On Writing: The Secret to Staying Focused

Whether you’re a full-time writer, have another job, or have any other obligations in general, there will always be something that will attempt to steal your attention when you’re writing.

It could be anything. Homework. Your children/pets. Browsing the internet. Cleaning your kitchen. Making a pie chart.

I think you get the point.

There are hundreds of ways you can step away from your WIP and give in to procrastination. For myself, it’s often scrolling through Instagram, watching YouTube videos, or remembering the incomplete assignments that I have due tomorrow (which are actually more important than writing).

But along with other life obligations comes the need to set aside time for writing that is free from distractions. If you’re serious about writing a novel, but you spend your writing time on social media or doing anything but writing, you’ll find that days (or weeks) can pass and that page is still blank.

Today, I’m sharing a few ways that I’ve been able to stay focused and dedicate my full attention to writing that chapter and crushing my goals.

1. Use technology to your advantage

I know, this completely goes against the “no distractions” mindset. But hear me out.

I use the Pomodoro method when I want to stay focused. If you’re not familiar with how this works, you work for 25 minute intervals with a 5 minute break. Use this time to stretch, take a walk, grab a snack, get a drink, etc.

For whatever reason, a ticking clock next to my workspace makes me want to see just how much I can accomplish in those 25 minutes, knowing that I can check Instagram once I’m done.

You could go as old school as using a physical kitchen timer, or you could use the timer app on your phone. If you want to be extra (like myself), here are a few productivity apps I recommend:

2. Listen to focus playlists

Spotify offers a ton of great playlists for focus/studying/instrumentals. My favorite playlist at the moment is the Spotify Chill Hits playlist.

I’m not entirely familiar with other platforms since I’m a huge fan of Spotify, but I’m sure you can dig up some of these playlists on other platforms. You can also create your own playlists based on your preferences! I’ve listened to several playlists where I’ve skipped 75% of the songs because they weren’t my taste. Sometimes, creating a customized playlist is better 🙂

3. Reward yourself

Use that 5 minute break to reward yourself for all of your hard work. I suggest making a cup of coffee/tea, grabbing a healthy snack, or doing some stretches to help relax your muscles.

It’s tough to sit for in front of a computer for long periods of time, which is why I cannot stress this enough. Get off your butt and move!

On this topic, here are some of my favorite stretches/yoga poses to give me energy (with variations!).

Once you’ve given yourself a break, get back to work. You’ve got this.

Let’s talk! What is your favorite way to stay focused? Let me know in the comments 🙂

On Writing: Five Tips for Writing First Chapters

As authors, there’s a lot of pressure to write that first chapter that tops all other first chapters in the history of literature and novel-writing.

I’m here today to save you the headache of falling flat on your first chapter by sharing my top five tips for tackling those first few pages. Here are my tips:

  1. Be late to the party
  2. Introduce your MC
  3. Bypass the backstory
  4. Use your voice
  5. Read other first chapters!

In this week’s video, we’ll be exploring these five tips and what it means to use these elements to your advantage.

Be sure to hit that subscribe button while you’re over on my channel to stay in the loop for my HUGE announcement on March 4, 2020. You do not want to miss this, friends 🙂

Let’s chat! 🙂 Let me know in the comments what your thoughts are on the first chapter of your favorite novel. Did you love it or did you hate it? Why?

Book Review: “Again, But Better” by Christine Riccio

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS (AND OPINIONS THAT ARE MY OWN).

I’ve followed Christine on her YouTube channel for several years now. Her channel talks about all things BOOKS (reviews, challenges, TV/movie adaptations, recommendations, etc.). But in January of 2016, she started a new series on her channel called, “Book Writing.” She takes us along on her journey of writing a novel (her debut) and I’ve felt as though I’ve been on this journey with her.

Because of this series, I was emotionally invested in this book before any details were even released. So, naturally, I contributed to spreading the hype of her debut novel following its publication announcement. I mean, the concept sounded great, the cover was beautiful, and she’s read enough books that she should know how to write one? Right?

Wrong.

PLOT

The novel follows the main character, Shane, who is a 20-year-old college student seeking to do-over her college experience by studying abroad in London. At this point in her life, she doesn’t have any friends, she’s never kissed a boy, and she has yet to write the novel that she’s been meaning to write forever.

At her home university, Shane is a pre-med student with insanely controlling parents who basically chose her major for her. In London, Shane has lied to her parents about a pre-med track at her visiting university and is enrolled in the creative writing track instead. She’s ready to take on this new beginning and check all of the boxes for things that she hasn’t done, which is great. Like, good for her!

Don’t get me wrong. The plot is good. I relate to Shane in sometimes thinking that I’ve done college “wrong.” I’ve changed my major three times since freshman year and that’s okay. Every year, I look at it as somewhat of a new beginning to do the things that I may have been afraid to do before. For these reasons, I jumped into this book thinking that Shane was going to be some heaven-sent, relatable character for me to look in the eyes and say, “I understand.

In a way, Shane has fulfilled that expectation. However, there were also elements of her story that literally made me want to chuck the book out my window.

For starters, Shane is OBSESSED with this boy, Pilot, from the moment she sees him in their flat’s kitchen. She hasn’t even talked to him yet and she’s certain that they’re going to spend the rest of their lives together. It continues for the rest of the book (despite him having a GIRLFRIEND).

Disclaimer: I believe that love at first sight exists! But the way it plays out in this story is incredibly annoying and unrealistic, to say the least. I said what I said.

Another element of the plot that really gets under my skin is the way that Shane’s parents act toward her. Again, I know that mega controlling parents unfortunately exist, but the fact that they show up in London (unannounced) and the way the act when they find out what she’s really studying makes me want to scream. If I were Shane, I’d run as far away as I could (which I guess she did?).

Shane decides to quit her internship (even though she’s still staying in London???) and starts to isolate herself until she’s supposed to catch her flight, which she misses after a revelation that she has to talk to Pilot. When she doesn’t catch him in time, she heads home.

This brings us to Part 2 of this novel, where Shane is six years older, interviewing for jobs in the medical field, and is engaged to some random guy that she doesn’t actually like. In fact, the moment she gets engaged she decides to go see Pilot, who has been in the city this whole time????

Long story short, they meet up at this weird coffee shop that transports them back in time to 2011 where Shane has a do-over for her do-over. She and Pilot share their feelings, he breaks up with Amy, admits he’s been in the city for six years because of Shane, he plays guitar for her, they get engaged, and they live happily ever after. Bonus: she writes her book and becomes a published author.

I know. I was overwhelmed, too.

PACING

The pacing of the novel itself was alright. I didn’t feel at any given moment that things were moving too fast or too slow. But I’ll be honest. Once I hit Part 2, I was pretty much skimming through the rest of the book because I wanted it to be over. Not really a good sign.

CHARACTERS

How do I put this? The characters were a mess.

As mentioned before, Shane is 20-years-old for the first half of the novel and 26 (27?) for the second half. To me, Shane read more like a 13-year-old than an actual adult. Her thoughts were scattered, which made her narrative scattered, and a good bit of her narration wasn’t completely necessary to forwarding the story.

Shane has more flaws than likable traits. As I said, she’s scattered, she’s clumsy, she’s awkward, she doesn’t talk about her feelings, and she just goes along what what her parents and everyone else wants for her for most of the story. We don’t really see much of Shane starting to do her own thing until halfway through.

I don’t have much to say about the other characters because they’re so shallow. After reading nearly 400 pages of this novel, I can’t tell you anything about the secondary characters beyond their names and few random facts about their lives. Obviously, we know a little more about Pilot, but I wanted to like him more than I did.

PROSE

Given that the novel is narrated by Shane and I’ve already given my opinion about her narrative, I think you know what I’m going to say about the prose.

Scattered. Clumsy. A lot like Shane.

Overall, I give this book 1 out of 5 stars.

I’ve never been so critical of a book and I wanted so badly to love it.

Would I recommend it? Personally, no. But I’ve read reviews from readers that have loved this book (it has 4 out of 5 stars on Amazon). This one is entirely up to you, friend.

Here’s the full synopsis:

Shane has been doing college all wrong. Pre-med, stellar grades, and happy parents…sounds ideal — but Shane’s made zero friends, goes home every weekend, and romance…what’s that?

Her life has been dorm, dining hall, class, repeat. Time’s a ticking, and she needs a change — there’s nothing like moving to a new country to really mix things up. Shane signs up for a semester abroad in London. She’s going to right all her college mistakes: make friends, pursue boys, and find adventure!

Easier said than done. She is soon faced with the complicated realities of living outside her bubble, and when self-doubt sneaks in, her new life starts to fall apart.

Shane comes to find that, with the right amount of courage and determination one can conquer anything. Throw in some fate and a touch of magic – the possibilities are endless.

Book Stats:

  • Genre: YA Contemporary
  • Plot: College do-over
  • POV: First-person
  • Cliffhanger: No
  • Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Have you read Again, But Better? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below! 🙂

Hello February! – My Writing and Reading Goals

This is the first year that it hasn’t felt like January has 72 days instead of 31. At least for me. I can’t say the same for everyone else. But I can officially say that January has been full of uncertainty and patience.

As we approach the second month of this new decade, I’ve been busy with my sixth semester of college, connecting with a brand new #WIP, and doing A LOT of waiting (have I ever mentioned that I’m a very impatient person?).

Anyway, you know where I’m going with this post at this point. So, let’s roll!

Goodbye January

As previously mentioned, this month has consisted of two major elements: uncertainty and patience.

After completing the fourth draft of my YA contemporary novel, Because of India, I’ve entered the query trenches for the first time since 2016. Read all about my tips on navigating the query trenches here!

I’ve collected quite a few rejections, however, I’ve gained one full manuscript request! This never happened in 2016, so I’m sure you can imagine the roller coaster of emotions I experienced regardless of the still existing possibility of rejection.

If anything, the act of waiting has been beneficial for me, seeing as the rest of the publishing process isn’t going to happen overnight either. Now, I’m not saying it’s been easy or that I’m the poster child for patience. I wouldn’t necessarily glorify my waiting-game when I’ve been refreshing my email every ten minutes for 30 days.

On the subject of uncertainty, I want to point out that I’ve never struggled as much as I am now to move on from a WIP. My heart was (and is) wholly and completely invested in Because of India.

Edalene and India were born from fragments of my spirit. Their story is loosely based on my own experiences growing up with my best friend. This novel is so personal to me, if that isn’t obvious. Maybe I should’ve anticipated how difficult it would be for me to start a new WIP (spoiler alert: DIFFICULT).

In this process, I’ve messed around with a few novel ideas this month, including my aforementioned NA paranormal mystery, my first YA sci-fi/fantasy (the novel I queried in 2016), and a new idea for a MG contemporary.

All in all, I’m still working through these emotions that accompany the art of moving on and opening a blank page. I’ll be sure to keep you posted.

Hello February

My Writing Goals

  • Write (anything)
  • Write one blog post per week (Thursdays)
  • Upload one YouTube video per week (Wednesdays)
  • Be present on Instagram
  • Continue to grow on Twitter (@bfaith640)

My Reading Goals – What I’ll Be Reading

Why I’ll be reading:

  • BECAUSE I LOVED THE HAZEL WOOD AND I’VE DONE MY WAITING. THAT IS ALL.
  • Check out my review of The Hazel Wood here!

Why I’ll be reading:

  • Simply put, the blurb caught my attention. I’m interested now.
  • Hello, this cover is BEAUTIFUL!
  • The concept of physical wrecks versus human wrecks is compelling.

Why I’ll be reading:

  • This book has been referred to me as a comp. title for The Hazel Wood. Again, that is all.

Let’s talk! Let me know in the comments what your goals are for February! 🙂

Stop Comparing Yourself to Other Writers

Friends, I want to step back from my usual writing advice and books reviews to have a heart-to-heart. I want to talk about something I view as a tough topic, which is comparison.

At the age of sixteen, I wrote my first novel. After powering through an entire month of NaNoWriMo and snagging my hard-earned “winner” badge, I realized that it wasn’t the badge that had brought me so much satisfaction. Instead, it was the feeling of holding my printed draft in my hands for the first time. In that moment, I was a writer.

I never questioned whether or not I made the cut. I simply got to work on editing and querying agents with hopes of putting my novel out into the world. Unfortunately, my first novel received rejection after rejection, but that didn’t stop me from believing in myself and my work.

Flash forward, four years later.

As you all know, in January of last year, I completed the first draft of my second novel and have labored through several rounds of edits since then. But after all this time, I occasionally find myself doubting my status as a “writer.” Why?

For reference, I joined the #writingcommunity in February 2019. But here’s a disclaimer: I LOVE the writing community on Instagram and Twitter. My followers have brought so much light into my life and continue to encourage me to grow in my craft.

But why do I find myself comparing my daily word counts, the length of my drafts, my creative processes, and so much more? I’ve pinned myself against those with more followers or more aesthetically pleasing feeds, which only lowers my confidence and leaves me wondering if I’m doing enough.

Let me say this: your worth is not determined by your ability to put a filter over the harsh realities of being a writer. Even the person behind your favorite account, the one that seemingly has it all together, struggles sometimes.

Writing a novel is HARD. Editing and grinding through five or six (or more) drafts is exhausting. Plotting a novel from scratch, doing research on places you’ve never visited, and trying to get your duck-like characters in a row is an investment that many aren’t willing to make.

No one wants to be a downer, which is why it’s so easy to mask the struggle for the ‘gram.

As writers and artists, we’re all different, and that’s the way it should be. Some are able to write 100 words a day, while some may write 3000. Some color-code their thoughts onto highly-organized flash cards, while some toss their thoughts at a wall to see what sticks.

It doesn’t matter what your word count, draft length, or creative process may be. What matters is that you are a writer, and you are making progress.

There is a difference between having role models on social media and comparing yourself to these “role models.” The writing community is here to encourage you and lift you up when life stands in the way of your plans. We’ve all been there, so don’t let yourself fall into the trap of believing that a filter is equivalent to reality.

So, how do you silence these fears and get back to writing? I’m glad you asked.

1. It’s okay to keep things to yourself

It’s not necessary to announce your word count every day on your Twitter or stories. It’s awesome to let your followers know that you’re making big progress, but it’s also easy to get caught up in exposing every aspect of your writing life on social media. Which can quickly lead to burnout.

Instead, celebrate your milestones and small successes by rewarding yourself with some Netflix, a much-needed snack, or a pat on the back. Train yourself to know that you do not need validation from others to feel that you are, in fact, making any progress at all.

2. Appreciate YOUR journey

I guarantee that your writing process is going to look much different from mine, and that’s okay! I see other writers on my social media that are so put-together and have this intricate, 10-step writing routine complete with journaling and meditation and offering a sacrifice to the Gods before they even start writing.

My writing routine consists of re-reading the last chapter that I wrote and going from there. Depending on how much time I have, I may only write 300 words or I can write three chapters in one sitting. But is this worth comparing?

It hasn’t failed me yet.

3. Remember why you’re writing in the first place

I write because I fall in love with the stories, the worlds, and the characters that are floating around in my head. I write because I want to convey a message to others or teach myself a lesson that was hiding in the depths of my subconscious thoughts. I write because it brings me joy.

Let’s not forget the wise words of Teddy Roosevelt in this case.

Let’s talk! What is one way the writing community has brought you joy? Let me know in the comments below! 🙂

On Writing: Navigating the Query Trenches

Disclaimer: As an aspiring author, it’s important to understand that you have several options in today’s publishing world. Self-publishing has become a front-runner, especially if done right (check out Abbie Emmons and Bethany Atazadeh for a few of my favorite self-published authors!). Smaller traditional publishers accept unsolicited submissions in search of their next bestseller. Then, there’s the world of traditional publishing with the help of a literary agent.

Originally, I had the intention of self-publishing my novel, Because of India. If you want to ask me exactly what changed my mind, that’s a conversation for another day. Nonetheless, on December 30, 2019, I entered the query trenches for the first time since 2016.

Another disclaimer: there will always be rejection. Rejection is inevitable in anything you do. I’m not saying that to encourage you NOT to query. Instead, I’m being honest.

When I first started querying in 2014 with my first novel, Seven Things, I received countless rejection letters. I’m sure I could count them, but my mom deleted them all from her email, unfortunately.

My first novel was a train wreck. I realize that now, but to fourteen-year-old Brandi, that novel was GOLD. The circumstances were the same with the second novel I queried, Scavenger.

I’ve been writing for nearly ten years as we enter this new decade. Which means that I’ve spent almost an entire decade slaving over a blank page, shedding tears over those rejections, and (most importantly) growing in my craft.

Every rejection has brought me closer to my dream of being a published author. I’ve received many form rejections, but I’ve also received some very kind rejections with feedback! Most notably, here’s one rejection in particular that fourteen-year-old Brandi taped on her bedroom wall next to her desk as a reminder through the years.

There are many things that can take years to master in the art of writing. Some things I have mastered, such as breaking up paragraphs instead of having one that lasts for an entire page. Some things I’m continuing to grow in.

I’m not certain that I’ll ever completely master my craft. I’ve accepted this feeling and have adopted the mindset of taking risks anyway. Tim Ferriss once said, “Someday is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you.”

Be brave, friends. When you’re ready, prepare to face rejection but do it anyway. After all, one YES can make all those little no’s seem worth it.

1. Finish Your Novel (But Don’t)

One of my biggest downfalls as a young querier was that I would finish my first draft and call it good. First of all, DON’T FOLLOW IN MY FOOTSTEPS.

You’ll reach a point where you’ve written the sixth, seventh, or twentieth draft and it still won’t feel good enough to query. By taking a step back and assessing your novel, with the help of a friend, critiquer, or editor, you’ll be able to see whether or not your novel is still in its developmental stages or if you can sit there for three hours deciding whether or not to keep that comma.

As writers, we may never feel that our novel is fully and completely finished. This is where we need the advice of others to let us know when we’ve neared completion. And eventually, you’ll need to say to yourself that enough is enough and muster up the courage to hit send on those queries.

2. Do Your Research!

When researching agents, make sure you’re compiling a list of agents that:

  • Represent your genre – you’ll only be wasting their time and your own if you query an agent that doesn’t represent YA or adult horror, or whatever genre you write.
  • Would like your novel – many agents are very public about what they’re interested in. This could be through MSWL, Twitter, their agencies website, Goodreads, etc.
  • Have a track record – whether they personally have a great sales record or their agency does, be sure to research this.
  • You would like to work with – it’s difficult to tell from just their bio whether or not you’ll be a good fit. It’s helpful to do a bit of stalking in this situation. Scroll through their Twitter, Instagram, personal website, etc. However, you may not be able to tell until they reach out to you and you start a conversation.

3. Mention Your Platform

In today’s publishing world, it’s difficult for agents and publishers to do all of the marketing on their own. Often times, if the author has an established platform, it’s helpful for the agent or publisher to visualize how you could potentially help them sell your book!

4. Stay Organized!

It’s helpful to keep track of which agents you’ve queried, follow-up dates, responses, etc. It’s easy to get lost in the query trenches, wondering which agencies you’ve already queried. You want to avoid querying multiple agents at one agency, so keep track!

Check out my personal Agent Tracker for an easy start 🙂 Once you’re subscribed, follow this LINK for more writing resources or find it on my Writing Resources page!

Let me know in the comments below where you are with your novel, no matter what stage, and happy querying! 🙂

Book Review: “The Haunting of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson

This review contains spoilers

Having binged and LOVED the Netflix adaptation of this novel, I was sold on reading this from the moment I passed by its display in the store. However, from reading the blurb on the back cover, I could immediately tell how different it was going to be from the Netflix show.

For starters, the Crain family is only mentioned in the book as opposed to the Crain family being central to the show. Instead of five siblings like the show, Eleanor, Luke, and Theodora are not related by any means and are already adults at the start of the novel.

In the novel, they’re invited to Hill House by Dr. Montague, who rented Hill House for three months in hopes of studying its paranormal beings. In third-person limited, we follow Eleanor more closely than the other characters (in a way, like in the show).

At this point already, you must be wondering, “So, did you like the book better than the show??”

The answer, my friends, is complicated.

PLOT

When I picked up this book, I expected it to send chills down my spine and give me visuals of the hauntings experienced in the house, much like the show did. Upon finishing, I’ve come to the realization that it’s not so much about the hauntings, the scare factor, or other.

In a sense, I’d classify this novel more as a psychological thriller than a horror. Hill House, while it does have a few hauntings, has an ability to lure its tenants into madness, which is terrifying. For me, I didn’t even realize what was happening until Eleanor’s nightmares and subconscious thoughts were surfacing.

Once it occurred to me what the house was doing to the characters and the truth behind its “hauntings”, I was floored. Without detailing most of the hauntings, we’re left to determine our interpretations for ourselves. All the while, we’re seeing Eleanor’s decent into madness and her attachment to Hill House because of her past.

Hill House is not a place where you’ll experience ghost sightings and overly horrific occurrences. But what is horrific is that Hill House is like a stomach, swallowing you whole, analyzing your fears, and spitting out twisted reasonings for wanting to stay.

Pacing

This is where it starts to fall apart for me. We really didn’t have any traces of “hauntings” until 150 pages into the book.

This made much of the first half somewhat boring for me, but the rest of the book moves fairly quick.

Characters

From the very first pages, it’s obvious that this novel is very character-driven. Despite it being mainly about Eleanor’s experience with Hill House, we’re able to catch a glimpse of each character’s personalities.

Eleanor stuck out to me like a sore thumb for most of the novel. It’s mentioned that she’s 32-years-old, but most of her dialogue and actions made me peg her as fourteen instead. One several accounts, she and Theodora act like children, and not in a good way.

Her backstory lends to some explanation as to why she acts this way, such as never really having her own life and never exploring adulthood. But I expected more from the character and was often disappointed (and annoyed) by most of her appearances.

However, I LOVED the character of Mrs. Montague. Jackson’s execution of her had me cackling for the last quarter of the book, from her strong personality to her quirky dialogue. A few noteworthy phrases include: “John, you astound me. Is it your belief that I do not know whether it is dark outside at night? The car has lights, John.” and “I am astonished, John, that you put me in a room not properly aired; if there is to be any communication with those beyond, the air circulation, at least, ought to be adequate.”

Prose

Ms. Jackson’s descriptions and prose are, by far, the gem of this entire novel. She captures the setting and image of Hill House incredibly well, bringing us into the world she’s crafted.

She brought the character’s to life, no matter how annoying or flamboyant they were.

Very well done.

Overall, I give this book 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Overall, the book was well done. I would recommend reading it, as long as you’re prepared for the true nature of this book (not exactly a horror).

Here’s the full synopsis:

First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror. It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a “haunting”; Theodora, the lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.

Book Stats:

  • Genre: Paranormal/Psychological Thriller
  • Plot: Hauntings in Hill House
  • POV: Third-person limited
  • Cliffhanger: Sort-of?
  • Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Have you read (or watched) the Haunting of Hill house? let me know in the comments below! 🙂

Hello January! – My Writing and Reading Goals

2019 was full of productivity and small successes. On January 2nd, I sat down to write the first draft of my YA contemporary novel, Because of India. In February, I started my author’s Instagram account (@authorbrandisumey). I started this blog, launched an AuthorTube channel, worked with a manuscript critiquer on my novel, and started querying agents.

As I look back, I’m proud of how far I’ve come as a writer and a person in just one year.

With that said, I have some big plans for 2020 and am so excited to continue this journey with you, friends 🙂

Goodbye December

The biggest thing to happen during the last month of 2019 was that I finally (FINALLY) finished the third draft of Because of India. This was quite a busy semester and it became difficult for me to make writing a priority, but NaNoWriMo turned out to be a tremendous help.

As the semester came to a close, I finished all of my courses strong with a 4.0 for this semester overall. I finally found my passion and what I hope to do as a career (other than being an author).

In May, I had the opportunity to substitute teach in my home school district. At the time, I was still a secondary education major but spent most of my days in the elementary schools due to age differences. Here, I discovered how natural it is for me to work with younger students, something I’d feared when choosing a major.

I LOVED each and every student that walked into my classrooms. I had the opportunity to work with so many different students and spend time with them, even if for only one day.

Going into the fall semester of my junior year, I found myself torn between staying in secondary education or switching my major to elementary eduction. As cliche as it is, I followed my heart and was blessed with a semester full of new coursework, 70 hours of experience in a first grade classroom, and 10 hours of experience in a special education speech classroom.

As previously mentioned, my other responsibilities prevented me from focusing on my novel for the majority of the semester, until NaNoWriMo. Having the writing community behind me encouraged me to hit that 50K goal for my third draft, giving me an enormous head start on finishing it.

On December 14th, I typed the last words of the third draft (HOORAH!).

Then, I took a HUGE leap of faith with this third draft and chose to submit it to a professional manuscript critiquer, prepared to receive a comprehensive list of everything that still needed fixing.

But to my surprise, I received the most incredible response (6 pages of “I love this book”) and I cried for the sake of my fears now being irrelevant. It was exactly what I needed to decide on the next step for my novel: THE QUERY TRENCHES (YAY!).

I spent the last two days of the year querying 15 literary agents and counting. Now, we wait.

Hello January

My Writing Goals

  • Query more literary agents (wait for response)
  • Complete half of the first draft of my new WIP (NA paranormal mystery – whatttttt?)
  • Write one blog post per week (Thursdays)
  • Post one AuthorTube video per week (Wednesdays)
  • Be present on Instagram
  • Build a platform on Twitter (@bfaith640)

My Reading Goals – What I’ll Be Reading

Why I’ll be reading:

  • I LOVED the Netflix adaptation
  • I’ve heard the book is different and I’m curious to see how
  • I want to read more in the genre of my next book

Why I’ll be reading:

  • I wanted to read it in May (whoops)
  • I found it on sale!
  • I love her videos on YouTube and want to see if this book lives up to the hype

Why I’ll be reading:

  • Also found it on sale!
  • In my new genre
  • I remember eyeing it as a teenager. Don’t know why I never picked it up.

Let me know in the comments below If you have goals for 2020! 🙂

Entering the World of Writing Competitions (Guest Post – Author Ava January)

It’s the last week of NaNoWriMo, friends! With only a few days left to finish your manuscript, you may be asking, “What’s next?”

While I plan to make next week’s blog post about the world of editing and polishing your manuscript to perfection, there are other wonderful things that could await your manuscript after hitting “The End.”

With that said, join me in welcoming Author Ava January to discuss the world of writing competitions! But first, a bit about Ava:

Ava January was long listed for the Richell Emerging Writers prize 2019 and was shortlisted (twice) for Pitch Wars 2019. She writes Historical romantic suspense is currently querying her Lady Detective series and entering every competition that looks valuable to her.

You can find her on Facebook or Instagram: authoravajanuary or at http://www.avajanuary.com

I’m beyond excited for her to be here today to give us her take on writing competitions. Following her guest post, you’ll find an author interview with Ava!

So, without further ado, welcome Ava!

Writing competitions, why enter?

Ok, you’re a writer and you’ve got the tight shoulders and strained neck to prove it! If only there was some way to show the rest of the world just how creatively talented and determined you are.

Enter-The Writing Competition.

It doesn’t take more than a quick google search to find hundreds, if not thousands of writing competitions. Ranging from free to some pretty costly entrance fees, writing competitions are a common fixture in the writing scene.

But before you run off and start entering every competition you can find, let’s take a moment to talk about what they are, what they can do for you and why you should enter them (and, when you shouldn’t!)

Writing competitions are contests you enter with your current manuscript or a short story that fits within the parameters provided by the contest host. Prizes can range from cash, publishing deals or simply the kudos of being able to add the competition win to your writing CV. Some offer feedback from industry professionals or readers specific to your genre.

Most of us are hustling to find time to write and are yet to receive that 6 figure deal, so why should we take time out of our busy schedules and spend our hard-earned money on entering competitions?

1. Connections

I consider this the most important reason to enter competitions.

Earlier this year I was longlisted for the Richell prize, which is a prestigious Emerging Writers prize here in Australia. My name was listed, along with 16 others, on various industry-specific websites, viewed by industry professionals, readers, and other writers.

On the day of the announcement, I connected with the other longlisted entrants to congratulate them and share our pleasure (and in my case sheer disbelief!) at being longlisted. While ultimately, I wasn’t shortlisted, I made connections with other authors that has resulted in friendship and an invitation to collaborate with other talented writers in my genre on an Easter anthology (watch this space!).

I consider that a win.

2. Promotion

To me, this is the second most important reason to enter writing competitions.

You don’t need to win to receive the benefit of this. If you are longlisted, shortlisted or a runner up, your name will be advertised to hundreds, sometimes thousands of people – requiring no further cost or effort from you. If you are already a published author this can drive new readers to your back catalog (and new readers= sales!).

3. Kudos

This isn’t just about bragging rights! Kristin Nelson from Nelson Literary agency’s 2018 stats show us that out of the 20,000+ queries she received, 442 full manuscripts were requested. Only 110 of those receiving offers of representation from her agency.

This means you need to stand out. We all know how important a query letter is and any information that helps you stand out amongst the thousands is worth its weight in gold.

4. Cash

There are many short story, flash fiction and full-length novel competitions that congratulate you with cold, hard cash. Who doesn’t love money?

Wow, Ava, you are so knowledgeable – so tell me which ones should I enter?

That’s up to you my friend! You are on your own writing journey and should always take any advice with a grain of salt (including mine!) and make that advice fit you and your situation.

Do your research

Not all contests are created equal. If there is a cost to enter then you should spend some time googling the previous winners of the contest and look at how much promotion they received. You should expect to see a couple of pages in your google search regarding the winner or finalists of the competition. Find out what the winners are up to now and how that relates to your goals. Are they represented by an agent? Have they got their book published?

Keep Track

I have a simple spreadsheet of competitions that I want to enter. These are listed in date order, so I can keep track of submission and announcement dates. I like to color-code them as I enter/win/lose/place.

Read the Rules

Ensure you are eligible to enter. Like querying, don’t waste your time or that of the judges by entering competitions that you are not eligible. Some contests have very strict formatting rules and requests. Spend some time reading through the rules and ensure that your entry is specific to every competition. If you inadvertently break the rules you will be disqualified which means you’ve wasted your entry fee.

Most importantly, remember that contests and competitions are just that. Contests.

While winning can give you a much-needed boost of self-confidence (or cold hard cash!) not winning does not mean your work isn’t any good.

Submitting your short stories to publications is often a much better use of your time than entering competitions but for authors seeking representation, it can be a great way to get feedback on your writing and promote your name with minimal effort and outlay.

Ava January – Author Interview

  1. How long have you been writing? What inspired you to start?

Officially, I have been writing for three years. I was inspired to start writing on advice of my creative writing lecturer at University. Thankfully, she was very forceful in seeing me as a writer and wouldn’t take no for an answer.

2. What advice would you give to a new writer, one just starting out?

Be yourself! Don’t try and mimic other writers, its ok to love and respect them but unless you are writing in your own voice you won’t resonate with readers. Learn your craft – read as many books about writing and editing as you can.

3. What comes first, your plot or your characters?

This is a tough one – sometimes characters, sometimes plot! Depending on how good the story is!

4. Describe a typical writing day.

I have two small children so I write in the gaps of my day- naptime three days a week and school hours Thursday and Friday. Every evening after dinner Monday to Friday is writing time.

5. What would you consider is the most difficult part of writing?

Editing – when do you stop? How do you stop? Why do we keep going and going and going and going? Also, avoiding the internet while writing – see my previous questions.

6. Do you have any advice on handling criticism?

Keep a small notebook with you at all times and write down the name of every man, woman, and child that ever offend you and keep it until…  JOKING! I have no advice, it hurts but you need to consider who much you respect the opinion of the person doing the criticizing – is it your brother or a literary agent?! Choose who you listen to wisely.

7. What is the key theme and/or message in your WIP?

A key theme in my WIP is how women protected each other in an era where they had no legal recourse to do so. My protagonist earns her living by investigating the backgrounds of men looking to marry wealthy heiresses and use and abuse them and their money.

8. If you could describe your main character in three words, what would those three words be?

Fearless, intelligent, and bold!

9. Are you on social media? How can your readers interact with you?

I am! You can find me at avajanuary.com or IG/FB Author Ava January

Let’s Talk! Let me know in the comments below if you’ve entered or plan to enter any writing competitions 🙂

So You’ve Hit a Writing Slump… (NaNoWriMo Check-in #2)

I don’t know about you, but the end of NaNoWriMo can be tough. Even in my case, where I’ve already crafted two previous drafts of this novel. You’d think it would be a little easier than it currently is.

Let’s be honest. The end-stretch of NaNo can be it’s own monster.

If you’re a planner, you’ve outlined your novel down to the very last detail. But maybe your characters have different plans and things don’t seem to be working as well as your outline said it would.

Or maybe you’re a pantser and your characters have started their own rebellion and your whole plot is on fire. Who knows?

There is nothing worse than thinking you know exactly where you’re going and your novel decides to take a different turn. Other than not knowing where you’re going at all (@myself).

It can be exhausting. It can make you feel like you want to give up.

First of all, DON’T. You’re writing this novel for a reason, friend. I recently made an Instagram post during a Saturday Barnes and Noble writing session all about not giving up. Why, you ask?

Peruse your genre’s section. Locate exactly where your book will go. If you look closely enough, there may even be a fraction of space there, waiting. Someday, your book will fill that space. Someday, someone is going to come across your book and fall in love with everything that it is. Someday, you’re going to touch hearts and shift minds.

As we’re hitting the end-stretch of NaNo, you can think of one million reasons as to why you shouldn’t finish your novel. But none of them are valid. In fact, I can guess a few that you probably have in mind, and here’s what you can do about them.

1. “I Don’t have time”

Whether you work eight hours or more each day, have children or pets, are a student, or have other looming responsibilities other than your writing, take a step back and evaluate where you really have time to write.

15 minutes at the end of your lunch break? Great.

An hour of solitude before the kids wake up? Perfect.

A gap between two classes? Sold.

Now, if you’re anything like how I used to be, your sub-excuse is “Well, that’s not enough time to make much progress.” So you choose to write nothing instead of how ever many words you can squeeze out in your given time frame.

And that, my friends, is how I accidentally took a two-year break from writing. Whoops.

If writing is your passion and your priority, 15 minutes is better than nothing. You may need to sacrifice some time on social media or a half-hour of sleep, but at least you are making progress.

2. “I’d rather do something else”

Okay, red flag. As previously said, if writing is your passion and priority, it’s something you’d want to do. Right?

There could be a variety of other reasons why you’d say this, however. For example, Disney Plus has all your favorite childhood shows and movies. How could you resist using your spare time to re-watch something you haven’t watched in ten years?

Maybe you’re bored or frustrated with your story. Maybe you’re tired and a nap is calling your name. Whatever it is, you feel compelled to leave your laptop closed and that page blank.

First and foremost, remind yourself that you’re a freaking incredible writer and your story is going to be a bestseller! No first draft is perfect for us NaNoers. Or in my case, the third draft isn’t exactly perfect either. It will take time, but your story will get there!

Also, try using those other things as a type of reward system. You just wrote 500 words? One episode of Hannah Montana it is. You finished a scene you’ve been trying to write forever? Nap time!

Repeat after me: Writing is my passion and my priority.

Make it happen, friends.

3. “My story is a trainwreck”

We’ve all been there. Holy moly, I’ve been there more times than I can count. It’s not uncommon to realize that your first draft is a bit of a catastrophe.

BUT!

There. Is. Hope!

Plot holes can be filled. Characters can be rewritten. Your setting can shift. Your true theme can reveal itself in time.

That’s what editing is for. That’s what December, January, and the rest of the year is for. But for now, enjoy the magic of knowing your draft exists and that YOU’RE WRITING A FREAKING NOVEL! Not everyone can say the same.

Let’s talk! Let me know in the comments how you plan to finish nanowrimo strong 🙂