4 Reasons Why You Should Write Steampunk


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Before I get into my reasons for why you should try writing a story set in a steampunk world, I should probably explain what steampunk is. Honestly, there is no set definition for steampunk, but it tends to be a story set in a world reminiscent of the past but with anachronistically advanced technology, attitudes, fashion, or all of the above. Think of the movie Wild Wild West or The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Many of these stories are set in an alternate version of the late-eighteen hundreds, but some are in a neo-Victorian future or something completely different that still hints at steampunk’s Victorian origins. The genre is open and growing and waiting for more authors to explore it.

Still unsure? Well, here are a few why you should write a steampunk story:

  1. Half of your world-building is already done. Even if your world is mostly from your imagination with monsters, mechanical spaceships, or robot servants in Downton Abbey, you still have the scaffolding of real history. With a little research, you can establish chunks of your world-building, such as manners and customs, social hierarchies, fashion, architecture. It doesn’t matter if you set your story in England or India, historians during the Victorian era wrote volumes and took photographs! You have tons of inspiration right at your fingertips.
  2. You can rewrite history. Since steampunk is an alternate history, you can change a historical event and completely rewrite history from that point on. Have you ever wondered what would have happened if women got the vote while Jane Austen was alive? Or what if Napoleon had succeeded in conquering and uniting Europe? Steampunk is a genre that is all about manipulating history and exploring the what-ifs. Have fun with it. See what can happen with just a little change.
  3. You can utilize historical figures. Are there any historical figures that you find absolutely bad-ass, twisted, or just plain interesting? If you set your steampunk story during the same time period as your favorite historical figure, they can make a cameo or they can be one of your stars. Think of Hamilton. History with a twist. What if Tesla had even more advanced technology or what if he and Edison got into an escalating battle that threatened the world? You could even go as far back as Cleopatra’s time. Could she have defeated Caesar if she discovered some cutting edge technology in the Library of Alexandria? Do your research, explore your imagination.
  4. You can create wild, new devices or machines. Let your imagination run wild. If you have an interest in science or engineering, steampunk is the perfect place to crack your knuckles and get writing about whatever strange device has been bopping around your brain. Your new tech can destroy planets, cure diseases, or just chug, pop, and belch steam. Steampunk often relies on the mixing of old and new technology to change history, so think about what Cleopatra could do with a laser or if the Vikings could have conquered the world with flying ships powered by steam.

Steampunk is one of the most open genres in literature, and with boundless possibilities, it’s yours to explore and make your own. Write a short story, write a novel, draw a futuristic cityscape, or even a play. Give it a try.


karaKara Jorgensen is an author of fiction and professional student from New Jersey who will probably die slumped over a Victorian novel. An anachronistic oddball from birth, she has always had an obsession with the Victorian era, especially the 1890s. Midway through a dissection in a college anatomy class, Kara realized her true passion was writing and decided to marry her love of literature and science through science fiction or, more specifically, steampunk. She has an MFA in Creative and Professional Writing and hopes to one day live off her writing. You can find her first book here.

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Guest Post: Setbacks and Opportunities


setbacksI used to live a twenty-minute drive from a massive, sandy beach. It was never warm there, never suited for lounging and sunbathing. It was always windy, and the north Atlantic water was frigid even on the warmest days. But it was a lovely spot for searching for sand dollars.

Sometimes I’d find one within a few minutes of hunting. Other days I seemed to be out of luck, and I’d give up quickly. But over time, I discovered something interesting: If I kept looking, if I kept my eyes open and had faith that I would stumble on something wonderful, a treasure always appeared. Usually it was the sand dollar I’d been hunting for, and I made it my goal to come home with one every time we visited the beach. But there were others. Beautiful moon snail shells. Purple mussels, and narrow razor clams. Yellow snail shells so tiny I could fit ten on my littlest fingernail.

But I only found those treasures because I looked for other opportunities while I was on my mission. If I’d only watched for circles, the other shapes might have slipped by.

It’s a lesson that’s come in handy for me many times. I’ve learned to keep my eyes and ears open, taking in information even when it doesn’t relate to what I think I should be searching for. It’s how I stumbled on the world of indie publishing while I thought I should be researching agents and queries, and it changed my life.

Opportunities are out there, but we have to be ready to spot them.

Sometimes the opportunities come directly from setbacks. They can be the hardest to see, but can also be the most rewarding.

During the production stage of my third book, Sworn, I thought I had things under control. I’d set reasonable deadlines for myself, left lots of time for revisions before editing and after, and felt confident that I had my proverbial ducks in a row. As I’d scheduled things, edits would be back by September, just in time for the kids to go back to school. I’d work my butt off, and have things ready to go by Christmas.

And then there was an unexpected delay on my editor’s end, and it turned out that while I still had the first editing slot in the month, it would start several weeks later than anticipated. I’d be sending the book out to him when I had hoped to be getting it back.

It seemed like a huge setback, and left me in a bit of a bind as to what to do with myself while I waited to get it back. Three weeks wasn’t enough time for me to start drafting a new novel, and I didn’t really feel like stepping away from that fictional world while I waited to dive back in with edits. I was frustrated, a little panicked at the idea that I wouldn’t have the book ready for when I’d hinted I would.

But then I started looking for the opportunity. Instead of sitting around and moping, being upset about something that no one had any control over, or wasting my time, I poked through my idea notebook for something else I might tackle.

So I wrote a prequel novella, just to keep my head in the world of my books. And what started out as an interesting exercise in getting to know a difficult and somewhat mysterious character turned into a 28,000 word novella, drafted in four days. A doomed romance, intense and beautiful (and ultimately heartbreaking, for anyone who has read the Bound trilogy). I wrote and revised it while Sworn was with my editor, and sent it to another editor who was able to fit the small project into her schedule.

And now that little side-project is with beta readers, and will be going out to my newsletter subscribers as a Christmas gift, a thank-you for the incredible support they’ve shown while waiting for me to finish the trilogy. The big novel will be out at the end of January, and in the meantime, my readers have a little fuel to add to the fire of the story.

Maybe not every cloud has a silver lining, but so much depends on whether we react to minor disasters by shutting down or by searching for the opportunities.

An editor completely ripping a book apart is a blow to the ego, but it’s also an opportunity to make our work so much better. Rejection by an agent or editor might lead us to looking into opportunities we might not have considered otherwise. Unkind words from readers can help us focus on what’s important to us about our work, and help us understand who we are (and aren’t) writing for.

So this is my goal, the thing I want to work on in the coming year. When things go badly from here on out, when the monsters jump out of the closet and make me want to cry, when I fall flat on my face in front of a crowd, I now have a plan. I’ll give myself time to be upset, to lick my wounds and tend to my bruised ego.

And then I’ll look for the opportunity, believing it will always be there if I look hard enough. Maybe it won’t be what I expected to find, but I believe there is always a beautiful treasure out there somewhere, if only I look hard enough.


Kate Sparkes is the Amazon and USA Today best-selling author of the Bound trilogy (Mature YA Fantasy). She lives in Newfoundland , but spends most of her time exploring strange lands from the comfort of her office. Visit www.katesparkes.com for details on her work, upcoming releases, social media connections, and to sign up for her newsletter and grab some free stories.

Guest Post: “Write a book! It’s so easy!”


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As I scrolled through my social media feeds I couldn’t help but see that another human being was thinking about writing a book. Granted, I had never expected this person to be a writer, but who was I to deny them this golden opportunity?

Then I saw it. IT. Staring me in the face, laughing like a crazed person as it sat there it in its wrongness, available for the eyes of so many people. The comment that can tear a writer’s sanity apart:

“You should write a book! It’s so easy!”

“write a book! It’s so easy!”

“It’s so easy!”

“so easy!”

“EASY!”

If you hear a high-pitched kind of whistle sound, just ignore it. It’s only my broken and agonized screams in the distance.

Let’s get something straight – in no way, shape, or form is writing a book easy. There is a lot more involved than just typing words out on a page. Plots. Characters. Worlds. EVERYTHING. You have to be an expert on all sorts of things in order to be a writer. Does that sound easy? If the answer that comes to mindis anything but “no” then we need to talk.

Writing is not for everyone. It is not the easy path or the get rich quick path. In fact, you could say that this is a path that just plain sucks sometimes. Non-novel writers just don’t get it. This post is for ther novelist, the writer of stories and creator of worlds. If you, the human being that is reading this right now – if you have decided that you want to be a writer, that you want to spend hours behind a computer screen, days spent researching, and rewriting, and editing – if that is the future you aspire to have, then you need to realize one very important thing: You are amazing.

There is no sarcastic undertone attached to those two words. I really believe that you are in fact the coolest person. Writing is an incredible thing. It is a complex and intricate thing. Fiction creates worlds and characters and lives and passion. It is behind heartbreak and inspiration. And that is what you’re doing every time you sit down at your computer or pick up your pen and paper. You are writing. You are giving words a deeper meaning. How cool is that?

Now, before you look at your screen and sigh, because you have not been writing, please don’t. And please know that being a writer does not mean you are required to write every day for X amount of hours. It doesn’t mean you have to reach a certain word count. Despite what people can say, writing is really hard to do sometimes. You may have nights where all you do is watch the cursor blink and blink and blink and blink against an empty background. You may have nights when you become inspired and write 10,000 words.

I have spent my fair share of nights doing both. It is awesome to do well, and that is okay to draw blanks. It is okay to question, to feel your heart wilt in your chest when you can’t manage even a few decent sentences. The fact that you’re trying is huge! It says to me that you are invested in your chosen craft, your chosen path. Whether you stare for hours or write 10,000 words, you’re driven to write. You want to write. Or maybe you don’t, but your body and heart and soul and whathaveyou compels you to create and write and dream up new worlds and lives.

So, be a writer. Be amazing. Be you. And if you ever have the misfortune to come across someone who thinks writing is easy, try really hard not to hit them. Instead, channel that rage into a great plotline.

#DoItForThePlotLine


Caity H is a twenty-something writer, living on a steady diet of homework and good tunes. In her spare time, she likes to procrastinate and binge watch TV shows. Writing is also high on her list of “favorite things to do.” If you want to follow this rad chick, her social media links are listed below. She posts funny things sometimes. Promise.

She had two novels available on Amazon–Hello, Honeybee and Hello, Handsome.

Follow her:

Guest Post: Should You Write to the Trends?


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Visit today’s fantastic guest at her blog, StoryPort!

If you ask writers, “Should you write to the trends?” you’ll receive vastly different responses, each delivered with passionate conviction. With such a variety of opinions, which should you listen to? What’s right for your novel?

There are a lot of pros and cons to writing to the trends. Both sides have their merits. I will do my best to represent both perspectives before sharing my own.

Let’s clear things up…

First of all, what is a trend? In the world of publishing, a trend can take many forms. It can be a recurring theme or genre (e.g. zombies, alien invasions, paranormal romance), a common plot element (love triangles, rebellion against oppressive societies), or more broadly and less distinctly, a culturally-shared attitude or mindset (such as the recent swing toward seeing “smart” as “cool”, when the exact opposite was true a decade or two ago).

Writing to the trends can take any or all of these forms. You may write a novel in a popular genre, and/or use recurring plot elements, and/or cater your story to the current attitudes of society.

The pros

On the surface, the appeal for writing to the trends is obvious: (1) It increases your chances of getting published. (2) It increases your chances of becoming a bestseller.

Let’s look at each of those points in a little more detail.

Publishers are highly aware of trends. When a subject is hot, they’ll be on high alert for relevant manuscripts. They want to publish what sells. That should be obvious; publishing is a business, after all. And a shrewd writer will keep this in mind:

You can only become a published (much less bestselling) author if you write what people want to read.

Just think about that for a minute.

If your book comes out in the midst of a trend, it’ll be more readily received. For example, fairytale retellings seem to be popular right now (e.g. The Lunar Chronicles, The Wrath and the Dawn). If a new fairytale retelling were published today, fans of The Lunar Chronicles or The Wrath and the Dawn would be eager to read it, because they already have an appetite for that kind of fiction. They’re in the mood. Most likely, they’ll be hungry for more… for now.

The cons

If I were to leave this post as it is, it would sound like a glittering, concrete argument for writing to the trends.

Throw the confetti! Throw the popcorn! Let’s go get published and grow RICH!

Unfortunately, it’s just not that simple.

First of all, predicting what publishers are looking for is not always as easy as it sounds. If you judge the trends based on what’s currently in the bookstores, you may already be too late. The process from acceptance of your manuscript to placement in the bookstores is not instantaneous – much less the process from ideation to first draft to seventh draft to agent querying to publisher submissions to (hopeful) acceptance of your manuscript!

In other words, if you identify a trend while it’s hot, write a book to fit it, polish it until your fingers bleed, then submit the manuscript to publishers… the trend may already be over, from the publishers’ perspective. And then you will have wasted potentially years of your life and no small share of blood, sweat, and tears.

To catch a trend, you have to catch it quick. You have to identify it at the beginning of its cycle, or have the keenness of mind to predict a trend before it fully forms. (That, or you have to be a really, really fast writer!)

Now, let’s get into the real problems with trendy literature.

What’s popular comes and goes. Maybe people like stories about four-footed cannibals right now, (they don’t; I made that up, if it wasn’t obvious), but in a few years, four-footed cannibal stories will become cliché and quickly forgotten as one of “those” books. The trend will only be hot for so long before it goes out of style and loses its appeal.

The YA dystopian genre is currently in this stage. Sparked by The Hunger Games series, (and yes that was a pun, thank you for clapping), the recent explosion of society-fighting teenagers (typically female, 16-17 years old, with one or two male love interests) was kept alive for as long as The Hunger Games movies were being released in theatres. But, the trend has been slowly, gradually dying. And now that Mockingjay Part 2 has hit the theatres, finally wrapping up the series, let me just give you a free tip:

Dystopians are dead.

The trend is over. It’s as cold as President Snow’s heart. Please, don’t write any more dystopians. Unless your story is completely and thoroughly separate from the now-spent genre (in other words, no 16-year-old female heroines, no – ahem – love triangles), then you will probably be wasting your time.

It’s not like I can stop you from sticking out your tongue at me and writing a dystopian anyway. But you can’t say I didn’t warn you.

This brings me to my next point. Trends – especially genre trends and recurring plot-elements – can become confining, even formulaic. The result may be a manuscript that feels cliché, hackneyed, and negatively familiar, not to mention the limits it places on your creativity and imagination.

“But, Brianna,” you may be arguing, “what about what you said earlier? ‘You can only become a published (much less bestselling) author if you write what people want to read. I don’t want to write something nobody likes! I want to write a story that masses of people will deeply connect with and enjoy. How do I do that, if you’re telling me to ignore the trends?”

What if I told you there’s a third option? What if I told you it doesn’t have to be black and white, yes or no, do follow trends or don’t?

And here’s where we launch into my perspective on the matter.

The third option

I said earlier you need to write “what people want to read.” But how do you know what people want to read?

Trends usually begin with a starter series: something that becomes wildly popular, something that works, something that publishers scramble to replicate. (E.g., The Twilight Saga for paranormal romance, or The Hunger Games for dystopians.)

But how do you predict that first spark? How do you predict which book will start a new trend?

The answer: You don’t.

There’s no way of knowing when a new book will become popular. There are countless stories of obscure authors who simply wrote the story on their heart, not expecting anyone to read them, but to their surprise the novel deeply resonated with audiences and became a huge success. (Lisa Genova with Still Alice and Andy Weir with The Martian are just two examples of this. Google it – you’ll be amazed at the authors’ stories you’ll find!)

Why does this happen? For two reasons: (1) Stories that are written out of a place of passion will always be better, because the authors are motivated to work hard and pour their heart into their work. (2) Stories that are written outside of the constraints of trends and publishers’ wants will often be more original, fresh, and genuine.

I think you can see where I’m going with this. “Write what you want. Follow your passion. Etc., etc.” And yes, that is the ultimate point of this blog post.

But what if your passion is currently a trend? What if you thoroughly love zombie survival stories, and that’s all publishers are raving about?

Well then, go write a zombie survival story, for goodness’ sake!

My point is, write what you love. If what you love is trending, then your passion will undoubtedly shine through your work, and you may write something that rises above your genre – something that won’t be forgotten once the trend has frozen over. If what you love isn’t trending, write it anyway. Who knows… you might start a new trend. Or you might not. Either way, you will have been honest to yourself, to your story, and to your readers. And isn’t that what matters most?

All that being said, it doesn’t hurt to be aware of the current tastes, trends, and attitudes of society. Don’t feel obligated to pander to them, but you may find that with slight adjustments, you can make your story more relevant, and thus more sellable. Only do this, of course, if it makes sense for you and your novel. It may not be necessary at all.

At the end of the day… it’s your novel, and nobody else’s. No matter what you write – whether it follows a widespread trend, fits an established niche, or starts something totally new – you have a far better chance of writing something great if it’s something you enjoy.

For further reading:

“Understanding cultural trends can help you write a bestseller” by Robert Wood: https://www.standoutbooks.com/cultural-trends-writing-bestseller/

“Fool’s Gold: Why You Should Ignore Trends and Write What You Want” by Dario Ciriello: http://blog.janicehardy.com/2015/08/fools-gold-why-you-should-ignore-trends.html

Wendy Higgins on the Challenge of Publication


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I’m often asked if I get writer’s block and how I get past it. The first answer is yes. Absolutely, without a question, I get terrible bouts of writer’s block. I’m talking about fortified WALLS that go up in my mind. I have yet to come up with a foolproof way to get past these blocks, but I’ll walk you through a little of my own craziness.

This week I am about to finish my seventh book. With all the writer’s block I’ve experienced, I cannot believe I’ve managed to write that many full length stories. Looking back, it’s honestly a blur of tears and prayers and coffee and junk food and more tears, mixed in with encouraging emails and texts from friends and family, aka my cheerleaders.

My first book, Sweet Evil, was literally the only book that I did not have writer’s block with. That book felt like it soared from the very center of my heart. It’s all I thought about. I actually lost weight while writing because I’d forget to eat! I was utterly lost in that story world and it was glorious. I’ve heard a lot of people say that about their first book—that it felt incredibly inspired. Now, don’t get me wrong, my first book required a total overhaul and huge amounts of revision, but I never minded a minute of it. I wasn’t under contract or obligation and it was just fun.

And then I got picked up for publication. Dream come true, friends. DREAM. COME. TRUE. But everything sort of changed. Suddenly my stories were going to be read by people. Strangers who would judge it. And I no longer had complete control over everything. I had a publisher picking out titles and covers and leading me editorially. My intimate writing experience became a group effort. Not a bad thing, just different.

And then it was time to write the sequel…and that overwhelming inspiration wasn’t there quite as strongly. I’m not sure why this happened. Maybe because there was the pressure of deadlines and expectations from readers, but I found myself feeling stress that was never there before. I found myself stopping during the writing process and wondering, “Now what’s supposed to happen? Does this feel right? Is this working? Is it too much like such-and-such book?”

TheGreatHuntHighRes

I still loved my story. I loved my characters. I wanted to tell their tales. And now I was required to finish because I signed a contract. What is it about obligation that sucks the fun out of a task? Oh, the pressure! I pushed forward, though I swear some days felt like I was trudging through sinking mud. And with each and every book I finally finished, I bawled my eyes out. Partly because I was so glad to be done, and partly because I loved it and missed it. I’m a mess of emotions.

So how do I push forward? I absolutely rely on my support group of friends and family, including my beta readers. It helps me so much if my beta readers critique as I go and cheer me on. That is what good beta readers do, and I do it for them in return. They read, tell you what they love about it and what they suggest changing/fixing/pondering, and brainstorm with you when needed. And then you revise or march onward.

There are days when I stare at the computer for hours to perfect a single scene that I must get right before I can move on. There are days when life is so busy that I can’t write at all, and I have to allow myself some grace. And then there are days when all the words come and I crank out several chapters. I just go with it. I pray/meditate a lot. I allow myself time to simply daydream about the story, playing around with scenarios in my mind.

Last week when I hit yet another block on this book, I went out to one of my favorite places—a place that inspired a scene in the book—a beautiful dock on a creek near my house. I spent an hour in nature, taking pictures and just letting my mind rest. As creative people, writers are so tough on ourselves, aren’t we? We beat ourselves up and put ourselves down and come to the conclusion that we can’t do it. I have days like that. Wasted days. And then a cool plot idea will zap into my mind while I’m doing some mundane chore, and that quickly I’m on top of the world again. This writing life…it’s crazy, I tell ya. And I wouldn’t trade it for any other job out there. I promise you this, writing friends: If I can do it, so can you.


 

4279785Wendy Higgins is the USA Today and NY Times bestselling author of the SWEET EVIL series from HarperTeen, the high fantasy duology THE GREAT HUNT, and her independently published Irish Fantasy SEE ME.
After earning a Creative Writing degree from George Mason University and a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction from Radford, Wendy taught high school English until achieving her dream job as a full-time writer.
Wend lives on the Eastern Shore of Virginia with her husband, daughter, son, and little doggie Rue.

Guest Post: A Little Bit of Everything Gets You Nowhere


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Jack of All Trades, master of none, that’s how it goes. Right? How do we know what our calling is when we have so many?

I studied Fine Art in college. I focused on painting. But I never find myself able to commit to any one idea.

When I moved to Germany, my new group of friends asked me about my art all the time because that’s how we had met, through art. I knew enough to never admit you’re an artist because that’s a really arrogant thing to do. But I meant it.  I’m not an artist.

Artists have passion for their work, and me? I’ll work if you threaten me, or give me really pretty male models to work with. I can still remember a time after picking my major where I sat and thought, what did I do? I have two artist friends who I consider close, no matter where they live. Both are artists at their very core. One of them, listened to me talk about just why I’m not an artist.

“I know how to come up with nice compositions, and I know color theory backwards and forwards, and I know how to get good grades in art school,” I told him “But I don’t have a passion for it, and if I have something to say, I’d rather use my writing to get the points across.” I felt oddly respected by my good pal after we had that conversation. He told me that’s fine, and that he appreciated that I could say that about myself. When I told my other friend the same, he just told me I didn’t work enough. I didn’t work on my art enough.

So what’s the story. Does passion inspire work or does work breed passion?

I thought I had passion because I wanted to see my characters on canvas. The Jack of All Trades in me half assed the work I could have been doing in university because the passion was displaced. I find myself doing things like this all the time. The next project for me is sculpting BJD Dolls and taking commissions for other writer’s characters. Let’s hope for the best.

But even now, my passions are slipping and sliding all over the place.  I’m finishing up a manuscript based on characters I’ve loved for years. My darlings. But I keep finding more and more projects to fulfill my time.

I’m curating a book of short stories called Crows on Heartstrings and am completely immersed with corralling the artists and writers, talking about the business behind marketing and selling a book, trying to find funding, talking about the layout and cover. Does that mean I am meant to be a curator rather than a writer? I’m not giving my book the attention it deserves and I feel like I’m not doing anything of any importance with it.

The answer is no. I don’t think that by being a bit of a Jack of All Trades I’m sacrificing the integrity of one project over another.

Learn to distinguish between the excitement of a new project and true passion. It’s easy to get distracted with shiny new toys disguised as new projects. It’s okay to be passionate about more than one new idea. Please, keep those juices flowing and keep sharing your creativity in whichever means it chooses to manifest.

The only thing you need to remember is to finish what you started. If you find yourself drifting off as I am, remind yourself just why you loved your project in the first place. Don’t be afraid of scrapping everything and starting again. But, be wary of the infinite loop of perfectionism. Don’t settle for a little bit of everything. Don’t stop until you’ve completely indulged yourself in everything and reveled in the success of finishing all your projects as they come.

For me, I want to be a writer. I want to write stories and bring characters to life. I do that most comfortably with writing. But being a Jack of All Trades, if I can call myself that, has forced me to see the world in a more well rounded manner. If anything, it enhances my work.


aubreyAubrey Meeks is a writer, editor, and for lack of a better word, artist, from New York City. She is currently working on the (hopefully) final draft of her manuscript Archer and the Lust Boys for #NaNoWriMo2015 keep updated with her progress with her on twitter @aubreymeeksart.

Crows on Heartstrings, her next project, is a collection of short stories featuring 13 artists illustrating 13 doomed love stories. Keep posted with all her work on aubreymeeksart.com!

 

Guest Post: Maximize Your Writing Muses


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The word “muse” may often call forth images of Renaissance Italy, tortured poets and gifted painters with women to whom all their works were dedicated. Next to God, love is the second greatest inspiration visible in classic art, and even more so evident in the modern pieces of today. However, where does the inspiration come from? Maybe you’ve never been in love. Maybe you have, but you don’t find that something strong enough to bring forth new story ideas and carry you through a project. The truth is that inspiration comes in the form of all sorts of different muses, and I’m going to share some of my own today. Perhaps these revelations will help you tap into your own.

Dreams

I can’t lucid dream, but I do have a knack for remembering things I’ve dreamt of in strong detail. In fact, my current project, Within, is the story that happens between two dreams I actually experienced a year apart from one another. The first was actually the end of the novel. I tried to write with it, starting at that point, but it didn’t stick. I didn’t know who my characters were, who they were up against or fighting for, or why they said the things that they did in the dream.

A year later I got my answer, and now I’m writing that story and think it’s some of my best work. Dreams, although they may be wild and incomprehensible at times, still come from within us. They can reveal hopes, fears and everything in between and even give us characters or settings our conscious brains would never slow down enough to tap into.

If you never remember your dreams, start keeping a notepad and pen by your bed at night. When you wake up from one, jot down everything you remember. It doesn’t have to be in fluid sentences. Just get the major parts and over time, you’ll begin to remember more and more when you wake.

Dreams are interwoven in my stories and play in an integral role in almost every novel I write, and the reason why they’re such great muses is that they’re simply you.

Music

I love music. I listen to it all the time. I work to it. I look up songs I hear on TV shows. I find the songs playing overhead in stores using an app on my phone. Music makes us feel understood. We feel empowered and comforted by the lyrics artists sing, often times capturing the emotions and thoughts we can’t verbalize or deal with on our own.

When you write, listen to music you love first. Envision your book like a movie or a show. Watch the scenes play out in your head. As a writing exercise, pick one song, put it on repeat and keep it going while you write a specific moment in your book to the music.

Learn to dissect the parts of a song and figure out which resonate with you the most and why. Does the quivering violin in a orchestral piece remind you of the fragility of a character? Do lyrics in an indie track capture exactly what your protagonist is going through? Make Spotify or iTunes playlists for each character in your book and the project itself. Don’t be afraid to mix it up and explore other songs in addition to what’s currently in your library.

By exploring your characters’ minds and developing their musical tastes, you’ll discover a lot about them that you will be able to insert into your writing.

Books

The last muse I’ll list today is probably at the top of all of your lists. Reading the writing of others really inspires me to get into my own. I know sometimes it can have the counter effect; you read something incredible and think, I could never write something anyone would love the way I love this. But that isn’t true. In fact, you can’t say that unless you actually write something to begin with. Of course no one will love what you’ve written if all you’ve got is a blank page and a load of self-apathy. Put that to good use! Start writing and keep reading.

Also, don’t feel pressured to read books just because they’re done by great writers. You may not like to read Keats or Hemingway. While I do think that everyone should indulge in these works due to the fact they’ve have had such a profound impact on society, I don’t think everyone is obligated to fall in love with the classics. Expose yourself. Sample chapters, essays and more. Those high school English textbooks actually have some pretty good stuff inside.

Flavorwire.com published a great article called “A College Curriculum on Your Bookshelf: 50 Books for 50 Classes” that is bound to have something that appeals to you and will get you thinking. Whether its science fiction, religious books, post-apocalyptic or YA thrillers, dabble in a bit of everything to culture yourself and bring a larger worldview to your own writing. I’ve had things as seemingly insignificant as tumblr text posts strike a chord and influence lines in my work.  It isn’t so much about what you read so much as how you read it.

To Sum Things Up

Your muse might not be books. It may not be music. Whatever it is, it’s art in some form or another. If you get the most inspiration while walking through nature, you’re witnessing one of the greatest works of all by the greatest artist of all time. God made the world and everything in it. He made us capable of doing incredible things. Our minds and personalities are as diverse as the land itself, meaning we can draw inspiration individually from all sorts of different aspects of life and use them to inspire our writing.

These works may go on to be inspiration to others, either because they share the same interests or because you awoke their minds to an entirely different perspective. The best way to utilize your muse when writing is to create things that inspire you.


 

Jessica Wynn is a 22-year-old NYC expat living in the Eternal City. She’s currently studying web development and design while working on her third novel, Within, and frequently blogs about the process, offers writing advice and shares other musings about comics, music and life over on her site, Little Siberia.

Follow her on Twitter, and read her novel Within on Jukepop.

Guest Post: An Author’s Thoughts on Labels in Literature


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People often ask me why I became a writer, and the answer is actually quite simple: I’ve been in love with stories all my life.

And that love began with reading.

I became enthralled by stories at a very young age. Ballerina Bess and Dr. Suess were my first loves. I’d listen with rapt attention as my mom read each story to me at bedtime. Before long I began reading them for myself, and soon my interests developed from picture books to Nancy Drew to everything Lois Lowry and Margaret Peterson Haddix. But as I began to learn about literature in middle school, a switch seemed to flip.

Suddenly, I was all about the classics.

Jane Austen was gateway drug into this arena. I read Pride and Prejudice through with voracious fingers, bewitched by Elizabeth’s spirit and Darcy’s noble heart. A few other renowned novels followed, including The Great Gatsby, A Tale of Two Cities, and The Lord of the Rings.

But as I headed into high school, I began to despise the classics. In fact, it seemed like the more I read, the more I began to resent reading them. For a while I wondered what had gone wrong. Had I simply been lucky with the first handful I’d picked up? Were all those research papers for English class ruining the fun of reading? Was I allowing my classmates’ disdain for such books to cloud my own judgment?

I never did figure out the answer, but I did begin reading modern fiction again and it didn’t take very long for me to fall in love. But believe it or not, I actually felt a bit guilty every time I picked up The Hunger Games or Harry Potter. My English teachers had primed me to think of such works as lesser than their classic counterparts, and somewhere along the way I had clearly drunk the Kool-Aid.

This warped belief reared its ugly head like never before when I dreamed up the idea for my current work-in-progress, a medieval fantasy novel called The Dark Between.

I’d always been interested in writing, but I didn’t consider it a serious passion for many years because I knew I couldn’t write the exquisite prose demanded of the Great American Novel. And I figured that if I couldn’t write a classic, I couldn’t write at all.

But my passion for this new story idea was intense, so much so that I no longer cared if I wrote a novel that my English teachers would use for coasters. Regardless of its label, I was determined to bring this story to the world.

And that determination, oddly enough, changed my life forever. I willingly fell down the rabbit hole to the wonderful world of writing, and I’m now well on my way to having that very same fantasy idea published.

While I’ve faced many obstacles in my writing journey, I firmly believe that my warped understanding of critically-acclaimed fiction slowed me down though most. That may be a rather dramatic statement to make, but I often wonder what my life would have looked like if I had been encouraged to explore all avenues of fiction instead of just the one written largely by men long dead.

The truth of the matter is that every type of fiction requires a great deal of skill to write well, and that means that every type of fiction is deserving of respect, no matter its label. After all, every style contains works of varied success. Some novels are critically acclaimed while others are harshly criticized, and others still are overhyped or underappreciated. And this occurs across the board.

As both a reader and a writer, this tells me that I should never feel ashamed of preferring one type of novel over another. And you shouldn’t either.

I often tell my blog readers not to worry about choosing their novel’s genre or title before they’ve begun to write. Instead, I encourage them to focus on bravely exploring the beautiful story that dances just beneath their fingertips. That’s the only way they’ll ever write a novel worth reading.

Why? Because what I’ve painstakingly learned from years of experience is that labels don’t matter at the end of the day. Simple as that.

As an author, your capability to create a unique landscape in the writing industry is incredible. YOU hold the power to create the story you want to write. YOU hold the power to market that story to interested readers. And because of that, YOU hold the power to shape the face of the industry forever.

So if you want to write a feel-good romance that captivates wistful dreamers worldwide, don’t waste another minute. If you want to write a heart-wrenching epic that comments on humanity’s darkest predilections, pick up the pen today. And if you to write a novel that is so far beyond the scope of normal that you fear it will never sell a single copy, pour yourself a cup of coffee and go bravely unto the blank page.

Commercial or literary, upmarket or downright insane…these labels don’t matter in the end. What makes your novel unique is what makes it valuable to the world. And if you write with your soul open to the page, you will enthrall readers with your work. Guaranteed.

So don’t ever feel ashamed of the stories you long to tell, dear writer. The world needs them more than you can know.


HeadshotKristen Kieffer is the creative-writing coach behind She’s Novel, where she helps writers craft novels that will endear readers, excite publishers, and launch their writing careers. Her latest creation, The Pre-Write Project, is an epic workbook designed to help writers prep their next novel in just five days flat. Kristen loves coffee, geeking out over Tolkien, and editing her upcoming medieval fantasy novel, The Dark Between. Want to learn more? Click here!

3 Affordable Ways to Create a Dynamic Home Library


3 Affordable Ways to Create a Dynamic Home Library
By Miriam Bornstein

There’s nothing quite like reading a page-turning novel, wearing a pair of your coziest socks and sipping tea from your favorite mug on a Sunday afternoon. No matter how large or small your living space is, creating the perfect reading environment is attainable without having to pay a fortune.

Here are three ways to create a dynamic home library.

Image Source: Matt White on Zillow Digs®
Image Source: Matt White on Zillow Digs®

1) Customize Existing Items

If you want to get the most bang for your buck, use household items. If you’re bored with your current bookshelves, paint them a bold color or apply an ombre finish to the inside of your shelves. Polish the look by placing items on display, such as frames, funky artwork or memorabilia. Another crafty way to utilize vertical space is by repurposing an old ladder. Spray paint a metal ladder a jewel-tone color like sapphire or emerald green or stain a wooden ladder dark burgundy to add a colorful accent to your diverse book selection.

2) Create a Library Table and Seating

Access your book collection in a stylish and functional manner. Set aside a weekend to repurpose an old cable spool into a library table with minimal tools and materials. Head to your local home improvement store to pick up the all of your building necessities. Once you’ve created your table, top it with succulents for an eye-catching display without having to worry about water residue near your book collection. For an even cozier ambiance, add a reclining chair or love seat to encourage guests and family members to relax and stay a while.

3) Divide a Room to Add a Library

Short on space to incorporate a library? Break up living spaces by using a stand-alone shelf as a room divider. A wall barrier is especially useful for studio dwellers who desire separate places to sleep, socialize and maximize storage space. Place bins on the bottom shelves to store bookmarks, reading glasses and other household items. If you want extra privacy, hang a curtain against one side of the book cubby. Peel the curtains back during the day or close the curtains for a cozy book nook. Either way, you’ll be reading in style.

If your books are currently collecting dust or sitting in a cardboard box in your garage, now is the time to put them on display. You don’t need an elaborate study or pricey built-ins to create a novel-worthy reading environment. Get your fill of library design inspiration before tackling your space.

Guest Post: How to Stay Productive and Motivated While Writing


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It feels so good to be a published author. I can’t put the feeling into words. If you had told me a year ago that I’d be where I am now, I might have laughed at you. Back then, I had a difficult time staying productive and motivated to put words on the page each and every day. That’s not to say I still don’t have that problem—I’ve just found some ways to move past it.

This month is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which means many people are setting out to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 short days. Trust me when I say that it can be done, no matter how impossible it seems! Still, in order to cross the finish line, you’ll have to do battle with the monsters of procrastination and lack of motivation. Luckily, I’ve managed to slay both of those beasts, and today I want to share some of my tips with you.

  1. Write or Die. Coincidentally, I’m writing this blog post using Dr. Wicked’s Write or Die program. If you’ve never heard of it before, Write or Die is a web-based program that nags you to keep writing. If you find yourself getting distracted or taking ages to meet daily word counts, this program may be indispensable. Since I started using it, I think I’ve seen a tenfold increase in overall writing productivity. Settings-wise, I recommend trying Normal Mode and Strict Grace Period, with a goal of 300 words every 15 minutes (something I borrowed from author K.M. Weiland). Try out a couple of different presets to discover what works best for you. Seriously, though, if it weren’t for Write or Die, I never would have gotten Blood and Water written.
  1. Establish a compelling “why.” If you want to write a book or just write something every day, you need to have a reason why. It’s not enough to write because someone is pressuring you to or because you feel like you “should”—you have to find something personally rewarding about it, otherwise you’ll never feel motivated to get the work done. Regardless of your rationale, make sure you know exactly why you want to sit down with your writing each day.
  1. Track your progress. I love progress bars, leveling up, and tracking my progress in general. For all my daily tasks, to-dos, and habits, I use Habitica. It’s a RPG-style productivity app that earns you experience points for doing real-world things like cleaning the house and meeting daily word counts. There have been many times I wanted to sit on my butt, and then realized how close I was to leveling up, so I went ahead and did some work. Trust me when I say that this app can change your life. Another great way to stay motivated is by tracking your writing stats. Scrivener will do this for you, but if you want more, check out NaNoWriMo’s word count feature (for the month of November), this nifty progress bar, or (my current favorite) MyWriteClub, which I learned about from Ava Jae. I love watching the progress bar move as I update my word count each day!
  1. Find a writing buddy. Writing can be a lonely endeavor, but you don’t have to (and shouldn’t) go it alone. I talked about this idea in my most recent vlog. One of the best ways to ensure that you stay on track with your writing goals is to enlist the help of buddies or accountability partners. You can encourage each other, check in, and send updates on your progress. You’d be surprised how much of a difference this strategy makes! If you need a buddy, feel free to add me on NaNoWriMo or MyWriteClub—I’d love to help encourage you!
  1. Treat yourself. If you haven’t seen the Parks and Recreation episode this notion comes from, watch it now. I’ll wait. Rewarding yourself for a job well done is absolutely vital to your progress as a writer. When I finally finished formatting and publishing Blood and Water, I went out and got my nails done. It made me feel fantastic—I never get my nails done—and helped motivate me to start working on my next project. Set up little rewards for daily, weekly, and monthly project goals. Choose things that you don’t do or buy for yourself every day so that you always have something to look forward to.

No matter how you choose to stay motivated and productive, it’s important to find something that works best for your unique process. Feel free to give these suggestions and try and let me know what you think! And if you have any other tips or advice for staying motivated while writing, please feel free to leave them in the comments below!


11811491_10152854599546841_8052592134780564109_n (1)Briana Morgan is YA and NA writer, editor, and blogger who loves dark, suspenseful reads, angst-ridden relationships, and complicated characters. Her interest in Jay Gatsby scares her friends and family. You can find her in way too many places online, eating too much popcorn, reading in the corner, or crying about long-dead literary heroes. Visit her website at www.brianamaemorgan.com.

Her debut novel Blood and Water is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.