Shaking The New Year Up

By Katie Lewis



As a young child, I filled notebooks with stories based on my favorite television shows and movies. DigimonPokémonand The Land Before Time. In fourth grade, I wrote a horrifically unscientific murder mystery starring Scully and Mulder of The X-Files for a short story assignment. I was twelve when I began posting my stories online for internet strangers to read.

The kind comments and constructive criticism I received on those stories have kept me writing almost nonstop for two decades. Fanfiction is a fun and engaging way to hone your craft, especially when you need a change of pace.



Let me start by stating one crucial fact: fanfiction is a legitimate form of writing. Magazines and newspapers are increasingly recognizing fanfiction as a literary genre. Archive of our Own, or AO3, a hugely popular fanfiction archive site, won a Hugo award in 2019 for Best Related Work. Even whole original franchises have spawned off of an author’s fanfics. (Love it or hate it, the bestselling 50 Shades series started life as a Twilight fanfic.)


With all of that said, I do understand the hesitancy around considering fanfiction “real” writing. I’ve experienced it myself. In 2017 I was attending a convention out of state. I mentioned the name of a fanfic I was writing (no, I’m not telling) while chatting in an autograph line, and suddenly everyone around me stopped talking. You could hear a pin drop. Then, the woman I’d been talking to said, “I’m sorry, can you say that one more time?”

When I relayed that story to my therapist upon returning home, he congratulated me on being recognized in public as an author. I remember blushing and waving him off, insisting it wasn’t the same thing. He looked at me and said, “Complete strangers recognized you and told you they were your fans. That makes you an author.” 

I couldn’t think of an argument against that.

In the years since that experience, I’ve found a new appreciation for the place fanfiction has played and will likely continue to play in my development as an author. For instance, certain advantages to working within fanfiction can allow for an unusually close focus on the writing craft.

Restrictions Allow for Built-in Benefits

There are a few rules to fanfiction that may sound stiflingly restrictive at first but bear with me. 

The first of these restrictions is simply the setting and the characters. The world and the people who populate it already exist. Anyone else in the fandom is already familiar with the world-building and core cast. As a result, you, the author, get to skip that step entirely. That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of fanfics placed in Alternate Universes (or AUs) where the rules are different. Still, like any other part of the writing process, you must know the rules before breaking them.

That might sound like something other than fun to some people. They might protest, but creating my own world is half the fun! That’s true, but think about what is gained from setting up shop in a world that already exists. For one, you have a built-in hook. The audience—the fandom—for your work is already present. The premise must be interesting enough to get them to click on your story. You are left free to focus on that exclusively and not worry about how to explain every nuance of the world in a natural way that keeps the reader engaged. They already know. There’s nothing left to explain.

Additionally, working with a preexisting cast is uniquely challenging. That’s not to say you can’t include Original Characters (or OCs) where necessary. Most readers are invested in the characters they already know. This is one of the most critical lessons fanfiction has to teach. You must write characters the way they already talk and act. Failure to do so makes them feel Out-of-Character (or OOC). It is considered one of the worst sins a fanfiction author can commit.

I assure you, crafting a character to mirror their original incarnation is far more complicated than it sounds. In many ways, original characters are far easier to write because you’re the only one who decides what is OOC for them. In a fandom setting, hundreds of people chomping at the bit to tell you when a line of dialogue sounds wrong or if a description of body language seems out of place. The stakes are much higher when playing with someone else’s toys.

The Joy of Playing in Someone Else’s Sandbox

With all of those rules and restrictions said, I unapologetically love writing fanfiction. I love picking out a side character from a single episode and giving them a full exploration of their life and backstory. I love diving into missing scenes or moments of character growth that could have happened between episodes or seasons. I love taking this already existing thing and turning left where the established canon turned right and discovering how that could change everything.

And if you think fanfiction is a strange, new concept, think again. If you’ve ever read a Star Wars or Star Trek novel, you’ve read professionally published fanfiction. If you’ve watched a direct-to-video sequel of a blockbuster, you’ve seen fanfiction play out on your home television. If you’ve daydreamed about how a movie or novel turned out differently had one character not done that One Thing, you’ve basically done half the work of writing a fanfic.

Fanfiction Isn’t New.

Those are just 20th-century examples, too. My favorite example of fanfiction in action is Sir Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. Mallory wasn’t a knight. He was a prisoner who spent his time building upon a hodgepodge of scattered myths surrounding King Arthur. That’s right, the entire modern Arthurian Legend as we know it is a 15th-century prisoner’s work of fanfiction.

More of us have dabbled in fanfiction at some point than we’re willing to admit. You may feel, as I did, that it wasn’t “real” writing and should therefore be avoided. However, I’d like to pose a challenge. If you’re reading this, sit down sometime in the coming weeks and write something for one of your favorites. Think about how the characters act and interact. Think about how the world operates around them. It doesn’t have to be long, but try to write something that feels authentic. Like it came from the original author all along. Go on, give it a try.

And if you have written fanfiction before, I’d love to hear how you think it has helped your original writing in the comments!

Our Flag Means Death And The Evolution of Online Fan Writing.

Winning A Hugo: Huge for Fanfiction

What Fanfiction Teaches that The Classroom Doesn’t

Refresh Your Writing

By Brian Kaufman

It’s January. Snow, bitter cold, a false spring for seven days somewhere in the middle, crowded gyms, and empty restaurants. (Of course, who knows what the rest of January holds for us with climate change at the helm.) A time for resolutions. 

Continue reading “Refresh Your Writing”

The Year I Wrote for Myself

By Katie Lewis



Looking back at 2022, I’m tempted to be disappointed by how much I wrote (or rather how little). Every year brings new challenges, both to life and in writing. This year had different challenges from last year, so comparing the two is only partially fair. While I may not have produced the same word counts as the previous year, I did come away from 2022 having learned some hard but precious lessons.

Burnout and Other Stressors

For most of 2021, I self-published every month and kept that up until April this year. April marked a solid year of self-publishing novellas every single month. While I’m incredibly proud of that milestone, I can’t deny that it left me somewhat burnt out. I was a one-person show for months. I did my own covers, my own marketing, and my own formatting. Everything aside from the editing was done by me and me alone.



Truthfully, I have a lot of good memories of those months. I learned so many fun graphics design and editing tricks for my covers. Those experiences and understanding of how to format ebooks are definitely skills that will aid me again in the future. However, I must admit I desperately needed a break once I hit that year mark.

Aside from the burnout, there was another huge factor that began to affect my creativity as well. Without going into too much detail, my financial situation changed significantly this year compared to last. As a result, stress surrounding economic uncertainty began to overtake every aspect of my life. I no longer had the luxury to write creatively. Instead, I should be putting my efforts into resumes, cover letters, and interview prep.

For most of this summer, that was precisely what I did. I won’t bore anyone with the details, but just know that now isn’t the best time to be job hunting. I was successful in securing a new job. Still, the processes only added more fuel to the fire of my struggles with anxiety and depression. Put that all in a blender, which is not a recipe conducive to creative pursuits. Follow it up with adjusting to said new job, and it isn’t hard to imagine why I have yet to regain the writing pace I had locked down this time last year.

Now that the year is drawing to a close, there’s no denying I barely wrote half as much this year as I did last year. Maybe even closer to a third. I took a valuable lesson away from that experience, however. Writing, or any form of art, is much more complicated when your mind is occupied with something else. As much as I desperately wanted to exclusively be an author, the mental strain of watching my financial health and independence slip away simply became too much.

Ultimately, I’m proud of myself for putting my writing on hold to remedy the situation before reaching a point of no return. I recognized that a change needed to be made long before I was in any kind of crisis, which is so important. In short, I took care of myself first because I understood I needed to regain mental balance before I could comfortably create again. That’s something every writer should be aware of and consider, even as I recognize everyone has to learn that lesson in their own way, on their own terms.

How Journaling Kept Me Going

Even though I spent much of this year on other pursuits doesn’t mean I stopped writing. In fact, quite the opposite. I did write a few anthology pieces and have been outlining a new novel-length story. Beyond that, though, I did keep up my daily writing in the form of journaling.

Journaling is an activity I’ve only taken up sporadically in the past. This year, however, I bought myself a lovely planner to help keep track of my self-publishing deadlines. When I paused my self-publishing, I continued using the planner. Instead of filling it with deadlines and story-beat notes, I started writing about my day. Every day. Now, I’m absolutely addicted to journaling, mainly because it helped so much when I was feeling lost and overwhelmed.




The ritual goes something like this. Every evening I sit down with my planner and flip to today’s page. If anyone is interested, it’s a Japanese model called the Hobonichi Techo. I have already bought a new one for next year. Every day has an inspirational quote and grid-lined paper to give you space to write, draw, or make lists. You fill the space however you see fit.

Included with the planner was a three-colored pen. I start by writing about how I slept and any dreams I remember in red at the top of the page. After that, I used black to fill most of the page with what I did that day. This section can range from work goals or concerns to any recreational activities or projects I worked on. (For example, today, I’m going to write about how I wrote my December blog post.) Finally, I use blue at the bottom to detail dinner plans and any other evening plans, such as my weekly Dungeons and Dragons sessions, date night activity, or playing a game.

Journaling like this has kept me writing something daily all year long and helped my stress levels immensely. I can put all my inner thoughts about the activities I’m describing in my planner. If they were enjoyable or irritating. If I feel inspired or fearful for what the future may hold. If I wish I’d done something differently or regret saying one thing and not the other. I can put my pen to paper and give all my thoughts an outlet, positive or negative.

Plenty of studies have found that journaling helps improve mood and overall mental well-being. Giving your thoughts a voice, even if it’s just on the page, allows you consciously acknowledge them. When I write in my planner, I’m beginning to understand what scares me and what I feel might be my shortcomings. Still, I acknowledge where I thought I succeeded in the day and mention anything I am proud of.

While I may not have written as much fiction this year, I was still writing all the time. What’s more, I learned the value of a healthy life balance.

Prime Your Gray Cells

Benefits of Writing for Anxiety

Journaling for Mental Health

Hobonichi Techno 101

Tail Spinning through Tale Spinning

By David E. Sharp




Gripping the reins of my imagination, I pull them back with a white-knuckle grip, desperate to gain altitude before this whole thing crashes into the dark, cold ocean of dejection and everything goes to pieces. My caffeine gauge hovers over empty. My single operational engine sputters and sparks. How did it come to this?

HOW DID IT COME TO THIS?

Flashback to January, one year prior.



My writing year began at a frenetic pace. Having completed the final manuscript for my follow-up novel, I found myself in the throws of prerelease pandemonium. My release date was fast approaching, and I was transmitting radio signals to anyone who would listen: “This is the captain of the L.o.a.P: Character Developments. Requesting permission to market. Over.”

I had tried my hand at marketing before. Everything from blog tours to signing events, radio spots to printed ads, contests to live readings. And, of course, social media. It’s always hit or miss. Some strategies work better than others. Special discount events through Amazon and the coveted Bookbub promotion have given me the best results. But I had a sequel coming out, and I didn’t have time to mess around.

The truth is, writing the book is just the beginning. Marketing is a big job, and those books will not sell themselves. I have tried a lot of different techniques. Contests can be terrific, but they often have an entry fee. Some contests are better than others, so I’ve learned to choose carefully. I have little luck with social media, but I maintain a sparse presence on Facebook and Twitter. However, landing a spot on a big established newsletter can create a notable spike in book sales. Easily the most bang for my buck.

Refueling in April.

I made a deter to a supply depot I had been to before. A sign hung over the entrance declaring it The Writing Heights Writers Conference. This place had everything. I topped off my inspiration, recalibrated my creativity, and took some pointers from the impressive gathering of experienced writers, agents, editors, and publishers.

Not one to spurn professional advice, I learned I had been flying without a website for too long. It was high time I remedied that. Fortunately, this conference had an informative session about creating effective author sites with many examples. I also encountered a terrific marketing guide who pointed out different routes to marketing I had never tried. Networking for honest reviews, taking a guest spot on a podcast, and writing guest spots on your favorite blogs (hint, hint) are all great ideas.

Fueled up, I took to the skies.

I put on my marketing face and got to work. I nailed down my website, which you can see here: https://davidesharp.com/. I was thrilled to appear on the Indie Writer Podcast. And my book launched on a crisp May morning to blue skies and favorable winds. And what a gorgeous cover! Props to my publisher’s design folks.

On a writing high like this, there is only one thing to do. Draft a bunch of short stories! They didn’t all take wing, but I had a few favorites worth submitting. I connected with a few anthologies and hoped for the best. Navigating a clear summer sky, I cracked the spines of a few books and returned to my roots as an avid reader.

Then I got the distress call.


My novel was in trouble. Well, actually, the reviews were doing all right. But I had left some things open-ended, and I was due to start working on the next book in the series. So, tightening my flight goggles and plotting my course, I set off again. Through darkened skies and tumultuous winds, I pushed on. Facing menacing rewrites, debilitating writer’s block, and perilous distraction by corgis, I placed word after word after word.


And that brings me full circle. I lost the first engine undermining my plot points, and the rewrites will get hairy. Nevertheless, I maintain my bearing through a Save the Cat plot structure. My manuscript strains against the literary forces threatening to tear it apart. But we’ve been here before, and we will make it through.

Just as things look the bleakest, I catch an updraft. I have an idea to carry the story in a bold new direction. Or it will throw us into a whole new spiral. Only time will tell. But in the meantime, it feels great to be in the pilot seat.


Save The Cat

Year End Review

Build An Author’s Website

Writing My Way Through 2022

By Shelley Widhalm

In 2020, I was pretty much done with writing, overwhelmed with trying to keep my freelance writing and editing business afloat and supplementing it with a gig grocery store job. 

Despite my sort of giving up, I still went to conferences and belonged to writing groups like Northern Colorado Writers (see https://northerncoloradowriters.com).

But in 2021, I realized by “quitting” writing, I was quitting myself and my dream to be a traditionally published author with at least one book made into a movie. So in 2022 after procrastinating for a few months, I returned to my goal of being an author by actually writing novels—I’d written my sixth and last novel in 2016, followed by a couple of novellas and dozens of short stories, “stopping” writing on the large scale.

To make my return, I combined my daily journaling and poetry writing with my large- and small-scale writing projects into a structure, turning the hobby into a job and a passion.

A Year of Writing

I have a few accomplishments for 2022, including writing a daily poem for the Poem-A-Day Challenge. I started the challenge in September 2014 and have continued since, skipping two weeks in late 2020 when I underwent a major surgery. I got behind a few times, then filled in the blanks, as many as two weeks’ worth (see https://www.writersdigest.com/write-better-poetry/poetry-prompts/april-pad-challenge).

I wrote in my daily journal, something I’ve kept up since second grade. I still have all my diaries and journals—I started typing them in 2014, so they’re easier to read (and reference if I want to look up facts or memories).

I wrote two short stories, one in January and one in September. I submitted both to contests.

I wrote a novel in four months, starting May 1 and finishing Aug. 28. I clocked in 170 hours and wrote 160,142 words, which is way, way too long. I edited the novel, round 1, in about half my writing time, working on it Sept. 1 to Oct. 24. I cut it to 140,713 words, but I have more work to do to get it down to at most 90,000 words. 

A Year of Working

I clocked in my writing on a timesheet, indicating how many hours I wrote and approximate number of words per session. For editing, I indicated number of hours and number of pages edited.

On average, I wrote eight to 14 hours a month from January to April, then jumped to 79 hours in May, 65 hours in June, 23 hours in July, and 45 hours in August (this includes my work on poetry). I then moved on to editing, putting in 33 hours in September and __ hours in October. As a note (but not an excuse!), during the summer months, I did get busy with a vacation and a couple of short trips.

I aimed to write every day, but in July before a trip to the 123rd Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention (see https://vfw.org/convention), I didn’t write for two weeks, because the week before the trip, I got slammed with freelance work, then I was on vacation. After the trip, I wrote one to seven days a week. I also wrote one to five hours a day, making sure to break up my longer sessions with breaks.

Avoiding Procrastination

As I mentioned before, I put off writing for years, then I put off the novel for a few months after getting the initial idea late last year. Though writing gives me joy and is my passion, I let everything else take priority. 

Now when I get freelance work and planned a writing session, I treat my writing like it’s a work assignment already scheduled in my day. I don’t put it in last place, like I used to where I had to do everything else first. I work on my novel, either writing or editing, whenever I can, aiming for an hour a day, but accepting when I can’t. I just miss it when it’s more than a couple of days.

Achieving Milestones

I’ve had a few milestones in 2022 with my top being writing a novel in four months. Yah me!

I improved my writing efficiencies as a freelance writer and editor, even becoming comfortable with my one tech writing assignment for GRAPHICS PRO magazine. I came up with a process of quickly identifying the lead or hook and organizing how to write the story, structuring it so that it flows from one topic to the next, all while doing this in my head or with a few notes.

I attended the 2023 Writing Heights Writers Conference this spring and met with two agents. I got requests from both, but did not get actual interest, since it wasn’t a fit. I plan to attend the conference next year and try again, plus participate in all the wonderful workshops on writing, editing, marketing, and publishing advice (see https://northerncoloradowriters.com/page/conference).

I achieved interest in my novel possibly to be made into a movie from the work of my fiancé, who connected with those working in the financial and moviemaking industries. My novel, actually a memoir, is high-literary Fifty Shades (see https://www.amazon.com/Fifty-Shades-Grey-Book-Trilogy/dp/0345803485) with elements similar to the Da Vinci Code (see https://www.amazon.com/s?k=da+vinci+code&i=stripbooks&crid=1KAZSGWVDAU7E&sprefix=da+vinci+code%2Cstripbooks%2C142&ref=nb_sb_noss_1), told in an experimental framework of storytelling. 

I consider 2023 to be a success, especially since I learned that doubting or putting your passions aside isn’t the smartest thing to do for the heart. I need to do what I love, being creative, writing, and editing, and to do it with staying, not quitting, power!

Shelley Widhalm is a freelance writer and editor and founder of Shell’s Ink Services in Loveland, Colo. She provides copy editing and developmental editing, as well as consultations on writing and editing. She has more than 20 years of experience in communications and holds a Master of Arts degree in English from Colorado State University. She can be reached at shellsinkservices.com or swidhalm@shellsinkservices.com. For more writing and editing tips, follow her blog at shellsinkservices.com/blog.

The Year in Review

By Brian Kaufman




Flashback to January 2020: I had two books scheduled for release from two publishers. The first was historical about an old bluesman, and I’d planned a legendary release party. Live music, food, and probable fame. Then COVID made hash out of my marketing plan. Meanwhile, the other publisher postponed my second release until January of the following year. The company’s usual marketing efforts could have been more present. The book was effectively orphaned.

Continue reading “The Year in Review”

Down in The Exposition Dumps

By Katie Lewis


In 7th grade, my best friend lent me the first Wheel of Time book by Robert Jordan. As a veteran of Tolkien, including The Silmarillion, I was excited to dive into another high-fantasy series. Over a hundred pages in, after a detailed description of the Bel Tine festival and one village’s preparations, there was no sense of plot movement or even who our protagonist was meant to be. I closed the book and sheepishly returned it.

I remember fearing she’d be upset, but she only shrugged and admitted Jordan’s writing style wasn’t for everyone. I’ve never attempted to revisit those books. Still, I think about that experience often and why the initial overload of exposition turned me away from the series so quickly.



Continue reading “Down in The Exposition Dumps”

The Evil Twin

By David E. Sharp

Whether you are closing in on your NaNoWriMo word count or plugging away at your magnum opus, those rigorous word counts take a lot of think-juice. You have been diligent, laying one word after another, watching the chapters take shape. Your verbs are immaculate. Your adverbs are scarce. You always attend a date with your word processor. Even when you’re tired, you push through. And things are going great!

Until they aren’t!


           


Suddenly, the words won’t come. You try to force it, but the… words… just… don’t… writing… goodly… anymore! What happened? Is this the dreaded Writer’s Block?

Continue reading “The Evil Twin”

What gets more attention? Description or action?

By Shelley Widhalm

If you want to keep readers turning pages, the key is balancing description with action. Readers get bored with too much description, and they get overwhelmed with all action and no breaks.

Action in a novel or short story keeps the pace moving at a rapid clip, while description can slow the movement within a scene. Description is what anchors a story and adds layers of meaning. (See https://wac.colostate.edu/resources/writing/guides/detail/

Continue reading “What gets more attention? Description or action?”

Author Central

By Brian Kaufman

The most frustrating part of being a published author has to be marketing. Marketing your books takes two valuable resources (time and money) and offers no guarantees. Worse, for most authors, promotional efforts yield little in the way of results.

If you’re not a published author, you might think, Woe is you. I’d take that problem in a heartbeat. What you should consider is, when my work-in-progress publishes, how will I promote it? 

Continue reading “Author Central”