Never Give Up

Whatever you're writing, wherever you are in the writing process or in your career, I have two pieces of advice for you:

  1. Finish the book
  2. Don't ever give up.

Nobody said this writing life was going to be easy. I don't need to tell you about the obstacles – you already know what they are. Only you know how strong your personal demons are and how much energy it takes to overcome them every time you sit down to write. Only you know how hard it is to summon up enough faith to send out one more query. Only you know how deep and dark your doubts are when you're wide awake in the middle of the night.

Don't let any of this stop you. If you have the passion, if writing is the one thing that makes you feel fully alive and present in this world, then you must keep on.

Write on the days when the words flow as easily as water. Write on the days when it feels like every word has to be dredged up from your toenails. Write on the days when you feel like the painted ship upon a painted sea, when words are sludge and hope is gone and you know for certain that nobody in their right mind will ever read this tripe you're smearing on the page.

Some of you are doing Nanowrimo this month. Maybe you're blazing trails and have left that 50k word count goal in the dust. Maybe what you're writing is sheer brilliance and you are riding a writing high. But if you happen to be three weeks into Nanowrimo and your word count is falling behind, don't give up. Keep writing. If you can't quite make the word count, focus on making a word count.  If the end of November comes along and you've only got twenty-thousand words, or ten, that's more than you had at the beginning of the month. Keep going. Don't let some airy-fairy idea of failure make you stop.

If you're above ground, if you're still writing, you haven't failed.

And when you finally finish your draft and you read it and you're sure it totally sucks, see if you can make it better. Then move on and write another book. And then another and another. Focus on making every new book better than the last.

I'm not saying you shouldn't revise the sucky draft. You probably should. Most first drafts are wormwood and despair. They need a lot of work to turn them into masterpieces. By the time I'm done revising and rewriting, I generally have as many words in what I call my "Darlings" file as there are in the finished novel.

But there is a danger in getting fixated and stuck on one novel. I see writers working on the same book forever and ever, like they're Sisyphus pushing that damned boulder up the hill, day after day after day. The energy leaks out of the book, or it becomes a convoluted mess. The writer lives in a state of desperation and despair. This is not good for either book or writer.

Sometimes you have to step away for a bit. Find a new idea. Write another book. And then another one. Every book will teach you something new about your craft and lead you closer to mastery. And then, maybe, one day, you'll go back to that sucky Nanowrimo draft and realize you now have the skills you need to fix it.

Look what I ran across the other day:



Notice the date. Yep. Dead Before Dying was written five years ago, and is just now on its way to publication. Since the time that draft was completed I've written four other books and three novellas. Dead Before Dying had to wait its turn until I'd figured out what it needed. That first draft was a mess. The POV was all wrong. It didn't fit any genre category known to humanity. And Maureen, my feisty lead character, wasn't even in it.

I didn't know any of that. All I knew was that something was wrong with it. I never abandoned it - I always knew I would come back to finish it. But I had to go build some writing chops on other projects.

My point with all of this is exactly what I said at the beginning. Whatever you're writing now? Finish it. And then write something else.

Don't stop.

Don't give up.

Writers write. You are a writer. So go do the thing you're here in this world to do, and don't let anything or anybody stop you.


Ten Tips for Staying Healthy

Writing is never easy, but when you're sick? That sneezing, sniffling, aches, pain, and fever thing is death to eloquent words and brilliantly devised plots. Your brain gets stuck on thoughts of, will I ever breathe again? and I want my mommy. You take a pill or swallow some nasty tasting liquid out of a bottle that promises to make you function like a rock star, but all you get is a medicine head and, if you're lucky, a nose that drips instead of flowing like a garden hose.

I don't know about you, but the only things I excel at when I've caught a bug are whining and moaning. Well, and maybe sneezing. I'm a fabulous sneezer.

It could be said that the experience of illness will allow you to write this state more realistically if any of your characters are taken sick, but I'm willing to guess you've already been there, done that, and don't really need to do it again.

The good news is that there are things you can do to bump up your immune system during the colder, darker days of winter, so that you are less likely to play host to the tiny, evil, opportunistic organisms swarming around you.

  • Don't rely on the flu shot. I'm an RN in a clinic, and I often encounter patients who are shocked, appalled, and even angry that the flu shot did not prevent them from getting sick. Here's the thing: the flu shot will only provide protection from the flu, and only from certain strains of the flu. It's not going to help you out at all with colds and other viruses and bacteria. It's important to know that the flu shot only provides immunity to whatever strains the experts predict will be most prevalent during a particular year. Last year, the formulation was way off target and pretty much useless. I'm not saying don't get one, I'm only saying don't rely on it as your only means of protection.


  • Wash your hands. I can hear you saying, "Yeah, yeah, we know." Well, I'm telling you again. Wash 'em. Frequently. Colds and flu viruses can be spread through tiny droplets that hang in the air, but you are much more likely to catch the disease by touching an object covered in viruses and then transferring them to a mucus membrane (eyes, lining of nose, mouth). Objects that are reservoirs for the bugs that can make you sick—doorknobs, for example, and little kids—are known as fomites. (I figured, as writers, you would like to know this word.) Somebody with a cold blows their nose, then opens the door. An hour later you come by and put your hand, all unsuspecting, on the doorknob. Then your eye itches. And bingo – you've provided a colony of little viral immigrants with a new home. You could do the Howard Hughes thing and never go outside your door without gloves and a mask. You could scrub the skin off your hands and spend all of your free time sterilizing every possible fomite you encounter. But then you wouldn't have time to write. Besides, a healthy immune system does an amazing job of fighting off intruders, and there are things you can do to help out.


  • Cut back on your sugar intake. Sugar is an immune damper and leaves you more susceptible to invasion by the microscopic barbarians. I know this is a tough one for writers – most of us love to snack while writing, to keep the words flowing. We use treats as incentives and to honor goals completed. We comfort ourselves with ice cream and chocolate when we're faced with bad writing days, rejection, and low sales numbers. Candy. Cookies. Pie. I'm drooling over here. I'm not suggesting to cut these things out all together – they are delicious and life is short. But make a choice to cut back and choose a healthier snack when you can.


  • Get some Vitamin D in your day. If you're pale skinned and live in the western hemisphere, chances are good that you're Vitamin D deficient. Vitamin D plays an integral role in a healthy immune system, so you might want to consider getting a good supplement. D3 is better than D2. Of course, if you can get plenty of sunshine that works, too. But winter days, for most of us, are short and dark.


  • Manage your stress. Chronic stress has all sorts of negative effects on the body, and I'm not going to begin to address all of them here. Suffice it to say that the primary stress hormone, cortisol, can negatively impact your immune system when there is too much of it floating around. The life of a writer is full of stressors. All of us are balancing writing with a busy schedule, hitting deadlines, and dealing with rejection, and this takes its toll.  Anything that relaxes you and calms the stress response (except for alcohol, unfortunately), is good for your immune system. Take a leisurely walk, preferably somewhere in nature. Get a massage. Read a book – for pleasure. Critique reads are often stressful in one way or another. Soak in the bathtub. Engage in music or art. Try Yoga and meditation, as these are both fabulous stress reducers. Think you don't have time? Think again. A recent study indicated that just 3-5 minutes a day of meditative breathing dramatically lowered the stress hormones in the body.


  • Get a reasonable amount of sleep. I know, I know. You've got word count goals. Deadlines. Nanowrimo. But if you get sick, you're going to lose a ton of productive writing time. Writing is usually a marathon, not a sprint. Conserve your energy. If you suffer from insomnia, make sure to consider stress management, since that is one of the major culprits in a sleepless night.


  • Consider immune boosting supplements. The jury is still out on whether taking Vitamin C, Garlic, Zinc, Vitamin B, Echinacea, and other supplements is helpful to the immune system or not. It's possible we'd just be better off eating a well-balanced diet rich in a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. I'll admit, research evidence or not, that the minute I start feeling a tickle in my throat I grab a bottle of Sambucol Black Elderberry and slug it straight out of the bottle. I'll also argue vehemently that it works.


  • Exercise regularly. We all know that a healthy body is more likely to have a healthy immune system. Exercise also happens to be a fabulous stress buster and one of the best defenses against depression. It's easy to not have time for this - trust me, I know. My schedule is crazy and I totally understand that a lot of us do not have time to go to the gym everyday. But I'm suggesting that you walk when you can. Park in a spot on the far side of the parking lot instead of searching for a space close to the door. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Do what you can.


  • Laugh. If nothing funny is presenting itself, go look for things. Watch funny clips on YouTube. Seek out the Twitter and Facebook people who post things that make you laugh. Watch funny TV. The old saying "laughter is the best medicine" came to be for a reason. Laughing has all kinds of crazy health benefits, actually, and one of them is a boost to your immune system.


  • Tend to your relationships. Recent research shows that the health of our relationships has an enormous impact on our immune systems. Like a lot of research, I read this and said, "Well, duh." There is no greater stress than a relationship that is all in tangles. Sometimes the solution is as simple as walking away from a toxic friendship. Often, it's not so easy. Important relationships often demand - and deserve - hard work to sort things out. To which I say, do the work. Your body will thank you for taking action.

Finding Your People

The Viking says I need a new travel agent. This business of flying into Spokane at 11 pm and then traveling home over dark, deserted highways filled with suicidal deer has got to change. I tell him if it is the price I must pay to engage in a conference like Colorado Gold, then I am willing, even if it does leave me shuffling around for days like a zombie with a big, red, "recharge battery NOW" sign blinking where my brain should be.

This year, as usual, the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers crew put on a fabulous conference: great classes, wonderful speakers, along with opportunities to talk to industry professionals and get books signed by awesome authors.

But for me, what made the conference spectacularly awesome was hanging out with other writers. I skipped interesting and informative classes to talk to writers. I stayed up way past my bedtime and functioned on minimal sleep in order to spend time hanging out with writers. I even skipped coffee once or twice in order to talk to writers.

I'm a full on introvert, and this is not my usual modus operandi. My forays into social events tend to be infrequent and brief. Not because I'm shy, but because I usually find gatherings of people draining and exhausting. Besides, my life is bursting at the seams with writing and other things I need to get done.

I tell myself I don't have time for anybody outside of my immediate family.

This is a comforting little lie that allows me to feel like a better human.

The truth is, I don't have time to hang out with people who want to talk about shoes and clothes and kitchens and the latest reality show on TV. And I don't really care which movie star is cheating on his spouse or which singer just got pregnant. Sometimes at a party I'll catch my eyes glazing over as I realize that I'm terribly, horribly, bored.

But give me people who want to talk philosophy, writing, personality typing, how to get things done, book ideas, character development, publishing industry news - and I light up like a prairie sunrise.

Where I'm going with all of this, I guess, is that it's important to find our people. Even those of us who are hard core introverts need a tribe – or a herd, as Susan Spann so eloquently put it during her Writer of the Year speech at Colorado Gold. We need people to spark new ideas for us, to believe in us, to support us. We need people to encourage us when the publishing industry looks like a Sharknado, or when the book we're writing sucks so bad we can't bear to even look at the page.

And we need the experience of being the person who offers support and encouragement, along with the understanding that even our seemingly boring little lives can be a catalyst and inspiration to somebody else.

Fortunately, we don't have to wait for conferences to be a part of this experience. Check your social media feeds and find the writers who are interesting and supportive. Or, for that matter, non-writers with whom you share interests. And remember that you have the power to shape your own social media world – you can let in the members of your tribe and lock out the others. Life's too short to spend it either bored or alone.

Creating Dynamic Characters

Well-developed characters make for great reading, but also for fun writing. It's such an amazing feeling when a character wakes up and starts doing stuff without a lot of direction from me.

As you've probably noticed, there are a thousand-and-one approaches to character development. A lot of writers use work sheets that ask for details ranging from eye color and shoe size to favorite song and which high school the character graduated from. I think these sheets are awesome, but since I am not  detail oriented and get easily distracted, I have yet to complete one. Inevitably I get bored and wander off to write something more exciting.

I honestly don't have a conscious process for creating my characters. Usually, when I sit down and start writing they kindly show up and start talking. I don't consciously sit down and plot out what kind of character they are going to be.

But, I have a background in mental health and I suspect my subconscious is in on the game and kindly supplying me with information. When I stop to think about it and try to analyze my process, I realize that I am relying on a few basic principles.

  1. I make sure the character has a cohesive personality. Are they an introvert or an extrovert? Somebody who is intuitive and flexible, or somebody who likes rules and structure and routines? Do they talk a lot, or prefer to keep things to themselves? Then I make sure that they stick to this, unless there's a damn good reason for them to break away from their usual behavior.
  2. What is the character's defining life event? Here I am talking about those experiences we go through that change us forever. Most of us have a number of these, but there is often one particular occurrence that changes everything. Pay attention to your friends and family, really listen, and you'll often hear it. Look for the "before" and "after" type words for your clues: Before the divorce … After the accident… Ever since I was diagnosed with… People tend to mark everything in their lives by this one defining event.
  3. I also pay attention to core values. What is most important to your character. Family? Independence? Success? Belonging? Individuality? Once you know what these are, you can really up the stakes in your plot by throwing your character into a situation where there most deeply chereished values are threatened and tested.

For example, in my paranormal mystery, Dead Before Dying, (releasing Feb. 9 from Diversion Books) Paranormal Investigator Maureen Keslyn's top value is independence, followed closely by a love of personal challenge, and pursuing justice. In this story she's about to turn sixty, has recently been injured on the job, and is physically vulnerable for the first time in her life. She's also facing a situation where someone or something is killing off elderly people in a nursing home. This set up makes it easy to set up suspense and emotional tension and keep it going throughout the book.

I'll be talking more about character development at the workshop I'll be co-presenting with the Heather Webb at the Colorado Gold Conference. Hope to see you there!


Meet Agent Melissa Jeglinski

Interview with Agent Melissa Jeglinski
By Kerry Schafer

I'm always excited to meet another member of The Knight Agency, which happens to be home base for me. I had a fabulous time with Lucienne Diver last year at Colorado Gold, and this year I'm looking forward to meeting Melissa Jeglinski in person.

Let's begin with a short bio:

"A graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania, where she majored in English with a writing concentration, Melissa began her career as an editor with Harlequin Enterprises. Looking to work with a variety of authors and genres, she joined The Knight Agency in 2008. With over two decades experience in the publishing industry, Melissa has fostered her clients to National prominence including a recent Newbery Honor. She is a member of RWA and AAR. Melissa is currently seeking projects in the following areas: Romance (contemporary, category, historical, inspirational) Young Adult, Middle Grade, Women’s Fiction and Mystery."

Me: Thank you, Melissa, for taking the time to answer questions! Let’s start with genres that interest you. If the Perfect Manuscript landed in your inbox tomorrow, what would it look like?

Melissa: Oh, that’s a tough one because I want so many things. But it would most likely be a contemporary romance that is so different from anything I’ve read lately.  It will have a strong heroine with a unique past. She will not be returning to her hometown or have inherited anything. She will have a cat instead of a dog. The hero will be more than just the nice guy next door and still super sexy. Maybe he’s got all the kids but is doing well as a single dad so that’s not why he needs the heroine in his life. The writing is smooth, storyline is steamy, great cast of secondary characters. It has a happy ending, of course, but I’d love to cry while reading it as well. I’ve never not offered on a project that made me cry.

Me: What other types of projects are you looking for right now?

Melissa: I love romance but I’m specifically looking for: contemporary, inspirational, category, western. Middle Grade, really open to any genre except fantasy. Cozy mysteries with a unique setting.

Me: How agents relate to the rapidly changing publishing landscape is a hot topic for a lot of writers. Where do you stand on this? Have you ever signed somebody who has been publishing independently? Any thoughts on “Hybrid Writers” and how you, as an agent, would fit with that model?

Melissa: I’m open to working with Hybrid Writers as long we are communicating with one another about what’s going on. I have been lied to about what clients were doing outside of their contracted work through me and when trust is lost, it’s very difficult to regain. I am not currently interested in taking on a self-published author’s subrights because it doesn’t offer a great payoff for the time required. If they were to come to me with a new project, I’d be very open to taking a look but right now, I’m not wanting to place a previously published work.

Me: A really great agent/writer relationship is about so much more than genre and writing - what other qualities are you looking for in your Ideal Client?

Melissa: The agent/client relationship needs to be professional but also pleasant. So I need to genuinely like my clients and they should feel the same way about me. Our relationship works best when the client feels like they can really talk to me and ask questions and when they don’t get upset when I offer constructive criticism. Most of all, honesty is key. They have to keep me in the loop with every project, with deadlines, issues with their editor.  I am honest about feedback, sales, etc.

Me: Since agents are Human Beings (Yes, it’s a little known fact, but I think we can talk about it here) you all seem to operate a little bit differently. Can you talk about how you interact with your clients? For example, do you do a lot of editing, or expect that your writers will take care of that themselves? Are you a phone person or do you stick mostly to email? Is there a fair bit of chatter between you and your authors, or do you stick to As Needed communication only?

Melissa: I’m a fairly hands-on agent.  With my editorial background, I can’t not offer editorial advice and they should want that from me, otherwise we wouldn’t be the right fit.  I am probably best via email as I can respond quicker that way but I do set up phone chats when needed.  I welcome communication from my clients but they understand that I can’t always respond ASAP and that weekends are my time and I will get back to them first thing Monday morning.

Me: Do you have time to read for pleasure? If so, could you tell us about a book you’ve read recently that you really enjoyed?

Melissa: Honestly, I haven’t read for pleasure in so long but I just picked up LIFE IS SHORT by Dr. Jennifer Arnold and Bill Klein, TLC’s Little Couple.  I enjoy a good biography because they’re not something I represent and I like to read outside my wheelhouse so I’m not comparing it to clients’ work or what is waiting in my submissions box.

Me: What’s the best way for writers to approach you at conference? Scheduled pitch appointments only, or are you open to “elevator pitches” in other appropriate locations and situations? (Note to agent-seeking writers: Appropriate locations excludes the bathroom. Really. Don’t do this. Appropriate situations excludes barging in on a conversation an agent is having with another writer, or when she is clearly busy)

Melissa: I’m definitely open to people coming to talk to me at a conference. If they see me sitting alone or maybe in a big group, feel free to join us. If I want to be left alone, I’ll be up in my room, not somewhere public. I go to conferences to meet potential clients so I’m always wanting to hear what writers are working on. I’ll ask you what you're writing, so don’t feel you have to have a perfect pitch ready. I like it to be a natural part of the conversation; I know pitch appointments can be really tough for some people.

Me: Last, but also very important. Coffee, Tea, or Something Other? And will we find you hanging out at the bar?

Melissa: Coffee, definitely coffee.  Of course you will find me hanging out at the bar—the best place to meet new people.

So there you have it, conference goers! When you see Melissa Jeglinski at the bar, feel free to start a conversation! Especially if you've got the manuscript for a romance that can make her cry but still find its way to a happy ending.

Surviving the Social Media Time Suck

By Kerry Schafer

When I first started dallying with Social Media it was all about fun and moral support. I didn't know you were "supposed to" have a blog, or a Twitter feed, and I wasn't on Facebook at all. I didn't have any finished manuscripts, let alone an agent or a publishing contract or any of those professional writing career things. My whole goal for my internet time was to find a writing community. In those early days, I wasn't even me – I was Uppington Smythe, and I loved the freedom that came from knowing real world people wouldn't ever know who I was.

Somewhere along the line one of my blogger friends dropped this casual little bomb onto my screen:

"Join us on Twitter dear, it only takes a few minutes."

Cool, I thought. And I did. It was a good move, joining Twitter, and one I don't regret. The connections I made and the things I learned led in turn to an agent and a contract and what is beginning to feel like a real career as a writer.

But it also sucked up a hell of a lot more than a few minutes a day. The more people I met online, the more I learned, the closer I got to publication, the more complicated my online world became. I realized that for the sake of "platform building" I needed to stop being Uppington and be Kerry Schafer, so that when I met people at conferences or submitted query letters to agents maybe they'd actually know who I was. I joined Facebook, because, you know, one Social Media account is not enough. And then, when my Between books were acquired, the need for an online presence exploded.

There was the mandatory Author Website, on which I must blog regularly. A Facebook Author Page, on which I must post regularly. Pinterest Account! LinkedIn. Instagram. Goodreads Author Page. Amazon Author Page. Oh, and let's not forget the Fascinating and Value Added Newsletter, so full of exciting goodies that all of my readers will haunt their computers waiting for it to drop into their inboxes!

Right. I have a newsletter. I also have great intentions of running monthly drawings, sending out free short stories, writing book reviews, and making other wonderful contributions to the lives of my subscribers. The truth is, I send that puppy out when I've got something exciting to say, like a new contract or a book release. I blog once in a blue moon, when I have news or am sufficiently driven by guilt. I enjoy Twitter and Facebook, so those are pretty easy maintenance except for the Facebook Author Page, which seems pointless since Facebook has decided not to show those pages to anybody anymore unless money changes hands. But still, it's there, and I feel responsible for it, sort of like it's a sad little flower in my garden that I keep forgetting to water.

And now, as if this isn't all enough, I have a new contract for my first novel of Women's Fiction, and since I'm new to the genre and the publisher doesn't want to confuse my fantasy readers, I now have the pseudonym of Kerry Anne King. I'm excited about all of this. But it means a new Twitter account, a new Facebook page, and there should probably be another dedicated author website. I haven't even considered the new Goodreads and Amazon pages.

Don't get me wrong. I'm over the moon excited to be moving forward with my writing career. But there's always a fly in the ointment, as the old saying goes. I want to WRITE ALL THE BOOKS. And how am I to do this and work at my day job if I'm also supposed to be cultivating all of the mandated Social Media Sites?

If you came to this post hoping I had the Magic Bullet Answer to this writer problem, I'm afraid I'll have to disappoint you. In truth, I'm hoping maybe some of you have ideas to share. All I've got to offer is a firm conviction that the writing must come first. If there is no writing there are no books, and if there are no books then there's no point in pursuing Social Media beyond the point of fun and entertainment.

I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions, so speak up and tell me how you're handling the platform building.

The Sane Writer: Social Media Containment

By Kerry Schafer

Social Media is a wonderful thing. It allows us to connect with others of like mind who live at a distance. It can foster creativity, spur us on to reach our goals, provide both education and entertainment.

It's also chock full of emotional land mines.

The infamous Facebook experiment is a case in point. If you managed to miss the news on this one, Facebook deliberately controlled the positive and negative posts on the feeds of some randomly selected users for a week, as an experiment. This is what happened:

"The researchers found that moods were contagious. The people who saw more positive posts responded by writing more positive posts. Similarly, seeing more negative content prompted the viewers to be more negative in their own posts."

You can read more about it here if you wish.

Really, the results of this experiment aren't surprising. For some reason, we seem to forget that the Internet isn't artificial intelligence. It's created by human beings. And social media, in whatever form, is human beings - the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Most of us are pretty aware that if we're hanging out with negative, toxic people we're going to feel the emotional effects of that. If we hang out with supportive, enthusiastic people we're likely to feel better. But for some reason we're surprised that social media can influence our emotions.

And what influences our emotions is going to have an impact on our writing. Maybe it will inspire us, lift us up, increase our creative flow and help us be better writers. Or, maybe, it will make us feel depressed, hopeless, jealous, and all of those other negative things that get between us and our keyboards.

The good news is that it's much easier to control Social Media than the social aspects of our real life worlds. If you've got a co-worker who perpetually rubs your fur the wrong way and makes you wish you could flame like a dragon, chances are you're just going to have to deal with that unless you want to find another job. And family members, unless they are so toxic that you need to take the radical step of severing ties, are there for life.

But social media is a different story. Some virtual friends really are friends in all the ways that matter. But be honest now - how many people on your Twitter and Facebook feeds are you truly connected to? If there is somebody who makes you feel sad, angry, disturbed, or even uncomfortable, is that a person you really need to have in your virtual world?

Most of us don't want to hurt anybody. And we worry about how somebody will feel if we cut them out. I'm not advocating suddenly unfriending somebody you've been virtual friends with for years just because they're going through a bad patch. But that person on your Twitter feed that you never talk to who is irritating you? I believe that any reasonably adjusted adult will be able to weather an unfriending from a stranger.

You have the control. Mute, unfriend, block, whatever you need to do. Life throws enough ugly our way that we have to deal with. What good is served by wading through irritation and negativity when we don't have to? If you are of the persuasion that you want ALL the followers on the chance that maybe some of them will buy your book, you don't have to look at all of their posts. Use Tweetdeck or another app and make lists of the people you do want to see every day.

Even if you carefully control your online environment to include only the people you choose to have in your world, there are still going to be hard times. Because, again, we're all human beings. Every one of us is going to have bad days. We're going to rant. People and pets are going to die. Jobs will be lost. Agents will turn out to be a bad idea, book contracts will go sour. Bad things will happen. Really good things will happen too, and some days it can start to seem like every writer in the world is luckier than you.

And I want to make it clear that I think posting about these things is good and important. I love my online support community and I'm not in any way saying we should try to create a sterile climate that's all sunshine and lollypops.

It's important to support and be supported, to engage in the give and take that makes us compassionate human beings. But there will be days where all of this is just too much. Maybe you have your own grief and just can't shoulder anybody else's right now. Or maybe you're in despair about your own writing and watching a bunch of other writers shouting with glee about the new agent, the new contract, the award nomination, the bestseller ranking or even their latest soaring word count makes you want to take to the streets with a bottle in a brown paper wrapper.

Sometimes a media vacation is in order. It's okay to step away from the internet. We also have control over this with the click of a mouse. If you spend a lot of time online a day or two away might seem daunting at first. You'll be afraid you're going to miss something. And you will, but nothing earth shattering. Anybody really important in your world will know how to find you.

Or, if you really feel the need to check your feeds every day, consider writing before you log on. Meditate first. Journal first. Pet the dog, go for a run, listen to music. Do something to set your mind and your mood before letting all of the other outside influences in.

Experiment and find out what works for you. The best part of the whole social media experience is that you have the control.


The Sane Writer: Nurturing Healthy Expectations

By Kerry Schafer

What is the very first thought that rolls through your head when your eyes open in the morning? Or before they open, if you're like me and try to believe that both morning and the alarm clock will go away if you can just ignore them long enough?

For me it's very often a wordless primal drive. COFFEE. Which is fine, because coffee is a thing to look forward to. And moving into a simple pleasure first thing in the morning is a fine way to start the day. But sometimes, far too often of late, my very first thoughts involve overwhelm or regret.

I'm writing this post on a Monday, and when the alarm went off this morning the first thought that went through my brain was this:

"Where the hell did the weekend go, and how did I get so little accomplished?"

Now, I'll grant you that this first Monday morning thought was not quite so grammatical and articulate. It had more of an, "Mmph, alarm OFF, things not done, don't wanna" construction. But since I speak fluent morning I was was fortunately able to decipher my own garbled thoughts.

A few minutes later, as I plumped up my flattened brain cells with caffeine, I had another thought. And that thought attracted others until a whole flock of thoughts had gathered and arranged themselves into a sort of order. And the gist of them is this:

I don't want to wake up on Monday mornings with regret.  I want to live my life and adjust my expectations so that when the alarm goes off and my eyes open my first thought is gratitude for the weekend past and the next is happy anticipation for the week to come. When my zombie brain resurrects to the sweet tune of a perfect cup of coffee I want it to be able to savor that experience.

How do I make this happen?

Some would advise a higher level of organization. Get my ducks lined up, streamline my lists, work smarter and get more stuff done in less time. There's likely some truth to this. God knows I could use a little more organization in my world, although where I would actually come up with the time to do the organizing is a mystery.

But I suspect what really needs to happen is an adjustment of expectations.

The truth is that even though I feel like a slacker this morning because there are a number of items on the To Do list that are still To Do rather than Done, I accomplished a lot. If I was talking to a good friend I would likely look at her weekend and tell her, with total sincerity, that she is a powerhouse and should learn to relax. But my expectation for myself are pretty much unachievable.

Since I do have this license as a mental health counselor lying around collecting dust, I took a minute to ask myself a question this morning. "Self," I inquired, "What is to be done about this situation?" Since I find it much easier to dole out advice to other people, I'm just going to throw some ideas into the ring, since I'm pretty sure some of you suffer from the same problem.

1. If you're continually not accomplishing the things on your To Do List, consider paring it down. I know it sounds outrageous, but it's just possible that you're asking too much of your very busy self. Maybe there are things on The List that don't really need to be there. Take them off. Seriously. Write out the list, and then scribble out the things that don't absolutely have to be done. This works better than trying to let go of them in your head, because your brain tends to stick to things. Gray matter can be sticky stuff, like pitch or glue (except for things you want to remember - those get dropped faster than a bad date). Sometimes when you need your brain to let go of an item it helps to write it down and then take a pen and scribble it out. I think the subconscious thought process goes something like this.

Hmmm. Hand says this job is done. I trust Hand. I like Hand. Crossing item off list.

2. Consider adding new items to the List. Yes, I know I just said to take things off the list. But here's a radical idea. What if we added things to our lists that looked like this?

Read book for pleasure

Take nap

Lie in hammock in the sun

Enjoy a glass of wine with a friend

Laugh a lot

Listen to music

Look at pictures of cute cats on Facebook

And then, after we've done those things, we could cross them off The List with a vast sense of accomplishment. I don't know about you, but I need more pleasure and leisure in my life. These things are healthy, and also serve to refill the creativity well. So why is it most of us will put exercise on the to do list, but feel somehow like we have to sneak in the pleasure items?

3. Add items from other people's lists to yours. This is a tricky one. Boundaries are hugely important. It's not healthy to get so sucked into other people's lives and needs that you have no room for your own self and your own needs. On the other hand, it's immensely important (and right) to give, share, help, and generally contribute to the greater good. This serves to keep us decent human beings and prevents us from becoming insufferable, self-obsessed writing fanatics.

I confess that sometimes when a loved one has needs that interfere with my writing time, I experience a nasty little emotional cocktail of guilt and resentment because I have now failed to get things on MY List done. So what if I add those things to my List as they come up, and even prioritize them? I think we already do this when it comes to our kids and maybe our significant others, but not so much when it involves friends and other people in our world. And I'm not talking about the Big Science Project here, or the Cookies for the School Party. I mean simple things like taking time for a conversation about Life, the Universe, and Everything or lending a pair of hands to a home improvement project important to your spouse but not to you. This step would include items like "resolve point of contention with best friend - preserve friendship." I like this reframe much better than my usual take on fights, which tends to be, "well, that was a waste of time." If the disagreement works toward understanding and resolution, it is never a waste of time.

4. Remember to account for changes. Your list may seem sacred to you, but it is an organic and ever changing thing, not graven in stone by the finger of God. Stuff will come up, inevitably, that supersedes whatever you have already planned to do. This weekend, for example, I discovered that the paperback edition of my Indie book, The Nothing, was out on Amazon. This provided an important opportunity to create a little buzz on Social Media without being spammy. Also, I was excited and just wanted to let people know. So I took the time to post on Facebook and Twitter and to experiment with a new Amazon feature supporting giveaways. I think this was important and time well spent, but I did not allow for it on my list and ended up feeling guilty that other things went undone. Much as we'd all like to be Super Writer, we are human and the hours of our days are finite. I'm thinking that when unexpected things find their way onto The List it's going to be important to cross something else off, consciously and deliberately.

5. Create Another List I know, I know. List proliferation is an evil thing, but hear me out. What if we made a completely different sort of list on Sunday evening. Not things we need to do, or things we are dreading, but all of the little bright spots we think might come our way in the coming week. Then maybe - just maybe - when the alarm went off we'd be programmed to look forward with anticipation instead of backward with regret.



Five Things You Might Not Expect Going Indie

By Kerry Schafer

I'm very nearly through my first venture in independent publishing, and I thought it might be helpful to share some of the things I didn't see coming.

I'm not going to spend time on the things that are easy to see. Obviously you're going to need a cover and some sort of editing. But there are some other things you'll need when the manuscript is all polished and shiny that you might not have thought about in advance.

1) A blurb for the cover. In traditional publishing, often your editor will ask other authors at the publishing house to read and endorse your book. Or at the least, remind you that it's time to start looking. With independent books, it's up to you to track one down. You snooze, you lose. (And yes, when The Nothing comes out that little endorsement quote is probably going to be missing.)

2) ISBN numbers. You need these so bookstores and librarians can find your book. Some of the platforms (Amazon, etc) will give you one, but all of the research I did points to it being a very good idea to get your own. You do this at These are kind of spendy - $125 for one ISBN, and if you're doing epub and paper  you're going to need at least two. I went with the bundle of ten for $295, since I figure I'm likely to do more Indie books down the road.

At this cost, you might be wondering if you really need an ISBN. You do, and here's why. From the Bowker website:

"The most important identifier your book can have is the ISBN. As the U.S. ISBN Agency, Bowker is the ONLY official source of ISBNs in the United States. ISBNs provide unique identification for books and simplify the distribution of your books throughout the global supply chain. Without an ISBN, you will not be found in bookstores, either online, or down the street from your house."

3) A Library of Congress Control Number, or PCN. I'm told librarians will use this number to find your book, so you want one. Good news - it's free! It's just a little bit of a hassle to sign up for the account and request the number. It also takes about a week, so allow for adequate time. You can get started at Click the link for Open an Account and get started. There will be an email you need to respond to in order to complete the process, so watch out for that! You will also need to send a print copy to the Library of Congress as soon as it is available.

4) Copyright Page and Application. Technically, your book is protected by copyright without actually applying for an official copyright, BUT it seems if there is ever any legal involvement with your book going to court you will need the copyright to have been registered, and that means you have to file with the copyright office. You can do this online here: The advice I've read is to wait until the book is published to file, so I haven't done this yet. I understand there is a fee involved - somewhere around $50. Once again, you will need to send in a print copy.  There is some terrific copyright information here, including what to put on the copyright page:

5) Paper and ebook Covers Are Not Created Equal. Your cover designer needs to make two separate files. The ebook one is straightforward. The cover for a paper book has some extra requirements. In order to finalize a cover that will fit properly across the spine of the paperbound book, your designer will need the exact number of pages of the book after it's been formatted and set in PDF. He or she will also need back cover copy and the aforementioned endorsement if you've been able to secure one.

6) Formatting. From all I've read, formatting isn't difficult so much as it is time consuming and nit picky. I fully intended to learn to do it myself, but time and life got in the way and I ended up getting some help. You'll need two different e-formats - .mobi for Amazon Kindle, and .epub for everything else. You'll also need a pdf of the interior of the book for paper. Since I didn't do the work myself I don't have a whole lot of advice here, except that my friends who have done this a lot advised me to stay far away from Calibre and to use Adobe InDesign. The ebook version of The Nothing was done in Scrivener, however, and it looks clean and professional.

And that wraps up this edition of what I've learned about Independent Publishing. Maybe next time I'll share what I learn in the process of getting The Nothing set up for print on demand and up on the various platforms.

When You Can’t Do All The Things

By Kerry Schafer

I don't have an award wall or a bunch of trophies. I've never been first in my class and wasn't in the running for valedictorian in either college or high school. I've never even been employee of the month.

Since I am an overachiever at heart I always see myself as a bit of a failure.

I have to remind myself on a regular basis that I am a functioning adult with a steady job, good credit scores, well adjusted kids, and a relationship in good standing. And then I go on to reassure myself that yes, this is enough. I don't have to be the mother of the year or the star employee or anything other than myself.

When it comes to writing and publishing, I'm particularly hard on myself. It's not enough to just be published - I want to be successful. And most days successful seems like a moving target I'm never going to hit. I'm not even sure what it means to be successful in publishing. How many books do I have to sell before I can call myself a success? What kind of advance do I need to get, how many loyal fans would need to line up at book signings for an autograph?

I have a sneaking suspicion that there is no number that would satisfy my thirst for perfection. But I have to try, right? And this means not just writing a perfect book, it means writing it in the perfect genre at the perfect time and submitting it to the perfect editor on the perfect day.

It also means I need to become a marketing expert.

Have you paid any attention to marketing lately? There is a staggering amount of advice out there. Different writers and marketing experts advocate for different approaches. Most insist that it is essential to do All The Things they recommend. If there was only one marketing guru out there this might work out okay, but there are hundreds, and they all have their very own You Must Do list.

If I live to be a hundred and spend all day every day pursuing All The Things recommended for novel marketing, I would still fail. This is a sobering thought, equivalent to the first of the twelve steps.

I, Kerry Schafer, acknowledge that I am powerless to do All The Things.

Last week this realization, combined with the challenge of simultaneously working on two projects with tight timelines while still putting in full time hours at the day job, knocked me on my butt. I felt very close to despair, in fact. Since I couldn't possibly do All The Things, I actively chose to do None of the Things.

This did not serve to make me feel better.

And then I had a small epiphany. I've been working with a lovely deck of Self-Care cards designed by Cheryl Richardson. The other morning I drew this card:


I very nearly drew another card for the day. Independence is not something I struggle with. I do a lot of things on my own and tend to be outside of popular opinion a lot. But I turned it over to read the thought that goes with the picture:


I don't like making decisions. What if I make the WRONG one? Because God knows that there is always a perfect decision and the whole world will probably fall apart if I fail to make the right choice. So the more I thought about this card, the more I felt like I'd been handed a gift.

What if making a choice were not a difficult and unwelcome task, but a right. A privilege. What if the right to choose applies to that impossible list of things to do for marketing?

Since then I've been looking at the lists of All The Things with a lot less anxiety and making selections based on personal comfort level, finances, and time. My choice might not be the one you would make, or that the marketing expert would make. It might not be the choice that will launch me into the circle of success, wherever that is.

But it makes a lot of sense and fits a certain trajectory: My life. My writing. My books. My career. My choices.

Maybe success or failure isn't the point at all, in the end, in which case doing Some of The Things is more than enough.