Degree or No Degree…That is the Question

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A college degree is often seen as a beneficial and, depending on your career path, necessary requirement to have in your professional arsenal. And while you can do many jobs without this level of higher education, the experience it provides can still be incredibly advantageous.

That said, I want to touch on a debate I have seen going around the interwebs lately, especially in some of my writing groups.

Does an author need a degree or formal background in writing to be successful?

Short answer: No, they do not.

But, and I say this as a possibly biased English major, it does help to have that extra bit of knowledge under your belt. While I am still a year out from holding my degree in my hands, I have already seen the results of my education and how it has transformed my work. I have studied a wide range of topics within the realm of English and have learned a great deal on the origins and background of my craft that has influenced how I perceive my career choice and goals as I move forward.

I have also honed my critical thinking skills, sharpened my writing, gained knowledge from classmates that has been invaluable, and found new interests within the subject along the way. I’ve also taken classes centered around technology that have helped me as far as my author platform and web-based interaction goes, and my current classes are focusing on writing for professional publication and web authoring, which are again, incredibly helpful.

So why would I say writers don’t need a degree? Well, because you don’t NEED a degree to write. The knowledge you gain through education helps, but setting out to write without a writing-based degree doesn’t make you any less of a writer. Some authors choose to teach themselves what they need to know, and rely on their passion for writing to lead them the rest of the way.

As long as you have the drive and ambition to succeed as an author, that’s really all you need. If you choose the college route, that’s great, and while it might get you where you want to be faster by having that information, it doesn’t mean that you won’t be successful if you don’t have a specific degree that is related to writing.

The key is to simply persevere and continually push and improve. If you are doing that, you’re doing great, and a degree doesn’t supply you with that inherent desire. If you want to write, write. Don’t let anyone tell you that you must meet some sort of requirement in order to pen your story. As long as you are determined and plan to put in the work, that’s what matters. An education helps, but it’s not the be-all-end-all in the world of writing.

What do you think? Is a degree necessary, or just a bonus to have in your professional profile?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

 

Literary Agents

I’ve seen a lot of discussion in my online writing groups regarding literary agents lately. People have been asking what exactly they do, how to find them, and whether they’re even necessary to have, and it really struck me when I realized how many authors were sort of in the dark on this topic.

I’ll admit, I didn’t always understand their full significance myself, but after perusing the Internet and interacting in groups with those who had all the good information on agents, I feel much better about my understanding of their imperative role in an author’s publishing journey.

So exactly does an agent do? Well, their biggest role is to work as a liaison between an author and a publishing house. Most medium to large scale publishing houses will refuse manuscripts that are sent by the actual author – they typically want only works that are sent by agents. If you submit a query to an agent and they agree to take you on as a client, their job is to find a publishing house that fits your manuscript. Different publishers look for different types of submissions, and agents have the insider knowledge that will help them put your work in the right hands.

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Now, if we’ve gotten this far and you’re wondering what a query letter is, don’t fret. It is essentially a letter that explains your story in order to capture the attention of the agent. It is a necessary component to acquiring an agent and is an important skill to hone if you wish to take the traditional publishing route. A well composed query letter also makes you stand out professionally and can give a great first impression with a kick of additional credibility. If an agent can see that you are serious and able to construct a well thought out letter, they will have more faith in you and your manuscript, provided the story stands out to them as well.

More information on drafting a killer query letter can be found at http://nybookeditors.com/2015/12/how-to-write-a-darn-good-query-letter/.

Of course, it is important to find an agent you’d like to submit to, or even a few of them, before you can get much further in the process. While there are many routes to take and plenty of agent directories online, you’ll want to make sure that the agents you’re looking into are legit, and a quick search of the Association of Author Representatives can help as well as taking a look at client lists.

Two directories I recommend include:

By now, you can probably gather that finding an agent to represent you is necessary if you plan to take the traditional publishing route. If you self-publish, it isn’t as necessary, and if you are planning to submit to smaller, regional publishing houses, they aren’t as much of a requirement either. But a trusted agent can definitely guide you in the right direction if you plan to submit to larger publishers.

Here are a few more links with great information on literary agents:

http://www.dailywritingtips.com/how-to-find-a-literary-agent/

http://www.independentpublisher.com/article.php?page=1586

http://ingridsundberg.com/2010/04/15/the-dos-and-donts-of-submitting-to-a-literary-agent/

I hope you found this helpful, and if you have anything add, whether it’s advice, recommendations, or additional information, please leave a comment! I only scratched the surface here and would love more feedback from those who have gone through the process. 🙂

 

My Top 10 Tips for an Author Platform

Though I’m still building my author platform and my experience pales in comparison to most, I have learned a lot in the last year that I have been able to pass on to fellow authors and those who are hoping to set up their own site.

I actually didn’t realize how much I really knew until I started helping others, and it surprised me a little. It has all begun to feel so second nature, so I never gave it much thought on the actual amount of information and skills I had acquired.

That said, I thought it would be fun to give you guys a list of tips that I think are important, or I have found incredibly helpful throughout my journey. Some of these are pretty simple, but I think they serve as a good set of reminders of how to get started, or how to continue to build on what you have.

  1. Domain. This is numero uno, most important. If you want an author platform, you need to scoop up a domain as soon as possible. There are people who will buy domains and then try to mark up the price, and that is a battle you don’t want to engage in. I struggled when I was deciding whether to use my full, legal name or a pen name, but when the domain with my full name was already taken, I realized I had to go with the latter. It wasn’t too bad, though, and since there is already an author of children’s books who shares my same legal name, I knew a pen name was the best choice for the sake of differentiation. That and the gal in Scotland who owns my original domain preference never emailed me back. 😛
    You’ll also want to snag up Twitter and Facebook (and/or other social media accounts if you use those, too) handles and if you can’t use your name, make sure they are the same across social media pages or similar. Mine are all different, but they are similar and I make sure my cover and profile images are the same to pull it together.
  2. Search Engine Optimization, better known in the tech world as SEO, is something that is important to put on your radar. SEO affects the visibility of a website in a search engine’s results and is a tool that will help to get more people on your page. I haven’t found it to be absolutely necessary at this early point in my journey, but I figure once I hit a certain number of followers (1000 or so) and Dreamweaver is finally published, I will delve more into learning about SEO.
  3. Facebook Groups! These have been wonderful resources for me and I attribute a lot of my success to the information and advice I have received by being a member. I currently follow Jeff Goins and his group called Art of Work, Kate McKibbin in her Secret Blogger’s Society group, and I’m also a part of Where Authors Begin and Writers Unite. There are tons of groups to join and they have invaluable information from their creators and members. Not to mention the amazing networking! I have made a lot of great contacts that I wouldn’t have made if not for joining these groups.
  4. I also think it is incredibly helpful to find at least three successful blogs in your same niche to follow. Not only will you find great ideas, techniques, and tools to implement on your own site, but the networking potential also increases. You may even end up in a position to guest post or be included in round-ups, which are great ways to get your name out there further. Mentor blogs are an invaluable resource.
  5. PICTURES. This should probably be higher in the list because I think the use of images and graphics is so important. Most of what a mobile/web user reads is only in small snippets that are easy to skim, so attention-grabbing, sleek, and memorable graphics help draw the reader in and keep their attention. Canva is a great resource for a variety of graphics and images, both free and paid, and I use it on a daily basis.
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  6. Another aspect of an author platform that I believe is key is a blog page. This is where your readers and potential audience learn more about you not only as an author, but as a relatable human being. Sharing your interests, your writing process, things you feel passionately about, and whatever your heart desires to share helps them to connect with you. It also hones your writing skills, contributes to your portfolio, and it can be a valuable way to help you find and develop your voice. I know blogging has done all of these for me!
  7. Interacting with your followers is important as well. I try to make it a point to interact with each and every person who reaches out to me so that they know I see and appreciate them. My numbers are still such that I can do this, but even if I gained another two thousand followers, I’d still carve out time to comment and tweet to the people who reach out to me. I obviously couldn’t get to them all, but I’d make a dent. 😉 I know I smile when I get feedback from those I’ve reached out to, and I always want my followers to know how grateful I am to have them in my corner.
  8. Investment. Again, this should probably be closer to the top, especially since this is something I have sadly seen a lot of people forget to do. I know that it’s hard to invest money into something you might not be seeing a return on, but if you take your work seriously enough to create an author platform for it, you need to be willing to spend the time and the money to spruce it up. I pay yearly for my domain and though I find great free resources, I do spend here and there when I can to improve my site. And if you’re in it to make a living, it will pay for itself in the long run. 😉
  9. Twitter hashtags seem like a funny thing to have on the list, right? I don’t think so, and here’s why. In the last two months, I have seen my list grow from 70 or so followers to 270 just by attaching hashtags like #writerslife and #amwriting to my tweets along with some of the trending ones. These work as searchable tools on Twitter, and if someone searches the hashtag you used, there’s a chance they’ll see your tweet. And if they are intrigued by you, they just might follow you. Boom – networking! I have been followed by other authors, agents, actors, producers, directors, publishing houses, and so many others and all of this new interaction is due, in part, to utilizing hashtags to increase my reach.
  10. Finally, and I can’t stress this enough, return the love. I’m not just talking about interacting with your followers when they comment on your posts or social media, but engaging with fellow authors, bloggers, and other individuals or organizations within your niche. I have a small group of loyal bloggers and authors who constantly “like” my posts, “favorite” my tweets, and engage with me on my site and connected pages. So, I try to do the same for them! This is how little tribes are built, and it just strengthens that connection and networking amongst your fellow peers.

So, there it is, friends. Ten of my top to-do’s and pieces of advice for setting up, establishing, or running an author platform. I hope you’ve found it helpful!

Please feel free to leave any extra tips you feel are important in the comments! 🙂

Analysis Paralysis

Guys.

My characters aren’t talking to me…

I’ve hit a creative wall with Dreamweaver. The pivot point I experienced with my plot a few weeks ago, which was awesome when it occurred, completely paralyzed my progress.

I started to second guess myself and wasn’t feeling confident at all. I was wildly unsure of where the story was going and I was so worried that I had gone in the wrong direction…

…and they stopped talking.

…which means no progress, and my nerves are shot.

Throughout the process, I’ve felt like I was actually writing what could be two separate stories, and I think this plays into my concern quite a bit.

Another part of me, though, that little voice that says, “Hey, stop questioning things and just write!” has been pushing me to believe in the story, move forward, and see what happens.

I’m in this horrible cycle of optimism, panic, and doubt, and it stinks!

What if I push forward and it seems forced?

Do I write in the other direction instead and see if it helps?

Do I lay it all out and organize what I have to better see the places where these “two” stories are running into one another?

Or do I just push down all of these negative connotations and accept that at some point, these seemingly separate pieces will come together?

I think a large part of this is also my hesitation to make progress. I want to sit down and write, but I get so caught up in wanting to make sure I’m doing it “right” and it just increases the uncertainty. I want this story to be written so perfectly that I get in my own way. I would hate to write it, publish it, and think, “Damn, I should have done _______ differently.”

Like I said, it’s a horrible cycle — one I’m sure many other writers can understand.

And I think all of these conflicting feelings within me are what has caused my characters to fall silent. I used to walk around with them chatting up a storm in my head, creating scenes, and words would flow across the page when I sat down to type them out.

Now, it’s crickets.

I did find a helpful post on a blog called Out Loud titled What to Do When Your Characters Stop Talking and loved what the author had to say. I fit into her “None of the Above” category which is, you guessed it, self-doubt.

I suppose I have found the answer to my own problem…

I just need to believe in what I’m doing, and trust the process.

Has this happened to you before? What did you do? What would you do? I’d love some feedback, and maybe to know I’m not alone.

Sunday Snippet

Hey guys!

I tried a new meditation technique this morning and once I was done, I realized it’d make for a great blog post for a few reasons.

First, I’ll tell you about my experience and why I’ve been getting more and more into meditation in the first place.

Not many people know this, but I struggle with severe anxiety, often to the level that it cripples my day-to-day life. I was doing good with it for a few years, but after my husband left the Navy, I started to experience more and more episodes that I couldn’t shake with my normal breathing exercises.

After one of my most recent episodes, I stumbled across a wellness page that was discussing the benefits of meditation and I made a mental note about how I had always wanted to try it out, not just for anxiety reasons, but because I find it incredibly intriguing. I love anything that involves personal development.

Anyway, I realized the connection between my breathing exercises I use to combat my issue and the techniques used in meditation, and I thought it’d be something to try out to see if it helped. I hate taking medication (leaves me foggy, no good for writing!) so anything that helps that isn’t in pill form is perfect, in my opinion.

Back to this morning – I was lazily surfing the web and came across a technique I’d never heard of before called Vipassana meditation. Intrigued, I gave it a shot, starting small with five minutes to begin with. It doesn’t seem like much time to accomplish anything, but the whole point of this particular technique is to focus on your breathing and nothing else. If your mind wanders, which it will, you just bring it right back to focusing on breathing. I figured five minutes was a good point for me to start at without overwhelming myself.

I’ll admit, I had a heck of a time staying focused, but after just five minutes, I felt calm. It might sound silly to some, but I really liked the challenge and the feeling of peace (and accomplishment) once the timer went off. I read that one of the key principles of Vipassana is to be able to focus even when there are distractions all around, and this is something that I think will be especially useful for me as I move forward.

SO, what does this have to do with writing? Well, many things. I often struggle to stay focused in general, and my self-discipline straight up sucks. The focus required for meditation trains us to block out distractions and, in my opinion, helps me to reinforce and build on my weak foundation of self-discipline.

As a writer, I have found that when I can meditate for a few minutes, not only does it help lessen writer’s block, but it acts as a sort of brain dump, if you will, and sets me back on track for success. My mind is at peace and is clear to accomplish the work before me.

It also helps in my daily life, too. I have two little ones at home, so taking a few minutes to chant an affirmation in my head, follow an orb in my mind, or focus on my breathing and only my breathing, helps me to realign my mind and recharge. I’ve only begun with a few of the different methods, but I’ve enjoyed the benefits so far. And in this crazy day and age, it’s nice to block everything out and train my brain to be at peace.

I’m excited to see how this pans out as I continue to pencil in a daily session, if only for a few minutes, and I look forward to seeing the benefits it has for my anxiety and my life in general.

That said, do any of you meditate? I’d love to hear about your experience if you do!

If you don’t and want to try it out, here is a great link that explains Vipassana meditation and how it works:

http://www.lionsroar.com/how-to-practice-vipassana-insight-meditation/

‘Til next time.

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From My Library…

Hey guys!

I wanted to share a neat little book that I picked up a while back called The Kick-Ass Writer: 1001 Ways to Write Great Fiction, Get Published, & Earn Your Audience by Chuck Wendig.

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I stumbled across this awesome find during a family trip to Barnes & Noble about 2 years ago and the title immediately grabbed my attention. I thumbed through a few pages and instantly knew that I needed to add it to my collection.

Chuck has compiled everything from what you should know about writing a novel, to writing in specific genres, to self-publishing and so much more into an easy-to-read-and-apply guide that benefits a range of skill levels. The way he breaks the book’s components into lists of 25 tidbits of wisdom makes it a great reference, especially since you can peruse the index to find specific information within the text to suit your need(s) at any given time. His style and layout is simple yet effective, and it makes the content very easy to read and absorb.

I’ve found his “25 Things Writers Should Know About Blogging” section incredibly helpful as I continue to build and establish my blogging platform, and he makes a lot of solid statements regarding different aspects of the blogging world. My favorite is probably his second point in the list where he discusses the necessity of writing what energizes you — something I strongly believe in!

Of course, the rest of the information is great as well, and I’m not receiving any sort of incentive to say that. 😛 I truly feel that it is a great resource for all writers who could use a good laugh, a bit of reassurance, and a nudge in the right direction.

I will say that he does use some colorful language in his approach, so please be mindful of that – I don’t want to suggest something that will make anyone uncomfortable! An open mind is definitely necessary.

I linked the title to its Amazon page, so give it a look, and consider adding it to your collection!

And if you have any writing guides or references you find helpful, please share! I’m always looking for an excuse to buy a good book! 😉

Publishing Dilemma

As I push forward on my journey with Dreamweaver, I’ve come across a few hard-pressed decisions in terms of publishing. Namely, whether I should attempt the traditional route or if I should give self-publishing a shot.

I’ve been torn on which path to take for a few different reasons, but mostly because I am not sure what would suite me better. I want to maintain some control over marketing and have a say in the process, but I also like the secure feeling of the traditional path as well.

I have some time – my manuscript is still a work in progress – but it’s never too soon to learn about and create a plan to move forward with.

The downside to submitting to a traditional publisher is the fact that they could reject me. As could the next one. And the next. And so on. They have resources and know-how that I lack, though, so despite the obvious drawback of potential rejection, I am drawn to the alluring qualities that are still present with this option.

Self-publishing terrifies me, though. I have seen many authors self-publish and succeed, and I have seen them fail as well. It takes a lot of time and dedication, which comes with the territory, but the idea of having some of those time-consuming aspects outsourced to a publishing house makes self-publishing a less opportunistic idea for me.

However…I would get to decide how things would move forward and who I would work with on design and editing, and I could publish immediately.

I definitely have a lot to think about.

In the meantime, if anyone else is in the same boat as I am, take a look at this little blurb on Writer’s Digest’s website by Brian Klems titled The Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing (& Traditional Publishing). It has some good, quick information and suggested articles at the end that may help as well.

For those who have published traditionally, self, or both, what route did you prefer and why? Any feedback would be greatly appreciated!

Music and Writing

I don’t think I could write without music.

Music plays such a large role in everything from background noise while I pour words onto a page to exploring and assigning key emotions for the scenes I write and without it, I don’t feel I would be able to write as compellingly. Whether it’s parts for Dreamweaver, jotting down personal pieces, or developing other storylines, all of my projects have music that I attribute to them in some way. It not only helps me to connect to my work, but helps me to understand it better as well.

Shockingly (or not for those who know me well, I suppose) I’ve never been good with emotions, especially when it comes to describing how I am feeling. And since I am good at explaining just about everything else, the fact that I struggle with conveying emotion leads to many episodes of writer’s block fueled by large amounts of frustration. I have a hard time with emotional attachment and vulnerability, and my rough exterior often inhibits my ability to properly construct an authentic emotional response or relationship within my characters. This is probably my biggest weakness as a writer.

I think a lot of people can relate, however, to the emotional response and relatability of music. I know that it has been a driving force in overcoming my weaker writing areas and I have found that using music to conjure the right way to attribute my own emotions as well as my characters has helped me strengthen this aspect of my craft.

My taste in music is rather eclectic, so I have a pretty wide variety to draw from depending on my mood or inspirational need.

Here’s my current playlist:

  • Pittsburgh – The Amity Affliction
  • Shine On – The Amity Affliction
  • Machines – Crown the Empire
  • Satellites (intro) – Crown the Empire
  • I’d Rather See Your Star Explode – Slaves
  • Broken vs. The Way We Were Born – Emarosa
  • I Still Feel Her Pt. 4 – Emarosa
  • Fear – Blue October
  • Stay – Blue October
  • Vaulted Ceilings – Memphis May Fire
  • Don’t Lose Your Heart – Dream On Dreamer
  • In Too Deep – The Sweeplings
  • Feed the Flames – Michael Malarkey
  • Clair de Lune – Debussy
  • The entire Skyrim soundrack

As you can see, there is quite a bit of diversity. Clair de Lune tends to be my go-to for general writing, as is the soundtrack to the game Skyrim, and they are permanent residents on my list. I have to have pieces without words in order to concentrate wholeheartedly, so the classical and instrumental scores work to keep me engaged without distracting me.

The rest are ones I’ve been listening to a lot in order to draw inspiration for certain scenes that require a particular tone, mood, or emotion. This is when I have a pen and paper and randomly scrawl notes to myself to look back on later when I switch gears and actually work on my stories.

I can’t recommend any of these enough, though, so if you’re looking for some good, deep tunes, give them a listen. And let me know what you’re listening to, or if there’s something you think I should add to my list! I’m always interested in sharing music and finding new tunes to aid in my writing endeavors.

Sunday Snippet

Needless to say, it’s been quite a weekend here in the United States and around the world, really. We’ve seen a beloved president leave, a new one step in, and protests and marches take place.

While I know the election has created turbulence at home and abroad, I hope you will join me in reaching out to family, friends, neighbors, and even strangers, and embrace them with kindness during what is proving to be a difficult time many. We don’t have to agree in order to be kind.

Love trumps hate, my friends, and the minute we give in to hate, we lose.

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