Jim’s everyone’s friend. He teaches the kids of the community, helps out at meetings. He’s quick to led an ear when needed, or pick someone up from the train station. And he’s happy to make friends with Josey. Maybe more than friends.
A transplant himself, Jim is one of the only members of the community to move to Peach Springs as an adult. But he’s found himself a member of the community anyway.
You can hear about Jim in the first season of AA, starting on September second.
(This isn’t sponsored, but I was gifted a copy of Hero’s Journal for donating to Nanowrimo.)
I received a Hero’s Journal during Camp Nanowrimo. And I was pretty stoked about it. You know me, I love a good notebook. Especially (gasp) a goal-setting notebook that is specific to my writing.
This journal has been all over the internet. People, let me tell you, love this thing. And now that I’ve played with it a few weeks, I can see why.
But I still ended up giving it away. So I thought I’d talk a little bit today about what I liked about the Hero’s Journal, and why it’s not for everyone.
When the journal arrived, it came with fanfare. I opened the container to find it was packed in a delightful box covered in art that reminded me of the Bone comics. I was charmed right off the bat.
Inside, I found the start of a journey, with a whole mythical motif. I started with writing out my goals, and actionable steps to reach them.
The next thing I found was the daily pages. And this is where I think the magic happens. There’s room for hourly planning, goals for the day. A good amount of room for notes.
My favorite part, however, was the space to consider your allies and enemies for the day. An ally is something that’s going to help you through the day. An enemy is going to stand in the way of your goals. So if I were going to fill out this section for a day, it might look like this.
1. A good night’s sleep last night.
2. Good coffee in my brand new fall travel mug.
3. Monday vibes. (This post was written on Monday)
1. Overtime hours at my day job.
2. I have a ton of editing and posting to do tonight.
3. I want to read Hollow City and not be productive at all.
Taking some time to consider what might get in my way, along with what I can lean on to help me, has kind of been a game-changer. If I know what is likely to sneak up and bite me, I can prepare for it.
After 30 days, there’s a little review process. And you all know I swear by monthly reviews. No organization method is going to be half so productive if you’re not taking time to see where you are, and what’s working.
I love the artwork that flows through the whole book. I love how it makes goal setting feel like a journey. It’s an adventure.
If you’re struggling to find a way to keep your life in order, get the Hero’s Journal. It’s a little extra fun and it will probably help you reach your goals. It’s got just enough structure and just enough free space.
Now let me tell you why I’m not going to be using The Hero’s Journal. It comes down to one thing.
It doesn’t do anything to me that bullet journaling doesn’t already do, or that I can’t incorporate into my bullet journal. But there are a lot of things that my bullet journal does that the Hero’s Journal cannot.
This isn’t to say that just because I don’t use it, no one with a bullet journal will find it useful. I just have already incorporated my writing journey into the rest of my life. They cannot be separated. I wake up, walk the dog, brush my teeth, sit down to free write, get dressed. I make my to-do list for the day, and it includes dishes, word counts, laundry, and blog posts. I am a writer, and after seven years I cannot tell you where the writer begins and the woman ends.
I consider this ideal, but it’s not for everyone.
Honestly, I’d suggest giving the Hero’s Journal a try. Especially if you find goal setting rather boring. It’s a clever concept executed well.
There’s something in Rose’s past that her family doesn’t know. That even her best friend Stevie doesn’t know. Whatever it is, it’s made her less than happy to find a human has found her way inside the community. In Rose’s eyes, there’s no way Josey’s there for good reasons. More likely she’s a spy for the men in grey, just waiting to take the community out one by one. And Rose has got no intentions of letting that just happen.
A truly type A person, Heather runs the AA meetings in Peach Springs. She’s quick to pull people into her inner circle, and to lend a hand when needed.
Heather is every organized cub scout leader mother. Someone needs a place to stay, Heather will find them a bed. Need furniture, she knows a guy. She’ll be the one at your house at seven at night with a casserole, still wearing high heels and a smile, Honey.
Stevie is called when there’s trouble. And trouble has come to Peach Springs in the form of the illusive men in grey. She plans to be there only long enough to find out why this quasi government agency has their eyes on her community. But when she finds Josey, a human, has woven herself into the meetings, she decides to stick around for awhile.
Stevie is trained to spot and deal with trouble. She hasn’t decided if Josey is trouble or not. For Josey’s sake, Stevie had better decide she’s trustworthy.
When Josey moves to a new town, she thinks her life’s going to get better. Then her new job falls through. So she finds herself working two jobs to afford an overpriced apartment. But it’s the divorce papers sent from her ex that really sends her past demons back to haunt her.
Josey needs to find a meeting.
What she finds is a community of aliens hiding in plain sight.
You’ll be able to hear Josey’s story starting on September second on Haunted MTL.
So I’ve been using Notion for a couple of months now. I started using it after watching an Amanda Lee video on YouTube. She just made it seem so cool, I had to try it.
I have a bad habit of trying new software and apps, spending hours moving all my notes and info over to them, then dropping them like a hot coal a few days later. The reasons vary. It didn’t do what I thought it would. It’s redundant. It’s just one more bloody app to check in the morning. It’s not easy to use. Something new and shiny caught my eye. You get the idea.
But I’ve continued to use Notion for long enough now that I think I’m ready to share it with you. (Not a sponsored post.)
So, if you don’t know what Notion is, it’s a note-taking app. Think of it as a virtual notebook. I tend to use it as a virtual bullet journal. You can keep to-do lists, pictures, documents. if you have a paid account, you can share access to all of those things.
I don’t work with a team, so I don’t have a paid account. And I have to say, I use it almost every day for both my personal and my writing life.
Here’s what I use it for.
Social media plans- Pretty self-explanatory. I keep a little chart of ideas for Tweets, pins, Instagram posts and the like. I hate sitting down to plan a day worth of social media and having no ideas. Why do I have all these pithy thoughts until I have my keyboard under my fingers?
Meal prep plans- Whatever makes my brain go blank when I’m trying to write social media does the same damned thing when I’m trying to figure out dinner. Even when I try to write a shopping list, I forget every meal I have ever made. So having a list of meals I make, or that I want to try, is a huge help.
Utility info- Another pretty self-explanatory thing. This is the information I need if I have to deal with any of my utilities.
Savings info- I know everyone suggests having separate savings accounts but I don’t have time for all that nonsense. So my savings account has just one chunk of money. Then I keep track of what money is for what on this Notions page.
Expense trackers- If you’re not tracking how much your bills usually are, you should be.
Address book- Again, pretty simple. Nothing’s worse than fumbling for the vet’s number because Oliver swallowed something he ought to know not to.
Rolling to-do list- While my daily goals are in my bullet journal, I like to keep a rolling list of things I need to get to. This gets slowly moved to my bj as I can manage these tasks. Nothing gets forgotten, but I’m not looking at a list of things that no one could do in a day.
Contests- I have a bad habit of entering too many contests. I like to have a place to keep track of them. Due dates, word requirements, all the rules, links to pages. It’s super useful to have all of that in just one place.
Project pages- This is especially useful as I get into more forms of storytelling. As I work on AA and other podcasts, there’s just a huge amount of info to keep track of. And Notion is where it all goes.
Blog post schedule- Finally, I keep track of all my blog posts for here and Haunted MTL. I keep notes, links, info, calendars.
Now, you might be wondering if I still use a bullet journal. The answer is yes. I use Notion for long-term planning and things that need to stick around as I switch from book to book. My daily and weekly planning are more in the moment. Even my monthly goals to a degree. And of course, there’s also the memory capturing part of a bullet journal that I don’t want to convert to virtual just yet.
The big reason why I started using Notion is that I had things that either changed too often or not often enough. Things like my blog schedule, which might switch on a whim, are a pain to do then redo on paper all the time. Things like what recipes I like to make for dinner don’t change so often that they need refreshed every three to six months when I get a new BJ.
I do appreciate that I can pull Notion up on any device. My tablet has the app, of course. And I can pull up the website on any computer. I like that I can access all of my notes, for both home and writing life, no matter where I am.
The fact that it’s cute doesn’t hurt.
Have you tried Notion? Let us know in the comments below.
Storytime, guys. Once upon a time, right before I started this blog, I managed a shoe store. And back then, I’d worked hard to get that position. I’d put in intense hours, said yes to abusive things. I did something I’m still pretty proud of and worked with several cheer squads to provide their shoes. That alone brought in thousands in revenue for my store. I could go on, but you get the point. I wanted to be the manager.
And I got it.
Funny thing about wanting something and working really really hard for it. You often get it. And you think that’s going to make you happy, right?
I got the manager job, and I did a happy dance around the store. And if I was committed before, I was doubly so after. I was so proud.
It took me months to realize I was struggling emotionally. To realize that I hated the damn place, the job and everything about it.
For a long time, I tried to ignore that feeling. I beat myself up over it. I told myself that I didn’t have any right to be unhappy. Isn’t this what I’d worked for? A poisoned mantra was imprinted in my mind, and I couldn’t get rid of it. I didn’t want to get rid of it, because it served me. It made me get up and go to work every day, even when I’d rather have died.
I’ll never be happy if I’m not happy here.
The realization that something had to change didn’t hit me all at once. It came in trickles. Moments that, when looked back upon, should have been my wake-up call. (Like the time I got a bad kidney stone. I was in so much pain I thought I was going to have to be hospitalized. And I was scared to take a day off of work.) But there were so many, many reasons to ignore them. Really good, adult reasons too.
This was the best job I’d ever had.
I was making more money than ever.
This job was way better than any my mother had ever had.
I had a family relying on me.
I loved most of the people I worked with.
Our rent was high.
I didn’t think I was qualified for any other job.
I didn’t think I deserved a better life.
I’d worked so damn hard to get there. What if I threw it all away and I still wasn’t happy?
I would love to tell you that I eventually made the leap and improved my life all on my own. Sadly, I didn’t. But I did start writing again, after not writing anything for years. And this helped, for a time.
I thank God that I got fired from that job. Honestly, I don’t know if I ever would have been brave enough to leave on my own.
From there, everything changed. I got another day job, something I never thought I was good enough for. I wrote more and got published. I worked hard, again. I got what I wanted again. Thank God, I liked it a lot better this time.
I’m telling you all that to tell you another story. The manager at my current day job, the one I didn’t think I was good enough for but went for anyway, just left. She got a better job. Which isn’t to say, at all, that this job isn’t good. Just that she could do better, so she did.
Right now I have a day job that I like. I help people, that has value to me. I respect the company that I work for, that has value to me. I feel respected, that has huge value to me. I have a nice home. I have a job as a critic on Haunted Mtl. I have several published books.
In short, the life I live today has exceeded my dreams from before I started this blog. I am happy.
But I will never, ever let that poisoned mantra come back.
We can do better. Obviously, I don’t just mean our day jobs. I mean, more than anything, our art.
If you have a job writing, or you’ve been published, that is freaking amazing. Pop some champaign, do the Snoopy dance. Then, decide what your next step is. Because I told you all that to tell you this. While I didn’t let that poison mantra return, I did plateau over the last few years.
So I’m working on that. I’m going back to the basics. I’m working on really improving my writing. I’m trying to get an agent, trying to join SFWA.
I never want to learn this lesson the hard way again. There is always another level to reach for. I can always be a better version of myself. I can always surpass my goals, my dreams.
Dream high, guys. You are capable of so much more than you think.
Often when someone chooses to write a nonfiction book, it’s because something has moved them. Something has changed their world. Often, it’s for the worse. Nonfiction books are often written because there’s something terrible in the world that the author wants to shine a light upon.
These are things that cause us grief. And it’s good that we talk about it. Grief is healthy. It’s a visitor that we all have to sit with in our lives.
But grief is also duplicitous. It will tell you you’re the only one feeling this. That you’re weak to handle this so poorly or to be so upset. That you are, and always will be, alone.
Of course, this is all bullshit. But it’s hard to remember that when you’re looking at everyone’s Instagram-worthy life. No one’s posting pictures from their mother’s funeral.
This is exactly why writing personal books about things that have left scares are so vital. It’s a way to reach people you may never meet, hold their hand, and tell them that we’ve been where they are. That we can walk this path together. That they are not alone.
All that being said, writing a book about hard topics is difficult. Especially if it’s something you have firsthand experience with.
If you have chosen to undertake this, God bless and go with you. It is hard work, but it can be so worth it. In writing about hard topics, you’ll exorcise the poison inside you from them. But it’s still hard.
If you’re writing about something you’ve experienced first hand, it is terrifying to wade back into that. If you’re writing about something that impacts others, it’s still emotionally taxing to delve into these stories. So you need to take care of yourself when you’re working on these kinds of projects.
Start with boundaries
Boundaries are vital in all aspects of your life. Especially when dealing with difficult work. So the first thing I suggest is having specific break days. Mark these out. Don’t work on the project at all. Don’t take notes or meetings, or do any research. Not even one little slip. If this is the only day someone can meet for an interview, then they don’t get interviewed. These are days for you to rest. For your psyche to recover from the beating it’s getting.
Because this work can be so much more draining than writing fiction, I suggest you don’t set strict deadlines. If you need a break, then take it. Don’t add that extra stress of a deadline that you emotionally might not be able to make. Deadlines, even if they’re ones I’ve put upon myself, make me a little anxious to start with. This helps push me to get work done. But it’s not a great idea if I’m pushing through emotional trauma.
Just like it’s important to have days off, it’s vital to put your work away at the end of a session. While I get that it’s easy to let writing bleed into the rest of your life, I don’t suggest this being a project that does that. When you’re done writing for the day, put your work away and do your best not to think about it until the next session.
Finally, you need to have boundaries about what will and will not go into your book. You don’t have to put everything in. I’m not suggesting you lie, or hide part of the truth. If something is difficult to write about, that might be the exact thing that needs to go in there.
But we all have those moments that are truly personal. Things that we just want to keep to ourselves.
Yes, a large part of writing nonfiction about hard topics is to share those hard moments. That doesn’t mean you have to lay your entire life bare. If you’re wondering whether or not to add in a particular story, think of it this way. Will it help someone to read it in a way that isn’t covered by another part of the book? If not, then you don’t have to put it in.
This is your life, you get to decide how much of it you share. Because you’re going to have to keep living it after someone else has long finished reading about it.
You might need some help
Writing tends to be a solo gig. But writing about hard topics is easier if you don’t face it alone. Let’s talk about building a support system.
We’ll start with a close friend or family member. Someone who knows you well enough to watch you for warning signs of depression, anxiety, or just overall being not okay. Talk with that person. Let them know what you’re doing and how they can help you if they worry you’re getting in too deep. Then, if they say they’re worried, listen to them. If you can talk to a therapist about this, do it. But I understand that not everyone can do that.
The next part of your team is your editor. If you’re working with a publisher, great you have an editor. If you’re self-publishing, get yourself an editor as soon as you can. Because here’s a nasty fact that you don’t want to hear. A hard topic book still has to be as polished and well written as any other book. And I know, the thought of such paltry things as grammar when talking about serious topics is laughable. This is why you’re going to have to rely heavily on your editor. They’re going to be the level head and steady hand when you can’t be.
Finally, don’t forget that you’re not the only one working on a difficult book. Reach out to other people who are doing this work. Find other writers online or within your community. Ask them how they’re coping.
That’s all I have for the nonfiction series right now. But I’m open to doing more. If you have any questions about nonfiction writing, please feel free to leave them in the comments.
In learning to write nonfiction, I’m discovering a beautiful part of it that I wish I’d known about all along. It’s something so dear to my heart that it makes nonfiction a joy, even aside from the pleasure that writing always brings me.
I finally have a worthy reason to use the metric ton of stationary I own to organize all my notes.
Organization when writing a nonfiction book is a whole other dimension than when writing a fiction novel. Organizing for a fiction book is like playing for the farm leagues. Nonfiction is getting called up to play in the majors. If you want to come at me over this, I’ll remind you that I’ve written and published four novels and four novellas. I understand the research, organization, and planning that goes into that process like I know how to make pasta. I’ve simply done it too many times to ever forget.
All that being said, let’s dive in.
I find organization works best when it’s a blend of physical and digital. No surprise, I am a hybrid in all things. So let’s talk first about the physical.
Here’s a quick shopping list to get you started. As you keep your notes and find what works best for you, you’ll likely add to it. But I’ll be surprised if you subtract too much from it.
One dedicated notebook.
Yes, you need a notebook, even if it’s a small one. No, you probably don’t want to keep notes in your writer’s notebook, because that has all sorts of other things in it. If you start keeping notes for your nonfiction book in there it will fill up too fast and make it harder for you to refer back to the info when you need it.
Colored highlighters are a joy. But they’re also useful to color-code things. More on that later.
Finally, there are sticky notes. What can’t you use these things for? I like to mark passages in books with them. I make detailed notes and stick them into research material so I’m not scribbling through the margins. (God forbid it not be my book and I write on it.)
Remember, physical organization has two goals. Capture the information you need and make it easy to find later when you need it. These are the bare necessities and can be had at the dollar store. You don’t have to be a psycho like me and invest way more than is required. (But if you do want to, I get most of my materials at either Stationary Pal or Jet Pens. Not sponsored, I just find that they have good stuff for good prices.)
You may ask, in this digital world, why take physical notes? Well, I have two reasons. One, I don’t have a smartphone. I have a tablet that I love but is sometimes cumbersome to whip out if I’m out doing research. Two, I still do my best thinking with pen and paper. While I even write many rough drafts on Dabble now, I still outline everything in a notebook first. It just helps me get my thoughts together. I’m going to stand by writing on paper with pen until my dying day.
However, there’s just no way I could write a nonfiction book without some serious digital organization. Here’s just a shortlist of things I’ve had to keep track of digitally.
Virtual interviews and email interviews
Notes from e-books
Links to sites
Lists of books to read
Lists of people to talk to
Essays I’ve written
Interview question pages
Source links (Cite your sources, my friends. Cite your sources.)
I’m using Notion to organize all of my information. (I’ll be doing a full review on Notion soon.) But you can use any sort of system that works for you. You can use word documents, google docs, Evernote, Milanote. Whatever software you’re comfortable with. The only important thing here is that when you find one system, stick with it.
This is hard if you’re impulsive like me. Because I swear, I stumble upon a new organization and note-taking software every week. And because they’re new, they’re shiny.
Not one to stick with anything that isn’t working as well as it can, it’s hard to stay with one system. But I’m not doing myself any favors by switching things up mid-project. All that’s going to happen is that I’ll lose precious hours of work time swapping documents and files over. And I will almost certainly lose something vital in the process. So once you’ve chosen your note-keeping system, that’s the one you’re using for the entirety of this project. You can try something new next time.
Finally, I have a few bits of overall advice for organization. The first is the most important. Start out organizing your notes right away, when you have even a single document. Do not organize your notes every month or week. Organize information as it comes in, at the end of every work session.
If this seems ridiculous to you, you don’t yet understand the work you’re going to go through getting info for your info. You don’t grasp how foolish you’ll feel having to ask to re-interview someone. Or how many hours you can waste riffling through audio files for the one you need.
Next, make sure that you’re backing information up regularly and securing it. You never know when something might happen to your computer or your online accounts. I keep everything backed up on a flash drive that doesn’t leave my home. Everything I do online regarding this project is password protected. It’s not that I think I’m writing anything groundbreaking, or that someone’s going to steal my precious work and publish it as their own. It’s that there are assholes with nothing better to do than mess with others.
One final bit of advice I have is to color-code your notes in a way that makes sense to you. And keep your colors consistent from physical to digital. That way you’re not remembering or tracking multiple color meanings. It helps considerably when you’re looking for something in a rush.
That’s it for this time. Let me know in the comments if you have any questions about nonfiction writing that you’d like me to cover.