How to Create in a Time of Resistance

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Pretty much everyone I know is having a hard time functioning right now, never mind writing or otherwise creating. Whether you’re upset by current national or international events, or things going on in your personal life, it might feel selfish or meaningless to continue making art. I’ve had a really hard time focusing on writing lately, and every 500 words has been a battle, but there are several things that have been helping me. I thought I’d share them with you so that you can keep creating, too.

Remember, simply existing is resisting. Continuing to make your mark on the world is a protest in and of itself.

Write morning pages every day.

I’ve talked about The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron in previous blog incarnations, and how working through the book helped unblock me during a long and stubborn episode of anxiety and depression. In the book, Cameron introduces the morning pages—three daily pages of stream of consciousness writing in a journal. You do it the old fashioned way, with pen and paper, and just write whatever comes to mind.

I’m terrible at doing these every day, but I almost always come back to them when I’m stressed. (Imagine how productive I’d be if I did them every day anyway!) I’ve started doing them again, and they’ve been extremely helpful. I almost always write about current news in the U.S., but by writing about it, I’m dumping the things that are blocking me. After closing my journal, I’m much more able to focus on my To Do list—and my work in progress.

Practice self-care.

Even when I’m not anxious, I often get sucked into whatever novel I’m currently writing, forgetting to do things like eat meals and shower. During times of crisis, a normal routine is more important than ever. If you’re feeling thrown, sticking to your routine will keep you grounded. Plus, just like flight attendants always tell passengers, you can’t help anyone else if you don’t put your oxygen mask on first.

You have to come first. It’s not selfish, it’s pragmatic; you can’t fight for anyone else if you’re not taking care of yourself. There are five things you should be doing every day for your own sake.

  • Eat three meals. Whether you’re hungry or not, feed yourself breakfast, lunch, and dinner—even if you can only manage small meals. Keeping your body fueled will not only give you more energy and focus, but it’ll also help stave anxiety; when your blood sugar levels drop, anxiety is often aggravated.
  • Take all medications. You might think this is a simple thing to remember, but if I’m thrown off anywhere else in my life, I can easily forget to take my meds. Get yourself a pillbox and organize your medications by day and dose time, then set reminders on your phone or with your friendly virtual assistant Siri or Alexa.
  • Get your R&R on. “How am I supposed to relax,” you ask, “when the world is burning?” It’s easier said than done, but during times of crisis it’s more important than ever to take time out. Watch something lighthearted on Netflix. Treat yourself to a hot bath or a face mask. Snuggle with your cat, dog, or other furbaby. Make sure you’re carving out some kind of “me” time every single day, allowing yourself the room to decompress and just chill.
  • Use coping methods. This goes hand in hand with relaxation. Hopefully, you already have a toolbox of coping methods you can go to when your anxiety is high. Some of my favorites include journaling, aromatherapy, meditation, hot baths, writing, reading, coloring, yoga, and music. A coping method can be anything that puts you at ease and isn’t harmful.
  • Get moving. Sometimes, the best way to dispel anxious energy is to get your body moving. Even if you have limited mobility or can’t go out for a walk, you can do things like chair dancing. Whirling through my house and cleaning like a tornado almost always calms me. On days when I’m too sore or stiff to scrub anything, though, I still walk a bit through my apartment or do some simple yoga poses, like standing forward bend.

Do your civic duty tasks before you create.

Remember what I said about creating a routine? Build your work as an activist into your day, making your tasks part of your regular schedule. That way, when you sit down to write or paint or create, you’re not thinking about what you “should” be doing to save the world, because you’ve already done it.

Pick a couple issues that are important to you and stick with them. Right now, so many things are happening so quickly, it can feel overwhelming to keep up with them all. The truth is, though, that you can’t fight every battle. You can try, but you’ll just burn yourself out. By assigning yourself a daily task to fight for one or two causes, you’ll be organizing yourself for action.

Remember, this fight is a four-year marathon, not a sprint.

For example, my daily tasks are:

  • share information that is sourced and fact-checked
  • support my fellow activists with kind words and self-care reminders
  • cheer on my state senators and representatives, and bring issues to their awareness as needed

Yours might be something like “call my senator and ask them to please fight the Muslim ban” or “make my sign for tonight’s women’s rights gathering.”

Then get your tasks done. Set a timer if you need to keep yourself from losing track of the day passing. You can also do them in batches—whatever works best for your lifestyle and schedule.

Put your ass in the chair and create.

Your art is important. Even if it has nothing to do with current events, people need what you’re making. If you’re writing a romance, you’re giving people an escape. If you’re painting a protest piece, you’re encouraging other rebels. If you’re knitting caps and mittens, you’re keeping people warm.

The world needs your art.

The world needs you.

  • Unplug. Log out of Twitter and Facebook. Close your news tab or app. Shut off the ringer on your phone and get away from distractions. Turn off the TV and radio. It’ll all still be there when you’ve finished your work for the day.
  • Put on some music to help you focus or relax. I like the Deep Focus playlist on Spotify. Soundtracks and ambient spa music work well, too. Or maybe you need some thrash metal to get your fingers moving over the keys. Plug those earbuds in and block out the world.
  • Set a daily goal. Whether you’re writing a novel or painting on canvas, setting a daily goal for yourself keeps you on task. Be realistic and gentle with yourself; when you’re already stressed, setting high or unachievable goals may put more pressure on you. You may want to set goals that are possible but challenging, or goals that you know you can easily reach.
  • Hold yourself accountable. Sprint with a friend. Find someone in your industry to buddy up with. My work wife J.C. Hannigan and I did two 30-minute sprints yesterday. Share your progress on social media as you meet milestones. I like to tweet out my total word count at the end of every day. Sharing your momentum keeps you motivated, and more likely to reach the end because other people know how far you’ve come.

Using these tips every single day will get you back into productivity in no time—especially if you’re gentle with yourself and allow yourself to do what works best for you. Give these things a try and experiment to see what has the best effect.

Did these tips help? Please leave me a comment and let me know, or share any other suggestions!

Self-Care for Writing Through Trauma

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Note: This blog post is a raw, unedited chapter from my current work in progress, Writing Through Trauma. Part memoir and part inspiring instruction, Writing Through Trauma aims to help you write your way through difficult events in your life. Click here to join my email list to get notified when I post new chapters.


I’m scared, and overwhelmed, and I can’t fucking think straight—and it’s okay.

I just broke down in tears after 30 minutes of trying to write this post using the built-in speech-to-text software on my Mac with the damned thing not picking up half of what I fucking say. I’d hoped that talking through it would help me focus better, but I ended up completely frustrated.

If that’s not a micro example of some of the side effects of writing through trauma, I don’t know what is.

I’m stressed. Shit is falling apart in my country. I’m scared for myself and my family and friends. My health is a bit better thanks to Prednisone and Plaquenil, but my neck and lower back have been fucked up for weeks and the more stressed I get, the worse they are. I’ve fallen behind on my production schedule. I’m months behind on beta reading for my CP. Every time I try to write fiction, I feel blocked or too brain foggy to focus.

I thought I’d just buckle down today and write the next chapter of Writing Through Trauma that I’d planned—”Why Writing Helps You Through Trauma”—so that, at the very least, I might help someone who’s struggling right now too. But the truth is, sometimes it’s a double-edged sword.

Sometimes writing through trauma brings it all back to the surface and paralyzes you.

Writing has never been my enemy. For almost two decades, I was my own enemy—thanks to trauma. But I could always escape through writing. On the page, I could always be myself and speak my truth.

Right now, my truth is fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck.

My biggest fear is how debilitating my chronic illness is if untreated.

My chronic illness is a trauma. For the first 18 years of my life, I was healthy. I came down with colds, strep, and the flu occasionally, but other than that I was strong. I played softball. I went hiking. I worked. I went to school. I went bowling. Then, suddenly, I came down with mono.

It crippled me. My life came to a screeching halt for months. I only had the strength to move the 100 feet or so from my bed over to the couch. For weeks, my doctor couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. I had severe throat and joint pain, plus debilitating fatigue and muscle weakness. I felt like I was dying. They tested for strep twice and both times it came back negative. My mom had to push for them to test me for mono. It came back positive. I started Prednisone and Tylenol with codeine, but it took weeks for me to recover. I nearly missed our family vacation to Florida. Even when we came home, I was still relatively weak.

A year later, the joint pain and fatigue came back. This time, it never went away.

It’s an autoimmune disease called Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease. It attacks the tendons where they connect into my joints, causing joint pain. It attacks my eyes and mouth, making me perpetually dry-eyed and thirsty. It affects my energy. It impairs my thinking, making my thoughts foggy; it’s hard to think of words, names, and places. UCTD can be pre-Lupus or pre-RA, especially if your disease has changed over the years. Mine has.

With the Affordable Care Act under attack, I face losing my health insurance and therefore my healthcare. I’m finally feeling better for the first time in a decade, thanks to my rheumatologist, Prednisone, and Plaquenil. Without my Medicaid, I cannot afford healthcare. Period. I can’t work outside the home due to my disease; most days, it’s a struggle to work from home. Mike works full-time, but everything he makes barely covers our rent and utilities. His company’s health insurance plans are outrageously expensive and we couldn’t afford them before the ACA was passed.

Mike is now finally dealing with his own health issues and, if they continue to go untreated, he won’t be able to work much longer. All I can think about lately is what will happen to us if—when?—the ACA is dismantled.

A two-month supply of Plaquenil costs about $800 out of pocket. I don’t even make $800 a month. We rely on SNAP for groceries, getting only the bare essentials and cooking everything from scratch—even when I can barely stand.

Whenever the inflammation in my body gets out of control, my joints become too stiff for me to even get out of bed. Never mind the pain. I can’t physically move. I’m utterly helpless, which is downright terrifying for a 28-year-old who was healthy 10 years ago.

Living with a chronic illness is traumatic.

I’ve spent the last 10 years trying to come to terms with my disease. I don’t know what is going to happen as it is. Facing losing the ACA takes away even more control of my life.

Trauma is anything that disrupts your sense of safety and trust in the world—your sense of normal. Anything can be traumatic, and the effects of an event vary from person to person.

With so much on my mind, it gets in the way of writing—especially when I try to write about writing through trauma. It reminds me of how much I struggled when I first began writing my trauma stories.

My therapist Erica told me, in our first session, that the end goal was for me to tell my stories. I had to pick three traumas and write about what happened. Picking three was difficult, considering I’ve been living with multiple traumas for so long, and had just experienced a fresh one.

Bullying. Assault. Rape. Miscarriage. Chronic illness. Unexplained death of a loved one. Forced hospitalization.

Every time I started writing about what happened to me, I’d get overwhelmed with anxiety. Writing about it only seemed to aggravate my anxiety, depression, and flashbacks. I kept having to stop and put it away because I just couldn’t deal.

When that happened, I had to practice self-care.

When writing through your trauma, it’s imperative that you allow yourself to write at your own pace. Recognize when you need to take a break or stop. Give yourself permission to stop. Be gentle with yourself.

For me, it had to be a gradual process. Some survivors might be able to rip off the Band-Aid, but I could only write a little at a time. First I was able to mention both of my rapists, for example, while writing in my journal. Before, I’d suppressed the bad memories; I never wrote about either of the men who raped me because I just knew that I despised and feared them. I could barely recall other things from the time that they’d each been in my life. Large black clouds comprised most of my memories, even devouring good things, leaving great wide holes.

When I was a teenager, I dreamed that a black oily substance was eating the sky. In the dream, my family and I were trying to figure out what was happening and how to stop it. Bit by bit, the sky—and world—disappeared.

I’m still trying to reclaim much of my own sky.

Since trauma survivors often suppress memories in the brain’s attempt to keep you alive, it made sense that I had a lot of digging to do. And the more I dug, the harder the flashbacks hit me.

My nightmares intensified. The panic attacks came more frequently. I was constantly snapping at the people around me—usually Mike. I knew that it was going to get worse before it got better, though, so I kept trying.

The more I wrote, the more I remembered. Even though I didn’t really want to remember because I knew it’d be painful, I really wanted to get better. I wanted to stop having panic attacks, to become motivated and productive again. I wanted to actually feel happiness, to grow stronger. To reclaim my life and my voice.

So I took my time.

I started a new bedtime ritual: Benadryl to make me so drowsy and calm, my anxiety couldn’t keep me awake; one ASMR video on YouTube or a round of Bejeweled to clear and calm my mind; one chapter of a familiar audiobook read in a soothing tone that I could drift off to; stuffed animals to hug tight while I slept. It’s been over a year and I still go to bed like this every night. Someday, I’ll be able to let go and fall asleep on my own. But for now, I give myself permission to continue this ritual for as long as I need it.

I carved out a strict workday for myself. Monday through Friday, I only work from 8 or 9 a.m. to 5 or 6 p.m. I don’t work weekends. Evenings are for my “me” time—reading, watching TV or movies on Netflix, or playing Sims. If, during the workday, my body needs some rest, I take a short 30- or 60-minute break just to sit comfortably, maybe read a book or watch Netflix.

I got myself back into a healthy sleep schedule. I’ve always been a night owl, but letting myself stay up all night and sleep until noon was hurting my productivity and affecting my mood. I use my iPhone to remind me to go to bed by 11 p.m. and wake me up at 8 a.m.

I eat three meals a day, plus snacks—no matter what. Since I’m hypoglycemic, skipping meals can make me very sick or very anxious. Even if I don’t have much of an appetite, I eat something small.

I take all of my meds on time. I use a weekly pill box with morning, noon, evening, and bedtime compartments, and Alexa to remind me to take my pills. Right now my meds are: Prednisone, Plaquenil, Tramadol, Flexeril, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, Benadryl. I take them religiously.

When I’m not too sore, I do yoga. It’s been a while, to be honest, and I’m feeling it. I also meditate, practice deep breathing throughout the day, and write in a journal. Up until recently, I couldn’t hold a pen in my stiff, sore fingers long enough to write down the date, so had to give up journaling—which was really hard to do, and I’m really glad I can write again.

I shower regularly, do my makeup to boost my mood, and get dressed even when I’m not leaving the house. Sometimes I just let myself stay in my pajamas all day, though—whatever makes me feel best.

For you, self-care might mean different things. What’s most important is that you take care of yourself. Treat yourself as if you were your own sweet child. Be kind and gentle, but firm when necessary.

What are your favorite self-care tools? Leave a comment and tell me three of them!


Note: This blog post is a raw, unedited chapter from my current work in progress, Writing Through Trauma. Part memoir and part inspiring instruction, Writing Through Trauma aims to help you write your way through difficult events in your life. Click here to join my email list to get notified when I post new chapters.


Read More: Chapter 1

Six Days Into a Crumbling U.S.

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It’s only been six days since Trump was sworn in as President. I knew things would start happening, and that it’d be fast, but I couldn’t have imagined how quickly.

Before Inauguration Day, Congress voted on their annual budget, which is normal. However, they re-allocated the ACA budget to miscellaneous. In Trump’s six days of office, he’s signed executive orders to:

  • give power to agency and executive department heads to “waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay the implementation of any provision or requirement of the [Affordable Care Act]” while he works on repealing it
  • pull federal funding from women’s affordable healthcare organizations that provide abortions, ignoring the fact that these same organizations also provide cancer treatment and other healthcare to low-income women, men, and teens
  • resume and speed up the Dakota and Keystone Oil pipeline projects, continuing to route them through Standing Rock despite environmental concerns, land treaties, and President Obama’s executive order to halt the DAPL and look for alternative routes
  • pull the U.S. out of the United Nations
  • withdraw the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership
  • ban refugees from entering the U.S., begin deportations, give police officers power to act as immigration officers, and block federal funding from sanctuary cities
  • allow torture of political prisoners, which breaks the Geneva Convention
  • begin building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, which Mexico has refused to pay for; I suspect the ACA’s re-allocated funds will be paying for its materials, and political prisoners will be used for slave labor to build it
  • impose a federal hiring freeze
  • put a gag order on federal employees from disclosing information to the public or press (Environmental Protection Agency; departments of Commerce, Health, and Human Services; the Interior; and the Department of Agriculture, which was later lifted after public outcry)
  • initiate an investigation into illegal votes, which can be used as a reason to affect voting in future elections

(Note: I will edit later and link to each EO; I’ve already spent too long at the computer and my joints are extremely sore.)

A President can sign as many executive orders as he wants, bypassing Congress. Congress can pass legislation to override EOs, but the President can veto them.

Trump said in a 2014 Fox interview that he wanted to wreak havoc.

You know what solves it? When the economy crashes, when the country goes to total hell and everything is a disaster. Then you’ll have a [chuckles], you know, you’ll have riots to go back to where we used to be when we were great.

So did Trump’s Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor, Steve Bannon, in a 2013 interview.

“I’m a Leninist,” Bannon proudly proclaimed.

Shocked, I asked him what he meant.

“Lenin,” he answered, “wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”

Trump has been leveraging our social, political, and working class issues, instigating the blame of our problems on disabled people, black people, Latinxs, and Muslims. He insists that the ACA is being taken advantage of by lazy people who don’t work. People who rely on the ACA and Medicaid for healthcare are veterans, single parents, people with disabilities, cancer patients, retired people, and low-income families. No statistical evidence suggests that any large percentage of people covered through the ACA are “lazy people.”

Trump blames crime on black and Latinx people, saying that killings in Chicago—largely populated by black and Latinx people—have increased, when they have in fact decreased. Chicago has long been a site for regular Trump protests. Yesterday, Trump threatened to send military into Chicago under the guise of preventing any more murders.

He’s destroying our relationships with other countries’ leaders, which may be irreparable.

Though Trump’s authoritarian regime and collapse of the U.S. has begun, there’s still a lot we can do.

Kendzior also says, via several tweets:

There’s a lot to do. I advise working locally. Know your community. Pick an issue or two you care about and commit for the long haul. And understand that as horrifying as this all is, millions stand with you. Find common ground, stand up for others—and know the enemy.

Senator Markey and Representative Lieu have introduced legislation to prevent Trump from launching a nuclear first strike without a Congressional declaration of war.

Shit is real here in the U.S., my home. Most of the people I know are either completely oblivious, in denial. They don’t see how dire things are. I’ve been following all of this and urging family and friends to pay attention. They won’t. I think, honestly, most of them just can’t believe anything like this can happen. They believe that our Constitution and government will protect us. The Constitution can only protect us if our government upholds it. Right now, our government is fighting amongst themselves. There’s little opposition from the Democrats against the Republicans and Trump’s Cabinet.

This is really happening.

We’re really living this.

It’s not exaggeration or alarmist to say that we’re living in an authoritarian crackdown. It appears that Trump is compromised, by both the Nationalists he’s put into his Cabinet and Putin.

This is really happening.

Alexandra Erin says that even Trump might not understand what he’s doing; he’s being told what to do (click the tweet to read thread).

It’s possible that we mere peons cannot even begin to understand what’s happening to us. We just know that we don’t want it and we don’t deserve it.

I’m at a loss here myself. I read each executive order with growing cynicism and horror. To be honest, I didn’t want to believe Kendzior’s and others’ apocalyptic predictions before and around Election Day. I thought that by urging electors to vote against Trump would be enough, but now it seems that we were fighting the wrong battle. We should’ve been urging our senators and representatives to pass legislation to block all of the things that Trump promised during his campaign, protecting all of the people that Trump is trying to harm.

It might be too late.

I’m not giving up. I’m terrified, to be perfectly honest. With every executive order that I read, I find it harder and harder to focus on anything; writing and working as normal seems pointless in the face of what’s happening. When this has happened in other countries, millions of people died. It seems like a cleansing has begun: women, disabled people, non-white people, queer people, Muslims.

I am three of those groups.

I said that the best resistance is existence, to keep creating art and living in spite of what’s happening. I urged people to donate to the organizations that fight for us. I pulled out an old YA novel that I wrote in 2011 about two lovestruck seventeen-year-olds fighting Nazis and told myself that I should put all of my angry, anxious energy into revising it.

I still believe in fighting for our freedom. I come from a family of veterans and I will never dishonor their sacrifice and memory by giving up those freedoms. I will keep writing. I will send letters to the White House. I will put aside my phone anxiety and call my state Senator and Representative, and ask them to fight. I will start attending town meetings and make my concerns heard.

I will be brave by keeping on, even when I’m scared and overwhelmed. Even when people around me diminish my concerns. Especially then. Too much is at stake.

Note to Self

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You can’t catch up on old projects and work on new ones at the same time. It just doesn’t work that way, especially with chronic illness—and life in general. Sometimes, you just have to accept that shit happens and, rather than “should”ing on yourself, slow down and focus on what’s most important.

Your physical health.

Your mental health.

Your loved ones.

Your wellbeing.

Eerily accurate. #virgo #horoscope #2017goals

A post shared by Elizabeth Barone (@elizabethbarone) on

Goals can be adjusted. Production schedules can be rearranged.

So, tomorrow morning, grab a cup of coffee, let go of the things you think you should be doing, and be gentle with yourself.

You’re way more important than any silly schedule.

Hello, 2017

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If you’ve been around for any period of time, you know I’m all about goals rather than resolutions. Setting actionable, achievable, and accountable goals is far more productive than making promises.

Usually, I keep my goals for the year down to a short list. Recently I heard about Level 10 Life, which is basically just your life, broken down into 10 areas. You’re supposed to set 10 goals for each area—100 in total—with the objective of eventually fulfilling all areas of your life. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think it’s possible to ever reach 100% fulfillment; there’s no such thing as perfection. Plus, I think 100 goals is a bit overwhelming.

Goals are supposed to be challenging yet within reach. If you set the bar too high, you’ll set yourself up for failure.

A few weeks ago, I found a wheel of life pin that I loved. It focused on eight areas of life rather than 10, with one goal in each area. The objective is to achieve more balance in your life; once you reach a certain goal, you set a new one in that area.

I tried making the wheel of life and failed epically. After several attempts, I realized I didn’t need a Pinterest-worthy craft to help me set goals for 2017. I sat down with my white board and several dry erase markers, and got busy. This list is the result.

My Goals for 2017

Home

Get curtains for all windows. Though it has its quirks, I love our little country apartment, and hope to stay here until we’re ready to start a family. (That’s a whole other blog post, so stay tuned.) To make our place look even more home-y, I’d like to get curtains for each window. Fortunately—in this case, anyway—there aren’t many windows; our apartment was an attic in a former life. I’m starting with the kitchen, with the front door (which naturally has the oddest measurements ever, and I can’t seem to find anything). Challenge accepted!

Me

Get arrow, hummingbird, and spade tattoos. 2013 was the year I got married, and probably one of the best years of my life. But 2014 and 2015 were easily two of the worst years of my life. I lost one of my best friends in 2014 and in 2015, I lost myself. PTSD finally caught up with me and I completely bottomed out. But in 2016, I got better.

There’s a quote that really spoke to me in 2015-2016:

An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backward. So when life is dragging you back with difficulties, it means that it’s going to launch you into something great.

I don’t know where it originated, but it really resonated with me—especially regarding my PTSD. I truly cannot explain how strong I feel. I’ve got my voice and my magic back, and I feel more me than I’ve ever felt. This is why I want to get an arrow on my ribs, on my right side—to remind me of how I shot forward in 2016. Something simple and delicate (my ribs do swell, after all, so tattooing that area might be a bit… challenging). Something like this, in this same spot:

I think this design is the one I’ll go with.

I’ve long wanted to get twin hummingbirds on my collarbones, for my Popi. He loved watching the birds at the lake, and the “hummers” were his favorites—especially the ruby throated hummingbird. Growing up, I always felt enveloped by magic whenever I could look fast enough to see them. Popi had hawk eyes and saw everything; he was the magic.

I like the general placement of the hummingbirds in the above pin, but I don’t love the design. My plan is to have Jay—the artist who did my hydrangeas and tiger lilies—design and tattoo my hummingbirds. I love his style and I know he’ll help me come up with something I love.

Finally, I want to get a spade in memory of one of my best friends, Sean. He loved spades—I’m pretty sure it was an old nickname, though I have to check with his girlfriend to make 100% sure—and had one tattooed on his forearm. I’ve been racking my brain, trying to figure out the perfect tattoo to remember him by. It suddenly dawned on me the other day that I should get a spade. I’ll probably add it to the sleeve I’m working on, on my left arm.

I’d like to get something for my Biz Noni, too, but for one, I’ll be lucky if I can afford three tattoos in one year. Plus, I kind of already got something for her: my hydrangeas around my Fievel. She was still alive back then, but my dad was talking about transplanting her hydrangeas in the yard. I thought about how amazing it was, that those hydrangeas stubbornly continued to bloom year after year after year—even though she couldn’t physically get outside to nurture them anymore. It reminded me of her; she was “up there” in age, but remembered everything and had survived much. I got the hydrangeas tattooed as a reminder that I can survive, too, even in the toughest of circumstances.

Money

Pay off all debt and past due bills. I won’t bore you with the details, but between my student loan, some credit cards that I opened to help us out, our bills, and my creative team from Booktrope, I’ve racked up a teensy bit of debt. I say “teensy” because I was panicking but when I added it all up, I realized it’s really not that bad. Some people are thousands of dollars in debt; I’m only about $5K in. Still, I’d really like to make it go away—especially the damned student loan that’s been hanging over my head for years.

Long story short, that student loan is from a half semester that I had to withdraw from due to health issues. It was too late to withdraw without penalty, so I got stuck with the bill. I’ve been trying to pay that thing off for almost 10 years now.

My accumulated debt grew to a ginormous monster in my head. I’d wake up in the middle of the night, heart pounding, terrified I’d go to jail for delinquency. That’s totally not the case, but anxiety lies. When I actually broke it down on paper, though, it suddenly became a teeny baby monster. Now that I’m writing for Textbroker and regaining momentum in my career, it doesn’t seem completely impossible to overcome, either.

They say the best way to pay off debt is to make regular payments on everything while going really hard at one particular bill. I haven’t quite decided which one to tackle first, though.

Career

Finish all currently open series. 2016 was all about regaining some lost momentum; 2017 is going to be all about closing boxes.

Right now, I have three unfinished series: the Comes in Threes, Not Just Any Love, and South of Forever series. While the Not Just Any Love series is actually just two companion standalones (Just One More Minute and the forthcoming Char/Amarie novel), the Comes in Threes series has been in limbo for almost four years.

I’ll be releasing the final South of Forever book soon, and then my plan is to get back to Quinn, Tara, and everyone else from Crazy Comes in Threes. I’ll be rewriting CCIT; I won’t be changing anything about the story, but I’ll be making some structural changes—that way I can pull off my master scheme. I’m super excited about what I have in store. More news on that soon!

Marriage

Go on one date every month. Thanks to the holidays, health issues, and financial stress, Mike and I haven’t been able to spend much time together lately. Our hot dates have recently consisted of doctors’ appointments and him helping me put pants on. So romantic. 🙄 Not!

Money is beyond tight, but I’d really like to do something every month—even if it’s just a movie night in. We’re both always busy, but I make sure we eat dinner together (unless he’s working), with no tech at the table so we’re really focusing on each other. Still, I’d like to do actual dates.

Last month, my Noni got us a gift certificate to our favorite sushi place, so we went to lunch after my rheumatology appointment. (Note to self: blog about that ASAP.) It was nice to get out and spend time together, and we have enough left on the gift certificate to do it again. Little things like that keep our relationship strong.

Family

Host at least one family dinner. Due to my arthritis, it’s really hard for me to pull off gatherings at our place. Not only is it physically difficult, but it also takes a major toll on my energy. The last time we hosted anything was Mike’s birthday party—in October. It was so nice to have both sides of our family all together, but I paid for it dearly in the days after. I always do.

Originally, we really wanted to host weekly Sunday dinners, but that’s just not possible. I’m slowly adjusting to my limitations, which means not pushing myself and accepting things for what they are. Still, I’d like to have at least one Sunday dinner this year; they were a huge part of Mike’s family when he was growing up, and it’s really important to him that the tradition continues.

My plan is to give Plaquenil and Prednisone some more time and, when the weather gets warmer, set a date.

Health

Find a treatment that brings pain down to a 4/10. I’m hoping Plaquenil is The One. I’ve accepted that I’ll probably never have a zero pain level again, but if my new normal could be a 4/10, that would be great. At that level, the pain is tolerable; once it gets to five or even six, it’s debilitating. Honestly, I’ll even take a five at this point; last Sunday, it got all the way down to a five, and I felt amazing. It’s been an eight lately, which is still better than a nine or 10.

But four is about my normal level when I’m not in a flareup. If Plaquenil can decrease the flareups and their severity, I’ll be happy.

I’d also really like a diagnosis more definitive than “it might be Lupus” or “it’s definitely enthesitis-related arthritis.” Right now, my chart has Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease (UCTD) as my diagnosis, which translates to “undiagnosed autoimmune disease.” It means there’s definitely something inflammatory and autoimmune going on, but my labs are inconclusive. There are two camps in rheumatology: one that relies more on symptoms to diagnose, and the other that relies more on labs. My rheumatologist falls into the latter, and so did my former rheumatologist. There’s nothing wrong with that, but for my own closure, I’d really like to know the name of the disease that has completely and irrevocably changed my life.

I may never get that. I may have to practice accepting that. Time will tell.

Passion

Write “writing through trauma” book as a blog series. I’d like to tell my story—and help others write through theirs. Writing has long been a huge part of my life. I’ve written my way through every major event, be it in a journal or weaving my pain into a novel. The most important writing I’ve ever done, though, were my trauma stories.

I’d like to teach others how to write through their pain. Eventually, I’d even like to lead workshops for local organizations who help sexual assault survivors, but I’ve got to start small. That, for me, means writing a how to book.

I’ve started several times. I keep getting stuck because I’m not sure how much of my personal story I should share; I don’t want to take away from the advice I’m giving, but I’d also like to show how writing through my own trauma helped me. I’ve decided to take my outline and the roughly 10K words I’ve written, and turn it into a blog series that can be later converted into a book. This way, I can get some reader feedback on it while I’m putting it together.

Stay tuned, because that will be starting very soon.


What are your goals for 2017? Let me know in the comments!

Goodbye, 2016

via Unsplash

Despite this year being a hard year, I can’t exactly say it was a bad year. 2016 was full of growth, grief, and guidance for me, and though I suffered some major losses, I’m very happy with where I am right now.

I started off the year recovering from fresh trauma and working to overcome multiple traumas from my past. I was in a fog of PTSD-driven depression and anxiety, as well as medication withdrawal, and it felt like I’d never be myself again, never mind recover. But my therapist Erica believed in me. She insisted I’d experience something called “post-traumatic growth phenomenon.” She encouraged me to keep facing my demons and to write my story. With her cheering me on and with the support of my family and friends, I did. I’m still trying to find the words to tell that particular story, but after about six months of hard work, I started to feel whole again. And, even better, I started to feel like myself—but even stronger.

I got my voice back in 2016, and no one will ever take it from me again.

I lost my great-grandmother, though—my Biz Noni. In October, she passed away after battling dementia. It still hurts so much, especially because I didn’t get to spend as much time with her as I wanted.

A couple weeks later, my great-aunt Gayle had a severe stroke. Thankfully, she survived and has been making fantastic progress. She’s always been strong, but watching her recover has been truly inspiring. She still has a long way to go, and many things will never be the same for her. But I’m grateful that she’s doing as well as she is, because we almost lost her.

I also really struggled with my autoimmune disease. My rheumatologist, who’d diagnosed me with Reactive Arthritis, suddenly left the practice. The rheumatologist who replaced her decided that I couldn’t possibly have any kind of autoimmune disease, and took me off all my meds. Just like every year, I went into a flareup as the weather got colder. It got so bad, I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning or dress myself. After a phone conversation with my rheumatologist where I asked him to please give me a hand up, he took a closer look at me. I’m now taking Prednisone and Plaquenil, and able to get up in the morning, care for myself, and do normal things like dishes. However, I’ve really had to learn to pace myself and be more forgiving of and gentle with myself; I quickly get frustrated with my limitations and lack of mobility.

That didn’t stop me from writing, though. I wrote Just One More Minute, a small town romance novel. Then, as a Christmas special, I wrote a novelette starring the Just One More Minute characters. I also started the last book in the South of Forever series.

Meanwhile, the publisher I was with suddenly closed its doors and, as a result, I became an indie author again. At first it seemed like the absolute worst timing; because of my health, my husband and I have been struggling financially. I suddenly had to self-publish four novels, which meant spending money that I didn’t exactly have. Due to a contract snafu, I also became financially responsible for my publishing team. This was all right before I was supposed to be releasing the third book in the South of Forever series. Thankfully, my team was super understanding and we came to an agreement. Through crowdfunding, I was able to release What Happens on Tour.

I desperately needed to catch up on bills but still couldn’t return to work, so I launched a GoFundMe to get some freelance work. The response was overwhelmingly lovely; not only did I get some work, but many people donated and told me they wanted nothing in return. I hadn’t expected anything, so it was a huge surprise. I can’t even begin to express how grateful Mike and I are.

Toward the end of the year, I decided to cut back on social media. I needed to limit my use of the computer, and through time tracking tools, I realized I was spending hours every day responding to DMs, tweets, Facebook comments and messages, and other social media comments. It was a difficult decision but I had to make room for self-care—and to catch up on work.

I used the last few weeks to get some inventory done. I re-launched the South of Forever series with new covers and put it in Kindle Unlimited for 90 days. I also re-launched my Chick Lit novel, Becoming Natalie (more on that soon). I also wrote a business plan for 2017 and have been working on other things I’ll be able to talk about soon.

I came down with the damn flu, which knocked me on my ass (even though I got my damn flu shot). I nearly missed the Christmas festivities, but thankfully recovered just in time to spend the holidays with some of my family. I’m still dealing with a bit of fatigue, which I think has more to do with my autoimmune disease; I picked up some D3 and B12 this week just in case I’m deficient again. It’s also been pretty cold here in Connecticut, which is wreaking havoc on my joints. I’m snap, crackle, popping away (and it really hurts)!

Still… I feel content. Happy, even. I’m more me than I’ve ever been. Like the Alanis Morrissette song, “I’m broke but I’m happy,” and “everything’s gonna be fine, fine, fine.” I feel strong, and I’m getting better at coping with my chronic illness. With the holidays over, Mike and I are spending more time together. I’ve been slowly connecting with friends and family who I haven’t seen in a long time. Even though I have some concerns about what 2017 will bring, and I don’t know what the future holds for my personal life, health, or career, I do know that 2016 was the year I grew strong.

Whatever happens in 2017, I’m ready.

via GIPHY

10 Questions with Brandon Seifert, Creator of Witch Doctor

Brandon Seifert
Brandon Seifert

I was updating my Textbroker account when I came across this interview I did with Brandon Seifert sometime in 2011—before I’d really even launched my career! I’d long lost the original interview back when my old website blew up (RIP my love 😭), so I was thrilled to find that I’d cross-posted it on Textbroker as a sample. I’d like to do more interviews with creatives, so I figured this would be a great way to kick things off!


Witch Doctor: Volume 1, by Brandon Seifert and Lukas Ketner
Witch Doctor: Volume 1, by Brandon Seifert and Lukas Ketner

Nothing makes me happier than knowing that an author read my review of their book… except for an author agreeing to let me interview them. I thought that you had to have some kind of shiny to be able to interview writers, but it’s always been one of my dreams for this little blog. When I asked Witch Doctor writer Brandon Seifert for an email interview, I figured the worst that could happen was he’d tell me sorry, he was too busy, and he would never know I didn’t have said shiny. I pretty much bounced around the house when he said yes.

Brandon is just as cool as his comic. Seriously; he’s a Joss Whedon fan.

This is the part where I’m supposed to say that I sat down with him at a coffee shop or book store or something, but we actually talked on Twitter and Gmail, and I have no way of knowing whether he was sitting (but I was).

HOW DID YOU AND LUKAS COME UP WITH THE IDEA FOR WITCH DOCTOR? IN #0, YOU KIND OF HINT THAT IT WAS A SPONTANEOUS THING, BUT DID EITHER OF YOU HAVE THE IDEA FLOATING AROUND IN YOUR HEAD BEFORE YOU DECIDED TO WORK TOGETHER?

I had the basic idea for WITCH DOCTOR — jerk doctor who approaches the supernatural with a clinical eye — back in 2002 or so. I’d been thinking about the “occult doctor” kind of characters in supernatural fiction, and wondered why I’d never seen one played like an actual doctor?

When Lukas and I started talking about doing a comic together back in 2007, I started going through my notes — and I found that idea. I immediately started getting more ideas based on it, but the one that really made it all come together was having all the monsters be based on diseases and real biology. Back in 2002 I’d been thinking that some of the monsters would be based on diseases — but no, that was wrong. They all needed to be.

WHICH CHARACTER DID YOU CREATE FIRST, AND WHO OR WHAT INSPIRED THAT CHARACTER?

Like I said, the first character in the project was Dr. Morrow — but I had Penny Dreadful’s name and ideas for her visuals and stuff before anything else. As far as her inspiration goes, I felt like a doctor protagonist needed a nurse sidekick. Penny isn’t much of a nurse these days, and there’s very little of my original ideas for her still present in her visuals — but much of the core of the character is the same.

OF THE THREE, PENNY IS THE MOST MYSTERIOUS CHARACTER, BUT ALL THREE ARE PRETTY INTRIGUING. (I’M DYING TO KNOW HOW ERIC THE PARAMEDIC GOT MIXED UP IN ALL OF THIS!) WILL WE SEE SOME BACKSTORY ON ANY OF THEM IN THE FOUR-ISSUE MINISERIES?

Of the three main characters, the one we delve into the most in the first miniseries is Penny Dreadful — because like you said, she’s the most mysterious! Early on we’re presenting her pretty much as a cipher, but that changes by the end of the miniseries.

Eric’s also got an interesting backstory, and it’s not what you’d expect. Unfortunately we didn’t end up having room to do more than hint at his past before Morrow. I’m hoping we’ll get to tell the story of how he first met Morrow and Penny soon!

WITCH DOCTOR IS HEAVILY INSPIRED BY PARANORMAL LORE, WITH A TWIST. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CLASSIC MYTHICAL CREATURE?

Oh, man — that’s an awesome question!

Huh. Damn. It’s also not something I’ve got a ready answer for!

I’ve done a whole lot of research into folklore and mythology for this project, so a lot of my favorites are things most people probably haven’t heard of. There’s different folklore traditions in different parts of the world that appear in related cultures under different names and with somewhat different traits. Like in the Caribbean and parts of South America, there’s this kind of witch that takes off her skin at night and turns into a ball of light or fire, and feeds off people’s blood or life energy. They’re called Loogaroo in Haiti, Soucouyants in the Dominican Republic and Trinidad and Tobago — and in West Africa, where the idea comes from, they’re called Obayifo. I love those, so I’ll go with that.

IN #0, DR. MORROW ATTEMPTS TO DISSECT VAMPIRES TO SEE IF HE CAN FIND A CURE. WHAT INSPIRED YOUR PARASITIC VAMPIRE?

Honestly, I feel like it was something I came up with back in high school. In high school I was really into role-playing games, but rather than playing them, I mostly came up with new ideas for them and wrote my own supplements. I could swear I came up with some version of a vampire that was basically a corpse animated by a bloodfeeding parasite, pretty much like the WITCH DOCTOR version. The funny thing is, it took me a while into the development of WITCH DOCTOR before I remembered that’s when I first had the idea, it wasn’t some new idea I’d come up with! As far as the direction inspiration, I’m really, really tired of “vampire viruses” in fiction. I wanted to see another infectious take on vampires, without it being a virus.

I WAS CHECKING OUT THE PROMO ART ON THE SITE FROM BEFORE WITCH DOCTOR GOT PICKED UP BY IMAGE/SKYBOUND, AND I HAVE TO SAY, I’M SAD THAT I CAN’T GET MY HANDS ON “FIRST INCISION.” WILL WE EVER SEE THIS STORY OR PIECES OF IT IN THE FUTURE?

Ah, you actually have! WITCH DOCTOR: FIRST INCISION was the first self-published story Lukas and I did together — and when we got picked up by Skybound, we ended up cannibalizing it for WITCH DOCTOR #0. It’s basically the same story as WITCH DOCTOR #0, except the writing and the art isn’t as good, there’s no drama (it’s just the doctor getting his way for 11 pages, and then there’s a fight! I was young and very, very new at fiction writing), and its heavily overwritten! But enough about it worked for us to catch Robert’s eye, so I shouldn’t knock it too hard.

YOUR BIO SAYS THAT YOU’RE A JOURNALIST BY DAY. DID YOU ALWAYS KNOW YOU WERE GOING TO WRITE COMICS, OR DID YOU HAVE ANOTHER PLAN IN MIND?

When I started journalism, I thought that was what I was going to do. But while I like writing articles, I don’t really read magazines or newspapers much — whereas I LOVE comics.

I wanted to write comics back when I was a kid, and when I got into comics again in college that immediately kicked back in. But the comics industry has such a reputation for being hard to get into, I let that discourage me. I didn’t think there was any chance I’d be able to write comics. It wasn’t until I met Lukas and found out he wanted to do comics but needed a portfolio piece, that was when I decided to finally give it a try.

(I’m also no longer a journalist. It didn’t pay the bills — like, any of them. So for the last two years I’ve been a security guard.)

WHICH WRITERS INSPIRE YOU THE MOST?

In comics, Warren Ellis, Matt Fraction, Kieron Gillen. In prose fiction, Douglas Adams, Neal Stephenson, Neil Gaiman, Charles Stross. In film and TV, Joss Whedon and Stephen Moffat.

WHO DO YOU THINK WOULD BE MOST LIKELY TO WIN IN A FIGHT AGAINST LOOGAROO/SOUCOUYANT/OBAYIFO — VINCENT, ERIC, OR PENNY?

Ha! Well, since we’ve got plans to include the Loogaroo/Soucouyant/Obayifo in future stories, that would be telling. (But generally, it’s a good idea to bet on Penny.)

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO ASPIRING WRITERS, ESPECIALLY THOSE LOOKING TO BREAK INTO THE COMIC INDUSTRY?

Honestly, with writing, or comics, or whatever, there’s one thing: You aren’t going to get to do your trade professionally without doing it unprofessionally first. And I mean “unprofessionally” in the sense of “in an amateur” capacity — without getting paid for it — and in the sense of “doing it in a crappy manner.” If you want to do it, you have to go do it. You can’t just sit and wait until someone gives you the OK to get started. In our self-publishing days, Lukas and I got a lot of attention from a handful of publishers — and it was because we were out there, making comics soup-to-nuts, complete with online promotion and hand-selling at cons. If you want to break into comics, you need to make comics, and you need to put them out there. It’s the only way to get noticed, and the only want to hone your craft.

Follow Brandon on Twitter, @BrandonTSeifert, and check out his website at brandon-seifert.com.


Which creators would you like to see me interview? I’m especially interested in marginalized or indie creators who otherwise don’t get a lot of exposure. Let me know in the comments below!

You should also totally check out Brandon’s Witch Doctor, available as a two-book graphic novel series.

NaNoWriMo Week 1 Wrap-Up!

via Unsplash
via Unsplash

The first week of NaNoWriMo is officially behind us now! I have a lot going on in my personal life (nasty flareup, financial stress, very sick relative I’m worried about), so I haven’t been writing as much as I’d like to. Still, I’m pretty proud of what I’ve accomplished so far.

Title: Twisted Broken Strings
Series: South of Forever, Book 4
Word Count Goal: 75,000
Current Word Count: 9,078 10,021

Admittedly, I’d written about 4K before NaNo started. Listen. Every month is National Novel Writing Month for me, okay? My production schedule waits for no NaNo, and all that. I’m just grateful that things fell this way so I can actually participate this year.

😂 I’M A PUBLISHED AUTHOR I DO WHAT I WANT DON’T JUDGE ME 😂

That said, my word count goal for this book is high. 75K?! I tried to whittle it down, I really did. The other SOF books are about 60K each, give or take. But Krista and Perry’s story, well, it needed a little more than that. There’s no way I’ll write 75K by the end of this month, though. Not with the condition my wrists—and the rest of my joints—are in. I do think I’ll hit the NaNo goal of 50K, though. Slow and steady wins this race, my friends. Hell, I’ll even write 54K, just to make up for that 4K I wrote before the official start. 😉

With every novel I write, I try to learn a new technique. Here’s what I’m doing with Twisted Broken Strings! (Possible spoiler alerts, so reader beware.)

  • Giving an antagonist a “save the cat” redeeming quality or two. So far, we’ve come to hate Saul (lead singer of King Riley), and we have a lot of reason to. But we’ve barely gotten to really know him—the real Saul. Krista gives us that perspective. Saul is her brother, and he’s made a lot of mistakes, but she knows he isn’t all bad. She’s just as concerned for him as she is for Jett and Max. I’m hoping that softens him a bit in my readers’ eyes. Krista reflects on good deeds he’s done and her worry for his sobriety (and safety).
  • “We’ll never speak of this again.” I can’t remember the name of this writing technique—brain fog, the horrors!—but basically something happens that the reader and/or other characters aren’t aware of that no one wants to talk about. Between SOF3 and SOF4, South of Forever goes on a regional headliner to promote their EP (and to shake off the disastrous tour with King Riley). This happens off-screen, and during that time, a thing happens that affects the plot of SOF4—a lot. It’s hinted at a couple times, and eventually revealed to the reader so that the reader can commiserate with Krista. This wasn’t part of my original outline, so I’m pantsing the big reveal. After talking with my CP, I determined that I definitely don’t want to reveal it too early… but also don’t want to wait until the very end, either.
  • #OwnVoices. Twisted Broken Strings is my very first #OwnVoices novel—my MC Krista is disabled, like me, dealing with similar struggles I had in college and have now. There’s no magic cure for her at the end; where I’m still undiagnosed, I’ve diagnosed her with Lupus (since that’s a possibility for me), which is an autoimmune disease with no cure. Krista’s Lupus isn’t the main plot, but it impacts the story a lot. It’s simultaneously cathartic and really freakin’ hard to write about this. I really want to show people that just because you don’t “look” sick, it doesn’t mean you’re not struggling—and you can also lead a fulfilling life. I’ve had #OwnVoices supporting characters before, and included bits from different areas of my own life in several novels, but never like this.

So despite gimping along, I’m pretty satisfied with this week’s progress.

How many words have you written so far this week? Tell me where you’re at in the comments below!


ED: I ended up doing some writing today, so I’ve updated this post to reflect my new word count for the week!

5 Last-Minute Tips for Your #NaNoWriMo Novel

via Unsplash
via Unsplash

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short) starts tomorrow, and whether you’re a procrastinator at heart, joining at the last minute, or just coming off another project, you’re totally scrambling. Have no fear! I’ve done a few NaNos—my debut novel was one of my past projects—and as of the 18th I’ll have 10 published novels under my belt, so I’ve got some quick and easy tips for you to make a comeback.

Don’t know what to write about?

Sometimes just coming up with a plot feels impossible. Or maybe you’ve got too many ideas. Try the method I used to write my next release, Just One More Minute.

  • Pull up Google and search for tropes in your favorite genre. (I typed in “romance fiction tropes” and found Mindy Klasky’s super detailed list.)
  • Look through as many lists as possible. Grab a piece of paper and jot down the ones that sound intriguing to you. (I really liked the “enemies to lovers” and “office romance” tropes.)
  • Go through your list. Are there any two or three tropes that might fit together? Do they work with any ideas you might already have?
  • Write up a quick synopsis in one to three sentences using the tropes you’ve chosen.

Bam! You’ve got a novel.

(Need a little more guidance? See this post.)

Need a super simple plot structure?

When I first started writing longer fiction, I booed anything remotely resembling an outline. Too many years having roman numerals driven into my head, I guess. I wrote by the seat of my pants, which was a lot of fun, but I had trouble finishing anything longer than 10,000 words. It wasn’t until I combined plotting and pantsing that I created a process that works best for me.

One thing I’ve found really useful is the classic three-act plot structure. Harlequin has a fantastic breakdown of this, along with a dissection of the movie Mean Girls as an example. There are all kinds of plot structures, but I’ve found the three-act one to work best for me; that way, I don’t try to cram too much into one novel (though I do often have one or more subplots running, and usually have to do some wiggling to work them into the three-act structure).

I especially love how Harlequin explains each section, and I found analyzing Mean Girls really helped clarify things.

Bonus points if you can sneak in a try/fail cycle into your Act II!

Running out of character names?

I have one rule of thumb when it comes to naming my characters: don’t name two characters with the same first letter. I’m a speed reader, so when I’m in the zone, I get really thrown off if there are three characters whose names start with the letter S and five whose names all start with J. I heard somewhere that this isn’t good practice, as most readers get confused. Of course, even if the first few character names come easily, it gets harder and harder to find fitting names.

That’s when I turn to Google and start looking for “popular girls names 2016,” “girls names that start with a c,” or even just “girls names.” I especially like Nameberry and BabyCenter, since their sites are well organized. I just scroll through until I land on something that screams my character to me.

For last names, I tend to jack them from real people I know or have met. I think real last names are more interesting than any you could look up online. (Skimming through “common Puerto Rican surnames,” for example, can get repetitive, but running through my Puerto Rican friends on Facebook gets me some really strong and unique last names.)

Worried you won’t finish?

Find someone who will hold you accountable. Whether it’s a friend, your blog readers, or another writer, tell them what you’re doing, your goal for the month, and how many words you want to write every day. Ask them to check in with you (or, my personal favorite, share your progress with your Twitter followers every evening).

In the past, I’ve even posted chapters on my blog or Wattpad as I’ve written. Having someone cheer you on is extremely helpful.

You can find local NaNoers by choosing a region in your account settings, then visiting the forums and checking the write-in schedule. Even if you never physically make it to an event, you can chat with other writers in your area right in the forums.

You can also add me on NaNoWriMo and follow me on Twitter. 😉

Don’t know how to start?

Sometimes that first sentence can be the most intimidating. Seasoned authors will tell you to “just start,” but it’s often easier said than done. If you’re staring at a blank page and that little blinking cursor is taunting you, try this.

Good novels are born from conflict; it keeps the writer churning out words and the reader turning pages. Instead of starting your book off by laying out the scene, throw your main character and another character right into it. Maybe there’s an argument, or something happens to throw off your protagonist’s entire day before they’ve even left the house. Keep throwing wrench after wrench into their plans, until you’re ready to introduce the main problem.

(Which, by the way, should be done in the first or second chapter.)

If your main character is busy putting out fires, you’ll never be stuck, and you’ll have plenty to work with.

Happy NaNoing!

XOXO,
Elizabeth Barone

Were these tips helpful? Do you have any last-minute NaNo tips? Let me know in the comments below!

5 Things I’ve Learned About Self-Publishing in the Last 5 Years

Signing at the Monte Cristo Bookshop in 2012. Photo by Kate Randall.
Signing at the Monte Cristo Bookshop in 2012. Photo by Kate Randall.

Today marks five years since I started self-publishing, when I hit publish on my award-winning short story, “Moon Prayer.” To this day I still get that feeling of anticipation and excitement when I publish a new book. It’s a feeling that never gets old, one that I think will be familiar throughout the rest of my career. It’s crazy to think that five years is such a short and long time; it’s only a blip on the timeline of a lifelong career, but it’s also the hardest period when starting a new business. And I’ve accomplished a lot.

In the last five years, I’ve:

  • published nine novels, with my 10th coming out next month
  • been signed by a small press publisher (now closed)
  • done several signings at book stores
  • made a lot of lifelong friends
  • done several interviews—including a podcast

Since I want to look back on posts like this, I’d also like to mention what I’m currently working on:

  • My 10th novel, standalone NA romance Just One More Minute, comes out November 18th. It’s part of a duology; the other book is a standalone about another couple.
  • Throughout the next couple of months, I will be writing and editing the fourth book in my rockstar romance, the South of Forever series. I hope to release it in early 2017.

I’m extremely proud of everything I’ve done in the last five years, and I know that the next five will be just as fun. I’ve learned many things so far, but here are a few of the most important.

Self-Publishing is an Agile Business

In this industry, change happens quickly. No one knows the formula to an overnight success, and what catches fire in the market changes with the wind. Billionaires, for example, are out, but small town farmers are totally in. You can write to market or you can write what’s in your heart and wait for the market to catch up. (It will eventually.) In that same sense, marketing tactics come and go, too. Amazon could tweak one algorithm tomorrow and your marketing plan could come crashing down.

It sounds kind of awful, and though it can be, it’s mostly exciting. I’m always looking forward to what changes will occur in indie publishing. New markets are opening all the time (see Joanna Penn’s comments on the booming industry in India and Nigeria), and people and companies are forging ahead with some really cool storytelling innovation (like Radish and Night Vale).

Good or bad, you have to be ready to pivot and apply everything you’re learning to what you’re doing in the trenches. Sometimes I’ve had to make decisions on a whim based on new information. This business has been one of the most exhilarating things I’ve ever done.

Publishing Exclusively With Amazon is Super Risky

You know how your grandma always said “Never put all of your eggs in one basket”? She was right.

Before I started building my empire, I was a web designer. I ran workshops and did presentations all the time, where I advised clients not to rely on free websites or social media—they needed their own domain where they could control everything. Facebook, for example, could change their terms of service at any time, completely destroying everything my client had built. With their own website, though, they owned their content and held the keys.

When I came to self-publishing, I applied this same philosophy to the retailers I sold at. Being wide—avoiding programs like KDP Select—put the control in my hands. Many a horror story has been told on Kboards about authors who were Amazon-exclusive and one single algorithm tweak brought their income to a screeching halt. Kindle Unlimited can be great to get a new author started—you can make a lot of money in a short period of time—but it’s not a good long-term business plan.

If I was a brand new author just starting out, I would release a trilogy straight to KU. After 90 days, I would go wide and stay wide. Then I’d repeat it with my next series. As I started seeing income rise at the other retailers, I would start publishing directly to all of them—skipping KU entirely.

Setting Up Multiple Honeypots is a Great Way to Maximize Your Income

For the longest time, I was lucky to make $10 a month at Amazon. I was publishing short stories, which I later discovered aren’t the best length for steady sales. However, even with shorter works, when I published consistently, I was able to make at least $10 a month at each of the retailers. This multiplied my income, especially once I joined Kobo’s promotions email list (which is now a tab built into the KWL dashboard for select indie authors).

Each retailer has really great assets. Finding and leveraging those strengths to your advantage is the key to success. For example, distributors like Draft2Digital and Smashwords have reps from Apple and Barnes & Noble that will merchandise your books. I’ve even heard of authors who publish direct being contacted by reps and having their books featured. And Kobo’s promotions, as I mentioned, are a fantastic tool for reaching more customers.

But having honeypots doesn’t just mean being wide. It also means finding related streams of income, like writing nonfiction, speaking, and teaching. I even know indie authors who are also ghostwriters. Another honeypot is doing signings, conventions, book festivals, craft fairs, and art shows. Basically anywhere there’s going to be a crowd of people willing to spend money. There are so many avenues and opportunities—especially in this exciting digital age.

It’s Ridiculously Easy to Burn Out Really Quickly

All of this excitement can easily become overwhelming. After all, indie authors have a lot of work to do on any given day, and that can become stressful. It’s even worse when you get a case of comparison-itis. I often find myself comparing myself to other self-published authors, wondering “How come I’m not making a living?” and “Why can’t I write that fast?”

This is why it’s super important to do two things on a regular basis: put things into perspective, and fill the well.

You can’t compare yourself to someone who’s been writing for decades, for example. I catch myself wondering why I’m not more like Tarryn Fisher or Colleen Hoover all the time. In reality, they’ve been self-publishing much longer than I have. It took me a few years to find my voice and niche—I only just started consistently releasing a series last year—so realistically I’m at a completely different place.

I used to try to jump straight from one project to another. It took me some time to figure it out, but I’m much more productive if I take some time off in between and fill the well. This can mean reading a couple of books and binge-watching a series on Netflix. It’s especially beneficial if I just focus on relaxing.

It’s also important to write a business plan and keep strict business hours. I revise my business plan every six months or so, and usually write a separate marketing plan for each book. I only work Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm. It took me a few years to realize that even though I wanted to work a lot of hours and even enjoyed it, those long days were wearing me down. Occasionally I break this rule—like when my publisher closed or when I wrote a novel in two weeks. Otherwise, I’m super careful about how many hours I put in—especially since I have a chronic illness. YMMV.

Writing Doesn’t Have to Be a Solitary Career

The best thing that’s happened to me in the last five years was hooking up with other authors who write in a similar genre. I met J.C. Hannigan back in the day when we were both aimlessly blogging through our twenties. After a few years of me harassing her, she came over to the dark side and started self-publishing too. I call her my “work wife” and love her to pieces. I also happen to adore her books! For a long time, I was pretty much on my own, but when she started self-publishing, I was thrilled to finally have someone I could really talk to.

I met my critique partner, Molli Moran, on Twitter. I liked her a lot right away and fell in love with her books. We chatted more and more frequently, sharing story ideas and marketing tips. Eventually we started swapping manuscripts for beta reading, and it was a perfect fit. It only made sense that we become critique partners.

With these two lovely ladies and the sweet Rebecca Paula, I co-founded Romance Readers Anonymous on Facebook. Just the simple act of coming together to do something nice for our readers keeps the ugly loneliness away, but we also bounce marketing ideas and plots off each other. Our group is so lovely in the sense that we respect and take care of each other. Recently we all realized we were a little overwhelmed and decided to make October a roll with it kind of month, rather than scheduling themed posts and games. It’s so easy with these three ladies and I’m so grateful to have them in my life. Eventually we have got to have a meetup!

The last five years have been quite a ride, but I’ve far from reached my destination. In the next five years, I hope to:

  • be making a full-time income ($5,000 a month is totally all right with me)
  • publish at least two memoirs (one about my chronic illness and the healthcare system, the other about PTSD and the mental healthcare system)
  • have several series in genres ranging across YA, NA, and adult fiction
  • train Dragon or some other speech-to-text program so that I can save my poor wrists 😂
  • be losing my mind because maybe I’ll be trying to write books while raising babies

It’s all within reach, because the magic is already inside of me.


Thank you so much to all of my readers, family, and friends for your unwavering support and love throughout the past five years! This journey has never been easy, and many have doubted me—including myself—but your faith has carried me through. As a thank you for being there, I will be sending my email list a FREE copy of “Moon Prayer”—that award-winning short story that I self-published five years ago.

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