Community Creation

CREATING A SUCCESSFUL AND SUPPORTIVE ONLINE COMMUNITY – PART 1: Rules, Philosophies, and Platforms

Several years back, I fell into community management when I decided to create a resource hub for an unmoderated writing community. From there, it snowballed into managing several different community organizations that ranged from educational forums to creative spaces. After nearly seven years of community management, I wanted to share some of the things I’ve learned and hopefully help you avoid some of the issues I ran into along the way.

Communities can be a great way to grow your audience as a writer, artist or other kind of creative person. Maintaining them can also be a considerable amount of work. My goal with this series is to help you avoid the mistakes I’ve made over the years and make community creation and management less stressful for you.

Getting Started – Community Creation

Platforms – Free Vs. Owned

If you’ve thought about creating a community, you may already have a platform in mind. There are lots of options out there and, all of them have pros and cons. I’ve done both, it comes down to how much control you want to have and how hard you want to work to build an audience/community. I’ll explain the differences between free and owned platforms below.

Free platforms may have audiences built-in and readily accessible, places like Twitter, Facebook Groups, etc. There are already people using those platforms, so all you have to do is promote yourself and help your audience find your community. That is a huge plus when you are just getting started, but it also comes with a few hurdles. Social media platforms can change their rules and your ability to promote yourself/your community can shift on a dime. They can also remove you from their platform at their discretion.

If you use one of these platforms, you may want to consider using the tools they have to build an email/newsletter list. If you’re using something like Facebook groups, consider adding a question where new members can share their email with you and join your list. You’ll want to add the email to your list before you accept, but that’s an easy way to stay in contact with your community members if anything ever happens to your platform.

Right now, Discord is one of my favorite free platforms for community building. There’s a ton of customization options, and you can use bots for things like auto-moderation, roles (titles you create for members), games, and more! You may still want to have a website or social media platform that leads your community members to your Discord.

Owned platforms come with different challenges. An owned platform is usually a website or online forum that you own outright. You may have to purchase software and maintain it to keep your community afloat. If you aren’t technically inclined, this can be a huge learning curve. BUT, it also means that you own your space and you have the freedom to customize your platform to suit your needs. You are not subject to the whims of social media algorithms or platform rules.

Building a community on an owned platform can be a bit more difficult because you have to help people find your website/community. For me, this means finding spaces where I could advertise the community. It can also just take time for your site/community to show up in Google searches. You will want to make sure your site is SEO optimized and use keywords that search engines will pick up and rank.

It can feel like a slog but once you build your base community, it will usually lead to more growth. If people find your space and see it’s active and inviting, they’ll tell their friends and invite others.

Rules, Philosophies, and Foundations

Building good rules and community philosophies can make all the difference between a chaotic community and an inviting, collaborative community. When I create rules for a new community, these are the sorts of things I consider:

  • What kind of behaviors do I want to encourage?
  • What kind of behaviors do I want to discourage?
  • What do I want my community to look like in a year?
  • What kinds of members do I want in my community?

If I want to encourage collaboration, I might write a rule that says something like: “1. Community comes first. Please remember this is a positive space for members to collaborate and create together. Keep that in mind when interacting with the community.” If I want to discourage behaviors like venting, I would write a rule that says, “We do not allow venting. Please check Disboard for communities that offer emotional support.”

Your rules will change as conflicts and issues arise, that is the nature of community guidelines. Do your best to be prompt when making these changes and inform your community of them as best you can.  Ensure that changes are either for benefit of staff or the community as a whole. I also dive deeper into rules and moderation in part 2 of this series, so don’t miss it!

Take suggestions to change your community or community rules with a grain of salt. I’ve run into many who wanted me to change rules or programs to suit their personal needs. Suggestions can be a great tool to revise your community vision and enhance interaction. Still, you always want to make sure they also add value for most members of your community and don’t add a ton of labor for staff, especially if it’s a free community.

It’s crucial to build staff philosophies early on. These philosophies will help dictate how community admins, moderators, and other prominent members interact with the community. Also, if volunteers staff your community, be KIND to them. Listen and respond to them if they contact you. They are your most valuable resource, and their time and efforts should be recognized and complimented. If you’re able, you should also give them perks and some additional ownership of the community that others may not have. For my last community, staff members created graphics and programs for the community, a perk that was not available to everyday community members.

Here are some philosophies I’ve used in the past that were VERY helpful as my community continued to grow:

  • Staff is a team. If a team member is unable to do their duties, they can step down and return at a later time if they wish to. Avoid saying staff is “family” because I’ve seen so many communities with this philosophy end up with over-bloated staffs where a few people work their butts off while others in the “family” do not contribute or put much effort in.
  • Staff members should be respectful ambassadors of the community. They have to maintain that respect, even with problematic members.
  • Staff members should not take abuse from community members. If someone is trolling or acting as if staff is customer service they can yell at or berate, the staff member should report it and you should consider removing the member.
  • Share issues/conflicts with other staff members. If everyone is aware of a problem, they can work together to solve it.

Join me for Part 2 and 3 of Community Creation!

I’ve mapped three parts for this walkthrough, the next two parts will take a more in-depth look at some of the things I’ve mentioned here: Moderation/Community Management and Community Growth/Branding. I learned so much about moderation and managing my own writing community over the last three years, I can’t wait to share with you what worked and what didn’t!

Quicklinks will be here once they are posted:

Part 1 – Rules, Philosophies, and Platforms

Part 2 – Moderation and Community Management (Coming Soon)

Part 3 – Community Growth and Branding (Coming Soon)

We will publish these blogs in the next couple of weeks, so be sure to subscribe for updates!

Productivity · Writer Self-Care

Hustle Culture is Destroying Your Creativity – Avoid the Burnout

I’ve been lucky the last couple of years to work with dear friends and amazing people on a variety of projects. One thing we’ve told each other a lot this past year is that we have to remember to rest. I have a tendency to try to fix one more thing, or do one more project, which feeds into a habit of working all the time.

This year, it finally caught up with me. I had two months where I just did not want to write or create anything. I felt like my creative well was completely dry, which honestly freaked me out because I’m the kind of person who doesn’t believe in things like “writer’s block.” I do believe that our creative energy is finite to an extent. A few years ago I saw someone refer to it as your “creative cup” and that you have to be mindful of what is drawing from it.

For the first time in years, I completely drained that cup and this time I had no idea how to fill it back up. I tried my usual methods, start a new story, clean a space in my house, etc. Nothing worked, I was just drained. I was also working incredibly hard, on-call for a community I had built 24/7 that was fine a few years ago but now it had grown so much I could not just answer every call or try to fix every problem. For some people, this would be the point where they put down firm boundaries and stopped jumping at notifications. I am not able to do that. Because of the way my brain works, I tend to want to answer notifications/emails/etc. immediately, so I realized I had to step out of my position in that community and take some time to re-connect with myself.

It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve made in the last few years. I loved the space and I loved the people I worked with, but I knew what I was doing was not sustainable and that the people I worked with had better boundaries than I did.

I realized it was time to take a real break and figure out what came next.

I had to change my strategies for filling my creative cup back up, and these were the questions that helped me work out what path I needed to take going forward.

  • What do I want my daily life and routines to look like? For me, I didn’t want to be on call 24/7 anymore. I wanted to wake up and choose the routine to start my day. Right now, it includes figuring out theme for my day, 3 tasks to focus on (research says that’s really all you can do in a day), writing down what I plan to do for exercise and ways to relax/play each day.
  • What was the most draining about my past projects? Can I avoid those aspects in the future? My choice on this question was that I will not take on volunteer projects unless A. I love the project, I’m excited about it and it’s helping me move myself/my career forward. or B. The project has to work with my schedule and pay me for my time. If it doesn’t fit that basic criteria, I can’t take it on.
  • Will I be happy I did this in five to ten years? I’ve seen a lot of posts that ask you to think about when you’re old and gray, but I want to go a bit less forward. If it is not something I think I’ll look back on and smile in five years, I need to approach the project carefully and decide if it is worth it.
  • Am I working with someone who values my work? If the answer is “no” one thing the last year has definitely taught me is that it’s time to get out. I’ve spent too much time building up people who take my work and effort for granted. If they can’t say “thank you” and recognize my skills, it’s time to step out.

Lastly, thank the people who have supported you and recognized your need for growth. Also, if they do recognize your skills but it doesn’t fit with your vision for your life and future, remember to tell those folks how much you care about them and thank them for the ways they’ve supported you. For me, I’ve worked with some amazing people in volunteer positions that I’ve had to step down from as I grew as a person. As my career progresses, I want to keep them in mind for projects that I need to hire people for. I firmly believe that rising tides lift all boats, but that we still need to remember that everyone needs rest and support as we flow through those tides.

Productivity · Time Management · Writer Self-Care

How to Know When It’s Time To Move On

I hate big changes. I kind of always have, when I was kid and my parents would mention they were thinking about moving, I would immediately begin to cry. We moved a lot when I was little, I went to four different elementary schools. Each move came with new struggles, bullying, and loss, so for me I began to just despise the idea of big changes.

I’ve spent a lot of my life outside of my comfort zone, there are times I definitely cling to it. But as a person and a writer, I know the times I’ve grown the most are when I step outside of that comfort zone. Still, I’ll cling to that comfort for a long time before I realize it’s time to move on. I’ll also pour myself into spaces with little to no return, because they’re comfortable. I also like to stay busy, so I tend to volunteer to help support different projects and communities often.

I’ve noticed some signs though, that tell me it’s time to move on, and I’m going to share them with you in case you would benefit. These may apply to a job or a volunteer position, but they could also just apply to life as a whole.

1. The joy is gone.

This was a big sign for me when I recently stepped down from a position I had held for nearly 3 1/2 years. I still loved the space/community, but fixing issues in it had started to give me anxiety. I no longer loved participating in the activities I used to adore there. I thought the feeling might go away, but after months it didn’t. That was the biggest indicator for me it was time to make a plan to step down, and hand the reins over to someone who still had the joy that I had lost. Passion, especially when it comes to volunteer opportunities, is so important.

2. You’ve hit the goals you wanted to accomplish in this space

I personally have a bad habit of jumping down rabbit holes that aren’t actually my rabbit holes. A friend says “let’s build this cool thing!” and I’m down to do it and willing to learn what is needed to make it happen. Because of that, I tend to consciously and unconsciously set goals for myself as we build out a new community or new space. These goals have been things like improving my coding skills, upping my graphic design abilities and creating a fun, low-drama space where people can freely write and create. With some of these spaces, you could always learn more, but if you feel like you’ve built the skills you needed to it may be time to see what comes next.

3. It’s time to do other things.

Sometimes projects stall or fail or you out grow them. It can be tempting to keep investing time into something in hopes of a different outcome, but there are times where sinking more hours into something is just wasted time. Try to recognize when you’re just treading water and start swimming toward something new.

4. Your efforts aren’t appreciated or your contributions aren’t recognized

I am so bad about this one. When I tell people about myself, I often say that I consider myself to be a real-life Leslie Knope from Parks and Rec. I will take on way to many projects and work my ass off to make them happen and make people happy while I do it. This has led to me working for or helping people who actually don’t care how much time and effort I’m putting in to bolster their project.

These people are usually easy to recognize, usually working for them looks something like this.

  • They never say “thank you” or praise the work you’ve put in. Ever.
  • If they do say thank you, it’s only because you saved their ass or made them look good.
  • They don’t put in much work themselves. You and others are always the one building things/improving things.
  • They don’t respond regularly to you, they often drop conversations and never get back to you.

If you’re building someone else’s community or helping them with a project and they can’t even say “thank you” to you once in awhile? Run. Run like hell and take all those skills you’ve built and build your own dream. Start your own project.

Don’t sink another month into supporting something that isn’t yours or isn’t something you truly believe in, especially if you aren’t being paid for your time.

Productivity · Writer Self-Care

5 Tips To Help You Stay Sane While Working From Home

For the last 6-7 years, I’ve worked from home as a freelance writer, project manager, and editor. A lot of people think that working from home is all about being in your pajamas and binging Netflix in the background, but it’s actually a bit more involved than that (though I do have some friends who still work in their PJs).

Because you never “leave” work it can be easy to fall into habits of working all the time and never truly relaxing…Or you can end up constantly trying to stay on task when you’re “at work.” It can also start to feel socially isolating because you get less face to face time with other people, and sometimes it feels like you haven’t moved forward much.

Do not fret! I’ve got 5 ways you can avoid these things, and I learned them the hard way so you don’t have to!

Keep a Good Routine – Don’t Work All the Time

When I first started working from home, I would basically make myself available to clients 24/7. If I got a request for a job or an email from a client at 9:30 at night, I’d rush to my computer to answer it. 

It took me several years of working from home to realize that isn’t feasible in the long term. You will wear yourself out super quickly. It’s pretty rare that any of these questions or tasks are urgent, especially if you’re in an industry like me, where most questions would be fine if you answered them in the morning.

Set work hours for yourself. Just like a real job, you need a routine of when you are on and off work. For me, I’m ‘at work’ at 8 o’clock each morning, whether I’m working on my own projects or projects for clients I work with. I usually work until noon, take a lunch break and then try to get back to it around 1 PM. From there, I’ll work until 2-3 PM. Sometimes it will feel like you’re not working the ‘full’ 8 hours, but I’ve spent the last few years really disciplining myself. If I’m working, that’s most of what I’m doing. I’m not checking social media or other distractions. When you’re in an office, some of those 8 hours are filled will chatting with co-workers or moments of being off task. 

You’ll want to be mindful of your time and aware of your distractions, but 4-6 hours of non-distracted work easily matches 8 hours of distracted work for me. I can walk away from 5 hours of non-distracted work and feel pretty accomplished and also pretty drained. Listen to your brain and body and don’t overwork yourself.

One other tool I use to stay on task is called Time Boxing. Planning out your day or week can help you stay on task and remind yourself “Right now, I’m working.” or “It’s time for leisure right now, I shouldn’t be working.” It’s important to make time to work and relax in pretty much equal parts, especially when your home becomes your workplace.

Practice Good Hygiene.

Get up, shower and brush your teeth. I have some friends who do work in their PJs, but they’ve turned that into a productive “work uniform” for themselves. They see PJs as the sort of clothing they create or work in, so being in a suit or something more formal doesn’t work the same way for them anymore.

I personally started wearing a nightshirt to bed and then when I get up in the morning after I do my morning routine, I change into new clothes. I still wear comfy jeans and a t-shirt most days, but it feels good to be in clean clothes as you start your day.

Socialize and Get Out of the House (If you can)

Okay, I totally get that a lot of you are working from home right now as a means of practicing social distancing. I’m proud of you! Thank you for helping us protect ourselves and our loved ones. I’m doing the same! But, this advice still holds, we still need to socialize even if it’s done over the phone or over the internet. Humans crave connection.

When the world is not impacted by a pandemic, I try to leave my house at least once every 3-4 days. Sometimes I just go shopping at TJ Maxx or I go to my Silent Book Club or other activities were my friends will be. If you’re not an extrovert, going for a walk or exercising outside is also a great option.

I’ve also found other ways to socialize thanks to the internet. I’ve played online games via console or my PC with friends and we use discord or party chats to speak to each other as we play. For a long time, I had a group of friends who met up almost every night of the week to game together. It was our version of ‘hanging out after work’ even though we were all doing it from the comfort of our own homes.

I also call family and friends and video chat with some of them regularly. We have a lot of applications and games out there that can help us feel a sense of connection and interaction with people, you can make good use of them.

Co-Work Virtually

A dear friend and I both work from home frequently, so we do a thing we call “sprinting” to help each other stay productive. We email each other when we’re working and we check in on the hour mark to see what we did for the hour. This both helps give us a bit of social interaction and it helps us stay productive and on-task during work hours. 

I’ve also read stories where artists used Skype or Discord to do video or phone chats with other artists, so they feel like they’re working together, like they might in an office. 

It can really help to motivate you if you know you have to tell someone else what you did for the last hour. I have another blog on Accountability Buddies if you want to learn more.

One word of caution with this though: Don’t let the socializing become the thing you’re “doing” for the hour. My friend and I use email because we’re less likely to pull each other off-task with it. I’ve had sprinting buddies in the past who wanted to keep talking while we were supposed to be working. If that happens, just do your best to stay on task and it might be time to find a new buddy.

Reflect on Your Accomplishments. It’s Easy to Miss Them.

I had a “friend” who used to make comments about how working from home wasn’t truly ‘working.’ I don’t think she intended to be mean, but she would often tell me I could take care of tasks she couldn’t because I had “so much free time.” I think this attitude will become less common in the coming weeks, because as more people work from home, more people are going to realize how hard it can be and how you can totally lose all your boundaries with work when it’s a room away, rather than a commute away.

The greatest way I’ve found to combat these negative comments or feelings is to reflect on what you’ve accomplished. Did you finish a bunch of tasks? WOO! Were you supportive of the people you work with or students you work with? That’s awesome! Did you manage to learn something new or build on a skill you already had? YOU ARE DOING GREAT! 

Just because you may not have a boss or co-workers to directly acknowledge all the progress you are making, doesn’t mean you’re not still making progress. You are, trust me. Even adjusting to working from home is a huge amount of progress. Like I said, it’s taken me years to make these adjustments and feel happy and comfortable with my work/life balance. 

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them down below! I’m happy to share anything I’ve learned in the last few years, especially if it helps the people around me.

Also, my friend I virtually co-work a lot with has written a companion piece to this blog about different apps and tools you can use to help you stay productive and on task while working from home.

Go check her blog out here: https://virtuosity1111.wordpress.com/ (I’ll update the link when the post is up)

Motivation · Productivity · Writer Self-Care

Why Failure Isn’t A Bad Thing

One of my favorite hobbies is playing video games. I’m one of those silly adults who actually really enjoys games like Fortnite, and when I first started playing the game, I was pretty bad at it. I would only use one kind of weapon, because it was the only one I thought I was good at and for a while, I told myself it was not worth trying to get better at other types of weapons. 

Eventually though, if I wanted to continue to get better, I needed more options. So I started learning how to use the sniper rifle. And then I figured out how to use a shotgun. I was honestly trash at them when I started out, but I kept at it. I learned how to use the scope and time my shots. Nowadays, I can hit a snipe in Fortnite about 50-70% of the time.

The reason I was able to improve and get better at the game, is because I changed my mindset. I went from a “fixed” mindset, where I had concluded I could not get better to a “growth” mindset. When we have a fixed mindset we believe our skills are sort of set in stone. If we fail, we decide that this thing we were trying to do just isn’t our thing.

With a growth mindset, we see failure as part of the learning process.

You learn from your failure and you try again. I’ve met a lot of writers who struggle to take feedback, because they think that failure is the end of their journey. It’s not. If we have a growth mindset, we can look at that feedback and we can see where we have weaknesses. Once you know where your issues are, you can try to improve them. 

I know for a fact that I struggle with really well-written descriptions. When I edit the first draft of my own work, I watch for sections where I could really improve the descriptions. I still don’t rewrite them until I’ve gone through the entire draft, but eventually, I hunker down and flesh them out. It still does not come easy to me, and I sort of doubt it ever will, but that’s okay. I’m constantly improving my writing practices. 

We can only learn from our weakness and build our skills if we know what they are and are willing to try to overcome them.

I’ve been reading a great book on this subject called “Brave, Not Perfect” by Reshma Saujani. She specifically talks about how a lot of girls and women are socialized to have a fixed mindset. If you want to change your perspective, you could definitely check out her book or watch her TED Talk here.

I’ll end this blog with one of my favorite quotes about failure:

Editing · Writing

Why You Need An Editor (Yes, you!)

A few nights ago, I had a dream about a friend I had not seen in a while. She was lamenting how she had this piece of finished work, but that the story just wasn’t having the impact she wanted and it wasn’t selling. 

I gave her the same advice I’ve given to a lot of my friends over the years. “You need an editor.” 

I found it funny I had said that in my dream. People often view editors as an “extra” cost, but if you think about the world of professional writing, they are not an optional service. Every author I know of and admire has editors they work with who help them clarify and strengthen their vision. 

The reason I’ve given this piece of advice so much is because I’ve read a lot of work out there that could have truly benefited from some editing, and I know my work is ten times better when I have someone edit it. That pair of fresh eyes can spot things you can’t see, because you are so close to the work. They can also help you learn from those mistakes and become a better writer. That is why you need an editor.

And realistically, editors can be pricey, so if you’re not on the level to pay someone to review your work yet, there are a few other ways you can level up your work.

Ask Friends, Exchange Services, Or Join A Writing Site

If you are not in a position to pay for an editor just yet, you can ask friends to look over your work. Ideally, these should be friends who do some writing themselves so they can give you a critique you can really use. You can also offer to review and critique their work in the future.

If you aren’t able to exchange critiques, you can see if there are other services you can swap with your friends. Right now, I’m providing editing/coaching services for a friend and they are going to do some artwork for me. It’s a mutually beneficial agreement for both of us.

Lastly, if you don’t have any writer friends just yet, join a writing site that focuses on improvement and feedback. There are tons of services out there that should meet your needs. In the past, I’ve used both Writing.com and Scribophile.com and both sites have systems in place to help you get your work reviewed/critiqued.

When Your Ready For An Editor

The great thing about a good editor is that there are no feelings involved. With friends, they may try to spare your feelings and avoid giving you critiques you may need. 

A good editor is there to help you fix mistakes, clarify your vision and improve your writing. You may want to build up a thick skin before you hire an editor. Taking critique can be hard, but it is truly necessary if you want to learn and improve your craft.  Every professional author you admire is able to take feedback. I’ve written more on the subject here.

You also don’t have to take every edit your editor suggests. Now and then, you will feel it in your gut that you need to stick with your instincts and keep a line or a part of the story. It’s okay to take some of the advice, but not all of it. Do your best to consider their edits thoughtfully and incorporate what you can.

When I work as an editor, I always remind myself that I am there to help the author communicate their vision. The author/editor relationship is all about communication and compromise. 

Writing

Why Taking (And Giving!) Feedback is an Essential Skill for Writers

Feedback provides us with an opportunity to learn from and improve on our mistakes. Learning to take criticism with grace and positivity is an essential skill for writers.

Building Your Feedback Skills

First off, it’s okay if you aren’t perfect at taking feedback. I’ve spent the last few years building up a thick skin for constructive criticism and I still feel the burn sometimes when I ask for critique. The defensive monster at the back of my mind pokes her head out to say “noo, my work is great, how dare you!?” but I push her back into her cave after letting her rage for a minute or two. Here are some ways you can work on building your skills so you can make feedback work for you. 

Don’t make excuses

It’s okay to explain why you wrote something a particular way if you have a strong reason for doing it, but don’t give your critique partner or editor a bunch of excuses. If you find yourself constantly explaining why you did something, what you’re really saying is that your work can not stand by itself and that you have to explain it. That alone is enough for you to do a re-write. 

React, but don’t respond right away.

As I said above, I still get defensive of my work sometimes, even with critique partners and editors I’ve worked with for YEARS. These folks know me and they know my writing, but it still stings sometimes. I don’t tell them that it stings or let my defensiveness leak through.

I give myself a few hours to process the sting and then I go back in and try to look at the feedback constructively. 

Take the feedback and make edits.

Read through the feedback carefully and do your best to use it as a tool to improve both the current piece your working on and future work. You might find that you actually really love the feedback once you’ve incorporated it and strengthened your writing.

Be Aware of What Constructive Criticism looks like

I used to be a teacher and during my undergraduate program, I learned some really vital things about feedback. For every 1 negative we give a young student, we need to give them 4 positive and specific points of feedback. I don’t use that exact ratio when I do editing work, but I do try to provide them with both constructive negative criticism AND specific positive feedback. 

If you have ever had someone edit your work and just tear it apart, without telling you that you did anything right, you know how hard it is to take that person’s advice. It’s important to be able to discern when feedback is constructive and when it is just overly negative or critical. If you feel like a feedback partner/editor isn’t giving you helpful notes and doesn’t get your vision, it’s okay to look for a new feedback partner or hire a new editor.

A good feedback partner or editor should help build you up, not just tear you down.

Also, don’t take unsolicited feedback from someone you would not ask for advice from. If you’re in a workshop setting and you know a writer there is not someone who’s advice you really want, it’s okay to take their feedback with a grain of salt.

Giving Feedback Helps You Become A Better Writer

Giving feedback to others also helps you improve your own writing. Figuring what is and isn’t’ working for others can help you problem solve your own writing issues. It can also help you gain a deeper understanding of good dialogue, good plot and more!

Writing · Writing Career

Building a Writing Career: How to Submit to Anthologies

Getting published seems like a scary and hard-to-achieve goal for a lot of the writers I’ve talked to, but one way to get your name out there is to submit to anthologies. It’s a great place to get started because you can focus on short fiction for a bit and learn about story structure.

If just one anthology accepts and publishes your submission, that’s it, you can say you’re a published writer. 

Finding Out Where to Submit Your Story

Literistic is a monthly email service that sends you a list of open contests, literary magazines and more. They have both a free and paid version of their monthly newsletter. The free version is quite a bit shorter than the paid, but if you are just starting out, the free version is a great way to get a feel for it and find a few different places you would like to submit your work to.

Many universities and community colleges have a literary journal/magazine or anthology that they publish yearly. They usually have open submissions but prioritize student authors or local authors. You can contact your local institution or take a look at their website to find out if they have a literary journal.

You can check out this link here for a list of the top 100 literary journals. This is a great list to get you started!

Read the Submission Guidelines Carefully

I’ve submitted several stories and though the process is almost always similar, no two submissions were exactly the same. Some journals want a cover letter with an author bio, while others just want your story. Some will want your name on every page, while others will only want your name on the cover letter. Make sure you read the instructions carefully and follow them very closely. 

Many editorial teams will not read your work if you did not follow their guidelines.

Rejection Happens

Now, just like any other submission process, you will want to ready yourself for rejection. Just because you did not get accepted, does not mean the story is bad or poorly written. It just means that it was not right for that particular literary journal. Hold on to the story, edit it again if you feel you need to, and submit it somewhere else. I personally try to submit to journals that either offer a free copy of the book/journal, or even offer some kind of payment for the story.

Keep Writing

The more short stories you write, the more work you have to submit. I keep most of my stories in a folder in google docs and when I find a literary journal I want to submit to, I see if I have anything already written or if I need to create a new story.

Good luck! Let me know if you have any questions, I’m happy to share more of my experience.

Book Review · Personal Post · Writing

My 2020 Reading List

Hey everyone, I wanted to share a part of my reading list for 2020, just to put some awesome books on your radar!

I tend to read a lot of self-help and instructional books, I enjoy the way they help me center my thinking. Last year, I tried to balance that with a bit more fiction reading. In my teens and early twenties, I would to ravenously devour fiction books and I’d like to get back to that. I struggle to sit still and ignore distractions, so sometimes sitting quietly and reading can be difficult, but this year I want to try to retrain my brain to be okay with quiet time. 

I also make a list of books each year that I would like to read and create a page in my bullet journal for it.

My Full Reading List So Far

Some of the books are novels I’ve read before that I want a refresher on, some of them are books I meant to read last year but didn’t start…And a few are books I started but didn’t finish. 

I listen to audiobooks pretty often, so it can be easy to get a few hours in and forget that I was reading that book. This year, I hope to finish a lot more than I did last year.

Here’s a few of the books on my list that I’m really excited about:

  1. Brave, Not Perfect by Reshma Suanjani – Reshma started the “Girls Who Code” organization and this book dives into studies on why girls tend to develop a fixed mindset about what they are capable of. She also shares insights on how we can move beyond trying to be “perfect” and choose to be brave instead.
  2. Meditations of Marcus Aurelius – I just find stoic philosophy pretty fascinating and would like to practice it more.
  3. Protect the Prince by Jennifer Estep – I read the first book in this series last year and I really enjoyed it. It was the sort of adventure/fantasy/romance book that fits exactly what I look for in those sorts of genres. Often, I’ve found a lot of stories like this are reserved for YA, but the main character in this book is 27. 
  4. Wyvern by Grace Draven – Draven is one of my favorite fantasy romance authors. Once I get started on her books, I typically devour them quite quickly. 
  5. Lagom by Niki Brantmark – This book is about the Swedish art of living a happy, balanced life. I picked it up after I really enjoyed Hygge by Meik Wiking. Hygge is a Danish concept of happiness. I have Scandinavian ancestry and books like this help me feel more connected to the cultures of my great-grandparents.
  6. The Night Witches by Garth Ennis and Russ Braun – This is a graphic novel about female military aviators who fought during WWII. They would idle their engines and glide toward their bombing targets and that got them the nickname “Night Witches” from their Nazi enemies. It was very uncommon to see women in combat roles during this time in history.

So there you have it. Obviously there are a lot more books on my list in my bullet journal, but these are the ones I hope to start the year off strong with.

Writing Guide

4 Pieces of Bad Writing Advice You Should Not Listen To

I’ve been in and out of various online and offline writing communities for over a decade now. In that time, I’ve seen some great writing advice and some really bad writing advice. 

Bad writing advice is often offered with good intentions. It sounds like good writing advice, but at best it isn’t really practical advice and at worst…it’s the blind leading the blind. I want to share four pieces of bad writing advice that I wish I had never listened to. I hope they help you avoid any pitfalls! 

Only Write When You Feel The Flow

I love those moments when I feel like everything is flowing, the story is coming alive, but if I only wrote when I felt like that, I would nothing finished or published. 

I think it was Neil Gaiman who talked about how if you go back and read your writing during those moments of “flow” versus the moments you just force yourself to get it down on paper, you’re not going to see a huge difference in quality.

Another tip with this: I have had a lot of writer friends over the years who wait to feel inspired. Many of them have never finished a project. You have to work when you feel it and when you don’t. Pushing through is the only way to get to the other side of things and finish your work.

Long, Flowery Text Is Better Than Basic or Accessible Writing

It’s easy to romanticize the writers that filled their stories with flowery prose. To be honest, the flowery stuff never really appealed to me, even when most of my friends were in a phase where they would be looking through their thesaurus more than actually writing.

Think about the last book you read that you loved. Did you have to read the text multiple times to understand what they were trying to communicate? Most of the time the answer is no. 

Good writing is usually concise and accessible. Even if you use big, beautiful descriptive words in your sentences, your entire sentence shouldn’t be filled with those big words. You should contextual cues and other more accessible writing so the reader can figure out what you’re saying, without having to pull out their dictionary. 

Write What You Know 

Okay, this advice works within reason. It is way easier to write cultures you are familiar with, to write about your own experiences and such. 

But do you think George Lucas knew what it was like to fight in a revolutionary space war? No. He pulled inspiration from a variety of sources and crafted a story he wanted to tell. It’s okay to break out of the box of what you know and go beyond it. 

If you plan to write a culture or experience that is very different from your own, you just need to do your research. Study that culture and talk to people with those experiences. One thing that is important to remember, is people are going to figure it out if you write from a place that isn’t authentic. 

I grew up the mountain west and when I read books or see TV shows that portray where I grew up in a way that’s not authentic, it sticks out like a sore thumb and oftentimes ruins the experience for me. That’s something to keep in mind as you write outside your box. Figure out how to make your writing as authentic as you can.

You Aren’t A Writer Until You’ve Been Published

I was sort of lucky, when I started really pursuing writing, I had a short piece of fiction published pretty quickly. It was validating, but that did not mean I was not a writer up until that point. I’ve sort of felt like I was a writer and a storyteller most of my life. Even after that initial publication, I’ve had other contracts and “sure thing” opportunities fall through, I’ve dealt with a lot of kind and not-so-kind rejections. 

That’s sort of the nature of the beast, when you’re a writer.

You don’t need someone else to validate you. If you write, you’re a writer.