Looking toward the Future

Once again, it’s that time of year to reflect on the past and look toward the future. For me, I still feel like I’m in a state of limbo. I’ve talked about moving on to the next step, and posted about resolutions and updates, but I’m still not at the regular writing output that I want. I didn’t have the creative output that some other writers I know had had when everything was shut down. True, as I’ve said before, I spent more time online, and that didn’t do me good. Ever since Mystical Greenwood came out, everyone’s been asking when the sequel is coming out. Believe me when I say I don’t like having to keep telling them I don’t know.

So, I do have some goals/dreams for where to go next in my writing. The main objective, of course, is to be more consistent when it comes to writing. I’ve heard many writers talk about how they have a daily writing routine. Well, a few months after I first sought to balance the scales, I set about reducing the number of daily logins per social site, especially with the Big Five, from three to two, of which I’ve been successful and happy to do. So far, I haven’t been able to set about a daily routine as I’d like (aiming for the morning), but I know I must persevere. I’m going to try and see if I can do writing first thing when I turn on the computer in the morning.

Another thing I’m going to have to remind myself again is that first drafts/early words don’t have to be perfect. They just need to be done. After all, Mystical Greenwood wasn’t as it was when its first draft was completed. It’ll take time to get into the habit of working on writing every day, but I need to remember to believe in myself and my writing.

I also need to be more mindful of when on my sites of what I’m doing. As a result of the situation that had occurred with last month’s post, I duplicated it and deleted the original, so now in my stats I’ve got an “(unknown or deleted)”. A little annoying in its way, but still, I guess it’ll be a reminder that I need to be careful.

Another thing I would like to do in future is go on a writer’s retreat, once the COVID threat diminishes. It’d be nice to go somewhere unfamiliar and spend time on writing. I’ll need to save money and eventually set aside time for that. Like so many things when it comes to the world of writers, sometimes opportunities present themselves they’re not expected or being searched for.

And it would be nice to come up with a new writing presentation. I’ve done my importance of names one 3–4 times now, and I even expanded it to include pen names—for writers and for real people in memoir. It is time for something different.

Further Discussion

  1. Zikra, Nour. How To Find Time For Your Writing.

Readers’ Wants

Back when I did my first blog post, I talked about what I called the “Misery Complex” (in reference to Stephen King’s famous novel), and how writers’ and readers’ wants can clash. Granted, not all fans are crazy and obsessive about authors and fictional characters, like Annie Wilkes, but there is no denying that once a story is out there, it can touch so many people in individual ways in that they feel a special connection. And as they become attached to fictional characters, it’s still important to consider their feelings. Or isn’t it?

I’ve noticed this especially in drama and TV shows, like Downton Abbey and Game of Thrones, with fans theorizing and predicting where the story and subplots will go or could’ve gone, along with characters, and expressing their upset when things don’t happen in a certain way. The latter is especially true when characters die, don’t end up together, or character growth just vanishes. To be fair, with killing characters, writers cannot always be hated and blamed the way they have been, especially in drama, when actors decide they want to leave and pursue other projects. It’s not always easy to explain a character’s absence once the actor leaves. There may not be actors in books, but still, it’s easier to put unwarranted blame on writers.

It’s true not everyone has a happy ending, and sometimes one bad turn can in the end lead to a good one, but is there a line that ought not to be crossed? I certainly cannot argue how upsetting it is when a story seems to building something or someone up only to not lead there at the end. When there’s an anticlimax to anything from a story line to a character arc to a romance, it is usually disappointing. I sometimes find myself imagining (not always in great detail) where things could’ve gone in a story where I felt writing was lazy. That’s what’s lead to a number of fans writing fanfiction.

But at least there’s one point on which writers and readers can agree: stories and characters matter, as does what happens to them. Nevertheless, they originate with the writers. I said in my importance of names presentation characters are the children of an author’s imagination. Well, the same can be said of stories as a whole: an author sires them, and then they venture out into the world. That’s why I firmly feel the author should have the final say in what happens in his or her work, and I’d hope readers would respect that.

But I’m not unfeeling towards readers. After all, writers seek out the opinions of others in beta readers and critique groups while they are developing the story. So yes, readers can have input, and sometimes fans’ suggestions can ignite a spark in the writer’s imagination when they can’t figure out where to take the story next (even if it isn’t what readers specifically want), especially within a series. So, in conclusion, they both matter. Readers’ opinions should be considered, but the final decision belongs to the writer alone.

P.S. I want to apologize for the inconvenience for those who saw this post in advance a few days ago. I meant to schedule it at a different time and clicked the wrong button. This was not intentional, but given the post’s subject matter, I can’t help but feel the irony. Happy Holidays!

Dusting Off Stories From History

Many thanks to historical novelist Anne Clare for this opportunity to discuss my feelings on using historical fiction to shed light on lesser known events in history!

Guest Post By Andrew McDowell: Dusting Off Stories From History

These are feelings I hope to follow when I venture into historical fiction someday!

Brain to Bookshelf Conference 2021

The Maryland Writers’ Association hosts a writers’ conference every year, except, of course, last year’s conference was cancelled due to the COVID shutdown. Normally held in March, they were able to host this one this past weekend. The main takeaway for me was being able to see a number of friends I hadn’t seen in so long, including authors A. L. Kaplan, Meg Eden, and Michele Chynoweth, and be in a familiar setting in person again, not unlike how it was when my critique group started to meet in person again a few months ago in our familiar haunt (no pun intended).

There were a number of interesting presentations from authors, including Jane Friedman, Mary Tilghman, Andrea Johnson, Edward McSweegan, Susan Moger, and Harrison Demchick, and I learned more about Balticon. I met a number of new people, and I was able to sell a few books! But there were some hard lessons I had to re-learn. When it comes to attending events such as this, pre-planning is vital. This was something I didn’t fully take into account that morning. I didn’t manage my time and drive well, and I made it there just in time to hear the first talk. What’s more, even though I signed up for both days, I didn’t realize until too late (shortly before the conference) that I had doubled-booked Sunday and couldn’t attend the second day. Still, I had a good time for the day I was there.

We’ll see what happens next year. I know now to remember to plan better in a number of ways. I guess I just had to get back into the rhythm of things. Maybe next time, if I can think of a new writing-related presentation, I can give it then. It is time to think up some new topics for presentation.

Speaking of presentations, I’ll discussing the importance of names for the third time next month on the 13th at 2pm Eastern Time. I hope to see you there! See my events page for the registration link.

Writing vs. Marketing—Balancing the Scales

It seems that there are two sides to the coin of being a writer. The first side is writing process and everything related to the it, such as conducting research, sharing drafts with beta readers and critique groups, and editing. The second side is marketing. Writers need to build a network and an online presence so that potential readers will know of the writer and their creative output.

When I started writing as a kid, I didn’t give much thought to marketing. Perhaps I thought the publishers would do all of that, or it would magically take off. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I had to learn that without marketing, people outside of my family and friends would never hear of my work. If the general public isn’t aware of a book’s existence and if they don’t leave reviews, there will be no sales. Fortunately, I was able to get started on building a network once I joined the Maryland Writers’ Association and attended their conferences. I also began to build my digital platform.

I started to do a lot more online marketing as a result of the pandemic, especially by following certain hashtags on Twitter, eager to create as much exposure for my blog and books as possible. I’ve referred to WordPress, Facebook, and Twitter as the Big Three, with LinkedIn and Tumblr coming in next. Now, I am glad for the learning experience as well as for the genuine connections that I have made within my network, with people who’ve been kind and supportive. But at the same time, I feel as if I hit a roadblock—I’m not writing as much as I used to. Some writers I know had a massive creative output during the shutdown. I didn’t. Lately I’ve come to realize a simple truth: I’ve been spending too much time online, and not necessarily in a good way.

It’s easy to be tempted to check various social media accounts to the point where it becomes a habit, just like how I was creating exposure on Twitter but often scarcely interacting with other people. There’s that famous quote of how being a good writer is 3% talent and 97% not being distracted by the internet. That has never been clearer to me than now. In the past, long before I’d had all these social media accounts, I got distracted from writing by a number of things. I had schoolwork that took precedence, and once I entered the workforce, that too has taken up a lot of my time. Free time, it seems, has been taken up by the Internet and social media. In other words, the balance scales were tipped too far in one direction.

So how to find a balance? Well, I’ve started off by limiting how many times I login to each social media account to three or fewer a day, with each at different intervals (morning, afternoon, evening). It’s a start, to keep me from desiring to checking all the time but not checking enough. But I know I need to do more. I need to mind the time and online activity, and make it more meaningful. And I need to train my mind more to focus on writing when I do have time that isn’t devoted to work, social media, etc.

Now, I need to work on trying to have some output each day, whether in my journal (which I haven’t been diligent with) or editing or story work. I cannot just write when I’m in the mood, but at the same time I feel if I’m not enthusiastic, it won’t be good. Many successful writers became so from diligent, constant effort. I’m on a quest, you could say, to find that balance again and beat this writer’s block. Hopefully soon, the words will start flowing again.

Yes, Networking is Crucial

Years ago, I talked about using social media for promoting one’s work and oneself as a writer, which has become even more important because of COVID. But promotion and marketing are but a part of something more important for life as a writer: networking. The more connections you make, the better your chances are at improving your odds. And something else I’ve learned is that networking consists of so much more than social media. While technology has been playing an increasing role in life even before COVID, face-to-face interaction is still a vital part of networking, and one I think all writers crave and have missed during this pandemic.

I still have vague memories of the first time I went to a meeting of the Maryland Writers’ Association years ago. I was nervous at first, but I quickly realized I needed to return. And I have had no regrets since then. I’ve become friends with many writers, and I realized I am not alone. It was at a meeting of the Annapolis Chapter of the MWA where I learned of Mockingbird Lane Press from another author, and that’s how I came to submit Mystical Greenwood to them and was subsequently offered a contract.

Events like meetings and writers’ conferences are great ways to meet new people, pitch your work, and if your work is already published, to promote and even sell copies. There are also critique groups too. One can join one or start a group, and have beta readers who can offer a fresh pair of eyes. I’ve always enjoyed those offered by the Maryland Writers’ Association, and hope to go back to them when it’s safe to do so again. While it is certainly possible do do all of these things online, it isn’t the same as actually meeting fellow writers and shaking their hands.

Returning to my point about technology vs. face-to-face, with the former, which has increased due to COVID, there is, I have learned in years past, the chance that words and messages can be misinterpreted, and one cannot be sure as to what a person’s tone is. As a result, through my own personal mistakes, connections, related to writing and not, have been broken. Promotion via social media has also at times backfired. But even then, face-to-face interactions can go wrong too. In all cases, one has to be careful, and take responsibility for one’s mistakes and actions.

But the thing I’ve had to learn the hard way, as stinging as it feels, is that if someone doesn’t want to connect with you, or wants to break it off, you have to let it go. No one can be forced to connect, or stay connected for that matter. That’s another lesson I’ve had to learn the hard way. One can only invite/ask people. They cannot be forced to do what they don’t want to do.

Another lesson I learned the hard way is the importance of having business cards. I didn’t have any when I sold copies of Mystical Greenwood at the 2018 Maryland Writers’ Conference, and I knew afterwards I had to have them. I’ve been glad of it ever since.

So, if you aren’t already, I hope you’ll consider following me on this site, as well as on social media!

Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | Tumblr | Goodreads

You can also follow my Amazon page!

Amazon | Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.ca | Amazon.com.au
Amazon.de | Amazon.fr | Amazon.in | Amazon.co.jp
Amazon.es | Amazon.it | Amazon.com.br | Amazon.com.mx

Perseverance and Faith

This is a guest sermon I gave at Nichols-Bethel United Methodist Church yesterday, discussing the importance of perseverance in writing and in other aspects of my life. Even if you’re not religious, I hope you’ll listen to this message and that it touches a base with and inspires you. Perseverance is vital to life, and for me, praying to God has helped me to keep persevering.

Criticism—Yes, It Can Hurt

Once a writer’s work is published it is out there—and at the mercy of the critics. Reviews are what help spread the word about their writing, but the simple fact is that not everyone is going to like it—or at least be glowing with praise. Of course, one would hope they would, but people have different likes and tastes, and so they will find certain things they like—and don’t like—about a particular work. A writer puts hours—years—of passion and hard work into it, and to have it criticized—yes, it can make a writer feel low.

I know. People have posted reviews of Mystical Greenwood over the past three years. Most, I’m happy to say, have enjoyed it. But there have been aspects about it that weren’t to their taste. For example, some thought the language was still too flowery, or didn’t like the alternating points of view, or had trouble connecting to the characters, or felt I didn’t do enough showing not telling in regard to characters’ emotions, and typos. It has been discouraging for me. But at the same time I’ve noticed some aspects of the story and how it was told were disliked by some but praised by others. While the dislikes certainly have stung, it demonstrates how people have different opinions, and, as a writer, one can’t please everyone.

Criticism should never be deliberately insulting or hurtful. Constructive criticism helps writers become better by encouraging them rather than insulting them. It was one of the founding points I included when I started my own critique group years ago. But there have been reviews of books that were harshly negative. Edgar Allan Poe was nicknamed the “Tomahawk Man” because when he reviewed something (or someone) he didn’t like, he was absolutely brutal and unrepentant towards the author and their work. But it’s also been observed that many critics in his time would be positive no matter what, and some even took bribes in exchange for giving glowing reviews. Poe, on the other hand, was honest, and most of those he heavily criticized aren’t as well known today.

It goes to show if not everyone is glowing with praise, there’s a plus side: your work is being taken seriously. Books that have been heavily criticized have endured, becoming literary classics. Several were banned for one reason or another, but that has become a badge of honor for many books, many of which were revolutionary for their times and for literature. And writers mustn’t forget about constructive criticism: they can see what could have been done better. Writers can take that (gradually, of course) to become better at their craft. So while it is difficult to get over criticism, it is possible. It may initially hurt, but a writer can rise up again and become better. Writers should never stop believing in themselves and their writing. And in my case, with Mystical Greenwood no one has yet to give it two stars or one, so that’s a good sign.

Further Reading
  1. Kayla Ann. Responding to Criticism.
  2. Zikra, Nour. Will Negative Book Reviews Hurt Me? Writing Advice.

Q&A with Elizabeth Holland

Check out this Q&A I did with author Elizabeth Holland:

Author Q&A with Andrew McDowell

Many thanks for this opportunity, Elizabeth!

Happy Holidays, everyone! Wishing you all a Happy New Year, especially after a year like this. Today is the day of the Winter Solstice, which is the origin of many winter holidays. As the light and warmth of the sun will return, may the new year bring new light and warmth for all of us! I am certainly hoping 2021 brings changes and progress both career-wise and in writing.

And don’t forget: books (and book reviews) make great gifts! My Amazon author page was updated to include more anthologies from past and present, including As the World Burns, which came out last month.

Five Years of Blogging

This month will mark this website’s 5th anniversary (twelve days from today, to be exact)! I’d already done a post looking back after two years, but five years is one of those major milestones that several people mark. So here’s a summary of what this website has seen and went through in five years.

I started out knowing nothing other than I had to set one up in advance, as many friends had advised me so. I looked at other indie authors’ sites to see what I should do, made some choices of my own, and took advice from others about what to include and how to improve it. Over these five years, the website has gone through a facelift as well as a change in domain name. I learned a lot as I went along.

This post is my 60th. I started out discussing personal insights and aspects in the craft of writing, and have since expanded to marketing and sharing books in my inscribed collection as a means to promote other authors. I’ve made guest appearances on many other authors’ blogs too, the majority of which were interviews about me and my work. All can be found on my site’s blog page.

When I started this site, I had two publications in poetry and creative nonfiction, respectively. The latter prompted me to create a Facebook Author page (two months prior to the website). Because of this website, I set up accounts on Twitter and Tumblr, and found new ways to be active on YouTube and Goodreads. And now I have an Amazon Author page!

This website has witnessed more publications in poetry, short stories, and the biggest of all, my novel Mystical Greenwood (which was also a finalist for an award). The Nightmare Whispers anthology series came out a week ago, and Fae Dreams, also from Fae Corps Inc, yesterday. More are in the works, and/or are awaiting publication. Here’s a teaser in an old open mic reading I did at the MWA in Annapolis of some short stories:

This website has been used to promote my work as well as many events that I’ve participated in, in-person as well as virtual. I have acquired followers and readers from all over the globe!

The top ten places from which I’ve had views as of now:

  1. United States
  2. United Kingdom
  3. India
  4. Canada
  5. Australia
  6. China
  7. Brazil
  8. South Africa
  9. Ireland
  10. Philippines

Last month, in fact, had more views than any other month before it, and the day with the most views (as of this moment) when my last post came out.

It has been quite a journey so far. Who can say where I’ll be in ten years? All I know is that I must keep pressing on, learning and experimenting.