You Don’t Have To Write Alone: NaNoWriMo, PitchWars, AuthorTube, and More

I first started writing because I wanted to tell a story.

Wait. That’s wrong.

I first started writing because I wanted to read a story that didn’t exist, except in pieces in my head.

The only way for me to find out who exactly these characters were, what exactly happened to them, and WHY — was to write it until the story rang true.

I know that’s not how writing works for everyone. However. With my conceptual imagination? That’s still how it works for me.

But when I started writing, I was writing alone.

The stereotype of the writer is the heavy drinking — or maybe tea-drinking loner with dozens of cats for company. With a feel that truly great art — great writing — only comes from pain.

Well? I know that it depends on what you like to write, and what you like to read, and what brought you to where you are today. However, that stereotypical writer life doesn’t sound very healthy to me.

Be you an introvert, an extrovert, or something in-between, most of us thrive in supportive environments, that push us to achieve something greater.

In this day and age of the internet, supportive writing communities can be found everywhere.

NaNoWriMo

Maybe you like the challenge of NaNoWriMo — National Novel Writing Month, where you pledge to write 50,000 words in one month. But, NaNoWriMo is more than just a website account where you update your daily word count. NaNoWriMo has forums, twitter hashtags, and facebook groups. Plus? They support local writing groups with liaisons running in-person (and, in these days, virtual) meetups and write-ins and overnighters.

You can be active year round, or only touch a pen during November and you’re still just as valid a member of the community. You can be a 15 year champion (hitting the word count goal every year), or average 500 words every November and you still count.

Twitter

Maybe twitter is your jam. Sharing your updates on the #5amWritersClub, joining the different hashtag chats and sharing writing memes and progress posts.

You might be the type of writer who joins those twitter pitch contests: #pitMad, #sffPit, #dvPit, where you tweet a short pitch for your polished manuscript and hope a literary agent from a respectable agency likes your tweet. If so, it’s an invitation to query, where you typically get moved to the top of their inbox.

Instagram

For the low-key writer who loves a good aesthetic, #authorsOfInstagram may be for you. Cover reveals, office set ups, and quotes from favorite books abound for authors on Instagram. While less centralized than other social medias, it’s a great place to connect one-on-one.

Facebook

If you’re a facebook user, there are groups for all sorts of genre writers and all ranges. There are professional groups and critique circle groups. There’s the Sub-It-Club and the Insecure Writers Group. I personally run several support groups for PitchWarrior hopefuls, and admin a few others.

Social Media In General

Social media, in general, is a good way to connect. Reddit, tumblr, MeWe, or wherever you hang out, is likely to have a group or ten for writers. Take a look.

PitchWars

Speaking of PitchWars — for those of you who don’t know, PitchWars is an online mentorship opportunity, where you query mentors like you would an agent. If you are accepted, you work with them to revise your full manuscript, and at the end, all of the re-worked manuscripts are showcased, with reputable agents invited to visit and make offers. Some books get into bidding wars, and some still don’t find an agent, but in either case, you get a more-polished manuscript.

While I’ve never been a mentee, I’ve found plenty of critique partners and supportive friends from the community — it’s full of writers with finished and polished manuscripts, ready to query — exactly the same stage of writing career that I’m at.

PitchWars is very active on twitter, it has its own forums, not to mention, of course, the facebook support groups.

Local Writing Groups

Outside of your local NaNoWriMo group, many cities and regions have their own writing groups — some are critique circles, some are open mic nights, some are support groups, some are accountability groups, and some are all-of-the above. Know what sort of group you’d prefer, hit the internet, and see what you can find!

Discord Groups

My local NaNoWriMo group has its own group on discord servers, with easy-add-in sprint bots, and rooms to discuss plot issues.

My local writing groups and the cons I’ve worked? They also have their own discord servers. These are just chat rooms where you can share images, files, and more.

An Archive Of Their Own, Wattpad, and more

Some writing communities form around the works themselves. On AO3, Wattpad, and more, writers share their works (often in chapter style increments), get feedback, and often learn to improve their writing.

It’s not unheard of for major successes to end up getting traditional publishing deals (but it’s not an avenue for success I would recommend, because the odds are not with you.

Conventions and Book Fairs

Then, there are your conventions and book fairs. Some are focused on professional development, some on the joy of reading, some celebrate certain genres. While you can get a lot of of them, it typically takes about 3 visits to a particular event to really get comfortable and familiar with an event. After that? Networking becomes easier.

There’s no right way to attend a convention, but a few of the methods are:

  • hanging out at the bar to network (colloquially called “BarCon”)
  • attending workshops and panels, either casually, or hitting 30 panels in 3 days, and filling a notebook with tips
  • wandering around, absorbing the sights and talking to whomever you meet. Collecting all the freebies and giveaways
  • strategically attending panels or pitch-sessions and actively trying to network — approaching it like a professional development conference
  • working the convention
    • Do you want to run lights? Register people? Help with the website? Are you an EMT and want to help with First aid? Do you want to run the disability services so that everyone can have the right accommodations? Maybe you want to help with programming — making sure there are events you want to see or be a liaison for the speakers? There are jobs, big and small, for almost anyone.

AuthorTube

Some of us writers love to talk about what we do, we like to write with friends anywhere, and don’t mind (or want to become comfortable with) video taping ourselves and putting it out there. Authortube is a youtube hashtag community, by authors, for authors.

The authortube community hosts live-streamed write ins, workshops, writing vlogs, progress posts, and just about anything you can think of that’s writing related. A fair number are self-published. While a few #authorTubers are here for the drama — sharing ‘did you hear what just happened’ reaction videos, we also have book-bloggers, talking about what they read and liked — or hated, journalers, and more. Most of us are there for the community.


While many people keep crashing into the toxic side of the internet, I usually only hear about most drama second-hand. Instead, I just keep making new friends who share my passion.

The writing community takes as many forms as there are writers. If you are out there, if you are writing alone, without support, without a network, you don’t have to go it alone.

If you want a connection: no matter the format, no matter the scale, there is a writers community out there for you.

And if there isn’t?

Build it and they will come.


Is there a community you’ve found that I’ve left off?

Do you have a community you’d like to talk about!

Please share in the comments below.

P.S. Check out this week’s podcast! [Season 1] Episode 8: Writing Fight Scenes That Work

P.P.S Plus! There’s a bonus episode this week, because we’re in the middle of the PitchWars annual mentor bloghop: [Season 1] Bonus Episode 1: A Message To My Fellow PitchWars Hopefuls

Accessible Magic

Welcome to Part 2 of my WorldCon, CoNZealand panel write ups.

The panelists for the titular panel were Petrea Mitchell as moderator, Andi C. Buchanan, and Taiyo Fujii.

How does a person with a speech impediment handle magical incantations? Dyslexic sorcery: scrambling runes a hazard? Is the autism spectrum an advantage if spellcasting requires visualizing complex shapes? Let’s mash mastery of magic and differently abled people together and see what we get.

In a lot of fantasy and science-fiction, they wave their hands and make magic or tech the “solution” to all disabilities. Let’s explore ways to use magic for accessibility and ways differently abled people could be better integrated into these stories.

Things That Are Usually Ignored

There are tons of ways accessibility could be impacted by magic or science. Here are a few:

  • potion allergy
  • inability to focus (ADHD), making magic either a challenge, or so hard that you need to veg for a day or two afterwards.
  • for intuitive magic, what about people who struggle with things that others claim are ‘intuitive’, like people with autism

Bad Tropes

There are tons of ways that people get disability in stories wrong. Tropes that are overdone and trite, and minimize the very real impact and communities that form around a shared bond.

  • Magic compensates for the disability… by erasing it. — i.e. Daredevil. The blind superhero with the superpower of… sight.
    • Note: there’s a different, and healthier vibe if the character purposely sacrifices an ability in order to get something else, like Odin and his eye. Assuming that the sacrifice doesn’t malign people who naturally have that disability.
  • No medical consent — they fix everything the way they believe your body ‘should’ work, without telling you about risks or giving you options
  • Having unhealthy work-arounds for a disability
  • The person who sacrificed themselves for the group — was dying anyway
  • The disability is fixed instantly with magic
    • Can be mitigated by showing the learning stage, the strength building, etc

Remember, when things are designed to be more accessible, they’re often more accessible for everyone, not just the group that the design was focused on. For example, curb cuts, where the sidewalk smoothly thins to meet the level of the road, make things easier for strollers (and bikes), not just wheelchair users.

Underutilized Tropes

Adding the concept of accessibility to your stories isn’t just a list of “things to avoid” and “wouldn’t it be nice”. Here are some ways you might explore different types of abilities.

  • Using magic/science as an adaptive technique, rather than a cure-all
  • Having something that isn’t a disability in this world be one in the story
    • Tone-deaf — if magic is music based
    • Color-blindness — if colors of things is important
    • Morning person — in a world that operates at night
  • Having the ability CAUSE a disability
    • In ‘My Hero Academia’, one of the characters is stronger than his bones can withstand… so he has to modify his fighting style
  • Having accessibility tools give more powers
    • Adaptive arms or an exoskeleton that makes magics possible that weren’t before – because of more digits or hands, etc.
  • For people who are more math focused, and less able to ‘visualize magic’, like so many do — More mathlike magic — working more like a computer program, with ‘if this, then that’ sort of branches

Adding people with different types of abilities and making things accessible to more people is a great way to populate your fictional world look more like the real world, and show ways we could do better.

Suggested Reading

The best way to learn about how differently abled people interact with the world is to read the books they populate. It’s also a great idea to read stories by writers with disabilities — even when that’s not the focus — because getting to know other perspectives is a great way to improve your world-building, your characterizations, plus broaden your own horizons.

“Away With The Wolves” by Sarah Gailey (Uncanny Magazine)

The Outside – by Ada Hoffmann

The Disabled People Destroy Fantasy edition of Uncanny Magazine

The Country Of The Blind – by HG Wells

Geometries of Belonging – By R.B. Lemberg (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

Mooncakes – by Suzanne Walker  (Author), Wendy Xu (Illustrator)

First Dates by Elizabeth Kestrel Rogers (Translunar Travelers Lounge)


Do you have any thoughts on things I missed? Any pet peeves you’d like to add? Please do so!

Please let me know if you have any story suggestions.

Thank you for reading, and I’ll be back again next week with more writing tips and writerly musings.

Cultures and Their Myths

This is part 1 of my CoNZealand – WorldCon 77 notes.

The titular panel was called “Shared Common Myths” and the panel description was as follows: “How do myths and legends impact cultures around the world? Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell argued that the same stories underlie myths everywhere. Were they right, or are there fundamental differences between myths from around the world? “

The panelists were Helen Marshall (as moderator), Peadar Ó Guilín, Graci Kim, and Suyi Davies Okungbowa.

While the premise of the panel was the shared myths, the discussion instead demonstrated that the culture that births the story influences the myth far more than one would expect. While I am referencing all of these items as “myths”, many of them are sincere beliefs of their followers, and in this post, I am aiming to give them all the same level of respect.

Myths that more people should know about

In some Korean myths, in the beginning of time, Bear and Tiger both wanted to be human and prayed to Hwanung. The divine king told them to go into a cave with only mugwort leaves and garlic to eat. If they stayed in the darkness for 100 days and 100 nights, through the dark and cold and hunger, they would become human. It didn’t take long before Tiger left for food. But Bear became the first human — a beautiful woman.

The fascinating part is the foods it describes were so unexpected.

Another myth put forward was told in Laurie Anderson song ‘The Beginning of Memory’, based on Aristophanes’s ‘The Birds’. The Earth was originally covered in water, so birds would circle it endlessly. When Bird’s father died, there was no where to bury him, so, instead, she buried him in the back of her head — and that was the beginning of memory. The notion and contemplation of memory is fascinating.

For the Irish, their mythology talks about the interaction between two worlds in touching planes. In the ‘Voyage of Bran’, on a rough sea, Manannán mac Lir rode by on his chariot. Bran called out, “how do you wheel on the sea?” and Mac Lir replied, “it’s fields here for me.” In another Irish tale, a ship flies by and its anchor gets caught in a tree. A man swims down through the air to free the anchor and starts to drown. A farmer, seeing all this, cuts the anchor free. The man swims back up, the shipmates wave, and the ship sets sail once more. The ways the two worlds overlap, but differ in geography is fascinating.

In a West African creation myth, there is a God of Sky and a God of Water. Another god offers to create land. So, they give him a chain and a snail shell filled with dirt. The god climbs down the chain from the sky, and pours the dirt out of the shell, creating land and mountains and more. He’d brought other artifacts with him, and filled the land with humans, animals, and vegetation.

The Differences Between The Myth World and the Real World

The intersection of different or parallel worlds is always fascinating.

For the Irish, they claim to have beat the spirits that came before, the Tuatha De Dannann, and agreed to split the land with the losers. But not east to west, not north to south. The Irish took the top of the ground and granted their spirits the underground. And it is because of this trickery that the Irish spirits can be so antagonistic, and always trying to get the better of the rules. Spirits in other places may be kinder, or not, depending on the culture that birthed them.

In myths, there is often an underworld — beneath or beside our world. In some mythologies, the underworld/spirit world isn’t really another place, it’s a revolving door. In some Korean traditions, when you die you are wrapped in 7 layers of shrouds and, in the spirit realm, you are on trial for 49 days. And every 7 days, your descendents can perform rituals to help. Eventually, your spirit will be reincarnated.

Life and birth are different in spirit worlds. The ways gods are said to birth themselves or each other are not the mortal way.

The Basis Of Myth

A culture’s myths are based on one (or more) of three things:

  • what a people wants to be true
  • what a people believes is true
  • what a people fears is true

The further back in a culture’s history you find a created myth, the more likely that the myth is a way to make sense of the world around them, and a sense of self. As more cultures with their own believes intersect, you see more external values and morals being filtered into the stories. Many later myths that have been collected have been filtered through Christian/Muslim/Confucianistic/etc beliefs.

There was mention of the story of a mythological firefly creature that conveyed what people needed to do to be safe from malaria — that was created after the mosquito was introduced (inadvertently) by the colonizers.

Absorption versus Changed Myths

Myths have always changed and evolved, that is the nature of oral traditions. Plus, there are some myths are changed by outside influences, and some myths from outside cultures absorbed and rewritten with native influences.

In Korea, every family had its own spirits, and then Confucianism made them into family ancestors. Things are interpreted by where you live and your culture.

In Christian church art, they often made the paintings and the images of the stories they were trying to teach filled with flora and fauna very local to the area, so that the people could see themselves in the story.

The Power of Modern Myths

By creating and rewriting myths, you can create a sense of community. You can bring the culture you were born into and make it more accessible, or more relevent to current issues and concerns.

Disasters and war and trade have always influences myths and changed both their nuances and their focus. They give us a way to cope with the truth.

Today? The pandemic is likely going to spawn tales and myths for generations.


What are your favorite myths? Have you ever created one or your own or rewritten one? I know I love to.

Author Spotlight: Glen Dahlgren

  • an award-winning game designer and the author of the book series The Chronicles of Chaos, which fantasy legend Piers Anthony called “what fantasy fiction should be.”

Readers! Let’s give a good, hearty welcome to Glen Dahlgren!

Glen has written, designed, directed, and produced critically-acclaimed, narrative-driven computer games for the last three decades. What’s more, he had the honor of creating original fantasy and science-fiction storylines that took established, world-class literary properties into interactive experiences.

He collaborated with celebrated authors Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman (The Death Gate Cycle), Robert Jordan (The Wheel of Time – soon to be a TV series from Amazon), Frederik Pohl (Heechee saga), Terry Brooks (Shannara), and Piers Anthony (Xanth) to bring their creations to the small screens. In addition, he crafted licensor-approved fiction for the Star Trek franchise as well as Stan Sakai’s epic graphic novel series, Usagi Yojimbo.

Glen, thanks for agreeing to be here today. Most interviews start off with bios and such, and while I’ll get to that as always, let’s start with the important stuff!

If you could have any pet (real/fantasy/no-allergies/no worries about feeding it) what would it be?

For love and support (and to keep down blood pressure), you can’t beat Goldie my cat. I wouldn’t trade her for any other pet. That said, flying on the back of a dragon sounds kind of cool.

A sweet cat is underrated. But, I mean, who doesn’t want a dragon?

What do you write?

I write YA fantasy. I started out designing and writing computer games, working with some notable authors in the genre. I learned a lot in the process, making fiction inside of their worlds—but grounding the stories in the requirements of the games I was designing.

It was amazing, but now I’m writing fiction inside of my own world without the limitations of any game. Based on the reaction it has received, the Child of Chaos (the first in the series the Chronicles of Chaos) is my best work yet. 

What an amazing background and variety of storytelling. You’ve certainly worked with some amazing writers and it sounds like your most recent work is just building on everything you’ve learned.

What do you like to read?

I have devoured fantasy and SF since I was a kid. My bookshelves are lined with the old school masters, like Robert Jordan, Terry Brooks, Tad Williams, David Eddings, and many more. Recently, I’ve finished up all of the Terry Pratchett books I could find and I love discovering any new Neil Gaiman (book, comic, TV show, or movie!). 

Who you list as “old school masters” definitely tells me that we’re of a generation. Although! You’re a bit late, (but never too late) to the Terry Pratchett fandom.

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that doesn’t work for you.

Don’t edit until you’re done with the first draft.

I can’t help myself. How can I keep writing when I know that something I’m writing now changes something that came before? I’m constantly editing myself all the way up until I hit the end, then it’s back to editing some more!

Clearly, this advice varies from person-to-person. Some people get so caught up with making the opening chapter perfect, they never move on to the next. For me? I’ve occasionally jumped back a chapter or two and gone in a different direction (but always save the old chapters, just in case).

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that they can pry out of your cold, dead hands.

Allow yourself to suck

It’s the flip side of the previous answer. The point is that, for any creative endeavor, it’s more important to create something you’re not happy with than have nothing. You can’t edit something that doesn’t exist.

I like to tell a story I heard from Brad Bird. A producer walks into a music hall where his theatre company is constructing a musical. The actors and dancers are aimlessly wandering around on stage. The musicians are chatting with each other in the orchestra pit. And the choreographer is sitting in the middle of the stage with his head in his hands.

“What’s going on?” asks the producer.

“I don’t know what to do,” says the choreographer.

Without missing a beat, the producer responds, “Well, do something so we can change it!”

Too many people get locked up because they believe they’re not good enough to try. But they’re always good enough to try. And then they (and their work) get better the more they try.

Definitely. You know how some people can’t describe what they want, but they won’t hesitate to let you know when you’ve got it wrong? Well, a lot of us writers can recognize when something we write is wrong, but we’ve got to see it before we can explain how it’s wrong.


Shameless Self-Promotion time!

The Child of Chaos is my debut YA fantasy novel, the first in the series, the Chronicles of Chaos (I’m currently working on the prequel now). 

Galen loved dreaming up stories until he was drawn into a nightmare.

An irresistible longing drags Galen to an ancient vault where, long ago, the gods of Order locked Chaos away. Chaos promises power to the one destined to liberate it, but Galen’s dreams warn of dark consequences.

He isn’t the only one racing to the vault, however. Horace, the bully who lives to torment Galen, is determined to unleash Chaos–and he might know how to do it.

Galen’s imagination always got him into trouble, but now it may be the only thing that can prevent Horace from unraveling the world.

“There is a quality of imagination and detail here that impresses me. This is no ordinary sword and sorcery story. [Glen Dahlgren is a] novelist who I think will become more widely known as his skill is appreciated.” –Piers Anthony, New York Times bestselling author of the Xanth series.


Check Glen Dahlgren out across the web!

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