Overcoming Fear


As your authentic voice emerges publicly, you will experience
a range of emotions and, ultimately, new sources of strength.


I’ve struggled writing this week’s blog because other parts of my life have demanded all of my emotional energy recently—most notably, a paralyzing anxiety about the end of the year. More to the point, I started my own consulting company at the beginning of 2017; as such, the end of the calendar year raises the specter that my clients may not renew their contracts in 2018.

Simply put, I’m terrified of the unknown, of rejection, of having to start all over again. It’s an exhausting, consuming angst. So, what does any logical, mature professional do? Run for the hills. I have retreated back into myself, started making plans to close my company down, and find a path back to corporate servitude. (All while my clients, by the way, continue to call me with new projects and pay their monthly retainer fees.)

Vulnerability reigns supreme.

This psychological need to cocoon ourselves is a very natural reaction when others start seeing our work in a new, public way. Putting ourselves out there, sharing our work—whether via our writing or our other professional and personal goals—is hard. We lose our anonymity and, as a result, feel like we have much more to lose than when we just kept our ideas to ourselves. As such, we feel raw, insecure, and uncomfortable. Not much fun, is it?

Inspiration from Teddy Roosevelt helps.

During this important step of publicly testing and, in turn, verifying your creative authenticity, you will find new allegiances and supporters (like those of us at Around the Writer’s Table!) who will embrace your bravery. Bravery, you say? This self-flagellation doesn’t feel courageous or strong. It’s crazy-making; it makes me feel like I need to scrap everything I’ve ever done and start over. . . .

Ahh, but you see, fighting through the self-doubt and taking ownership of where you are, understanding where you need to go, and still expressing yourself publicly and authentically is the victory. Teddy Roosevelt understood this:

The credit belongs . . . to the man [or woman!] who is actually in the arena, who strives valiantly; . . . who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, . . . and who, at the worst, if he fails, . . . at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls . . . who know neither victory nor defeat.

Stay in the arena.

So, take a deep breath and manage your mind and emotions. You are not alone—friends (both old and new, and some unexpected), critique groups, your writing coach or editor, blogs, and writers’ organizations will support you, especially during these terrifying moments of verifying, testing, and owning your journey.

By continuing to forge ahead and fully embrace your new public identity as an author and creator, you will be able to fully integrate all parts of your life into mastering your craft. You will no longer have to compartmentalize your creative spirit or wear a mask to satiate others’ expectations of who you should be.

The butterfly emerges.

At this stage, you will experience a deeper evolution towards authenticity—and will spread your wings as you emerge from your cocoon. This stage is powerful and will lead to greater productivity, inspiration, and dedication. Enjoy this moment as you start to explore your full potential as an author in the public eye.

 


CHANTA G. COMBS
Chanta is the newest member of the AROUND THE WRITER’S TABLE team and is a regular contributor to our blog. Chanta’s professional experience has been in law, policy, politics and corporate America. However, she finally surrendered to her lifelong passions of reading, writing, and researching, and is following them to new frontiers in her life. As part of that journey, Chanta is currently enrolled in the Graduate Certificate in Editing & Publishing Program at Florida State University. Her goal is to absorb all she can about the editing and publishing industries while also finding new dimensions to her authentic voice. Chanta is a mom in love with her eight-year-old son, two dogs, and two cats and she calls Tallahassee, Florida home.

A Brave New World


Assessing your work and acknowledging areas for growth will create new frontiers for your craft and, more importantly, an authentic existence as an author.


You have been pouring your heart and soul onto the page, traveling through distant lands, exploring characters’ idiosyncrasies, and wrestling with words. You are telling the story you are meant to tell. That feels good, doesn’t it?

The Naked Artist

And, now, as you come up for air, you are surrounded by thousands of words—all of which represent your greatest hopes and your greatest fears. Your work undeniably represents an intimate part of you. Now, it’s time to examine where you have been and where you still need to go as a writer.

Welcome to the least popular stage of creativity—setting your vulnerabilities aside and objectively reviewing your work. During this stage, both self-assessment and external critique are vital.

Embrace Your Growing Pains

To objectively evaluate your growth as an author, you must set your creative voice on the shelf (but, wait. . .WHAT? It took so long for it to reveal itself. . .AAACK!), and invite your analytical and logical mind to the table. Because writing and evaluation are distinct tasks, you should avoid frustrating yourself by doing them simultaneously; in other words, only start the assessment process when you are at a point in your writing where you can step away from your creative drive without losing creative momentum.

In addition, this is the time you should start to consider the idea of sharing your work with other people. Yes, revealing yourself this way can be daunting, and feelings of vulnerability are normal. But allowing others to review your work is an essential part of your development as an author—only by sharing your work and understanding areas for improvement will you be able to expand your craft.

So, if you are not already part of a supportive network of other authors who can provide constructive feedback about your work, perhaps you should find one in your community or online. If that is too uncomfortable at this stage, no worries! Perhaps, you have a mentor, teacher, coach or friend who can share her experiences as a writer to provide trusted guidance on ways to stretch your wings.

Perfectly Imperfect

While you may have a lot to say as a writer, truly refining your craft requires an overall evaluation of your skills within the context of a particular project. For example, is your story appropriately answering your work’s compelling question? Is your writing appropriately showing (rather than just telling) your readers your protagonists’ wants, needs, and stake in the plot? Cutting your own words can be brutal, and you may experience fears of judgment and imperfection during this process.

Acknowledging how far you’ve come and how far you have yet to go (no matter how much experience you have) is a critical part of the journey. Only by humbly stepping away from and objectively reviewing your work can you acknowledge what works for your writing, differentiate yourself from your mentors and teachers, and begin to fully master your authentic voice.

Meeting The One

If you successfully detach, evaluate, acknowledge, and act on areas for growth, you will quickly take true ownership of your writing. You will begin to realize that YOU are the one you’ve been waiting for throughout this creative process. This critical turning point is where you will enter a new world of creative development, where acceptance replaces fear, where your craft aligns more closely with your voice, and your old assumptions disappear. While this will initially feel unfamiliar, you will soon recognize it as confidence and freedom to fully express your creative voice in ways that will resonate with your readers.


CHANTA G. COMBS
Chanta is the newest member of the AROUND THE WRITER’S TABLE team and is a regular contributor to our blog. Chanta’s professional experience has been in law, policy, politics and corporate America. However, she finally surrendered to her lifelong passions of reading, writing, and researching, and is following them to new frontiers in her life. As part of that journey, Chanta is currently enrolled in the Graduate Certificate in Editing & Publishing Program at Florida State University. Her goal is to absorb all she can about the editing and publishing industries while also finding new dimensions to her authentic voice. Chanta is a mom in love with her eight-year-old son, two dogs, and two cats and she calls Tallahassee, Florida home.

Imitation & Ingenuity


Emulating and mirroring other authors’ techniques
will build your creative muscle and illuminate your writing process.


In recent weeks, we have encouraged you to create silence and listen to your inner voice. Perhaps, this quiet introspection has led you outside your comfort zone on an unexpected path of self-discovery. Maybe you are challenging your own assumptions about your creative life or exploring new horizons for your writing. You could also, quite possibly, be stuck in a quagmire of self-conscious anxiety, not sure what direction to go.

Now what?

Say yes to your creative work! Now is the time to start writing and—most importantly—enjoying the process. Being an author is not linear work. . . writing will be messy, frustrating, and surprising. Regardless of your experience as an author, your authentic voice is likely to feel wobbly and uncertain with each new project. Like any of life’s meaningful challenges, you will find yourself stuck inside rabbit holes, taking startling detours, and facing seemingly insurmountable hurdles (both self-imposed and otherwise). But you will never know where the joy of writing will take you if you don’t start.

We Don’t Live on Islands.

Several years ago, my child finally realized that he could use his emerging vocabulary to more clearly articulate his annoyance with me. To do so, he would adopt a very solemn look and a very resolute tone, point his tiny index finger at me, and say, “No, Mama.” For better or for worse, I instantly recognized that look and that tone and—most undeniably—that finger. They were mine! As he was learning to find own his voice, he started by emulating me.

Similarly, during the early stages of your creative process, you will inevitably find yourself emulating other authors. Despite our best efforts to turn inwardly to foster our own authenticity, we don’t live on isolated islands or as hermits without external influences. Your experiences as a reader are part and parcel of your extraordinary personal tapestry. As such, they will naturally find their way into your writing.

Enjoy the Authors’ Dressing Room.

Experimenting with others’ techniques in your own writing can be spontaneous and unintentional; it can also be done purposefully. It is a fundamental component of the creative process, so embrace it. Explore different authors’ points of view, modes of character development, or patterns of narrative tension—all while adhering to ethical standards and copyright laws. Only by going through this process will you start to understand, appreciate, and foster the channels, language, and other tools that are most effective for expressing your authentic voice. Simply put, trying on different styles is the only way to find your perfect fit.

Get Ready to Fly.

While experimenting can be fun, you will, after a while, become bored and unsatisfied by emulating and mirroring other authors’ styles. A lack of ingenuity and feelings of inauthenticity will start to infiltrate your creative process. This, in turn, is likely to cause your inner disquiet to return. Rest assured that all of this is a normal part of the creative cycle. In fact, when other authors’ methods start to bore you, this is when you will know that your authentic voice is beginning to emerge and ready to soar.


CHANTA G. COMBS
Chanta is the newest member of the AROUND THE WRITER’S TABLE team and is a regular contributor to our blog. Chanta’s professional experience has been in law, policy, politics and corporate America. However, she finally surrendered to her lifelong passions of reading, writing, and researching, and is following them to new frontiers in her life. As part of that journey, Chanta is currently enrolled in the Graduate Certificate in Editing & Publishing Program at Florida State University. Her goal is to absorb all she can about the editing and publishing industries while also finding new dimensions to her authentic voice. Chanta is a mom in love with her eight-year-old son, two dogs, and two cats and she calls Tallahassee, Florida home.

This creativity tip is inspired by The 97 Best Creativity Tips Ever! by Dr. Eric Maisel (2011), and is used with his permission.

Calming the Inner Disquiet


Restlessness is a fundamental ingredient of the creative process.
Embrace it in order to understand your full artistic potential.


Carpe Diem!

In 1989, actor Robin Williams starred in The Dead Poet’s Society. As you may recall, this film centered on a small group of high school students who were suffocating under society’s conventional definition of success for them. As their English teacher, Williams uncompromisingly promoted poetry, literature, and the theater to inspire their artistic independence and creative self-expression. His repetitive incantation of the Latin phrase, “Carpe Diem” (Seize the Day), added magnitude and urgency to their journey.

As these young people discovered the joys and freedoms of the written word, they began to break the mold at their elite boarding school: they hoisted themselves on desks, marched in quirky hallway parades, and met in clandestine caves to celebrate creativity. Simply put, the movie encouraged voracious, restless souls (like mine) to undertake an imperative and uninhibited odyssey of self-exploration. Needless to say, that message resonated deeply with me. It still does.

Who is running your life?

This movie taught me to honor my intuition—which is a wonderful platitude but hard to achieve. Much like the students in Dead Poet’s Society, we are inundated at very early ages with external expectations for our lives. The world, our families, and our peers shape our realities from the beginning: sit at your desk and be quiet; go to college and get a job; pay your bills; become a spouse; buy a house in the suburbs; have perfect kids; take care of your aging parents. Oh, and don’t forget to eat organic foods, sleep ten hours every night, drink zillions of glasses of water every day, wear the highest fashions, and smile while doing it all.

Please. That life is completely exhausting. Why? Because somebody else made that list for you. Yes, we have to grow up and become responsible adults. But that journey does not have to be mutually exclusive of our aspirations, our natural predilections, and, most notably, our authentic voices.

Your inner disquiet is a pest.

Where does your imagination go when you allow it to take flight? What is your genuine story? Answering these questions honestly—and acting on those answers—requires gumption.

To get meaningful answers, you will likely have to get quiet (see our earlier blog for tips!) and go deep several times. What you will find when you enter these magical depths of introspection may surprise you, scare you, delight you, or (most likely) inspire all of those reactions. An immediate and very natural response, of course, is to cling to that tried-and-true list that somebody else made for your life.

The good news, however, is that you are hardwired with an inner voice that will guide you through all the disruption that self-discovery creates. But if you deprive it of attention long enough, that inner voice will get continuously louder and even more unruly until you are forced to pay attention to it.

Listening to and honoring my inner voice (a lifelong process, by the way) has led me to choices that would have been unimaginable if I had followed somebody else’s list for my life. My inner voice has guided me to quit a legal career so I could advise (and, ultimately, befriend) two governors on major issues of the day; to divorce a wonderfully gentle, successful man who had no idea how to speak to my soul; and to leave a lucrative, upwardly mobile corporate job because it was crushing me. All of those decisions were hard and uncomfortable. But my inner disquiet kept rising up, forcing me to ask myself difficult questions, and required me to own the direction of my life.

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”
~ E. E. Cummings

While it will likely create some havoc, that inner disquiet is actually a huge ally in your creative process and in your life. It is sending you a warning signal that your current path and your current choices are impeding the full expression of your authentic voice. It is telling you that you have a story that needs to be told, a path that needs to be explored, and a journey that needs to be commenced.

Don’t resist your inner disquiet.
Listen to it. Surrender to it. And enjoy the journey.
Carpe Diem!


CHANTA G. COMBS
Chanta is the newest member of the AROUND THE WRITER’S TABLE team and is a regular contributor to our blog. Chanta’s professional experience has been in law, policy, politics and corporate America. However, she finally surrendered to her lifelong passions of reading, writing, and researching, and is following them to new frontiers in her life. As part of that journey, Chanta is currently enrolled in the Graduate Certificate in Editing & Publishing Program at Florida State University. Her goal is to absorb all she can about the editing and publishing industries while also finding new dimensions to her authentic voice. Chanta is a mom in love with her eight-year-old son, two dogs, and two cats and she calls Tallahassee, Florida home.

This creativity tip is inspired by and based on The 97 Best Creativity Tips Ever! by Dr. Eric Maisel (2011), and is used with his permission.

Silence Is Golden


If noise clutters your mind, you will produce shallow writing.
Create silence and empower your authentic voice.


As you enter the room, you immediately feel its aching potential. The neutral walls yearn for color, texture, or art—anything to animate the room, to tell its story. Its soaring ceilings and generous bay windows invite you to stretch your legs, get comfortable, and stay awhile.

Unfortunately, this potential is utterly unrealized. Thousands of Post-it notes are slathered with scribbles and blanket the wall. Mold, mildew, and wood rot seal the windows shut, creating a musty, suffocating staleness. The pervasive clutter paralyzes you, and a low, ubiquitous hum from an indeterminate source distracts you beyond reason.

A perfect project for one of your favorite TV remodeling programs, right?

What if this were actually your creative mind, begging for your time and attention?

Your mind is a powerful force.

It is constantly filled with lists, expectations, and demands. It whirs with disparate and dynamic ideas, emotions, nervous energy, aspirations, optimism, insecurities, or despair. In addition to these ordinary (yet demanding) internal processes, our fast-paced world oftentimes distorts or completely ambushes your mental energy. Personal and professional responsibilities, twenty-four-hour cable, multiple email accounts, cell phones, text messages, and countless social media outlets create a tornado of distractions, noise, and mental bedlam for all of us.

But a noisy mind is a tired mind.

And a noisy, tired mind has limited capacity for cultivating your authentic voice. A noisy mind defaults to performing superficial work and producing writing that won’t be worth reading.

So how can you remove this mental clutter, eradicate all these Post-it notes from your mind, and create enough emotional, intellectual, and spiritual space to create? By simply turning the volume of your life down. Create silence.

We become so consumed by doing, doing, doing that we forget how to be quiet. We need silence in order to reacquaint ourselves with the powerful, purposeful, soulful, meaningful voice within us. In the silence, you will find the strength to go beneath the surface to the place where good thoughts and good sentences come together. A quiet mind interested in diving deep comes back with stunning creations.

Where to start?

Set boundaries in your external world. Unplug your phone, sign-off from your social media accounts, and turn off the TV. Tell your family, friends, roommates, and colleagues that you’re going off the grid and will be unavailable for a while.

Start for just a few minutes. With some practice, you will find yourself craving these moments—which will soon turn into hours, sometimes days (if you should be so lucky!). By isolating yourself from these external demands, you will be able to hush that ubiquitous hum that infiltrates your life, throw the windows of your musty mind open, and invite a fresh perspective into your soul.

But you still must go a step further.

Your internal noise can be just as draining as the external noise. During these cherished moments of silence, learn to observe your thoughts and emotions without being swept away by them. Breathe deeply. Meditate. Be still, both physically and mentally.

This, too, takes practice, but, with time, you will realize that your thoughts and emotions are not facts, just the rolling monologue of your mind. By slowing your inner dialogue, you will start to realize how transient your thoughts and emotions are. Only then can you prioritize the internal voices that will lead you to the appropriate intellectual, emotional, and spiritual depths where you can completely surrender to the creative process.

All of us carry an inner disquiet and long for deeper meaning. Don’t simply accept the clamoring in your mind and in your life. Prioritize and create both external and internal silence. Don’t wait until you’ve completed everything on your to-do list or resolved all the questions in your mind. And don’t expect it to occur organically. Create silence, nurture your creative mind, and fully realize the potential of your authentic voice.


CHANTA G. COMBS
Chanta is the newest member of the AROUND THE WRITER’S TABLE team and will be a regular contributor to our blog. Chanta’s professional experience has been in law, policy, politics and corporate America. However, she has finally surrendered to her lifelong passions of reading, writing, and researching, and is following them to new frontiers in her life. As part of that journey, Chanta is currently enrolled in the Graduate Certificate in Editing & Publishing Program at Florida State University. Her goal is to absorb all she can about the editing and publishing industries while also finding new dimensions to her authentic voice. Chanta is a mom in love with her eight-year-old son, two dogs, and two cats and she calls Tallahassee, Florida home.

This creativity tip is inspired by and based on The 97 Best Creativity Tips Ever! by Dr. Eric Maisel (2011), and is used with his permission.

To Share Your Writing—or Not?

I recently attended two productive and gratifying writing events: one a week-long workshop, the other a three-day retreat. These events were, at once, similar yet very different from one another. On my long drive home from North Carolina, I contemplated those differences, as well as the impacts of these two events on my writing habits and my current project.


The major difference in those two events was the respective instructor/teacher’s philosophy about sharing our writing, which could be a current work-in-progress (WIP) such as a short story or novel, or something produced that day for a writing exercise.

Sharing Shutdown

The instructor for the first event is resolute in his opinion that sharing can often shut writers down. We too easily step into the comparison trap and the “I’m not good enough” chatter begins in our heads. It can leave us feeling exposed and raw if we don’t get what we want or expect from it.

So he presented each exercise for our own contemplation and response in the privacy, comfort, and shelter of our own minds and notebooks. The time between workshop sessions was spent independently working on our own manuscripts.

As a group, the attendees seemed pleased with this approach and everyone was massively productive during the week. We learned a great deal about one another’s projects, but no one read their work aloud or handed off printed pages to other attendees. We left satisfied with what we had accomplished on our respective writing projects.

Sharing As Validation

At the second event, we rounded out every session with each person reading her written response to that session’s exercise. Additionally, each day ended with a shared evening meal, followed by the chance to read a piece of our work aloud. Reading aloud was never required, but the opportunity was there for everyone who wanted to take it. By the end of the four days, nearly all of us had shared words we had written, either in a writing exercise or from our WIP.

On the last night, I shared a scene from my novel that I had been avoiding writing for . . . well, let’s just say, a long time. I knew it was going to tax my writing skills and be emotionally draining, too. But I had started it at the earlier workshop, and I got exactly the reaction I hoped for from the small audience that night. It still needed work, but now I knew I was heading in the right direction.

First-Time Trembles

I’ve been writing and attending events like these long enough that I see value in both approaches and am comfortable either way. But they can be intimidating for any writer who has never had a chance to share their work.

I recall my trembling hands, holding my short story manuscript the first time I read aloud to a group. I wasn’t sure the words would come. I also remember participating in my first critique group, wondering if I had “what it takes” to be a writer.

Unpredictable Outcomes

I’ve observed how individuals respond differently to the feedback they’re given–some becoming defensive and angry, some accepting it, as uplifting, with an open heart and an intention to improve. And I’ve seen how that feedback can be delivered with vitriol or with love, kindness, and honorable intent.

I have listened to writers share their opinions on a manuscript when the author never requested advice in the first place.

I have seen writers who–given the chance, but not required to read aloud–felt shamed into reading, obligated to share with the group or else be the only one “too chicken” or embarrassed to show their work.

I’ve heard about an author who shared a piece of writing in confidence with fellow authors and found out later they had discussed it, without permission, outside the original, and supposedly trusted, circle of sharing.

I know authors who have wilted and stopped writing completely after they were courageous enough to open themselves up to judgment from other writers.

I know writers who have grown and improved at their craft, their passion, because they shared their WIPs among a trusted and supportive group of kindred spirits.

Knowing if and when to share your work and with whom is an important decision that only you can make for yourself.

What has your experience been with sharing your work? Are you eager or uncomfortable doing it? Do you see benefits or disadvantages? Do you and/or your critique group have a set of rules or guidelines you follow when sharing your work and reading or hearing the work of others?

I’d love to hear your opinion and experiences in the comments below.

Query Letter Essentials

The query letter is effectively your written pitch to an editor or agent, enticing them to read or request your work. It is your first shot at gaining and, more importantly, HOLDING the editor’s/agent’s attention!

Keep it simple. I’d use the KISS anagram, but I hate the “stupid” on the end: “Keep it simple, stupid!”

So let’s change that, shall we?

Keep it simple and sharp.

Below I’ve included a sample query and we’ll break down all the elements. Then on June 21, join host Gina Edwards and me for a chat about query letters on CONVERSATIONS Around the Writer’s Table. On the call, I’ll answer any questions I may not answer here.

First Things First

Research to whom you are submitting. Review their requirements thoroughly. Font size? New Times Roman or other? Whole manuscript or first 30 pages? Do they accept queries only through Submittable or do you send your query to a specific email? What don’t they accept? Don’t ruin your chance by not following their written instructions.


Sample Query

What to Include

Feel free to insert some personal things about yourself within the query, but keep it minimal. You want them to grasp your story and your qualifications in less than two minutes. I use the term “qualifications” because there are NEW authors who aren’t quite ready for publishing yet and those who have been around the block enough to know about critiquing, beta readers, editing and so forth.

The editor/agent needs to perceive that your story is polished to the absolute best of your ability, that you are serious, but also what your story is about: GMC (goal, motivation, conflict). So while my example above excludes any personal bits about “me,” I can hope that the blurb (containing voice) will speak to the agent I’m submitting to.

Review the sample above again. Immediately, the editor/agent will see genre, word count, and whether you’re submitting to a call. Contact information is easily seen/found. They will notice that you know their name; you’ve researched their publishing house enough to know to whom you are submitting, which shows that you’ve done some homework before submitting.

Next, they see your blurb, your BIG shot at getting them to OPEN your attached documents. Lastly, they see your experience, awards, and online visibility, which is a must for authors these days.

Have questions after reading this? Join me on CONVERSATIONS Around the Writer’s Table, Wednesday, June 21, at 7 p.m. I’ll talk about queries with host Gina Edwards then we’ll open the lines for Q&A, so you can ask your questions then!

See you there!


Bobbi Romans is a rabid reader, avid photographer, and a writer of romance on the quirkier side, crossing into and across sub-genres. She also just released a cookbook, Bobbi Roman’s Recipes for Giant Sized Families on Fairy Sized Budgets. She grew up in DC and resides in the south where she feeds nine+ hungry eaters every night.

Join Bobbi Romans and Gina Hogan Edwards for the next CONVERSATIONS Around the Table on Wednesday, June 21, 2017, at 7 pm for a deeper discussion about the query letter. Register HERE to get the call-in details for this free Author Education Series, which you can participate in by phone from the comfort of your home.

You can find Bobbi at:
~ Blog: https://bobbiromans.wordpress.com/
~ FaceBook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100006862743829 and https://www.facebook.com/BobbiRomansBooks/
~ Twitter: https://twitter.com/BobbiRomans
~
 LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/bobbi-romans-866a8a97/
~
 Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6438996.Bobbi_Romans
~
 Authorgraph: https://www.authorgraph.com/authors/BobbiRomans

Show, Don’t Tell

by Sam “SR” Staley

Perhaps no advice has been more instrumental in improving the quality of my fiction than embracing the mantra “Show, Don’t Tell.” I don’t think I fully understood its importance until my second novel was published (which goes a long way in explaining why my first two novels were not picked up by traditional presses).

I had asked for “candid” comments from a friend, an experienced writer. Her major point? I spent too much time in my character’s head. I was sucking the mystery and magic out of my story by telling my readers everything. I wasn’t giving them room to make my story theirs, to use their imagination to add texture and meaning. In short, because I was “telling,” I was not connecting with my readers.

I have worked steadily ever since to do more showing in my writing. I am convinced my most recent novel, Tortuga Bay, has done as well as it has—first place wins at Royal Palm Literary Awards, Florida Authors and Publishers Association, a finalist in the Eric Hoffer Book Awards—because I embraced this principle. Take this example from a scene where the crew of an 18th century sailing ship is fighting a typhoon. As a beginning novelist, I likely would have written the passage along these lines:

Damn this storm!” Captain Munoz muttered as he held on the railing. The waves were tossing his ship around in the sea as if it were a child’s toy. He looked at the helmsman. “Keep her bow downwind!”

The helmsman looked as if he would throw a sword through Munoz’s heart.

The storm raged on as its crew fought to stay on course.”

But this is what ended up in the award-winning book:

“Damn this storm!”

Captain Munoz clutched the railing as the crest of a wave spun the frigate’s bow across the wind again. The stern fell from under his feet as the ship plunged off a receding wave. “Keep her bow downwind.”

The helmsman looked as if he would throw a sword through Munoz’s heart if he weren’t more afraid of being swept off the deck by the next wave. The wooden beam that kept the ship on course snapped to the side, pulling the helmsman off his feet as two more sailors threw their bodies against the tiller to steady the ship. They had barely turned the rudder back to its rightful place when the back of the ship heaved up under their feet to ride another twenty-foot roller.”   (Tortuga Bay, p. 85)

Description recreates the feel of a rough storm at sea, allowing the reader to understand the emotions of the characters, the pressures they face trying to keep their ship afloat as they fight a life-threatening antagonist: the storm.

Another example.

I remember the afternoon I saw Bill at the Catalina Cafe.

As I balanced my large mocha latte while pulling a chair underneath me to sit, my eyes fell onto his bandaged hand. Before I could look up, his healthy hand was already waving me to sit.

“I know, I know.” His eyes dropped to the tabletop as a scowl darkened his face.

I was sure my eyes could see, with x-ray vision, the reddened, split knuckles below the gauze. The memory from ten years earlier flashed: the broken plaster in our Alpha Omega house, dust settling to the floor, the jagged hole in the shattered drywall.. I shook my head. My jaw dropped open.

“I know,” Bill repeated. The edge in his tone pushed my jaw shut. “I’m going back to Dr. Feldmeyer starting next week.”

I sighed. “Shirley’s not coming back.” My index finger flicked at Bill’s broken weapon. “Not until you fix that.”

Contrast the passage above with the following:

I met Bill at the Catalina Cafe and immediately noticed his hand. Bound in gauze, I knew he was repeating his old violent behavior from our fraternity days. The difference is now he wasn’t drunk. How could he possibly think Shirley would come back to him?

If you were sitting down to enjoy a novel, which of these passages would you find more engaging? More interesting? For most readers, but not all, the first passage is the one that draws them in, invites them to be part of a story. The reader can feel the tension between Bill and the narrator, can imagine the atmosphere, and has time to wonder about the next step in their story.

The second passage does little to draw the reader into the scene. The reader is told the relevant information, implying the scene is not important or relevant, as if saying “Here are the facts, let’s move on.”

Using description to pull the reader into the story is part craft and part art. The transition was challenging for me because my professional career is centered in the world of public policy where telling is critical for effectively communicating to our target audiences: elected officials and the general public. Newspaper commentaries are rarely longer than 600 words, and readers should know what the article is about in the first two or three sentences. Writing must be compact and concise. In other words, don’t “show.” The newspaper doesn’t have the space, and the reader doesn’t have the patience.

Thus, “telling” has its place and role. If fiction writers want to pick up the pace of the story, for example, telling can be an effective writing device. Some writers (e.g., Clive Cussler) have branded themselves with their fast-paced, no description writing style. Also, the point of view (POV) of the story’s characters sometimes requires telling rather than showing, as in the case of Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game which is told from the POV of a nine-year-old boy.

The key is to make sure the choice of “showing” or “telling” is intentional and serves the purpose of the story. Most fiction readers want to connect to the characters and their environments. More “showing” and less “telling” is usually the more effective style.


Learn more about “Show, Don’t Tell” during the next CONVERSATIONS Around the Writer’s Table, at 7 p.m., on May 17, 2017. Listen and learn during this free 30-minute program, followed by 30 minutes of open Q&A. Get details HERE.

Want to learn even more about showing vs. telling? If you are local, join Sam and me at the Tallahassee Writers Association monthly meeting on Thursday, May 18. You’ll find more details HERE.


Sam “SR” Staley (srstaley.com) is a multiple award-winning author of fiction and non-fiction books. His writing explores the uncomfortable realities, everyday heroism, and ethical dilemmas faced by contemporary children and adults in a society that values personal freedom and choice. He explores these themes in empowerment novels such as A Warrior’s Soul and Renegade, which explore courage and violence in modern schools, as well as in adventure stories such as The Pirate of Panther Bay and Tortuga Bay. His book on college sexual assault, Unsafe On Any Campus? College Sexual Assault and What We Can Do About ItIt, was released in 2016 by Southern Yellow Pine Publishing.

5 Free Marketing Tools for Authors

by Shannon Bell

Authors, especially when starting out, don’t have huge marketing budgets. What money we do have, we want to hold onto. Whether you have a traditional publisher or go indie, marketing your book is still up to you. This means you need to try to use the various free marketing tools that are available to help promote your book as much as possible.

1.  Facebook Events

Facebook Events are built into the Facebook platform. The idea is to create a “Launch Day” event where you invite a large number of people. You can also invite other authors to come in and do giveaways throughout the day. Offering a gift card or another prize for the person who invites the most people gives you an opportunity to increase the number of attendees–and, therefore, increase the visibility of your book that’s going live on the specific day.

Within the Facebook event, there are many things to help you promote. Create a graphic banner to have in the event so people know all about your book and where to buy it. Contests can be run to give people a chance to win an e-book or swag. You can also ask people to share the event or a link with your book details on it with their friends, which gains even more exposure for you and your book.

2.  Rafflecopter

Rafflecopter LogoRafflecopter is a great website to help you with giveaways. While there is a paid option, you can use the free one–and it will connect to your Facebook author page as well. It manages a giveaway and helps you to broaden your audience at the same time. People will receive entries for the giveaway based upon visits to your author page, sending out a tweet, and other qualifications that you identify when you create the giveaway. When the contest is over, Rafflecopter even reminds you via email to pick the winner.

3.  MailChimp

MailChimp LogoNewsletters are golden opportunities to gain readers and tap into new readers. You have a captive audience when they receive your newsletter in their email inbox. Growing your newsletter is easy, and it can be done on Facebook, Twitter, and more. MailChimp is a free website and tool that will manage your list and give you templates to use to set up a newsletter as often as you wish to send one. An app is available that will even put a newsletter subscribe button inside your Facebook author page.

4.  Later Bro

Later Bro is a website that allows you to schedule tweets on Twitter in advance. You log in and then write out all of your tweets. The benefit to this is that you can schedule a large number of tweets across several time zones. Capture specific hashtags you want to focus on, such as #TeaserTuesday and the genre of your book.

5.  IFTTT

IFTTT - If This Then ThatIFTTT is a web and mobile app that stands for “If this then that.” IFTTT allows you to automate a significant amount of your social media so that you’re not spending so much time in the different platforms. You can set it so that each time you post a picture on Instagram, it is also sent out via Twitter and/or posted to your Facebook page.

The app allows you to link multiple social media accounts, including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, as well as a WordPress blog. It saves time and allows you to tap into audiences within the various social media platforms. This way, your book gets the exposure it needs without you having to spend a significant amount of time posting back and forth.

Combining these five, free marketing tools with a well-thought out marketing plan allows you to gain more traction with your target demographic of readers. You can get your book in front of more eyes without spending any money. More importantly, you engage with your readers rather than simply throwing your book up for sale in front of them constantly.


Learn more about author marketing strategies by joining author and blogger Shannon Bell, at 7 p.m. (Eastern) on Wednesday, April 19, 2017, for CONVERSATIONS Around the Writers Table, hosted by editor and creativity coach Gina Hogan Edwards. In the second half of the hour, you’ll have the chance to ask questions regarding marketing and social media. To get details for how to listen and learn, click HERE.


Shannon Bell has written multiple books to help authors with their marketing plans, including 97 Facebook Marketing Tips for Authors and Launching Your Book: The Ultimate Marketing Workbook. She is a bestselling vampire romance author and is the marketing chairperson for the Florida Writers Association. Her marketing books, as well as her vampire novels and other books, can be found at: www.amazon.com/author/shannonbell.

Shannon Bell, Author and BloggerLaunching Your Book97 Facebook Marketing Tips for Authors97 Twitter Marketing Tips for Authors

 

 

 

 

 

 

Organizing Your Ideas

Last week, we talked about having a container(s) for your ideas so they don’t evaporate or move on to another creative soul ready to receive them because you are not in a position to use them immediately. The logical next step is to have an organizing principle for your ideas so they don’t simply stagnate or sit neglected, hidden away inside their containers.

The organizing principle should fit logically and integrate well with the types of idea containers you use. You want a finely meshed system, not a monster that has to be wrangled every time you use it.

The concept of organizing dozens or potentially hundreds of ideas can be overwhelming. So it’s critical to think through the process, and perhaps experiment, to find a method that works for you.

If you use only one type of idea container—say, a spiral notebook—then it should be easy to assure those ideas get some attention in their due time. Create a simple reminder to yourself to periodically review those notes. I do suggest, within the notebook, that you have some system for flagging items you may want to return to and use later.

For example, I carry in my backpack a composition notebook labeled NOTES; it goes with me almost everywhere. Anything and everything that comes up, including thoughts on my novel, goes into it whenever and wherever the ideas arise. To find ideas I know I will use later, I mark the upper-outer corner of the pages: Blog Idea, Novel, Book Title, Short Story Idea, Workshop Idea, etc. Sometimes I get more specific: Novel-Scene between GD & Gwen.

Then I review my notebook regularly, sometimes two or three times a week, to pull out the ideas for any current work-in-progress. I can simply flip through the notebook, checking those labels I put at the top edge of the pages. I know what’s there without having to read every word. When I find something I am ready to use, I generally retype the handwritten notes directly into my work in progress (which has the side benefit of often sparking new ideas).

Ideas I intend to use on some later project stay in the notebook, for now. When the notebook is full, it goes on an office shelf and I start a new one, but the ideas in it are clearly identified by the flagging system I use for ease of rediscovering them in the future. Those retired notebooks get revisited when I am actively seeking new ideas.

While I leave my ideas inside the notebooks, intact until ready to use, another writer might regularly rip out the pages, group them based on their category, and then file them in color-coded folders. I used to use the file folder and drawer method, but between streamlined furniture and laptops, and my self-awareness that I’m more likely to go back through a notebook on my shelf than I am to dig into a file drawer, I dropped that method. That’s why I suggest experimentation, to see what works for you. Whether the ideas stay in the notebook or are filed in a drawer or on your computer, they should be revisited every few months.

If you use more than one idea container, tracking and categorizing your ideas need not be any more complex. You may simply need an additional layer of periodically checking each container to decide what to do with the ideas recorded there.

For ideas stored in multiple containers, consider working backward to establish your organizing system.

What do I mean by that? You’ll need to have a notion of what the final, collective organizing system might look like so you can begin. First, consider what type of structure would be most accessible to you? What type of system would you be most likely to return to routinely? What are your options for that? File folders labeled or color-coded by category, as mentioned above? Electronic folders on your computer or in the cloud? Shoeboxes under your desk? Something that might seem quirky or unconventional to others, but that you know suits you? Be creative. Seriously, any method is fine as long as it works for you.

Your next effort then is to label your folders by category . . . or name your computer folders . . . or find and label the shoeboxes—whatever tasks fit the method you are aiming toward.

Once the final organizing structure is in place, set a schedule for transferring your ideas into it. Whatever and wherever your idea containers are, go to them regularly to move the ideas into your organizing structure. That could mean you need to print out email messages you sent to yourself, or copy/paste text messages into a Word document for printing, or shuffling index cards into stacks of related ideas.

Allow time to do the associated tasks on a regular basis. If after a while, you decide these tasks take too much time, consider how you could streamline your system. That might mean reducing the number of idea containers you use or changing the type. Or it might mean defining a different organizing principle or merely simplifying the one you have.

If the initial set-up seems overwhelming, break it down into steps, or set a timer and work on it for just a ten minutes a day until you have the system that will serve you.

Here’s a side tip: your idea container and organizing system can be the same. For instance, EverNote and electronic systems like it are great repositories for everything: web page captures, your original notes, photos, etc. After the initial learning curve of the app/software, you can use this one tool as both storage and organizer. The downside to this type of system–and I’ve heard many users say this–is that they load all sorts of things into it and promptly forget them. Out of sight, out of mind, that is.

Well, there’s no use in filling the bank if you aren’t going to take some of the gold out every now and then. Like any system, you have to regularly lay eyes on what’s in it if the ideas there are ever to be used.

This sort of organizing effort might seem silly to some writers, a waste of time even. But if you do it, if you allow yourself some time to experiment and to develop a manageable, accessible, and usable system that suits you, you will never be without ideas for new projects and you’ll never lose that idea that felt like the best one yet.