Read This Before You Quit Writing

You’ve written a story over and over again. You’ve written many stories over and over again. You’ve persisted as long as you could and you cannot handle another rejection. You feel it’s time to quit. 

That’s a very natural feeling. When we try to do something that is very hard it’s easy to feel as though we are wasting time or that it’s no longer fulfilling and we are not seeing progress. We are essentially beating our head against a brick wall, torturing ourselves to make something that nobody else wants to consume. 

You’ve given it your best shot, but you are still so far from your writing goals.

Before you quit, hear me out. It is completely fine to quit. I’ve quit many things in my life and when I quit something I hate doing, I found myself gravitating to something I enjoy. So quiting is good! But understand why you want to quit. Are you quitting because you hate doing it? Or are you quitting because you feel as though you are not good enough to advance to the next level? 

I didn’t start out wanting to be a writer. I wanted to be a director and an actor. The thing is, the more I did that: the more I hated being on set and memorizing lines. I put three full years into pursuing those two careers, but in the end, I came to the realization that I didn’t even know what those jobs required to begin with. It took the doing for me to understand the industry I was getting into. 

See, I was thinking about that as a job, something I HAVE to do every day. Something to pay for all my expenses. Thinking of it as a job sucked the life out of it, especially when I was starting out. It placed so much pressure on me because I wanted to do well and impress people so they will hire me again. Not everything you do needs to be a job! 

I like to play hockey. And I’m at the age where it’s incredibly obvious that I’ll never play it in any professional manner. I’m too old and I’m not that good. Still, I like to play it. I’m a part of a beer league and it’s a big part of who I am. Does anyone aside from my team care if we win or lose? No! Sometimes I feel like we don’t even care. We just like playing. 

The same goes for writing. 

Not everything you write needs to be for a professional reason or to get published. You can still do it! You can still be a writer and not publish your work. You can still be a writer and not share it with anyone. You can just write because it’s something you enjoy doing. 

Don’t let external pressure force you to stop doing something you enjoy. If you have a day job and you want to write on your free time, do it without considering where you are going to publish it. People watch movies and play video games and scroll social media. So don’t feel guilty for wasting your time doing something you enjoy. Do it for yourself. Everything you do, do it for yourself. 

And the beauty of writing is, it’s not like hockey, there is no age limit or physical requirement. You can do it until you are old and withered. 

If you want to quit publishing your work. Fine, but I encourage you not to quit writing because writing is to the soul what eating healthy and exercising is to the body. 

What challenges are you facing as a writer? Please let me know in the comments below.

For more writing and editing resources, please consider signing up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, it’ll include only work that I’m most proud of.

10 Writing Tips I’ve Learned From Reading 10 Fantasy Books

You can learn something from every book you read, regardless of its merits. Great writing teaches you what’s effective and poor writing helps identify issues in your own work. 

Last year I started my journey to read a book in every subgenre of every genre, starting in fantasy. This had been a great reading motivator. I recommend you take up this life-long challenge yourself.

If you’ve read these books before and are interested in seeing my novel discussions, please check out this video playlist — or each individual video below:

  1. Contemporary Fantasy: American Gods by Neil Gaiman
  2. Fairytale Fantasy: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: Lewis Carroll
  3. Comic Fantasy: The Colour of Magic: Terry Pratchett
  4. Superheroes Fantasy: Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman
  5. Historic Fantasy: Shades of Milk and Honey by Marie Robinette Kowal
  6. High Fantasy: Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas
  7. Fantasy of Manners: Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner
  8. Low Fantasy: The Windup Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
  9. Dark Fantasy: It by Stephen King
  10. Urban Fantasy: Storm Front by Jim Butcher

Even though fantasy was a genre I’m familiar with, this project introduced me to a whole new world of stories I wouldn’t have found otherwise. 

In doing so, I read some novels that surprised me and some that disappointed me. Having to share my thoughts about the book during and after finishing it helped me understand what I’ve enjoyed and what I didn’t. In the end, I read 10 books across the spectrum of fantasy, and here 10 nuggets of insight I’ve unearthed from them. 

1) Use Creative Verisimilitude: (American Gods by Neil Gaiman) 

One way to colour your story is by bringing realism into your writing. This can be as simple as having your characters drink Coca Cola or eat at McDonald’s, but in American Gods, Neil Gaiman showed that you can push verisimilitude to the limits by understanding common human habits and traditions. Some things never change — at least, it doesn’t change that much. Take something that exists, something we all understand, and warp it a bit. Traditions have roots in every country and every culture. In American Gods, the characters find themselves in a town with a Groundhog Day-esque tradition. A beat-up car is driven out onto a frozen lake and citizens take bets on when the car will fall through the lake, and thus commencing spring. If you told me that such a tradition existed, I’d believe you because it’s as crazy as some of the traditions that do exist. 

2) Leave Parts Open For Interpretation: (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carrol)

While a good story is believable that doesn’t mean you can’t include mystery and surrealism to it. Like life, not every aspect of your story needs to be explained. Leaving parts up for interpretations creates intrigue and gives your readers something to ponder after they close the book. Nonsense, when crafted in a way that’s interesting, becomes a puzzle for your readers to solve. Readers today are still offering their own interpretation of Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland. Take for example the riddle posed by the Mad Hatter: “How is a raven like a writing desk?” It’s never answered in the story, so it’s up to the reader to figure it out on their own, almost like a mental souvenir of the story. 

3) Comedy is Best When It’s Relatable: (The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett)

If you want to write comedy, then you need to relate to your readers. This doesn’t mean you need to know all your readers’ interests and hobbies, but rather share an experience that is common to your audience. You know why stand-up comedians always make jokes about airports? It’s because most people have been to an airport. If nobody had been to an airport… it wouldn’t be funny. Nobody would “get it.” While reading The Colour of Magic, I found that the parts that made me smile and chuckle were the parts where I could relate to. For example, Twoflower is an insurance salesman on vacation in a magical world — I know what it’s like to take time off after working an unglamourous job to travel to a tumultuous destination. And for Rincewinder, the wizard, he’s always reminiscing about his time in university, which is an experience of my modern life that I too think about often. It’s with these relatable connections that support the comedy. 

4) Use Foil Characters: (Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman) 

To show off the strengths and weaknesses of a character, you can use another character with opposing traits to highlight the differences. These are called foil characters. In Soon I Will Be Invincible, a story about superheroes, we find that the hero and the villain are both intelligent, but it’s how they’re treated by their high school peers that sets them apart. Corefire was popular, while Doctor Impossible was an outcast. This helped develop the relationship between those two characters as well as establishing the roots of the characters’ motivations. 

5) Every Character Serves a Purpose: (Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal) 

When we think of fantasies, we often think of epic worlds with an enormous cast of characters, but I respect a story that has restraints. Being economical and ensuring that each character and each scene moves the story forward is a mastery that I hope to achieve one day. Shades of Milk and Honey is a localized story and each character (some of them foil characters) does exactly what’s needed to provoke conflicts, reveal details, or address solutions. There is no wasted energy or time introducing a character for the sake of it… there is always a payoff — and that type of creative control, I respect. 

6) How to Show the History of a World: (Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas) 

It’s easy to get carried away with world-building, especially in a fantasy novel. There is so much to deal with: the geography, the history, the language, etc. How do you share these scenic aspects of your story without pulling the cart completely off the rails? Well… in Throne of Glass, the story begins with a travel scene and then is continuously interjected with the character studying the history of the world. The world-building is scattered throughout the novel and is never unloaded all at once. The readers aren’t responsible for consuming the details on their own, but rather, they’re seeing their world from the character’s eyes. The discovery happens alongside the character as opposed to straight-up exposition. 

7) Challenge Your Readers: (Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner) 

Give your readers the tools, but don’t build it for them. There is something gratifying when you read a complex story with a bunch of stray dots and you’re able to connect them on your own. It’s like building a piece of IKEA furniture perfectly. A story that treats the reader as an intelligent person and reveals only the details necessary — leaving little bread crumbs or clues — without hand-holding offers a reading experience that feels so much more than merely an escape. As a writer, we should have confidence to challenge our readers. Don’t be afraid of tripping them up now and then as long as you can trust your writing to catch them before they fall. In Swordspoint, something as simple as giving different names to the same characters is enough to add another layer of complexity to the story. 

8) Use Different Format: (The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami)

I often think of a novel like a musical album. It’s a collection of different songs with different styles created by the same artist. That is why I love it when a novel includes different prose or poetic styles. In The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, we see the story being told in letters, interviews, text on a screen, etc. These change-ups in the middle of a novel can behave like an act break or even create an unsettling feeling for the reader. Change is often unnerving and this type of disturbance is effective when applied at the right place and at the right time. 

9) Transition Between Time: (It by Stephen King) 

If nothing else, It was a great textbook on how to make dramatic timeline shifts. Going from present-day to flashback in a seamless way — especially repeatedly through a thousand-page epic — is not an easy feat. What King did was find unique ways to blur the time jumps. Instead of making a hard cut in-between time, what you can do is mimic the technique King used and that’s by transitioning right in the middle of a sentence. Have a character do or say something that is connected to something they will (or they have done) do or say in the future (or the past), and cut right at the end. This technique is common in movies (often known as a match cut) but it’s not that common in books. 

10) Limit Your Scenes: (Stormfront by Jim Butcher) 

Don’t overload your readers with too much information in the first act. In Stormfront, during the first half of the novel, each chapter took place in a single location and had the main character, Harry Dresden interacting with another key character. This type of confined scene establishes the relationship between the characters and their environments. How Harry Dresden relates to one character is different from another just like how we wear different masks in different situations. Slowly, one chapter at a time, the reader gets to go one layer deeper into the character and the plot. 

There you go, those are 10 writing tips I learned from reading 10 fantasy books. I am continuing with my reading journey. Currently, I’m in the throes of reading the sci-fi sub-category with the suffix “punk.” Such genres include cyberpunk, steampunk, etc.

Follow me on YouTube to see how everything unfolds. And if you want to recommend some fantasy, “punk,” or any other genre of books to me, please share in the comments! 

What is Catharsis?

Leonard planned the funeral when his mother passed away. Near the end, there was this moment at the crematorium where he was assigned to push the button that initiated the furnace that would torch his mother’s corpse turning it from flesh and bones to ash. 

At that moment, all he could think about was the button and whether it was real. Does it actually do anything or was it all a show for his relatives all of which were standing behind him… sobbing. Leonard was not sobbing. He looked at his father, who was weeping quietly in his wheelchair. He looked at his aunt who was breaking down into the chest of her husband. Friends and family all gathered to watch him push this button. They were all in a different state of grief. So he took a deep breath and he did it. He pushed the button.

The crematory initiated. His mother’s coffin disappeared behind the oven’s door. A blind to the window looking into the crematorium was lowered. The show ended. Leonard and the rest of his family returned home. He will never see his mother’s face again. 

A month later, Leonard goes on a date with a former co-worker of his, Sarah. She wanted to see this academy award nominated movie. Dramas were not Leonard’s thing, but he was willing to compromise. He’ll get to pick the movie next time. They bought tickets and popcorn and Leonard held Sarah’s hand as the movie started. 

At the one hour twenty two minute mark, Leonard clenched his teeth and pursed his lips. He even placed his finger up against his mouth. This was unusual. He didn’t usually cry in movies. But here he was… 

On the screen was a hospital scene. The adult children were looking down at their dying mother as she told them all about her regrets. The tragedies of her life. Her missed opportunities. Her unrequited love. She tells them of how she had let them down. How she wished she could have been a better mother to them. How she wanted to be a better listener. It was all too late. 

As the first drop of tears left Leonard’s eyes, an image flashed in his mind. The button. While the rest of his family had been sobbing, he was stoic. Now, in the theater… the floodgates opened. 

What Leonard was experiencing as he sat there holding his date in one hand and keeping himself from crying out loud with his other, is catharsis. 

Catharsis is the process in which we release our pent-up emotions. Some define it as a purification or purgation of emotions as though it is some sort of cleansing. It’s as though we have poured Drain-O through our response system, unclogging the months and years of built-up feelings, so it can function properly again. 

Works of literature, television, cinema, and music that are deemed cathartic are often praised for being good for the human soul. It is often seen as therapeutic, as many of us like Leonard have repressed memories that we have not properly come to terms with. In this way, the artform allows us to “let it all out.” 

While Leonard had certainly felt sad that his mother had died. He was immediately tasked with coordinating her funeral. He had to call friends and family members and fulfill all his mother’s wishes. Letting it out then simply wasn’t a priority. There was no time for it. And so it goes with many of our own emotions. 

After the adrenaline of a car accident, we are immediately faced with dealing with insurance and maintenance. After losing our jobs, we are immediately faced with the pressure to get a new one. And on it goes with every emotional experience, we are often expected to respond with another action and rarely are we offered the luxury of time to assess what we’ve just been through. These moments afterward, can often compound in dangerous ways as we bury the feelings or deny them. We hold them tight and pretend like they aren’t there. We stuff them into a compartment in the back of our brain like a messy miscellaneous drawer. 

There is no time to clean that drawer. How selfish would it be… especially when we know what’s in there can’t be changed. No amount of crying will bring Leonard’s mother back, so why bother? Especially now that he had so much to deal with. Real life comes rushing back. Where was he supposed to find time to cry? In the morning before work? While brushing his teeth at night? No… there’s simply no time to be emotional about that stuff. There is no point. 

If this is the case, emotions can erupt at inopportune times. That is why people break down at the office. This is why we see people sobbing in the milk aisle as the sudden memory of a brand of milk triggers something about a long lost cat. 

What cathartic work can do is allow us to unselfishly release these emotions in a controlled environment. To experience what the characters in the story is experiencing as opposed to ones of our own, we are given a separation. We are allowed to feel the feelings without having to dig within ourselves. Leonard could cry about the dying mom on screen and not have to think directly about his own. It is true that when it comes to these deep seeded emotions, it’s often easier to feel someone else’s. 

As Leonard and Sarah leave the theater, they give each other a hug and a kiss. She tells him how much she enjoyed the movie. He tells her about the hospital scene. She listens quietly as Leonard talked, he feels a weight lifted from him. The conversation about the movie transitions to his mother and how they have grown apart in the last few years. He told her about how honoured he was that she wanted him to manage her final wishes. He wished there was a way he could have told her that. Sarah held Leonard’s arm as they walked towards the bus station. She looked forward to the movie he’ll pick next time. 

Was there a piece of art that made you feel cathartic? Let me know in the comments below. For more videos about writing and the creative process, please subscribe to my YouTube channel.

Moleskin vs Leuchtturm1917: Which is the Better Notebook for Writers

All writers need notebooks. Even if you do the majority of your writing on the computer, you’ll want something physical to jot down your ideas. I find notebooks to be a fantastic way of qualifying an idea. It’s how I decide whether there is juice in it worth squeezing. 

If you talk to 10 different writers and you’ll find 10 different ways of using a notebook. But what is the best notebook? Two brand comes to mind: Moleskine and Leuchtturm1917

I’ve always wanted a really nice notebook, but I’ve never allowed myself to splurge on one — and I know a lot of you feel the same way. But then I thought, hey! I’m a writer. My expenses are pretty low (pen and paper, is really all I need), if I can afford it — and I feel like I’m going to use it all the way through, why shouldn’t I have a nice one. 

So, if you have that thought as well, now you get to pick: Do I want a Moleskine or do I want a Leuchtturm1917? Well… I did splurge and I bought both of them and I want to share my experiences so far with you. 

Moleskine

Moleskine Plain Notebook

This is the Moleskine Classic Collection: Plain Notebook with 240 plain pages at 13 cm x 21 cm (or 5×8.25 inches). It cost $24 CAD retail price 

Behind the label, it has this area for you to record your travels, so this notebook is clearly designed for someone traveling… although they didn’t market that on the front. It has one string bookmark and a foldable pocket in the back with a pamphlet that includes the history of Moleskine. 

It feels nice in my hand and is pretty solid and sturdy. I’m sure it can take a beating in my bag and survive, but honestly, the texture of the cover is a little underwhelming. Perhaps I expected it to be a bit softer, but maybe that’s just me. It has the standard elastic band strap to keep the book closed and like I mentioned the pages are all blank, which as a writer with messy writing, it’s not super ideal. 

When I open it, I find that the binding is a little tough. But I’m being knit-picky with that as the more I use it the more it’ll give. The paper, however, is a little thinner than I hoped for, but once again, I’m knit picky. Overall, it’s a pretty good looking notebook. $24, I don’t know. 

Leuchtturm1917 

Leuchttrum1917 Notebook

This is the Leuchtturm 1917 notebook with 251 dotted pages, and here’s the bonus: the pages are numbered. It’s 14.5 cm x 21 cm, so it’s slightly bigger than the Moleskine. The retail price is also $24 CAD.

It also includes a lot of features including a table of contents, which I don’t think I’ll ever use because my notebooks are never organized in any logical way, as well as: 12 perforated sheets, 2 bookmark strings, stickers,  and expandable pockets, much like the Moleskine.

Honestly, off the bat, I like the feel of this one a lot more. The cover does feel a bit softer which is what I like. However, I don’t necessarily want it to be bigger, but it is… The texture of the pages is less smooth than the Moleskine one so I can grip it and turn it a little bit easier. And the dots does help me write straight. I also feel that it folds open a bit better than the Moleskine one too, which is nice because I don’t have to break it in. 

I’m very impressed by this Leuchtturm1917 notebook to be honest. I hear a lot of good stuff about Moleskine, but for writers, I think this one may be my go to from now on. But I’m getting ahead of myself. 

Pen Test

Let’s put these two books through the pen test. 

I used 5 different types of pens on the book to see how each of them performs. 

  • Classic blue Bic ballpoint pen 
  • Papermate Ultra Fine felt pen
  • Papermate erasable gel pen
  • Energel metal point rollerball gel pen
  • Pilot Kakuno fountain pen

Surprise: The Bic ballpoint pen wrote delightfully well on both notebooks. It’s almost surprising how well it performed. If you spend all your money on this notebook, you don’t have to worry about the pen. 

Disappointment: The erasable gel pen was unpleasant to write with on both notebooks. Unless you are really worried about the condition of your notebook that you need to erase things instead of scratching them out like a chaotic good person like me, then go with another writing tool. 

Best: The best writing experience is with the Energel metal point rollerball gel pen. It’s so smooth, it looked and felt like I was writing with the fountain pen, but without the mess that comes with the fountain pen. 

Ghosting

However, with the pages, this is the ultimate test, the ghosting on the other side. If you plan on writing on both sides of your notebook, then this is important to know which holds the ink better. 

Here is what it looks like on the Moleskine. As you can see, all the pens are visible, but the one that got through the most is the Energel metal point rollerball gel pen. 

On the Leuchtturm1917, to me, performed a little bit better. The Energel metal point rollerball gel pen was still the one that got through the most. Overall, it’s just a little bit fainter than the Moleskine.

Verdict

Winner: Leuchttrum1917

At $24 CAD each, these are two pricey notebooks. To me, it is clear that the Leuchtturm 1917 gives me much more value for the same price. I feel like Moleskine has a lot of clout, maybe because they have a brand name that is easier to say, I don’t know. But when I’m done using these two books and I was to get another one, I am certain I will get a Leuchtturm 1917 again. 

As a writer, it’s everything I need and more. I’m really looking forward to filling it up with my dumb thoughts. 

For more writing and editing resources, please consider signing up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, it’ll include only work that I’m most proud of.

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The Philosophy of a Dog

Watching my dog during the course of a day and we begin to understand what motivates him. Dogs aren’t pretending. They aren’t acting. There’s no mask or false facade.

Michael is a Boston terrier. He reminds me a lot about myself, as different as we are. I’m not sure whether it’s the fact that I raised him like this or if he developed his little idiosyncratic traits on his own. He can be stubborn, needy, but he is also full of wisdom. 

I often look at my dog and wonder if he is living a happy life. Sometimes he looks at me with those sad puppy eyes.

What’s a good life for a dog? And if Michael could teach me something about living, what would he teach me? 

Patience

Perhaps he wants to teach me to be patient. How complicated is it for a human to have a conversation with another human? It takes years before we could go beyond crying and screaming to get what we need. To think that we have to communicate with an animal… How do we do it, except to be patient? We are learning a language of our own. A language that involves words and bodies. It’s more a conversation of emotions than it is of context. A dog doesn’t know I’m late for an appointment or that I have a very important presentation coming up. All he knows is that I’m stressed. 

How do I get this dog to eat his dog food? Is it the food he doesn’t like? Is he not hungry? Or does it simply want it in another vessel? Like speaking, we begin to form messages through patterns. The word “Treat” has somehow resonated with Michael. The same way I perk up whenever I hear someone talking about burgers. He’s good with “sit” too. “Come” is a little harder to understand. But be patient, Michael would tell me and don’t get frustrated when we start speaking in different languages. 

michael the boston terrier

Legacy

Michael doesn’t worry about his legacy. I try not to either. But I catch myself often wondering: What great works and ideas will I pass onto the next generation? I feel that thinking of the future in this way motivates me. But perhaps it causes me more stress than necessary. Why should I feel as though the future should be my responsibility? Why can’t I simply be this little bit of wonder that blinked briefly in time only greatly affecting those people closest to me? Can’t my legacy simply be like Michael’s to make those lives closest to his better? 

There is a certain expectation for humans to contribute. As we’re now standing on the shoulder of giants of the past, we’re expected to lift up the next generation. However, it would be just as fine for me to make my primary goal to be good to those directly in my orbit as opposed to thinking of how I can greatly impact the whole universe.  

Routines

When I was a kid, I dreamed of a life where every day would be unique. Every day full of new adventures. Such a life would never get boring. But that’s not a real life… that’s a storybook life, where all the dull bits are edited out. It is our routines that make up our lives — and so does a dog’s. All Michael wants is to have a routine that he enjoys and repeat it consistently for the rest of his life. 

If you want to teach a dog tricks, you need to repeat it. You need to make learning a part of his routine. And so routines are the same for us. Yes, the dog may choose comfort but we can choose another objective for our routines. The key is that we must stick to it. What we choose for our routine is what makes up our lives. 

Comfort

What’s most interesting about Michael is how he takes up space. He always seems to find the most comfortable spot, it’s an amazing skill. As pleasure seeking animals, it’s easy to understand the appeal of comfort. There is this epicurean concept of necessary desire and unnecessary desire. Michael best represents what it means to be happy by chasing the right desires. My dog focuses on treats he likes and comfy spots to sleep in, but he doesn’t get caught up with the desires that curse humans. 

He doesn’t get caught in the need to rise in social class or make more money to impress friends. There is no status he wants aside from reaching a certain level of comfortable. If nothing is causing him physical pain, he’s as happy as a nugget. 

Michael doesn’t consider some invisible objective, he lives in the physical realm, where all that matters is whether he wants to be on pillows or stretch out on the entire bed. I try to be like him and live parts of my day in the present world — I think the best way to accomplish this is to take a nap. That’s how you fully indulge in it. To simply take up space in the physical world. 

When you find it hard to be understood, when you are thinking too far into the future, and when you are getting too worried about something you want and don’t need — think of Michael and remember that while you are freaking out. He’s taking a nap. 

Maybe you can use a nap as well. 

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5 Types of One Star Reviews Writers Can Expect

Writers have to live through a lot of uncertainty. We need constant reminders that we are not BAD writers. One small criticism can cripple our frail confidence. We put so much of our humanity into the craft that sometimes we can lose ourselves in the process and feel we have little worth when our writing doesn’t turn out the way we’ve imagined. When those feelings grab a hold of us writers, it can be a slip down a dark and scary slide of sadness. 

One technique to combat this feeling and gain some perspective is by going to Amazon, clicking into a well-known, well-respected novel, and scrolling down to the 1-star reviews. 

Leonid Pasternak – The Passion of Creation

By reading these reviews, you’ll see where a lot of criticism comes from. Most often, it’s not even from the emotions evoked from the work… but rather, the critic’s own personal demons. This shows that no matter how harsh criticism can be, it is always simply another person’s opinion and you cannot take it for full value. In fact, you shouldn’t take it for anything.

In this article, we’ll look at some 1-star reviews that I screen captured from Amazon and examine why the reader wrote what they wrote — and maybe give some cheer to writers who are currently in a slump with their own works. 

1) Everybody is Stupid But Me

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: 

I call this the “Everyone is Stupid But Me” critique, because instead of looking for qualities in the writing and story, which had drawn in millions upon millions of readers, this critic chooses to belittle those who’ve enjoyed the book. This critic wants you to know that if you like this, then you are an idiot. Yes, it comes across as petty and envious. A good review doesn’t attack the audience or the fanbase, but give examples of where the story is flawed. All this critic did was address the unoriginality of the story, but never offered any examples of what the story was derivative of. These types of critics are bullies and it’s best to ignore them completely.

2) Bad Memories 

Pride and Prejudice:

There must be this book from your past where you felt so much anger towards that you stopped everything you were doing to go online and write a bad review. There must be! Or maybe not. Still, books can do that to people. It’s like a bad relationship. Suddenly you remember that horrible argument you had with an ex and you just want to go on social media and tell everyone what an awful lover he was. Wait… did you even remember it right? Maybe it was he that broke up with you… Whatever, the memory isn’t important. What’s important is that I’m angry and I’m going to take it out on Jane Austen’s book sales. 

3) It Doesn’t Match My Reality 

1984:

I kind of like this review because it’s full of optimism. The thing is, there is no way to argue with critics like these because they’re already set in their beliefs. They have a representation of what is an acceptable novel in their mind and if anything doesn’t match that then it’s deemed poor writing. This is a closed-minded person, unwilling to join in on a conversation — a conversation that is completely relevant today. This is an attack on building dialogue and sharing ideas. In the end, this reader implores us to let Orwell’s writing die just as an experiment so that the world only contains literature and other art forms that are suitable for this reader’s reality. What this critic is suggesting is book burning, which is a tactic used by some of the most malicious dictatorships in history. Just saying…

4) How Dare The Author Makes Money

Game of Thrones:

There is a lot being criticized in this review, but I want to focus on the sentiment that an author should be able to tell a story in “1,776 pages” and nothing more. Otherwise, you’re a greedy writer. This reader cannot believe the galls of a writer trying to make a living with his craft and doesn’t realize that George RR Martin had in fact written many standalone novels. This is an attack on the author’s merits, but knowing that George RR Martin spends up to a decade working on a novel in this saga, the sensible person knows that it was never about selling more books. When you put a piece of work out there, people will begin to question your intentions and come to their own conclusions about you. The moment you try to sell your work, some will consider you no longer an artist who performs a craft for the good of society, but rather as a sneaky capitalist out for their money. In comes this hero to warn the unassuming public of what is happening. There is more to say about this review, but I’ll leave it at that for now. 

5) I Like It, But I Hate It

Of Mice and Men:

Okay, so I’ve been on the fence about giving a service or product a five star or a four-star review, but I’ve never debated whether to give a one or a five star. That’s what the range of five stars are for. In this review, the critic claims to have found the story well-written and praised its honesty. The only reason the book got one-star was that it made the reader depressed. In this reader’s opinion: if a book makes one sad, then it is not a good book. This reader does not understand the range of star ratings or the range of human emotions and how sadness is reasonable, in fact, an important emotion to feel. Additionally, the reader does not want to view the world unless it is through diamond-studded 3D glasses. It’s worrisome to know that many are like this reader and will opt for entertainment that keeps them in their comfort zone. 

No matter how polished your writing is, regardless of what topic it is about, or how long or short it is… someone will have an issue with it. Of course, everyone has a right to give their opinion, however, we should understand where opinions stem from. Most of the time, it’s not even about your work, they simply have this little darkness in them that they need to share — and they’re using your work as the vessel… which is important. 

You’re doing important work. 

If you like this article, you might consider buying me a mocha, it helps to keep me writing.

Why Writers Should Make Videos

This is my YouTube channel. I make videos about writing, about authors, screenwriters, and filmmakers — you know, creative stuff. Why? Why would I do that when my ultimate goal is to write stories? Shouldn’t I focus on writing stories? 

There is certainly a lot of advice out there from experts and “successful” people talking about the importance of focus. Focus on one thing, get really good at it, and then transition to something else after. I’m certain that is a great strategy for many, but I also learned a lot about myself over the course of my life. I’ve discovered that I need a balance of inspiration and motivation to keep me productive. I can genuinely say that if it weren’t for my YouTube channel, I might have stopped writing completely. 

Here is how making videos have improved my writing: 

  1. Pairing: By doing two things that are semi-related, such as writing and making videos, I use one to push the other one forward. Writing supports my passion for making videos, because each video needs a script and a story. 
  2. Community: I’m not lucky enough to have a core group of people with time to motivate me, so I want to create one. Making videos and posting them online allows me to reach people across the world that have the same interest as me. Instead of waiting for someone to invite me to a workshop or anything like that, I get to create my own platform and anyone who is interested is welcomed. 
  3. Accountability: It forces me to be a part of the culture. It forces me to be accountable to not only enjoy entertainment but analyze it critically. Making video allows me to not only be a passive consumer but become an active critic. It forces me to think critically and creatively while analyzing a piece of work be it a novel, as I would do in a book review video, or about a creative choice, as I would in my longer-form research piece such as my exploration of The Shining adaptation video. 
  4. Presentation: It forces me to read my writing out loud. Reading and communicating is a skill and it takes practice. What is art but a means of communication? In the grand scheme of things, I want to be a good communicator and one of my most powerful tools as a storyteller is my voice. Unfortunately, I don’t have a live audience to listen to my tales so, in order for me to train for my eventual TedTalk, I must make videos and read my words out loud. 
  5. Pleasure: I enjoy making videos as much as I enjoy writing. It’s two things I enjoy doing. I would not be completely happy if I’m not doing both. If I never end up being a successful writer, because I spent too much time making videos, that’s fine, because I spent my days doing something I enjoy. But let’s be honest, I don’t think I’ll be writing if I’m not making videos about it. That’s simply self-awareness on my end. Maybe it comes across as not being focus to some.

Find ways to combine activities you enjoy. I find it to be a great motivator to do more. If you want more information about combining two activities to be more productive, check out this post about Warren Buffet’s 5/25 rule and my alterations with it. 

10 Writing Goals for 2020 and Beyond

Not only is it the end of another year, but it’s also the end of the decade. This is a good time for us to take a moment to recalibrate. It’s a good time to look back and see what we’ve accomplished and what we want to achieve in the coming years. 

Goal setting is so important, especially if they are personal goals. The thing about personal goals is that there are no deadlines. Nobody is going to chase after us to write that novel or submit that story. There is no boss or manager nagging us to get our drafts done. If there is something you want to achieve, you have to set the goal and timeline yourself. 

However, you don’t want to set goals that would discourage you. Don’t set goals that are out of your control. Don’t be vague with goals and separate wants from goals. 

Example: 

Want = I want to be a published writer

Goal = I will submit my novel to an agency

Today, I want to offer 10 measurable writing goals for you to consider in 2020 and beyond. None of these goals alone will guarantee you a successful career in writing, but committing to one of them will ensure you’ll take one step closer to completing a piece of work that makes you proud.

  1. Write a paragraph every day: A little every day adds up. With a busy schedule, we cannot expect to always have time to pound out a chapter in an afternoon. But with consistent habit and even writing one paragraph every day, by the end of 2020, you have a substantial piece of work. Developing a habit is more valuable than an occasional sprint.
  2. Come up with a new idea every day: Want better ideas to write about? Well, start coming up with bad ones. The more ideas you have, the more selective you will be and the better you’ll become at conceptualizing interesting topics that you are passionate about. Coming up with a new idea doesn’t have to be painful. Look out the window and jot down what you see or record the essence of a conversation you had with a coworker. Once you have a lot of ideas, you can start bringing them to life. Here’s an article on how you can approach selecting your top ideas
  3. Submit a story in a contest: What did Michael Scott say? You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. It’s true. But it’s not only about winning. I find that writing contests are a great motivator for writing and polishing a piece of work I have. Writing contests also have a clear deadline. Parkinson’s Law states that a project will take as long as the timeline allows. Here is a list of some of the writing contests in 2020
  4. Finding your weakness to improve: Everyone has a weakness and the sooner you recognize what it is, you can start focusing on improving it. If you have issues with creating believable characters, take 2020 to practice character development. If you have trouble ending your story in a satisfying way, find examples of stories with powerful endings and analyze it. This year get 1% better. 
  5. Find a critiquing partner: An alpha or beta reader that you can rely on is worth the price of gold. This is someone who you can share your writing with and get feedback, and in return, they can depend on your criticism as well. Finding someone that will challenge and motivate you will help you be a better writer and editor. If you don’t already have someone in your life who you feel comfortable and confident sharing your writing with, then 2020 is the time to find them. They could be your friend or family, or you can explore online and in-person writing groups — or even a workshop or a creative writing class. I’ll speak more about that in goal #8. 
  6. Learn a skill that compliments writing: Writers should be constantly learning. To write about someone that resonates with your readers, you need to be able to understand the workings of the wider world. Anything you learn while you aren’t putting pen to paper or typing on your keyboard can inspire you. Whether it’s making music, painting pictures, or making videos, you can apply those skills back to writing. Learn to cook a new recipe or try a new sport. Learn a new language or interview a family member. Learn something and then write about it. I wrote an article about the concept of pairing, which talks about the value of finding two closely related activities to keep improving. 
  7. Read 20 books: By now, I feel I don’t need to convince you about the importance of reading for writers. However, with all the writing you are planning to do in 2020, you mustn’t forget to read as well. Make time for it! Whether you are a fast or slow reader, reading 20 books a year is a very achievable goal. Try reading books on different topics to diversity your consumption. Start now, make a list of 20 books you want to read this coming year. This very act should fill you with excitement. If you don’t want to read, why even be a writer? 
  8. Attend a conference or workshop: In the end, it all comes down to the people you know. By showing up to events and workshops, you will be introduced to those who are already in the industry. Sure, you can read my blog posts and watch my videos and get some insights, but I’m just one guy. When you attend an event with a whole collection of like-minded individuals with similar goals, you can start to learn different processes and techniques. This is also a great way to be apart of a community, and being a part of a community is a wonderful motivator to write. You will feel accountable to share something in a workshop or have a piece be critiqued by a professional at a conference. 
  9. Revisit an old piece of writing: One of the best ways to gauge your own improvement is to look back and see how far you’ve come. Yes, it might be painful, but revisiting your own work with a critical eye can help you see where you have developed and give you a sense of “oh, I know how to fix it now.” Don’t dwell on the imperfection. The piece of work was a snapshot of where you were months or years ago. It should offer you the same sensation of looking at an old picture: I was young and naive, now I’m more experienced now. 
  10. Find your mission: When of the most awkward experience for writers is when they are asked what they write: “a little of everything…” tends to be the lame response. This leads to us feeling embarrassed about what we actually do. This year, consider your mission as a writer. What do I want my writing to do? The moment you discover how you want to change the world, the society, the culture, or just your reader, is the moment you feel empowered. This year, find your mission. 

Those are 10 clear and measurable goals for you to consider in 2020. Is there one that you particularly like? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear what you plan on achieving this coming year! 

For more writing and editing resources, please consider signing up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, it’ll include only work that I’m most proud of.

If you like this article, you might consider buying me a mocha, it helps to keep me writing.

How to Balance Reading and Writing Time

Read a lot and write a lot. That is the hot tip established writers will tell aspiring writers. Except, how do you balance the two? Should you split your reading and writing time 50/50? 

So here’s the dilemma, you have this idea for a novel… but you also have that book over there that you want to read. What would be more valuable for your time? Reading? Or Writing?

This is a problem I have because my TBR list keeps growing and so does my list of story ideas… I’m known for biting off more than I can chew. Nevertheless, here is how I approach balancing reading and writing. 

I like to think of it in the same way as exercising and dieting. 

Ask yourself, what is your goal? Is your goal to finish writing a novel or submit to a writing contest? If so, then prioritize writing. Or is your goal to more intuitive? For example, if you want to write a blog that requires you to make commentary, then perhaps you need to read more to be perceptive. 

Just like your physical health where you have to decide whether you are losing weight or gaining muscle, you need to start aligning your reading/writing habits to meet those goals. If you want to lose weight, you wouldn’t just be working out and if you want to gain muscle you wouldn’t just be eating salads. 

First, figure out your goals and then slowly design a routine that enables you to write and read in order to meet it. 

Writing is the workout. Reading is the nutrients you consume in order to keep your mind in shape. So write! Write as fast and as hard as you can. Then sit back and renourish. 

Reading is the healthy food you eat. TV or surfing the Internet or playing video games are less-than-healthy food when you are trying to be a writer. You can have your cheat days, but on most writing days, you need to refuel with a book. 

So the two activities have to work together. It doesn’t have to be a perfect 50/50 balance. You can write more and read less one day and then read more and write less another. The key is to cut out all the other activities that don’t nourish you or doesn’t motivate you to write. 

When you wake up: write, when you are on lunch break: read, when you get home from work: write, before you go to bed: read. Find little pockets of time here and there to commit to becoming a better writer. 

Drain the well and then refill it. Exercise and then eat a hearty meal. Don’t think of your reading time as time you should be writing, but rather a necessary part of the writing process. You only have 24 hours in the day, so it’s not about picking one or the other, it’s about eliminating the other activities so you have more time to read AND write. 

I like to read a few different books at the same time. I find it helps me motivated to read more and it generally inspires me to write a lot.

Don’t get too distracted, but here is my YouTube channel filled with writing inspirations and ideas to help with your creative process. Check it out!

For more writing and editing resources, please consider signing up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, it’ll include only work that I’m most proud of.

Writing Contests in 2020: Canada + International

Here’s to another year of writing! 

Submitting to a contest is a great way to stay consistent with your writing. After all, nobody is nagging you to finish that short story — it’s a personal project and you need to motivate yourself. Writing contests give you deadlines, pushing you to write and polish the draft so that it is reader ready. 

Additionally, entering writing contests is a fantastic way to support the literary community, and who knows, you might even win some money for your stories. 

So let’s get right to it! Make a goal to submit to one of these literary contests in 2020.

Now for the writing contest (contest details are subject to change):  

The Jacob Zilber Prize for Short Fiction – PRISM

Prize: $1,500 grand prize

Deadline: January 15, 2020

Entry Fee:

  • Canadian: $35 CDN
  • USA: $40 USD
  • International: $45

Max Length: 4000 words

More details at PRISM international


 2020 Calibre Essay Prize

Grand Prize: $5,000 

Deadline: January 15, 2020

Entry Fee:

  • Online entry (current ABR subscriber) – $15
  • Online entry (full-time student) – $15
  • Online entry (standard/non subscriber) – $25*

Max Length: 5,000 words

Judges: J.M. Coetzee, Lisa Gorton, and Peter Rose

More details at the Australian Book Review


Room Creative Fiction Contest

Prizes:

  • First: $1,000 + publication in Room
  • Second: $250 + publication in Room
  • Honourable mention: $50 publication on Room’s website

Open: January 8, 2020

Entry Fee:

  • Canadian: $35 CAD
  • USA: $42 USD

Length: TBD

Note: Open to women, trans, two-spirited, and genderqueer people.

More details at Room Magazine


Novella Prize Contest – Malahat Review

Prize: $CAN 1,500

Deadline: February 1, 2020

Entry Fee:

  • Canadian: $35 CDN
  • USA: $40 USD
  • International: $45

Max Length: 20,000 words

More details at Malahat Review


The Breakwater Fiction Contest

Prize: $1000 and publication in our Winter issue

Deadline: February 1, 2020

Entry Fee: $10.00 USD

Length: 5,000 words

More details at Breakwater


The Journey Prize

Prize: $10,000 

Deadline: February 12, 2020

Entry Fee: No Fees

Submission: Stories previously published in print, electronic, and online in 2019. PRINT refers to stories published in a hard copy form. ELECTRONIC refers to stories published ONLINE ONLY, regardless of whether a publication is primarily a print or online publication.

More details at The Journey Prize 


CBC Literary Prizes – Nonfiction

Prize: $6,000

Deadline: February 29, 2020

Entry Fee: $25.00 (taxes included)

Length: 2,000 words

More details at CBC


The Edna Staebler Personal Essay Contest – The New Quarterly

Prize: $1000

Deadline: March 28, 2020

Entry Fee: $40

Length: No word limit

More details at The New Quarterly


 Short Grain Contest

Prize: $1,000 and publication in Grain

Deadline: April 1, 2020

Entry Fee: $40

Length: 2,500 words

More details at Grain Magazine


The Edna Staebler Personal Essay Contest

Deadline: May 28, 2020

Prize: $1000 and a one-year Duotrope Gift Certificate ($50 USD value)

Entry Fee: $40 

Length: no word limit

More details at The New Quarterly


Room Creative Non-fiction Contest

Prize:

  • FIRST PRIZE: $500 + publication in Room
  • SECOND PRIZE: $250 + publication in Room
  • HONOURABLE MENTION: $50 publication on Room’s website

Deadline: June 1, 2020

Entry Fee:

  • Canadian: $35 CAD
  • USA: $42 USD

Length: TBD

Note: Open to women, trans, two-spirited, and genderqueer people.

More details at Room Magazine


PRISM CREATIVE NON-FICTION CONTEST

Prize:

  • Grand prize: $1,500
  • Runner-up: $600
  • Second Runner-up: $400

Deadline: July 15, 2020

Entry Fee:

  • Canadian: $35 CAD
  • USA: $40 USD
  • International: $45 USD

Length: 6,000 words

More details at PRISM international


Constance Rooke Creative Nonfiction Prize

Prize: $1,000

Deadline: Aug 1, 2020

Entry Fee:

  • Canadian: $35 CAD
  • USA: $40 USD
  • International: $45 USD

Length: 2,000 and 3,000 words

More details at Malahat Review


The QueryLetter.com Back Cover Book Blurb Contest

Prize: $500

Deadline: September 15, 2020

Length: 100 words

More details at TheQueryLetter.com


CBC Short Story Prize 

Prize: $6000

Deadline: Oct 31, 2020

Entry Fee: $25

Length: 2500 words

More details at CBC


Prairie Fire Short Story Contest (Fiction and Creative Non-Fiction)

Prize: $1,250

Deadline: November 30, 2020

Entry Fee: $32

Length: Fiction (10,000 words max); Creative Non-Fiction (5,000 words max)

More details at Prairie Fire


Know of any other Canadian writing contest? Please share it in the comments.

For more writing and editing resources, please consider signing up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, it’ll include only work that I’m most proud of.