Stuck On Your Story? Here Are Fifty Things to do That Have Nothing To Do With Writing

If you’ve spent any time in the blog-o-sphere, or even in any of the online writing communities of Twitter and Reddit, then you’ll know you’re not alone in being in a “writing rut.” The majority of us can’t travel for inspiration. Or do that once planned visit to research in the largest library in the country (my derailed plans from last year – thanks ‘rona).

Here’s the cold hard truth: you have ambitions, yes. But perhaps it’s time to step away from that computer/writing space/etc. and get out of your head. Do something mindless. Do something you used to love and try doing it again. Don’t know what to do? Here’s a list of Fifty Things To Do That Have absolutely Nothing To Do With Writing:

  1. Ride a bike
  2. Go ice skating
  3. Walk the dog (or cat?)
  4. Redo that troublesome closet
  5. Buy yourself flowers
  6. Plan this year’s garden
  7. Learn a new skill
  8. Cook a favorite meal
  9. Take a hot shower/bath (seriously)
  10. Declutter your workspace
  11. Visit a local home improvement store for project inspo
  12. Fix that thing that’s needed fixing for a long time
  13. Zoom with family or friends
  14. Start a blog
  15. Go through your old stories
  16. Watch soap-making videos on YouTube
  17. Get lost in social media (but not too lost. Save your sanity!)
  18. Reread a favorite novel series
  19. Try outlining your own work-in-progress for the first time
  20. Conduct interviews for your characters
  21. Offer to edit a paper or two for students you know
  22. Support small businesses in your area
  23. Find a local charity and see what they’re volunteer needs are
  24. Try your hand at freelance writing
  25. Learn how to use a graphics design program
  26. Build “mood boards” for your characters, or theme boards for inspo
  27. Have a “binge” day – eat the food you want, watch the shows you want
  28. Snuggle with your snuggle buddy
  29. Splurge on all those teas you’ve had your eyes on
  30. Find a new genre of music to listen to
  31. Learn calligraphy
  32. Consider caring for fish. Or plants?
  33. Make a #WIPAesthetic to visualize a character’s emotions
  34. Have a movie night where the film’s themes match your own WIP
  35. Pick a random topic and research research research
  36. Learn needlepoint or knitting
  37. Join a local writer’s group
  38. Plan your spring farmers’ market trips
  39. Clean out the basement or attic (or both)
  40. If you can, offer to shop for a neighbor
  41. Redesign a space in your home
  42. Power wash your drive/walk/siding
  43. Clean out the gutters (you know it’s probably time)
  44. Make a purchase from that shop you’ve been eyeing for a long time
  45. Donate to a food pantry
  46. Pick back up an old family tradition
  47. Create a playlist for your work-in-progress
  48. Go for a run/walk
  49. Find all those things you know relax you and just RELAX
  50. Write letters (yes, old school snail mail)

Looks like SOME of the suggestions have something to do with writing. Writing doesn’t always have to be a chore: constantly drafting, especially when stuck. I used to do needlepoint but often got frustrated and never completed them. Thus, wasting money. A few weeks ago, however, I decided to try again. This time, I bought a pattern where I don’t have to count my stitches. Why do I still enjoy it? It’s really freed up my mind, doing something mindless. You don’t always have to write at warp speed. Slow down. Give yourself a break. And perhaps, perhaps, you’ll find some story inspiration along the way!


18 Links: Revisited // The Ones I Actually Use

Two years have passed since I first put up a post titled 18 Links Any Writer Can Use. Since then, I’ve streamlined my writing process, the links I actually use on a daily or weekly basis, and decided it was time to update that old list. To quote the original post:

With so many voices giving advice (both good and bad),
how do you even begin to choose what’s right for you?

In this 2020 update I’ll share what thoughts I remember from 2018 and why I included it. Keep reading to find out which links withstood the test of time.

85 Hashtags Writers Need to Know | Amanda Patterson

2018: Then I had no idea what social media hashtags were popular in the #writingcommunity. This list looked to be the less intimidating of what I found to share. I didn’t need a 250 point list. Or a 120. Or, or or or or. Eighty-five seemed like a great, low number with just the right variety to get started.

2020: Now I use only a select few. The world of hashtags is its own beast and, unless you’re willing to read through all those threads, those hours online could be better used outlining or working on your manuscript. Find the two or three or four – ones that fit your genre, or ones that truly connect you to others in your field – and stick with them. You can, of course, switch it up.

Do I still use this link? No.

100 Best Websites for Writers in 2018

2018: Then: a confession. I used this link a LOT to compare my site to those most popular. I used to agonize over design, usefulness, the quality of their short stories, and the fact they had published books. It took a while to realize: that’s not what this list is supposed to be used for.

2020: Now, I look at these lists for inspiration and connection to authors and writers I otherwise may have never known. Instead of measuring up my own self worth against those who’ve worked diligently and far longer than I on their writing careers, it’s now a dream. Let’s face it – I’ve got a long way to go!

Do I still use this link? Yes.
But the 2020 version.

Allegheny County Library Association Card Catalog

2018: Then: I used this website a LOT throughout my early research stage. As I didn’t truly know where to begin, it was in 2018 I discovered the term “research rabbit hole,” and my local librarians were more than happy to oblige.

2020: Nowadays I utilize the Library of Congress’ “Ask A Librarian” link. This is mostly due to issues with my car (I don’t trust it to get me that far) and the fact that my library was closed for four months due to the pandemic. While Northland does have an entire row dedicated to Southwest Pennsylvanian history, the information I needed later on in my research journey became increasingly specific.

I’m not saying your local online card catalog isn’t worth it. If you dig deep enough, other equally fantastic resources are most certainly out there.

Do I still use this link? No.

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Oliver Room

“Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh holds many rare and unique collections of historical importance, especially those that illuminate the rich cultural heritage of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania. These historical collections are held at the Main Library in Oakland, as well as in neighborhood libraries throughout the City of Pittsburgh.”

Source – CLP website

2018: One of Andrew Carnegie’s philanthropic goals was to make resources available to the American public. As a result, Pittsburgh has its Oliver Room. I had every intention to make an appointment to visit this special place.

2020: However, as life would have it, I completely forgot about the Oliver Room. I still think it’s a fantastic thing to have resources such as this. It’s always worth it taking a look into your own town’s or city’s historical archives. Do I still hope to visit for a future project? You bet!

Do I still use this link? No.

The Editor’s Blog: How to Format Your Manuscript

2018: Then, when I shared this in 2018, it was already out of date as it was posted in 2011. This is still a useful guide, but if you’re in the submission phase to agents or publishers, keep in mind that each one may have their own requirements for manuscript formatting.

2020: Now, as I’m nowhere near that dreaded querying stage, I ignore everything but the basics for formatting.

Do I still use this link? No.
Instead, I use this link. I don’t know when it was put up,
but I have to believe it was within the last two years.

Grammar Girl

2018: Then, I thought I was going to use this site so, so much. As it turns out, I prefer physical books for my non-fiction over electronic resources. Ones I own. Ones I can highlight and put post it notes all over.

2020: Now, as I get easily overwhelmed when I read informational blogs, I don’t visit as much as I used to. Mignon Fogarty’s mind still fascinates me with how many useful podcasts and tweets she puts out. So go check her website out if you’ve got any grammar-related questions.

Do I still use this link? No.
I do still follow her Twitter account here.
And now I’m questioning the validity of my own grammar in this blog post….

Heinz History Center

“The Heinz History Center is more than just one building. Part of The Smithsonian network, its main focus is Southwestern Pennsylvania.”

2018: Then, all I had to say about this history center was what’s above. In actuality, I only included it because I hoped to utilize its resources. I never did.

2020: Now? I still haven’t used it. Including the link in the original post was part of a grand research project I wanted to do. That project no longer exists.

Do I still use this link? No.

Historic Pittsburgh

2018: Then, my exact words were “Tired of seeing Pittsburgh themed links? I promise, I’m nearly done highlighting my city! […] The fact that there’s so many organizations dedicated to preserving its history, with so many people interested in its history, should come of no surprise as to why my first novel series will include it.”

2020: Now, after many many many revisions, I don’t know how it would work. What I wrote following the aforementioned statement is still true: “Historic Pittsburgh is supported by The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Chatham University Archives and many others to pool resources for research and preservation. Everyone sees history through different eyes, so it’s a good thing that there’s more than one organization preserving our past. Check with your local city to see if they have sources you may not have thought of.”

Do I still use this link? No, but I wonder: would it be a great tool for my grandma’s ancestry research?

Janice Hardy | Fiction University | Critique Groups

2018: Then, my introverted self would never even have considered joining a critique group.

2020: My still introverted self has yet to join. I’m also still far from any sort of critique stage (and I shelved that 2018 novella), but I do peruse the articles from time to time. I also wonder if I’ll ever be brave enough to join up. Directly from Ms. Hardy herself,

“This is for writers who are looking for critique partners or critique groups for more than just “I need some eyes on this before I submit it to an agent” type critiques.”

Do I still use this link? Yes.

Library of Congress Ask A Librarian

2018: In 2018 I’d no idea how valuable a resource this would become…

2020: …and now? I send them questions and topics I need assistance with several times a month! Their staff is fantastically thorough and I cannot recommend them enough.

Also, as I was unable to visit my local library earlier this year, I was still able to send Ask A Librarian questions save for a short period when they were closed as well.

Do I still use this link? Absolutely! One caveat: if the government’s shut down, this resource will be unavailable for the duration of that shut down.

LitRejections

2018: Back then I’d no idea how publishing works. I only knew of this phrase, “my query received another rejection,” and didn’t even know what a query was.

2020: Today I’m a bit more versed in *some* of publishing’s inner workings (the unagented, unpublished side of it), and learned it’s best to encourage other writers/authors than think of them as your competition. But that’s a blog post for another day.

“LitRejections was founded with the sole purpose of encouraging writers as they go through the rigorous process of becoming a published author. They offer several types of critiques, links to agencies in particular countries, interviews with folks deep within the writing industry and encouragement through their social media.”

Do I still use this link? No, but most definitely will when I hop into the dreaded “query trenches!”

The No. 1 Rule for Flashbacks in a Story Opening

2018: Back in 2018 I wrote: “Flashbacks. When done well they can provide important insight into a character’s motives or actions. They also run the risk of providing far more backstory than what the reader truly needs to know. It’s a tricky business, deciding to add a flashback, dream sequence or something equally vague at the beginning of a story. Contributor Peter Selgin takes us through several scenarios on what to include and what not to include. And when. A very useful post indeed.”

2020: Nowadays I barely write flashback scenes. It’s not that I find them completely unnecessary. It’s because flashback scenes scare me. What tense should they be written in? Should I introduce a new character within the flashback? Is the flashback actually necessary? Any time I find myself thinking about adding one, I revisit this link.

Do I still use this link? Yes, especially if I need a refresher.

Most Common Writing Mistakes: Characters Who Lack Solid Story Goals

2018: Back then Miss KM Weiland appeared a lot on this site. She was one of the first folks I connected with when I revamped my Twitter account.

2020: Now I don’t remember if I bought her books on writing first, or communicated through DMs first. However it happened, I’m glad to have found her site. Her posts, like the one above, are some of the best I’ve found. And it doesn’t matter if you’re brand new or if you’ve been “in the biz” for a long time. There’s certainly something there for everyone.

Do I still use this link? Yes.

The Past Tense in English

2018: It was in 2018 I realized I needed to go back to school. Back to my high school English classes and revisit my language’s confounding grammar rules. Here’s a cold hard truth: I’m not the only one who struggled with it. My troubles were quite evident to my beta readers who didn’t know what they were in for when they agreed to read early versions of FOR ONE NIGHT (my now-shelved novella).

2020: Two years later I’d like to think I’ve improved. No one’s seen my writing since then (save these blog posts). I guess I’ll find out when I begin a search for my next group of betas. Remember: It’s okay to not know everything about writing. It’s a whole beast on its own!

Do I still use this link? Yes.

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Archives
Query Tracker
What Kind of Author Are You?
All three of these are no’s.


Whew! What a list! As with anything subject to the passage of time, I think it’s safe to say I’ve outgrown this list.

Perhaps a future post will contain new, more current resources? Tip: Find that perfect combination of resources which fit your needs and run with them.


Why Now is A Great Time to Start a Blog

Blogs are to the Internet as quills and ink are to writing. Blogs have been around for a long time, but with the introduction of new tools, plug-ins, and easier access to web hosts, they’re easier than ever before to build, maintain and analyze. Is that the only reason why I say now is the perfect time to start one? Absolutely not.

With many of us affected by current world events, more people than ever are searching for new content to divulge in. Blogs help us find like-minded hobbyists, or fellow fans of a favorite television show or musical group, and so on. Use this interesting time to connect with others and learn something new in the process. You don’t need to be an expert to start a blog.

There is a learning curve when it comes to building a great site, an audience, and a social platform. Don’t let the idea of learning something new dissuade you! And don’t worry – you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to get started either. Are you feeling up to the challenge? Everyone has to start somewhere, so let’s take a look at five steps that can help you along your way.

Step 1: Search Out Other Blogs.
This is where the content creator proverbial rabbit hole begins. A specific topic search is the best way to find out what other creators are putting out. Do you knit, organize or read? How about cooking, drawing or baking? Is cross stitch your thing or do you adore fairy gardens?

While there’s quite a menagerie already lending voices to their respective communities, don’t be afraid to add your own! If, at this point you just want some new resources to glean from, then skip the rest of this article! What? What’s that? You still want to dip a toe in? Great!


It can be very easy, when creating online content, to copy or mimic someone else’s work. It’ll be tough, at first. Have patience. You’ll definitely find your own voice. That doesn’t mean you can’t be inspired by other creators. Give credit where credit is due and source your resources.


Step 2: Decide On Your Content.
What are you the most passionate about? What do you want to discuss or dive into the most? Lifestyle content is a growing, dare I say it, industry. There is, however, a Even more specialized content on platforms like YouTube is shifting to daily vlogs – or video blogs – in which viewers can see another way of life.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg; just an example of what you can do. Personally, I’ve never enjoyed being in front of a camera. I’m a writer, so the braod topic of writing was the most obvious route for me.


You will experience a lot of trial and error as you grow your platform. Don’t be discouraged if an idea doesn’t pan out. Example: I once tried maintaining a Korean pop music site. While I enjoy the genre, my passion for running the site quickly died. I still listen to kpop on a daily basis, but my true passion lies with writing.


Step 3: Pick Your Platform(s).
These days, many platforms are free-to-start to give users the chance to explore and decide if that host is right for them. The only host I use is WordPress, and I have a Premium Membership. It took a year of use to take the plunge, but I’m awfully glad I did. I just wish they had a plan between Premium and Business. I’d like to use plugins, but I don’t need eCommerce tools. That’s when user feedback becomes an important tool for the site host. Find one that works well with your ideas. There’s no harm in having multiple accounts. Remember: Don’t spread yourself too thin. Start slow and work your way from there.

Below are ten examples each of video and web site hosts for you to peruse.

Video Hosts

Web Hosts

*I’ve included parent companies in case you’d rather not be associated with them for any reason.
**If a parent company isn’t listed, that host is privately owned.

Unless you’ve gone to school or video editing and filmography, or you’re self-taught, you may want to begin with a web host blog instead of a vlog. I only mention that form for those who are better speaking words rather than writing them.

Okay. Have you chosen your host? Let’s move on to the next!


Feeling overwhelmed at the start of something new is natural
and completely normal.


Step 4: Utilize Social Media.
Admit it. You groaned reading this step. However, social media’s grown to become an integral part of daily life. Let’s face it – there isn’t a single social media site that’s clean as a whistle when it comes to reputation. You have to choose what’s right for you. I use Twitter on the daily; Facebook isn’t in my vocabulary; MySpace who?; Snapchat and TikTok? I’ve no idea how to use those.

Picking what social media to use can be more overwhelming than finding your home base platform. Of course, you don’t have to use it at all. But it’s much easier to connect and share your creativity with potential readers through shared links and tailored updates. If you found this blog, you probably did so through Twitter, or WordPress’ Reader.

The point of the matter is, you don’t need an account with every offering. In fact, having more than two or three typically cuts productivity and increases procrastination if not utilized properly. My perfect storm is Twitter and Pinterest, with minimal involvement on Instagram.


Social media can be an incredibly effective tool.
Don’t let it distract you from accomplishing your life goals.


Step 5: Learn to Use Graphics to Your Advantage.
Humanity is a very visually influenced species. Last year I stumbled upon the Yes, I’m a Designer website in search of ideas for my own creations. As with anything, protect your work, and be cautious in what sources you pull your graphics for posts from. (I’ll leave the subject of copyright up to the experts). Since 2012, I’ve created graphics for church, my own fan fictions (when I wrote them), and, eventually, this site.

I use BeFunky. It’s $6.99 a month (cheaper than a Netflix subscription), and includes large libraries of stock images, design elements, filters, and other design tools. If you want to go this route, here are some great web based graphic design programs you don’t even need a degree to use. Some are more advanced than others.

All these sites offer different skill levels from novice to advanced. As with anything, choose what course is right for you.


Well, now. After all that, are you still interested in blogging?

I’m not going to lie – keeping a blog is a lot of work. With creativity, persistence and a little luck, you can hone your little corner of the Internet into a cozy place you love.

Hapy blogging!


The First Ten Bookmarks in My Writing Folder

Quick links, bookmarks and folders, oh my! If you’re a writer who prefers keys at your fingertips rather than a typewriter, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. Bookmarks are incredibly useful things when you want to save a link for future referral in your web browser, or even as an icon on your desktop.

Last night, when I should’ve been sleeping, I decided to go through all, and I mean ALL, my bookmarks. I organized them, deleted a couple dozen, and rediscovered old favorites. As you can see, I’m definitely one of those folder//folder//folder people!

So it got me thinking – what are the top ten bookmarks in my list? Not my most used, as those are in a different blog post you can read here if you like.

For me, these links aren’t even what was added first or last, because I recently alphabetized them. I’m sure you know, just by that, how I keep the books on the shelves in the office! I’m also certain you’ll quickly ascertain what time period my work in progress is set in. With, ahem, many folders to choose from, I decided to go with my Research folder, and skip all the “1892/3” links.

1. “Writing Accents and Dialects” via Quick and Dirty Tips
I apologize for the ad-riddled website, but I suppose they’ve gotta make their money somehow. (I recently had to remove an adblock extension because it was using SO much RAM that all tabs kept refreshing). Ads aside, this is still a great resource for first time writers attempting to capture somewhat difficult character traits on paper.

2. Age.
I went through a phase where I was trying to boil down all my links into one word descriptions, as I hate super long bookmark links in my drop down menus. The proper title for this bookmark is “45 Buttoned-Up Facts About The Victorian Era.” Many things on this list I already knew, but some facts still surprised me. Have a read if you love all things Victorian!

3. Allegheny Observatory
While the history of the Allegheny Observatory isn’t as colorful as the rest of these links, it’s still fascinating. I never knew the observatory’s backstory, and my church attended sunrise services there during the Easter season for years. You don’t have to look far and wide to learn. Sometimes the richest tidbits of history are right outside your doorstep.

4. Gaelic and Irish Blessings
In an effort to be as true to history without falling into the oh-so-cliche trap, I looked up SO many cultural references during my initial research phase. First sad truth: the “trap” is painfully obvious, especially in things like historical tv shows. The second sad truth: while America in the 1800s was a great melting pot of ethnicity and religion, prejudice and separation reigned supreme. Ever wonder why loads of major cities have “German Townes” or areas heavily populated by one group? (Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill comes to mind). Okay. I greatly digressed here. Dive deep into the heritages represented in your city and you’ll find out surprising things.

5. The Canal That Made Pittsburgh Great
Modern roadways in Pittsburgh can be treacherous to navigate, but did you know that its historical landscape was full of trains, tracks, canals and rivers? Before my town became known as “The City of Bridges,” it was serviced by all other forms of freight-carrying machines. It’s hard imagining a canal where a popular tourist and commerce destination now sits. It followed E. General Robinson Street and curved around where PNC Park was completed in 2001. Oh there’s some exciting history right there!

6. Phrases & Abbreviations Catholics Use
Growing up in the Christian churches/Churches of Christ, I only ever knew, well, Scripture of course, but we never attended a Catholic Mass or learned Latin phrases. As religion was very much a part of daily life for Victorians, and certainly Victorians in Southwest Pennsylvania, it’s important to know what role religion could’ve played in your character’s life.

7. Historical Emporium – A Victorian Portrait Gallery
Fashion changed constantly, and dramatically, throughout the Victorian era. When my WIP was a three part series, spanning thirty years of history, I’d no idea how I was going to nail down general information like fashion. Of course, that’s what I first thought about fashion; that it was general. However, it’s as intricate a topic as anything else in the era! Sites like Historical Emporium are fantastic resources for historical fiction writers.

8. Victorian Crime & Punishment – The Development of a Police Force
If you’ve done any historical research, I’m sure you’ve come across the name Allan Pinkerton. Heck, there’s even a one season show on Netflix called The Pinkertons (it made me cringe so hard, but it’s there). While we can’t deny Pinkerton’s contribution to institutions like the CIA and FBI, histories of other forces have always fascinated me.

9. Victorian Decorating Colors | LoveToKnow
At one time I was working on a short story web series for this site. If you know any history of the Southwest PA area, you know smog reigned supreme. All I can think about is muck, steel and smoke. What I oft forget is the Victorian’s love of color. One day I may revisit The Gilded Conspiracy. For now, Project Firedamp is my main focus! And it’s time to include some COLOR in with the fire.

10. Delicatessen
Back when my story was going to take off out of New York City, I really wanted to research the history of delis in the United States. Unfortunately, I don’t recall when any of the MCs were going to visit one. Or maybe someone’s parent was going to own a delicatessen in Germany? Either way, it was an idea nixed early on but I somehow saved the bookmark.

And there you have it. The first ten links (so to speak!) in my writing folder. They may not be my most used, but they’re so dang informational that they were never deleted.

What are the first ten bookmarks in your writing folder? I’m curious to know! Happy writing and, if I don’t get another blog up before Christmas, have a safe and happy New Year!


How To Maintain a Writer’s Website

After building up anotherhartmanauthor.com since 2016, there’s a few things I’d like to share about what’s worked for my site’s style, or even “brand.” That’s exactly what your website is – a visual representation of who you are as a writer.

The only prior experience I had with such things is my church’s website. For two years I built it up, made sure the public knew about upcoming events, and let them know what we were all about. While I still attend services there, I couldn’t do three sites (I also help with a local nonprofit website). Each one takes loads of time, and not everyone has it to maintain a site.

The truth is, a lot of agents and publishers are looking to see if you have an online presence. And, while it absolutely isn’t a necessity, they do want to see if you have an outlet to, eventually (if you haven’t already) market your work. That’s exactly why I referred to your site as being your brand. It all comes full circle.

I’ve maintained this site for three whole years. I tried to be clever enough to name this article “Three Tips On Maintaining a Writer’s Website,” but I thought of a few more items as things progressed. So here are, ahem, four tips on how to maintain a writer’s website:

Look for a Platform YOU Understand and WANT to Use
You don’t have to understand how things work right away. You know about “author envy,” right? Where you get jealous of folks who’re already further along in their publishing journey than you are? The same can be said for “website envy” as well.

I’ve tried MySpace, Blogger (fair warning, Blogger makes it INCREDIBLY difficult to delete one’s account), and several others. WordPress works the best for my current needs, with ample opportunities and outlets to expand later on. That’s a key – being willing to grow as you grow. Your website grows as you add more content.

Be willing to learn. Be willing to grow.

Let’s face facts, shall we? You can spend an entire day on one social media site and not get any actual work done. All those cute cat gifs can wait. They’ll always be there. You also don’t need to have an account with every single outlet either. If you like Twitter, Pinterest and Goodreads, use that combo. If Facebook and NetGalley and Wattpad are your thing, run with them.

Here’s the first take away: The great thing with *most* of the aforementioned sites is they offer ways of connecting you from one platform to the next. Some keep up with the “trends” more than others, but at least they give users the opportunity to showcase their chosen networks.

Read Other Blogs
Creating content, building an online presence, and doing any of the following tips isn’t everyone’s forte. Much of it I learned through trial and error – what works and what doesn’t, what takes up TOO much time and what’s just right. Okay, that last sentence sounds like I paraphrased Goldilocks and the Three Bears. But trust me, you’ll know when you’ve discovered your niche, and that it’ll be just right for you.

Admission: I’m not as good with this as I’d like to be. Just as I’m terrible in not keeping up with my NetGalley book review list. One way I’m attempting to remedy this is including a Blog Round Up section in my new monthly eNewsletter called The Bulletin. Five seemed like a good choice, and coincides with the Five Question Interview series. The similarity being with the number five.

The take away is my next point:

Be Consistent and Follow Through
Updates, short stories, blog posts, online series…the list of content you can include on your site goes on and on. and the like, readers appreciate at least some consistency

Don’t bite off more than you can chew.

I tried writing oodles of short stories just so I’d have some content. What did I find? That my focus was torn between concepts, worlds and characters that had nothing to do with each other. It drove my OCD crazy, so I stopped. I may post something here and there, but short stories really aren’t necessary.

Honesty. I think most folks appreciate it. Those who don’t usually have ulterior motives. This past Spring I hosted The Five Question Interview series. To be completely transparent, I almost quit halfway through. Did I bite off more than I could chew? Perhaps. Am I glad that I followed through? You betcha.

Here’s the next take away: If you start a series or a project, and you know folks are following your progress, let them know if you decide to scrap it. Or if you’re taking a break to reset.

Stick with an aesthetic
This logically follows the previous tip in consistency. You know those image collages folks make for their works in progress? I think one of the more popular ones is called #WedWIPAesthetic, or something along those lines. Here’s a tip-within-a-tip:

Think of your website as a template for how you want your future book covers to look. What era are your stories set in? Are they modern or more historical? Are they light in theme or urban and gritty?

The great thing about photo editing sites like PicMonkey, BeFunky, Ribbet and Pixlr (just to name a few), is their versatility. Many of them offer a free version you can practice on. Can you layer things? Add filters, text and specify dimensions (many sites have different graphic requirements).

Make friends with your web host’s tech team (if they have one), because they KNOW things (or should know things) like CSS coding, widgets, and tweaks you might not think of.

Make friends with your web host’s tech team (if they have one)

Here’s the last take away: You don’t have to use the same graphics everyone else is, or pay someone else to develop a website for you. The great thing about having control is that you can grow it at your own pace, without depending on anyone else to do the legwork for you.

After all that was said here, I’ll leave you with one final tip: you don’t need a fancy SEO, a team of developers or even a paid account with a web host. What matters most is how comfortable you feel putting yourself out there so visibly through a website. And give yourself time to learn, develop and gain a sense of identity in this online world.

I’m not gonna lie. I had loads of help with this thing that you see before you. Don’t forget, however, the most important thing – your writing.

Everything else is secondary.

Even a website.


18 Links Any Writer Can Use

To be borderline cliche with this post’s opening statement, the Internet can be a vast, confusing place. With so many voices giving advice both good and bad, how do you even begin to choose what’s right for you? So, then, how can you trust anything I have to say?

I didn’t mean to go all philosophical with this post, but it went there. It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, my most recent being 62 Things I’ve Decluttered or Stopped Buying. And it’s not even about writing! I do a lot of tweaking on my website. Probably more than I should.

Earlier this evening I revisited the Quick Links page I put up many moons ago. Granted about half of them are regional in respect to where I live, but I still think they’re useful to anyone digging into history or research of any kind. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is a historical, informational hub, and I hope to one day add my stories to it. For now, here are 19 Links Any Writer Can Use.

1. 85 Hashtags Writers Need to Know | Amanda Patterson

Social Media. Niches. Hashtags. I’d like to think I’m a savvy enough individual to keep up with these things, but when you consider every type of platform out there, you realize that it’s physically impossible to keep up with all that plus your writing. I didn’t even know the #histfic tag that I now use from time to time. Here’s the thing. There are so many tags, communities and connections out there that it can get confusing very quickly. This post helped me narrow down my options and I still use those tags to this day.

2. 100 Best Websites for Writers in 2018

Okay, yes. I’m aware that it’s 2019. We’re 3/4 of the way through the year and soon it will be 2020. Regardless, Dana Sitar via The Writer Life covers a variety of topics in the list, giving everyone a chance to shine. From Nicole Bianchi and Re:Fiction to Comps & Calls and Enchanting Marketing, this is a great resource no matter the year. Take a look and maybe you’ll find some gems that’ll help your journey.

3. Allegheny County Library Association Card Catalog

While I can be quite nostalgic in that I miss the era of paper card catalogs – pulling tiny wooden drawers open, cards made up with typewriters, and “return by” inked on by a stamp – I do have to take a moment to show my appreciation for the ACLA Card Catalog system. During the initial research phase of Project Chronicles I used them a lot. And I mean a LOT. I reserved books, was able to request books from other counties, or from libraries within Allegheny I wouldn’t have had time to visit. I’d definitely suggest joining your local library system. They’re incredibly helpful and know how to dig up things you may not.

4. AskHerePa

This link banks off the ACLA one in that it’s another librarian based resource. I don’t know if this is a federally funded or state funded thing, or if it’s available in every state, but Pennsylvania has a fantastic resource that anyone can use. With options to chat online, access to e-resources and more, I used this several times when trying to find info on a Pittsburgh landmark which no longer exists. So it may be worth it seeing if there’s a system similar to AskHerePa in your area.

5. Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Oliver Room

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh holds many rare and unique collections of historical importance, especially those that illuminate the rich cultural heritage of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania. These historical collections are held at the Main Library in Oakland, as well as in neighborhood libraries throughout the City of Pittsburgh.

One of Andrew Carnegie’s goals was, through philanthropy, make resources available to the American public. The same American public who worked in his mills and places he had connections to. As a result Pittsburgh has its Oliver Room. They preserve historical documents and gives patrons an opportunity use them in a safe environment. The other thing I find really cool about them is that they have genealogy records, rare books and Pennsylvania topographical maps. One of these days I need to take a day and explore this great resource.

6. The Editor’s Blog: How to Format Your Manuscript

I confess. This one might be a titch out of date, as it was posted in 2011. Dear Lord, that’s eight years ago! I’m sure much more than a “titch” has changed. This is still a useful guide, but if you’re in the submission phase to agents or publishers, keep in mind that each one may have their own requirements for manuscript formatting.

7. Grammar Girl

Grammar Girl was also mentioned on the 100 Websites for Writers List 2018 (linked above). There’s a reason for this. She covers a variety of writing topics regarding words and punctuation. She covers things I wouldn’t even think of and I learn something each time I visit. Definitely check out Grammar Girl!

8. Heinz History Center

The Heinz History Center is more than just one building. Part of The Smithsonian network, its main focus is Southwestern Pennsylvania. There’s the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum, Fort Pitt Museum the Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village…I think I’ll stop there. They are experts on knowledge of my region in the United States, and I’m grateful for the work they do. They also post a weekly blog centered around historical events most may not know happened.

9. Historic Pittsburgh

Tired of seeing Pittsburgh themed links? I promise, I’m nearly done highlighting my city! But Pittsburgh is one of the most historical cities on the Eastern seaboard. The fact that there’s so many organizations dedicated to preserving its history, and so many people interested in its history, should come of no surprise as to why my first novel series will include it. Historic Pittsburgh is supported by The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Chatham University Archives and many others to pool resources for research and preservation. Everyone sees history through different eyes, so it’s a good thing that there’s more than one organization preserving our past. Check with your local city to see if they have sources you may not have thought of.

10. Janice Hardy | Fiction University | Critique Groups

Now this is something I’ve yet to participate in because the introvert in me is still afraid to do so. It’s been several years since I first bookmarked her site and I forget who introduced it to me, but she has a series of novel writing books on structure, revising and understanding how things work together.

The point of this particular inclusion is to highlight the Critique Groups section. If you don’t want to share your MS with completely random strangers you’ve never interacted with through social media, this may be the place for you. Directly from Ms. Hardy herself, “This is for writers who are looking for critique partners or critique groups for more than just “I need some eyes on this before I submit it to an agent” type critiques.”

I’m far from any sort of critique stage (as I’m working on a rewrite of my novella), but I have this on standby for when the time is right!

11. Library of Congress Ask A Librarian

This one operates in a similar fashion to AskHerePa but on a larger scale. These librarians are highly trained professionals who can help you research any topic you approach them with. They are a bit slower to respond as they take their time, or if you message them on the weekend, but they are thorough in the types of resources they provide you with. One time I received not only web links but book titles my local library may be able to get for me. I highly recommend giving this free service a try!

12. LitRejections

This may seem like an odd one to include, but aren’t rejections a part of every writer’s query journey? Let’s face it – we offer ourselves up as tribute (lame Hunger Game reference there, I know) each time we send our work off to someone. Then the rejection comes in – hours, days, weeks or months later – and we find ourselves disappointed yet again.

LitRejections was founded with the sole purpose of encouraging writers as they go through the rigorous process of becoming a published author. They offer several types of critiques, links to agencies in particular countries, interviews with folks deep within the writing industry and encouragement through their social media.

13. The No. 1 Rule for Flashbacks in a Story Opening

Flashbacks. When done well they can provide important insight into a character’s motives or actions. They also run the risk of providing far more backstory than what the reader truly needs to know. It’s a tricky business, deciding to add a flashback, dream sequence or something equally vague at the beginning of a story. Contributor Peter Selgin takes us through several scenarios on what to include and what not to include. And when. A very useful post indeed.

14. Most Common Writing Mistakes: Characters Who Lack Solid Story Goals

Miss KM Weiland appears a lot on this site. No, I don’t know her personally. She is, however, one of the OG (original) folks I connected with when I first got involved in the online writing community. I don’t remember if I bought her books on writing first, or communicated through DMs first. However it happened, I’m glad to have found her site. Her posts, like the one above, are some of the most insightful I’ve found.

15. The Past Tense in English

Grammar. I love to hate it and hate to love it. The cold hard truth: I know I’m not the only one who struggles with my grammar. I’m constantly second guessing myself whenever I write something down, be it on this website, in email correspondence, in a notebook or a Tweet.

My trouble became quite evident to my early beta readers as I switch from tense to tense. At least I’ve yet to mix up which form of POV I’m using in a manuscript (knock on wood). I still have to refer to sites like No. 15 for a quick refresher course every now and then.

Remember: It’s okay to not know everything about writing. It’s a whole beast of a learning process on its own!

16. Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Archives

Back in 2016 I was granted an amazing opportunity to tour one of my city’s most historic music halls. Home to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Heinz Hall offers visitors a variety of shows and events throughout the year. A couple years ago I attended a Harry Potter night and everyone had a grand time.

Heinz Hall provides an opulent, rich setting any writer would love to include in a story. They have their own unique history as well as a curator who cares for it. Of course this is specific to the orchestra, but if you have a theatre scene in your story, consider checking out actual locals. They may have a curated, dedicated history center you can utilize.

17. QueryTracker

Why is QueryTracker frequently mentioned in online resource lists? Because of the type of resource that it is. Many established agents and agencies use it to connect with writers, and some use it exclusively for manuscript queries. Gone are the days of mailing giant stacks of paper in manila envelopes (though some still do). There’s still the Writer’s Market [insert year here], a printed guide book you can use. But QueryTracker is a faster method of searching for agents and what their MSWL (manuscript wish lists) are. And guess what? It’s free!

18. What Kind of Author Are You?

And here’s yet another article by KM Weiland. She’s just that good, okay? While this post doesn’t specifically use the word voice, as in a writer’s voice in their story, it did help me understand the concept a bit more. When I first worked with beta readers I was often complimented on my voice. But…what did that even mean?

Eventually, you’ll find what works for you. Do you need a certain technological tool to help you write? Or do you enjoy looking up obscure words and weaving them into your tales? Do you prefer writing in the mornings, afternoon or evenings? This post encourages you to find just that.

Whew! What a list! At one time I considered removing the section from my website and keeping them to myself, but why not share? I may have a resource you never even knew existed.

I suppose there aren’t as many Pittsburgh-themed links as I anticipated, but they’re still just as useful as the others. Expand your knowledge. Look in places you may never have thought to go, and you may be handsomely rewarded with knowledge you never had before.

I think today’s a good day for an adventure.


A Beginner’s Guide to Creating Graphics in Seven Easy Steps

I’d like to preface this post by stating that I didn’t go to school for graphic design, but it’s something I’ve enjoyed doing for years. In college I wrote fan fiction for the television show, Supernatural, and I made banners and images to go along with them. Sadly, none of my early graphics survived my data purges (I’ve looked), but I can show you how I make my current images. But first, a few tips.

Step One: Choose Your Program
There are dozens of programs out there to choose from. So much so that it can be overwhelming. If you’re just starting out, here’s what I suggest. Take the time to play around with a few of them. They range from the super basic to advanced. Adobe Photoshop is still considered the king in graphic design, but if its interface is just too much (like it is for me), you can play around with free programs like Pixlr, GIMP, Inkscape and Paint.NET.

Those are more advanced for my taste. If you want something with an easier interface or one that’s web-based (if, for example, you’re using a netbook or Chromebook), you can try BeFunky, PicMonkey, and Ribbet.

My preferred program is BeFunky (post not sponsored. They have no idea I exist!). I’ve played around with Ribbet, PicMonkey and Pixlr. Photoshop’s intimidated me since college. I also pay extra for access to stock images, more design elements, fonts and filters. All for $6.99 a month. That’s definitely more bang for your buck than having a Netflix account (sorry Netflix).

Step Two: Plan Your Graphic’s Aesthetic
What’s your post about? Is it an informational blog? A personal one? Do all your graphics match each other? I do a lot of planning with this step. A graphic’s purpose is to draw readers in and provide the overall aesthetic for your site. It’s all interconnected.

Step Three: Will You Make Multiple Versions for Multiple Platforms?
If all you have is a website then yay, you only have to think about one graphic! Most people do that, anyway. But crazy little me usually makes two or three versions of the same thing.

Yes, I’m crazy.

Think about it, though. Twitter has its preferred image size. As does Pinterest, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, etc etc etc. While I do have Pinterest, I hardly post there. So I make them for Twitter, the post itself on my site (obvs) and sometimes Instagram. I don’t have a YouTube channel or a Facebook page.

This is where preset templates come into play. And I can tell you that they’ve saved my butt more times than I can count! ESPECIALLY the Social Media Headers section. I’m terrible when it comes to dimensions. I am attempting to streamline all the graphics for my blog posts. I used to make elaborate, busy titles. You don’t need to use every function available. Find what works best for your site’s purpose.

I used to make elaborate, busy titles. You don’t need to use every function available. Find what works best for your site’s purpose.

Step Four: As with Applying Makeup, Begin with a Base
I’m going to show you how I made the graphic for this post (prepares self for taking a dozen screenshots). Under BeFunky’s interface I select Graphic Designer > Templates > Blogger Resources > Blog Titles.

I don’t use any of the preset background graphics, and I very rarely keep the fonts or phrasing they use. I’m just looking for the size. I chose the following because of the slightly opaque rectangle.

Next, decide which elements you’re keeping and which you’re deleting. In this case, I’m deleting the floral images and all but one line of text.

TIP: There are many free images sites out there,
but many of those can also, potentially,
have malware or spyware embedded in their downloads.
I've ruined, ahem, tech due to not being careful with that.
(Look at that. I'm already side tracked!)

Step Five: Choose A Background Image (or none at all)
I spend a lot of time looking through stock images. Sometimes it seems like I see the same writerly backgrounds used over and over again on social media. You know the one – the overhead shot of the MacBook Pro with a coffee mug and open notebook. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it, of course, but I see it so much that I’m not intrigued.

Why do I feel terrible saying that out loud? It should be about the content itself, right? I think the old adage of, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” applies here. And here I am, teaching you how to create a graphic!

Anyway…

BeFunky has hundreds, if not thousands, of images you can search via key words and phrases. You can also upload your own, in .png and .jpg format.

TIP: .png graphics are graphics with their backgrounds removed,
so they can be added in as a layer.
TIP: With BeFunky's interface, you can select multiple graphics at once 
and they'll be added to your list once you exit out of the search.
However, if you clear your browser's cookies and cache,
they will disappear.

Step Six: Place the Elements
Now that you know what image you’re using you can begin playing around with the elements of your graphic. Move things forwards, backwards, adjust the layering. If the image doesn’t work, keep the other bits in place and just change that out.

TIP: Play around with coloring, opacity, fonts,
and more tools to further fine tune your image.
TIP: Don't be afraid to experiment with text blending and styling!

Each photo editing program will have its own set of elements and overlays you can add. For example (Oculus Reparo. Don’t mind me. Every time I see the phrase, “for example,” I can’t get Hermione Granger out of my head!)

I digress.

BeFunky has a fantastic selection, including social media icons. It could do with a little updating, as Google Plus no longer exists. But they have everything from charges and infographics to basic lines, shapes, ribbons, and more!

TIP: Save. Save save save save save.
This is more for when you're building your blog post or web page,
and you'd think this would be a common sense kind of thing.
But I think forgetting to save (in general) is a human fallacy.
BeFunky has a fantastic autosave feature where, if you don't
clear out your cookies and cache as discussed earlier in this post,
it'll ask you if you want to continue editing your previous project.
Cool, huh?

Step Seven: Finishing Up
You’ve chosen your program (or programs). You’ve chosen your aesthetic, images, fonts and elements. They’re all put together the way you want them. All that’s left to do is save your work and upload.

As with any project, the more complicated the plan, the longer the task will take to complete. I figured I’d go the easy route, since the format for my blog posts is the one constant thing on my site.

Each graphic you create gives readers a sense of your style. Don’t be afraid to try new things! Start small. Learn, learn learn. And your skills with creating graphics, just as they do with your writing, will grow!

Happy creating!

UPDATE: I was going through some of my old files last night and I stumbled across a banner I made for one of my old Supernatural fanficts. I remember being quite proud of how this looked:


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.