A Writer’s How-To: Memorable Settings

I find the easiest way to create a memorable setting is to make it unique. If your story is set in the mountains, give the mountains a cool name with some weird creatures living in it. If the story is set in space, make the spaceship feel like home and add some quirks to it. (After all, we all have that ONE FREAKING FLOORBOARD that creeks like some horror story bad guy is coming to kill you in the middle of the night.) If your story is a romance, make the setting cozy by adding in something that means the world to the main character or something that brings up some unfinished memories.

If you give the setting something specific, something unique to itself, some defining character, readers will remember it better. (It’s the same with making memorable characters!)

Three of my favorite settings are, in no particular order: Hogwarts, because of the ghosts and the moving staircase and trick doors; Serenity, because even though it fell apart ALL THE TIME it became a home and sanctuary to the crew; the Arenas in the first and second Hunger Games books, because it seriously messed with the tributes in unique and challenging ways.

Why do I like them most? They all offered something unexpected and added dimensions to the story, as well as pushed the story along. Doing so with your settings will help your readers remember them!

Readers: what are your favorite settings and why?
Writers: what are some ways you make your settings believable?

Happy Friday, and until next time!
Warm regards,
Kellie

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Ten Writing Tips

Writing can sometimes be hard. Here are some of my favorite writing tips to make it easier:

1)  Give yourself treats for writing something. (I know, I know, it’s like kindergarten all over again. Do something good? Get a little gold star on the corner of your paper!) But sometimes motivation is hard to come by and little treats (like a new pen, a new notebook, a new character sheet, or let’s face it, that new show you’ve been dying to watch) can make it easier to actually sit your butt down and write.

2) You don’t have to write linearly. Some writers swear by writing linearly; they write out a huge outline and just plow on through it. And that does work for some authors, but certainly not for all of them. Feel free to skip around. If you’re stuck on a particular scene or chapter, leave that and go to a different section. You might find that writing out an entirely different scene helps you finish the sticky one.

3) J.K. Rowling once said, “Sometimes you have to get your writing done in spare moments here and there.” We tend to think writers spend all day writing their lovely prose and intense characters, but honestly, we all have other things to do like juggling full-time work, friends, and chores. Find spare moments to write, even if it’s just ten or fifteen minute pockets throughout the day to write down a character trait, an idea for a specific scene, or that specific scene itself.

4) Always carry a spare notebook. No, seriously, always have another one somewhere because when you lose your trusted red notebook that says Keep Calm and Carry On you’ll be super upset. (I know this from experience.)

5) Don’t shy away from painful scenes. Emotional, psychological, physical. Any of kind pain. They can be a bear to write, but they can be vastly important to growing a character. I had some scenes in Finding Hekate that were really hard to write, especially the flashbacks, but I knew it would deepen her story.

6) Have a dedicated writing time or place. When you’re there, block everything else out and write. This is your craft and like any other artist, you need time to do your work.

7) Look around you for inspiration. Seriously, see that random person drinking coffee? They could be your next character. Remember that one guy who always sits in the corner of the library? Use that mindset to create a mysterious background. Those flowers you saw on the way to work? Craft a new flora in your world. Inspiration is everywhere. Dialogue, setting, plots, and characters are all around you, so if you’re stuck in some anti-writing mud, look around and listen.

8) Set a goal for yourself. Even if it’s just 200 words per day, set it and keep it. Even if they’re a crappy 200 words. Even if you won’t use them, write them anyway. Once you start writing regularly, like any habit, you’ll want to continue writing.

9) Neil Gaiman once said, “The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.” It’s true! Write your story the best way you can, in whatever form you can, on whatever subject matter you can. It’s your story, no one can tell it better than you.

10) Stop using little words such as very, really, just, and that. They’re useless modifiers that bulk out your word count when you don’t need them to. Here’s an example of how you can remove “very” from a sentence. Instead of writing “She ran very quickly to Sarah’s side.” write “She rushed to Sarah’s side.” Doing so will tighten your work.

What are some of your favorite writing tips? I’d love to know in the comments!

I hope you’re having a lovely Friday! Stay safe out there.
Warm regards,
Kellie

WritingHack: Motivation

Ursula K. Le Guin, on world building: “You can’t just build the world. You have to go there. Live there. It has to be real to you.”


Last night I had the privilege of seeing Ursula K. Le Guin at Powell’s. Needless to say, the top floor of Powell’s was packed, and they kept announcing Le Guin would only sign one book per patron and only if that said patron had a book signing ticket. (No, I didn’t get anything signed!) Le Guin was amazing! Sharp as a tack and hilarious, too. She said some lovely things about writing, ranging from how authors shouldn’t be afraid of the “old white men” to how it took her fifteen years to figure out how to write in her own female voice (and not in a man’s).

During the Q&A, one audience member asked if Le Guin had any advice on motivation. She couldn’t really give any, since her own experiences centered on people who were (and are) already driven to write, who are passionate about their work, and who basically don’t need motivation.

I found this quite interesting, because I struggle with motivation sometimes. I have so many responsibilities on my plate—grad school, Write to Publish, work, volunteering—that sometimes I say that I don’t have the motivation to write. But, if I’m really honest with myself, it’s because I don’t dedicate the time to write.

And that, readers, is my first tip (of six) on how to motivate yourself.

TIP #1
Dedicate time to write – This can be as little as one day out of the week or as much as one hour every day. If you set time to write, you will write. If you consciously set aside a specific amount of time per day or per week, you’ll motivate yourself to do it.

TIP #2
Have a set goal – This one is for the people who don’t like schedules. Don’t worry, I know you’re out there, and I don’t judge. (Much.) If you don’t want to schedule a specific time slot out of your life in order to write, have a set amount of words per day or per week instead. This can be as little as five hundred words per day or as many as ten thousand words per week. Pick a goal that seems doable to you. What’s great about this strategy is that most likely if you do reach your goal, you’ll want to write more anyway.

TIP #3
Turn off the internet – Yes, I did just say that. Turn off the internet. Turn it off. No Netflix. No Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, newspapers, blogs. Just turn it off. The less distractions you have, the more likely you’ll want to write. (Some people like to listen to music when they write and that’s okay.)

TIP #4
Read. Read. Read. – Quite simply, if you read more in the genre you want to write in, you’ll be motivated to either a) match whatever fabulous writer you just found or b) do better than the writer you’re currently reading. Reading is a great way to get motivated because you’ll get excited about your genre again.

TIP #5
Write something different – If you’re seriously stuck on this one section of this one story or poem, try your hand at something else. It’ll get your mind off that problem and, hopefully, by stepping away and working on some other short piece, you’ll come back to the original problem with a new set of eyes and some fresh ideas.

TIP #6
Have a splurge day – So this one is a bit new for me. I call it a splurge day, because it’s the day I can do anything. I can write anything I want to or I can write nothing at all. I can purge a bunch of stuff from my system by fleshing out a world or a character that I may never use or I can bang out a few thousand words in a novel I’m working on. I can spend the entire day with my fingers never grazing the keyboard, completely unplugged. I encourage everyone to have one, just because I know setting a goal everyday may seem daunting to some, and it’s always good to unwind.

Those are my tips for motivation. What are some of yours?

Warm regards,
Kellie

WritingHack: Submitting Your Work

So, these past few months I’ve been cataloging the submissions for Cirque, a literary journal based out of Anchorage, Alaska. I was an intern with them for a year before graduate school so I’ve done this before. (I’ve leveled up to Editorial Assistant, though, so that’s pretty cool, yeah?)

It’s a fun job! Basically I check the submission email and catalogue any submissions we get based on genre (Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Art). I update this giant table with all the necessary information, save the work in a different folder, and follow up with the writers and artists if necessary.

Now, most of the submissions I receive are normal. I’d say over 95% are good. The writers do everything correct, attach all the right things, and generally make me feel wonderful about the community I’ve immersed myself in.

The other 5% though? Well, they are the…interesting bunch. And because they are…interesting…and make silly little (or possibly intentional?) errors, the editors might not take them seriously.

In hopes of derailing any future mistakes by my writer friends who may wish to submit to journals (Cirque or otherwise), here are some things you should watch out for:

Follow the Guidelines
Be sure to read the submission guidelines. Every journal has them up on their website so read them, understand them, and follow them. If you have a question, let the editors know! If the submission says they only accept a Word document or a cut/paste work into the body of the email, do that. It does not mean they will accept PDFs. It does not mean they will accept already designed poems with boarders and flowers. It does not mean they will accept pictures, unless specifically in the Art category. And it certainly does not mean they will accept a picture taken of your desktop of an open Word document displaying the poem you wish to submit. (I laughed at this…and then cried a little.)

Title Your Work
This one is self-explanatory. Okay, all of these are, but this one especially so. Title your work. Title it something that’s connected to the work in some way. Or title it anything, really. Just name the freaking work. Don’t tell the editors that “This has no title,” and they can pick whichever string of words from the piece they want to for the title. Doing so will not end happily. (Granted I’m a nice person and picked a good string of words, but it could’ve easily gone downhill.)

Listen to the Reply
When the editor (or in my case, the editorial assistant) gets back to you and asks you for a 100-word bio, they mean a 100-word bio. And saying “sorry for going over the 100” is bull because you clearly went over the word limit intentionally and is cause enough for them (me) to reply, “No worries, we can always cut it down for length.” While we can, and will, do this, doing so only gives the editors more work. Listen to the reply. Listen to what they say. If they say 100 words, give them 100 words (or less)!

Write Professional Emails
I’ve saved this one for last because it ticked me off the most. When writing your email, be sure to use a professional tone. If you start off the email with “Babe” and end it with “What more do you want?” it’s going to taint your submission (if not get it completely rejected for unprofessionalism). These editors have your work literally in their hands—they can just as easily delete the submission if they want to. If you don’t take the submission process seriously, the editors won’t take you seriously either.

So, fellow writers, be part of the 95%. Please. If you’re part of the 5% it’ll dampen your chances of getting in and will just give the editors something to buzz about around the water cooler. And not in a good way.

[FYI: If you’d like to submit to Cirque, submissions closes on September 21st! See here for details.]

Warm regards,
Kellie

LifeHacks: Studying Tips

The school year is upon us once again and whether you’re in high school, undergrad, graduate school or beyond, this transition from summer to fall also means the start of what I like to call the “Studying Season.”

And, while my graduate program doesn’t technically restart until September 28, I figured I would share four studying tips that have helped me over the years in the hopes it would help all of you!

Tip #1: Study A Little Bit Every Evening
This is a tip I figured out in high school. I used to have major tests every week and cramming the night before just didn’t do it for me. I couldn’t remember everything all at once and hyperventilated when I couldn’t. Then, I found out that studying a little every night helped me really process the information. It also gave me the freedom to study a little instead of in huge chunks, which helped me not freak out over the testing.

Tip #2: Use Your Resources
Resources are helpful. Resources can be in the form of study sheets, the questions in the back of each chapter if your books contain that kind of thing, the library, or your professor, ex cetera. It can also be things like creating your own study materials, crafting a quiet study area out of your room, or highlighting your textbook. All of these aspects will help round out your studying. Heck, you can even ask to use a fellow classmate’s notes! Which bring me to my next tip…

Tip #3: Quiz Each Other (Or Form Study Groups)
To be fair, I forced my sister and my parents to quiz me, but this can be helpful for friends, too. This could also be known as a study group. I did a few of these in undergrad, and they helped in two ways: a) they allowed us to learn the material in new and different ways since you have different points of view and b) they allowed us to have some fun in the process. Hanging out with friends, even if you’re studying something, is bound to be an enjoyable event. This segues into my to my fourth and final tip.

Tip #4: Have Some Fun
I’m the first one to raise my hand and say that studying is vastly important. Going over information learned in class will help later on, even if you don’t have a test to prepare for. That said, however, it’s really easy to be caught up in the Studying Season kind of lifestyle, where that’s all you do all the time. You should also take some time for yourself. Have some breathing room in your schedule—even just an hour a day would help—and do something fun. Anything fun. It may seem like your blowing off your homework for a little bit, but it’ll be better for you in the long run. Plus, letting off some steam helps ease the tension of test day.

Well, that’s all folks! My four tips to help you study during school. I hope they help you… they certainly helped (and are still helping) me.

Now that I’ve said my piece, I want to hear from you! What are some of your tips for studying in school?

Warm regards,
Kellie

Moderating a Panel

This weekend I attended the Willamette Writers Conference as a moderator, representing Ooligan Press. I figured this might not be something people get to do everyday, so I wanted to share my process of how I got ready.

Three months before the conference: Per asked me if I would be interested in doing something for the Willamette Writers Conference. I said yes, then pretty much forget about it until after finals and vacation.

A month and a half before: Per offered me a panel—How to Develop an Author Platform—and asked if I’d like to participate as a moderator. I said “Of course!” and added it to my ToDo list. *looked up what the hell a moderator does on Google* *felt pretty good about myself*

A month before: I researched my panel topic, my panelists, how to moderate things, and brainstormed questions. I sent them to Per, got some feedback, and revised.

Two weeks before: I sent the questions out to my panelists for their feedback. I drafted my talking points and added the timing so I’d know what I’d like to hit. I went over the questions five times a day. (Anyone who knows me, knows this is not excessive… for me.)

A week before: *nervously sweats* I started to freak out. I realized I would be speaking in front people, asking questions, and generally doing something I’ve never done before. I kept going over the questions. And I drank tea. Copious amounts of tea.

Two days before: I created some new business card designs and sent them to the printer. I also went over my questions with Molly, one of my friends here at the Ooligan Press. I had been saying it out loud in front of my cats and it was good to practice in front of a person. I also advertised on Facebook and Twitter.

The day before: I gathered my items—binder with paper, pens, water bottle, coat, folder with my moderator stuff in it, bag, keys, wallet, business cards. I tried on a bunch of different outfits. I was perfectly calm.

The day of – T-6 hours: I got up early and dressed. I wore my orange pretzel socks from one of my best friends, Meredith, because they were awesome and I needed to be awesome. I fed the cats and made breakfast. Then, after hugging my cats for good luck, I left.

The day of – T-4 hours: I hung out with Bess, another Oolie and a friend of mine, for a while, waiting for our turn to start this whole crazy moderating thing. Bess was cool as a cucumber. Oddly, I was, too. We met up with Molly right before Bess’s panel. I watched Bess fly through her moderating business. She did amazing. I was still okay.

The day of – T-1 hour: My coolness vanished around lunchtime. I think the process of sitting down with my own thoughts and eating made me realize just how close this insane thing I was doing actually was.

The day of – T-30 minutes: We had just finished lunch. I was nervous. Super nervous. I’d like to say I hid it well, but I probably didn’t. After heading to the panel room, I met with some of my lovely panelists Mary Bisbee-Beek and Todd Sattersten. I was proud that my hands didn’t shake when I poured and handed out the water glasses. (My peeps from high school will tell you, my hands shake when I get nervous.)

The day of – T-10 minutes: I met my final panelist Karelia Stetz-Waters. I chatted with her a little, getting more anxious about the stream of people trickling in. I made sure my talking points were in easy reach. The venue staff came by and handed us mics. I (internally) freaked, since I had never really used a mic before. I told myself it would be okay. I checked my phone to make sure we started on time.

The day of – T-30 seconds: I took a few deep breaths, gave myself an internal pep talk, and grabbed the mic. I fumbled a bit with it at first. The attendees were nice and mimed how I should hold it. *internally freaked out because I always want everything to start off smoothly… … … got over it and moved on*

The day of – 1:313:00pm: The panel went smoothly after that. And oddly enough, even though I was nervous to begin with, the nerves fell away while I was asking the questions.

The day of – 3:00end of day: Completely relieved, I watched Molly moderate her panel—she did awesome—and hung out for a little while, then went home. I made sure to email (and Tweet) the panelists a thank you and announce on Facebook that I had successfully completed the event and everything went well. Then, I crossed it off my list.

Annnnd that’s my process! Really, it was all about having confidence that I could actually pull this thing off. (I gave myself lots of pep talks.) I also prepared quite a lot beforehand, practicing out loud and such. Remember, the preparation process is different for everyone. Do what’s right for you!

It was also lovely to have my friends there, too, so we could root each other on.

Overall, I’m glad I did it. It was an interesting experience and one I can put on my resume. If you have the chance to do it, I’d say go for it! (And coming from a woman who generally doesn’t like speaking in public, that’s saying a lot.)

Warm regards,
Kellie Doherty

Post Script – I have some super exciting news to share with you all, and, because of that, there might be a Bonus Post sometime later in the week!

Throwback…Friday?

Sometimes I like reading my own blog. It’s like a journal, and I like seeing how far I’ve come. Plus, it helps me figure out what I want to write about. This is a post I did on February 22, 2014.

I like it, so I’m sharing it again.


When I was younger and imagined my life as an writer extraordinaire, I figured I’d have creative breakthroughs every single day. Every. Single. Day. That every one of my thoughts would be my next best seller. That I’d be typing happily away on my computer – in my office, in a coffee shop, in the library – many GREAT THOUGHTS would hit me, I’d pick one, write the others down, and be set for that day.

I figured since inspiration is everywhere, the GREAT THOUGHTS would just come to me… easily. Simply. Without stress. Without pain. Without the hours and hours of time dedicated to it or agonizing over it.

I, of course, was wrong.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I have many great thoughts… that one time I figured out how to fix a footer in a pesky Word document that no one could quite figure out all by myself, that brilliant idea for a Full Moon Event involving glow sticks and a Frisbee, that time I paired cottage cheese and eggs and discovered the most amazing breakfast food of all time. Those are great thoughts…but just not the right ones.

Truth be told, GREAT (writing) THOUGHTS don’t come around very often.

Sure we have a pack of GOOD IDEAS sneaking around our ankles, and two or three INTERESTING CHARACTERS tugging at our hair… but GREAT THOUGHTS?

GREAT THOUGHTS tend to travel by themselves. They are rarely seen and, once had, hidden away, locked in a cage in our mind until we nurture them enough to let them see the light. (And by nurture, I mean feed them our souls in little chunks, let them drink our time away, and claw at our imagination for fun.)

GREAT THOUGHTS rattle their cages until they make us uncomfortable enough to share with others – tugging at our creative ropes, wanting to join the fray with the undeniable ARCHES, the handy PLOT TWISTS, and tumble with ALL THE FEELS. Enough to make us share them with OTHER UNKNOWN WRITERS who are just as desperate to find that one GREAT THOUGHT as we once were.

But sometimes it takes… well… time for GREAT THOUGHTS to come around. For a few writers, GREAT THOUGHTS appear regularly – and if you’re one of those writers, I’d love to know your secret – but for most of us, the breakthroughs just won’t come that often. It may not happen for years.

But the secret to writing, I’ve found, is that we can’t wait around until that GREAT THOUGHT shows up. Follow those GOOD IDEAS down the creative path for a bit. Spend some time with the INTERESTING CHARACTERS and ALL THE FEELS to discover what works. Be mindful of the ARCHES in other books and craft some PLOT TWISTS that would make even the smartest of reader fall off their seats in shock.

Just keep writing.

That one GREAT THOUGHT will come sniffing around soon enough.


Somedays I wonder where all my GREAT (writing) THOUGHTS are, but I’ve still been writing, too, so in the end, that’s what counts.

Have a wonderful weekend! Try to stay cool out there.
Warm regards,
Kellie