What To Blog About If You’re Not Published

Some great tips from published Y.A. author K.M. Allan. These are specific to author/bloggers (a bit of a niche) but still extremely useful. Unpublished writers are urged to “build a platform”, but it can be hard to come up with content ideas when you lack the authority of previous publication. These are all great content topics she’s listed. I say that because many of them are the type of content I posted myself here on Suburban Syntax prior to becoming published myself. The system works!

K.M. Allan

While June might remind us were already halfway through another year, it is also this blog’s blogiversary month!

I published my first post in June 2017. That kicked off the 117 posts I’ve published since.

I launched my blog to extend my writer platform. I’d already begun querying agents and publishers and had been rejected, but was still two years away from signing the small press contract I was offered in January 2019. I wasn’t published anywhere and didn’t have a book out to plug.

So what does a writer who isn’t published write about?

Writing, of course! My first post was titled Just Start, which was, and still is, a life motto of mine.

While I’m still another 6 months away from being officially published (the first book in my YA series, Blackbirch, is coming early 2020), I’ll continue to practice what I preach and blog about…

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Balancing Creation and Consumption

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“You cannot create when you are consuming.”

Pragmatic writing advice if I’ve ever heard it.

It sits at the opposing end of the spectrum from “read widely” and “refuel your creative tank”, which are also widely accepted as good advice for authors.

I’m still deep inside the second rewrite of my dark fantasy novel, and prioritizing it against other creative pursuits. I wrote a post a few months ago about writers having other hobbies, and I still stand by my opinion that two hobbies is the “right number”.

Finding Balance

Further prioritization of  limited time has found me exploring  how to balance pursuits that create versus consume. It has meant letting go of some things that I used to enjoy doing, but honestly can’t justify devoting time and resources to anymore.

Video games were the biggest sacrifice on this list. I used to be an avid gamer, and I still love gaming, but the industry seems to have moved in a direction where the games became huge time sinks. I can’t justify putting 25-60 hours into something that, while it may grant a feeling of accomplishment, doesn’t create any sort of tangible creative product.

25-60 hours is a lot of writing. That is short stories, revised chapters, posted submissions, or even a few rolls of film on a photo shoot or two. These are efforts that create, or at least advance, a body of creative work. It’s why in January I made a “silent resolution” to stop buying new games.

Making Art

It’s a matter of creating your own art versus consuming that of others.

I stopped purchasing games to throw into an ever-growing backlog for the same reason I let go of trying to voraciously speed read through my TBR book pile. I had become obsessed with trying to consume “all the things” and it was stressful and detrimental to my creative process. Anyone who can afford an internet connection is lousy with entertainment choices these days, and there seems to be a strange quasi-guilt emerging with it. Is that FOMO? Is that why Marie Kondo is so popular on Netflix?

Maybe I’m becoming more aware of my own mortality, but the older I get the more I desire to establish an artistic legacy. Adult responsibilities always seem to get in the way of creative time, so it makes those free hours even more precious. However, you can’t be creative all the time. That is a sure-fire recipe for burn out. So it requires balance.

A Process

The balancing of creative output and what I’ll pretentiously call “artistic consumption” is a matter of scheduling, routine, and determination. By creating an intentional routine, I’ve learned that I write far better in the early mornings, when my brain is still energized and fluid with ideas. Once I’m burnt out from the day, I can relax in the evenings with a book out of that TBR pile for a couple hours. It’s a process I’m always refining, and in other odd moments I eek out submissions, the occasional blog post, or a little promotion.

I’m curious what other authors do to balance their creative output versus consumption of media and art. No matter what your process is, I think it’s a good problem to have. The luxury of available means and ability to hone a craft is still a valuable commodity in our fast-paced, modern world.

Heroes and Villains

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Last week, someone asked me my thoughts on writing antagonists versus protagonists.

Since I prescribe to the “no cardboard cutouts” philosophy of writing good-guys and bad-guys (or girls!), but I always love a fine juxtaposition of world views (see: Batman and The Joker), I told them this.

Your villain cares about the omelet, but your hero should care about the eggs.

One of the strongest pieces of writing advice I ever received was to write the villain so they could’ve been the hero if they made better choices. It goes along with “every villain is the hero of their own story”.

But, honestly, it was the weekend, and I wanted an omelet for brunch.

Your First Novel – A Goal and a Valuable Marketing Tool

This is a great post from author and blogger Don Massenzio. I think some writers don’t take enough advantage of utilizing their existing work as a marketing tool, and Don has some solid advice about how you can use your first completed novel to expand your audience. Plus, most of it is applicable to both indie and traditionally published writers.

Author Don Massenzio

I remember that feeling when I finished my first novel. It was a mix of emotions. I was excited, nervous, anxious and curious simultaneously. Would people read my book? If they read it, would they like it? Then perhaps, the most scary question of all emerged. What’s next?

Now that five books in that series have been published and two others outside of the series are out there with two more books completed and ready to go, I know the answer to the ‘what’s next’ question. I also know how valuable that first book is as both an accomplishment and a tool to bring in new readers.

This post will list some of the ways I used this first book to help attract more readers and set up marketing for the books that would follow.giveaway_1_

Giveaways

Giveaways are an important way to gain some exposure from your writing. Whether…

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How to Draft Short Stories

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Short stories are my stock-in-trade. While I’ve written (and am writing) novels, short form fiction is really what I’ve had the most success with. I also get the most feedback and questions about them when speaking with other writers. It’s always interesting to me when people think they are “too difficult”, since for me, writing a novel is the greater challenge!

If you’re thinking about writing a short story, I’d encourage you to do so. I’m a big proponent of literary magazines and anthologies, and building a body of publication through them. While it’s good to hunker down for months-years and knock out a novel, a great short story can potentially earn its keep in a week’s worth of work.

Here’s a few tips on my personal system for short story writing:

Story Beats

I’m a plotter.

It seems a bit crazy to outline a short story, but I do it anyway.

It’s not a traditional outline though. It’s just “story beats”. It’s a simple bulleted list in my notebook that I use to “pre-write” the story before I actually grind out the first draft. Will it change? YUP. Does it keep me on track and help write the story faster? YUP.

One of the main criticisms I see in short fiction is “the story goes nowhere”, or “it feels like a vignette”. It can be tough to pack an arc and character transformation into a 5-10K word story. Having those story beats laid down ahead of time let’s you look at the skeleton from a zoomed out perspective to see if you’re accomplishing that goal, before you get into the details of laying “meat on the bones” so to speak.

Self-Editing

Please, PLEASE. For the love of God, do NOT hire an editor to go over your short story. Shorts are a perfect way to accomplish two things.

  1. Brush up on your editing & proofreading skills – Give each pass a day in-between. You’ll find the problems. Fix them. Let the Editor at the lit mag or the anthology point out the rest. It’s what they are paid to do.
  2. Build a stable of Beta Readers – Quality beta readers are indispensable to an author. You need to treat the ones who give great feedback like gold. Short stories are a low-commitment way to find beta readers. It should take a few hours at most to read a short story and critique it. And once you’ve identified the beta readers who give great feedback, you know who to ask first when you need a larger project (ie: novel) read and reviewed.

I personally do three editing passes on my short stories (waiting 1-2 days in between each pass to keep my eyes fresh) before I show them around to people. Those folks will inevitably catch new things, and I fix those before I begin to submit around.

Learn When to Quit and Submit

I debated including this, but I think it’s really important.

Saying “this story is done” is one of the single toughest things for a writer to do. Knowing “when to say when” is tough because an endless draft protects us from the dreaded rejection letter.

Short stories generally carry less blood, sweat, and tears in them than novels. So sending them off for submission (and rejection!) can help you learn about what I like to call my personal “quality threshold”. While thickening your skin, rejections and acceptances will help you know whether you sent out a story that was up-to-snuff, or needs another revision. While we’ll never be the best judges of our own work, it can at least help us to know when it’s time to not do another revision. Unlike a novel, if you’re on your tenth re-write of a short, it’s probably best to scrap the whole thing and just write another story.

Conclusion

I hope these tips are helpful, and if you’re thinking about writing some short stories, do it! There are many benefits to them, and they really help you to find your voice as a writer, while also giving room to experiment with different styles that you may not want to commit to for a book-length project.