Author: guest-blog.

Eight Steps to Fitness for Writers

Novel writing is a marathon that’s interspersed with bursts of speed, hurdles, and trip wires (aka plot holes). And yet it’s a very stationary sport. It’s easy to succumb to the temptation of staring out of the window, sipping from the half-empty coffee cup or vodka glass, as you ponder the inevitable: that like all writers, you are suffering from writer’s block. You are, of course, allowed to.

Writer’s Fitness – a Healthy Body for a Healthy Mind

Yes, writing is hard mind work—but minds are at their best in a healthy body. A fit body gives more energy, more thinking power…and builds a winning confidence that can feed into all areas of a writer’s life. “Your Workout Makes You Smarter”, an article in Scientific American in July 2009, explains that “physical exercise is critical to vigorous mental health”.

This is something I have certainly found in my life to be true. I used to box competitively, and noticed pretty early on that the fitter I was, the more effective I became at achieving goals inside and outside the ring. Pretty soon it was clear that in order to achieve my daily written-word target, I needed to spend many hours per day at my desk—but I also needed to be physically fit. The words just didn’t seem to flow from within when the vessel that held them wasn’t in top working order.

I believe that we are comprised of a mind, a body and a spirit—and the body minds spirits! So, the first step is to pour the Smirnoff and the cappuccino onto the knot weed that’s chewing through your home’s (and your writing’s) foundations—and to take some exercise.

Support for Your Writer’s Fitness Plan

It’s one thing to have a fitness plan, it’s another to stick to it. I’ve tried a lot of different ways to “trick” myself into exercising over the years. In the end, what worked best for me was a multi-level support plan.

  1. Find a Friend4.Fitness in Yr Daily plan

First—find a friend who shares your fitness ambitions. You can both then encourage, congratulate, or cajole the other into actually doing it.

I’m lucky because my co-trainer is my editor. This means our work schedules are often focused on the same deadlines so we can co-ordinate our gym visits too. Even though my editor works on the other side of town, we check in via email to push each other along.

It doesn’t matter whether your friend is in the same country—though similar time zones can be helpful—what matters is the consistency and the commitment of you and your partner to stay in touch and support each other in your goals.

  1. Make a Plan

The second is to draw up a (realistic) plan and monitor progress. This can be via a spreadsheet or (in my case) a piece of paper pinned to the bathroom wall above the sink.

The key thing here is to write it down. There’s more impact when looking at marks on a calendar that clearly show when days have been missed. Somehow, just noting it in the brain doesn’t have the same effect. We are writers and respond well to the written word—so write your plan down, update it daily and put it where you can see it.

  1. Banish TBSALA Syndrome

The third is to rid yourself of TBSALA Syndrome. This is perhaps the most important of all. It stands for: The Bathroom Scales Are Lying Again.

Arbitrary numbers have never worked for me. To be allowed to box competitively, you must make a certain weight. This meant weeks before an event of monitoring exactly how much I consumed, with daily trips to the weighing scales. I learned pretty quickly that the scales never lied. They also never made me happy. As soon as I stopped competing, I threw them away, which was a liberating experience.

Not only was it a mental burden banished, but I also became more aware of how my body felt at its correct weight. I learned how to “feel” the difference if I gained or lost a few pounds. Without the scales to rely on, I had to learn the feeling of normal for myself. It takes a while to get used to, but looking at scales puts distance between us and our bodies. It’s indirect. If you make exercise a part of your routine, you’ll notice on your calendar notes when you miss a day. Your body will tell you too.

  1. Make Fitness Part of Your Daily Plan2.make a plan

I start my day with a brisk fifteen minute walk to a local coffee shop. It’s enough to wake me up and I fill my time considering the writing challenges that kept me awake the night before. Then I drink a decaf or herbal tea, read the paper, and do the word puzzle, hoping to beat the Bulgarian trainee barista who wins four times out of five.

Why not add a gentle morning walk to your routine? More and more, I hear walking is the exercise of choice—there are several Meetup walking groups ( in my area. If you find walking suits your style and want to go further, perhaps there’s a walking group near you.

  1. Add Moments of Meditation Daily – Fitness for the Mind!

After the coffee shop, it’s a brisk trot back to my desk. I open the Word file for my manuscript and write until lunchtime (the timing of which is dictated more by hunger pangs than by a clock). Then after a light lunch, I lie on the sofa for twenty minutes and blank out.

It’s a form of meditation—and I try not to fall asleep. When I rise, I feel recharged in body and mind. So I stretch a little, then write some more. This is usually the time of day when I am at my most productive.

It may feel silly to stop and take time for oneself, especially when there are pressing deadlines to be met. But give it try. Persevere. It’s an effective way to supercharge your productivity and it only takes moments.

  1. Make Sure You Move Every Hour!

When writing, I try to limit myself to an hour of sitting at a time. After that, I get up and move around. Web MD recommends two minutes of walking every hour to boost health (, Dallas, Mary Elizabeth, April 30, 2015). In 2016, I’m planning to buy a treadmill so that I can create a “walking desk”, to enable me to walk and write at the same time.

Author Yann Martel of Life of Pi fame uses a walking desk—and it seems to work well for him. You can see him on Youtube discussing it at .

  1. Find Exercise That You Love1.Find a Friend

Walking may not be the exercise that most speaks to you. But there are so many sports to choose from. And sometimes a change of pace is fun too. Even a favorite sport can become repetitive. Alternating between types of exercise can keep interest levels high.

Late afternoon/evening for me is the time for a gym visit or swim. I try to alternate sessions and aim for four workouts a week. Swimming is an incredible form of exercise because it’s highly efficient (working most muscle groups) and low impact. In the gym, it’s skipping, hitting a bag, stretching, and fast reps with light dumbbells.

Why not be adventurous? Find out what you enjoy. You can also alternate your favorite exercise with a new sport. What have you never tried but always wanted to? Does your exercise partner have a suggestion?

  1. What Motivates You?

One of my most powerful fitness motivators is the sense of guilt—letting myself down—if I miss a session. This feeling lingers until I hit a new target, whether it’s about losing weight or a certain number of push ups etc. I try to push myself extra hard after a missed session.

The energy of others working out nearby motivates me too. I’m fortunate in that I really do enjoy exercise. However, I find it difficult to work hard when I’m alone, so I aim to train when there are others around. Pretty soon you start recognizing and talking to people. As writing is a lonely occupation, I find this interaction stimulating. And once your new friends learn that you write, they usually want to know more…

But everyone is motivated by different things. Some make a promise to their exercise buddy about a target they hope to achieve; others promise themselves treats after a goal is reached. How do you motivate yourself in other areas of your life? What works for you there? Maybe you can adapt this to motivate you in your writer’s fitness routine as well.

A fit body keeps the mind fit. Scientific American said it. Someone—possibly golfer Gary Player, or actress Ethel Merman—said something similar too: “The harder I train, the luckier I get”. So I train pretty hard, and you know what? So far, I’ve been pretty lucky.

How do you keep fit as a writer? What exercise and routines motivate you?


5i.Moments of meditation 1.Ben in morning cafeBen Starling is passionate about marine conservation and boxing, both central themes in his work. His interest in marine life has taken him across three continents over the past three decades. He boxed competitively until recently and continues to coach. He graduated from Oxford University with a Master of Arts and a Master of Philosophy.






Blank white book w/pathBen has just released, Something in the Water, available now on Amazon at

The sealed box Teal finds in the street contains more than a mystery…

What if to be with the man of your dreams… you had to give up your life?

On the verge of losing her job, a side-lined journalist is forced to travel to the South Pacific to untangle a mystery where she meets a reclusive ex-boxer with a message. When a syndicate of corporate criminals invades paradise, she must either accept the plum promotion that will save her career or defend the island with her life.

Whether you’re submitting to literary magazines, querying your manuscript, or applying to be crowned ruler of the world, you’ve got a tough road ahead of you. There will be heartbreak, betrayal, and disillusionment—and that’s just in the trailer.


But I’ve got a few tips to make it easier. Nothing fancy, but they might help you out in a pinch. Think of this post as a Swiss Army Knife for the submission jungle.

1. Savor encouraging rejections.

You know the ones: While this piece is not for us, you obviously have tremendous talent. Or even better: We would love to see more work from you. Take those, enjoy them. Don’t stop reading as soon as you see the dreaded unfortunately. Sometimes an encouraging rejection can be your motivator for the next few submissions. It lets you know you’re on the right track.

2. Give yourself a fighting chance.

Check the guidelines, people. We’ve all heard it before, but we can all stand hearing it again. If the magazine or agent accepts literary and mainstream, do not send fantasy. If they only publish poetry, do not send fiction. Format your stuff the way they ask. Send them what they ask. If the guidelines say to write your story on a roll of toilet paper and send it by way of giant carrier pigeon then do it! Writers are always struggling with the question of what do editors want? Well, they’ve been kind enough to lay it out for us in the submission guidelines. There’s no reason we shouldn’t follow them. Don’t let your story suffer because you needed to use Calibri instead of Times New Roman. It’s just not worth it.

3. Don’t stress about each submission.

I know I mentioned guidelines. Read them, follow them, but don’t get hung up on them. Don’t fret about whether the title is exactly a third of the way down the page or whether your cover letter is spotless. I’m not saying to be careless, but you have to find a balance—one that gets the thing into an editor’s hands. Your work will never be accepted if it’s stuck in an unsent email on your computer, waiting for you to proof it for the twenty-second time. Do your best, and let it go.

4. It’s a numbers game.

Nobody will ask about your failures. They ask about your successes. They won’t ask how many rejections you received for those five acceptances. They won’t care whether there were ten or two hundred. But guess what, two hundred submissions will definitely get you more acceptances than ten submissions. Submit submit submit. Most markets accept simultaneous submissions because they know how it works. You have to get your stuff out there. A while back, I decided to commit to a few things: write one word a day, read one page of (unassigned) fiction a day, and submit one piece a day. I have since discarded the stringency of this plan—although it did what I meant it to, started good habits—but I still submit like crazy. Sometimes I feel like I am crazy, or at least a glutton for punishment, when the rejections start rolling in. But here’s what I’ve learned: you pay for each acceptance. You pay with effort. You pay with time. And you pay with rejections. Every so many rejections I receive earn me an acceptance, even if the going rate fluctuates.

5. Don’t take it personally.

Yeah, we’ve all heard this one. We roll our eyes when someone gives this advice, and yet it is one of the toughest pieces to master. As a softball player, we talk a lot about the fact that a person’s value is not dependent on her batting average. Obviously, I know that, rationally. If someone walks up to me and asks, “Are you a bad person because you struck out last night?” I’m not going to say yes. But I often feel that way, and the fact that the feeling is not grounded in logic makes that it tougher to combat. As writers, it can be even more difficult. Each piece we write is a part of us, and when an editor rejects it, we feel like they are rejecting us as a person. So next time you see an email in your inbox (Thank you for your submission, but unfortunately…) take a moment to remind yourself that your self-worth is not hooked to that message. You are not a bad person because one editor didn’t absolutely adore your work. Don’t let yourself fall into that trap. If your personal value is at stake every time you send out work, a difficult process becomes impossible.

If you’re not sure whether you need that reminder, say it out loud. Seriously, stand up, take a deep breath, and say, “I am still a good person. Rejection does not change that.” See how it makes you feel. I know it sounds silly, but it’s one of those things that can sneak up on you and get stuck somewhere deep in your mind. Don’t let it.

Real talk: when the Twitter feed is out of sight, and nobody is watching, it’s going to come down to you and the submit button. That’s why, as much as these tips work for me, you have to find your own driving force strong enough to make you press that button and put your heart on the line. You have to find your own reasons and your own strategies to survive it.
Hopefully, something in this post clicked for you. I hope I leave you with one line or one thought that makes it a little bit easier. Because really, that’s all we can hope for as writers—for it to be just a bit easier. I know, and you know, that we would never want it to be easy. We would never sacrifice the thrill that comes with being chosen out of hundreds or thousands for that coveted acceptance.
Just don’t tell the editors that.

Guest Blog Written By: Victoria Griffin

Victoria GriffinFiction writer. East Tennessean.

Victoria was born and raised within sight of the Smoky Mountains. She loves any place you can still see the stars and constantly struggles with (and sometimes succumbs to) the temptation to write “ain’t” and y’all.”

She is a senior at Campbell University, home of the Fighting Camels (yes, it’s always hump day at Campbell), where she maintains dual identities as a softball player and English major.

When not writing (with a do not disturb sign stuck to the door) she is likely on a lakeside run or relaxing in a hammock, her nose in a book.

Her work has appeared in various literary magazines, links to which can be found in the Fiction section. Follow on Twitter for updates. – See more at:

All He Had To Say Was Thank You

Guest Blog by Alon Shalev

There is an urban author’s myth of a now famous author in her undiscovered days – was it Janet Evanovich? – who spoke at a bookstore in a mall with pouring rain outside. She knew the audience would be sparse as the mall was empty, and to cheer herself up, she bought a box of chocolates from the store next door.

Only four people turned up and she made them sit in a circle and gave them each a chocolate. They were silent as she spoke and read, and asked no questions. At the end three got up and left. The fourth thanked her and the author asked, rather desperately, if she wanted to buy a book. The woman laughed and said that all four were homeless, and just thirsted for a little culture so the bookstore allowed them to attend. The author felt compelled to give her a copy of her book and the rest of the chocolates.




I recently went to a book reading of an author who is struggling to break through, like me. We had met a few times and I have offered advice at various stages. I dutifully spread the word of his book launch to my social and e-circles, attended the reading, and bought a book.

Not many people turned up and even less felt inclined to buy the book. He was disappointed and the bookstore staff was not too excited either. When I asked him to sign my book, he mumbled a weak thank you and scribbled. I don’t think he ever made eye contact with me, and I felt a profound sense of resentment.

This is reality for all but the 200 or so A-listers. The rest of us may have 50 people in attendance or 5. It is hit-or-miss and this is probably a significant reason why adopting an online marketing strategy makes sense.

To celebrate the first Wycaan Master trilogy and the Eric Hoffer Book Award, I held a celebration in my hometown at the iconic Games of Berkeley at the end of last year. There was a strong attendance, but I put a lot of time into advertising and most of those attending had already bought the books. It was not a good return on investment if I look at it through economic eyes alone.

Games of Berkeley Question from Asif

But I loved doing it. I loved my friends who came and read parts, I loved the Q&A, especially the questions from the younger members of the audience, and most of all, I loved the conversations and the excitement of my readers – yes, for one afternoon they were all mine!

I sincerely hope that those who attended left happy and committed to my series and me. I especially hope that the young people were inspired to continue reading and, who knows, maybe put millennial quill to parchment.

I have heard many times that my author-hero, Terry Brooks, is an inspiring author to meet. I hear he shares a conversation with everyone bearing books, and that he is a delight to be with. I can believe that after reading this passage in his book, Sometimes The Magic Works. He says that book signings are not about selling books or advancing your career. He say…oh why not just let him say it:

Terry Brooks

“It is not in fact about you at all.

Rather, it is about making a connection between readers and books. It is about making readers feel so enthusiastic about books that they cannot wait to come back and buy more – not just copies of your books, but of other authors’ books, as well. It is about generating a feeling of goodwill toward the bookstore and the staff. Mostly, it is about reassuring everyone that they did not waste their time on you.

How do you accomplish this? …

…Speak to everyone. Make them aware of the fact that you are grateful to be there, anxious to chat, and ready to answer questions if they have any. Never sign a book without looking at and speaking directly to the reader, and then thank them for choosing to take a chance on you.”

I think I have always thanked those who buy my books. To this day, when a stranger tweets me that they just bought one, I feel genuinely touched and honored that they spent their hard-earned money on my books.


girl-hugging-words1And I thank them.

Maybe one day, someone will develop an app wherein I can put my hand through the screen and shake theirs as I thank them. Perhaps the 2.0 version will allow us to reach through and hug someone.


The world would become a better place, for authors, readers and all humankind!

Have a great week,





Book Signing Games of BerkeleyAlon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of GalbriethThe First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at and on Twitter (@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+

Focus and Generosity for 2016 Guest Blog by Shari L Schwarz

As the New Year rings in or stumbles in, or however it comes in for you, I’m frantically trying to catch up from being sick for almost three weeks before Christmas. Although that was a miserable time in many ways, I found that having to stop and rest for that long forced me to see things afresh.

Two words have been impressed upon me during this time: Focus and Generosity

I’ve been quite scattered in my writing life (we won’t talk about the many other aspects of my life which make it a challenge to stay focused: mothering, housekeeping and the like). But I’ve been increasingly feeling a strong pull toward the picture book community and the desire to get at least one of my books on its way to traditional publication–this year?? I’m in a new critique group here in Ft. Collins where we focus mostly on picture books, and some of my favorite critique partners online are picture book writers as well. My plan is to focus on my picture books even though I have a Middle Grade book and one Young Adult book written (and one MG and one YA, each partially written). I can’t do it all! I have 6-8 picture books that have been revised…some of them dozens of times, so I feel like I’m past the honeymoon stage of thinking, “Oh! this is easy.” Ha! It’s not easy at all, but it’s fun and I love the generosity of the picture book community…so here I go!

Which brings me to my second word for 2016: Generosity. I don’t necessarily mean materialistically but more of a generosity of spirit. The spirit of giving back, and opening up…of letting go of the things I feel like clenching my fist around…and blessing others, encouraging others…cheering others on and letting go of jealousy…

These are my New Year’s resolutions, in a sense. And I’ve also started freelancing (editing, ghostwriting, blogging) to help save up for our boys’ impending college years.

So, will I be more focused? We’ll see. But I feel like I have more concrete goals to hang my hat on this year.

2015 has been a year of shifting and learning for me. It’s the year I thought I’d never write again…and the year I won a big writing award and received my first contract for publication for Treasure at Lure Lake.

I can’t wait to see what 2016 holds! I at least know I’ll be holding the fruit of 2015 in my hands in April!!! I’ll be officially revealing my book cover for Lure Lake next week with a giveaway for a Kindle Fire, so stay tuned!

Happy New Year to you!

And Happy Writing!


About the Author


sharismiling2014Shari Schwarz is a mom of four boys–three preteen/teenagers and one preschooler. (Yes, they are alike in many ways!) and the author of the upcoming, TREASURE AT LURE LAKE, out April 12, 2016 by Cedar Fort Publishing.

Shari is a simple person (her husband would totally disagree!) and a homebody, but she does love long chats with friends over a latte, dreaming of going to the beach, and writing adventure stories for children. If she’s not writing, she’s reading, whether it be a manuscript for the literary agent she interns for or working on an editing project. In the quiet spaces of life, she might find time for her other loves: gardening, weight-lifting, hiking, and a bit of photography. Shari has had a lifelong faith in God and tries to leave it ALL in his hands.

Shari has degrees in Cross-Cultural Studies and Elementary Education with an emphasis in Literacy. She worked as an elementary school librarian before her little guy came on the scene. Now she stays home with him and writes.

Follow Shari on Twitter!

Check out Her website at!

7 Questions For Writers When Looking Back on 2015
Guest Blog by Lucy from Blondewritemore

As writers its vital we look back to see how far we have come, what worked, what didn’t go so well and what we can learn for 2016.

Here are 7 questions a writer can use when looking back on 2015:

  1. What was your biggest writing achievement in 2015?
  2. What writing issue did you overcome and how?
  3. Which writing worries were unnecessary in 2015?
  4. How did your writing outlook evolve over 2015?
  5. Which one aspect of your writing would you do differently?
  6. What were your 2 biggest distractions in 2015?
  7. What was the best piece of writing advice that you received in 2015?

 As I love quizzes and questionnaires here are my answers:

  • Completing the second draft of my novel. It was an achievement because I detested the first draft and wanted to bin it. Instead I rolled up my literary sleeves and re-wrote 77k words.
  • Writer’s Block. I went through a really bad patch after my second draft. No matter how hard I tried to write the third draft I just couldn’t write a single thing. Cue the world’s worst period of writer’s block. I became frustrated, paranoid and an absolute pain to be around. The way I overcame my writer’s block was sitting down in December and giving myself some writing freedom. I allowed myself to write whatever I wanted. I just sat at the table and let my fingers type. This was quite radical for someone like me. Looking back now I think I forced myself into writing the third draft and I wasn’t ready for it. Sometimes you have to just go with the creative flow.
  • Worrying about what other people think. I spent a lot of 2015 worrying about what people thought about my writing. This was fuelled by some hurtful comments about my blog and writing from some non-writers / people who know me outside of writing. Towards the end of the year I decided to change my approach. I said to myself ‘who cares what people think?’ – I love being a writer, I enjoy writing, blogging and I have the guts to share my work (believe me – its takes real guts to put your writing out there for the world to see). Since stopping worrying about what the rest of the world thinks of me and what I put out for the world to read I have become a much happier person and writer. I am never going to please everybody.
  • A more relaxed outlook. At the start of the year I was on edge, anxious and impatient about my writing. I wanted fast and immediate results – a finished book. Over the year I have really changed, particularly in the last few months. I have learnt the importance of patience and the benefits of letting ideas stew. I have ditched all my anxieties and gone back to enjoying writing again. This has worked wonders and I recommend it.
  • Listen to my gut instinct. I didn’t listen to myself enough during 2015. It is quite a skill to cut out the noise and listen to what your gut instinct is telling you about a project or a piece of work.
  • Phone and Pinterest. I am starting to reap the benefits of putting my phone away for long periods of time during the day. I am trying not to pin so much but it is addictive.
  • Books take time to write. Books cannot be written in a matter of weeks. Some takes years to write and that’s not a bad thing. Ideas need time to develop and mature.

Have you looked back on 2015? How was it for you?

Let me know some of your answers to these questions?


About the author


A naturally blonde writer with a Yorkshire accent, who likes eating cheese, dancing around her kitchen and sniffing books. Believes she should have been born in America and feels that she has missed out on: Breakfasts involving pancakes, Living in a town where the name ends in ‘Falls’, and Fannypacks … just to name a few.

Follow Lucy on Twitter!

Check out her website at

Inspiration from Mediocrity

I came across this blog on, written by Gordon A.Wilson. Gordon and I have had many chats about writing, life, and what inspires, but I feel this blog hit the nail on the head when it comes to talking about inner motivation. Some of us who strive to write a best seller will never reach that goal because perhaps (amongst other reasons) we choose to be okay with mediocrity. Gordon has found the inspiration in this. Read on, and be inspired.

I started this blog writing about things which inspired me. The inspiration has come in so many different ways. Seeing someone trying to get somewhere is always inspiring. When I see an honest effort to get something done it just makes me feel good. When I can see this effort being made it inspires me to want to put anything I can into supporting their effort.

I work with a lot of different students, and I see every level of dedication and commitment. I have a student who I never need to prepare for because she never practices. She can make excuses for anything and everything and believe me she does. I could teach her the same stuff every lesson and I swear sometimes I do because she puts no effort into growing.

At the other end of the spectrum is a student who devours everything she comes near. She worked on learning the chords to a song so she could play and sing it. I wasn’t sure what to expect. She returned a couple days later able to play and sing the song almost all the way through. Let me explain, to the non instrument players- playing and singing anything at the same time is not the same as playing or singing. It typically is something most people really have to work at to synchronize and get right. She pulled this off in couple days. She admitted that when she got home she was so excited she played it over and over until she got it right. Talk about self motivation.

So what does this have to do with anything? I was considering asking the same question. In the course of my exhaustive research for something I was working on yesterday  I came upon a video entitled something like, why you suck at guitar. The gist of the video was what kind of guitar player do you want to be? He drew up this great analogy about being alright with and accepting mediocrity. He explained more about the amount of effort and preparation it would take to get there which is not much. He also went on to explain how much effort and essentially practice it would take to become a really good guitar player. It is an entirely different level of commitment and a completely different mindset as well. Have I answered the question what does this have to do with anything yet? No. Not really but it’s getting closer.

What does the whole mindset aspect have to do with anything? Enough that it deserves a volume on its own. A champion in any field cannot have the mindset of a failure. A champion cannot even have an average mindset. Most of the champions I admire are humble so we are not talking about braggadocio.  I am talking about confidence and vision.There are a few things I would like to be much better at. One of them ironically is playing guitar and singing. But I really desire to become a better writer. In  a sea overflowing with writers, what could possibly separate my writing from anyone else’s? I don’t know that it could. But I can tell you for certain bad writing is not the path. Writing worse or accepting mediocrity is not on the path. Becoming a less interesting storyteller certainly won’t separate me from averageness. (I realize it may not be a real word but it so fits in with the point I am making.) Mediocrity. Being OK with mediocrity. Think about that one for a minute. This is where the whole playing guitar blends in with being a writer and as far as I am concerned being a person.

I can choose to not practice. I can choose to not learn. I can choose to be petty and small. I can choose to hold onto a self destructive grudge. I can choose to substitute judgement for understanding. I could fill my days with excuses for not accomplishing any given thing. When I get done I could ask someone to tell me what it looks like from where they stand. My guess is it would look just like it did before I made all my excuses. Why wouldn’t it? Nothing changed.  I didn’t really look at the things that make my writing less than interesting. I didn’t really practice that part I am having a hard time with. I made excuses and got nothing done.

The bottom line is this. The phrase “being alright with mediocrity” is offensive. It makes me cringe. I know the sea of writers is overflowing, as is the sea of entrepreneurs, singers, songwriters and about any other group I could list. Do I think the ones who have risen to the top of their field were the ones who were alright with their own mediocrity? Absolutely not.

What is inspiring about any of this? Everything. Look I know I will never be John Steinbeck or Ernest Hemingway nor will I wait for an invitation to go on tour with the Stones. But I can make choices to take steps each day to separate myself from mediocrity. I can learn from these greats and the not so greats. I can practice at being a more patient person. I can make efforts to spend more time listening and less time talking or assuming. I can make decisions to improve that which is improvable. Working to move away from mediocrity is inspiring.

I came across this blog while reading tweets attached to the  hashtag ‘#MondayBlogs’. After reading it I thought, here’s a writer just like me! When she sits to write she has a vague idea of where the story will go, but she lets the story, and characters, take it where they may. I hope You like the blog as much as I did …



Writing my fwriterirst book came as a surprise. I didn’t sit down with the intention of writing a novel. I’m not sure what my intention was, if in fact I even had a conscious purpose in giving voice to the noise in my head. Once the paragraphs turned into pages, and the story kept unfolding, I realized what was happening. At that point, though, I was already immersed in the characters, and I didn’t stop to consider the process until I was done.

And then…

I had a novel. After I whooped and danced and celebrated my “finished” novel, the cold, hard truth slapped me in the face. What I had was a first draft that needed a lot of work. My process of learning and rewriting is irrelevant to today’s discussion. The pertinent issue is that I did not have a creative writing educational background. Consequently, I didn’t know that I was breaking the rules.

creative Rules for being creative? Who knew?

Now, many years and eleven books later, I know that I consistently break one of the basics taught to most students of creative writing. I do not outline. Feels like I’m breaking a commandment. Thou Shall Outline. Oops.

I am a clueless writer. I have only the vaguest sense of plot when I start a novel. The best way I can explain my process is to say that the story is not mine to manipulate. The story belongs to the characters, and so I follow them and write down what I see, hear, and feel. Often I’m as surprised as readers by the things that happen along the way.

writer2Over the years, in my writerly manner of introspection, I’ve realized that breaking this rule wasn’t merely a matter of ignorance. I’m simply not a planner. I did what came naturally to me. A clear example of this comes from my long ago college English Composition class. I was never good about homework. (Another story altogether.) So I arrived in class to find that I’d totally forgotten our first assignment was due that day. I was supposed to have written a two-page short story. We’d been given a prompt, which I’ve long since forgotten, and a full week to write the story. And there I was, without a single word. Fortunately, I arrived to class twenty minutes early. I opened my notebook (the olden days, when we used pens and paper) and I started writing. I remember the few classmates who’d also arrived early were laughing and teasing me. No way was I going to complete the story before class began. Fortunately, another one of my idiosyncrasies is that I can shut out the world and get lost inside my own head. Whatever that prompt was, I found a voice, listened, and followed. I wrote. When the professor walked in, I was writing the last sentence.

I received an A+ on that paper. No, I’m not saying that to brag about my writing skills. And I don’t recommend putting off assignments until twenty minutes before class begins. My point is that I cannot plan. I’m not meant to plan. If that assignment had been to outline a story, rather than to write one, I would most definitely have earned a flaming F as a grade. That first college writing assignment taught me something about myself, though I didn’t realize it until much later. Creativity is a personal thing. What matters is where you end up, not how you get there.

Outlining, to me, is tedious. Forced. My mind doesn’t work that way. I can’t hear the voices. I can’t feel what the characters are feeling. It’s like trying to swim while wearing a straightjacket. The constraints take away what I need to chase after my muse.

listenThose who want to learn the writing craft, or any other artistic endeavor, will come across lots of rules and advice all over the internet, in books, and from mentors and teachers. Clearly there are rules that should not be broken, ever, such as proper grammar. Right? Well, sort of. Most people don’t speak in proper grammar all the time, and using it consistently in dialogue can make a character seem stuffy at best, and at worst can make the writing feel dull and forced. So even the rules that seem obvious aren’t really that clear after all.

I’m not suggesting that it’s pointless to learn any of the rules. What I am saying is that within all this advice, we need space to find our own voice.

My advice: If you want to be a writer, break the rules. Or don’t. Either way, do what feels right.


Thanks for reading. :)

About Darcia

Darcia My name is Darcia Helle and I write because the characters trespassing through my mind leave me no alternative.

I write mostly within the suspense genre. I’m fascinated by the dark side of human nature, and that shows in my writing. But I’m not always examining the psychopathic mind. Occasionally my characters take me on a humorous journey, they fall in love, and maybe even talk to ghosts.

If you have questions about my writing or something on my blog, you can contact me directly at:

You can learn more about me and my writing on my website:

Banned Books: Steinbeck and The Library Bill of Rights.

Guest Blog by Cathie Armstrong

Good morning!  Today is Day Six of Banned Books Week, and I’m back with one of my favorite books of all time:  The Grapes of Wrath!

Of course I’d have to address this book!  In fact, I’m sure you were expecting it.  When my own book takes place in the same era and also addresses victims of the Dust Bowl, how could I possibly not shout out to Steinbeck, the Joad family, and all Okies out there?!

But first, a disclaimer:  By mentioning The Grapes of Wrath alongside my own novel, The Edge of Nowhere, I am in no way making comparisons.  Though my novel is set during the same era and was, in many ways, inspired by Steinbeck’s novel, there is just no comparison.  Nobody could compare to Steinbeck.  He was a master at his craft.  He seemed to intuitively understand human nature, and all of his books reflect that intuition.  The Edge of Nowhere is not a “Steinbeckian Recreation” (How’s that for a phrase?  I made it up!).  Whereas Steinbeck’s novel tells the story of the Joad family who migrated west to escape the Dust Bowl, my novel focuses on those who were too poor to leave and were forced to stay behind.

But I digress.  Back to the topic:  Banned Books Week and The Grapes of Wrath.

As an Okie by birth and by blood, I think Steinbeck’s novel is one of the greatest pieces of literature ever put on paper.  But not everyone agrees.  When this novel was released in 1939, it faced equal amounts of criticism and praise.  According to the Banned Book Awareness website, The Grapes of Wrath was a New York Times Bestselling Novel at the same time that protests were being held around the nation and copies were being burned. Let me repeat that:  At the same time that the majority of America was reading and loving this book, a small segment of America was holding rallies where they burned copies of this novel in protest of its publication.

Yes.  In America.  Home of the Free.  Where our forefathers sat down and wrote a document guaranteeing us the Freedom of Speech.  Sadly, that Freedom of Speech extends to protests were beautiful books are destroyed by fire.

So what’s the problem with this book?  Why so much protest?  First let me start by telling you a little about the circumstances that prompted Steinbeck’s novel.

“Migrant Mother” 
Photo Credit: Dorthea Lange (1936)banned books 5
From 1930 to 1940, Oklahoma and many of the plains states suffered a devastating drought.  Poor farming practices, combined with the drought, turned Oklahoma and neighboring states into an oasis of nothing but dust and dirt.  Huge dust clouds rolled in, the skies turned black, and people took to their homes to escape.  But there was no escape.  The dirt entered through the tiniest crevices and left layers of dust and dirt everywhere.  I’ve read stories where houseplants were so heavy with the settled dust that their limbs sagged.  Houseplants — not trees or bushes outside, but the plants people keep inside their homes.

The devastation of this era was far-reaching.  The Great Depression had begun and people were already hurting.  Farmers, who tend not to be wealthy anyway, were now in a dire situation.  The drought, combined with the blowing dust and dirt, turned their once fertile fields to something akin to a desert.  Everywhere you looked was dirt.  Nothing grew.  What grew below the surface was scavenged by rabbits and other wild animals.banned books 4

You’ve heard the phrase, Dirty Thirties?  The very phrase that encompasses all of the United States during this era originated from the dust and dirt that covered Oklahoma and surrounding states.  I’ve read that, though only a few states suffered from the drought conditions, nearly every state in the United States received some of the blowing dirt.  I read somewhere that some of that same dirt blew from the Dust Bowl states right onto President Roosevelt’s desk in Washington D.C!  Nobody was completely immune.

The dust in Oklahoma and nearby states was relentless and settled in the lungs of every living thing.  An epidemic of “dust pneumonia” ensued, striking hardest on the very young and the very old.  Times became so hard that people began to look for a way out, and many of those people took the roads — sometimes walking — west toward California.  They had to get out.  They felt sure they couldn’t survive otherwise.

And so began the Great American Migration of the 1930s as depicted in Steinbeck’s novel, The Grapes of Wrath.  Featuring the Joad family, Steinbeck tells the story of one family’s migration to banned books 3California.  To say that they met many trials and tribulations on their way is an understatement. They weren’t wanted, and the state of California did everything they could to keep migrant workers out in much the same way as the United States is arguing illegal immigration right now.  Only these weren’t illegal aliens coming to America for a better life.  These were American Citizens being denied, in some cases, the right to migrate to California.  Those who made it and crossed the border were often exploited by working long hours for low pay.  They lived in tent camps and, quite frankly, the conditions they’d migrated to weren’t much better than what they’d left behind.

The nickname “Okie” — a name I take great pride in — was originally used as the most derogatory of descriptions in the same way as some of the most despicable slang for minority groups has been used over the years.

banned books 2It’s been reported that Steinbeck was appalled by the conditions that met the migrant workers, and that The Grapes of Wrath is the product of his own exposé on the subject, so to speak.  But if this actually happened, why was Steinbeck’s book so reviled?  Why did (and do) people want it banned?

The Banned Books website quotes writer Bryan Cordyack’s explanation for some of the earliest challenges of Steinbeck’s novel.  It reads:

Bryan Cordyack wrote, “Steinbeck was attacked as a propagandist and a socialist from both the left and the right of the political spectrum. The most fervent of these attacks came from the Associated Farmers of California; they were displeased with the book’s depiction of California farmers’ attitudes and conduct toward the migrants. They denounced the book as a ‘pack of lies’ and labeled it ‘communist propaganda’.”
In 1939, it was burned by the East St. Louis, IL Public Library.  Yes — burned.  In the United States.  By a library.  Burned. Torched. Obliterated.

The Banned Books website cited above further states that twenty public libraries were ordered by the Kansas City Board of Education to remove it from bookshelves because, they felt, the book contained “indecency, obscenity, abhorrence of the portrayal of women and for ‘portraying life in such a bestial way.’”

NPR credits The Grapes of Wrath as “a key event in the creation of the Library Bill of Rights.”  According to the American Library Association, the Library Bill of Rights reads:

The American Library Association affirms that all libraries are forums for information and ideas, and that the following basic policies should guide their services.

I. Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.

II. Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.

III. Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.Banned books

IV. Libraries should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas.

V. A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.

VI. Libraries which make exhibit spaces and meeting rooms available to the public they serve should make such facilities available on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use.
The Grapes of Wrath is maybe one of the best reasons that we must have free access to books.  Steinbeck witnessed a deplorable situation and set out to make the world aware.  Whether people chose to read his fiction account, or even whether to believe it was based upon actual situations, is obviously a personal choice.  But to not have access to it is to doom the reading population to live in ignorance.

For more reading on the banning of The Grapes of Wrath, I’d strongly recommend the following articles.  As I was writing this article this morning, I had a terrible time deciding what to include because the entire topic is so fascinating.  Enjoy!

Banned Book Awareness:   The Grapes of Wrath

The Telegraph:   The Grapes of Wrath – 10 surprising facts about John Steinbeck’s novel

NPR:   ‘Grapes Of Wrath’ And The Politics of Book Burning

Note:  All images used in this article are public domain and found through a combination of sources including The Library of Congress, Wikimedia, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


This Guest Blog was written by:

C.H. (Cathie) Armstrong is a 1992 graduate of the University of Oklahoma. Her debut novel, “The Edge of Nowhere,” will be released in January 2016 by Penner Publishing

Banned Books Week, Day 5: Judy Blume

Guest Blog By Cathie Armstrong

Today marks Day Five of Banned Books Week, and how could we possibly come close to finishing out the week without commenting on one of the most well-loved and most-challenged author for several decades running:  Judy Blume.

If you were ever a child (and isn’t that every one of us), then Judy Blume’s name is at least familiar to you.  She wrote the books that helped many of us get through adolescence.  She was the adult in our lives who told us that our experiences were normal!  She told us about the facts of life, and she told them to us straight.  And we appreciated and loved her for it.  But, for her efforts, she’s been one of the most challenged authors ever.Judy Blume

My childhood would not have been complete without many of Blume’s books.  She was part of the “village” that raised me.  Among my favorites were:

    • Are You there God? It’s Me, Margaret:  One of the best books to cover that confusing time when a girl leaves behind childhood and takes her first steps toward womanhood.  Blume’s address of menstruation and buying that first bra took away some of the embarrassment that an 11-year old me felt at the time.
    • Blubber:  Long before it became social taboo to bully kids, Judy Blume was tackling this topic in her books.  She made it clear that it wasn’t acceptable, and allowed those readers who’d been bullied an opportunity to finally gain some self esteem and come out on top!
  • Forever:  Truly the first romance novel I ever read, Forever tells the story of young love and first experiences.  Sure, it explores sex from a teenage perspective, but can you honestly say that — as a teen —  you weren’t curious about sex and, in many cases, too embarrassed to discuss it with your parents?  Blume takes the agony out of the wanting to know.  It’s beautifully written and remains one of my favorites to this day.

These are only a few of the many issues Blume has tackled that has made her the target of not only would-be book banners, but real-life bullies!  Yes, bullies!  According to an article in The Guardian, some people weren’t happy with simply banning Blume’s books.  Some people went so far as to make personal threats to her safety.  The Guardian quotes Blume as saying:

“I went to a couple of places two years ago and I got seven hundred and something hate-mail warnings – ‘We know where you are going to be and we’ll be there waiting for you’, that sort of thing,” says Blume. “My publisher sent me with a bodyguard. He was wonderful, I loved knowing he was there. And nothing happened and probably nothing would have happened, but it was very scary.”

judyblumeThe Guardian’s article was dated July of 2014!  That means that as late as just last year, people in the United States not only wanted to ban her books, but wished to do her personal harm!   Wow!  How’s that for living in the Home of the Free?

I’m now 45 and owe a good bit of my love for reading to Judy Blume.  I also owe more than a small part of my own self-esteem to her as well.  To Judy Blume, I bow down low and say, simply, THANK YOU!

close up of a match

Lesson #1 from 6 months as FT Author – Burn Out

Six months ago I ended my career as a full time software architect, and part time writer, to become a writer full time. I posted a few blog entries leading up to it and as I started, but after a couple of weeks, I stopped. Here are the posts: Leading up, Week 1Week 2, Week 3, Week 4.

Lesson #1 – BURN OUT

When I started writing and publishing back in early 2014, I was on fire. I was working my job, spent time with my family, AND got my first two books out and they became Amazon & Calgary Herald best-sellers.

So when I started being a full-time author, why did I slowly find myself needing my evenings to veg out at times and then…sometimes…feel like… I was…just…coming…to…a…crawl. At first, I thought it was because I was doing too many things. I was doing a LOT of things. I was doing book signings like a mad man, I was a storm on Twitter, I got more two books out (which I had started writing before going FT). Was this the problem?


It wasn’t the problem, not really. The root of my burn out was that I didn’t have any real idea how to judge my efforts. I didn’t quit my day job and start living off the revenue from my books. My contract ended, and with the oil plunge, my wife and I decided to invest in what I was doing and have her carry the burden. That left a psychological burden on me that took a long time to figure out, which was how can I judge that I’m delivering the “value” I need to my family for my actions? By not having an answer that I could truly embrace, it zapped my energy.

I was spending 50 units of energy doing great stuff that wasn’t writing. I was spending 50 units of energy on writing. And I was spending an extra 100 units of energy doubting myself and trying to figure out what I wasn’t doing that I really should be doing. Recommended daily budget? 80 units of energy MAX for a sane person. This wears you down.

You can tell yourself that this is a long term thing, but if you’re like me, you still need short term indicators to let you know that you’re doing something good. Seeing books sell on their own, without me to push them, whether online or in bookstores, is a good indicator. It doesn’t need to be much, it just needs to have a slow and steady pace that can be built upon.

What I had to do was recognize this, and start looking at the constituent pieces that were contributing to this. It starts with being honest with yourself.


I use the term “full-time” author but the reality is, it isn’t really full time. It’s about 2/3 time, and that’s because I had from 9-11am, and then from about 1-3pm every day. That’s 5 hours. I’d often, but not always, get an hour or two in the evening, so let’s average that to 6. That’s 3/4 time, at best. From 11-1 I was with my young boys, and by 3pm they had all they could handle of being with the nanny before wanting to play with daddy (in a good way). If I wasn’t at a meeting somewhere, then by 3pm my sense of guilt and duty to my kids would start distracting me, start eating me up.  Add to that I was up, almost every night either with them or for another reason, so I was getting poor sleep. And yet, my mind was expecting me to be producing at peek, 8-11 hours a day.

I had to learn how to balance my schedule so that I could productive, properly. I had to cut things out, sharpen my focus and get out of the house when I needed to accomplish something. I love my office, and my kids, but I fail everyone if I don’t get out of the house to get X done because I will be grumpy about it, whether I know it or not.

I have never had more respect for stay-at-home parents than going through this. If you think it’s a simple job to be screamed at by a 2yo for hours, and then trying to focus, try it. They didn’t need water boarding in Gitmo, they needed angry toddlers.

After you’re honest with yourself, you need to learn how to breath.


My wife, my friend Mia, and others have told me that I need to BREATH. And by that, they mean allow myself real opportunities to recharge. The problem is, when you always feel like your constantly behind and failing yourself, how do you do that? Do you delay your next release and watch some TV? Well, that just builds anxiety in me. All you need is just six weeks of uninterrupted time to catch up, right? The problem is, there is no catching up. That anxiety hole just builds.

I finally cracked this nut for myself really recently, at least I think I have. I wouldn’t accept, deep down, slowing my writing and publishing pace any more than I already have (I want 2 novels and a novella out a year, at least). After I have 10 books out, I might be able to convince myself, but for the moment, no. So what could I do that would lower my stress level? And then something donned on me.

I tried writing the first snippet of a fun story that I wanted to do, called Steampink. I really enjoyed writing it and sharing a different part of me, and that’s when I realized that I’m missing an element. I’m going to dedicate two months in the year where I’ll only write and submit for anthologies or magazines, it won’t be towards one of my books. It’ll allow me to write shorter pieces, fun things where I can create a world and then send it off, maybe to think about it again at a later point if I really liked it. This would also further my authoring career in a way that is clear and concrete.


The first six months have been filled with a lot of challenges I didn’t expect, but stopping and thinking about them, talking with someone about them, breaking them down, it’s the only way to last. I’ve already seen some indie authors who started when I started, leave “the business.” I’ve done very well in my first year, and my second year has been even better. I have to keep in mind what is great progress and what is just fantasy-impossible, and judge myself appropriately. I have to find the things that will inspire me, invigorate me, and treat myself as an asset and now a consumable.

At the end of the day, this isn’t a marathon, it’s a pilgrimage. It’s a pilgrimage to the land where, if we can get there, we yell “HOLY COW, I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS IS HAPPENING!” And you know what, we better enjoy the journey.

Adam DreeceGuest Blog by: Adam Dreece

Indie author Adam Dreece created the bestselling Steampunk series The Yellow Hoods — which has become a hit with kids from 9-15 as well as with adult readers. You can find out more about Adam Dreece and his books at