Writing, Focus, and Accountability

I don’t know about you, but these days, my focus comes and goes in spurts. Trying to get anything done is a slog, uphill both ways, with a short stopover in the kitchen for a snack.

Right now, we’ve got the whole ‘social isolation’ thing happening, with worries about how fast COVID-19 already spread, and what the job market is gonna look like when this whole thing ends. Cause it has to end, right?

If you’ve been following me for any amount of time, you should know that I’m the very definition of a Type-A lady. I need to feel some control over my life.

However, we all know the best type of productivity for this Type-A lady? Involves check-lists!


Remember a couple months ago when I started spouting the glories of using project management tools from the office for my writing? (For me, I picked Trello. They are not sponsoring me. I have no sponsors. But hey, Trello, feel free to sponsor me!)

Turns out? Offices use project management tools cause they kinda work.

I’ve almost kept up with all my self-imposed tasking. Seriously, for an unpaid vanity gig, I give myself a lot of work! Sometimes I think maybe I should focus more on my actual writing [my mom AND my dad both agree]. (But, hey, if you do find this blog helpful, leave a comment!*)

During the first 3 months of 2020, I only dropped the ball once. (Turns out, if you send Author Spotlight interviews less than 24 hours before they should go up, the replies might be done in voice-to-text. I deserved it).

To keep from making my mistake?

3 “Tricks” for Making Checklists Work

  1. Put the things you want to accomplish on them
  2. Add due dates
  3. Actually check the thing regularly

Now, I tried, really hard. It was just a bunch of small things that added up to the big miss. I added a spotlight but didn’t add it to the trello, I was sick and didn’t do my weekly task of ‘checking my trello board’, and I waited until bedtime, the day the author spotlight should have been prepped, before triple-checking my gmail draft that actually has the master list of author spotlights.


Before you go thinking I was born a Type-A, I must confess the reality of the situation. I’m a recovering messy-girl. That’s why organization is a thing I do in binges, and then coast until something goes wrong. I was the one who missed recess to clean up her desk. The one who was once hoarding seven library books in her desk and/or locker.

I am the girl who SOMEHOW managed to lose a spelling test DURING the test, before turning it in.

You think I’m joking? It started off with a messy scrawl and a spare sheet of paper where I was copying over the words in neater handwriting and ended up… I still don’t know.


Where was I going with this?

Humble-brag time. Since I’ve been home, I’ve managed to:

  • read 14 books (10 physical ones)
  • slush read for The Oddville Press
  • beta read one short
  • attend 2 virtual Balticon meetings
  • 1 virtual Anansi Storytime meeting
  • revise 30 pages and send them to my mentor
  • did my first pass at prepping the next 30 pages
  • my weekly, unattended Twitter chat: #ChatWriteNow (10pm Thursdays)
  • Plus, of course, my 3 author spotlights, and as soon as I finish this, 3 blogposts and vlogposts

Plus, a not-a-rejection from an editor on a short story. (She’s no longer the editor on that project, I need to resubmit).

When I look at my Trello board for the entire 1st quarter (I organized it like that to keep from getting too cluttered), the only things I missed were:

  1. Monthly #authortube video that wasn’t my blog — although, if joining a livestream counts, I’m okay.
  2. Updating the trello board one week (obv)
  3. Still waiting on feedback from a few readers of my middle-grade novel, so I haven’t started its revision

And that’s not counting the hours and hours I spent mindlessly browsing facebook or ‘playing’ the fb not-a-puzzle-game Hero Wars.


Isolation update:

I am doing my dayjob from home — but it’s a new project with a lot of moving parts where I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.

I’ve done a fair amount of cooking lately — pasta, stew, boxes with directions on the back. I’m surprised I haven’t resorted to stress-cleaning yet. But, I did find a pressure washer because my sidewalk needs it. Maybe this weekend?

Minor confession. Remember last week’s post where I said a lovely walk between dayjob and writing helped break everything up? Well… I sprained my ankle on Saturday, so I’ve unfortunately been forced to slack on the couch this week. But, hey, it’s been cold and rainy, so I don’t think I’m missing too much, besides the step-count.

I’ve been sleeping better, although I’m pretty sure it’s getting used to the stress, not decreasing my stress. But, hey, I’m great at binge reading when I’m stressed.


As all the experts are saying, be patient with yourself if productivity or creativity is on hold from the stress. Figure out what you can do, and make sure to leave some time to bring yourself joy — or at least distract yourself from the stress for a bit.


How are you holding up?

* Or, if you want, I did actually add a donation button over on the side. If you actually find this blog helpful and worthwhile, plus have the spare cash, I’ll give a shout out to my first sponsor.

I’m torn between, “other people are more deserving” and “I should value my own time and work”. Hence why it’s been up for months and I’m just now mentioning it. In a tiny aside. At the end.

Everything You Need To Know About Convention Panels

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you probably know that I share a lot of notes from “panels”.

If you’ve never been to a convention, you may be unfamiliar with panels. If you’ve only been to corporate/work conventions, you might look at them as torturous boredom. Or, at the very least, strictly educational.

At their most basic: panels are simply several people, sitting at table, facing an audience, sharing their thoughts on a subject.

Typically, these individuals are what’s referred to in the DC metro area at least as “SMEs” – subject-matter experts.

And, quite often, these panels have one of the panelists acting as a moderator. A good moderator asks the panel questions, makes sure everyone on the panel is heard, tries to keep any debate lively without getting too personal, accepts the questions from the audience, and does their best to help with crowd control.

A typical con panel is 50 minutes, with the first 30-40 minutes being for the panelists to talk amongst themselves about the subject, and the last 10-20 minutes being for Q&A. With a brief introduction at the beginning, and a minute or so for closing thoughts and self-promotion at the end.

Now, panels aren’t the only things to attend at a convention, there are workshops, dances, book-readings, concerts, parties, and more. In fact, before I got so involved in my writing journey, I had attended a bunch of conventions and maybe 2 panels. These days? It’s a weird weekend if I attend fewer than 20.

Never fear, you can be a writer or a fan without ever attending a convention. Although, that’s partially why I like to share my notes, so that those who can’t, or don’t attend panels still have access to the nuggets of information I try to glean from the experts.

But, should you ever attend a convention, I want to set you up for success — so you’re seen as an excellent audience member and not someone to avoid.

4 Things Not To Do During The Q&A Period

  1. “This is more of a statement than a question…”

    If you attend panels, if you’re on panels, you will hear this phrase. A LOT.

    I know that there are plenty of bright, intelligent people in the audience, I know many of them would have made excellent panelists themselves, and many ARE actually on other panels. BUT. Unless you are on this panel, this is neither the time, nor the place to insert your own opinion on the subject.

    Save it for twitter. Or facebook. Or your friends — after the panel. You will not impress the panelists, you will not impress the audience. You will, however, trigger a massive eye roll, and a lot of tuning out.
  2. Providing tons of background for your question

    Especially in writing panels and gaming panels, audience members will want to provide background for precisely why they’re asking this question, in the hopes that they will get a tailormade answer. And because they’re just plain excited about their world and their story and… everything.

    It’s fine to give a little context, but no more than 20 seconds. I’ve listened to audience members who took up to 5 minutes to get to the question portion of their statement. Most moderators aren’t going to let you get that far.

    When you take that long, you’re taking time away from the panelists answers, and keeping other people from asking their questions. (And sometimes? It comes across like you’re stealing the time to market your own stuff, which is exceedingly rude.) If you know you have trouble getting to your question within 30 seconds, work with a friend in advance to rephrase until you can. Or, take it off-line, talk to them after the panel or at their table.

    Caveat: People at merchandise tables are NOT your audience, they are trying to sell their own merchandise and it is incredibly rude to scare away potential sales by dominating their attention.
  3. Off-topic Questions

    The panelists are prepared to speak on the subject described in the program. The other audience members are there to hear the panelists talk about the subject described in the program.

    If you have a specific question, that is unrelated to the panel, ask it after the panel.
  4. Asking tons of questions

    If no one else is asking, feel free, but don’t monopolize the Q&A period. Ask one, then give other people a chance to ask theirs — they’re paying as much to attend as you are and deserve the chance just as much. Only, if no one else has questions, should you go for a second question.

All that said, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask for recommendations, or a panelist to speak more on something they hinted at.

For some shameless name dropping here, I once attended a panel with the ever-famous George RR Martin on it, and, once the panel opened to questions, I asked a question addressing what I *thought* the panel had said it was going to be on in the first place. (Martin complimented my question, but the moderator actually answered my question the best…)

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, if the Corona-virus permits, I’m actually signed up to be a panelist at three cons this spring and summer. Hopefully, I’ll be as good behind the table and I try to be in the audience.


Have you attended con panels? Are there any tips or tricks I missed?

Creative Couples – Working Together

Some people work with partners. And some people like to work with their romantic partner. But whether you’re romantically involved or not, there’s techniques that could work for you.

At WorldCon2019, Heidi Goody led the working couples of Peter Morwood and Diane Duane, plus Delia Sherman and Ellen Kushner in discussing how to maintain working and romantic relationships — with the same person.

Maintain Separate Offices

In rural Ireland, Duane’s office is the living room and Morwood’s is the second bedroom.

When they’re working on a project together, they stay in their room and don’t talk. When it’s time to fraternize or collaborate, they meet in the kitchen.

In New York City, Sherman and Kushner mostly write separately — by hand — in their studies on opposite sides of the apartment. (They left Boston because they were “tired of being the most colorful couple in the room.”) They like to take long walks and discuss character building, writing theory, or whatever they’re working on.

Both couples find it hard to stop talking shop, but Sherman and Kushner find it helps to have other passions.

Duane and Morwood’s biggest interruptions are the neighbor’s loud sheep. Known to the neighbors as “The Trekkie’s”, they’re considered boring because they don’t raise sheep or horses.

How Their Writing Partnerships Began

On Morwood and Duane’s honeymoon, her book was late, so they wrote it together. It helps that Duane is a big outliner, especially for screen. As she says, screen writing is very formulaic.

For Sherman and Kushner, a year or so after they moved in together, they learned to negotiate through writing. But for them, it is the ‘Spirit of Fun!’ Like playing Barbies together.

Sharing Drafts and Blending Portions

Some people consider their drafts sacred, others see theirs as horrible piles of —

Duane never shows her rough draft to another human soul. The next draft though is fine.

Morwood doesn’t count how many drafts he goes through. As he says, “I’m a professional.”

Sherman and Kushner typically have interweaving plotlines, with Kushner woking on the more social scenes, while Sherman works on the academic ones (when they started collaborating, she had just graduated and had scores to settle.)

When writing each other’s characters, the other keeps the veto power. They do their best to keep personal ego out of the story — only really argueing over semicolons.

When it comes time to edit, Sherman reads aloud to Kushner, her bits and the printouts. Although, Sherman is stronger on description, while Kushner does dialogue, when they revise drafts, they overwrite each other. By 5 drafts in it’s fully blended.

Morwood and Duane work together similarly. Plus, they’re pretty good literary mimics. One usually has veto power. Duane is best at plotting and screen writing. Morwood has veto power on fight scenes and tactics.

Just remember when collaborating, there are competing needs for validation, love, and “listen to MY story.”

Music to Collaborate to?

Duane stopped listening to music — it interfered with her dialogue. But movies work fine for her as background.

Kushner used to listen to music, although it couldn’t be in English or had to be something she knew inside and out. Now, she writes at home in silence.

Morwood listens to tons of things, but turns off his Audible when writing dialogue. He likes to have Dragon Naturally Speaking play back his dialogue to him.

Sherman and Duane both like to write in cafes, with that background chatter, gathering faces for characters. If Sherman can’t have that, she needs complete silence.

When deadlines are piling up, Duane will go to a friend’s flat in the middle of no-where-Switzerland for weeks, while Kushner will head off to a friend’s house. The change of location helps with productivity. No chores — or partner — around to distract.


Collaboration can be a tricky beast. Have you worked on a collaborative work? What techniques worked best for you?

Have you worked with a romantic partner? Did it strain your relationship?

Romantic Subplots

Some books are straight up romances, some have no romantic dealings at all, but for everything in between, they’ve probably got a romantic sub-plot (or two) simmering in the background.

At WorldCon2019, PRK, Kate Johnson, Darlene Marshall, and Elliot Kay shared their tips for creating a successful romantic subplot.

The Rules Of Romance

Romance might get a bad rap in some circles, but romance is what keeps publishing in business, and it’s the mother of all genres when you look at sales.

Romance novels come in all stripes and colors, but they have two things that unify them:

  1. The love story is central to the plot – i.e. the plot doesn’t work without the romance
  2. An optimistic ending – these days, it doesn’t have to be happily ever after, but it needs to be happy-for-now, or at least romantically satisfying

The typical plot of a Romance novel is predictable

  1. The romantic partners come together
  2. Something separates them
  3. They come together again
  4. There’s a black moment when we think all is lost
  5. Then, there’s the optimistic/happy ending!

We know the plot of a romance novel, what makes them enjoyable is the journey.

Common Tropes

There are certain tropes that some people love to see over and over again. While other tropes are things that have been done to death — or are only enjoyable when there’s a fresh twist.

Our panelists shared a few of their favorites

  1. Enemies to lovers/Friends to lovers – i.e. Shards of Honor by Lois Bujold
  2. Alpha male – but easy to over do
  3. Flipping gendered expectations
    • Note: This includes romances that aren’t heterosexual, or cis-gendered, or have more than two partners. – i.e. Starless by Jacqueline Carey, and KJ Charles’s work.
  4. Both main characters are out to get the same things,\ and keep bumping into each other.
  5. When the love interest redeems THEMSELVES, after seeing their flaws reflected back at them. i.e. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre

And least favorites:

  1. No communication. The romance just happens!
    • This leads to readers forming unhealthy expectations about their relationships!
    • Also! If the plot hinges on a misunderstanding that could be fixed with 3 minutes of conversation (that would be normal to do in this situation), it’s a bad plot.
  2. They’re only mean because they likes you
  3. Redeeming everyone
  4. She’s here to redeem HIM
  5. Killing her to provide motivation for the main character to grow

Writing Good Chemistry!

They didn’t give us too many tips. Just: if it’s fun for you (as a writer) and it works emotionally for you… it should be fine!

Chemistry can be sexual and/or romantic. In real life, asexual (Ace) people sometimes are interested in romance, even when they’re not interested in the X-rated stuff. So, characters can be written to reflect reality.

Communication and consent are key! When both characters are eager to take the next step, the relationship should blossom.

Suggested reading:

  1. Claire O’Dell’s Janet Watson Chronicles
  2. JD Robb’s In Death series
  3. Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens
  4. Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart A Doorway

The Romantic Subplot Doesn’t Have To Work Out

Even in romance novels, there can be secondary romances that don’t work out.

  1. Short term relationships
  2. Breakups, where it just didn’t work

Chick-lit has tons of this. You’ll see the main character with tons of bad — or at least not right for her — partners.

Speaking of other genres, these days, it can be tricky to tell if you’re reading a romance or not — especially when you wade into the urban fantasy and paranormal romance corner. Kate Johnson shared her secret trick for determining, just by the cover, which is which. The paranormal romance has a topless guy on the cover, while the urban fantasy has a tattooed chick on the cover.

When she told us that, I closed my eyes and pictured the books on my shelves, and burst out laughing. She’s got it right.

Closing Thoughts

If you want to write more diverse characters, read #ownvoices works, research, talk to people who can share their lived experiences (don’t make assumptions), and pay sensitivity readers!

Write the book you want to write, your tropes will dictate the marketing.

Getting — and Staying Published

All writers who want to share their work with the world want to be published. Some want to self-publish while others would prefer to have the backing — and distribution — of a publishing house.

At the titular panel at WorldCon 2019, George Sandison, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Rachel Winterbottom, E.C. Ambrose, and Michelle Sagara talked about the realities of traditional publishing — when you’re not an A-list author.

The Top 3 Ways Writers Make It Hard On Themselves When Getting Published

  1. Quitting their dayjob
    • A publishing contract is great! It’s a huge amount of money. But, look at it as a year’s salary (or 5 years). There is no guarantee your next book will find the same market — or that your current book will perform as well as the publishers hope.

      If you get an advance, there are shockingly few authors who ever “earn out” — or make back for the publishing house — what the publishing house gave them.

      Many authors see their advances getting smaller and smaller, until they reflect what the market will give.
  2. Switching markets
    • Of course it’s always best to write what you’re most passionate about. If you’re forcing the writing, it usually comes through to the readers as a lack-lustre book.

      That said, if you change genres and markets, it can be like building your audience from scratch. Except, without the “like”. you ARE building your audience from scratch.
  3. Getting the wrong agent
    • If you get a contract before you have an agent, it is usually very easy to find an agent. It is always wise to get an agent or contract lawyer to look over your publishing contract, but unless the lawyer specializes in book sales, the agent will likely be better versed in industry standards — what’s expected and what’s not.

      That said, make sure you know if the agent you’re working with is invested in your career, or just here to help you through this single contract. Misunderstandings can leave your career in shambles.

Is It Three Strikes and You’re Out?

Usually, what it looks like from the writers’ end is…

  1. Your first novel? Floats on clouds of hope and optimism — and the traditional publisher advance reflects this.
  2. Your second novel? Well, they like to give writers second chances.
  3. Your third novel? Good luck.

The reality is that publishers need to sell a writer and their voice, not necessarily just one genre. Plenty of authors have more than one type of story in them.

Typically, writers query agents, and agents submit manuscripts to acquiring editors. Occasionally, some publishing houses will be open to unagented submissions. But, once you’ve sold a book or two, a working-relationship can evolve.

Acquiring Editors Can Work For An Author

Editors that select works for publication at publishing houses can have working relationships as close as an agent with a given writer.

And, of course, the more senior the editor, the more clout they have when it comes to deciding what gets published.

Here are 4 ways they can help a writer.

  1. They can go to bat for your novel, versus the publishing board, even if the numbers aren’t there. (i.e. We messed up marketing last time, but this writer is too good!)
  2. Publishers can pitch ideas internally, and bring in the author they want to write it.
  3. Even after a slump, if your pitch is keen enough, they can get you an offer.
  4. Some have success changing by-lines, to re-introduce authors to new audiences.

But sometimes? You need to walk away.

Reasons to find a new publisher

  1. Sometimes, a new publisher is what you need after a slump. The old one has already used all it’s connections and marketing techniques. It’s time to try something new.
  2. Sometimes, the editor you’ve worked with leaves and no one has the passion for the manuscripts they left behind.

But not everything relies on the publisher. There’s a lot you can do to make sure you’re ready for the market.

Ways To Set Yourself Up For Success

  1. Network
    Make friends in the industry. Hit conventions (if you have the time/energy but no money — volunteer! Or, you can just keep reading my notes).

    But, be sure you’re making a good impression when you do. Everyone knows somebody here, so be friendly but respectful of boundaries.
  2. Be prepared
    Rejection stinks. Seeing friends (or frenemies) succeed while your novel is passed over hurts — whether you’re at the “hoping for an agent” level, “hoping to publish” level, or the “hoping for awards” stage.

    Know that you aren’t alone. Know what you need to keep your passion from burning out.

    Read! Write! Ignore jealousy. Or acknowledge it — and then move on.
  3. Don’t give up the day job
    Even if you do get a huge contract, or tons of steady ones, fear of bills and falling behind can put too much pressure on you, and take away the love of the writing. Remember to take care of yourself.

    Age doesn’t matter, but financial security can affect your approach.
  4. Remember what you’re comparing
    When you see social media feeds and think about all the ways you don’t measure up? You’re comparing their highlight reels to your blooper reel. Take a break if you need to. Step away if you need to.

Audience Questions

  1. How does maternity/health leaves of absences affect your career?

    If you’re writing on a schedule, know this:
    1. Publishing schedules are flexible – but…
    2. Write first — as much as possible, if the leave is scheduled, and drop everything you can to make it happen.

    If you don’t have a schedule, it’s up to you.
  2. Should I self-publish?

    The more niche your book it, the more successful it could be as a self-published book.
  3. What does it take to succeed as a writer?

    Ideas are a dime a dozen, it’s all about the writing.

    Can you write a sentence? How about a paragraph? A chapter? Can you plot?

    There is a huge cliff between a great book and a ho-hum, not bad book. Most are ho-hum.