels as well as highly-anticipated traditionally-published novels:

Lack of personal growth.

One of the first things I said about getting to know your characters emotionally was that their backstory would help you learn about them when you first plop them in your manuscript. That is your baseline. That gives you their starting point.

You’re going to mess them up, though. You’ll give them conflict and challenge their beliefs. They need to change as a result. They need to have learned lessons and applied new knowledge and skills they’ve learned during their journey.

So, when you’re plotting your characters, don’t just plot who they are at the beginning of your manuscript…plot who you want them to become by the end. Draw a character arc, do a bullet list, anything to help you visualize where your character is going.

Any number and combination of these areas we’ve talked about today can and should go through a personal growth transformation.

A long time ago I came up with some Writing Aides that may help you as you’re outlining your characters. If you’re so inclined, have a look and let me know if they’re in any way helpful. (Which might inspire me to make similar things in the future.)

That’s all I’ve got for you today!

Just a head’s up, I am working on a series of posts dedicated to some amazing writerly resources I’ve found over the years—you aren’t going to want to miss out on those, so click subscribe!

xoxo


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