What makes a good writer?

There are a ton of answers to the above question: time, patience, dedication, tried-and-true formulas … however, my favorite response is both simple and appealing.

A good writer must first be a good reader.

Honestly, this approach is how I wrote my first three books – and is probably partially to blame for my difficulties with book four. If you’ve followed along with my blog for any length of time, you’ll know that I’m a voracious reader. I used to brag that I’d read anything and everything, but after utilizing Goodreads for a few years, I’ve realized that I have a definite preference when it comes to what I truly like to read. My genre of choice is young adult fantasy, with a slow increase in young adult contemporary romance (a new development over the last year or so).

It’s not surprising that the genre I write in happens to be YA fantasy. After all, it’s a variation on ‘write what you know’. I’m by no means an expert on YA fantasy, even if I have read a lot of books in that category. It’s more that I focus on creating something I would want to read. I know what I like in my stories – action, tension, character growth – but also magic, fictional races, and medieval societies. I also know what I don’t like: the overused and cliche tropes or the story aspects that annoy me (personally, I’m not a fan of love triangles – which is funny, because I started my first book with one …)

In my opinion, if I don’t want to read what I’ve written, why on earth would anyone else want to? Again, this is where I’ve stabbed myself in the foot with book four: I’m not feeling it. I don’t particularly want to read it, let alone write it. I’m not sure why. Maybe I went a wrong direction with the plot somewhere. Maybe my intended destination for the characters and the story isn’t the correct one.

Am I going to give up? Heck no. Instead, I’m going to take a page out of my reading manual. I’m going to do what I usually do when I can’t get into a specific book; when I know I want to read it, but I just can’t seem to get more than a page read at a time.

I’m going to start another book. 😉

Granted, I’m stubborn when I read too, so don’t be surprised when I go back to the original and force my way through another few pages, because gosh darn it, I like the stupid book, I just can’t seem to get anywhere with it.

Obviously, I’ll be reading constantly during the process. I can’t call myself a good reader if I’m not, well, reading. 😀

This social media thing is hard. =/

Yes, yes. I know. I dropped off the face of the internet.

Again.

I don’t even have a decent excuse this time. Not unless you count my short attention span and tendency to get distracted by the smallest —  oooh, a new library book just downloaded to my kindle! 😉

Okay, I guess extensive reading binges do count as a decent excuse to disappear from social media. Though I’ve been posting ratings and the occasional review on Goodreads, so I guess I haven’t totally dropped off the interwebs. Here’s a brief glimpse of the 74 (yes, seventy four!) books I’ve devoured so far this year:

  • Reread the entire Court of Roses and Thorns series (including the newest installment)
  • Laughed myself silly at:
    • The Upside of Unrequited
    • All The Feels, All’s Fair In Love and Fandom
    • Noteworthy
    • The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You
  • Waited over a month for Geekerella to be available from the library
  • Drooled over the gorgeous writing in Star-Touched Queen
  • Finally read the Grisha trilogy (seriously, why did I wait so long for this?!)

So yeah. I’ve been a bit, uh, preoccupied.

But the one really awesome side effect of all this reading? My creative battery is now fully charged. That means I’m going to dive into Camp Nanowrimo this July!

You heard it here first folks. I plan to have the entire rough draft of my fourth book in the Blessings of Myrillia series completed by the end of July!!!

Stay tuned for updates, progress reports, and maybe even a snippet or two. 😀

P.S. Did you see my epic news in April? UnBlessed is an award-winning novel! Both the paperback and kindle versions now sport a shiny award seal!!!

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If you’re still on the fence on whether you’d like to add this award-winner to your bookshelf, check out the first few pages free here – or read for free on Kindle Unlimited.

Vacation finally comes to an end.

Vacation finally comes to an end.

*cracks knuckles* It’s time for things to get serious around here.

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Now that my major vacations and brain drains are complete, I’m going to be focusing on some major writing.

  • Goal one: get book four fleshed out and ready for some hard-core beta reading.
  • Goal two: if stuck, work on some of my other ‘fluff’ ideas to get creativity flowing again.
  • Goal three: in addition to the above, make reasonable attempts to connect on social media.

That last one is going to be my hardest. Why poor little reclusive authors such as myself are expected to have social anything, I’ll never know. Still, I do like connecting with my fans – so if you have any burning questions (other than when will the next book be ready – I’m working on it!) send them my way! Additionally, if there’s something you might like to see (blog posts, tweets, Instagram photos, or Facebook updates) feel free to share your ideas below.

Thanks, and it’s good to be back again! 🙂

Author resources: the importance of a good editor.

“Duh,” some of my readers might be thinking to themselves. “Of course an author should hire an editor, everyone knows that.” Most aspiring authors know this as well: every self-help book and article about publishing stresses the importance of hiring an editor.

So why this post? Because despite the frequency of this advice that borders on common sense, as a reader, I still run into cringe-worthy grammar mistakes or plot holes.

AND because I made my own mistakes when I started my own writing journey. Granted, I did hire an editor, so I didn’t have cringe-worthy errors in my initial manuscript … but I wasn’t an award-winner either.

However … after reediting and redesigning the cover for my first book, UnBlessed, I now am an award-winning author. Coincidence? I think not.

So what makes an editor good? All editors are good – no, really! The tricky part is getting the right editor for the right job. Originally, I hired a standard copy editor, meaning she focused on grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Great, right?

Yes … and no.

What I truly needed was a content, or substantive, editor: someone to look at the actual story, to dissect my plot and dialogue and point out the weak spots and my bad habits. Which is why I thank my lucky stars that I found my current editor, James Roberts.

My experience with James has been both enlightening and uplifting. I’ve learned so much about my own writing, and relearned many things I’d forgotten from my high school English days. I appreciate his willingness to explain the reasons behind his edits (and I think he enjoys having an author who genuinely wants to improve her writing to make his life easier – but I could be wrong. 😀 ) The best part of working with James, in my humble opinion, is the fact that he comments on what works well in my writing, in addition to the areas that need improvement. I’m not a particularly fragile writer (though my ego hasn’t been thoroughly tested), but it’s heartening to hear the good stuff with the bad.

So, all you authors out there: make sure you get the right editor for the job. If you find one that fits with your personality and writing style, even better. And if you want to try and steal my awesome editor away … you can try. 😉

Travel: caffeine for your creativity

Travel: caffeine for your creativity

Ah, vacation. That wonderful time away from the daily grind, when you don’t have to wake up early for work or stress over mundane issues like whether you have enough time to hit the grocery store before rush hour starts.

But did you know that vacations, especially those that involve travel, can spark your creativity?

While we, as humans, crave the familiar and easily fall into routines, it’s also possible for those same routines to push our creativity into a rut. Think about the most common advice for authors suffering from writer’s block: go for a walk in nature, read a book, work on something else that requires creativity … in other words, step outside of your normal routine. And travelling gives you a chance to do all of the above.

Walk in nature – This is something you could do in your own backyard, but why not drive to a nearby city and immerse yourself in something less familiar? If you can afford to visit another country, that’s even more ideal: because then you get the added benefit of experiencing another culture or a completely unfamiliar climate. Case in point: picture the difference between arid Arizona and the ever-wet-and-cold England.

Read a book – Again, you can do this anywhere. In fact, reading books allows you to travel anywhere you want, no airfare needed. For a real jolt to your creative system, try reading a book set in a different culture/timeperiod, translated from another language, or a genre outside of your normal reading habits.

Work on something else creative – What creative outlet could one indulge in while travelling? The most obvious (and most useful, personally) is photography. I’m by no means perfect, but there are times when something I see just speaks to my imagination … Like this:

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Powis Castle – Powys, Wales

Or this:

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St Michael’s Church – Bath, England

And this:

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Moreton Corbet ruins – Shropshire, England

And the subject isn’t always what inspires me: the colors, the way the light hits, the overall atmosphere … all can be photographed and filed away to be used in future projects.

And don’t forget the experiences travel can give you, if you give it the chance. Take this example, written about a typical bar in England:

The murmur from dozens of voices meld together, creating a low buzz that doesn’t quite mask the sound of creaking floorboards. I unbutton my coat, the extra layer unbearable in the sudden heat of the packed pub. The scent of beer and a salty tang from freshly baked chips fills the air, along with a hint of old dust from the aged building. To the left, a conversation held in varying accents creates an exquisite music, one I desperately want to wrap myself in, to the point I subconsciously mimic their phrases and inflections in my responses.

I don’t know about you, but I can take that one experience – a real experience – and tweak it to fit a tavern scene in just about any fantasy story. And there are dozens of little moments like this that you can use to fuel your creativity. It’s not limited to writing, either! Capture your memories in photos or paintings, with music, or even by knitting a shawl with the coat-of-arms of a legendary knight you fell in love with … the sky, and your imagination, is the limit.

Pulling myself out of the pit.

I have some bad news, and I have some good news. As the type that likes to get the painful stuff out of the way immediately, I’ll start with the bad news.

I’m struggling with writer’s block. 😦

Specifically with Dual Blessed. I’ve gone nearly a month and a half without any idea of how I’m going to get from the beginning to the end. I’ve got a good start, and I know how I want it to end … but that middle is like an empty blank wall.

The good news?

I think I’m finally starting to tear down that wall. I did some heavy adjustments the day before yesterday, and after removing a couple of unnecessary scenes (cute ones, but ultimately unnecessary and probably the source of my stagnant plot) I jotted down a couple of new ideas to explore.

I’m still going to take things slowly – I don’t want to force the story. I want a satisfying resolution, one that meets my high standards and sets the book above the previous installments, and I hope my readers do too. It may mean this last volume is delayed a little bit, but I promise you: I’ll make sure it’s worth the wait.

Back from the Abyss

Well, friends, National Novel Writing Month is drawing to a close …

How did I do?

Not so great. In fact, I almost considered giving up halfway through. But a wonderful friend told me, “Only losers give up, and you are not a loser.” So with her encouragement, I adjusted my goal to simply write every day and build a good habit to carry into next month and the next and so on. And that, I’m glad to say, I managed to successfully accomplish.

But that’s not the only reason I’ve come out of social media hibernation.

After showering you all with several teasing hints, today – finally – marks the release of my holiday short story collection! Behold, I give you …

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Isn’t it glorious? Here’s what it’s about:

Ever wondered how your favorite fantasy characters celebrate the holidays?

In this special two-story collection, you’ll journey to Myrillia to find out!

Set during the events of Fire Blessed, the second volume of the Blessings of Myrillia series, readers will catch an unseen glimpse into the lives of two popular couples.

Marius and Renelle’s complicated relationship makes their everyday lives tricky, but when they’re expected to celebrate their first Solstice together, things turn out a little differently than they expected.

Meanwhile, Kisara is experiencing her first Solstice among the Transeatur and discovers a major difference in how her race and theirs celebrate the holidays. Her resulting preparations are a disaster-filled adventure that ends with a surprising – and heartwarming – gift exchange.

Cute, huh? I bet you want to know how to get your own copy, am I right? Well, you can pick up a copy for just 99 cents at Amazon!

Or, if you subscribe to my newsletter, you can get a copy absolutely free. It’s my way of saying ‘Thank you!’ to all the wonderful people supporting me. Don’t worry, I don’t spam my newsletters – in fact, I sent my last one back in June. You can sign up here or on my Facebook page.

In other news …

Okay, after my panicked post about my forgotten Virtual Con, I’ve decided to come back and give you guys a real blog post. At least, one that’s not quite so spastic and maybe shares a little bit of what I’ve been up to these last few weeks.

First, I attended the Texas Teen Book Festival on October 1st with a few of my good friends.

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Celaena Sardothien (me), Dauntless initiate Olivia, Leigh Bardugo, Kendare Blake, and Sabaa Tahir. Best. Book. Festival. Ever.

Now, I attended the Texas Book Festival last year … but the Texas Teen Book Festival is apparently my true calling. Not only did I recognize over half of the authors at the Teen Festival (as opposed to the one I knew at the regular festival) but the gym where they had the vendors and friends of the festival was jam-packed with titles I’ve read (or want to read) … and Owlcrate was even there! They had this awesome spin-the-wheel game for free loot. (I won a book – and got there before their free totes ran out. 😀 ) I managed to get three books signed: A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir, Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, and Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. My one complaint (which is good natured, I assure you) is the length of time I had to wait in line to get my books signed. I missed out on a lot of panels I really wanted to see because the lines were ridiculous – especially for Sabaa Tahir and Leigh Bardugo. Curses to the explosive nature of YA popularity! Ah well, it was great meeting everyone … and to put the icing on an already awesome experience, I managed to win the costume contest! Well, one of the prizes. I wasn’t at the actual winners announcement (I was in line for Leigh) but someone hunted down my friends and told them I won. So I’m going to say I won. Yay, me!

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I am Celaena Sardothien, and I will not be afraid.

In related news, I started reading Six of Crows while waiting in the signing lines (because, I mean, what better time to read than at a book festival?) and guys: I’m officially obsessed. Maybe not quite Throne of Glass obsessed, but holy cow is it close. I should not love Kaz, there’s a very good reason the other characters call him a demon, but I do. The scene on the ship? With the oyster knife? Gave me the heebie jeebies … and I loved every minute of it! I guess I just love dark, flawed characters. Dark flawed characters capable of doing horrific things … like Celaena in Crown of Midnight with Grave. So yeah, now I have Crooked Kingdom, cause I finished Six of Crows and had a fit over the cliffhanger – and now I’m hoping there’s at least a semi-happy ending. It’s great that it’s only a duology (I know there won’t be any suspense at the end of this one), but at the same time, if things don’t wrap up neatly, then I’ll have no hopes to cling to. Does Leigh normally sink ships? I mean, she wouldn’t write the epic romance sub-plots just to kill someone in the end, right? I do NOT want a Romeo and Juliet!

Okay, enough about the book festival. Why don’t I share some news about my writing? 😀

I have officially finished the first drafts of both my short stories and sent them off to beta readers for analysis. Newsletter subscribers should keep their eyes on their inboxes starting November 1st for a special free sneak peek. Yes, the newsletter is still a thing, even though I haven’t posted since June. I promised not to spam you guys, didn’t I? I adhere strictly to the ‘If I don’t have something relevant and important to say, don’t say anything at all’ mindset. Granted, this is probably why I’ll never be a NY Times bestselling author … but at least you know if I am, you’ll hear about it in my newsletter. 😉

Other exciting news: thanks to an impromptu vacation, I’m going to be doing some extensive writing over the next week! Goals are to get the final book in the Blessings of Myrillia fleshed out and maybe – just maybe – work on a new little project that’s invaded my brain.

Birthday wrap up and back to the grinding stone … or laptop, I guess.

Birthday wrap up and back to the grinding stone … or laptop, I guess.

I’ve finally reached the end of my ‘bursting with awesomeness’ timeframe. At least until the end of October, when I start gearing up for the whole Halloween, BlizzCon, Thanksgiving, Christmas excitement. But for now, my new World of Warcraft expansion is out (and it’s EPIC), the contest results are back (not-so-epic), I’ve met one of my favorite authors (BEYOND EPIC), and celebrated my birthday (happy birthday to me!)

I mentioned in my last post that I’m enjoying Legion. I’ve now gotten one character to max level, and I’m astounded by the amount of end-game content available. Normally, I’m a bit of an alt-oholic (meaning I play a lot of characters), but it’s pretty hard to tear myself away from my druid when there’s still so much left to do. Heck, I’ve barely unlocked world quests!

What you might not know is that on September 7th, I got to meet Sarah Maas: author of the Throne of Glass and Court of Thorns and Roses series. Let me just say that I adore her writing. I discovered her books the year after her debut novel released and was immediately hooked. Her world building is stellar, her characters are eerily realistic and identifiable, and the way she paints her setting is perfect – as in, I utterly idolize her ability to weave description seamlessly into the story, and hope to one day create books half as good as hers. I pre-order everything she puts out, and I haven’t been disappointed yet.

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And I got to meet her! Like, listen to her talk about her journey and inspirations and writing habits … and (theoretically) talk to her while she personally signed her new release for me. I say theoretically because I was so excited/nervous/starstruck that, even though I rehearsed my lines beforehand, all I could do was babble like a weirdo when I was finally in front of her. As in I told her ‘You’re such an inspiration!’ about nine times – and that’s about it. Ugh, why do I have to be such a fangirl? That and I felt the need to explain why I brought her a gift: though I don’t think I explained it very well. Again, all coherent thought flew out of my head when I got to the signing table. (And no: it wasn’t bribery or anything. Her writing is an incredible gift, in my opinion, and I wanted to give her something in return.)

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As if Legion and meeting Sarah Maas wasn’t enough excitement, I also celebrated my birthday on Monday. My coworkers surprised me with great balloons and awesome gifts, as did all my family and friends. (Well, minus the balloons – my boss was the only one cool enough to give me balloons 😀 ) So basically, I’ve been walking on clouds and rainbows for the past month. (Translation: I’m incredibly happy.)

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Now that all the fun is over (for now), I’m diving back into my writing. Yay, right? I know I’ve got a few fans out there desperate for the final installment of the Blessings of Myrillia. I assure you guys, I’m working on it! In the meantime, you can look forward to not one, but two super-cute short stories set within Myrillia. Stay tuned for more information – but I can tell you they’ll be out this holiday season. 😉

I have a confession to make.

The last week and a half of August, I failed miserably at my August goals. As in, zero book reviews and zero pages written. *smacks hand* Bad Crystin.

Honestly, I should have known better. The last week of August had a TON of fantastic and exciting things that I was waiting for, and I literally could not concentrate on anything for more than five minutes. I even had to stop drinking caffeine at work because I was bouncing off the walls without it. (Needless to say, my coworkers found me equally amusing and annoying.)

So what was I so hyped about?

First, the new World of Warcraft: Legion expansion released on August 30th … Ooh, and let me tell you, it’s incredible. I’ve wanted a demon hunter since I saw the cinematic with Illidan back in Burning Crusade (which is when I started playing, for those who want to know). Granted, I know that I’m easy to please, but Blizzard did not let me down: not only does demon hunter rock, I’m thoroughly enjoying all the new content and changes and little hidden gems. In fact, you’re all lucky I surfaced long enough to confess where I’ve been the last … has it already been three days? Oh well. At least I’ve been a responsible adult and still gone to work. 😉

However, Legion wasn’t the only thing I was excited about. Unfortunately, item number two resulted in a minor disappointment. Some of you may remember that I entered my second book, Fire Blessed, into the Reader’s Favorite International Book Award Contest. The results were announced on September 1st – sadly, my book didn’t place. Still, I received a glowing five-star review (which is pretty awesome) and I’ve added the books that did win to my TBR, so that I’ll get an idea of what the judges are looking for in future. Overall, I feel it’s been a positive experience, so I’m not particularly depressed or upset. I’ll just have to try harder next time: the way I look at it, I’ve already ‘not won’ once, so the worst has already happened.

Now I just have to keep trying until I succeed. Because I’m not gonna lie: I want a shiny award sticker on my books one day. 😀