I have a secret. The writing that you see from me here, on Haunted MTL, and in my novels, is not everything that I write. If I were being generous, I’d say maybe half of the writing I do is ever seen by another human being.
That’s something to consider, isn’t it? I’m not exactly Stephen King, but I do put out a considerable amount of work every year. Usually one new book or podcast season, at least 52 blog posts, and just under 100 critical reviews. Then there are all the short stories, poetry, and micro-fiction I post on Instagram and Mastodon.
So, what is all this other writing? Am I holding out on you? Well, no, not really. Most of the writing isn’t all that interesting. It’s the compost, as Natalie Goldberg would say. It’s the freewriting and writing exercises that are to a writer what a practice sketch is to a painter. These are vital pages, even if they’re mostly nonsensical, out-of-context work. I have been practicing a lot of description writing recently because I realize my descriptions suck.
In my sketchbooks, you’ll find bad poetry that I wrote just because it was fun. You’ll find story ideas that went nowhere, little things that stuck out to me through the day, and little angry notes from things that piss me off at my day job. I also talk a great deal about things that are worrying me in my sketchbook. A lot of things worry me, and there are just only so many ears that care to hear my woes over and over again.
My personal writing falls into three categories. Writing that is practice, writing that is memory keeping, and writing that is therapy.
Writing practice happens every day. I try to start my day with ten minutes of freewriting, kind of like stretching. Later, usually in the afternoon, I’ll try to do a writing exercise. This doesn’t always happen, of course. But I try to make it happen most days.
My memory keeping is much smaller. There are little notes jotted in my bullet journal, my sketchbook, and my grimoire. I also keep a dream journal and a gratitude journal. As if that wasn’t enough, I’ll write one line about the day each day on my perpetual desk calendar. All of this takes maybe five to ten minutes in the morning. I just want a few snapshots. Later, I want to be able to visit with who I am now.
Finally, of course, I do a lot of therapeutic writing. I’m no stranger to negative emotions, of course. I’m often angry, sad, depressed, and stressed out. These emotions aren’t bad, and they need space to be expressed. They need to have space to exist. There are reasons why we feel how we feel.
The healthiest place I’ve found, to let these negative emotions have the space they need, is on the page.
Whether you’re a writer or not, these forms of writing can be great for you. Writing is fun, frankly. It can be fun to write a little poem or story idea, even if it never goes anywhere. Memory keeping is a wonderful thing to do, both for your future self and your loved ones. And of course, I think we all have emotions that we need to get out of our heads and give another space to live. If you want to get a little witchy with it, you can burn the paper afterward. It’s therapeutic.
So, I want to hear what you think. What sort of writing do you do that is just for you? Let us know in the comments.
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I was born in the mid-eighties. That means that I need aspirin for my back most days, I will never own a house, and I grew up in the golden age of Nickelodeon. I can recall the premiers of the first three Nick-toons.
Probably I’m biased, but I think people my age are pretty cool. We have twisted senses of humor, a love of horror stories, and are more politically active than generations before us. Some of that’s because the internet became more and more prevalent as we got older. But I think some of the credit goes to Nickelodeon.
Or, without making sweeping generalizations, I am at least convinced that I am the funny, horror-loving socially aware person that I am at least in part because I grew up with these five shows.
Pete & Pete
This stands as one of the weirdest shows I have ever seen. It’s the adventures of two brothers who were for some strange reason given the same name. And their world just gets weirder from there. They exist in a world with adults who take their jobs far too seriously. The bus driver who nearly runs Big Pete off the road. The school principal who makes the whole school attend an assembly on ear hygiene. A quality inspection agent who inspects everything and demands perfection. A mail woman who keeps careful verbal notes on her route every day. And Artie! The strongest man… in the world!
The show certainly gave me a taste for the quirky, with a slight touch of darkness. It also taught me that grownups are just big kids. No matter what we might tell ourselves.
Are you afraid of the dark
Maybe one of my favorite shows from childhood, Are You Afraid of the Dark was a creepy anthology series. In each episode, a group called the Midnight Society came together to scare the hell out of each other around a campfire. There were stories of ghosts coming back for a visit, demons that came out of comic books, killer clowns, and hypnotic music boxes.
My love of anthology horror was sparked by this show. But something else was sparked. These kids were telling decent stories, stories they wrote themselves. It led me to think that maybe I could write a story.
I’ve always considered All That to be kind of like a farm league for Saturday Night Live. Long-running cast member Kenan Thompson got his start on All That.
All That was funny. Sometimes it was smart funny, and sometimes it was just dumb funny. But it was always a good time.
I was, sadly, a pretty serious child. All That was one way I got a little bit of much-needed funny in my life. It was also my introduction to some iconic musical artists. It was the first time I saw TLC, Coolio, Brandy, and Outkast. It was an important musical education for me.
Nick News with Linda Ellerbee
I didn’t grow up in a very politically aware house. I’ve never seen my mother with a newspaper. She never turned the news on, and never seemed aware of world events. Whenever we talked about ‘current events’ in school, I was largely lost.
So watching Nick News was instrumental in me realizing two things. One, there was a big world out there where people were living very different lives than I was. And two, I might be able to understand it.
Nick News talked about some topics that were amazing to hear about. I remember when Magic Johnson was on for a special episode to talk about his HIV diagnosis. I remember kids my age asking him honest, intelligent questions, and getting real answers. Wars, politics, and environmental issues were laid out in a way that was attainable for a kid, but not condescending.
Kids Pick The President
After everything I just told you, it should come as no surprise that voting wasn’t a huge thing in my house growing up. I can’t remember Mom voting for anything but American Idol.
And yet, I have never missed an election. Not presidential, not local. I have voted every year since I turned eighteen. And I was able to do that because of the education I got from Kids Pick The President. It seemed fun as a kid to vote, which led to me being ready to register to vote as soon as I was old enough. For kids who don’t get that education at home, Kids Pick The President was a blessing.
The point of this post isn’t just to take a self-indulgent trip down memory lane. Though, that is a perk. No, I told you all that to tell you this.
Some of you reading this, I assume, write for children or young adults. I write young and new adult fiction, at least some of the time.
If you’re writing for kids, teens, and young adults, I feel like you’ve got an obligation to give them something real.
I’m not saying you’ve got to teach them the state capitols or some great moral lesson. But I am saying that you should give them something good. Something that will help shape the kind of human being that you want to have around. And if you want to do that, you could do worse than emulate the qualities of these classic Nickelodeon shows.
Do you know what’s expensive? Everything, my fam, everything. Grocery bills and utilities are up from last year. Rents are going up, including mine. This is leaving everyone’s budget tight, including mine.
Do you know what else is expensive? Being a working writer, specifically an indie writer. Professional editing, writing software, cover art, web hosting, conventions. It all adds up fast.
I’m going to be fully transparent with you right now, and share exactly what I’ve spent writing money on this year.
– $150 for Nebula con
-$110 for web hosting
-$60 for Dabble (If you do Nanowrimo you get a really sweet coupon for Dabble that takes the price down by a lot.)
-$15 for printing
– And I’ve lost track of how much I spent on Amazon ads.
Everything I spend is worth it. I’m not spending as much as some other authors, honestly. I could be investing more. (And I should for sure be keeping better track of how much ads cost me.)
But most of the things I use every day to run my writing business don’t cost me anything. So I wanted to talk today about what I use, give a shoutout to some companies that deserve it, and maybe help you save some hard-earned money.
None of these items are sponsored, these are only my opinions.
I rely on the International Movie Database for reviews. I use it to check facts about actors, directors, and anyone else involved with a piece of visual content I’m talking about. I can check the upcoming schedules, release dates, all of it. Honestly, this site is my best review friend.
Much like IMDB, I use Goodreads to check facts for my book reviews. I also cross-post my blog posts there if they’re book related. I use them to market my books, reach out to all of you lovely people, keep track of the books I want to read, keep track of what my friends are reading. It’s a good time.
Oh, and Bookbub tells me when books I might like are on sale. So I’ve gotten some good book deals that way.
Notion has a paid service, but I’ve been using the unpaid one for almost a year now and I love it. I use it to organize projects, my schedule, my to-do list, and my blog plans. Keep in mind, I run this site, contribute to Haunted MTL, work on three podcasts, and write novels and short stories. This is all in addition to having a full-time job and, you know, living. If I didn’t have Notion in addition to my bullet journal, I would lose my goddamned mind.
(Are you guys interested in how I use Notion along with my bullet journal? Let me know in the comments if that would be an interesting blog post)
I for sure have mentioned Canva before, but I’m going to go ahead and sing its praises again.
Canva is a site that allows you to create graphics, book covers, Instagram posts, anything pretty much. I’ve also started making my wallpapers there recently, and that’s been an enjoyable experience. I make all of my blog graphics there, including the one for this post itself.
Again there are some paid options, but a free version works just fine.
Along with Canva, Pixabay is the site I use to find good fair use artwork and pictures. And they are, let me tell you, lovely. Almost any picture on here or on my social media, unless I specifically took it myself, is from there.
This is by far my favorite site when I’m submitting work to literary agents. It has up-to-date information on agents, lets me search by genre, and keeps track of who I’ve submitted to! I am so bad at keeping track of things like that, no matter how hard I try. This site has kept me from double submitting more than once.
I swear, sometimes it takes longer to find a place to submit a short story than it did to write it. But the Submission Grinder helps out here. You can specify what sort of market you’re looking for in a great amount of detail. What word count, genre, and pay level are you looking for? You can be specific, allowing you to just see markets that fit your current story’s needs instead of wading through places that are just a waste of your time. I love this site.
This is one that I’ve been using for years and years to find writing markets. And it doesn’t just contain short story markets. I’ve searched for writing jobs, review work, nonfiction, agents, and publishers. Anything you want to sell, you can find somewhere to sell it here.
This might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s just not talked about enough. A writer cannot do anything better for themselves than having a good relationship with their local library.
I tweeted about this the other day but in case you missed it, here’s a list of things I did in just one trip to the library.
-I got a pile of research material for an upcoming book.
-I got a draft of AA published for the next round of editing for way cheaper than anywhere else.
-I had a quiet place to work and read for a bit.
-I was able to get a cheap cup of good coffee.
-I snagged a copy of Daughter of Dr. Moreau, which I’ve been excited to read.
Your local library is an indispensable resource. We don’t talk about them enough. We don’t thank them enough.
So that’s it! Hopefully, this list will save you some money and maybe even some time.
I’d love to hear from you, though. Are there any writing tools that you couldn’t live without and cost no money? Let us know in the comments.
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Long-time readers probably knew this was coming. Today is the eighth anniversary of my writing weekly posts for this little corner of the internet we call Paper Beats World.
I just read through the last six anniversary posts, and I don’t want this post to be just another thank you and I don’t know how the hell we got here post.
I mean, thank you for sure. While I would keep writing stories no matter the response, I for sure wouldn’t be posting here every week unless someone was out there consuming it. Every time you read my work and like it, it feels like a virtual hug.
At this point, it seems pretty clear that I’m going to keep showing up here. So let’s not waste any time today talking about how amazing it is that my Gemini brain didn’t get bored yet. I’m here to stay. So let’s talk about something worth our time.
I’ve tried my best to write posts that would help you level up your writing. I hope it’s helped.
And I’m not done leveling up. Over the next year, I’ve got big plans. I’m working to find an agent, of course. And I’m trying to join SFWA. While I’m doing that, I’m going to be bringing some self-published to you.
Here’s what you can expect from me between now and the next PBW anniversary.
1. Season two of AA is on its way. In case you haven’t heard season one yet, it’s available here.
2. The very last Station 86 book will be coming out within the next twelve months. Don’t know when yet, but it’s coming. (You can get the first book for free on Smashwords right now.)
3. The good news for Station 86 fans doesn’t stop there. I’m currently working to convert the books into audiobooks and relaunch the whole series.
There will be other goodies coming your way. Short stories exclusive to PBW. New content to make you a better writer or just live a better life. Reviews of speculative fiction content. Next month, of course, we’re going to be celebrating Banned Books Week.
Writing for this blog continues to be one of the most uplifting projects in my week. Thank you for being a friend, and showing up with me every week.
Nine years, ten books, and two podcasts later, I’m still here. Still going strong. And it’s honestly kind of baffling.
I’ve gone into detail before about how this book saved my life. How the universe came together to bring me to the place of being a writer. So I’m not going to get super mushy today. At least not on here. In real life, I’m sobbing. Because I can’t believe I’ve been a professional writer for nine whole years.
Honestly, I am not the same person I was nine years ago. I hope you’re not the same because that would be kind of sad.
I wanted to do a bonus post today, sharing nine things I’ve learned in the last nine years. Then, I realized that I wrote an advice post a few weeks ago when Quiet Apocalypse came out.
Then, I realized that all of the advice in that post was about being a writer. It’s not craft advice. And after all, it’s all about the craft. I didn’t offer bread to the birds in Diamond Park and pray to be good at marketing. I prayed to be a writer.
So today here are the nine most important pieces of writing advice I’ve learned in the last nine years.
Use cheap notebooks
Listen to me on this one. I love beautiful notebooks, expensive notebooks. I bought two Archer and Olive notebooks for my 2022 bullet journals, and those puppies ain’t cheap. I just bought a real leather-covered book for my Book of Shadows, and clearly, that was some money. But when I’m doing freewriting or rough drafts, I use cheap college-ruled notebooks as one would use in school.
The first reason is that I fill a freewriting notebook every two months and my rough drafts usually encompass up to five notebooks, and that would be money. But the more important reason for this is that it allows me to write shit.
And you’ve got to have the freedom to write shit. Especially when you’re working on your rough draft. You’ve got to sit down, look at the page, and say, “I’m going to fill you. And because my only goal today is to fill you, most of what I fill you with is going to be pure, unfiltered garbage.”
That is not happening in a twenty-dollar notebook. That book will stand up and walk off your desk.
If you’re worried you went too far, write it anyway
I have written some things that frankly, scared me. I’ve written about gruesome murders, rapes, and tortures. I’ve written about people doing things that horrify me. I’ve killed characters who didn’t deserve to die. I even wrote about a dog being ripped apart.
It was fucking hard to do that. But I didn’t do it for shock value. I did it because it fit in the story. Because while I was writing, I felt like this is what needed to happen. And those scenes, hard as they are to write or even really think about, make for a richer story. And yes, it might upset some people. But that’s the next thing we’re going to talk about.
Don’t worry that you’re going to piss people off
I’m in the process of writing a nonfiction book that’s going to piss people off. I talk about politics a lot on this website, and sometimes people don’t like that. Sometimes when things happen to me, I write about them in fictional settings. Some of those things are messed up, and I’m going to write about them anyway.
And I’ll never, ever apologize.
My stories are mine. Your stories are yours. If you want to write about your life, write about it. You don’t need permission to talk about anything that happens to you.
Writing exercises are crucial
I do writing exercises every day. Some days I’m bored by it. Some days I write some of the best shit I have ever written. Every day I come to the page. Because you can’t do something every day and not get good at it.
It also helps with writer’s block. If you’re just used to doing writing exercises every day, the blank page just doesn’t hold a lot of fear for you.
90 percent of writing books are bullshit
I love every single book Natalie Goldberg has ever written. I have worn out multiple copies of Stephen King’s On Writing. And I have a copy of Elements of Style that came to me in such a serendipitous way that God sent it to me.
I have never read any other writing book that was worth my time. If you have any book recommendations for me, leave them in the comments. But most of them are shit. Sorry.
This isn’t to say that a good writing book isn’t worth twice its weight in gold. Good writing books are worth wading through bad writing books to find them. Just don’t feel like you’ve got to take everything in one of those books as gospel.
Be honest while telling lies
I write about dragons, ghosts, and spaceships. That’s my catchphrase. I don’t write about things that happened.
But I also do.
I write about people dying at political rallies.
I write about postpartum depression.
I write about real things I’m really afraid of or things that have happened in the guise of fiction.
And it’s not always on purpose. My husband is an actor in AA, and he’s frequently found my work familiar in ways that I didn’t even realize. “Oh, this character is like our asshole landlady. Oh, I remember when this happened to you. I know the horrific political thing you’re referencing here.”
And half the time I hadn’t realized that’s what I was writing about until he pointed it out.
Do you have to make your fiction a political statement? No, of course not. But the truth will come out of your fiction if you care about anything at all.
Make friends with other writers
My writing life blossomed when I started making other writer friends. Yes, it’s great to have someone to network with. Yes, it’s great to have people to swap beta reads with. But the best thing about having writing friends is having someone who speaks your language. The best thing is finding your tribe.
Finding people who get the weird shit we do. Who understands why we can agonize over one word for days and then write 4,000 words in an hour. Who gets what it feels like to launch a book to lukewarm applause, and how awful/awesome that is. Because yes, no one seemed to care, but it’s also the best thing you’ve ever done.
It’s great to have people who can hold you accountable, with who you can pitch ideas, and who you can cry over rejection letters.
Find your writing tribe.
You can learn from literally everybody
I have become a better writer by listening to advice from other artists. Not just writers. Poets, visual artists, photographers, and stand-up comedians. Everyone who creates has something to teach us.
Actually, everyone has someone to teach us. I heard the best advice from the CEO of Hooters in a podcast once.
Read autobiographies from creative people. Watch interviews, and listen to podcasts. Learn from creative people, writers or not.
Write for you first
Finally, this is something I learned from Quiet Apocalypse. I’ve mentioned this before, but this book is the most selfish book I’ve ever written.
I love haunted house books, so I wanted to write one. I am a witch, so I wanted to write a main character who’s a witch. I love demonic stories, so I wrote about demons. I wrote the story that I wanted to read. And it is my favorite book I’ve ever written.
I think other people would agree. But even if no one else read it, I still had a blast writing it. Hell, I might sit down and read it myself someday.
I would love to know if you’re a long-time fan who read and loved Woven. I’d love to know which one of my books you’ve read or want to read. Let me know in the comments so I can cry out of gratitude.
Paper Beats World is a labor of love. If you found something of value in this post, please consider buying me a cup of coffee on Ko-fi.
This post is later than normal, sorry about that. I’ve found it hard recently to sit down and write. And trust me, it’s got nothing to do with the weather. I’m not really a Summer kind of gal.
Rather, I’m having trouble focusing on my writing with the current state of the country. Women fighting for the rights to our bodies. Families living hand to mouth. Basic supplies are gone from our store shelves. Children were slaughtered in their classrooms. Veterans dying in the street. Yellowstone is being ripped apart by floods caused by climate change. Police still killing black people with little to no repercussions. Trans children and gay teachers are treated like predators and pedophiles.
Oh, and Flint Michigan still doesn’t have clean water.
If Aaron Burr was watching the afterbirth of a nation, we’re watching it have a head-on collision where the airbags failed.
And through all of this, we’re all dealing with our own struggles.
So what in the fuck am I doing writing stories? What the fuck do I think I’m doing, talking about American Horror Story, writing about true crime stories and ghost hunters? It doesn’t matter, none of this matters!
I’m pretty sure it was Matt Wallace on Ditch Diggers who said that it felt like he was standing outside a burning house, yelling at the people coming out, “Hey, you want to buy a book?”
Never in my life have I felt farther from my dream of being a full-time writer. The economy has a huge impact on creative fields, it always has. And it’s a one-two punch. People don’t have the money to buy as many books, so there’s less money coming in. And everything is more expensive, so the dollars we do get aren’t going half so far.
It’s always been hard to be a writer, but now it’s even worse.
And now is when we need writers the most.
Not just writers. We need musicians, visual artists, and creators of every kind. We need art more than ever in times like this.
We need artists to talk about what they’re seeing. To give different perspectives. To show the true horrors and not let any of us forget. We need to document the horrors, write down the names, and remember those who have been lost to us. Like those who have come before us, we can hold the feckless politicians accountable. We can use words and music and paint and photos to inspire people. We can let people know they’re not going through this alone. We can be the hand on the shoulder of someone who feels isolated.
Artists are the eyes upon those in power.
Artists hold the names of the lost in our collective memory.
Artists give words to the grief and boiling fury of a nation.
Like the receiver of memories, we have to suffer through the horrors and indulge in the joys of our past to guide people into a better future.
Some of us aren’t going to be able to do that. I can’t fight this fight all day, every day. I’ll never make it. So I’m also going to create silly things. The stories and podcasts and poems that have nothing to do with the horrors we’re facing. And I hope you do, too.
Because as much as we need the record keepers and fighters, we need the stories too.
We need things that distract us. That makes us laugh and smile and just forget about everything wrong for a bit. While I’m not one to turn off the news, I am one to take a break from the news and watch the latest Are You Scared. (Shane, Ryan and Stephen started a company in the middle of a pandemic. Clearly, they’re not scared of anything.)
I’ve carried books to ER waiting rooms. Played video games when I was having an anxiety attack. Watched my favorite movies when I’ve felt alone. Listened to music when there was no other way I could find my way out of the darkness.
I thought that was great on the last season of Stranger Things, by the way. Metaphorically, we’ve all been where Max was, lost in a dark place where no one can reach us, only to have music light our way back.
Which brings me to my final point.
My favorite stories include ordinary people finding that they have extraordinary strength within them. A strength that allows them to defeat the bad guys, save their loved ones and find peace in their world. While not everything turns out perfect, things get better. There’s a happy ending.
The Baudelaire find their safe place.
The House Next Door comes down.
The Owens sisters break the curse.
Coraline saves her parents.
And in reading their stories, we fight with them. We learn that we can lose but then win again.
So please, don’t stop creating. If you’ve always wanted to create but haven’t started yet, start now.
That’s not even including the three short story collections I put out. Or the first season of my radio drama, AA.
I’m a firm believer that the best way to learn is by doing. And I’ve learned a hell of a lot doing this job for as long as I have. So today I want to share this hard-won wisdom I have earned. (Yes, I’m still obsessed with Hamilton.) Here then are <?> things I’ve learned after writing ten books.
A writing career is a long game.
With so much content out, you might imagine I’ve quit my day job and am writing full time. Unless you’ve been reading this blog for a while, then you know that I still have a more than full-time job. I also write for Haunted MTL.
What I’m saying is, you’re not going to get rich quick writing books. You’re probably not going to get rich at all. I mean, it’s possible. But just not likely.
I think that I’ll be able to go full-time eventually. It’s just going to take more work than what I’ve done so far.
Writing is 75% of the battle
Most of what I do as a writer is, well, writing. Blog posts, novels, short stories, podcast scripts. Quirky little micro-fiction pieces and snarky social media posts also count as far as I’m concerned.
Then, there’s all the other stuff I do. I submit stories, and plan and act out marketing. I run ad campaigns and do market research. I’m also exploring whether or not I could produce my own audiobooks. (Would you guys like audio versions of my books? Let me know in the comments.) I make book covers for my indie books. I schedule for them to be edited. I pay for them to be edited. There is so much involved in writing that isn’t writing.
Indie and Trad publishing have a lot more in common than I thought.
I had a lot of assumptions going into publishing with a company instead of on my own. And maybe if you’re working with one of the bigger companies, some of my assumptions might be true. But working with an indie publisher, well it’s a lot like self-publishing your work. What my publisher did for me was to make a cover and do editing. The bulk of marketing still fell on my shoulders.
That’s the biggest surprise I had. No one is going to market your book for you but you. You’ve got to get the word out on social media. You’ve got to send out press releases, and schedule author meetups. You’ve got to let the world know your book is out and why they should give a damn. Because literally, no one else is going to do it.
Social media doesn’t count for as much as you think it does.
I like social media (because I’m real fast with that block button.) I like talking on Twitter and sharing pictures on Instagram. And these are some ways to let people know your book is available.
But they’re not the most reliable ways. You can never be sure that anyone is seeing what you’re posting. And even if they are, they’re not going to be as compelled to buy your book as you want them to be.
I’ve seen a steady increase over the years of social media followers and readership of PBW. And I love that! I am so happy that you’re all here.
But my sales numbers have not gone up with those social media numbers. And that’s fine, I’m not complaining. I am saying that worrying over your Instagram followers isn’t going to do you as much good as you think it will.
The cover counts for so, so much.
I have made my covers for my indie books in the past. Quiet Apocalypse will likely be the last book I do a cover for. Because having a professional cover counts for so much. People scrolling through books online are going to notice covers first. Then they’ll slow down and read your descriptions. But it’s the cover that’s going to sell your book first. So invest in a good one.
You will never, ever stop learning.
I’m a pretty good writer, but I hope I’m always striving to be a better writer. I’ve got a ton to learn about marketing still if I’m being honest. And I’ll always, always have more to learn.
There’s always a convention to go to, a new book to read, a new writing practice to try. There’s always a better way to pitch, to write a fight scene, to tell people about your book. There’s always more to learn about the market and trends. There are always ways to be a better writer. And so long as you have that sort of mindset, you’ll keep getting better.
It’s still worth it.
After all this time, after publishing ten books and still needing a full-time job, I still love it.
I still love writing. I still love sharing my work with other people. Writing Quiet Apocalypse was so much fun, and writing my current WIP (AA season two if you’re wondering) is even more fun than that. I said a long time ago that I’d still want to write if I never made a dime. And that is still the case.
I’m so proud of my books. And I fully expect to reach number twenty someday.
This past week I attended Nebula Con for the first time. This was my first writing con ever. And it was, let me tell you, an experience. So I thought it would be fun to tell you all about it today, including some lessons I’ll be keeping in mind for next year.
The con was entirely virtual this year. Which for sure had its pros and cons. I’ve never been to a live con before, so I can’t compare the experiences.
I can tell you that it seems like it would have been a lot harder to get to panels if I’d been there in person. Many times the panels are double up, so some serious decisions would have had to be made if I couldn’t watch the replay later.
And there was just so much! There were a ton of panels about writing, marketing, and time management. You know, all my favorite things. There were Q&A sessions, meet and greets, and office hours with successful authors and agents. And of course, there was the Nebula Awards ceremony. Oh, such an inspirational vibe! If you can watch that and not get inspired to write some potentially award-winning words, I don’t know what’s wrong with you.
If you’ve never been to a con, or are considering going to an online con, here are some things to keep in mind.
It’s exhausting, even if it’s virtual
I was expecting Nebula con to take a lot. Panels were often scheduled from nine in the morning until midnight, my time. And I wanted to get to as many of the panels as I could. I paid money for this con, I was going to squeeze every last bit out of it as I could. I bought energy drinks and planned to order in all three days. (Good thing, too. Because on the first day my kitchen sink exploded. Mercury Retrograde at its finest.)
Even with these preparations, I was just done. I’d taken vacation time from the day job, and I was so thankful I’d taken the Monday after off as well. My plan originally was to watch the panels I’d missed and go through my notes in more detail. What I did instead was sleep and read This is How You Lose the Time War. Then sleep some more. So if you can, plan on taking a recoup day after any convention, even if it’s virtual.
Prepare to take a ton of notes
This one I was ready for. I bought a specific con notebook and everything. And let me tell you, I needed it.
Not only were there some amazing writing and marketing tips, but I was also getting story ideas left and right. I was also having realizations about my WIP. I was also learning about books I need to read, websites I need to lurk on, and opportunities I need to seek out. There wasn’t a time my pen wasn’t going during a panel. So, be prepared.
Your tbr list will explode
Oh, the books I learned about. So many of the panelists had great books they were talking up. So many of my fellow con attendees had great books, too. That isn’t even including all the writing must-reads that I learned about. And I was just writing them all down. Not like I already didn’t have a massive tbr list. But I learned about so many indie or small press authors because I was cracking jokes with them in the comment section. And what did the conversation always turn to? Of course, our books.
Take office hours if they’re offered, and prepare for them
I had the opportunity to talk to DongWon Song during the convention, and I was just star-struck. I knew I was going to get tongue-tied taking to them, so I wrote a list of questions I wanted to ask in advance.
I didn’t think of enough questions.
Getting some professional advice from someone I admire was amazing. If you get a chance for office hours at a con, take them. And write down questions beforehand. Write twice as many questions as you think you have time for, and ask them in order of priority. Because I didn’t write nearly enough, and my social anxiety kicked in too hard for me to think of any more at the moment.
Meeting new writers is the best part of the con
I met so many cool writers during the con. We all followed each other on social media, made jokes, and gave each other advice in the comment section. We made plans to meet up like kids at sleep-away camp. It was awesome.
Having fellow writers around to keep you accountable and commiserate is amazing. They understand what it’s like to juggle day jobs with writing and marketing books, while maybe catching a few hours of sleep. So I was overjoyed to make some new writing buddies.
Nothing you learn there is going to do you any good if you don’t act on it!
Finally, it’s important to note that my Nebula con experience isn’t done yet. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve got a stack of notes. I also have some panels left to watch. I have websites to check out, writing exercises to try, and books to read. Because I can go to every con, read every book, watch every Youtube video, and it won’t do me a damn bit of good if I don’t act on what I’ve learned.
It might take me three months, but damn it I’m going to do it.
After all of this, I think it’s clear that I’ll be going back next year. Hopefully, I’ll see you there.
Paper Beats World is a labor of love. If you got something of value from this post, please consider buying me a cup of coffee on Ko-fi.
I’m starting a mini-series today, covering some of my heroes in the horror genre. I’ve been a horror fan all my life, ever since the first time I watched Nightmare on Elm Street. Horror has always been my favorite form of entertainment. Bad horror, good horror, it rarely matters. I love zombies, haunted houses, Poltergeist. Give it all to me.
So I thought it would be fun to talk about some of my favorite horror creators of all time. I want to talk about why they’re amazing writers, creators and people in general.
Anyone who’s read this blog for any amount of time knows I love Stephen King. Even if I don’t love many of his endings. I’ve learned so much from him as a working writer, as a storyteller, as a creative person who has to exist in the real world. And I’m far from the only one inspired by him. He is, after all the reigning king of horror and has been for basically my entire life. Who else has that long of a career, honestly?
King knew he wanted to be a writer as a kid, something I relate to. In his book, On Writing, he tells stories of nailing rejection letters on his wall with a railroad spike. But since writing rarely pays the bills, at least at first, he got a teaching degree. Jokes on him, teaching usually doesn’t pay the bills either.
But the part of him that wanted to teach never went away. It fairly does with those passionate about helping others learn. And so King has written several books about writing and the horror genre. I talked about On Writing extensively here. I also talked about his amazing book, Danse Macabre on Haunted MTL. It’s a formative education on the horror genre, and everyone with even a passing interest in horror should read it.
King has always been generous with his knowledge. He wants to help people be better writers. And he enjoys talking about his favorite topics. He’s also very good at talking about his favorite topics, which makes sense. After all, he’s made a fortune telling stories.
Most people are fully aware that King suffered from substance abuse. He’s never shied away from that. He’s critical of himself for it and honest about how his addictions hurt his family. This bravery is something to be admired. I’m sure it opened him up to armchair therapists who want to label people who create horror as sick individuals. People like that will be quick to say that something must be wrong with him. People like that will be quick to say that about almost anyone, though.
But his honesty should inspire all of us to talk more openly about substance abuse. If it was easier to find help without judgment, more people would.
King makes it clear that he never needed drugs or alcohol to create. There are a lot of jokes in the creative world that the real geniuses are always tortured. That artists and writers are always drunks or drug addicts. I hate that suggestion. It’s an excuse for bad behavior, and an invitation for young creatives to experiment with things they should be staying far the hell away from. And King didn’t need that shit to write horror that scares the hell out of us. Neither does anyone else.
King was able to get himself clean and stay clean largely because of his family. When reading On Writing, it’s clear that King is devoted to his wife, Tabitha. She is his partner in every sense of the word. I admire that. He’s fully aware that he wouldn’t have been able to create what he did without her.
On a personal note, I read On Writing for the first time when I was sixteen. I dreamed of having that sort of partner then. I’m blessed to have found that sort of partner. The kind who will tell me clearly when my writing sucks, and then tell me how awesome I am in the next breath. I am always grateful for that.
The point I’m trying to make here isn’t to get married. It’s the same point King makes, again, in On Writing. I can’t say it better than him, so I’ll just go ahead and quote him.
Art is a support system for life, not the other way around.
I try to keep this in mind. When it feels like the words want to suck up my whole day. When I want nothing but the page staring back at me. When I feel like I’m behind on all my projects, and I want to start even more, and who needs to sleep anyway, I remember that good advice from my teacher. And I put the work away for a little while. I walk Oliver. I play chase the pen with Harper. I watch tv with the darling husband. I sing along with the music while I wash the dishes and I remember that I am more than the words I put on the page. I am a writer, but I am more.
The great thing about this lesson, putting your life before your art, is that it doesn’t mean you don’t create. King has published 64 novels, plus his short story collections, nonfiction works, and all the work he does adapting his books into tv shows and movies. The man is a creative machine. And it’s for one simple reason. He treats the writing as work. This is to say that he shows up every day at the blank page and writes. He does not wait for the muse to come to him. He sits down and starts writing. And eventually, the muse shows up.
King does not believe, and I do not believe, in writer’s block. If you’re a writer, you write. If you’re not writing, you need to figure out why you’re not. Or, you can do what King does and what I do. You sit down and write anyway, even if it’s shit writing. Even if it’s the worst thing you’ve ever written. Because the only way to get past writer’s block is to write.
Honestly, I don’t know that I’ll ever hit the 64 novel number. I have four, and four novellas, and one radio drama podcast. And I’m pretty sure you could stack all my work together and it wouldn’t match the page count of the extended version of The Stand. But I’m young, and I still have a full-time job. I’ll get there.
Turning now to the quality of King’s stories, I don’t think anyone can argue that they’re popular. And if you ask him, he’ll tell you that this comes from two things. Reading a lot and writing a lot.
I think it’s a little more than that, of course. King has been a horror fan his whole life. He has lived the genre. He knows the classics. He knows what scares the hell out of people. And he uses it. This takes time, years really. But it’s the only way to get good at something.
TLDR, here are the lessons that any writer can learn from Stephen King
I heard a nasty rumor the other day that Futurama might be getting a reboot. This is my favorite show of all time, and I think they ended it on an exemplary note. Honestly, I can’t think of a better ending. So whoever had the idea to reboot this and spoil that perfect last episode can bite my shiny metal ass.
I love Futurama because it’s funny, it’s smart and it’s way more emotional than people give it credit for. And like everything else, it taught me things.
Next week, I’ll do a Why It Works post about Futurama. But today, I want to talk about some times the show made me think about fairly deep topics. Maybe deeper than you’d expect from a show that included a swearing, chain-smoking alcoholic kleptomaniac robot.
Karma will out
Every character in Futurama has a moment, often more than once, where they are human. They have flaws, they’re selfish. They let their baser instincts guide them. And almost every time, Karma bites them.
Yes, even Bender.
Karma will out is a lesson we need to be reminded of, even as adults. And while it doesn’t always work in the real world, it does often enough for our delightful Gen Z to create a delightful new phrase for it. Fuck around and find out.
Fry kicks Bender out of their shared apartment because his antenna is messing with the tv signal. He fucked around with Bender’s emotions and found out that doesn’t feel great.
Bender fucks around and steals an expensive cigar and finds out the cops take that sort of thing seriously.
Karma will out.
You can be smart and stupid at the same time
Amy is, in my opinion, an underrated character. She’s a college student, taking classes so intentionally advanced that she’s the only one taking them. She’s clever, quick-witted, and kind of a bitch sometimes. But she’s also a silly young adult who has no coordination, has swallowed her cell phone by mistake, and once lost the keys to the ship in a crane machine.
Both of these things can exist in the same person. I think sometimes we get caught up in proving we’re whatever we want to be. We want to prove we’re adults, prove we’re smart, prove we’re responsible and have our shit together.
I’m smart when it comes to writing, time management, handcrafts, home crafts, art, computers, and a few other things. I am also the fool who once asked, “Why is Honey Nut Cheerios giving out wildflower seeds to help the bee population?”
I’m also the fool who turns on the light on my tablet to look for my tablet in bed. Who forgets to grab a towel on the way to the shower. And who does a million other stupid things while still being a published author and holding down a full-time job in the technical field? I contain multitudes and sometimes that’s not a good thing. But it doesn’t make me dumb.
You can be silly and serious at the same time
My favorite episode of Futurama is The Sting. In it, Lela thinks Fry is dead after he’s stung by a giant killer space bee. The episode deals with not only mourning the death of a loved one but also substance abuse and suicide. This is from the same series that later had an episode about cats trying to take over the world. And it did both of those things exceptionally well.
Life is both silly and serious. There are heavy things we have to deal with. But there are also remarkably silly things. We live in a world where both puff adders and kiwis exist. And while that’s a thought that can get you down if it comes out of nowhere, it’s comforting when you’re dealing with one of those serious moments.
At least it is for me.
God is present
Or the energy of the universe is present if you prefer.
There’s an episode of Futurama called Godfellas. It won a metric ton of awards and for good reason. It’s amazing. And there’s a line that is stuck in my mind and will probably never go away.
If you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all.
It makes me wonder how many times my life has been touched by an unseen but present source of love and hope. Just a tap here, a nudge there. How have I been helped without even realizing it?
I love that, just the question of it. It makes me feel protected. Even if I’m not sure anything’s being done at all.