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For those who prefer a hardcover book, The Gypsy Queen is now available in hardcover.

Go books!

The Gypsy Queen

Travis discovers his newest get rich quick scheme in an abandoned riverboat. Dreaming of the wealth and glamour she will bring, he becomes obsessed with rebuilding her.

Darius sees only rot, decay, and their ruination in the old boat. Travis’s best friend and unwilling business partner, Darius is unwilling to abandon Travis to his fate. He is committed to seeing it through, regardless of the costs to himself.

Struggling to rebuild her together, they are pitted against everyone from the Shipbuilders’ Union to the even more ruthless local casino boss, who desires to possess the Gypsy Queen himself.

As Travis and Darius’s lives become further intertwined with the Gypsy Queen, the strange accidents surrounding the boat escalate. Under the Gypsy Queen’s spell, Travis is oblivious to the sense of dread that fills those who enter the boat as she awakens with a hunger for blood. The Gypsy Queen’s dark past will not be forgotten.

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D2D finally brought in the long-awaited print book option. I don’t know when. I haven’t even looked at it in two years.

Note that with their new print book option, you are allowed one print interior or cover change every 90 days. That includes your initial upload. So, if your first cover or interior have errors, your expected options are to wait 90 days to correct one, then another 90 days to correct the other, or pay $25 USD per upload correction. That means if you need to re-upload both your cover and interior file, that’s going to cost you 90 days in D2D jail for first one then the other, paying $50 USD to upload both a new cover and new interior ($25 each), or a variation of the two options.

If you are going with the free D2D provided ISBN, you need to NOT EXPECT TO PUT THE ISBN IN YOUR INTERNAL FILE! At least not right away. (But read on!)

Yeah, I know. You want it to look 110% professional and all the books in bookstores have the ISBN in the front matter.

You can re-load the file later with the ISBN ($25 USD cost to upload a change or wait 90 days!), but unlike others like Amazon, 2D2 won’t give you the ISBN until AFTER you have finalized and approved your book to print.

I was hoping they would have considered that and get a chance to at least re-upload the internal file with the correct ISBN before it goes to publication. Nope. No dice. You do not get the ISBN to include it in your internal file until after you hit the publish button, and then not even right away to try to trick it into letting you re-upload the interior in another internet window that’s still sitting open on that page.

Being me, I stubbornly pressed on, hoping for another chance while at the same time knowing the outcome will be exactly as I suspected it would be. The file I uploaded was already set up for the same trim size. All I needed was to change the ISBN and add that new anthology I have a short story in in the front matter. I guess I’ll wait to see if they reject it and hope I have a chance then to upload the file with the correct ISBN without paying the $25 USD fee. Either way, if it gets rejected or not and I have to pay, I’m going to try waiting the 90 days to upload the correct ISBN interior free.

At this point I feel like I’m yelling at them, “Don’t tell me what to do!”

To me, allowing you to include the ISBN in your front matter whether you have them convert your eBook file or upload your own interior should be an automatic thing. It should not be restricted to the converted eBook file only. My guess is they’re trying to cut their costs on buying ISBN’s by not assigning them until you are committed to publishing it and hit the publish button.

Auto Conversion of eBook to POD

You can, of course, opt to let them convert your eBook file to print, if you aren’t too fussy about how your interior looks.  And, providing you did not upload your own eBook interior with the ISBN embedded in so it can be consistent with your book published through other sources.

You see below my POD front matter, with the D2D eBook ISBN number.

And here, below is where D2D puts the front matter with the ISBN if you chose the file conversion and click the box for them to add it. Why does this look weird to me? I had to go back to the books on my bookshelf. It was a 50/50 shot whether the copyright page was centered or left aligned. They also pretty much filled that page, so it didn’t look as weird to me as this short little blurb in the top corner.

This is all you get with their option to include it with converting your eBook file to POD.

Here’s a closer look of what it looks like from the PDF preview download:

Allowing D2D to convert the eBook file to POD also added almost a hundred pages to the paperback book length of one book when I tried that. Just how big is that print they use?

This second book I’m using as an example is 353 pages printed elsewhere, but D2D’s conversion is 416 pages. That might be fine for a shorter word count, but this is an extra 63 pages you have to pay printing costs for. Printing costs generally are a base rate plus price per page.

Using D2D’s cost calculator, a 416-page 5.5 x 8.5 inch trim size book costs $6.30 to print. March 1, 2022, they have a price increase in effect, and it will cost $6.45 per book to print.

Comparing the 353-page count elsewhere to the D2D 416-page count converted eBook:

  • 353 pages at 5.5 x 8.5 trim = $5.66 with D2D after March 1, 2022
  • 416 pages at 5.5 x 8.5 trim = $6.45 with D2D after March 1, 2022

$0.79 USD doesn’t seem like a lot per book, but you generally are not working with a large markup margin, and this comes out of your royalties. Let’s assume a $15 list price. Your 45% royalties on a $15 list price book are $6.75.

  • 353 pages at 5.5 x 8.5 trim = $5.66 print cost = $1.09 royalty/per book
  • 416 pages at 5.5 x 8.5 trim = $6.45 print cost = $0.30 royalty/per book

You cannot sell a 416-page book for $0.30 royalties per book. This gives you 30 cents USD per book sold for marketing costs before you are losing money.

The higher your word count, the larger you can expect this page count disparity in uploading your own interior vs. allowing D2D to convert your eBook to be.

Interior File for Auto conversion of eBook to POD

If you are going with allowing D2D to convert your eBook file, I strongly recommend sticking strictly to the “D2D Simple” template style.

Most of the interior file options look very gimmicky with junk like magnifying glasses, birds, or whatever that interior style option has, everywhere you have an extra line return spacing out your paragraphs.

I might have liked this when I was eight. Maybe. Garbage.

I’ll stick to formatting and uploading my own interior files – but without the ISBN number in the front matter until the 90 days of upload jail or fine expires. Then I can upload a proper interior file with the D2D POD ISBN number included.

Using Your Own ISBN

You’re probably asking why I don’t just use my own ISBN. Cost, that’s why. Here is a quick Google search on the price of an ISBN for those of you who have to go through Bowker in the US:

Here in Canada ISBNs are free through the Library and Archives Canada. But there’s a catch. Once your book is published using a Library and Archives Canada ISBN, you are required to send them physical copies of your book. How many depends on the number of books produced. Assuming you want to sell more than 100 copies, it would be two physical book copies you need to send.

When I priced this out years ago, between the print and shipping costs for the two books and the postage to ship them to Library and Archives Canada, it was not cheap. I don’t remember what the cost was, but it was close to the Bowker cost. I don’t have a budget for this. The day job that pays the bills, like so many others, pays the cost-of-living bills without wiggle room to invest in my own interests. Your spending money doesn’t go far when you use it for things like school fees for your kids and in-between payday grocery shopping food items. My writing costs have to pay for themselves and it’s not cheap to publish, get author copies and table stuff for book events, and all that. I’m already in the red on this. I just used money I’ve been saving for a few years for a replacement computer to buy a cheap filing cabinet because of the lack of budget for this.

I haven’t even ordered author copies of the new anthology from Dragon Soul Press, “All Dark Places 3” with my short story Dark Shadows yet because that’s also going to cost me money out of pocket, putting me further in the red. I will have to before I do any author events, once those things open up again.

Assuming $1.50 USD net royalty per book, more than the example above, you would have to sell 84 books just to pay the $125 USD ISBN cost. That’s assuming they don’t charge a tax on it. I didn’t look to see if they do.

If I sell that book for a list price of $17 USD: 45% royalty on $17 = $7.65 gross royalty per book less the printing costs.

  • 353 (my own interior upload) pages at 5.5 x 8.5 trim = $5.66 print cost = $1.99 royalty/per book
  • 416 (eBook conversion) pages at 5.5 x 8.5 trim = $6.45 print cost = $1.20 royalty/per book

At $1.99 net royalty per book for my own interior file upload, I still have to sell 63 books to cover a $125 ISBN cost before I make a penny off book sales, without spending any money on marketing.

But Bowker has their reduced price per ISBN deal for a 10-pack!

Let’s say you bough the $295 10-pack of ISBNs. You use two on Amazon, two on D2D, and two on IngramSpark. You’ve used six up on one book. But you want a hardcover version in addition to the eBook and paperback. That’s two more assuming two publishing platforms.

In three publishing platforms, you’ve used 8 of your 10 ISBN numbers for paperback, hardcover, and eBook versions of the same book, because each and every version on each platform requires a unique ISBN number. That’s an ISBN cost of $236 USD for one published book edition. At $1.99 net royalty, you have to sell 119 books across all versions and platforms just to cover the cost of the ISBNs, not including any money spent on advertising.

Also, if you are in Canada and taking advantage of the “free” (not free because you have to mail them copies of your books), you have to send them physical copies for each ISBN used for print books.

That’s why I opt for the free ISBN’s.

But You Aren’t the Publisher Unless You Use Your Own ISBN

I haven’t forgotten this. Yes, the ISBN code breaks down to numbers that identify the country, publisher, and book title. The first two are only included in the 13-digit number:

EAN – Bookland country code.

Group – Country identifier for national or geographic grouping of publishers. Basically, the country it’s being published in.

Publisher – You or the publisher/publishing platform.

Title – Unique number assigned to that particular edition or format of your book title.

Check digit – Exactly what it implies. It’s a check digit that validates the ISBN. An internal control verification digit in ISBN Book Land, which has no bearing on the country, publisher, title, etc.

How important is having this unique to you as a publisher? That depends on you and what you want.

This is what your buyers are going to see. It’s a series of digits catalog number. The only identifier that means anything to them is what you put in your front matter as your publisher identifier:

Interior front matter:

Back cover:

Apparently you can search the publisher name from an ISBN number here, but most people won’t know that and even fewer will care enough to bother.

Update: Results from D2D Review

Fast forward to days later…

D2D has reviewed the book upload and, as I would have been disappointed if they had not done so, rejected it because the ISBN in the front matter does not match.

The good news is that it allowed me to upload that interior file with the correct ISBN without having to pay $25 USD or be in D2D upload jail for 90 days.

I win!

Now, if you’ve thought to publish on D2D, IngramSpark, or anywhere else prior to putting up a paperback or hardcover on Amazon KDP, you’re going to run into a problem with Amazon KDP. Expect them to reject it as being already published by another publisher. Their list of approved correspondence “proof” specifically denies your own pledge of being the author and publisher and wants a third-party letter. Oops to all the self-published writers out there.

Keep writing my friends. Let’s make this world better one emotionally stirring book at a time.

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An Epic Journey Figuring Out Why My Shared Word Document on OneDrive is Read Only. But Why? It is NOT a read only file on the computer. I Want to Edit It On My Phone!

Photo by Vlad Bagacian on Unsplash

If you know me, you know my technological literacy is spotty and incomplete. Some things I learned; others are as mystifying as the vastness of the Netherworld.

I also have an annoying habit of having to figure it out when I don’t know something. Who is that actor who seems so familiar and what did I see them in? Well, put that movie or show on pause because I have to know. (Nope, that guy in the episode of Yellowstone has a resemblance sort of, and voice that we thought sounded like him, but was not the actor who played Face on the A-Team). That nagging feeling something in a story I’m working on doesn’t mesh with something? I’m going to prove it to myself, even if it looks like it’s just a weird unprovable déjà vu because I can’t find it. I still won’t just drop it, though, because that nagging sense will still be there.

Why can’t I edit my file on One Drive? I have to know!

Jump to the answer! Or read on through all this rambling drivel.

Or; here is the quick answer if you don’t want to waste time reading anything else here:

In the document open on your phone Word app, just click the three dots in the menu (…) and “Save” (not Save As!) and “Save” again. Save in the identical file location of the existing file and click “Replace” when that popup message appears. Wait for it to save and update. It will convert your “read only” Compatibility Mode old version of Word file to the new version and make it editable and syncing across all open files on different devices.

In my efforts to get back to writing and editing with some reasonableness of frequency (aka not not writing and editing), I tried saving a few WIPs in Microsoft Word with the AutoSave to OneDrive feature. The idea being that I can edit the same file whether I’m on my laptop or on my phone in another room, or perhaps laying in bed awake at 3am with insomnia.

I’ve been very hesitant to embrace cloud saving of any kind. I’ve also been accustomed for years to working on anything personal (aka not the pay-the-bills-job) as much in places where I have no Wi-Fi as I do at home with Wi-Fi, including on my lunch breaks at that job for years before Covid sent us to work from home. No Wi-Fi in that lunchroom. Thus the learned extreme hesitancy of using any sort of cloud-based storage where I wouldn’t be able to access anything stored there half the time. One of my favorite places to write before we had to sell it was at the camper, in the peaceful  relaxing slower pace away from home and happens to be far from any sort of working Wi-Fi.

So this attempt at cloud-based file sharing with myself is both an unutilized technology and behavior to be learned.

I tried it with one WIP file and it was pretty cool. The idea of being able to edit the same file with real-time live updates on both devices was fun. I sat there typing on the laptop and watching the words appear on my phone. Then I did it the other way around just because I could. Yeah, I know. I’m lame.

My second file attempt – The Woods, a novel I have been so painfully close to completion for so long and promising to finish and have published, and actually think might in many ways be one of my, if not ‘The’, best – did not go so well.

I’ve clicked the AutoSave in Microsoft Word to save it to OneDrive cloud-based storage, deleted that OneDrive file, and re-clicked it a number of times. I just cannot get it to open in the Microsoft Word app on my phone as an editable file like the other one. It will only open as a read only file.

So what am I doing wrong?

The first thing I found on the issue was a Microsoft issues chat from 2014 where all the answers suggested the *fix* of just downloading and saving the file as a new file to edit. Sounds easy right? As long as you have no intention of going back and forth between devices or have multiple people co-working on the document. As the original poster of the question commented, this is not a fix, but rather a workaround. It also means you essentially end up with more than one file document you now have to be on top of constantly making sure to either upload, download, and save as every time you are going to work on it, or will later have the laboriously time intensive task of using Microsoft Word’s compare files feature to try to combine all the revised file copies into one revision copy.

I’ve actually done that with files and it’s a great feature when you have the need for it. It’s nice when you find yourself with multiple rough WIPs of something and don’t know which is better or what changes were made on which and why. But I would not choose to do it unnecessarily because you are going through every single space, character, word, sentence, paragraph, and formatting change made on the two versions through the entire document. And repeating if for every extra revision copy you need to combine. You then have to go through and thoroughly edit the whole thing because you may or may not have remembered right and clicked yes or no to changes correctly throughout the entire document.

So, nix that non-fix.

Next try:

I tried opening the OneDrive folder and checking that the file folder within it and the WIP file both have the sync symbol showing sync is turned on. I don’t think you can actually turn that off? Here are three status symbols that show up:

  • The cloud one is a video of my itty bitty teen punching out another girl sparring at boxing. (She’s pretty good!)
  • “Shroud Eaters” is a horror in early stages and my first attempt at file sharing between the laptop and phone. That’s the one I could open and edit no problem with it revising the file for both devices in real time. This was my NaNoWriMo 2021 challenge to continue working on, which I did not get far on.
  • “The Woods 2021” is the newest save (thus the “2021”) version, keeping the previous save intact as an unrevised just-in-case backup. This is the file that will only open as a read only file on my phone with the Word app.

What do these symbols mean? I had to look it up. This is what I found:

  • The cloud – this file is available only online and cannot be opened without some form of internet connection. This file takes no space on your device.
  • Green checkmark in a circle – “When you open an online-only file, it downloads to your device and becomes a locally available file. You can open a locally available file anytime, even without Internet access.” In other words, this file when opened will download to your device, take up file space, can be edited with or without internet, and should automatically save back to the cloud location to sync and update with revisions made to the shared file on other devices. Sweet.
  • The circling arrows – means that a sync is in progress. If it shows this with a “processing changes” message, you may have a problem. Processing changes is okay because that means it’s actively syncing, but if it doesn’t go away your sync is stuck. When I hover the mouse over the file line with the circling arrows in the folder it does show “Availability status: Sync pending”.

(P.s. as noted below, closing the file on the laptop turned these to green checkmarks – so sync pending was not actually stuck or anything. However it apparently can get stuck. In this case it was just letting me know the file was open somewhere and waiting to sync when I start typing in it.)

I tested by editing “Shroud Eaters” on my phone while watching the OneDrive file folder on the laptop. The green checkmark didn’t even blink. The file is open on both the laptop and phone. I tried typing in each while watching the file on the other device, and the watching it change on the other screen in real-time didn’t happen this time. Weird.

So, I closed OneDrive and clicked the app on the phone to open the file folder and saw this:

This actually doesn’t surprise me because I’ve already encountered the problem I have yet to resolve of somehow ending up with multiple OneDrive files for the same file. That’s why you see the “Shroud Eaters (3)” file.

So now I have the added issue of which of these is the most recent and current file with the hours of work added? Bugger. And why when both the phone and laptop open files should be the same file syncing on both devices did the changes not sync? It also shows one updated a half hour prior, not both just now, which would answer why the two devices show the revisions from each other.

I figured out the most recent revisions file and deleted all the extra “Shroud Eater” files from OneDrive via the laptop. I got the warning that deleting the files will delete them everywhere.

Now, in the OneDrive folder on the laptop the one Shroud Eaters file shows the same circling arrows that when I hover over them is shows “Availability status: Sync pending”. Great. Now both files are broken and not syncing. Good job.

The weird thing is the rest of the files are gone from the OneDrive folder on the computer, but not from that same folder on the phone. “Shroud Eaters (3)” vanished, but the others are all still there.

After about ten or fifteen minutes the warning that deleting the files will delete them everywhere came up again for another file and I clicked okay through it again and the extra files vanished from the phone folder a few minutes later. So, a major delayed reaction which might be a clue to the non-syncing issue. Or not.

I don’t always think of trying things in the most logical order, so thinking my sync pending is stuck, now I try closing the files in Word. Magic. Sync pending circling arrows is gone and they are green check marks. That’s not the problem apparently.

I opened Shroud Eaters and testing it again, typing on the laptop and it did not change in real-time on the phone document like it did the first time I tested out doing it. But closing and reopening the file on the phone synced the changes. It also made the typing in either device make real-time changes on the screen of the other again. Cool. It also showed them as markup changes – aka the text added on the phone and deleted on the laptop showed as strikethrough text on the phone and flagged a revision spot on the laptop file saying I cannot revise it until I finish revising it on the phone to avoid conflicts.

This hasn’t happened before. And the phone gave me the option to accept or reject the change. Clicking accept brought a notification that I can use the feature if I buy Microsoft 360. Um, no. Not right now. But maybe that’s why the navigation isn’t on the phone like it is on the laptop Word program? It’s something to think about when I maybe need to buy the personal or family plan by the end of the school year. Closing and re-opening the file on the phone again made the updates happen, so no worries there. It will update eventually and lose the markups.

So, back to trying to open The Woods on the phone. Nope, it’s still a read only file. Why? Hell if I know.

I deleted The Woods from the OneDrive file, opened the file on my hard drive, and re-saved it again on OneDrive. I opened it on my phone with the Word app, and it’s still a read only file. Crap. Why? Why does this technology hate me?

I found this curious and completely useless for my problem conversation about this issue. Except with their issue they discovered it opened as read only when saved in Google Drive and opened fine as an editable file when saved in OneDrive. My files are saved in OneDrive automatically by the Word app and one file works while the other only opens as read only in the Word app on the phone. So mine should work!

One commenter said whether a file worked on their phone (Andriod like mine) depended on how they opened the file. But I’m opening both files exactly the same way and one opens as editable and one as read only.

Both files are Word documents with .docx file extensions.

I tried opening “Blood And Canvas” on my phone. It too opens as a read only file. I have a new clue! What do “Blood And Canvas” and “The Woods” have in common that “Shroud Eaters” does not?

All three are Word documents created on my laptop and have .docx file extensions.

They were all three each started and the files created originally at different times years apart using different versions of Microsoft Word, and different laptops as one died and was replaced with another, so that it something none have in common.

“AND BINGO IS HIS NAME-O”!

Under the “File” tab at the top of your Word document on the computer click the “Info” option to view the information on your file. How to do this might be different on older versions of Word.

Both Blood And Canvas and The Woods show “Compatibility Mode”. Shroud Eaters does not! So now I know what the two files that open as read only on my phone have in common that’s different from the one that works.

Compatibility Mode is how Word allows a file created in an older version of Word to be opened and used in a newer version of Word. I found this: “As long as a document is showing [Compatibility Mode], new or changed Word features that were not included in the earlier version will be disabled.

Good thinking. I’m talking like really old versions of Word each these files would have been created it, even though they are saved with the .docx file extension.

Then I found this on the types of file extensions that are supported by Word:

This tells me that all three files were created using versions of Word from anywhere between 2007 and 2019. If they were .doc files, they would be from even older Word versions. With that and reading that link about how Compatibility Mode disables  features that were not available in the Word version the document was originally created in, I think Compatibility Mode is stopping the files from being editable on the phone – a phone app and OneDrive cloud storage that was created AFTER newer versions of Word replaced those older outdated ones.

THE BIG TWO SECOND FIX THAT TOOK ME WAY TOO LONG TO FIGURE OUT!

If your Word document is in Compatibility Mode, that is likely blocking it from opening as an editable file from OneDrive on your other device. You need to get rid of Compatibility Mode by have Word convert it to the new Word format.

In the document open on the computer, I clicked the “Convert” button in the document information screen and clicked “OK” through this popup warning message to let Word convert, clicked the Save/Sync button to make sure it saves the converted file to OneDrive, closed the file on the computer, then tried to open it on the phone. I had a little gray line at the top that opened to a message giving me the option to refresh to the new file. I did. And IT WORKED! The files saved on OneDrive now open on the phone Word app as perfectly editable files.

Now I’m asking myself, what if I did not have the laptop handy to fix it? What if I was somewhere else with just my phone and want to be able to edit and have the file sync when I open it later on the computer?

How do I fix a “Compatibility Mode” problem through the Word app on the phone?

I deleted the OneDrive “The Woods” file and re-saved aka clicked the Auto-Save to OneDrive on the hard drive document that is still in Compatibility Mode to test this.

  • Save the file using your phone: In the file opened with the Word app on the phone (this was using Android) Click those three dots to open “File actions” and click “Save”, not “Save As”. Click “Save” again, chose the save location, and save it.
  • Here’s the trick: Make sure you are saving it in the exact same OneDrive file location, including whether it is in a sub-file. You want the “Replace file?” popup message. If you don’t get that message you are just saving it as a second file instead of replacing the existing file. Click “Replace” and your Word doc file saves as the newer version of Word.
  • The good thing is the new file is in the new format and does not open in “Compatibility Mode” on the computer, and you didn’t just create a secondary file to figure out later. When you or whoever else opens OneDrive to work on that file with another device, it’s fixed just the same as if you fixed it with the Conversion option on the computer.

Now, what if someone is using the file, say on the laptop while I do that trick with my phone?

Hint: this is totally awesome!

Do the exact same thing! It worked!

I deleted the OneDrive file and did the re-AutoSave to OneDrive again with the Compatibility Mode file to test it. I added some gobbledygook nonsense typing to it on the Laptop. Yup, when I opened the file on the phone it was read only and the added gobbledygook nonsense typing was there. This is definitely the same file and not some weird other file that somehow exists.

With “The Woods” Compatibility Mode document in OneDrive still open on the laptop…

On “The Woods” read only file open on my phone I did the … and “Save” (not Save As!) and “Save” again. I made sure it was the identical file location of the existing file. I even clicked on the existing file for good measure, although it’s totally not necessary. I clicked “Replace” when that popup message appeared. Waited for it to save and update.

Magic! My file is now editable and not read only, updated to the new file type.

I typed some more gobbledygook nonsense typing in the file on my phone and watched it magically appear in real-time in the still open document on my laptop – a document that also now just like that was also the newer version of Word and no longer in Compatibility Mode.

Easy frigging peasy fix! (How the heck do you even spell “peasy”?)

My final question is why can I never come up with the right and very fast and simple answer first without wasting a lot of time searching for and answer that apparently exists NOWHERE in the whole World Wide Web, experimenting, and finally getting it after so much wasted time?

From my online searches, apparently I’m not alone. I could not find any answer anywhere that simply says, “In the document open on your phone Word app, just click the three dots (…) and “Save” (not Save As!) and “Save” again. Save in the identical file location of the existing file and click “Replace” when that popup message appears. Wait for it to save and update. It will convert your “read only” Compatibility Mode old version of Word file to the new version and make it editable and syncing across all open files on different devices. I can’t guarantee if more than one are actively typing in the shared document it will pick up all synced changes at the moment it saves over that file, but hopefully it will. After all, the document stayed open and unchanged on my laptop, other than losing the Compatibility Mode until I started editing the file on the phone – which updated the other file in real-time sync. I’m not talented enough to type in both the document on the computer simultaneously without pause while saving it on the phone to test it. That would take the help of another person to do one part while I do the other to test that fully.

Keep writing my friends.

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Aka Don’t Fall For The Open-Ended Questions Cloaked As Being Meant to Inspire Discussion, But Really Are Open-Leaders For Trolls, Scams, and Pushy Salespeople.

Photo by Sammy Williams on Unsplash

Is it just me, or has social media become more toxic, nasty, and predatory the past few years? I’ve backed off a lot on it because of this. That and the drive for these massive companies to maximize monetizing your online activity has increasingly pushed them to create algorithms that make them progressively less relevant to your wants and needs. At least it has for me.

It feels like this never ending course we seem to be trapped on where divisiveness, anger, hate, and extremes being publicly celebrated and gleefully politicized by politicians and news media is feeding that greedy toxicity monster infesting social media.

Where did all the puppies and kittens go? Every post now feels like a political minefield ready to go off.

Social media is the ultimate double-edged sword. But it’s more than that. The metaphor can especially be taken both ways with social media – of having the possibility of both favorable and unwanted unfavorable consequences, and that it can harm both its wielder and anyone else who gets too close.

(Sidetrack: Now I have to ask, why is it that in a hardcore close-in fight the person wielding the sword in entertainment media – movies, shows, books, etc. – so often does not get cut when they handle the blade which is shown to be so ridiculously sharp that the slightest touch to fabric or their opponent’s skin results in serious cuts, and yet a lesser touch slices their opponent?)

Social media is a cesspool of tainted necessity.

Social media – friend or foe?

Photo by Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash

As a writer, having a platform is essential. Publishers and agents look for it. And not just a platform you started last month and have three friends and a few posts because you feel awkward doing it.

Social media is your necessary evil.

You have to have a public face. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, a website, blogging, etc. This public face ideally would be vibrant and established before that publisher or agent gets your query. While they are your target for getting published, the audience is your readers and potential readers.

Having a vibrant and established platform is also time intensive. Self-promotion is a full time job. It’s also more than just posting stuff for others to see. It is interacting with people and building a network of connections – friends, family, associates, associations, companies, fans, followers…

Your readers and potential readers following your public face want to know about you. They want to know about your writing too, but without feeling like they know who you are, that falls flat. They want to feel a connection to you, as a person.

This is where some authors go wrong. The airing of personal opinions can make your fans love you or hate you, all depending on what those opinions are. Remember the J. K. Rowling vs. LGBTQ+ debacle? Publicly airing her insensitivity lost her more than the LGBTQ+ community fans she offended. And then she made the second mistake. With every attempt at defending herself she only dug that hole deeper. Fans who loved to feel like they knew her saw a new side of her they didn’t know existed and they did not like that person.

Social media is also about networking. It’s not just about putting out posts for your readers and potential publishers and agents. You also need to schmooze others in the industry. You want to make connections and friendships with other writers, publishing professionals, readers, and anyone else who can help your writing career.

This means putting yourself out there and joining social media groups. Facebook has more than you can imagine, but not all are equal. Some have too little oversight, allowing the trolls to take over. Some get spammed with junk that has nothing to do with the group and does not belong on it.

These past few years I’ve never seen so many writers groups so spammed by bots pushing political agendas. So much that the moderators cannot keep up and sometimes give up trying. I’ve never left so many writing groups because of the politicized and hate spam posts that do not belong there and were not being moderated out. P.s. this is why I like the groups that pre-moderate posts, having to approve them before they show up.

Now here’s a caution: never ever publicly complain in the group about the posts or virtually voice your leaving because of them unless you want to be publicly tarred and feathered by the trolls. Nothing brings out their claws like someone complaining they are leaving a group. Just go. Quietly.

You join these groups and work to develop a sense of community with your fellow writers and publishing peeps. You make friends and contacts. You comment on and like others’ posts and post your own hoping for meaningful dialogue.

Sometimes that dialogue is meaningful and sometimes it’s attacked by the nasty trolls. I like to block those people who unreasonably attack or pick fights with others. They are not people I want to associate with. And if the group moderators do not bring the hammer down on the trolls in any attempt to control their assaults, then I will gladly seek out a more moderated and friendly group.

Often comments on questions fall in the range from helpful to offering questionable resources.

And then there are the open-ended questions mean to inspire discussion in writers’ groups….

Don’t fall for the open-ended questions meant to inspire discussion in writers’ groups.

Photo by Daniel Lincoln on Unsplash

If you’ve been in any of the writers’ groups on social media, you’ve seen them.

While some of these questions are people legitimately looking to start a meaningful discussion, there are also others posting them with ulterior motives. There is an army of people lurking in social media groups seeking to sell their services, dropping these open leader questions and pouncing on the people who comment on them like the spam calls spoofing numbers ringing on your phone.

They are often also cut and pasted into multiple groups. If you see the identical question popping up in multiple groups, that for me is a big waving flashing red flag.

“Blah blah blah… share your book links. Go!”

“What inspires your writing?”

“How do you promote your books?”

The questions referencing promoting are, for me, the biggest red flags.

The list of examples is endless and I’ve fallen for a few, dumbly leaving my comment among the rest of the comments, to suddenly find myself with a new ‘friend’ (the author of the post) messaging me. Sometimes they are quicker to back off, others are more along the lines of the horror I once experienced sitting through a timeshare presentation for free tickets to the Tournament of Kings dinner show in Vegas.

You know the pushy sales tactic, where (they literally did at the timeshare presentation) tell you that you are a bad and neglectful parent and your kids will hate and resent you for life, and that you don’t deserve to have kids, if you don’t buy into their vacation timeshare. They just won’t take ‘no’ for an answer, try to guilt you into it, and may even resort to veiled threats, ahem suggestions, that not buying their services will harm your chances of ever seeing happiness and will result in the loss of your marriage, kids, and everyone else in your life, forcing you to live a life unhappy and alone (or for writers, book sales).

In this case the kids are your published books, your love life is potential publishers, and the vacation timeshare is paying this person for their advertising and promotion services.

“So why don’t you want to sell any books?”

“Don’t you like your books?”

“Why don’t you like money?”

“Why don’t you want to make money selling your books?”

Falling for commenting on one of these posts a few times was enough for me. It turned me off participating in online discussions. I have an especial dislike for pushy people who will not take rejection, whether they ignored the “no soliciting” sign on my door, leaving me dealing with manically barking dogs with people in the house sleeping or trying to do Zoom calls, or they find the words “No thank you, I’m not interested.” incomprehensible. No means no, means no, means stop asking.

This is why I may be tempted on occasion, but now generally avoid commenting on any open-ended posts that trigger discussions. Too often they are fishing posts. I carefully think about what posts to comment on, be it groups or friends, and still sometimes find I made a mistake commenting on the wrong post. It’s not just those fishing posts, but in the growing toxic online world too many people have become quick to anger if they happen to have a different viewpoint.

This is also why I carefully consider which random stranger friend requests I accept, and which out of the blue stranger IM messages I respond to. Because it might be one of *those people*, the pushy ‘you hate money and your books if you don’t give me money because I promise to promote your books’ people, although more often they are of the widowed or divorced veteran with kids romance scam variety of friend or IM requests.

In fact, lurking instead of commenting leaves me with only the romance scammers reaching out to me.

Keep writing my friends and play safe out there.

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Why must we torture ourselves so?

Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash

So, we committed ourselves to a self-imposed challenge we are calling “Sober October”. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?

It’s about as dreadful as it sounds and we are one week into it.

While the title implies it’s all about the boozing, that’s only part of the package. We have been drinking too much too, among other things this past year plus. This self-imposed torture is about what some might call “Self Love”.

Sober October is committing to 31 days of “sobering” cutbacks and kick-it-ups. Thirty-one days of self- punishment, ahem, love, with a cheat day allowed for Thanksgiving, only because it’s Thanksgiving (Even if Covid means limiting family gatherings. But hey, pumpkin and apple pies, right? You don’t need a houseful of people for apple pie!) but not going all out crazy that day.

Thirty-one gruesome days of watching calories, eating healthier, eating smaller portions, zero alcohol, zero snacking, except for the Thanksgiving cheat, exercising daily at home and/or hitting the gym (or nearly daily, we fail at daily) – basically sucking all enjoyment out of life.

Before Covid shut down the gyms a year and a half ago we went on a semi-regular basis. I did walking exercise at least two to three times a week. Since they shut down I continued regular almost daily walking exercise at home and we did occasional long hikes. So you wouldn’t think it would be such a stretch to do the walking exercise most days with the gym at least half the days.

A week in and I feel more tired, more achy, weaker, and hungry more.

Even now, after a banana for breakfast and a hot coffee at my side, my achy legs are hating me for telling them as soon as I finish posting this it’s time to get walking. And I need to do an extra walk to make up for working through lunch on the job that pays the bills yesterday and missing my noon walking.

Got to get ‘er done to get on with the cleaning house and walking the dogs (One at a time because they are arseholes walking together, yay dogs.), before exercising again, showering, picking up the kid from work, and supper.

Maybe by the end of the month it will have given me some new fodder for dark stories of depravity.

Be good to yourself and keep writing my friends.

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Sometimes life just gets in the way of our promises we make to ourselves and to others.

At times life just makes us suck, right? We make promises we’ll do something and then before you know it time has passed and it didn’t happen. Of course, we can’t just put all the blame on outside sources, Old Man Time, Mother Nature, demands on us for work, family, and friends, or the wickedness of surreal time and memory lapses causing time to pass quickly or drag endlessly while we forget some things while focusing too much on others.

Ultimately we are in control of our own actions and lack of them. We own how much actual effort we put into meeting those deadlines, self-imposed or not. And in keeping promises we made whether they are to ourselves or others.

Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

Maybe you just overreached what you can manage. Good intentions and all that.

And life does constantly throw up little roadblocks, bumps in the road, and a thousand mini obstacles.

Still, we have to reflect on ourselves and look inward, but with the same compassion and understanding we hope others will give to us, and that we must give to others because we strive to be good people.

A promise to both myself and you to commit to weekly blog posts. One I am still failing on at the moment. It is a surprisingly large time commitment when your time is stretched. But, ultimately, I own the fail on that.

Committing to self-care, that term floated to you that often seems intangible. As illusive as that hint of motion caught in the corner of your eye that is gone when you turn to look.

A promise to myself, and perhaps to my all of three fans, if they truly exist outside the realm of fiction, to finish some of the endless WIPs taking up disk space and eating away at my guilty subconscious for neglecting them, stories waiting to be told. To write new stories. To have some of these shorts published and finish the novel length works so they too can be released upon the world with all their pervading darkness. Another fail, but a wish not abandoned entirely.

March 19, 2020, my first day working remotely due to Covid. Today is October, the start of the best month for us writers of horror and everything dark. This is one year and almost 6 1/2 months of ultimate fail to my writer self, failing to write, to feel that energizing driven inspiration. The crossing of that 1 1/2 year mark of writing rut that began on that very strange feeling day when it seemed I was in my own insidious dark story of a world gone upside down where the down below became our world.

Am I alone in feeling a little down, a little like I lost myself, for not being able to be embraced by that feeling of being swallowed into the heart and bowels of a story I am writing? I don’t think so.

Am I alone in feeling like life just keeps ponderously moving along second by second by minute by hour oblivious to my wants? Certainly not.

A lot of us find ourselves in exactly this spot and it will happen multiple times in your life. Sometimes it lasts longer than other times.

I actually started writing this post yesterday, what should be a quick knock off of a few words, on October 1st. Intended to post it yesterday. But life happens.

As a simple necessity, the job that pays the bills always takes priority over everything else in life, and takes up the majority of your waking hours. The needs of the household and family take the second priority.

Your partner. Your kids need help or just attention. Groceries, cleaning, meals, and a million other mundane life duties. Right now there is a massive mound of washed laundry in the process of being folded next to me and the vacuum is waiting to take a turn right after washing everyone’s dishes and the general clutter of a household.

Somewhere in there you try to fit in five minutes, ten, twenty; you hit the jackpot at thirty minutes of writing time. But that’s okay.

Allow yourself the courage to push through the niggling little things getting in the way, the dramas large and small, chores, day jobs, and the time goblins, all seemingly conspiring to suck away any writing time. Your life is the sum of all of its parts. Embrace it.

Our attempts at training the Big Dumb Bunny have so far failed. The first of two kids started university and the first student loan application was denied on the assumption we should I guess borrow the money ourselves to pay for it. Still, an interest free and payment free until graduation loan beats anything we could get, assuming we have enough equity to get the loan, and then more loan when the second kid starts university. Between school, work, and boxing, you’d barely know she lives here. The second kid got her first job and is learning to drive. Meanwhile the bus schedules have her walking or relying on us to drive her to not be 45 minutes early or 15 minutes or more late for work. We are trying harder at self care, something as parents we neglect too much.

These are barely a drop on top of the day to day with each of us in our own little worlds that sporadically merge one with another a few hours a day while we all live under the same roof. And here I am giving that time to you with this random rambling.

Mom! Mom! Mom! Pay attentionz to mee!

When I can’t break out those precious moments for a little writing time, I may feel a bit sorry for myself, but it’s still just one part of everything that is my world and overall it’s not a bad world. It’s worth embracing.

So when you feel like it’s been forever since you could get that time to do what you really want, embrace it all and take greater pleasure in those moments when they do come.

And now Roxy, aka the Big Dumb Bunny, is demanding my undivided attention.

Here’s to hoping I can post again in the next month.

Be good to yourself and keep writing my friends.

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Or, more accurately, did you even notice I was gone?

Photo by Jasmina Rojko on Unsplash

No, this isn’t one of those feel sorry for me deals. Those are so cliché and overdone, aren’t they?

I’m more of a realist than that. With the world going a little more down that dark twisted path of an angst horror story each day, its contradictive every person for their self strongly political egotistical self-righteous “only I’m right” political grandstanding and apocalyptic “nature is trying to kill us” story plots at times clashing like a badly written narrative, I half expect each one of you and everyone else to be swallowed up in that darkness, along with me.

The weirdness is even more striking with that overall story thread of mundane normalcy casting its deceptive veil over reality. Or is the mundane the reality and the rest the waking nightmare our narrator is playing us with?

Life goes on.

March 12th, 2020 Manitoba officially reported it’s first cases of Covid-19 as a stunned populace watched the progressing news story in stunned disbelief.

The stories coming out of places like Italy were staggering. Heart wrenching. Hidiously unreal. People singing to each other from their imprisonment in their homes creating a surreal uplifting moment in a lockdown where people stole food to survive with their world in a complete lockdown, and stories of care homes with the elderly and infirm left abandoned by the hundreds, dead and dying in filth, stink, and overrun with insects, rodents, excrement, and rotting waste, a plotline straight out of a fictional apocalypse story.

March 20th, 2020 Manitoba declared a state of emergency, and the lockdown began April 1st with the ordered closure of all non-essential businesses, as if there truly is such a thing when that income feeds and homes people reliant on it.

People cried out that it’s all fake. It’s not real. It’s made up to control us. (Have you read Orson Welles 1984?)

With a sinking feeling of what was as yet unknown to come, it all feeling utterly unreal and entirely fabricated, two days before the announcement, our office was shut down at the end of the day and everyone sent to work from home. March 19th, 2020 I began the odd journey of mostly self-isolation.

Ill prepared schools, teachers, and students scrambled with schools being shuttered to move thousands of kids practically overnight to online learning from home.

Businesses shuttered, mass numbers of people suddenly became unemployed with no job prospects, people were forbidden seeing or touching friends, family, and other loved ones. There was an eventual run on animal shelters by people seeking companionship. Unscrupulous people bought up mass quantities of basic staples: cleaning and sanitizing products, and toilet paper of all things, leaving none for others, those jerks!

Masses of people voraciously embraced new home projects and hobbies with the audacity of assuming everyone had the endless time and financial resources to do the same. By the way, this is also just one of the things that happened during the 1918 “Spanish” flu pandemic (called the “Spanish flu” then much in the same vein as some call Covid-19 the “China virus” now, only there was zero evidence of any Spanish origins to the 1918 flu.) that is being mimicked during Covid-19 today. People then also embraced anything to push away the boredom of quarantine, weird and self-destructive cures, false political wins became more important than protecting people, and people embraced conspiracy theories.

And with all this, for many, life felt relatively untouched. All the horror was distant, someone else’s story.

Interspersed with this has been a nonstop eclectic list of political farces, dramas, and atrocities. The never-ending inhumanities of war in countries that long ago forgot how to exist without war. And the planet seems bent on annihilating us all like a bad case of lice, throwing nonstop global destruction at is in the form of storms, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, pandemics and other too common and weirdly new illnesses, and unprecedented fires, heatwaves, flooding, and droughts with the apparently requisite grasshopper pestilence to decimate what little will grow. And don’t forget the Murder Hornets. We will never forget the Murder Hornets.

Seriously, who is writing this stuff? Is it any wonder it all feels like a far away unreal story to so many? Is it any wonder anyone in your world may have seemed to have just checked out?

And yet our mundane lives go on. Strangely normal and untouched for many while billions suffer just beyond the reach of our little enclosed lives.

We have to eat, sleep, work, volunteer, deal with the dramas of family and friends, raise our children, and pick burs out of our dogs’ ears. We have birthdays and anniversaries, teenagers being teenagers, kids being kids, and partners who we love to be around but sometimes need a break from. We get lonely for the friends we wish we had, miss the ones we do, and watch in sick fascination the train-wreck relationships among us.

And our life goes on, mundane and unchanged for many of us.

The surreal ugly of the world can be a depressing place. If it doesn’t depress you, it can still envelope you in the morose sense of the pain endured by others. Shocking headline after headline. Social media filled with sympathies for others’ suffering and castigations of failures to offer sympathies for that author’s righteous cause. It is impossible to offer sympathies to every pain and loss, and offering daily generic all-encompassing sympathies lacks the merit of sincerity.

And finally, you have been asking where is this going? Nowhere. Like everything else it is going nowhere. Our mundane round and round of daily life, for many sheltered from the reality of others. From the reality of their neighbors.

All during this world and local news unravels in a daily horror story that leaves many screaming to be felt and heard in the most ingloriously strange ways, embracing things they never would have before, some becoming increasingly hostile to anyone not sharing their voices. Many embracing what feels ludicrous in the face of what is happening locally and globally.

As much as I’d like to pinpoint for each week why is has been almost a month since my last post, more than a month since posting something that involved actual writing, the truth of it is that mundane round and round life. The daily commitments of work, volunteering, and family. Teenagers being teenagers, the partner you love to be around but sometimes need a break from, being lonely for the friends we wish we had and missing the ones we do. Picking burs out of Roxy, the #BigDumbBunny’s, ears and between her toes. Watching with that dulled dissociation and disappointment the train-wrecks that some among us have become. The fact that there just is not enough time to fit it all in and so sometimes something must give.

Unfortunately reality holds that by necessity the job that pays the bill takes priority over all else in your life. After that comes the needs of family, pets, and others you care about in your life. Home and house. And finally at the end of the day, behind everything else is you. Writing is for me. It’s my passion. It does not benefit anyone in my immediate world, and so that puts it last after all else.

Over the past five weeks, among other things, we had our first training session with an experienced and qualified dog trainer to try to fix Roxy (and us, because dog training is as much about fixing you as it is the dog). The air conditioner quit during the heat wave. We discovered a nice walking trail close by, an hour round trip walk where we can go partially woodsy deer trail or all grassy field, whichever strikes our interest.

And today we celebrate my nephew and his wife, married in 2019, but she finally now managed to immigrate to Canada.

My attempt to write a simple blog post weekly, large or small, helpful or not, in depth or mediocre ramble, has proven to be an incredible challenge. As in it is very challenging. To find the moments to write even in bits and spurts of a few minutes at a time. To edit it. To be creative.

I went into this knowing I would fail at times to pull it off every week. Heck, I barely managed to edit this at all, so bear with any mistakes and let’s just call this a “rough draft” published publicly.

And today’s random rambling lesson is this:

Don’t let those times when your desires, your driven passion that is what you want to do, gets pushed to the back and, frankly, shoved right off that backburner (cliché, yeah, bring it!) onto the floor behind the stove get you down.

Our world has fallen down a dark abyss of strangeness that belongs in an episode of The Twighlight Zone. Expect to be derailed.

Just because you couldn’t do it for a while, days, weeks, months, or even years, that does not mean you have to call it quit or abandoned. It’s not even a setback, really. It’s just life.

It is way too easy to let yourself slip into that daily drudgery and not make yourself get back at it. Not let yourself get back at it.

Don’t let those times quit you from what you love. Get back to it. Embrace it. Yes, you may feel morose, neglected, rejected, defeated, given up, and a whole of of other negative feelings at times while you quietly yearn to be able to do what you have a passion for, like writing. Life doesn’t care about what you want. It moves on around you, oblivious to you.

It’s up to you to embrace the good. The people you care about and the things that give you joy.

My writing has suffered since March 2019, but it is not forgotten. The passion and drive wanes and flutters back to life, but it will not die. Don’t let yours die either. It is never too late to reclaim your passion.

Be good to yourself and keep writing my friends.

P.s. This was not intended to be a Covid life rant, but the fingers will go on the keyboard as they will sometimes.

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Let’s take a break this week to just bask in our creativity.

Photo by Yann Jacobsen on Unsplash

What gets your creative juices flowing, spurring on sudden onsets of new ideas?

Are you a visual-leaning creative, your muse awakened by things you see? Scenes, scenery, pictures, and the like?

Or perhaps you are inspired by auditory cues? Music, birds singing, the ugly sounds of traffic and the city, or the beatific auditory dance of nature?

Is it the things you experience that stimulate the writer in you with those ‘Aha!’ moments? A scene in a movie, a real world moment you witnessed, the news, or world or community events? Books, poetry, and other literary works? Submersing yourself in all the stimuli of visiting certain places, art galleries, museums, and parks?

Perhaps it’s your relationships with people and pets that you draw on for inspirations, or the opposite, sweet solitude.

There are a lot of schools of thought on what makes us creatives tick. What it is that makes us… us.

Some think creatives to fall into categories like being risk takers who are happier taking on that big project instead of sticking to the boring mundane. And people who are not afraid to face potential failure. For us, failure is a learning curve and mistakes are just the bumps we learn from. In fact, those setbacks may make you want even more to figure it out.

We are willing to be different. We have to be or we’d probably be hiding in some corner writing when no one is looking and never releasing our creations on the world. Status quo shmatus quo, something here isn’t like all the others and it’s you. What others think of you isn’t as important as writing our hearts out.

Have you seen the movie Divergent? That’s you. Instead of falling into step of being who everyone else thinks you should be, doing what they want you to or what they think is ‘normal’, you challenge the boundaries of what is considered normal thinking and perspectives by others.

Some people out there even think we’re weird. That’s okay, because difference is beautiful.

Take some time this week to explore your creative energy, your muses, and your inspirations. Try out new things, new ways to ignite that creative spark. Find inspirations in new places and different ways.

Challenge yourself to try a new medium; drawing, painting, crafts, sculpting, rearranging your room, experiment with cooking, flower arranging, anything goes if you put the creative spirit into it.

Visit a new genre and explore it through reading and writing it. Have fun with it. Are you typically true to a single genre? Then try a crossover that mixes genres together.

Play with shorts. Not the kind you wear, but the written shorts. Micro poems, micro fiction or nonfiction. A single scene or description. Whatever catches your interest. These also make excellent writing practices.

Just for fun, take the Creative Type personality test by Adobe Create:  https://mycreativetype.com/

Adobe Create lists these personality types:

  • The Artist: “The Seeing beauty, creating beauty.”
  • The Thinker: “The Deep thoughts, big questions.”
  • The Adventurer: “The So much inspiration, so little time.”
  • The Maker: “The Committed to your craft.”
  • The Producer: “The Process is power.”
  • The Dreamer: “The power of imagination unleashed.”
  • The Innovator: “Move, shake, disrupt, repeat.”
  • The Visionary: “Imagining the impossible.”

* I got “You are the Dreamer”

Looking for ideas?

Try going onto a page like Unsplash and using a random search word and pick any photo as a writing prompt. Write anything. An external or internal (their inner person) character description, world build the scene or moment, write the action of what is or is not happening. Get creative, poetic, anything that strikes your fancy.

Do you have a music app like Spotify? Do a random song shuffle and write whatever that song inspires.

Go outside. On your balcony, front steps, anywhere you can safely people watch. Just watch and pick a moment to write about.

Or seek nature. If your yard backs onto a river or bush, that’s perfect. Maybe talk a walk on a trail or to a park. Urban nature trails are filled with wildlife, particularly if they run along a river or stream.

If you have any other suggestions for finding inspirations and waking that muse when it’s sluggish, you are more than welcome to share them.

Keep writing my friends and enjoy this beautiful summer weather.

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PPhoto by engin akyurt on Unsplash

Now that you created compelling characters, you need to actually write the characters compellingly.

It’s like planning a rich flavorful moist four-chocolate cake with velvety smooth icing; the whole joining of spongey chocolate cake, warmly melted chocolate inside, and cool silky chocolate icing making your mouth water at the mere thought of it. It doesn’t matter how great you made the plans for that cake if you cannot deliver it via a plate to that waiting guests’ mouth without it falling flat, dry, and bland.

No amount of outlining and character profiling can automatically make those characters pop. Even the best storyline does not alone breathe life into them in the paragraphs of the story. And, trying to explain how to write compellingly is not like listing ideas for your character profiles, showing you types of character arcs, or giving tips on choosing character names.

To write compellingly is to write the characters and story well. It is honing your writing craft, practicing and practicing and practicing. Studying the writing of others who write well. Always working to improve your writing skills and work better.

How do you write compellingly? Captivate your reader. Make it resonate with them. Compel them to keep reading. Make them feel what your characters feel, the same love, hate, and pain. Drive them to yearning for your characters; needing those characters to fail or succeed as though their own life story depends upon it.

Well, it’s bloody hard for many writers. It doesn’t just come naturally. Even writers who have written for years can struggle with it. After years of writing, always working to improve my own writing, I too ask myself if I can write better, and consciously strive to write compellingly. Editing and revising, plotting against characters, keeping notes like some wicked conspirator, and planning in my head even as I write by the seat of my own pants. Going back and changing scenes, chapters, characters, and my outline that I create as I write to keep track of everything.

Each scene is the hook for the next one. The final chapter scene needs to make the reader crave to turn to that next chapter. They are unsettled until they find out what happens next. That is writing compellingly.

Your characters need to captivate the audience. Connect with them and challenge them to see the world through their hearts and eyes.

Conflict makes the reader love and hate your character. Love and hate for your character.

Conquer your character, your reader, their hopes and dreams, but let there be that light of hope on the horizon. Your character and reader can do this together if they just try hard enough. Together.

And when you wrap it all up, leave your reader feeling like they just had a bit of a thrill ride. In my case, it’s an unsettling too slowly rattling ride through the dark creaking haunted house that isn’t all wiggling strips of plastic and worn out animatronics whose dilapidated state is hidden in shadows, smoke, flashing lights, and poor soundtracks of shrieking ghouls, maniacal laughter, and softly dying souls.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Building Characters: Scheduled Posts:

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Photo by Jez Timms on Unsplash

Everything and everyone in a story should be there for a purpose, however small it may be. It might not seem relevant until chapters, or even books, later, but your divine purpose is there.

If a scene or character is truly irrelevant, they can graciously be cut. In addition to setting a scene or mood, or moving it along (whatever would have happened if that extra character, the owl, did not deliver Harry Potter’s letter?), extra characters can add a sense of reality. They can be used to tip the reader off or lead them down the wrong path. Giving them a little life or attitude can add a chuckle in the midst of a tense moment, a divination of something bad to come, or bring home the reality of what the protagonist is experiencing. Don’t undervalue them, make your extras extra.

Extras. In film they are the nameless living bodies used to fill a scene. They mostly have no lines, no more than a few words, if any, may not be paid, and are more part of the set and scenery than the scene itself.

Like the scene setting, extras have a purpose of their own in establishing the mood and driving force of the chosen scenery. They also can have their own personality. Are they angry or calm? Studiously going about their business or laggardly slogging through the day? Mindless automatons moving with easy efficiency?

Giving those nameless and barely mentioned extras a life of their own, treating the group like a character unto itself, can lend a depth to the story and even allow a moment of foreshadowing.

Unless it’s a monolog or limited characters alone without any reference to other peoples’ existences, you likely aren’t going to have a longer story without extras, so you might as well use them.

“The Paperboy” or “Messenger” is a commonly used extra character. Sometimes quite literally, a paperboy standing on the street corner shouting, “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!” while holding up a newspaper to show its prominent feature story headline screaming off the page to feed the reader or viewers an important piece of information. He might even call out that headline in a nudge to bring your attention to it.

Or their purpose may be for the protagonist, antagonist, or supporting character, to gain possession of that important news, informing them of something they didn’t know or giving proof to what they already suspected.

They aren’t necessarily an actual “paperboy”. It’s anything relaying that information. A newsflash on a television screen, phone call, letter, online search result, or a character sharing the information.

This character or object exists for one purpose only, and perhaps no more than a brief mention: to bridge the story into what is to come. To provide information to the characters, or just to the reader, that would otherwise not exist and cause a plot hole.

“The Mob” as I think of them, is any group of extras that exist just to set the mood. Barely more than background scene, they are a wall of screaming fans meeting a celebrity, jeering and catcalling at victims being dragged to the guillotine, armies waiting to clash on the battlefield, avid supporters, or an enraged mob.

“The Scenery” is a more docile version of the mob. Other people who just happen to be scattered in the coffee shop, other shoppers at the mall, beachgoers, bodies filling theatre seats. They exist because your characters’ world is not one without other humans.

But, what if you take one of those extra characters and make them just a little more?

Learn the secret behind the bodies. Take a step back in time to meet the boy who will create the killer.

In The McAllister Farm, William walks into a small town coffee shop to meet a man. Being a diligently cautious man, he automatically scans the patrons, noting who is there and anything out of place. A pair of men sitting at the counter who look exactly like so many others he’s seen in similar middle of nowhere coffee shops and restaurants. A nervous woman glancing out the window of a window booth. A teenaged boy sitting in a booth.

These extras are there because odds are against finding a completely empty venue and, in his case, anyone overhearing their conversation would be a potential threat to William McAllister and his family. Their existence adds that subtle layer of risk to the meeting.

It is the teenager who becomes just a little more than part of the backdrop. A boy like his own, a little older, sulking, letting his milkshake turn to watered milk. The kid’s mannerisms, bruising below his lip, and haunted eyes that won’t look at anyone. This tells William all he needs to know about the boy. More importantly, this moment within the scene gives the reader an insight into who the cold hard-handed William McAllister is. And in the end of the scene, as the man William met leaves minutes behind William, the scene shifts back to that boy in a reinforcement that William is not just correct in his observation of the boy, but also that William is more than the father the reader previously saw smack his own son. William’s moment of anger over the boy is justified and sense of morals affirmed.

Brief interactions with these extras can be a great source for imprinting on the reader anything from the mood of the scene to your character’s inner layers of personality, to dropping hints of foreshadowing, adding a moment of levity or strain, or reality to the scene. They’re useful in their own sentence or two to shine in the spotlight for informing the reader of something you don’t want the main characters to know. It can be used as a tool to give the scene itself its own sense of personality.

Now go out and write those compelling characters.

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