Craft Editorials Real Talk Sass

Stop Focusing on the “U” in Community

I am a lonely writer.

I feel like I am writing this story for an audience of one, me. I’m scared that no one will ever care about it, and glom on to those who show the slightest inclination of interest, feigned or legitimate, out of desperation just to not feel like I am alone in this anymore. I want someone to love this as much as me. Hell, I’d just be happy if someone invested a small amount of time into it as a casual fan. But, I don’t just get excited about my own work. Inspiration comes from everywhere, and I yearn for an environment where writers have come together to collaborate.

I envy people who get to work in writer’s rooms or in tight-knit established writing circles where ideas are exchanged and thrown about as casually as confetti. I pine for collaboration— to pick the minds of other creatives and find solutions together. I get energized in situations where I’m free to just expel ideas with abandon. I’m an idea man, Chuck!

At this point you’re yelling at your screen saying, Hey idiot. Just join a writing forum or a writer’s group or something like that.

Well, I have, and after twelve years of pursuing this collaborative pipe dream, I have decided, writer’s groups suck. After all the groups I have joined, forums I answered questions in, contributions and connections I have made, I’ve gotten very little to show for my efforts. I’m still writing alone and I’m the only one who cares about my story.

In a world where the internet exists, where there are countless communities designed specifically to connect writers of even the most esoteric genres, how can this still feel like a solitary pursuit? How is it that, even though I have writer friends and belong to different writing communities from fanfiction websites to a private slack of former Inkshares authors who all went rogue, I still feel like I’m alone and I am the only person who cares about my story?

Without the limitations placed on us my the perceived parameters of our own projects, we tap into pure imagination. We open our minds.

The answer is simple: I am the only one who cares about my story, period. Sure, I might have a few fans or writer friends who are interested in the idea, but the thing about writers is that they are all way more wrapped up in their own projects to care about anyone else’s. Writers are fucking selfish.

What? What? What? You expect me to give my valuable time and creative energy, wasting that on someone else’s project? The short answer to that is yes, yes I do. So go ahead. Yell at me, and scoff sarcastically, clutching your metaphorical pearls in disgust as you ask: Why would I put my limited time towards focusing on somebody else’s creation?

Well, since you asked so politely, here are several reasons why you should.

The beauty of helping other writers through their blocks is it unlocks a beautiful mechanism of our brain we often limit when writing our own works—  our imagination. When we’re brainstorming on our stories, we automatically start out with limits. Our brain throws out a random idea, and we immediately begin negating it to death, throwing out a million reasons why it won’t work. That’s out of character for my lead; the magic system doesn’t work that way; that feels like a deus ex machina; blah blah blah. I’ll wallow in creative agony for hours, days, weeks, months, years, trying to find creative solutions to corners I have written myself into because I’m afraid that a good idea will force me to go back and change what I’ve already spent hours, days, weeks, months, or years working on. I’ll throw out an idea even before I’ve played around with it simply because it doesn’t fit what I thought I wanted to write. But, if a writer friend comes to me and lays out their specific writing dilemma, I suddenly turn into the Muse from Dogma. 

Serendipity the Muse, Dogma (Kevin Smith, 1999)

So, why is it that when asked by another writer for help solving their own problems that I can come up with a million ideas, but can’t come up with any for myself? Easy. I don’t have any stake in their story. I’m not the one who has to rewrite things if my ideas don’t fit. I have the benefit of being removed from the situation, and with that comes clarity and flexibility. I can throw out a dozen ideas in a minute, no problem, because what is the worst thing that is going to happen— they say no, they don’t like that idea? Who cares, here is a dozen more ideas. I’ve got a thousand of them. Ideas are everywhere. 

Without the limitations placed on us by the perceived parameters of our own projects, we tap into pure imagination. We open our minds. The benefit to the other writer is that they can see things they could not see before, solutions that may have been obvious, that were obscured by their limited perspective.

Okay, that’s great for the other guy, but what about me? I still don’t see why I should waste my time and creative energy for someone else’s benefit.

Well, if you could look past your own selfishness for a moment, your limited perspective if you will, you’d see there are two benefits for you that result as a by-product of your creative generosity: 1) you just generated a bajillion ideas right there, and even if you are writing a different genre than your writing buddy, there still might be a gem in their you could mine and use to fit your own story needs, and 2) your writing buddy is likely to turn around and say, “Dude, that was super helpful. Thank you. What are you stuck on? Maybe I can help.”

I envy people who get to work in writer’s rooms or in tight-knit established writing circles where ideas are exchanged and thrown about as casually as confetti.

As writers, we perceive our time as valuable, a precious non-renewable resource. Most of us are hobby writers hoping for a break while we work or attend school full-time, juggle family and social obligations, and also try to make time for other hobbies or maybe just relaxing and doing nothing. So, we hoard our creativity, our time, and our energy like Golem and the One Ring. We join communities to connect with other authors, but we only ever talk about ourselves, our projects, and use those connections to try to get people excited about our projects. But, those other writers are so engrossed in hoarding their time, energy, and creativity, they form surface level connections with the other writers in the group, and never actually go out of their way to help, collaborate, or even just fucking read/watch/listen whatever content you’ve produced.

I don’t know how many times I’ve helped out a “writing friend” who was stuck and needed to talk through a block, was begging for a beta, or a multitude of other reasons a writer needs help, only to be told when I hoped the favor would be returned “I’ll get to it when I can, I’m just so busy” or “I don’t want to make promises right now” or “I’m swamped as it is”. 

Did I offer to help? Yes. Did I do it because I automatically assumed that my investment in you and your work would yield an investment in me and mine? Yeah, kinda. Do you owe me because I was kind enough to help you out? Honestly, no. Nice people don’t do nice things because they want to be rewarded, and I know that. But, it doesn’t make you less selfish for not even offering, or even worse, offering with the condition that you want to pay me back when you can, which is basically the death sentence of promises.

I’ve abandoned writing groups for this very reason, and that too was selfish. I wasn’t getting anything out of it. I felt like I was only ever giving and never receiving. I crave to be part of a creative conscious bigger than myself. It energizes me, and it makes me a better, more productive writer. Last night, I spent what probably amounted to less than an hour helping a writing buddy just to brainstorm some ideas, and even if 99% of the ideas I threw out were unusable to him, or even just bad, there were a few that absolutely broke through his creative block. And, as a result, I was energized to work on my own stuff. Sure, I gave up my energy and time for someone else, but it made the time and energy I put towards my own work more productive in the long run. The added bonus was he immediately turned around and asked what I needed help with.

You expect me to give my valuable time and creative energy, wasting that one someone else’s project? The short answer to that is yes, yes I do.

Instead of sequestering myself to stagnate on ideas I have mulled over umpteen times, I gave up a little bit of time, and was even able to multitask doing other things while I helped him over Slack, and I benefited from that exchange immensely. I even cannibalized one of my own ideas (which is another benefit I argue is a good reason to write fanfic in this article here).

My point here, whether I’m managed to express it well enough without sounding whiny, is this: We are in this together. To get, we must give. I want people to care about my stuff, so I put myself out there, hoping to make connections, and sadly, they turn into dead end streets. People want me to beta for them, buy their books, watch their content… but don’t have time to return the favor. I get it— we’re all busy. But, aren’t you lonely? Don’t you feel like you’re suffocating over there by yourself. Come up for air. Step away from your own thing for just a few minutes and reach out to another creator in need. Stop focusing on the U in Community. If you would stop being so selfish and short sighted, and you just might prosper more than you would on your own.

Craft Editorials Genre

Conquering Genre: A Consummate Rebel’s Argument for Convention in Order to be a More Innovative Author

As a writer improves their craft, they are inevitably going to hear about genre — those dreaded categories of fiction we’re forced to shape our story to fit. Some authors find them limiting, others blend them together to create sub-genres. As an author who already knew her genre was SFF, I have not taken any time to read about genre, at all. I didn’t have to decide anything. I wanted to write what I read. What more did I have to worry about? So I didn’t, and I moved on to areas I deemed far more important to honing my craft.

Then, searching for new writing podcasts, I stumbled upon a podcast that had a bunch of episodes featuring “Story Grid Editors.” Upon Googling story grid, discovering they also had a podcast, I made my way to the work of Shawn Coyne, and summarily fell down the rabbit hole of his articles on his website,

And, his take on genre has fundamentally changed the way I think about writing fiction.

I printed out eight of his articles, then read and annotated all of them like a reading assignment for one of my old college classes. I consumed them. They blew my mind because they approached the concept of genre in a way that redefined its meaning for me in the writing process, and delivered it as framework to lay the foundations of my stories. More than anything, it appealed to my anxiety riddled OCD nature to categorize and organize everything.

Step 1: Stop thinking about genre as simply a label that determines which section in the store this book will be shelved. As Coyne describes genre, it should be used to manage reader expectations.

Many authors set out to break the mold with their writing. Despite our favorite bard’s claim that there is nothing new under the sun, writers will spend years plotting out and a building a story that doesn’t fit expectations. In other words, they avoid cliches. Obviously some writers embrace cliches. They find their niche and realize that no matter how many versions of the same story they write, readers will still buy and read the book. Their critics would see this as the pinnacle of hackery. They learn the cliches only so that they can thwart them. For every author who puts into their story a swooning damsel in distress, there will be an irate author who is so offended by that concept that will write a badass warrior woman…. Who then becomes another cliche, and the cycle repeats.

There is nothing wrong with writing a story that exceeds expectations, but the majority of readers will hold some level of expectations whether they realize it or not. When readers have a preference for a particular genre, it is because that type of story satisfies a particular intrinsic need. No matter how much we strive to break the conventions of genre, we’re fighting a battle between readers and the critics.

If you write a story that can’t be categorized, that doesn’t meet reader expectations, you may win acclaim, rewards, and shiny foil stickers that emblazon your dust jacket, extolling the enlightened and cerebral virtues of your seminal work… but that doesn’t mean readers will want to read it.

As a writer, we aspire for acclaim. The stories we write are products of our brain. We literally create substance from nothing. They are intangible. They are out intellectual property. They would not exist without us. That is why writers see their stories as extensions of themselves. When our stories are criticized or rejected, we see that personal criticism or rejection — a complete dismissal of everything we are. When a reader scans the jacket of a book and puts it back on the shelf they might as well be standing in front of us, taking us in from head to toe, and saying “Nope. Next.”

I know that acknowledgement of my stories satisfies my need for validation, and that the escapism readers seek in another form of validation. In the article about meeting your needs as an author, I discussed Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Avid readers are seeking something, and they have found that something in the conventions their favorite genre. Because of that, tweaking the conventions of genre too much creates the risk of turning away readers.

You don’t throw out a particularly delicious recipe just because you’ve eaten it a dozen times. You just add in different ingredients.

Writers who aspire to write the next literary masterpiece are seeking intellectual validation. They are the student who wanted an A for the sense of accomplishment that came with knowing not everyone was capable of it, and they were singular for doing so. Thy are intrinsically motivated — internally driven based on meeting their own personal expectations of accomplishment.

Other writers, myself included, are writing a story to share. They are writing a personal message that speaks of our own experience, and they seek to share it with others they believe also need to hear it. They are the student who wanted an A because a good GPA meant the difference between acceptance and rejection at their first choice college. They are extrinsically motivated — driven by the positive reward of meeting others’ expectations. In this example, readers are the college board of admissions, reviewing applications for acceptance. They have requirements. For them to read your story, you must meet their demands. The expectations of their preferred genre are a dealbreaker.

This does not mean you are pandering to your audience. Expectations are broader than you think. Most readers aren’t looking for cookie cutter stories. They also don’t have mega-specific demands. It’s not that they wanted a story about XYZ and you gave them one about ZYX, or even ABC. It’s that they have been conditioned to expect certain elements of story in their genre. If they pick up a fantasy story, they probably won’t put it back just because the protagonist isn’t the cliched orphaned farm boy who finds out from his secret wizard mentor he’d actually the royal heir, and the only one capable of saving the kingdom. But, if you write a protagonist that doesn’t follow some semblance of the Hero’s/Heroine’s/Fool’s Journey, or fail to write in some form of personal and physical questline, that might land your book right back on the shelf. The fun is trying to take the conventions, and put an original spin on them What if the old farmer next door tells the youngest child from a large, loving family that he’s actually magic, and he’s the only one who can stop the royal heir from destroying the kingdom? Still fits the journey and quest expectations, but without telling the same story that has been written a hundred times before.

If you are an extrinsically motivated writer, you are writing for an audience in a specific genre, and it’s fair to say it’s the same one that resonated with you as a reader too. Think about what you love about that genre — what elements of that type of story satisfy you. Furthermore, what elements of that type of story have become obligatory, as in, they have become a fundamental aspect of that type of story? A mystery story isn’t a mystery without a few red herrings, but it will become exhausting if you write it the length of an epic fantasy. Then again, a mystery is usually a form of realism, and doesn’t require the type of worldbuilding that fantasy novels must establish for the reader to their suspend belief. These are the types of things that are dictated by genre convention. While conventions and expectations can be flipped, inverted, or altered, they cannot be ignored, eliminated, or abandoned. At least, not if you want to write a story that connects with readers.

When I get the craving for a romantic story, go-to being period/historical romance, it usually stems from the fact that my husband and I have been on opposite schedules and he is working a lot of overtime, preventing us from spending time together. This creates a void, a need… not that kind of need, you degenerates. Your brain is smart, and it knows how to meet your needs, physically and emotionally. When I haven’t taken in enough salt, I crave chips, chicken noodle soup, crackers, anything with high sodium. When I’m feeling lonely, I crave period romance.

I choose that sub-genre, rather than say a rom-com, for very specific reasons, and I have been conditioned to know it will meet my needs. First, I’m a history major, and I enjoy period pieces in general. Second, historical romances have established the convention of forbidden love. In most period romances, the two lovers are going to struggle to be together because of the culture of their times. They will be kept apart for various reasons. The ebb and flow of almost getting to be together and then unmercifully torn apart tugs at my heartstrings and excites my inner Sally Sparrow.


Sally Sparrow, Doctor Who (Steven Moffat)

So, if I get thirty minutes into a period romance and the couple has already gotten together, well, I’m out. I expect that struggle. I crave it. Unless the story turns, the couple falls out of love, and the heroine meets her soulmate. Perhaps she is prevented from leaving the marriage because her husband saved her family financially, or she does not have the means or access to divorce him, if it’s even permitted at the time. Maybe she married him as part of a contract or for power or… it doesn’t matter as long as it creates an obstacle the two lovers now have to overcome.

That’s a convention, and it’s what I’m needing at that moment when I search Netflix for a particular story. I miss my husband, we are prevented from being together because we don’t have a choice in our schedules thanks to seniority and chosen profession, and this helps me overcome that sadness because I see that going through hardship and isolation makes it better when we can be together. And, I see that in the characters’ struggle. It’s the will they/won’t they, the doubt, the pain when they are separated, the joy when reunited, that I want. And in my opinion, dear merciful universe, there is nothing more seductive than a secret, hidden hand touch, eyes locking in that shared expression of I know in a crowded room, simultaneously surrounded and ignored by everyone.

As Coyne says, “While a reader or viewer may not be able to pinpoint what they want in a story, they know when it is not there. Immediately.” As a writer, I know what elements of genre I am seeking, but your average reader won’t. They just know when the story doesn’t feel right.

Anyone who questions this, simply look at the popularity of fanfiction. There is a reason that the primary category in FF is romance, usually with a specific tag, like “missing moments,” “fluff, and “one shot.” (Yes, I know that in reality that 99.999998% of romance themed fanfiction is just PWP — I’m trying to make a point here.) Those categories are either trying to create scenes that incorporate the established conventions that the original work lacked, or that takes characters that fans already relate to and puts them in circumstances that make them more relatable.

For those of you reading this who are ready to smash your monitor out of frustration, screaming the F word “formulaic,” you’re correct. That’s why it works. You don’t throw out a particularly delicious recipe just because you’ve eaten it a dozen times. You just add in different ingredients.

Humans crave order and are designed to see patterns. Coyne calls it our “superpower” in an episode of the Story Grid Podcast (that I forgot to write down the name and number of and am too lazy to go back and listen to all my downloaded episodes to find… sorry not sorry). That’s why we’re able to so easily identify when an element of story is missing. Whether we like it or not, the conventions of genre have been established because readers have responded to them for centuries. They were satisfied with stories that “worked” and rejected stories that didn’t. Readers may say they want something that looks and feels different, but this only works if it’s built on the foundations of familiarity. Readers don’t want an author to reinvent the concept of story, they just don’t want to read a story they’ve already read before.

I like to think of it as the aesthetics of story and medium. When I buy my next car, I want to upgrade to a much more energy efficient model. I have driven a regular old gasoline fed, internal combustion engine car as long as I have driven. Most of us have. It gets me where I’m going, and I’m comfortable with how it operates. But, its design is antiquated — it isn’t efficient and it creates too much pollution in my opinion. I’d love to get an electric car, especially if I could charge it with solar panels on my roof. I’m not the only person craving a newer version of the car — that’s why manufacturers responded by innovating their models. I can get anything from a hybrid to a fully electric car, but no matter what I get it will still operate like a car — it will get me where I am going and I understand how it operates. We could create pneumatic tubes or a rocket packs to get people around, which might be more efficient or greener, but I want a car. I don’t want to learn how to work a new form of transportation when I can just get a better version of what I know and like.

In essence, that is what a reader wants. A better version of a story. That is paramount to understanding the importance of reader expectations. As Coyne says, “if you don’t study the conventions and obligatory scenes in your chosen genre, and don’t know how writer’s satisfied them before, how can you be sure that you’ve written anything original? You can’t innovate if you don’t understand the basics, and what the consumer wants and needs.” This is even more important for writers of blended genres to create new versions based on the classic areas. “Obviously,” Coyne argues, “the more intimately you know one particular genre, the better your chances of creating something fresh and unique by embracing elements of both.”

If you write a story that can’t be categorized, that doesn’t meet reader expectations, you may win acclaim, rewards, and shiny foil stickers that emblazon your dust jacket, extolling the enlightened and cerebral virtues of your seminal work… but that doesn’t mean readers will want to read it.

There will always be a sub-set of writers who view this mindset as plebeian. They are not writing for with the general audience in mind. It is the experimental challenge to create something new that drives them — the intrinsic motivation of proving the depths of their talents and intellectual capacity. Good for them. I respect their desire to fight against the current. But, while I am usually the first person to stand up and ask “Why do we do this?” or “How can we make this broken thing better?,” I am not one of those writers.

My brain is wired for finding patterns, and thanks to OCD, programmed for organization, routine, and anything that takes the uncertainty out of my day. That is why I appreciate this as a framework. It’s like one of my sewing patterns. When I find a skirt pattern that is flattering, I’ll make the same skirt a couple of times, but I will change the fabric. Even if I use the same type of fabric, I’ll choose different designs. But, regardless of choosing polka dots or stripes or floral, I know that the skirt if going to work as long as I base it on the pattern. If you make the skirt well, nobody is even going to notice you made the same skirt three times — they will be to busy complimenting how good it looks on you or how well you made it.

I want to innovate when I write, specifically striving to break stereotypes and write with inclusivity, but I can’t do that without understanding the limitations of stories that came before. It’s important to me that I do this well because I also read for escapism — to fill a void that otherwise will go unsatisfied. I know what a good story does for people. Because of this, I feel that I have a responsibility as a writer. I am extrinsically motivated to please readers. The type of praise I want to hear isn’t that “This story is revolutionary!,” it’s “That story was just what I needed to get me through that point in my life.” As Coyne puts it, “Stories fuel our courage and offer the cautions that we believe will help guide our own path.”

There is nothing wrong with writing for intrinsic motivation — it’s just not why I write, nor why most people write. So, as a writer who wants to satisfy reader expectations, learning to identify and modify these conventions is incredibly important to my success as an author. If you are an extrinsically motivated author, then it needs to be important for you too.

For more information about Shawn Coyne and the Story Grid process, you can check out his website at

For more information about genre, conventions, obligatory scenes, and how to satisfy them, have fun falling down this rabbit hole, Alice.

Meanwhile, I’ll be diving head first into the deep end with Coyne’s book, The Story Grid.


I Don’t Own ‘Em— I Just Like Playing With Them: An Argument in the Defense of Fan-Fiction

[Disclaimer: As one is wont to do when talking fan-fiction, or FF, this article will contain acronyms and terms that are exclusive to fandom, and may be confusing to some readers. If this applies to you, refer to this helpful primer from Vox to un-confuzzle yourself. ]

When I was a kid, I wrote stories all the time. I wrote and illustrated my first complete story for a fourth grade class project. The teacher even bound the construction paper pages in a cover made out of wrapping paper and cardboard. At the time, I was incredibly proud of it.

As the adult version of myself who found it a few years ago, I have three words.

It. Was. Awful.

That story was the epitome of the word cringe. Thinking about it creates a visceral reaction so profound that I feel the compelled to squirm. It was the first thing I ever wrote, and I’m embarrassed to read it, let alone show it to people. As are the other few notebooks of stories I wrote between that time and the end of middle school.

Yeah, I know, I was a kid with no writing craft knowledge besides basic english instruction, and I should really cut myself some slack… but, trust me on this one. Upon looking back at my work and realizing it was horrendous, I also realized it was also completely plagiarized. Every story I wrote was based on whatever story, book or video form, I was completely engrossed with at the time. And, every one of those obsessions started based on some emotion that particular content evoked in me. Let’s give a big round of applause to puberty for that, considering they were all based on my obsessive and constant crushing on the male of our species.

For years I’ve been considering demanding royalties from J.K. Rowling, as I am convinced that she secretly followed me around as a kid, and Hermione is based painfully and accurately on my adolescence, but now I’m starting to think Loren Bouchard might owe me some cash too, considering I’m clearly the original Tina Belcher.


Tina Belcher, Bob’s Burgers, and her library of Erotic Friend Fiction

Sure, the names may have been different from the original stories, but I was basically writing wish fulfillment by Mary Sue-ing myself into every story, with the love interest being inspired by whatever current crush, either real life or celebrity, that I was harboring at the time. Each one of those stories, including my first (which could best be described a weird amalgam of Game of Thrones meets Beauty and the Beast, considering there were princesses from different kingdoms competing for a crown and one helped a cursed prince), was almost completely based on another story. It wasn’t until I started seriously writing in college and began actually trying to improve my craft that I even wrote a story based on an original concept. Ironically, that’s also the time I began dabbling in actual fan-fiction. Funny enough, it wasn’t until I found my old stuff, that I made the connection that writing FF was really nothing new for me.


“The beauty of writing FF is that you’re already working with something you love.”


Now, I know what you’re thinking, and I agree— yes, every story is basically based on another story, for as Shakespeare said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” So, yes, even my original work has inspiration based on other works. I certainly can’t take credit for inventing super powers, mythology, or magic. But, the worlds I created for them were the closest thing to original a person can reasonably manifest from their imagination. The characters may fit into archetypes, but they are also as original as possible.

And, as a kid, that is what I honestly thought I was doing— I mean, I changed the names and the settings, right? That makes it different.

Marshall, HIMYM

When I first started writing FF I may have not made the connection, but I also wasn’t trying to write wish fulfillment anymore. Well, that’s not accurate, honestly, since what I was writing was what I wished the actual writers had written, the first time, as in correctly.


“Now, I know what you’re thinking, and I agree— yes, every story is basically based on another story, for as Shakespeare said, There is nothing new under the sun. “


As I began to publish the FF stories, I also began to hit obstacles in writing my original content. Writing my own stuff sucked in comparison. FF was easier and more fun for two main reasons:

  1. The majority of the work is done for you.

While there will obviously be some plot and character generation for a story based on an idea of your own creation, the majority of everything else is already done. The characters are already developed. The world has already been established. All the parameters have been defined. That’s why my favorite Author Disclaimer at the beginning of a FF story has always been the line “I don’t own ‘em— I just like playing with ‘em.” When you begin writing a story within the confines of an already established universe, despite the confines of canon (even more so if you ignore it and write AU or Non-Canon), the only real creative currency you have to spend is on the original plot idea, any OCs you decide to include, and dialogue.

  1. Built in audiences of rabid fans willing to give feedback, whether you want them to, or not.

Some FF is amazing! So amazing, in fact it becomes virtually indistinguishable from the original by virtue of its merit. In other cases, it becomes headcannon for readers because everyone can agreed it’s sooooo good and makes absolute sense in the context of the original story.

The rest of FF… isn’t. There is a lot of wholly ungood FF out in the tangled interwebs. In fact, all it takes for me to completely give up on a FF story is badly written dialogue. In my opinion, that is the ONE thing you have to get right— it has to sound like the characters, or no amount of suspended disbelief can get me over the believability hump and allow me to get lost in the story (… which let’s be real here, people— why else are you reading FF?). And, if you’re writing straight garbage, the fandom is gonna let you know about it. The mass collective of fandom, well… to put it mildly, we are an unkind and confrontational people when you mess with our ships or our canons. But, when you get them right, oooooh, when you get it right it becomes an incredible magic so powerful that even Trumpers and Antifa could unite under its banner.

Okay, maybe nothing is that magical, but still, you get the idea. It’s a dozen shades of awesome.


“Slogging through a scene, or worse, a story you are not excited about is the worst. Hell, it’s a sure fire way to get you to stop writing.”


The honest-to-merciful-universe reason I fell in love with writing FF was the feedback. I’m not a perfect writer by any means, but I like to think I have some legitimate talent. When other people responded to my work positively and agreed I had talent, well… that’s just bonus points. But, those bonus points were immensely motivating. They built up my confidence enough to boost my intrinsic motivation to complete those stories. To date, my FF are the only completed stories I have.

Oh… wow. Thanks for helping me to that realization. Best. Writer. Ever.

Shaking that sad fact off, writing FF has proven helpful to my writing in the following ways:

Commencing… List the Second:

  1. It allows you to cannibalize from your own work.

I have stolen from my FF many times. It may be a particularly well crafted joke from dialogue or description in a scene. The best part is it belongs to me, so I don’t have to feel bad about it.

  1. It helps you work through blocks.

I have a complicated relationship with writing prompts. I get bent out of shape because most of the time they get you writing, just not necessarily in line with the story you are already writing. The argument can be made that writing anything is good, but when I’m already struggling to get writing work done, writing something else feels just as counter-productive. But, I don’t feel that way about FF, especially when coupled with the amount of feedback I usually get. Not to mention, the act of completing something triggers that little mechanism in your brain that makes you feel like you accomplished something, like leveling in a video game. It’s gratifying to finish something, especially when working on a big writing project that feels impossible to finish.

  1. It provides easy and fast feedback.

Even if the feedback is specific to your FF story, it’s still feedback on your writing. If you’re not doing a good job of providing description or writing strong dialogue or even plotting a successful arc in the FF, you’re probably not doing it in your original work either.

  1. It allows you to get stuff out of your system.

Sometimes, you just want to write wish fulfillment. As much as I hate it, I’ve fallen into this guilty pleasure trap. But, getting that desire out of your system in FF means that you’re not polluting your original work up with drabbles and fluff, or even the occasional lemon, and you’re writing scenes that actually move the story forward.

  1. It allows you to test stuff out.

When so much of SFF has borrowed concepts, this is a good place to test run for ideas for original concepts, especially if it’s a similar genre to the FF.

  1. It reminds you why you love stories, and why you love writing.

Slogging through a scene, or worse, a story you are not excited about is the worst. Hell, it’s a sure fire way to get you to stop writing. In my weaker moments in the beginning, failing at writing majorly important scenes was one of the things that made me fall out of love with the idea of writing at all. Writing and I have obviously made up since then, but like any relationship, it takes work.

The beauty of writing FF is that you’re already working with something you love. You relate to the characters; you are moved by the events; you’re mesmerized by the world. Not only do you get to play make believe, but you get to do it with your best friends, or at least characters you know as well as the real people in you life.

Writing FF is just plain fun. It’s immersive and open-ended, like a VR sandbox game implanted straight into your noggin. You would never make your characters do or say the things you make your FF characters do because when you’re working on your own stuff it feels to restrictive. Your logic fights against your imagination and tells you that what your writing is wrong or stupid or just plain bad. But, do the exact same thing with someone else’s characters, and suddenly your a FF prodigy.

If you still need more convincing, here’s a way better written article that talks about FF and writing… that I actually found accidentally when I was was trying to find a good image for this article… so, here you go, nerds.

From Star Trek to Fifty Shades: how fanfiction went mainstream

Craft Editorials Writing Styles

Get Your Hands Dirty: Why Writing By Hand Makes You A Better Writer


Sit back and really think about this question: When was the last time you wrote something out by hand? Excluding a quick grocery list or a to-do note, when was the last time you actually sat down and wrote long hand?

Now, maybe you have an issue that makes writing difficult, like dysgraphia, and typing is the solution to that, but for those of us that have no real legitimate reason to not hand write, I have a follow up question: When did you stop writing by hand?

Think back. I’ll give you a minute…

I’m willing to bet I can pinpoint the exact moment, because it’s my moment too- my first computer. Am I right? Of course, I’m right.

When I was eleven, my family got our first computer, but when I was fourteen, I got my own computer for my birthday. It wasn’t much back then. The entire hard drive was only about 1 GB, if you can believe it. But, I still couldn’t wait to do three things: 1) Finally get AOL and join the rest of the planet, including all my friends on AIM; 2) install the original Sims (and eventually all eight expansion packs, including hundred of downloaded custom objects from the internet); 3) get writing. I had a whole collection of clear, multi-colored floppy disks with a different story on each by my next birthday. But, despite having my very own PC, I still never managed to entirely kick the habit of writing by hand.

I picked up the habit of writing in class when I was bored. This usually happened in my English and Spanish classes which were taught by the same teacher, and was also usually a result of me being bored in the middle of one of her “teachable moment” lectures. She did these from her desk and they took the place of an actual, worthwhile lesson, and was inspired by some idiotic thing one of her two idiot sons had done to get in trouble, again. The adult teacher in me loathes her for wasting time and depriving us of real educational content, but the high school student version of me appreciated getting an uninterrupted 83 minutes to write, since we were on the block system. Whenever I sensed one of these lectures coming, which could be easily be surmised based on her mood that morning, I’d flip back to the back of my 5-subject notebook, and let rip whatever idea was feeding off my brain like insect larva.

“…on average, those students who wrote by hand instead of typing wrote more, wrote faster, and more often successfully used complex sentences.”

My favorite thing about writing by hand is that you can do it anywhere, and you never have to worry about running out of battery, (which is also why my go to combat weapon against zombies is going to be a machete or my old school metal softball bat, because bats and blades don’t run out of bullets.) But wait… what if your pen runs out of ink? Well, good thing Pens are literally E’RYWHERE! Did you know some places give them out fo’ free? Grab a notebook and a pen and you can write at the library, a coffee shop, the park, in a car (not driving, people!), in a waiting room, a plane… basically anywhere with a relatively flat surface.

Yes, writing by hand has its downsides. I’ve cried over hand cramps. But, the day that I caught myself looking up to click the “undo” button while I was writing a note by hand, I knew I had a problem. For those people who are perpetual printers, handwriting may be slower for you than typing, but practice and time will fix that. The bigger thing to keep in mind is that since handwriting curricula have been removed from schools and we cut out of the Common Core standards while every school follows for learning objectives and moved over to focusing on typing skills in older students, scientists have been studying the long term effects this could have on writing, reading, and learning.

According to science, all of you writers who prefer typing… you’re doing writing wrong.

The Brain Benefits of Handwriting


Inside our brains is a cluster of cells referred to as the RAS, the Reticular Activating System. This is just fancy talk for a part of the brain that is able to hyperfocus and filter out distractions. When we write by hand, it stimulates the RAS, which allows us to focus solely on the task itself. In other words, when we write by hand we are less distractable and able to be more efficient with our writing time, allowing us to be more productive in that time period.

Memory Recall

When I’m trying to get my students to remember a concept, I tell them to write it down. This is especially critical for my students with executive functioning issues, because that usually includes memory and recall. The physical act of writing something down forces your brain to engage with the material you are trying to learn, which means a higher chance of remembering it later without prompting.

Conceptual Thinking

My students suck at summarizing because they have been so rarely asked to do it. We’ve turned them into little copying monsters who write everything down verbatim and spit it back at us the same way.They are also the slowest writers of any generation. Notes that would take me a few minutes take then 5ever. But, when I was a kid, I got in the habit of writing my notes in my own words rather than the teacher’s (mostly, because in the case of my geography and science teachers, I thought I was better at summarizing and defining than they were). And, this is case in point for writing notes by hand. When you hand write notes, it prevents you from writing verbatim, or it slows you down. By summarizing, you’re forced to shorten them to keep u, focusing on using more purposeful words and trying to emphasize the most important points. This helps the recall, learning, and most importantly, understanding new material and the context. Writing letters by hand also improves literacy by helping you recall letters and words which strengthens reading comprehension.

Critical Thinking/Problem Solving

Long hand writing is slower for most people, which means that you also have to slow down . The benefit of this means you’re forced to slow down your thinking. This gives you time to focus on word choice, sentence structure, that funny line of dialogue you couldn’t stop laughing about


“According to science, all of you writers who prefer typing… you’re doing writing wrong.”

The Writing Benefits of Handwriting

According to a study conducted in 2009, students that wrote by hand rather than typing showed better writing skills than their peers who typed. The study was established to compare the common methods of transcription- the process of translating thoughts and ideas into writing. For reasons the scientists didn’t quite understand at the time, they discovered that on average, those students who wrote by hand instead of typing wrote more, wrote faster, and more often successfully used complex sentences.

One possible reason for this could go back to the RAS. Another study reported that when students wrote by hand, it activated the learning center of their brain. Writing by hand is much more taxing on the brain than typing because it requires the motor skills and memory recall necessary to identify and create the correct letter, and then string them together into words. This actually makes up smarter. Typing on the other hand merely trigger the muscle memory necessary to hit the correct key. I believe this is why when you are writing, especially by hand, and you get into The Zone, it’s simply that you have intensely activated your RAS, and have been able to eliminate all outside distractions to your particular task and the train of thought fueling your words.

This is the other beauty of handwriting- notebooks don’t have apps. It seems inevitable that when you are typing that at some point you will be sucked in by the black hole time suck we refer to as the internet. Sure, it starts innocently enough. One minute you’re looking up the meaning of the word or researching the background information on a topic you’re writing about, the next you’re watching YouTube because Google pulled up an Epic Rap Battle of History for the time period you were trying to research. If anyone knows how easy it is to go from background researching ancient mythologies to taking a Buzzfeed quiz to determine which badass mythical goddess I am, it’s this girl.

“…when we write by hand we are less distractable and able to be more efficient with our writing time, allowing us to be more productive in that time period.”

In general, handwriting is an exercise for strengthening cognitive ability. It keeps you sharp well into old age. It makes you more productive, producing higher word counts and better prose. Perhaps this is why famous writers such as Truman Capote (who was also a proponent of writing laying down) chose to write their first few drafts of stories long hand before typing. And, speaking of drafting, this brings us to the final writing benefit of handwriting- the process of transferring your hand written work into typed documents provides the opportunity for organic editing. Whenever I begin to type, I always manage to improve my writing by increasing word count and improving the language of the prose. Something about already having the most basic ideas out into the world on paper is freeing. Especially when I’m worried about forgetting an incredible idea and taking to time to write it all out before I can get distracted. The second time around when re-writing the material, once the pressure of getting all the “good” stuff down is gone, I’m able to go deeper into the idea and produce the “better” stuff.

At the end of the day, writing will inevitably have to be typed. No publishing house, no matter how indie, will ever accept a handwritten manuscript. But, there is strong argument for writing by hand, even if it’s just in the beginning, when you’re taking notes, plotting, or creating characters. Personally, I find it easier to hand write first and type second, which to my writing compatriots is a novelty in itself. They always comment on it, nearly shocked, always repeating the same exclamation- “You write by hand?!” Yes I do, and I always will. In the long run, does it take longer? Who knows? We all have different editing processes. But, there is just something hypnotic and methodical about the act of putting a smooth, fluid, brightly colored pen to college ruled paper that I cherish.

Links and Sources:

Creative Editorials Pep Talks Real Talk Resources

Why You’re Not Writing: Making New Worlds Requires Meeting Your Needs

From years of teaching in rural, low-income areas in Central Illinois, and after being a product of one myself, I have seen and experienced the impact that deprivation can have on a child’s ability to learn. The biggest impact is on their motivation, their curiosity, and their perseverance through frustration. A kid who has been deprived of one or more needs struggles to see the point of school. But, even a kid who is fed, clothed, and has a place to sleep can still be majorly deprived of the needs a human being must have met to be successful. According to Dr. Abraham Maslow, a human being has needs that go just beyond the physical.

Credit : Simply Psychology

In fact, he formulated that there was a pyramid of needs, five tiers high, that built upon themselves to create total fulfillment. In the top tier, a person is capable of reaching the full potential of human beings, which Maslow called “Self-Actualization.” In order to produce, create, and find the drive to do so, a person must reach the fifth tier at the top of the needs pyramid, but Maslow stated that this could not happen until the bottom four tiers were met, each building on the foundation of the one below. In other words, until your most basic needs are met, it’s impossible to move to the next tier, and impossible to create.

Credit: WikiCommons


Hierarchy of Needs



  1. Physiological Needs- water, food, shelter, warmth

If we are expending all our energy on trying just to survive, we cannot expend energy on creative productivity.

It’s obvious that humans have physical needs (yes, including those physical needs… ya perv…) that are required just for survival. Humans need water, food, clothing, and shelter to survive, which is why makes up the first tier, the foundation of the pyramid of needs. Unfortunately, we live in a world, even in countries considered first world, that fail to provide these basic human rights to everyone. No progress can be made unless these basest of needs are being net, and met regularly, which is why the second tier is just as important as the first.

2. Security Needs- stability, consistency, healthcare, resources, employment

If we are expending all our energy trying to secure our resources, we cannot expend energy on creative productivity.

Human beings must have their basic needs met, and be comfortable that they will continue to be met. Living in constant fear of being hungry, cold, vulnerable, broke, creates toxic amounts of stress on the human body. This is why poverty is the root cause of so many health issues- the constant threat of losing everything in the blink of an eye. Many families in my school district are just skirting disaster, one unforeseen event, bill, accident away from collapse.

When living in this constant anxious state, toxic stress becomes a major obstacle. When unable to get out from under the stress, it leads to health issues from an impaired immune system, mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, and strain on relationships, personal and professional.

So, perhaps, your basic needs are being met, but just not consistently. Are you worried about your job security or struggling with unemployment? Is your health a constant battle for you, mental or physical? Are you worried about access the health care?

“Living in constant fear of being hungry, cold, vulnerable, broke, creates toxic amounts of stress on the human body.”


3. Socio-Emotional Needs- belonging, intimate relationships, affection, touch, family connections

If we are expending all our energy trying find a sense of belonging and identity, we cannot expend energy on creative productivity.

The biggest revelation I have had in my study of teaching children with trauma has been the impact of relationships on a child’s ability to learn and function socially. From the very first connection a baby makes with their caregivers, the roots of social, emotional, and physical needs are established. If these tiny humans establish healthy, trustworthy relationships with their caregivers, research shows that over the course of their life they will be better students, better regulators of stress and emotions, and better able to develop healthy relationships with others. Evidence has even shown that “problem” students can be helped, not with strict punishments and zero-tolerance policies, but simply by forming a trusting bond with an adult. This is especially true for children who have been deprived fulfilling relationships with their caregivers.

They also build the foundations of strong Executive Functions, or in other words, all those other things our brain does beyond problem solving and bodily functions. Executive functions include memory, organization, prioritizing and planning, task initiation, impulse control, flexibility, emotional control, and self monitoring. These are the areas of the brain that are critical for success in school. And, they’re the same skills needed to formulate a new idea, the creativity to develop it, and the motivation and inspiration to carry it through to the end.  In essence, anyone who has experienced trauma has a higher chance of deficits in their executive functioning.

Credit: Lisa Woodruff

These executive functions are the same parts of the brain heavily impacted by Autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, meaning that exposure to trauma can have the same impact on learning and create the same deficits as ADHD and Autism.

It may seem like a far leap to say that your relationships directly impact your abilities to think and learn. After all, relationships are social and learning is cognitive. But, human beings are social animals. Our evolution has been heavily dependent upon our ability to build communities; they create security and safety in ancient and our modern times. We crave interaction and affection, and that in itself creates its own sense of security. Belonging is crucial. And, as discussed in the second tier of the hierarchy, security is important on the path to self-actualization.

This may be the area in your life that may have the least structural foundation, and may be the cause of your writing issues. Writers are a lonely lot. We are esoteric, eccentric, and many enjoy being alone, preferring to watch from the sidelines rather than participate in society. This can lead to feelings of isolation. If you’re struggling with rejection, identity, or building healthy relationships, that fear of loneliness may be impacting the creative processes. Rejection in your personal life can easily translate over into the fear that your creations (the purest expression of you) will be rejected too.

“Evidence has even shown that “problem” students can be helped, not with strict punishments and zero-tolerance policies, but simply by forming a trusting bond with an adult.”

4. Esteem Needs- Self image, confidence, mental health

If we are expending all our energy trying find a sense of belonging and identity, we cannot expend energy on creative productivity.

When the word self-esteem enters a conversation, even I will admit, I find it hard not to roll my eyes and sigh. It’s hard not to immediately conjure images of participation trophies and posters of kittens on “hanging in there” on ropes. But, while self-esteem has become a millennial buzzword in the extreme, it remains an important part of our mental health despite the obnoxious reputation the word has garnered. In this particular case, self-esteem refers to the image we have of ourselves in our own heads and how that impacts how we interact with other people and engage in activities because of it.

A person with healthy confidence will feel comfortable around others and when alone, knowing that a healthy balance can be found in in both. They will also have a healthy respect for themselves, be able to take constructive criticism, and be able to make positive choices for their life. They will know that they have self-worth simply because they are a human being and they deserve to have their needs met.

A person who is struggling with self-esteem, especially conditions resulting from abuse and neglect, will be in constant need to validate their self-worth. This validation can come in the form of many ways- praise, physical contact, attention, and other positive forms of interaction with people. In some cases, when the need for this validation is high but does not occur, the result can be mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, self harm, and/or drug addictions that develop out of a need to numb the pain of worthlessness.

The biggest issue that can be a result from lack of having self-esteem needs met, especially when pursuing creative projects, is imposter syndrome. This is the deep seated feeling that you are a talent-less fraud and a paranoia that you are about to be “outed” as a fraud the minute someone sees your work. This alone is the reason some people never share their artwork, their writing, or their creations with other people, even close family and friends. Ironically, the validation for that work is what they crave most, and would actually help.

Since this need is the most cerebral of the human needs, it tends to be the most overlooked area. You can see a person physically starving, but you can’t always see self-esteem issues until they manifest physically, such as the weight loss of an eating disorder. Another sad aspect of this issue is that because they suffer from worth issues, those suffering from low self-esteem are trapped in a vicious cycle of believing that it is okay for them to feel worthless, because in their skewed belief system, they are in fact worthless.

Does this sound like you? Are you terrified to let others see your creative work for fear of rejection or ridicule? Are you fighting a battle with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, self harm, or addiction because of trauma and self-worth issues? Until you feel that your work has worth, as an extension of your own worth, you may be too paralyzed to create and share that work.

“Rejection in your personal life can easily translate over into the fear that your creations (the purest expression of you) will be rejected too.”


Self Actualization- reaching full potential through fulfillment of all other needs

The term self-actualization sounds so mystical and profound; to achieve self-actualization is to become the Buddha, to reach enlightenment and higher planes of existence. But, in the sense of Maslow’s hierarchy, self-actualization is much more simple and attainable than breaking the karmic cycle.

When speaking of Maslow’s hierarchy, the term self-actualization simply means generating an original idea, initiating the task to bring it to fruition, and seeing it through to completion. And, according to Maslow, this process of creation cannot happen unless you have met all the needs in the bottom four tiers.

Maslow described Self-Actualization as:

It refers to the person’s desire for self-fulfillment, namely, to the tendency for him to become actualized in what he is potentially. The specific form that these needs will take will of course vary greatly from person to person. In one individual it may take the form of the desire to be an ideal mother, in another it may be expressed athletically, and in still another it may be expressed in painting pictures or in inventions.” (Maslow, 1943, p. 382–383).

He also identified 15 common characteristics of “Self-actualizers”:

  1. They perceive reality efficiently and can tolerate uncertainty
  2. Accept themselves and others for what they are
  3. Spontaneous in thought and action
  4. Problem-centered (not self-centered)
  5. Unusual sense of humor
  6. Able to look at life objectively
  7. Highly creative
  8. Resistant to enculturation, but not purposely unconventional
  9. Concerned for the welfare of humanity
  10. Capable of deep appreciation of basic life-experience
  11. Establish deep satisfying interpersonal relationships with a few people
  12. Intense or exciting “Peak” experiences
  13. Need for privacy
  14. Democratic attitudes
  15. Strong moral/ethical standards

How many of these traits do you have? If not, why? What are you missing from life that you need? How can you resolve this need? Who can help?

If you’re not writing, painting, creating, actualizing… stop and ask yourself- Are you unable to do so because one of your needs is not being met?

Are you struggling to survive?

Are you struggling to maintain your survival?

Are you isolated?

Are you mentally healthy?


Once we resolve the obstacles to our own unmet needs, we will be able remove the blocks in our creative endeavors.




Information on brain science, development, and learning provided from Help for Billy: A Beyond Consequences Approaching to Helping Challenging Children in the Classroom by Heather Forbes

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Imposter Syndrome (APA)

Executive Functioning


Craft Creative Plotting

Scene Mapping: Using Dungeon Mastery to Plot Scenes

Growing up with OCD teaches a person to anticipate problems, which teaches them to problem solve at an early age. When most people hear the acronym OCD, they assume it is all about repetition – counting, organizing, and cleaning most famously. In actuality, that is just the typical manifestation of the the actual symptoms of OCD, the “compulsive” part of OCD. These are simply the form of rituals the person dealing with OCD is using to self-soothe their need to anticipate problems. Rituals all come down to the need to control one’s environment. The “obsessive” part of obsessive compulsive disorder is from the cycle of worry that stems from a fear of not being able to anticipate a problem.

A person with OCD may have a fear about their alarm clock not going off and being late for work. But, making sure that the alarm is set properly before they go to bed simply isn’t enough to quell that fear. What if they weren’t paying attention and accidentally set the alarm for PM instead of AM? What if they didn’t really flick the switch over all the way, and it doesn’t go off, or is set to radio, which is too quiet to wake them up? Of course, there is also the completely unavoidable problem of the power going out, which can only be solved with a backup system of generators… but even I’m not that paranoid. So, to anticipate these problems, they may check the alarm again, and again… and again and again and again, at least until they have soothed that worry enough to go to sleep.

The irony of being a writer with OCD is that even though I live my life trying anticipate problems that will trigger my anxiety, which leads to countless ways of trying to foresee how a situation with turn out, I am a particularly rigid and linear writer when plotting scenes.

“Then, I discovered the key to solving this problem simply by doing a quintessential nerd thing – playing DnD.”

When plotting out my seven major points in a story, I have no problem deciding exactly how and where I will introduce conflict and steadily working towards the resolution. The issue comes when I need to work on a smaller scale, linking the individual seven points together, or even smaller, from the beginning of a conflict within a scene to the scene’s resolution. The in-between parts are looser, more flexible, and need to contain more focus on the characters emotions. Plot occurs between the seven major points in the main story arc, but character development, which is the steering wheel for plot, meaning this is how story moves forward.

Keeping readers on their toes is incredibly important. If the story becomes predictable then readers lose interest. If they can predict what the characters are going to do, they get bored because they have already read this story. But, creating seemingly random variations in the outcome of a situation always felt like a dead end. If I knew what needed to happen at the end of a scene it felt impossible to not work towards it, even if I wasn’t convinced it was the best way to move the story forward, but was the only idea I could generate to finish the scene. And, if this was the only idea I could come up with, I found it even harder to work through the actual scene itself. I knew how a scene would start, and I had decided how I thought it needed to end, but how do I get from point A to point B in this scene without writing directly to resolve the scene. How can I work in the all important character development layers in the scene needed to feel like the plot is moving forward, even if we are just reading the internal monologue of a character dealing with the aftermath of an important plot point.

“You want to explore as many options as possible, even ones that may seem counter to your objective, because you never know the connections that will form between the ideas once your imagination takes hold.”

Then, I discovered the key to solving this problem simply by doing a quintessential nerd thing – playing DnD. Recently, I started playing Dungeons and Dragons again after a very long hiatus, creating a new group from my work friends. One of my best friends and fellow teacher, Dylan Power, joined the party as a player, but usually DMs (Dungeon Masters – the equivalent of Game Master for other tabletop RPGs). Recently, we started writing together in order to bounce ideas off each other – he plotting his campaigns while I work on my fiction, and I have discovered that he is an incredible DnD storyline writer. The reason he is a fantastic story line writer is because he has the ability to generate various outcomes of any situation he puts his player in during game play.

During one of our writing sessions, I watched him plot out his story map for the first leg of the campaign, and was stricken with envy. Much like I would have done when plotting a scene, he determined a starting point and an endpoint (conflict and resolution), but what he did in between was completely different than to my normal writing process. From the start point, he would write out a chain of events stemming from not one, but up to four ideas.

“Plot occurs between the seven major points in the main story arc, but character development, which is the steering wheel for plot, is how story moves forward.”

Begging him to teach me his dark form of idea generating magic, lamenting my situation concerning my inherent need to problem solve and plan for all contingencies, I stated how frustrating it was that I couldn’t easily do this same thing when writing scenes. And his response was so stupidly simple, I actually felt like an idiot when he pointed it out:

“Well, I have to account for people. You’re trying to account for things.”

Brick wall, meet face. It was so obvious. I was doing everything wrong… even though, he wasn’t entirely correct. Plot is driven by the actions made by characters who are constantly developing, changing, and evolving. This means that whether I am trying to plot a scene, a story arc, or the arc of a trilogy, none of this can be done without accounting for variables created by character decision making.

Using Role Playing Story Mechanics to Plot:

Try to pick a scene that you have not plotted yet. The less you have plotted the better – it prevents you from thinking too narrowly or linearly. You want to explore as many options as possible, even ones that may seem counter to your objective, because you never know the connections that will form between the ideas once your imagination takes hold. Give yourself permission to jump around and be spontaneous. Right down every possible scenario, even the ones that don’t make sense.


  1. Choose inciting incident and a conflict to be resolved by the end of the scene
  2. Brainstorm as many possible causes and effects from the inciting incident, as well as obstacles created. Think specifically about the characters involved, and how they will react in the situation presented.
  3. Continue to connect the cause and effects of the different levels of the unfolding conflict, finding ways to solve obstacles or to connect to the resolution of the conflict. (Unresolved obstacles can be used as foreshadowing or lead to other scenes.)
  4. Once finished, pick a path from beginning to end. Once chosen, write out the sequence of events you chose in order from beginning to end.
  5. Huzzah! Now do it again with another scene!

Note: Keep in mind that using this process might through your scene completely out of order. If this happens, it is probably for good reason. This process tends to reveal plot holes and weak spots in plotting. Don’t be afraid to add more to the beginning, the end, or even through out the middle. Also, do not be afraid to cut material out that doesn’t fit with the new idea. Hold on it for later, or write an alternative scene and see which fits better in the long run for the scene or the story arc.

Write on young savior,



Start Off Write Round-Up

Congrats, friends. We survived to 2018. That in itself is something worth celebrating. (cue the huzzahs!)

But now that we’re all here, it’s time to sit down, have some thoughts, and figure out how/what/why you want to tackle the projects you’re going to this year. Maybe you have plans to start something entirely new? Finishing up an old manuscript? Taking a break from writing to give your brain a rest? No matter what your goals are for this year, we here at IndiePen Ink want to help you kick off the year by providing a nice little listicle of some great resources for various writerly needs. Hopefully these will give you just the inspiration you need to start your year right.


Time and Timeliness

This wonderful blog post by writer Eketi Edima was something I first encountered as a viral twitter thread. I stopped to read it, enthralled by her writing in general, only to get to the end and find myself teary eyed at the beautiful message she wrapped up in a fun, and deeply personal childhood story. If you’re looking for something to motivate you and remind you that good things take time, don’t miss reading this.

Making a Living as a Self-Published Fiction Author

This longread blog post by the folks at Sterling and Stone is a great read if one of your goals this year is seriously buckling down and turning your passion for writing into a money making career. While it isn’t a path for everyone, it’s what many of us dream to do – get paid to publish our fiction work. Their guide and step by step breakdown is really helpful if you’re interesting in tackling that this year, but aren’t sure where to begin.


Some Assembly Required

Finding yourself stuck on planning out your plot, or like you need some guidance in crafting your narrative? We got you. *fist bump* Inkademy is our very own writing workshop service, and our first one, Some Assembly Required, is available right now through Coursecraft! It’s an affordable price, and once you get it, you can access the materials at your own pace, whenever the writing spirit in you moves you to do so!



Got a burning question you need to ask a librarian? Need to know how to conduct research at your own local library? Just wanna get lost in a hole of researching cool stuff here on the interweb? Then the IPI Research-a-Torium is about to become your new best friend. With new resources and links being added as we grow, this part of our site is entirely devoted to helping you have easy access to difficult to find topics. You can use it to submit a question to our in-house librarian, or just peruse the available information at your leisure!

Write World

Another site that is absolutely brilliant in terms of the infinity of resources it provides, is the tumblr blog Write World. With different categories and tags to help you sift through genre information, to fun inspirational posts that serve as story starters, they have a ton of pages that you can easily navigate. It’s eye-opening and fun, and great for visual thinkers. 11 out of 10 would recommend.


Leave It In 2017

John Green and his brother Hank have been making videos on their wildly popular channel, Vlogbrothers, for over 11 years now, and there’s no shortage of cool things this dynamic duo has managed to create. Last year alone, they launched 2 new conventions, and John at last published his first book in 5 years. This video of his makes some great points, including this one liner I need to take to heart this year…

“Prioritizing your career over your sanity? That’s dumb. Stop doing that.”

Bookstagramers of Color

You’d be surprised to find that one of the best ways to find new book recommendations these days is through a visual social media app like Instagram, but man, is Bookstagram a fun corner of the internet for book lovers. Avid readers share staggeringly beautiful images of both the books in their queues and themselves, and this particular round up features nothing but Bookstagramers of color. These lovely book bloggers are out here reading and recommending some of the best #OwnVoices works out there. As you head into the new year, it’s important to remember how significant representation is, and that as ever, #WeNeedDiverseBooks. The best way to find them and support them is through checking out any one of these brilliant book lovers pages & giving them a follow.


Custom Scarves by Litographs (Literary Merch)

Ever wanted to wear your own story as a fashion statement? Need to keep your words physically close to your heart to remind you to keep at your book? Then goodness does Litographs have the thing for you. These wonderful scarves and other amazing merch which is adorned with the text of famous works. BUT! With this link, you can actually get your own scarf custom made featuring a chunk of text that YOU wrote! Pretty awesome, if you ask us.


That’s all for this article and inspiration round up, but feel free to share your own articles or pieces that have inspired you to start off right this year, in the comments below! We hope you have the best 2018, filled with magnificent adventures as you work towards your writing goals!

Carry on my wayward writers,







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Writing Resolutions 2018

Happy New Year, writers of the world! We hope you’ve all had fun celebrating the end of 2017 and are starting the year without too much of a hangover. Even better, we hope you’ve made time to write this weekend and are making time to write today too. If you haven’t, then perhaps a few writing resolutions are in order. We’ll share ours with you, in case you need some inspiration:

Elayna’s Resolutions

  • Publish something for reals: 2017 was pretty amazing, in that I got to publish my first short story in a literary magazine. But now having had a taste of that, I really want to focus on publishing something entirely my own this year. I’ve got a few ideas about in my brain, so we’ll see how it goes, but I’m really hoping to make this happen in the new year.
  • Start properly querying agents. By the time this article is published, I will hopefully have completed the first draft of the second book in a YA trilogy I’ve been working on. I want 2018 to be the year that I take the manuscript of the first book, and really focus my energy on trying to find an agent to get traditionally published.
  • Focus more on writing for fun. Usually, my writing time is entirely devoted to projects I plan to release, whether that on my blog or something I want to publish. My hope in 2018 is to spend some more time writing just fun things for me, to help me not only grow as a writer but also to just have something special and separate from the work I put out into the world.

Christine’s Resolutions

  • Finish something. Anything. Then finish something else. I’ve made the mistake in the recent past of only finishing things whose future was dependent on other people finishing things of their own. This year I’m focusing that finishing energy on things that are dependent on me and only me.
  • Learn the art of saying no, because saying no = more time to spend writing. I’ve been practicing my no’s, but I haven’t really gotten good at it yet. This year I want to figure out how to no like a boss.
  • Practice pitching. I’m one of those that freeze up whenever anyone asks me an unexpected question, and I freeze doubly so when said question is about one of my creative projects or books. No more, I say! No more.

Bekki’s Resolutions

  • Fall back in love with my writing. The passion is gone, but what I have is still fantastic.
  • Stop shaming myself, for basically everything writing related. Own my ability and accept compliments when they are due.
  • Find acceptance in indeterminability of finishing. Stop trying to force it, because the harder I push, the less I accomplish. This is not a race. It will happen when it happens, and it is out of my control.
  • Find a group of dedicated beta-readers who will: A) actually read and B) offer useful feedback. Avoid: C) sharing it with anyone and everyone out of desperation.

Of course, we have some resolutions for the website as a whole to share too. They might not be writing-specific, but you may find that they can apply to your writing goals too.

IPI Resolutions

  • Shift our focus from creating to curating. Last year was all about building the site and starting a backlog of content. This year will be dedicated to establishing a high bar of quality and making sure we’re connecting to you.
  • Launch IndiePen Press. More on that later. 😉
  • Become too legit to quit. That’s right, 2018 is the year that IndiePen Ink becomes an official business. That means paperwork, taxes, and all that fun drudgery. Shit’s about to get real, folks.

So what about you? Do you have any writing resolutions this year?


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When Writers Don’t Write

A Rant from Sass:

It’s 10:26 am on Christmas Eve. My husband is currently working a sixteen hour overtime shift (at triple time – don’t feel bad for us. He signed up for it.), and I have the house all to myself. I don’t have anywhere to be until tomorrow. It’s cold, and the snow that started last night is still accumulating. I have a cozy little fire going in my wood burning stove and a piping hot cup of sweet, black tea steeping as I type. My cats are curled up at my feet. It’s literally a perfect day to write…

…so, why the hell don’t I want to write?

I’m a writer. You kind of have to do writing for that to work. But, meh… I just… whatever.

It’s not writer’s block. It’s not even writer’s embarrassment. I just look at my project, shrug my shoulders, and think Nope.

I have writer’s apathy.

I’m nine months shy of being a decade into my main writing project. I’ve fleshed out all the characters. I’ve outlined the entire story, the conflict, the character arcs, the twists, the turns, the reveals, and the resolution. I’ve written over 50,000 words of the chronological story, and who knows how much out of order.

The story is there. It’s ready to be completed. I love my characters, I’m happy with my style, I’m proud of the theme and message I want to resonate through the story…

…so, why can’t I finish this damn story?

Have I fallen out of love with the idea?  Am I hitting the limits of my own creativity? Or, is it simply the manifestation of something I just can’t accept – maybe I am not really a writer at all. A creator, sure. I made an entire world. That happened, and it can’t be denied. But, am I trying to create my world in the wrong universe?

Am I sabotaging myself because I subconsciously fear I’ve invested ten years in a project that will have absolutely no significance?

The worst part isn’t the not writing. It’s the fact that everybody that reads what I have written loves it. My husband, my writer friends, my best friends, strangers who’ve read it on the few places I have posted it on the internet – I’ve had tons of positive feedback. They are desperate for more. They are begging me to finish. And, when they tell me this, I want to finish. I have hope I can. I believe I can… for about, like, a day. Then it’s straight back to excuses and apathy.

“If platitudes could be burned as creative energy to motivate my ass to complete this story, it would probably be a whole damn series by now.”

Most of the time, my writing dry spells have coincided with depression. On the reverse of that, my best writing periods have coincided with manic periods. But lately, when I sit down to put words on paper – despite knowing what I need to write, and how I want to write it – just feel lethargic. Creatively devoid. Bored, even.

So, why don’t I just walk away, you ask? Many reasons…

  1. I don’t often walk away from things I start – I’m too competitive, even with myself.
  2. I keep talking myself out it.
  3. The desire to have her own fandom is strong with this one.
  4. I know in my heart that someone out there needs this story as bad as I needed it when I started writing it.

“Your words are going to change someone’s life, even if it’s your own.”

My writer friends encourage me, giving me pep talks all the time.

“It’ll take as long as it takes.”

“I know you’re going to finish this story.”

“It’s a fantastic story that needs to be written. You’re going to do it, I promise.”

If platitudes could be burned as creative energy to motivate my ass to complete this story, it would probably be a whole damn series by now.

I wish I had answers. I wish I could peel back my consciousness and poke around inside it with a stick until I figured out why I am motivationally blocked. But, alas, no dice.

I’m just going to have to keep plugging away, working when I can, and trying not to feel like I’m made of excuses when I can’t. Writing is an art, not a science. It’s an act of creation. The pressure of manifesting something literally from nothing is overwhelming sometimes. It’s intimidating, especially when you add on the fact that you are second guessing your every move as you do it. Every writer wants to create something new, undiscovered, and original, because every writer needs to feel those things about themselves.

Writing is an act of affirmation.

As the often contested quote says, “Writing is easy. You just sit down at a typewriter, and bleed.” In other words, a writer pours everything out onto that page that makes them. They spill their essence across the page in a flow of words – their thoughts, their beliefs, their fears, their desires, their strengths, and their limitations. A writer leaves everything they are on the page, and waits for someone to love it. A writer perceives love through the admiration of their work, because if they can lay out their essence on a page, flaws and all, and still find someone who finds beauty, joy, revelation, and kinship in that mess, then they have truly been accepted for who they are.

That is terrifying and alluring, and the secret desire of every writer. They want someone to read them like their book, and say “I love this exactly as it is. Never change a thing.”

Dear merciful universe, I will finish this book. I don’t know how long it will take, or how I will find the momentum, but I will do it for one simple reason: Finishing this book will say more about me than anything I undertake for the rest of my life. It’s become a metaphor for my entire life struggle.

“Am I sabotaging myself because I subconsciously fear I’ve invested ten years in a project that will have absolutely no significance?”

I am not good enough. I will never be accepted. Nobody gets me. What’s the point in trying?

My story is not good enough. It will never be accepted by the mainstream. Nobody will get it. What’s the point in writing it?

Because it already exists. I exist. I think, therefore, I am, right? Saying this story isn’t worth writing is like saying my life is not worth fighting for anymore. It’s creative suicide. As long as people want it, I know it has worth… and, as long as I know I can write it, I too have worth.

I have to find the courage, conviction, and fortitude to keep writing. I have to tell my story as it is, without hesitation. I have to keep writing, living, bleeding out, otherwise… what is the point?

Writing is scary because it is the most honest thing you can do to accept yourself. Don’t give up. Keep fighting, even when it hurts, even when hope seems lost. It’s worth it. You’re worth it. Your words are going to change someone’s life, even if it’s your own.

Write on young savior,



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Have Courage

A pep talk for first time NaNoWriMo writers

One of the scariest sensations to a human being is that of the unknown. Will I get that job I interviewed for? Will I ever find love? Will they renew my favorite show next season despite low ratings? (We sure hope so!) Not knowing how something will turn out keeps many of us from doing the things we want to do, because somehow to our minds, not doing the thing at all is easier than the notion of trying the thing and “failing” at the thing.

NaNoWriMo is here to shut that argument right up, and remind you that you got this.

This #RoadToWriMo pep talk is here for those of you who have never tried NaNoWriMo. It’s for those who have waited in the wings of the internet during the month of November, watching everyone else try and write their novels, while you go, HA! That’s crazy! Who would attempt such madness?! (All while silently telling yourself you want in on the madness.) I’m here to tell you that you can do it, and the only thing you have to do is decide. You have to take the leap, even if you can’t see where you’ll fall. From my experience with NaNo, the place you land always ends up being way cooler than where you jumped from. Because here is the real point of NaNoWriMo. Lean in close for this one…It’s not about writing 50,000 words in 30 days. It’s about trying.

It’s about flinging every inhibition you have ever had into the wind to try something that quite frankly should be impossible, but isn’t. It’s about telling a story–your story. It’s for those of you who feel adventures whispering inside of you aching to be free. NaNoWriMo is about letting go, taking a risk, and seeing what magic can come of it. Sometimes that means 5,000 words, sometimes it means 20,000, and sometimes it means going the whole 50K. The point is that you tried, and you ended the month with more words than you had when you started.

So many writers tell themselves that they just don’t have what it takes. But take a moment to imagine where we’d be if Jo Rowling hadn’t taken a chance? How boring would our lives be without Angie Thomas or Ray Bradbury? Madeleine L’Engle or John Green? All of these people were individuals who were bigger on the inside, with something to say about the world and the unique way they saw/see it. People just like you. The only thing separating you is that you’ve yet to take the first step. I’m here to tell you take it. Seize the opportunity to tell your story like you’ve never seized anything before. Carpe the heck out of this damn diem. BEGIN. YOUR. BOOK.

I’ve done NaNoWriMo thirteen times, and I’ll be honest in saying it never gets less daunting, and there will always be times when you doubt yourself and think you can’t finish. But the reason I’ve stuck with NaNo, and why so many people do too, is because of the community. When you hit that I can’t do this anymore moment, there are others doing the same thing along side you to remind you that every word counts. There are strangers from every corner of the world fighting the same battle as you. NaNoWriMo takes away the solitary nature of writing, and gives you an environment full of comrades so you never feel alone. It will be one of the most rewarding things you can ever do.

So, potential future WriMo, I hope to see you this November. I hope that no matter your Hogwarts house, you muster up enough Gryffindor courage to take on this challenge. Your friends here at IndiePen Ink, and the many WriMos around the world, will be there for you if that courage ever fails.

See you out there on the road, new WriMos. Let’s boldly go.

Carry on my wayward writers,