My Writing Goals for 2021

In 2019 I gave myself seven writing goals to accomplish by this time, this year. I completed every single one of them! Ha, no. That would be a lie *insert clip of Maury reading lie detector results in front of a live audience.*

The shutdowns in early 2020 really put a damper on my earliest planned goals. Let’s revisit My Seven Writing Goals for 2020 real quick before moving on to what I’ve got planned for 2021.

1. Finish Project Firedamp

Considering the fact that Project Firedamp is now shelved and saved onto my external hard drive, it’s safe to assume I didn’t accomplish this particular goal. While I’m sad that my original project – this idea began my writing journey and encouraged me to launch this site – is a bit beyond my reach right now, it’s always an ever-present thought in the back of my mind. So, who knows? Perhaps I’ll revisit Firedamp in the future.

2. Tour More Historical Sights

I finally managed to tour the industrial, historical city of Johnstown, Pennsylvania back in September. Before everything shut down, I had local coal mines, area farms, a blast furnace, and a local observatory on my “to tour” list in late Spring. Every Forth of July, my family and I also take a steam train trip either within Pennsylvania or somewhere close in the tri-state area. I count myself lucky that we were still able to visit Johnstown. I hope more historical sights are able to reopen in 2021.

3. Bring More Story-Themed Decor Into My Home

Shortly after writing the original post I realized something about myself. I prefer practical, vintage elegance over Victorian-esque objects that may not even work. What changes have I made this year? I no longer watch television, so my living room’s now a library. Yay!

4. Visit the Library of Congress for a Day

Okay. This one hurt more than all the others. It was to be the first trip I’d ever take by myself. I was going to get an AirBNB close to the Mall and work on a manuscript in the Library of Congress. And, perhaps, reenact that one scene from the first National Treasure film. Maybe I still can this time next year?

5. Build a Paper Organizer

I nixed this idea around June or July as I had the opposite problem with all the shut downs – I was working way too much due to my company’s status as an essential business. As a result, my DIY and crafting projects got pushed to the wayside. Instead, I now have plans to build a baking area. We’ll see how that goes…

6. Write in Tennessee (aka go on vacation)

This turned into the aforementioned Johnstown trip. I still need to go back to Tennessee

7. Hand Copy a Novel

Yeah – I didn’t complete this either. 2020 wasn’t a good year for me and I really lost momentum with my writing…

My Writing Goals for 2021

If I learned anything in 2020 it’s that life can throw us unrelenting curve balls. I spent much of these past twelve months disappointed in my sudden inability to write.

1. Work on my Self Doubt

For some reason I found myself in a state of denial for much of 2020. I thought, “Naw. I’m fiiiiiiiine. This covid thing isn’t affecting me. I’m just going about life all normal.” When August hit, and I still hadn’t written a thing, I became incredibly discouraged and almost deleted absolutely everything. While I did accidentally delete EVERY BACKUP FILE FOR THIS SITE from my hard drive with no hope of getting it back, I did safely store everything I had concerning Project Firedamp on Google Docs for future use.

In the meantime, two new ideas came to me in recent weeks. And each of them are polar opposites of them. I know many authors dabble in multiple genres; but I’ve yet to complete one project. So my first writing goal for 2021 is to tackle my self doubt head on.

2. Set Aside Actual Writing Time

This goal will be a tricky one to work out. Why? My work schedule follows the trends and rules of the retail business. It’s never consistent. I can close one night only to go back in eight hours later and do it all over again the next morning. How the heck is someone like me supposed to find a logical time to write?

Even though I pride myself on being a chameleon of sorts when it comes to varying schedules, I often wish I could become a creature of predictable habits. The other thing I need to learn to balance is how much time I spend blogging. Blog posts ≠ a completed manuscript. (Except, according to the Insights page, I’ve so far written 59,949 words for anotherhartmanauthor.com). That’s practically a novel right there!

So this goal is two fold: set aside time for novel writing, and time for blog writing.

3. Go On Those Historical Adventures

Of course this goal will all depend on what reopens in 2021, but I still want to write for a day in the Library of Congress, stare at the heavens from a local observatory’s telescope, and take that steam train trip again on the Forth of July. I still want to return to Tennessee, go spelunking in a Pennsylvanian coal mine, and tour a sight that plays an integral role in my very first novel concept.

4. Finish. That. Manuscript.


Everybody I’ve talked with recently has said they look forward to 2021. And the feeling is quite mutual. I think four writing goals is a manageable, attainable list, don’t you? Seven was definitely far too many, especially for a year like 2020.

This website’s first series will begin Wednesday, February 3rd. I love doing these writing community interviews because, not only do they give me something to look forward to during the slow crawl to Spring, but I get to meet many new faces. So while the Five Question Interview series isn’t exactly a goal, it definitely will help my ever-present self doubt. Will you try something new for yourself in 2021?

What is it?

You don’t have to tell anyone.

Just do it!


Why Historical Fiction Matters (to me)

Cliches. There are so many cliches that come to mind when you’re trying to figure out how to start a blog post about writing (in general). It falls under that “nothing new under the sun” mantra.

It’s like comparing every scifi show or book you read to the “Big Three” of the genre – Star Trek, Star Wars and Dr. Who. If you’re a long time reader of this blog or my Twitter, you already know that I’m more than a bit dorky.

My dork levels in science fiction aside, I’ve come to realize a new passion in my own writing journey – researching Pennsylvania history. Have you ever watched those shows on the Discovery or History Channels and wonder why they interview experts on seemingly crazy topics?

It’s because this world is HUGE. That might be a common sensical statement, but how can a historian possibly know EVERYTHING, unless they’ve got an incredibly high IQ? That’s definitely not me. And I know “sensical” isn’t even a word.

So when I got the idea for The Firedamp Chronicle series I knew right away that research would be involved. Intense research. To run the risk of including a cliche here, “In order to write history, you need to know history.” I’m paraphrasing that, of course, but I didn’t even feel qualified to write any of it until I knew about it. So here are three reasons why writing historical fiction matters to me personally.

To Not Forget

On September 11, 2001, the world witness horrific loss of life during the attacks on the World Trade Towers, the United States Pentagon, those on Ground Zero and those on the affected flights. I was in my 9th Grade Physical Science class when it happened. In high school. My dad can count with his fingers how many events in history he remembers. Things like the assassination of JFK, when the Berlin Wall Fell and when the Challenger Explosion happened.

There are many who will never know them like those who saw them unfold their eyes. That’s why I choose to learn more about my own State’s history (ahem…Commonwealth…but that’s just a Pennsylvanian technicality). Which leads to the next point:

To Learn Something New

There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know.

Harry S. Truman

Libraries. They’re fantastic places, right? You can check out anything you want and no one will judge. And, depending on the size of your library, they usually have a rather sizable non-fiction department. Section 975. That’s where I found myself for three years in Pennsylvanian history. I emailed the research team at the Library of Congress for tiny details and I borrowed books from institutions outside the Allegheny County system.

Because I was learning things about my own city, county and state I never knew existed.

The more I learned the more I realized how watered down the courses I took in grade school and college really were. Sure, I learned new things there, but you can easily spend a whole semester on a topic like “Christmas Traditions from Around the World” and still just graze the surface.

If you’re going to write about history, KNOW that history. Know it inside and out. Backwards and forwards. All the way through. That way, when you’re asked about why you chose specific events or a specific time period, you’ll be able to satisfy their curiosity.

To Hone Research Skills

Call me OCD if you like, but I love going down the rabbit hole of research. As I mentioned earlier, I learned to utilizes resources I never even knew existed before beginning this journey.

In high school I was never a concise writer. To this day I have to work long and hard to get a sentence write. (I’m going to leave that because that’s such a Freudian Slip! I totally meant to use the word “right”).

Not only have I been researching countless people, events, the origins of objects and the like, I’ve also been *attempting* to reteach myself the English language. I’m sure my fallacies are evident in this blog post but I’m working on them. Just like I’m learning to hone my research skills to keep myself focused on the subject and not irrelevant things.

So there you have it. Three reasons why I write historical fiction. There are more but that would make this post far too long and you may/may not lose interest!

Do you write? What genre? Why did you choose it? Knowing the answers to these questions will guide you through your own writing journey. I wish you luck as you find your niche, your drive and success!


Facing It | Author Envy

Have you been able to pinpoint exactly why your favorite authors are, in fact, your favorite? Is it their writing style? Their genre? How active they are on their social media? What they do looks easy when you’re reading it, doesn’t it? They can pump out a new book every year or two so you decide that you can do it too.

Then you find yourself sitting in front of a computer or a notebook, the blank page staring you directly in the face and you don’t even know where to begin. and you figure you should read for inspiration. As you read you begin to wonder, “Why didn’t I write that?” The paragraph is brilliantly built, the choice of words perfect, and the prose is spot on. So now you feel even less qualified and you realize it: you have a bad case of author envy.

In this post of Facing It, I’ll be sharing two things that have helped me keep away author envy; learning the craft and practicing the art of patience.

Facing It | Keeping  Away Author Envy
Be gone, you green eyed monster!

  1. Learning the craft
    I am not a seasoned author, so it’s only logical that I have a lot to learn about this industry. My favorite authors have been at it for years and a couple of them aren’t with us anymore. Yet their stories have stayed with me and I continually reread them.When you’re writing, you don’t really have time to sit there and be jealous of someone else’s writing style. You’re developing your own. Finding your own rhythms. Your own time period and your own story lines. You can’t bank off their name if you’re no relation but you can still be inspired by their work.

     

    You can’t bank off their name if you’re no relation but you can still be inspired by their work.

    Just so long as you’re not copying that work.

    You don’t have to learn to be a copywriter, or a publisher or an agent or an editor. There’s too many fields within the publishing world to worry about all that. Learn who you are as a writer first, especially if that’s what you really want to do. Write. If your life leads you in another direction, then you can focus on that.

    Write. If your life leads you in another direction, then you can focus on that.

    The publishing world isn’t as cut and dry as I thought it was, and I’m learning everything the hard way because that’s just how I roll. That also leads into my second topic:

  2. Practicing patience
    I’ve already touched on the topic of patience in a couple of posts on this blog, but patience really is imperative. Think about this. You’ve finally completed all the edits of your manuscript and, unless you’re going the self-publishing indie route, you are still going to have to wait. Wait for replies that may never come to your queries. Wait for your manuscript to come back from an editor. Wait for…Okay, I think I’ve driven that analogy into a grave.Sometimes I wish that the Star Trek world is reality, with avenues of publication like holodecks where writing literally comes to life. (They’re called holonovels). I think it’ll be easier if I just insert a clip here if you’re unfamiliar with Trek:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNCybqmKugAThe difference between the 24th century and our century is that things don’t happen as instantly as that and maybe that’s a good thing. In order to perfect your craft, learn your craft, you need to have patience to accomplish it and finish it well.

     

    Sometimes I wish that the Star Trek world is reality, with avenues of publication like holodecks where writing literally comes to life.


Author envy may be ever present, but it’s what you do with with it that counts. You can either channel it into bettering yourself and your craft or you can quit and be disappointed that you never fully took the plunge.

I prefer channeling it and supporting my fellow authors. I may not be published yet but you can most certainly learn from the experiences of those around you. You’re only human and so are they. They’ve most certainly made mistakes on their way through the publishing world, and you and I will too. Just like in anything, be it family, politics, even stanning your favorite musical artist, keep it civil. Keep it real.

The truth is, you’re just starting to find your voice. They’ve also, probably, been at it a lot longer and have had the time to develop their patterns and rhythms. Love on each other, get to know them, and you’ll realize they’re merely on the same journey you are. So don’t be impatient with yourself. You’ll get there!

Don’t let fear or insecurity stop you from trying new things. Believe in yourself. Do what you love. And, most importantly, be kind to others. Even if you don’t like them.” ~Stacy London


Research It | Covered Bridges

Pennsylvania. The land of bridges. If you read my last post about the different kinds of maps, then you’ll know about topographical maps. If not, then the briefest definition of topography is the “detailed description or representation on a map of the natural and artificial features of an area” and is used mostly in the study of geography. But if you’re familiar with the commonwealth of Pennsylvania at all, you’ll know that it’s a vast region of varied land formations from the Poconos of mid state to the low levels near Philadelphia.

Pittsburgh, located in South Western PA, is known as the City of Bridges. While they’re mostly of steel construction (another nickname of the city being the Steel City…more on that at another time), most of the covered bridges were in rural areas, used for trains or normal walking paths and roads. These days, not many of them survive but there are many covered bridge festivals throughout the year, most of them taking place in our gorgeous fall season.

Can you tell that I am a Pennsylvanian?

Washington County. Green County. Columbia County. Montour County. These are just a few of the places in the Commonwealth that celebrate this important structure.

**These condensed histories brought to you by “Images of America: Pennsylvania’s Covered Bridges” by Fred J. Mollalong with other online sources that will be cited.**


The Covered Bridges of Pennsylvania
#allthebridges

A Condensed History
The first covered bridge in the New World was built in 1805 over the Schuylkill River along one of the main routes out of the city of Philadelphia. Many of them were built over such rivers and needed to be tall enough for barges and other water traffic to travel under. Larger covered bridges even required the traveler to pay a toll to cross it for general maintenance or to offset the cost of building the bridge. Often there would be a general store or post office built next to it.

brandywine.jpgSadly, this isn’t the Brandywine on the way to Hobbiton in “The Lord of the Rings.” Pennsylvania isn’t that special! To Brandywine: www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJUryaDzt9c

The earliest covered bridges were built in Philadelphia with the trend continuing westward, encouraging travel between rural communities and cities. Some were constructed out of stone and could support heavy loads of material goods. However, most were smaller, wooden structures used mostly for foot and vehicular traffic. Because of this aspect, many bridges also had advertisements from shops and companies showcasing services or products, and many were commissioned by companies or other entrepreneurs.

Sadly, not many survive today but those that have are celebrated for their contributions to the communities they serviced. These days, a bridge is seen as a common, basic thing. In America’s earliest centuries, if there wasn’t a bridge, you just didn’t go that way until one was built or you built it yourself.

1806 – King’s Covered Bridge, Middlecreek, Lancaster County
1812 – Colossus Covered Bridge in Philadelphia, PA
1872 – Risser’s Mill Covered Bridge in Mount Joy Township, Lancaster County

Covered Bridges in Modern PA…so to speak
As time moved forward covered bridge construction soon became a thing of the past, morphing into the more modern, steel trussed bridges we see today. Iron and steel were Pittsburgh’s main export for many years, so it was easy for engineers to use the materials throughout Pennsylvania for bridges of all sorts, railroads, ships, and tunnels through mountains. That doesn’t mean that by the 19th century, covered bridges fell into complete obscurity. In fact, their charm and usefulness encouraged many living near them to invest in their upkeep and future use.

Covered bridges were still being used well into the 1930s, such as the Wertz’s Mill Covered Bridge off Route 222 North of Reading, PA. The Davis Covered Bridge, built in 1875, has modern paving inside, as well as the Hollingshead Mill Covered Bridge near Catawissa in Columbia County and the Stillwater Covered Bridge, also in Columbia County. Many of the surviving bridges have either been modernized to accommodate 21st century vehicles or restored using similar materials that would’ve been used at the time of construction for historical preservation.

Train and Trolley Use
Unfortunately, none of these types of covered bridges survived the passage of time in Pennsylvania. Otherwise, as a child of a family fascinated by trains and trolleys, we would’ve most definitely have made a journey to visit at least one of them by now. My grandfather, Louis J. Redman of Pittsburgh, PA, played a role in starting the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum in 1949. He was also a founding member of the Train Collectors Association (TCA) a few years later in 1954. Being born in 1916, he most definitely would’ve seen and used these bridges.

There really isn’t much change between the history of these bridges versus what’s already been discussed, but of course they had to be constructed a bit differently to support the weight of steam engines, its cargo, and house the necessary wires for trolley traffic. On September 30th, 1896, the Columbia-Wrightsville Covered Bridge was destroyed by a category 1 hurricane. I mention this one because it was, uniquely, a rail and road traffic covered bridge. The Pennsylvania Railroad took the width of the river and bay into consideration when they constructed it, but it was later replaced, as many were, by an iron bridge.


Well, that wasn’t the most colorful of histories and maybe not the most interesting, but without bridges in general, we may not have seen as much engineering growth that the Industrial Revolution was built upon. Many working parts had to happen, and advancement in travel only pushed that Revolution in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to another level.

Because, let’s face it. Covered bridges are not only practical, but magical.


Facing It | Publishing Temptations

Patience is a virtue. Have your parents or grandparent or older figure in your life ever said that to you when you were younger and you threw a tantrum when you didn’t see immediate results? That’s what this Facing It post is going to be all about.

Let’s look at the very definition of patience. According to the great cliche, Webster’s dictionary, patience is “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.” Patience is such important topic that it’s even in the Book of Galatians (yep, the Bible), chapter 5, verses 22 to 23a, “22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.” Forbearance is just a fancy word for patience; we don’t need to get into the etymology of all that!

Have patience, and allow yourself time to properly plot, plan and write your story. If you write your book too sloppily, readers can tell. Last summer I purchased an ebook (Don’t ask me which one. I can’t remember the title now. I think I was so annoyed with it that I put it out of my mind!) and it clearly hadn’t been edited well. If I had a paper back or hard cover version, I would’ve taken a red pen to every error I found. It was so bad that I found it hard to concentrate on the story. You don’t want to discredit your story without going through the process first.

Trust me, I get it. You want to publish and publish now. Let me tell you flat out: it doesn’t work that way. It can, but it shouldn’t. So below I’ll be discussing:

Three Temptations that Stem from Impatience
and how I’m working to avoid them.

Temptation 1: Shooting the first few chapters of your novel to every publisher that accepts that kind of submission.

Don’t. Wait. When I had my first several chapters written, this has been my greatest temptation of all. My outline was half written and barely plotted out, only a third of my characters were named and all the conspiracies I wanted include were mere pipe dreams. So even if a publisher or an agent wanted further information about my project, I wouldn’t have been able to provide them with anything more.

My outline was half written and barely plotted out, only a third of my characters were named and all the conspiracies I wanted include were mere pipe dreams.

My impatience was clearly taking over. I asked my already-published uncle a question about that very kind of submission several weeks ago when he was visiting the States from the UK. The look on his face told me all I needed to know before he said it. “Write the story,” he said. “Write the story to tell yourself it first. Then edit. Then find an agent. A well written, edited, and supported manuscript is better than submitting the first draft of anything.”

I known it all along, but I just needed to actually hear it from someone else. Since I’m going the traditional route of publishing, finding an agent to believe in my story as much as I do is going to be a daunting but well-worth it task. And I hope that we’ll not only have a great working relationship, but that they’ll be honest enough to tell me when a manuscript is crap as well (ha!)

Temptation 2: Thinking that your first draft is the most amazing thing you’ve ever written.

That’s going to be the worst thing to listen to, that your first draft is crap. I can’t tell you how many times I tweaked my first chapter before I managed to start writing the second chapter of my current work in progress. I mean, there are countless memes out there jokingly stating how everyone’s first drafts completely, utterly suck.

Do you know how many times I’ve also wondered what the first draft of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone looked like? Or if JRR Tolkien thought his first draft of The Hobbit was glorious in every way? I highly doubt it. Then again, artists of all mediums have been known to be a little eccentric in one way or another!

I have several fellow writers who have amazingly agreed to critique what chapters I have of my first story ever intended for publication. What did I say after they agreed? “I crave criticism, but I haven’t edited it yet!” I was just being honest and they understood that they’re mostly looking at the flow of the story, not necessarily word choice and grammatical errors. I wouldn’t be surprised if they printed an extra copy just to do that though! (I would. Then again, I’m hyper critical of my own work in general).

Temptation 3: Wanting to go into self-publishing right away because you just want to start making money off your writing.

This Temptation isn’t going to talk about the right away portion because we’ve already touched upon that a bit with Temptation 1. Rather, the making money side of things. You’d think this would be the most common sensical (I made that word up) thing, but most artists don’t go into the field with delusions of getting rich off it. Maybe not right away.

Think about your favorite authors for a moment. Are they from the 1700s? 1800s? Or are they more modern? Did their work become recognized before or after their death? After twelve years of publisher submissions? After countless tossed manuscripts? I’m not trying to burst your bubble or douse your enthusiasm; I am trying to highlight the fact that they had to exhibit a great deal of patience in the brutal publishing world.

If you go the agent route, they’re there to negotiate terms for you. Once a manuscript is accepted by a publisher, it’s time to get into the legality of it all. Agents are there to make money themselves, yes, but if they believe in your story as much as you do, they’re going to fight long and hard to get it published so all you have to concentrate on is writing. If you go the self-publishing route, you have to do all the leg work. All the promoting. And you’ll probably dish out just as much $$ you make for good editing or book cover designing.

The point is this: don’t rush things. Writing isn’t a “get rich quick” scheme. It takes patience (surprise surprise), perseverance, and lots and lots of moxy. It may take a while to get noticed but when you do, if I ever personally do, I know I’ll be grateful someone even took the time to read the characters I’m coming to love so much.


All in all, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to seek advice from others in the biz. If they don’t have the answer you’re looking for, I can guarantee they’ll probably know at least the right direction to steer you.

Community is a funny word. When it works well, it works well. When it’s toxic, it’s toxic. Find that small group of confidants, regardless of if they have the time to critique your work, but who can encourage you because they’ve been there/done all that. And make sure you wholeheartedly trust each other. Patience with yourself and patience with others is still a valuable asset. Never forget that.

All in all, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to seek advice. […] Patience with yourself and patience in others is still a valuable asset. Never forget that.


3 Pros for Outlining

There are many things within the authoring world that confuse me, but there’s even more that just makes sense. What might be a necessity for one writer might not even be on the radar for another and vice versa.

I didn’t even know about outlining until a year into my research process. I don’t remember whose Twitter account it was that eventually led me to KM Weiland’s but I came to appreciate her tips and guides and blogs. THEN I discovered that she was a published writer herself with several self-help books on the process – she isn’t just fiction. She’s non-fiction as well.

The more I went through her blog, Helping Writers Become Authors, the more I realized that I really was lacking direction. All I had was the idea, but no idea on how to get from point a to b to c and so on without just abandoning my story all together. From past experience I knew that was my biggest downfall and this time around I want to be published more than ever.

Some, more experienced writers are able to function without the outline structure. They’re the more free-spirited type of writer. The more artsy who has notes and post-its and every inch of their wall or notebook covered from top to bottom with random ideas. Then there’s me. I can’t do that. I need to have a clean work space, I need to be organized, and I need to know exactly where I’m going.

That’s why the outline concept appealed to me from the very beginning, so down below I will be pointing out more pros than cons on the method. I’m sure it’s been discussed on countless other blogs before, but these are just based on my own observations as I’m slowly working through my series.

  1. Some publishers request a copy of your outline.
    It wasn’t until I started looking through that Writer’s Guide book to publishers did I realize that some of those folks actually want a full copy of the outline for your work. I think I saw it pop up more for fiction publishers than non-fiction, but if you already have an outline started and your interested in submitting to a specific place, you don’t have to go back to the beginning of your novel and convert it into outline form. It’s already done and saves you several hours’ (or days, depending on how long your story is) of work. All you may need to do is format it if the publisher requests it and you’re all set!
  2. Even though you may deviate from your outline during the writing process you can always have multiple drafts of the outline.
    While I mentioned I don’t like having multiple notes and post-its earlier in this blog, I don’t shy away from writing in the margins of my physical copies. You should see the first two pages of the first draft of my overall outline – it’s a hot mess of reminders, tips and updates. I’m already working on adding things to my outline that I didn’t have in there before, like certain things a character does or an important subtle hint on what’s coming. I’ll just have to remind myself to print out a new copy once all is said and done and save that version as THE version so I don’t accidentally send a publisher the disjointed original.
  3. Gives you a guide from beginning to end.
    There really isn’t much that needs to be expanded upon with that statement. It says it all right there. An outline’s main purpose is to help guide you all the way through your story from, well, beginning to end [or lack thereof if you’re having a procrastination day!] I felt nearly completely lost without mine. Some days I still feel a bit lost because, let’s face it, I’m creating my own world for someone else to enjoy and that’s a lot of pressure!

Whether you outline or not, whether you fully read this blog post or not, I suspect that we’re all heading towards the same goal of becoming a published author for the first time or you already are and you’re just preparing for your next release. Regardless of your methodology, you need to find what works best for your pacing. Having an outline has helped give me a sense of direction and some sense completion. If you are a new writer I strongly suggest having a read of KM Weiland’s helpful series available on Amazon. (She has no idea I’m plugging this so I swear this isn’t an #ad or anything like that. I just think they’re incredibly useful!)

So don’t worry if you have a day of complete distraction and procrastination. Even seasoned authors have them! Just keep pressing on!


A Case for Research

Every writer has to start somewhere. Every potential author needs to know that they don’t know everything. That, quite honestly, is one of the cold hard truths of the fast-paced publishing world. When I started this book last September, all I had was one tiny idea. One tiny element that would eventually grow to be this beast of a project where I am consistently learning new things.

If you’re going to write about a certain time period, KNOW that time period. You can’t write on the mid 1800s if all you’ve seen on the subject is a single film version of Jane Eyre. You have to immerse yourself in it. Be analytical of the content you find and be extremely picky of what you choose to include in your own nonfiction.

For first-time writers the task can be daunting at first. It was for me when I realized how little I knew. Some authors can pick up their pen and crank out half a novel in a night. Don’t let yourself become discouraged if you find yourself getting stuck. That’s what the research there is for! If you’re not sure what type of hat your character could have worn, or why they believe what they believe, or if the town you chose for your backdrop is the proper setting for your climax, research it.

Another truth: readers will know, and want to know, why you chose the details you put in. Your readers will also be able to pick up on false facts, especially if you’re writing something historical. Granted, it will be your take on events that actually happened, but be prepared to be able to explain the why.

Is research daunting? Yes. But you will not only find connections in the process but gain a wealth of knowledge on your subjects that you may otherwise have never known.


Don’t Worry. Just Write.

If beginning the writing process has taught me anything it is that writing takes time. This has been a hard lesson to learn because I know that I never figured that out when I was a kid. I always wanted the story to magically finish itself or I would play it out in my head and never put it to paper. I am positive that I have written hundreds of stories but was never confident enough to actually write them down.

My uncle often brought books back from his travels. He tours the world as an author, gave workshops and attended them. When he came back he would say, “Now this [book] is really popular in England.” I don’t think that I even have to tell you what one of them was. You could probably figure out that it was the first two books from the Harry Potter series – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. One time he brought back A Wrinkle in Time introducing me to Madeline L’Engle. When I was in high school he brought back Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. But when I read the most was in my childhood. That was when I realized that words can be powerful.

One thing I always appreciated about my parents is that they let me read them. (At one point I also owned almost the entire Star Trek Voyager book series. I wish sometimes that I still did!) I grew up in a Christian household so I often heard of the debates on the series from other parents in church, at school and on the radio. While Harry Potter does, of course, have the “mystical” elements to it so did the entire Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis. We viewed Harry Potter that also taught lessons as well being a well-written story. If you focused all your energy on one negative aspect, your mind can become closed to the other elements also in a story. That “negative aspect” was that some parents felt that the Harry Potter series greatly encourage kids to believe that they too were witches and wizards, poltergeists and goblins.

But is that not what good writing is supposed to do? A good show or film is supposed to do? Not discourage imagination but encourage it, as long as we know it is not real?

But is that not what good writing is supposed to do? A good show or film is supposed to do? Not discourage imagination but encourage it, as long as we know it is not real? That is why it is more than okay to take your time writing your first novel. You want your work to inspire, encourage and entertain. Every writer aims to have that ripple effect – the one where your breakout story will be latched onto by every reader the instant it is picked up. The one where your publisher cannot keep the bookstores’ shelving stocked because it is in such high demand. For most writers it is amongst their first thoughts with the initial keystrokes, ink on paper and pinned post it to a corkboard. The dream is in each word that is misspelled, scratched out and rewritten. The dream is in each scene or action sequence rephrased, completely deleted or moved to another chapter. The dream is in each step of the writing process and with each one of those the worry is there.

That brings me to the other point of my title – Don’t Worry. If you believe in your dream others will see it reflect in you. They will see the hours of hard work you put into it and books of research read. Writing is an art but it also takes time to hone and shape that art into something you know you can be proud of. Don’t doubt yourself because sometimes that is harder to pull yourself out of and you know you will never finish. Don’t worry about all that extra stuff and just WRITE. While networking, finding a publisher and putting yourself out there are all important things, don’t let all that extra stuff get in the way of what you initially started to do: WRITE. Write as though you are not aiming for publication but to begin and end a story. That’s the first step. The other steps will come later but for now work on your craft and don’t let others discourage you. You are your own greatest enemy.

You can do anything you set your mind to, regardless of if you are a seasoned writer or novice prose enthusiast.


Four Pros and Cons of Writing

I threw that wish in the well, and you know for sure I will tell cuz I am ready for this and nothing’s in my way…

Did I really just rewrite the first two lines of Carly Rae Jepson’s Call Me Maybe song to begin this blog post? I believe I did, but the writer in my was happy to do it. This writer is also happy that the top row of the QWERTY keyboard has all the letters to spell the word “writer.” I am too easily amused…

But onward to the topic of today’s blog post, the Pros and Cons for First Time Writers. I don’t think that there is a writer who, at one time or another, thought that they weren’t good enough. I never knew them personally, but I am sure that JRR Tolkein, Stephen King, CS Lewis, JK Rowling and James Patterson all probably wrote something the were not proud of and never published. So for the first time writers out there, let’s look at some. I have grouped the following four points into a “Pro, Con and Resolution” pattern. They’re things I have discovered about my own writing style that I hope you will find useful.

Pro: You ADORE a well-written historical novel and want to write one yourself.

Con: If you love history and want to write a gorgeous piece set in Victorian England, you are writing a historical novel. And if you are writing this type of fiction you better do your research. Why? Because readers are going to analyze it. They’ll know if you don’t know the grammar of that time period, the clothing or locations. That’s part of the challenge, and the fun, for this form of fiction.

Resolution: Do your research. It’s as simple as that. Not to mention you’ll most likely discover something you never knew before, so you’ll write and learn all at the same time. During the process you may also network with historians, library staff and other knowledgeable folks you may never have met otherwise. If you can afford to, travel to the area your novel is set to get immersed into those elements. Of course not everyone can afford the luxury of a plane ticket to France or Germany, but sometimes seeing is believing in your story and can bring new plots to light.

Pro: You LOVE writing but:

Con: You wrote a lot mostly in high school but now you want to write again. Can you really do this?

Resolution: Of COURSE you can! I taking the plunge myself. Don’t let those self-doubts get in the way of progress. Think of it this way: if one of the most hated men in world history can write an autobiography called Mein Kampf, you can most certainly fill the pages of your own. But give yourself time. Don’t dive right in without testing the waters first. I went back to my roots by beginning a short story. It’s no longer short…it’s basically a novella now…but once you start something, FINISH it. I believe that is the toughest thing for any type of artist to do – FINISHing their projects.

Pro: Resources are available in abundance.

Con: Maybe one too many?

Resolution: Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed, which is easy to do in this digital age. You want to network, yes, but make sure you network worth like-minded and trustworthy people. Don’t let the idea of social media and marketing yourself scare you off because you are going to want to sell yourself and your writing to potential readers, authors, publishers, and other online resources. Don’t burn any bridges unless the relationship becomes detrimental to your goals.

Pro: You know your vocab. You took high school English or majored in a librarian or journalistic career

Con: Yet novel writing isn’t exactly your forte.

Resolution: In today’s digital age ANYbody can be a writer, whether it’s a blog post, a journalist position, a news prompt writer, or if you’re like me, you’re shooting to have an actual book published with pages people can turn. If you feel like you need a confidence booster, it’s okay to go back to school. Many colleges and universities offer writing courses and some can even be donne by correspondence. My point here is: we are constantly learning. Even if you think you know how to write there is not one person who can know everything, so don’t take yourself too seriously if you reach those dreaded writer’s blocks. Learn something new, get outside, switch up your work space, and let your mind relax.

From one non-expert to another I hope that this blog has been somewhat useful. I am a new author myself, and this post was also a way to get out of my head the lessons I have learned from the past few weeks. Remember that you can be your own worst enemy when it comes to staying on task. And unless you are already contracted with a publisher, you can set your own pace. What are your pros and cons? Don’t be afraid to critique yourself.

Find what kind of prose makes you happy and run with it. If you dream it, you can do it.

Keep calm and write on!


The Dream that Star Trek Gave Me

I began this journey when I was ten years old. At least, I believe I was around ten. It seems that most of my memories from childhood come from between the ages of seven and ten, and I probably blocked most of my middle school years from memory because that was not the greatest time for me. I hated school. I hated that I couldn’t just read all the time. Yes, I was that kid. The wallflower who would rather read than play during recess. The introvert who preferred to write but not show anyone what she had written. Back then the teachers were “concerned” because I never socialized. And when I did it was with a few people in a one-on-one situation. I was always “that kid” who believed everyone else around her was, well, childish. But apparently now being a writer is cool. I believe everyone can agree that Reading Rainbow and Levar Burton greatly encouraged my generation to read and write and dream. I may not have been the most social kid, but you really can have a balance between the two. As a preteen I never saw that as a possibility, but being in my 30s looking back on childhood, I almost wish that were the case.

I have a confession. I used to write fanfiction. Little did I know that what I would write actually had a name, but my life revolved around science fiction. I adored Star Trek. We would also watch X-Files with Robert Patrick, Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny. I distinctly remember hiding behind my dad’s armchair at some of the scenes, deeming them too obscure and gross for my eyes. Let’s face it, I did the same with The Dark Crystal and some Star Trek episodes. I distinctly remember greatly disliking “The Thaw” episode where takes place inside their minds. A program that was supposed to just entertain the crew placed in stasis became sentient, and I did not want them to kill off my favorite character played by Garrett Wang. It was only season 2! All that aside, I saw something in Star Trek that made me want to write. So I wrote. I wrote short stories, when I got older I joined communities that discussed and debated tech and trek, and made a few friends I still talk with to this day.

There are many themes presented in Star Trek, but I will leave just a few with you today. One: hope. Star Trek encompasses the very ideals that, as a human race, we need to constantly have hope. One of the greatest debates between those who like Star Wars and those who like Trek is that Trek is too “intellectual” to be good viewing. On the flip side there are those who say that Star Wars is just the dumbed down version of Star Trek. Now before I cause a rumble, there are good points to both. With the resurgence of JJ Abrams’ and Simon Pegg’s Trek in the 2000s, I am given hope that a new generation of kids are being inspired by the hope that this genre brings.

In second place comes the theme of dreaming. When Star Trek: The Original Series aired in 1969 the United States was in the midst of a space race with the rest of the world. Even our landing on the moon is a highly debated topic, but space travel was fresh in the minds of everyone, creating the perfect time for a show of Trek’s nature to air. While Lost in Space can be credited with being one of the first to hit airwaves along with Great Britain’s Doctor Who series, Star Trek rocketed (pun somewhat intended!) to popularity.

Fun fact: William Shatner was not the original Captain Kirk. They had aired one pilot episode with Jeffrey Hunter playing the role, so they re-aired the pilot with Shatner as the new Kirk. I wonder if Hunter regrets giving up that role… Just one of the many things a Trekkie such as myself contemplates!

Finally, Star Trek brings to mind the theme of equality. It was common sense when a show about alien races and exploring the stars was dreamt of. Why would they also not include the theme of everyone being on the same playing field. Just look at the original cast – DeForest Kelley, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, James Doohan – the cast that was put together by Gene Roddenberry reflected his dream of an equality. The first interracial on-screen kiss took place on Star Trek, and to this day every crew from The Next Generation to the 2009 Star Trek reboot has carried this them.

Hope. Dreams. Equality. All this, along with my own faith, helped shape the person I am today. You can’t have one without the other. As a quiet kid it encouraged my imagination and showed me that if they can do it, anyone can. For a while I gave up on my dream of being a published author, and even though I will be 31 next month it is never too late to pick right back up and conquer it. It may take a while with two jobs to accomplish now, but I hope you will join me on this journey as I work on my historical novel, The Girl Made of Coal. It is in its infancy stages, but as it grows I will have more to share! So for now I will leave you with this:

Keep Calm and Star Trek On!