The Online Writer

Do you have an online presence as a writer?  This is something that seems to come up a lot, whether at writing conferences, chatting with your writing group, or googling online tips on how to get yourself out there and get published.  I guess maybe the more apt questions is: should you have an online presence as a writer?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as borrowed solace expands and I myself am now entering into a new realm of the internet that I have never ventured into before—that of podcasting.  My answer to both of the questions asked in the last paragraph is a resounding “yes!”

Perhaps I am biased as an editor of an online literature journal, but in my experience, much of the writing world is moving to being primarily online.  Most people have probably even googled someone to find out the scoop on them even if they are not famous, or a writer, so imagine how many people might read a blurb about you somewhere and want to learn more about you!  I believe that you should try to make sure you come across in the best light that you can when sharing your writing and, in essence, yourself with others, and the reality of this is that having a presence online is a big part of presenting yourself well.

For most writers, having some sort of website or blog serves as a great home base for anyone who wants to learn more about you.  It doesn’t have to be anything fancy!  When I went to my first writing conference almost five years ago, I didn’t have a website.  I did, though, have my Odyssey landing page which had all of the online writing I had done up to that point in one place.  When I realized that I needed to get some business cards, just in case I needed them (and I did!) and scrambled to put something together the week before the conference, my Odyssey page is what I listed next to my phone number and other prudent information on the cards.  It wasn’t the most professional thing, per se, since the web address wasn’t a nice clean “name.com,” but it worked! (and I updated to just regular old AddeyVaters.com later)

If you are hesitant to start a website or are technologically challenged, you can create something very similar to what I had at Odyssey with a free blog hosting site such as WordPress or Wix (both platforms that I and the other editors have used at different times).  Your website address will end up being something like “name.wordpress.com” if you go the free route, but that is a perfectly serviceable place to start if you would like to build up your web presence!  Starting with something is better than nothing, and it’s always smart to set the groundwork for marketing yourself in the future.

If you decide to create a website, it can be very helpful to dip your toes into the social media pool by having at least one platform that you use in a more professional capacity, too.  I would recommend starting out with Twitter.  Twitter has a lively writing community with lots of hashtags that are easy to use, and that get yourself out there. I even think it’s fun to get involved in the conversation!  By creating at least one professional writer profile on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Tumblr, you can ping back and forth with your website, linking to your website on Twitter and vice versa.  Many journals will publicize the writers that they publish on social media, and you can in turn link to any relevant publications you have on social media and on your website.

I always find that it’s helpful to start putting yourself out there and developing your own presence online from scratch.  It’s something that will only help down the road as you establish your writing and get more tools in your toolkit that you can use to promote yourself.  All it takes is a first step—for me it was creating my own website after that first writing conference which morphed into what is now borrowed solace and the work that goes into getting not only my writing, but the writing of all of our wonderful contributors, out there.

Are you in favor of developing a web presence as a writer?  What tools of the trade do you use to get yourself out there and promote your writing?

On Tropes

So the editors and I, while in a design meeting for the upcoming fall journal, got to talking about Hunger Games. I have read only two of the three books because, to me, they were a dry and slow read. Except for when the author would speed up during the beginning and ending, the prose was slow, and used a lot of tropes. Our talk about books didn’t stop there, as the Twilight series, the Mortal Instruments series, the Throne of Glass series, and so many more rely on the “love triangle” trope. I didn’t really care for the love triangle in Hunger Games, but when I went to finally watch the movies just few a weeks ago, I watched the trope play out on screen. I’m still struggling to figure out if I like the book or the movie better, but that is for another discussion. Addey, Amber, and I agree that some tropes right now are overdone in both books and movies/television.

Tropes, as we writers and readers know, are common underlying subplots to a story–building blocks to the main thread that help develop characters. If you look up writing tropes that are over done, “love triangle” is usually always the first one listed. Why? What makes people like reading about love triangles, and why do writers feel they have to write tropes?

I went to a workshop about putting clever twists on common tropes and here is what I learned: tropes are proven concepts that readers will read, but nevertheless they are common and overused. It really is a shortcut a writer can use to describe the subplot. But, tropes can also be a sort of useful tool. Tropes are a way to express an idea to an audience, and every genre can have tropes that fit just within that particular genre.

What tropes really do as building blocks is set up internal conflict and tie the theme to the story. It can help the log line, pitch, hook, and blurb because these tropes can be used as phrases or keywords for easier searches for readers which might sell more books.

Now here is the kicker–the twisted part to make a common trope yours. Play with “what if;” what aspects can be changed. I think this is why Hunger Games did so well–because the idea, the story, the conflict, was so original and different, it intrigued other readers and writers. And now, like Addey said in our conversation, the idea of Hunger Games is no longer original as other writers have used the idea for inspiration.

So, what about the setting can be unique to your world, the occupation of the hero, the time period the action takes place in, give the readers an unusual focus, or use all of these things. Try to take a trope in the genre you usually write, and then twist it with “what if” and see what you come up with. Try mixing tropes together, torture the hero or heroine with the trope, interplay with an archetype, look at tropes while watching TV or watching a movie, and see what you would do differently with the tropes used.

For some more information and a bunch of links for other help on tropes, visit the following sites:

Really Useful Links for Writers: Tropes and Clichés

14 Popular Fantasy Tropes — And How to Make Them Feel New Again

Romance Tropes

Genre Tropes

Happy troping!

Riding the Creative Wave

Like most things in my life, I find that creativity comes in waves.  Perhaps it is the human part of me, or just part of my personality in general, but I find that I go through spurts where I am into crocheting, or waves of interest in scrapbooking (I now have more hard copies of pictures than I care to count), or weeks where I workout every single day (those are too far and between for my liking, if I’m being honest).  Creativity certainly works that way for me, too.  I would like to say that I have a fabulously in depth reason for why this is the case, but, alas, I do not.  I’m not always sure where inspiration to be creative even comes from–sometimes I feel like creating something—anything—is crucial to having a good day or week, and other times I can’t bring myself to even open my lap top and edit an old piece of writing.

I’m starting to learn, though, that this is perfectly normal and perfectly okay.  We can’t all be turned on all the time.  Both literally (we need sleep) and when it comes to creativity.  I like to think of my creative side as a faucet—some days that faucet is turned on full force, and other times it is turned off.  If it were turned on all the time, that would be a big waste of water and a drain on resources.   See, that’s the thing—there’s always only so much of a resource to go around.  I think that even includes creative power!

As I’m learning about these waves and coming to accept the ebbs and flows of creativity, I’m learning how to ride the creativity wave.  When I’m feeling creative, I go for it!  Sometimes that means writing a dozen poems in a week (you’ll hear more about that in an upcoming episode of the podcast) and sometimes that means scrap booking every free evening I have for a week or two.  There’s no one way that the creativity wave comes, but when it arrives I grab by surfboard and head to the beach.

I think that many of us, as writers and creatives, expect our brains to be turned on to creativity all the time.  That’s simply not plausible!  If you’re anything like me, you have a lot going on in life that isn’t particularly creative.  There’s work, said (nonexistent) workout routine, pets, kids, family, taxes, laundry, and lots of other things that take time away from creative pursuits.  Sometimes that means that you don’t get to be creative everyday—and that’s okay.  I’ve slowly comes to terms with the fact that the waves sometimes come crashing in when I’m unprepared, and when I would like to be in a more creative mindset, the waters are calm.  Because of this, I’ve slowly started to just accept that fact and move with the water.  It’s much easier that way—trust me!

So whether you are riding the crest of a massive wave of inspiration or currently just getting through the day to day, roll with it!  It may not be what you were planning on, but that’s okay.  Learning to float in the shallows is just as important as cresting a massive swell, so get ready.

Are you currently riding high on a creativity wave or biding your time on your pool floatie until inspiration strikes?

What If I Told You That the Only Way to Be Accepted Is to Be Rejected?

I think that if there is something in my life that has rung true over the years it is exactly that.  The way to acceptance is through rejection.  It seems counter intuitive, doesn’t it?  But I have found this to be the case time and time again.

You can look at it from many different angles.  Unfortunately for us all, in life, there are many forms of rejection.  There are job rejections, love rejections, school rejections, friendship rejections, apartment application rejections, driver’s permit rejections, you name it.  As writers and creatives, we are uniquely suited to being rejected even more than the average human.  It’s an encouraging thing, right?

You might be thinking that the answer to that is “wrong,” but I beg to differ.  Rejections are hard.  They are so, so hard, and when rejections keep stomping on you one after another, after another, it’s easy to let each stomp push you down further and further, but I’ve finally come to a point in my life where I can re-frame how I view rejection when it inevitably comes around.  It’s still painful being rejected, and that re-framing process is painstaking and brings up all sorts of old buried thoughts and emotions, but it’s worth it.

Each rejection – each blaring no that seems to outweigh even the most resounding of yeses, is a turn in your path that will ultimately lead you to the person you are meant to become.  With writing in particular, each no from a literary journal means that your piece is one step closer to finding the yes that the writing deserves.  You don’t want your piece to show up in a journal that won’t tout it to the ends of the Earth because it wasn’t quite the right fit, but it got a yes to meet a page count.  Similarly, you do yourself a disservice by publishing a piece that still needs work – the fine tuning and re-assessing that happens during the final stages of the writing process are where words on the page really start to come to life.

I have experienced an exorbitant amount of rejection in my own life (you can read more about that here) involving everything from grad school applications, to jobs, to freelance work, to a story that is still one of my absolute favorites that I’ve ever written but has been rejected by close to thirty literary magazines at this point.  Rejection is part of life, and to take a leap of faith by clicking “submit” or showing up for that interview means that you could hear a yes or you could hear a no, but either way you are hearing something great (trust me, I don’t even believe it half the time) because whatever the answer, it helps illuminate your next step.

One of the hardest rejections I ever got was for my current job (yes, I, and all of the other borrowed solace editors all have day jobs – this journal doesn’t pay the bills but it feeds our collective creative spirits).  I didn’t get my job the first time around.  I had two rounds of in person interviews (which are incredibly nerve-wracking for even the most seasoned interviewer) plus a phone interview and then got a call where all I got to hear was a big fat no.  I was devastated having already played out a scenario in my mind of future me in my fancy new job, but that initial no gave me some time to evaluate what it was that I really wanted.  So when that yes finally came through – out of the blue, and more than a month after that first no – I knew that this was where I was supposed to be.

So maybe you are getting a lot of no’s right now – putting yourself out there only to be rejected time and time again – but don’t give up.  It takes a lot of no’s to get to that one yes that really matters, and it’s only after learning who we really are through the process of being rejected that we are actually ready for the yes.  And when it comes, it will be a big, resounding yes – even if it seemingly drops right out of the bright blue sky.

A Writing Prompt

This week I have a writing prompt for you. It’s nothing too outlandish and should, hopefully, be a fun challenge.

Write a short story—or flash fiction piece—that has seamlessly integrated the first ten titles of your current song playlist or watch list.

Remember that you shouldn’t be afraid of wherever your writing takes you!

I hope you all have a good week, and I wouldn’t mind seeing some results of this prompt in our spring journal submissions!

All About the Writing Conference

This past weekend, our executive and poetry editors attended the Pike’s Peak Writer’s Conference (PPWC).  This was the third conference that we have had borrowed solace representatives at in some capacity, and it never ceases to provide a tantalizing learning and networking experience for whoever is in attendance.  This week on the blog, we thought we would recap what we learned — or, at least, recap what was the most instrumental thing each of us learned — during PPWC 2019, It Takes a Tribe.

From Addey:

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heavens.”                      – Ecclesiastes 3:1

If there is one thing that I took away from PPWC this year it is that things take time.  I think we’ve all probably been told something similar, or used it as an excuse when we’re feeling blue, but it was so refreshing to hear all sorts of industry professionals and New York Times best selling authors expound on that fact.

Hard work and dedication pay off — at least, I’m hoping they do.

Writing, or editing, or agenting (is that a thing?) or literary journal-ing (that’s definitely not actually a thing) all seem to take a lot of turns around the sun to finally become anything fruitful.  I heard from some amazingly successful authors this past weekend on how they didn’t even quit their day job until (insert shockingly high number here) of books were published. There was even one New York Times best selling author who still was working her day job.  I listened as agents expounded on how remarkably naive they were when they first started in their career and now 10, 15, (insert shockingly high number here) years later they finally get what those well seasoned gurus at some of the first conferences they spoke at were talking about.

Sure, this thought could be seen as a bit distressing, but I have chosen to see it as a positive sentiment.  For me, this idea harkens back to the Bible in Ecclesiastes —“to every thing there is a season.” For any bright eyed new writer hoping to one day be a New York Times best selling author giving the keynote, rather than listening intently to it from the audience, I think this is encouraging.  Right now, you (and me) may be going through a season of sowing. We are working day in and day out, planting the seeds of our writing endeavors but not yet seeing the end result. One day, if we keep at it, and water those seeds with a lot of effort and even more persistence, I think we will come into a season of blossoming.  

For everything there is a season — for some, they are in that season where writing takes the back burner.  For others, they are in the season where hard work is starting to pay off, and for others, they are already in the season where they are starting to be invited to speak at conferences (those lucky few!)  What PPWC taught me is that everyone can go through each and every one of those seasons, but to get to that season of blossoming and prosperity, the harder seasons might just have to come first.

So I am going to keep plowing the fields of my writing and planting those seeds for as long as I need to, because I have faith that a greater season is coming — one where I can look back on today and see the serendipitous moments that led me to success.

From Nicole:

Learning even more about characters!

I know already that society has become more self indulgent, but now know that we writers, too, tend to become character indulged. People no longer want to read large paragraphs of scenery or world-building. Most editors and authors at the conference who were presenting or critiquing went straight for the connection to the main character. They wanted to know their name on the first line, then their description, in five words or less — who they are.

I am a YA fantasy writer and spend a lot of time building my cultures; different races and classes; the weather and atmosphere; the wars that scared the land; and how the world differs, or is similar to, Earth. But now, I’ve learned that instead of showing the readers this up front, those things must be woven later in the story. This truly amazed me. The story you are supposed to tell (write) is a series of events your characters comes to and overcomes to reach the final destination — this is what we all know. But even developing a scene is now centered on how primary and secondary characters should react, feel, internalize, voice their opinion, and act towards others in the story — this gives the reader more insight to connect with your story. It tells who the readers are supposed to love, hate, cry with, rant with, join the emotional train ride of when they fail or triumph, celebrate with when they win the guy or girl at the end, or seethe with anger when it all gets lost even though they were supposed to be the hero standing in glory.

What I really mean to say is that I learned how characters now come before anything else. They must be fully developed and evoke the reader to reader more.  They must set your character on a train track and let their engines be fueled with emotion….and they always come first.

What is prose, poetry, art?

Nonfiction

[non-fik-shuh n]

Origin: 1905-1910 [non (real) + fiction (made-up)]

noun

  1. Nonfiction is an expression of reality; it can be embellished, raw, visceral, and soothing all at once.

This issue is un-themed, there are no restrictions. Submit your semi-tall tale or surrealistic essay, I look forward to reading them.

—Nicole Taylor

Fiction

[fik-shuhn]

Origin: 1375–1425 [fict (us) ion (forming nouns)]

noun

I once wrote that that fiction was more than the Google definition of “literature in the form of prose…that describes imaginary events and people,” that it was an escape for both reader and author. And, for me, that’s still true.

  1. Fiction is finding sanctuary in a mausoleum amidst vampires and ghouls. Or finding refuge in a cruising star ship, listening to a techno-symphony.
  2. Fiction is finding yourself in someone else’s shoes and experiencing their journey, whether it’s simply a day working at a laundromat or suddenly gaining the magical capabilities to change the course of history.
  3. Fiction, an experience outside yourself that allows you a small reprieve.

—Amber Porter

Poetry

[poh-i-tree]

Origin: 1350–1400 [poetrie + maker]

noun

  1. Poetry is many things and nothing all at once.
  2. It is the beauty of a still, blank, moment; and the roar of a pulsing, combusting wave of light. This is what makes poetry so unique, and so very important to the literary landscape.
  3. Poetry allows for the breath between. It is the small, contemplative, instant after a long book, a short story, or an essay.
  4. It is similar to art in this regard – a fleeting moment, yet it can fill so much space.

—Addey Vaters

Art

[ahrt]

Origin: before 950 [ear + be]

noun

  1. Art to some is fleeting, a moment, a breath, a feeling—there to embrace and gone as soon as one walks away.
  2. Art for others is everlasting—there to remember, to stand against time, something to go back to and visit.
  3. Art to me, is neither of these things, to me, art is a collaboration of heart, soul, mind, nature, nurture. It is how one expresses their creative side from the world influencing their creative decisions, and the rest of the world sees the result.
  4. The true beauty of art is that everyone experiences what they see and feel differently, letting them have their own definition.
  5. Art is the world of others that shakes me from my own—that makes me peek out from my bubble, step outside the bubble, and understand.  It helps me walk in a world different than my own (especially my lovely bubble).

—Nicole McConnell

Tips from the Editors: Poetry

While I myself am a perfectionist at heart, sometimes so much so that it is my absolute detriment, I have come to learn that imperfection in poetry is where beauty often abounds.  As I have read through the submissions for our next un-themed issue (and as I am still reading – if you haven’t heard back yet don’t worry, I’m still wading through the submissions pool) I have noticed that the moments that grab me are the unexpected ones.  My breath catches when I read a line that makes no sense yet makes perfect sense or a stanza that stops me so that I can examine each word once more.  These are the moments that could be seen as imperfect in a poem, but that in the wild and unruly world of modern poetry create the spark that fans a thought or a word into a fiery work of art.

I can’t say that I really understood this concept until I took a poetry class in my final semester of my undergraduate degree.  Up until this point poetry seemed like something to be admired from afar and handled with crisp white gloves and feather dusters – something to be kept behind glass and not messed with for fear of breaking something as fragile as a sonnet or a villanelle.  I realized in this poetry class, however, that the fragility of poetry is a myth that I taught myself as I fed my poetic imagination a steady diet of classical poetry.  While I greatly admire classic forms and structure, I realize now that my favorite poems are those that play with structure just enough to leave me guessing what comes next or that switch the form up just enough that it’s fresh and exciting.  While knowing all the rules is important in writing poetry, it’s knowing when to break them, when to bring in the imperfections, that makes a poem magnificent.

So my tip to you, dear reader, is this: mess around with your word choice, your syntax, your synonyms and metaphors.  Don’t just admire the poetry canon from afar, dive in and make ripples everywhere your mind travels.  Perfection is overrated, anyway, and beauty lies in the crumpled up moments that you were about to throw away with yesterday’s newspaper but decided to take one more look at.  There’s beauty in catastrophe.

Tips from the Editors: Nonfiction

What Makes Creative Nonfiction Good? The (1/4) Creativity

One of the things that makes nonfiction such a compelling genre is the role that truth and reality play in it. Fiction can be anything you want, but nonfiction must be based on real events, people, or experiences. This may sound like a limitation to most, but it has always been a benefit when correctly used.

As we established, nonfiction is built upon the truth. However, memory is not perfect. There will be details that are forgotten, qualities changed, and conversations manipulated. As much as an author may try, these changes in composition are inevitable. These faults are due to the fluid nature of memory. Whenever we recollect something our brain is constantly changing it as it tries to recall.

When you sit down and start remembering interactions to write about it may be difficult at first. Slowly it will come back, and you will be able to recall the memory entirely. Well, most of it. There will most likely be patches that are vague, or pieces missing. How was the room laid out? What was that person wearing? These holes are perfect areas to utilize the creative part of nonfiction. They allow a little wiggle room for the author to play around and immerse the reader in the experience they had. Though the scene may not be accurate to the reality that occurred, it is accurate to your memory of reality (memoir is the best for this, journalistic pieces are tricky and should be as close to reality as possible).

The next time you have trouble remembering something exactly as it happened, understand that it is an opportunity to explore the creative craft and steep the reader in your experience of reality, rather than a limitation.

Tips From the Editors: Art & Photography

I am a writer by night, a painter by early morning, an editor for both the journal and for Great River Learning by day, and a half exhausted pigeon by mid-evening. But nonetheless I like to use art as a writer to become inspired. Writing is a form of art, yes, very true, but all art in my opinion has its own unique beauty and value to it. I paint on canvas, one of my many hobbies. I like to paint with acrylics and create abstract forms to see where my mind and creative hand lead me. It honestly, and quite frankly, usually leads to something horrible.  A second grader could do much better than I.  Yet all art, and writing, only take a little bit of talent and imagination, but also lots of practice and hard work. 

Moving on from painting, what we receive is mainly photography submissions, which is great! Since we receive so many photography submission, I would like to provide one tip for photographers that will help give their art a higher chance of acceptance. I recently just bought a Fujifilm Instant Camera, with the old style Polaroid film. As soon as you take the picture, with a click and a crackle slides out the blank white slice of film and you can watch the picture appear without a black light. The first photo I took was of my beautiful curvy pug and  made me realize the lighting, her position, and the background. 

I notice the background in photos probably the most. When I can view a photo from several angles of zooming in or out and side to side that is what makes a photo successfully and gives it a really high change of getting selected to get published by this journal.  Why is setting the scene and utilizing angles the most important tip you might ask? My philosophy is that art should be viewed and used to put in front of people’s eyes so that they can’t miss the beauty of the photographer’s eye that can capture a stunning moment like a child at the end of a dark tunnel bathed in sunlight, or a bush of roses. These two photos had the light, position, and background to make one gaze upon the images with wonder.

Art is fun, so be creative, be open minded, and look for what catches your eye because everyone interprets art a little different.