Writing from the Peak, PPW Blog

ADDING DETAILS ON THE FLY:

Five fast tips to help your worldbuilding.

By: DeAnna Knippling

So, there I was, writing a story but didn’t have time to stop and research a few points.  Just kidding!  I always have time to stop and research.  My problem is taking too much time to stop and research.  I can research literally all day while chasing details down the rabbit hole.

Other people struggle to identify opportunities to do research.  “I’ll just name the character Bob,” they say. “And why would I bother to describe this hallway? It’s just a hallway.” Yet when they get feedback that the story didn’t grab their readers, they’re mystified.

If you’re looking for a) ways to write details that don’t require reading six nonfiction books and a pile of research, or b) ways to stop naming all your characters Bob and putting them in Everytown, USA, then here are five tips to help you find a balance between going down the research rabbit hole and forgetting to add details to your setting.

1. Research character names

Quick mental exercise:  How old is a woman named Evelyn?  How old is a woman named Madison?

Even common names (both of them come from the Social Security Administration’s top names over the last 100 years) can reflect different character backgrounds, ages, and characters.  Does Madison go by Maddy, Mads, or her full name?  Is Evelyn an Eve, a Lynn, or an Evvie?

Here are some quick ways to snag names that will help with your worldbuilding:

  • Look up cemetery records for your settings.  I love Interment.net.
  • Work out the year the character was born and look up popular baby names that year.  I like the Social Security’s website, which can sort by decade, state, and more. 
  • If you have a character in a historical or secondary world (an alien, elf, etc.), try looking up character name generators.  One of my favorites is the Dickens Character Generator.  Today’s name: Virgilius Bummitch. I also like the Fantasy Name Generator site, which covers far more than just fantasy names. 

2. Research interior locations

No character is ever in just a “house,” “office,” “school,” or “hallway.”  The walls aren’t uniformly white, and there isn’t always a picket fence in the front yard.  Do a quick image search and find two things you expect to see, and one you didn’t, or one that really struck you. 

Some good location tips:

  • Real estate websites.  I like Zillow, because it lets me sort by location, price, house size, year built, and other details. Could my character afford it?
  • Image searches.  The trick here is to include words like “interior” and add a location name.  A search for “hospital” will get you a lot of bland white rooms with people in scrubs.  If you see a lot of similar, non-specific results, then you’re probably getting stock photos and not pictures of actual places.  

3.  Get a feel for the area with Street View

No two areas are exactly alike.  If your characters tend to end up in “Everytown, USA,” then it’s time to narrow your focus. It’s perfectly okay to pick locations you’re familiar with, even if you change the names to protect people’s privacy.  Please change the names of businesses!

Zoom out to the country you want to use, then start clicking until you zoom in on a town that’s about the right size for your story.  Use Google Street View by dropping the little yellow person icon on a street.  Congratulations! You now have a location.  Some things to look for:

  • Is the area more urban or rural?
  • What kind of climate does the plant life (or lack thereof) imply?
  • What else is nearby? If your character needs certain resources (like a grocery store), are they close?

Describing an area with two elements you expected and one element you didn’t is almost always a good idea.

4. Unimportant characters still deserve their own faces.

Probably you’ve picked out the identities of your main characters before you start writing. But what about everyone else?

  • Do an image search for the person’s location and job title, then pick the first face that “grabs” you. 
  • Search Wikipedia for “[location name] demographics.” Pull up a random number generator like Number Generator for the numbers 1-100, and start playing the odds to determine the character’s gender, race, age, relationship status, and more.

My advice is not to give more than three distinct elements to a background character, or to use the same three elements every time. 

5. YouTube = sounds and movement.

What does your character sound like?  Take a moment to search YouTube for “[location name] accent,” “accent challenge,” or “accent tag.”

Most of the time when writing an accent, you want to focus on word choice and rhythm—not using apostrophes or misspellings to indicate sounds. You may notice that people slip deeper into an accent when they’re around people with the same accent, or try to use a more “neutral” accent if they want to sound smart!

What does the setting feel like?  Look on YouTube for your location name to see if you can find YouTubers in local settings, not talking but just recording what’s going on around them. 

Often you can search for “[location name] driving” and get a video of people driving through different neighborhoods.  Another good search is “[location name] wilderness.” Videos without music are best. Another good search term is “tour of [location name].”

And yes, you can do this for non-real locations.  NASA has the first video that pops up for “tour of spaceship.” It’s pretty cool. And often the game Assassin’s Creed has amazingly detailed locations with a lot of historical accuracy, which players will record and post on YouTube for you.

These are simple, no-brainer tips; often when we’re writing, it’s just a matter of remembering to use them.  Every place outside of a Twilight Zone episode is a real place—or at least real to itself—and it’s filled with people with distinct identities, accents, and attitudes. 

If you leave your settings on “default” or “who cares, it’s not important to the plot” all the time, you’re missing a major chance to make the reader feel like you’ve built them a real world to play around in—whether it’s in space, the past, a fictional location, or a fantasy one.


DeAnna Knippling

DeAnna Knippling has two minor superpowers: speed-reading and babble. She types at over 10,000 words per minute and can make things up even faster than that. Her first job was hunting snipe for her father at twenty-five cents per head, with which she paid her way through college; her latest job involves a non-disclosure agreement, a dozen hitmen, a ballerina, a snowblower, three very small robots, and a disposable dictator in South America. Her cover job is that of freelance writer, editor, and designer living in Littleton, Colorado, with her husband, daughter, cat, more than one cupboard full of various condiments, and many shelves full of the very best books. She has her own indie small press, www.WonderlandPress.com, and her website is www.DeAnnaKnippling.com.

September Write Brain

By: Debbie Lane

Write Brain PPW

What do agents look at first when receiving query letters? How should you go about deciding if you should or shouldn’t sign with an agent?  These were among the questions asked at this month’s Write Brain event, where an experienced panel offered insights on how to skillfully maneuver the path from writing to successful publication.

Agents Lesley Sabga and Sara Megibow, along with freelance editor James Persichetti, answered a multitude of questions on the do’s and don’ts of the query process, and beyond.  Along with personal horror stories and stories of client success, they supplied a helpful and humorous look at the working relationship between writers, agents and editors.

The overwhelming amount of competition to be discovered may seem enormous, but I was encouraged by Sara’s confident reminder that quality of work is the key to overcoming the saturation of the market.

If you missed this Write Brain plan on joining us in October for How to Read Like a Writer. October 14, 2019 – 6:15pm to 8:15pm. Get the details here.


Debbie Lane lives in Colorado Springs with her husband, three children, and two spoiled cats. She enjoys arts and crafts, and writing.  As the mother of two children with autism, she has discovered the value of humor and a positive outlook on life, and strives to reflect this in her stories. Having always been an avid reader, she feels honored to follow in the footsteps of her literary heroes as she now works to become the best writer she can be.

ZEBULON – What’s New?

By: Amy Armstrong

Almost exactly two years ago, I moved to Denver with a lot of debt, a broken heart, and the urge to finally take my writing seriously. At 37, I was beginning to worry that I could die before I was published. My mom consoled me though. I have been published already. It was a short article in ArtCalendar about resume writing for artists, but she seemed to believe that item is now off my bucket list. I still want to write a novel that is traditionally published and I continue to nurture my big dreams because Pikes Peak Writers has been there for me since the start. Consequently, when SM Rose contacted me about volunteering to be part of the Zebulon 2020 Committee, I immediately agreed.

 Over the past few months, I’ve often wondered if I bit off a lot more than I can chew. Actually, I know I have, but I’m trying my best to stay afloat here because the Zebulon is a valuable part of everything we offer writers through PPW. It’s an opportunity for feedback that many writers receive on their writing for the first time as well as visibility for emerging writers.

The Zebulon Logo

 Unlike a submission to a literary magazine, The Zebulon accepts novel excerpts (most literary magazines do not) and provides each contestant with feedback in the form of ratings on various aspects of their piece. For an extra $25, contestants can receive a one-page critique from one of our judges.

The Judges

 The judges are another part of The Zebulon that are particularly special this year. I make a point of networking with authors throughout Colorado as well as around the country, and several of our judges are professionals I reached out to personally to help our writers grow and refine their craft.

No contest will ever be perfect. However, we have worked hard on The Zebulon relaunch to make it even more helpful to writers, and I hope that the changes are beneficial.

Here is a list of highlights of changes we have made:

  • Entries are sent via Submittable to remain consistent with our contest’s goal of mirroring professional publishing’s submission process.
  • We no longer require a query. Novel excerpt entries now consist of only a synopsis and the 2,500-word sample.
  • The short story category is back. Writers now can submit up to a 5,000-word short story from any genre.
  • Prizes are now monetary to encourage a diverse pool of applicants. While we hope everyone will want to join us at Conference next year, we know that is not always possible.

 Making these changes has been challenging. Some people within the organization embraced them more readily than others, but growing pains are part of the process. I’m still happy I agreed to volunteer for the committee. Anyone who wants to discourage me is going to need to try harder.

The Zebulon opens September 1st, 2019 and closes November 1st, 2019, 12:00 p.m, MST. Only the first 200 entries will be accepted.

Hosted by Pikes Peak Writers, the Zebulon gives fiction writers at all levels the chance to get their work in front of professional agents and editors. The contest simulates the real process of submitting to an agent, serving as an excellent learning experience. Do you have what it takes to get published? The Zebulon will help you find out.


Amy Armstrong

Amy Armstrong has been doing a little bit of everything in the writing community, since she came to Denver in 2017. She participates in live storytelling and readings throughout the Denver area. Locations include BookBar, The Mercury Cafe, and the Whittier Cafe. She volunteers for Pikes Peak Writers as Coordinator of Social Media and was recognized as the 2019 Volunteer of the Year. 

Obnoxious is Obnoxious – Email Marketing for Authors

by: Jennifer Lovett

So, there’s this narrative going around that marketers are telling authors to do email marketing and do it in a way that makes you besties with your list. Let me disavow you of that notion right now. Do NOT make besties with your email list. That list is for your reader to get to know you, not the other way around.

I feel email marketing is the new “buy my book” on Twitter thing that was going around a few years ago. Someone somewhere said, “All authors should be on Twitter,” but that “someone” didn’t teach authors how to do Twitter and thus, authors became obnoxious tweeting their buy links out every five seconds. Email has become the latest thing. And obnoxious is obnoxious no matter the platform.

Email marketing is a chance for you to develop a brand for yourself over time. It’s a long-term strategy, not a hard sell strategy. I do recommend it for authors, but I recommend it at a level you are comfortable at. Email once a month and make it fun for you and the reader. If you can’t do this, then just collect emails until you are ready. If you are chatty and have fun things to say, email once a week. Do not email more than that. Open rates plummet.

The more you can make the email sound like one from a friend, the better your open rates will be. Because I want you to use email successfully, I created a checklist for you:

Why do authors need an email list?

  • Email usage is up. Nielsen and Pew Research both report an increase in email usage. 71% of email users admit to looking at them first thing in the morning
  • Email is seen more often by the recipient than any social media post. Social media is saturated scrolling and your followers may or may not ever see your post. If you run a business profile, those followers definitely won’t see it without paying for ads.
  • Open rates. Organic reach on a Facebook Page is 3-5% (it can get as high as 10-12 with good engagement). Twitter is about the same. Instagram is slightly higher. Open rates on email are in the 25-30% range.
  • You own the list. Forever. Your social media followers don’t give you their address and the platform owns the list. If they go under or out of style, remember Google+ or MySpace, you lose that list. Forever.

How do you build the list?

  • Pick an email service provider. Free ones up to a certain number of subscribers include MailerLite, Mailchimp, SendinBlue, or Drip.
  • Create a freebie or magnet. This should be something the reader wants: free book or novella, scenes, maps, case studies, recipes from a series. Get creative.
  • Build your landing page. This is where readers will sign up for your list. Not too cluttered and to the point. Make it fun.
  • Use the double Opt-in. This keeps you out of ANTI-SPAM law trouble.
  • Create an automated email trail. This is a series of introductory emails for the reader – to you, the stories, the setting, the character, releases, appearances, events. ONE email with a place to buy your books is good. No more.
  • Segment your list. This will tell you who actually opens your emails. This will matter when you start having to pay for subscribers.
  • Split test. Test subject lines, photos, contents, anything to increase open rates. Test only one component at time or you’ll receive skewed results.
  • Avoid spammy words. FREE, BUY, OPEN NOW, PROMISE, OBLIGATION. Google for more. These will get your emails kicked to spam.

What should I email?

Anything beneficial to the reader. Email is for the reader not you. Keep that in mind always. Don’t try to become their best friend. If they want a relationship with you, they’ll let you know. Otherwise, email should provide them with insight into your books. It also helps them get to know you, because readers enjoy buying books from people they know or think they do.

  • Progress reports on the current work in progress.
  • Book launch announcements.
  • Events and appearances.
  • New blog posts.
  • Research.
  • Photos of your last trip and what you learned (keep the size small so you don’t clog up their email box).
  • Positive reviews your book received.
  • Interviews with research subjects or other authors.
  • List of your favorites (books, authors, movies, plays, music).
  • Promotions and/or giveaways.
  • Deleted scenes (also good for a freebie).
  • Milestone news (anniversaries, birthdays).
  • Backstory (you know, all that stuff you wanted to put in your book but your agent made you take it all out).
  • Quotes and questions.
  • Photo – one SMALL photo. You don’t want to make the email size too big.
  • Call to action (buy the book, attend the event, respond to a question, meet the author). Use Calls to Action sparingly so the reader doesn’t feel spammed.
  • Use a P.S. because they are the highest read section. You can let them know what to expect in the next edition or something fun about your character. The best ones are a Call to Action that get them to click on your website or social media.

Subject lines.

I get questions about subject lines quite often. There are several schools of thought. Marketing Guru Neil Patel recommends one-word subject lines or anything that resembles a note from a friend.

Think about how you use subject lines and apply them. Don’t use spammy words because they’ll likely end up in spam. Try using emojis (increases open rates 45%) and the word “video” – those are getting high open rates.

Alchemy Worx analyzed 25 billion emails and found the subject lines with the best open rates included jokes, congratulations, the words: you, revision, forecast, snapshot, token, voluntary, deduction and free. Here are some other ideas:

What…?
Do you….
Don’t open this email!
Check out my new ….
Pairs nicely with
As you wish
Day at the beach?
Avoid these people
Where do I get ….
Stop wasting …
How to survive ….
Hey I forgot …
Good news! ….
Are you coming?
Vanilla or Chocolate?
Seriously, what?

Jennifer Lovett is the founder of Writer Nation, a podcast and Facebook group dedicated to helping writers market their work. With 17 years communications experience, she regularly writes on social media, internet marketing and face-to-face publicity.
She currently lives in South Korea and travels around Asia for fun.
You can find her on her WebsiteFacebookTwitter, and Pinterest: @jennylovett

I Want to Write a Book Someday

By: Margena Holmes

We’ve all heard that phrase before, either from someone we’ve just met (once they find out we’re writers), or someone we know well and they want advice on how to start writing. What do you tell them?

Is it easy?

Most people think that writing is easy. You just sit down and write, right? Well, yes and no. What are you going to write about? When people tell me they want to write a book, most of the time they have no clue what they want to write about. I’m pretty sure they think being an author is some kind of glamorous life where lots of money is to be made, and we get inspiration every day. Well, news flash—it doesn’t always work out that way. I wish it did!

What makes your story unique?

Be Unique

That is the hard part—thinking about something to write, and writing it in a different way that hasn’t been done before. Remember, every topic has pretty much been written about before so what makes YOUR story unique?

Write, write, and write some more!

People (mostly teens with their parents) have come up to my table at comic cons and say they want to be a writer, and what should they do? Heck, if I had all the answers, I’d be making millions! What I DO know and can tell them is to read, read, read, and then write, write, write. Write about your day, write about a scene you might have witnessed. Practice your craft as much as you can. These kids are usually sincere about wanting to be a writer, and I will help them in any way I can.

What about the ones who say they want to be a writer and when you ask them what they want to write about, they give you a blank stare, or tell you, “Oh, I don’t know yet”? I’ll tell them the same thing as I tell anyone else—read and write and practice. I can always tell if they are serious by what happens next. If they get excited over the advice and start asking more questions, they genuinely want to write. If they say, “Oh, I don’t think I need to read, I just want to write something.” Welp, they’re enamored by the thought of it but don’t want to put in the work.

Writing is a process

And it is work. You have to think of what to write, outline it (unless you’re a pantser), write it, rewrite it, then either have a critique partner or beta reader read it, make more changes, THEN it’s ready for the editor. You’ll probably want to read books about the craft of writing, attend some writers conferences (which isn’t work to me because I love to learn), and read some more.

I’m still waiting for the ones who’ve said they want to write a book (and have asked for my advice) to write their book. How many people have told you they want to write a book? What do YOU tell them?


Margena Holmes

Margena Adams Holmes was born in Bellflower, CA sometime in the 1960s. She has always had a love for both reading and writing, writing her first song/poem in 1st grade. Margena is a big supporter of indie authors and will read anything that draws her into the story. She is an observer of life, and many everyday things could (and do!) end up in her writings. Her publications are available through her author page. Contact Margena via email: jedi_anegram@hotmail.com.

Character Profiling — Are You Missing the Spark?

By: K.J. Scrim

Do your characters seem to be missing that spark? Are they feeling flat as the paper they are being written on? Maybe you need to do an in depth profile of that character. You already did one? You might consider refreshing it.

Get into your character’s mind

Character profiling (also referred to as character traits) will transform a fuzzy idea of a person into a full-fledged living and breathing individual. Put yourself into the mind and body of your character and ask some questions that range from the generalities – the traits – (full name, birthday, place of birth, hair color, body type and more), to in-depth – the profile – (strangest talent, dark secrets, favorite poem, do they sleep in the buff?)

Once you have answered these questions delve even further. When faced with a life or death situation, how will they react? Take care that the reaction belongs to the character and not to you. Ask yourself why the character is behaving the way they are. What life experience would result in them running away rather than drawing a sword and fighting to the death? Was it from past experience they know not to fight an ogre three times their size, or were they kidnapped and tortured by an adult who left an ogre-sized shadow in your character’s memory?

Make an environment

Don’t forget they are more than just consciousness on a page. For them to truly fill their lungs they need air to breathe, an environment that fills their senses. If they were to close their eyes how would the room feel to them? Do they lose their sense of balance with closed eyes? What do they smell, taste, feel on their skin? Dig deep into them. Go beyond the five senses and explore their intuition, those gut feelings. An ache deep in a person’s belly can reveal the depth of their emotions. How does their body fit into the space they stand? The further you climb into a character’s mind and body the deeper they will breathe.

Interview your character

Take the time to develop your top characters to the point that you can imagine them sitting down with you for a chat. Write out a list of questions to ask them as if you are getting to know someone for the first time. A few examples after you are done with the basics:

  • If you are outside, what are you most likely to do?
  • What was the last lie you told?
  • What is your favorite animal?
  • What is your most treasured thing?
  • Have you ever caught a butterfly? What was it like?
  • What are you most afraid of?

Understand every nuance, innuendo, and attribute of your main players. Give them a background, a scope, and a point of view. With extensive knowledge of your characters they will rise off the paper and fill your reader’s imagination. 


KJ Scrim, head shot

Managing Editor, Kathie “KJ” Scrim, is a graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her inspiration for blogging, flash fiction, short stories, and the long haul of novel writing comes from her many life experiences. When she’s not writing you can find her somewhere in Colorado walking, hiking, or rock climbing at the local gym. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter (@kjscrim), and her blog.

Margaret Mizushima is the 2019-2020 RMFW’s Writer of the Year!

Margaret Mizushima

With heartfelt gratitude to the membership of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, Margaret Mizushima is thrilled to announce that she was elected their 2019-2020 Writer of the Year. Margaret is the author of the award winning, internationally published Timber Creek K-9 Mysteries (from Crooked Lane Books). In addition to RMFW, she’s a member of Colorado Author’s League, Sisters in Crime, Pikes Peak Writers, Northern Colorado Writers, Women Writing the West, and she serves on the board for the Rocky Mountain chapter of Mystery Writers of America. Margaret can be found on Facebook, on Twitter, on Instagram, and on her website at www.margaretmizushima.com.


Darby Karchut

Sweet Success is coordinated by, Darby Karchut who is an award-winning author, dreamer, and compulsive dawn greeter.

If you have a Sweet Success Story to share, please contact Darby at: SweetSuccess@pikespeakwriters.com

My Journey to Publication

By: Jason Henry Evans

For the last couple of months, I can’t really say I’ve been in my writing hole. It’s probably closer to the truth to say I’ve been in my Project Management hole. But I’m out now, and I want to talk about my experience. See, I am self-publishing my debut novel. I came to this conclusion after a minor incident with a small publisher. Sitting there last fall, trying to figure out how everything had fallen through, I realized a couple of things that I wanted to share with you.

Don't be afraid of what you don't know.
  1. No one was going to care more about my story than me. Nobody. So if I didn’t advocate for my story, who would?
  2. Just because my story didn’t fit into a genre slot didn’t mean there wasn’t an audience out there for me. I just had to find them.
  3. Whether I was traditionally or independently published, I was going to have to do the marketing myself.
  4. Learning the skills an independent publisher has to know would always make me a better consumer further down the road.

So why did it take me so long?

Fear.

Now don’t get me wrong. Fear can be a positive motivator. Most of us have had that experience at work where project X needs to be done by a certain time or we’re all fired. So everyone bucks up and gets it done. I have personally had that hard conversation with a boss because I was slacking and didn’t realize it. So I redoubled my efforts and learned I was capable of more. So in that sense, fear can be good.

Not my fear.

I was afraid of what I didn’t know. I was afraid of the work that might be involved. I was afraid I was going to fail.

Let’s take formatting as an example.

I write in MS Word. I have since I was in middle school. (When I was in 8th grade it was called Jr. High. But I digress.) So, when I decided to self-publish I knew formatting was going to be an issue. Reason number one was because I couldn’t afford what some people wanted to charge (up to $500 and more). Reason number two was all the horror stories people told me about trying to format in word. (I call them the Scrivener-Vellum Syndicate. But I tease!)

I procrastinated until the end of the school year (I’m a substitute teacher). When I finally did get to formatting my novel for print and e-book, it took a day and a half. Around 15 hours. That was it. Did I make some mistakes? Yes. But after installing Kindle Add-in for Microsoft Word and watching a couple of hours of Youtube videos on formatting in Word, I figured it out.

A New Skill Set

I figured it out. It was challenging, frustrating and deflating at times. But not only do both versions of my debut novel, The Gallowglass, look good, but I now have a skill set. I understand how to format in MS Word. I know how to use Styles and how to take out tab indents (go to replace and type in ^t, then replace it with nothing). I know how to format a table of contents and create Styles of my own. I will use these skills when I publish my second novel and the process will get a little easier.

If you’ve been hesitant about finishing your book. If you’ve felt bad because you don’t have the skills to self-publish and don’t have the money to pay professionals along the way. Don’t be discouraged. There are some things you can learn to do yourself. Just be patient with yourself and realize it’s not going to be perfect. (Even traditionally published books have typos!) Remember, suffering leads to endurance, which leads to character, which leads to hope. Your book will be awesome and your second one will be even better.


Jason Henry Evans

You can like Jason’s Facebook Author Page.
Or, you can follow him on Twitter @evans_writer
If you’d like to read his personal blog or sign up on his mailing list, go to www.jasonhenryevans.com

Jason’s debut novel, The Gallowglass, releases July 10th. Find out more information here.

Write Brain

By: Robin Laborde

Image may contain: text

A special two-part Write Brain:
The New Zebulon 
Amy Armstrong, Presenter
and
250 Words That Will Make or Break You
Natalie Mae, Presenter

2020 Zebulon

The August Write Brain began with an update about the 2020 Zebulon Contest, including TWO double-sided pages of information about what has changed during the contest’s year-long hiatus. A few of the more notable changes:

  • Contest entries will be accepted through Submittable rather than a custom-built portal.
  • The short story category is back! 
  • No more query round, but a synopsis is still required. (Darn.)
  • The Zebulon will offer monetary prizes only in 2020, rather than discounts on conference registration.

See the Zebulon Rules for the latest information and deadlines.

250 Words to Beef Up

After the break, YA author Natalie Mae shared tips for beefing up your first paragraph. In an unexpected but super helpful twist, she began her presentation by sharing an early version of the first paragraph of her novel Duplicitous and comparing it to the published version. The exercise clearly demonstrated the improvements she made, including that oh-so-important delicious first line. For even more insight into Natalie’s journey to publication, visit her website.


Robin Laborde

Robin Laborde is not sure exactly how long she has been a member of Pikes Peak Writers but she enjoys it very much. She worked as a technical writer for over ten years and has had nonfiction articles published in newspapers and magazines. She is currently writing a speculative fiction novel and working part-time at the East Library in Colorado Springs.

Sitting Alone in the Darkness

By: Jason Henry Evans

Three weeks ago I fulfilled a lifetime dream of publishing my first novel. I decided to self-publish my first novel for a variety of reasons. However, if I’m honest with myself, it simply was the right time. See, I have been very fortunate in the writing game. I have met men and women who have published 5, 10, even 40 novels. They’ve had short stories in a dozen anthologies. Many of these people have given me sage pieces of advice. They have held my hand, gently told me when my story was bad, and inspired me to go forward. But there comes a time when you have to do it on your own. Whether your self-publishing a novel or you have a contract with a big four publisher there comes a time when you have to be alone. You have to put the words on the paper and be honest with yourself about the story you’re trying to tell.

That can be a dark place. But it was in that dark place, all alone, that I realized I couldn’t depend on anybody but myself. That was when I decided to self-publish a manuscript I put aside a year earlier. At that point, it wasn’t about fame, or financial success. It was about reaching the next level in my writing.

A Giving Community

One of the short comings of the writing community here in Colorado is that everyone is so giving. You reach out and people will genuinely help you as much as they can. The writers here—regardless of their levels of success—are so warm. But for me, it became a crutch. I could always ask for and get a pep talk or a piece of good advice. But I wasn’t doing the work. That all changed ten months ago.

Re-Writes

I went back into my writing cave. I edited, did re-writes, and commissioned a cover artist. When that cover ended up being awful and the artist stopped returning my emails, I went out and bought another cover—a better one. My wife and some close friends already read my manuscript and they thought it was good.

Become an Author

So, I paid a copy editor, I sent it out to more beta-readers, and I learned how to format both a physical book and an ebook. Did I have help? Absolutely. But I was the one who had figure out the minutia of book formatting. I was the one who had to go over every line for typos and homonyms. You know what? The entire process was frightening. But I had to do it. I had to get to the next level. I had to become an author.

I write this not to praise myself. But to tell you, gentle reader, that you can do it too. But a large part of that process, I have discovered, is sitting and doing the work by yourself. It will be lonely. For me? It was scary, too. But isn’t that the point?

Finding the Magic

In that dark place where it’s just you and your story and you don’t know how to solve that plot problem, or format your table of contents, that’s where the magic is. That’s where your mettle is tested. That’s where you stop treading water and start swimming. But no one is going to write your story for you. Jeff Goins once said that “Art needs an audience.” Don’t deny your audience your art, no matter how scary or full of drudgery the process may be. Finish your art and accept the consequences.

If you do, I promise you, holding your book in your hands will make all your struggles worth it.


Jason Henry Evans

Jason Henry Evans says that life is funny. In 2004 I moved from Los Angeles to Denver, newly married with a desire to be a great teacher and husband. I dedicated myself to public education and realized my heart was not in it. So I moved on. At the same time I stumbled into a creative world of art and literature I now call home. It hasn’t always been easy, but it has been worthwhile.
You can catch up with Jason on his Facebook Author Page or on Twitter. You will also find up to date posts on his blog.