Posted in Writing

Why You Need to Practice Writing Every Day

In her book Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, Natalie Goldberg says,

This is the practice school of writing. Like running, the more you do it, the better you get at it. Some days you don’t want to run and you resist every step of the three miles, but you do it anyway. […] That’s how writing is, too. Once you’re deep into it, you wonder what took you so long to finally settle down at the desk.

I’ve always thought of my daily writing routine the same way I think about exercise.

Most days I don’t want to exercise. I don’t want to go for that long run around the neighborhood, and I certainly don’t want to make the trek to my local gym a few days a week. If it were up to me, I’d maybe go for one run a week (Wednesday evenings) and attend one gym session every few weeks (the occasional quiet Sunday afternoon).

And weirdly, as much as I love writing more than exercising, some days I really, really don’t want to do that either. I’ll sit down at my writing desk early in the morning and stare at the computer screen and want to do literally anything else. A run and a gym session, plus a deep clean of my entire house. I will stare at that blank page and wish I could have found something else to do with my life, anything else.

This kind of feeling never goes away. Whether I’m writing the first draft of a novel or a story or I’m working on a new revision or I’m struggling with a query letter or a synopsis, it’s all hard, it never gets any easier, and oftentimes the most difficult part is just getting started.

But as Goldberg talks about in her amazing craft book, it’s necessary for us to exercise every day to keep our bodies healthy the same way it’s necessary for us to write every day to keep getting better and never allow our work to get stale.

This is not to say you have to write thousands of words every single day.

Many years ago that’s exactly what I thought writing every day meant. I thought I had to be constantly working on a new novel or a story, and what ended up happening was I was writing so much that I could never slow down to make any of my work richer, deeper, more complicated.

The best writing doesn’t come out during that first draft, after all, but in subsequent drafts where you do your best to build up everything that’s working well and then cut down or eliminate things that fall flat. The most important part of a first draft is to finish it, always remember that. And then the real work begins.

What I believe Goldberg is saying in her quote, and what many authors mean when they say to write every day, is to just write something every day. It doesn’t have to take hours. It can be just a few minutes. It can be ten minutes of jibberish just to get your mind racing. It can be three super clever tweets for Twitter. It can be a short review of a film or book you read recently you want to share on your blog. It can be a Medium piece about writing, which is the main piece of my own writing I’m focusing on today!

It does not have to be two thousand more words of that novel you’re working on.

Because here’s the deal — once you get started with some kind of writing, usually you get into a groove that makes you want to write more. Again, getting started for the day is often the hardest part. And especially when you’re drafting a new piece of fiction, you don’t want to make mistakes, you want to produce good work, and usually that kind of mindset can debilitate you to the point of writing absolutely nothing. You do not want this.

So try to treat writing as you do exercising — do a little bit each day for your health and for your mind.

Don’t feel like you have to run for three hours the same way you don’t need to write for three hours. Yes, a few days of the week you might want to write more than usual, at least try, but what’s most important is that you find little pockets of your day to write something of value to you.

What helps me a lot is planning a schedule every Sunday for the following week, and I do my best to stick to it. Even when my day is crazed at my full-time teaching job, I will fit in even just ten to fifteen minutes of writing. I’ll draft a brief new scene in a work of fiction. I’ll revise a chapter of that book I plan to query later this year. I’ll write a new Medium piece. I’ll just journal my thoughts even!

And you know, if you happen to go the occasional day with no writing whatsoever, don’t feel bad. I went on a five-day trip to Los Angeles earlier this month and did almost no writing of any kind. It’s okay! It happens. None of us is perfect, and it doesn’t mean you’re not a good writer.

When it comes to the writing life, always remember to think about it as a marathon, not a sprint. The same way I think the best kind of exercise is a slow life-long marathon to keep me healthy rather than a frantic, heart-pounding sprint here and there.

Just try to find time to do a little writing every day, no matter what it may be. No matter if anybody will eventually see it. Enjoy the writing, and come back to it often.

And you’ll be surprised after years of daily practice how much better of a writer you will eventually become.

Posted in Publishing, Writing

Are You Ready for Kindle Vella?

Amazon is launching Kindle Vella next week, and I’m ready!

For months I thought the only novel of mine I was going to self-publish this summer was Magic Hour, now available in ebook and paperback format on Amazon. That was always the plan, and then I thought maybe in 2022 I could publisher another of my older manuscripts I’m ready to put out into the world.

But then around mid-June I discovered something on Amazon that was coming in July, currently just in Beta mode. It’s called Kindle Vella, a new publication on Amazon for serialized stories, similar to Wattpad.

I actually used Wattpad way back in the day to serialize my Grisly High trilogy, which, with all its chapter cliffhangers, was the perfect story for a more episodic kind of publication.

I also put up my book Happy Birthday to Me on Wattpad, but then I forgot about it for a long while. And when I saw Kindle Vella was coming, I thought maybe I could go back to one of those earlier manuscripts of mine to put on this new publication.

But no — not only did I think it would be more exciting to publish something to Kindle Vella nobody has ever read before, you’re not even allowed to put something on Kindle Vella that has been published elsewhere!

What are the rules of Kindle Vella?

On the main site, it does give some clear rules for writers who want to publish their work on Kindle Vella. It says you cannot “publish in Kindle Vella content that is in the public domain or freely available on the web.” Basically, if you’ve published short stories or novels on your blog or elsewhere, you can’t just copy and paste it into Kindle Vella.

You also cannot “break down your previously published book or long-form content into Episodes and republish in Kindle Vella, even if that book or long-form content is no longer available or is written in another language.” This was the big one. What it’s saying is you can’t take a novel you’ve already published on Amazon and put it on Kindle Vella, even if you unpublish the manuscript from the site and have it offered nowhere else.

At Kindle Vella they want brand new content, the kind that’s never been available anywhere else, so I wondered which of my manuscripts would be best for the platform — and it didn’t take long. At the end of 2013 I wrote a middle grade novel called The Luckiest Bookworm, about a twelve-year-old girl who finds a portal in her middle school library that takes her into the world of any book ever written. It’s a super fun adventure book comprised of forty chapters, each one of them with its own nail-biting chapter cliffhanger!

I have a few other books I’m getting close to self-publishing, but the other two I’m considering have fewer chapters without as many cliffhangers. The Luckiest Bookworm seemed perfect for the Kindle Vella platform, so I just spent the last three weeks revising and editing the manuscript one last time.

It was a blast to revisit this one. I fell in love with my main character and this crazy story all over again.

And I’m really, really excited for people young and old to finally read it!

Kindle Vella is just another chance I’m taking as an author after eleven years of novel writing.

When you write a lot like I do, you have to take chances on new platforms, and if they fail, they fail. No big deal. Keep writing and try other things.

I’m still trying to get a literary agent after eleven years, and I’m currently revising my newest middle grade novel in the hopes it’s ready to be queried in the fall. I’m also querying my newest young adult novel, and I’m starting to outline a new adult writing project I plan to write slowly over the course of 2022.

But even as I constantly look forward, sometimes it’s worth looking back at some of those manuscripts that fell through the cracks. The Luckiest Bookworm was one of them, a book I excitedly worked on from December 2013 to August 2014, before querying it that fall. I got a few requests, but by 2015, I was onto the next project.

My affection for The Luckiest Bookworm has always been strong though, and after nearly eight years since I wrote the first sentence, I’m excited to finally unveil it later this month on Kindle Vella when the service goes live for readers.

Yesterday I finished publishing the fortieth and final chapter to Kindle Vella… and I’m ready! I’m not sure when launch day will be. It’s apparently going to be sometime next week, not late July like I originally thought.

But whatever day Kindle Vella is officially launched, you can bet I’ll be letting you know to tell you even more about this exciting publication platform, and all about my newest novel, The Luckiest Bookworm!

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Posted in Film, Podcasting, Writing

How to Get Amazing Guests on Your Podcast

The quality of your guests makes a big difference as a podcaster.

Especially when you’re a solo podcast like me who relies on guests to help make your show what it is.

Many podcasters out there work in teams of two or three, maybe more. When last August I started my podcast Film at Fifty, which celebrates the fiftieth anniversaries of major movies, I had no partner to do the show with. At first I thought maybe I could do it by myself, and then I recorded the first two episodes solo and hated every last miserable minute of it.

For the third episode I had a friend join me to talk about a fifty-year-old film, and the opposite happened — every second was pure bliss. This was now officially the format of my show!

I knew that for the podcast to grow and have longevity, I needed to find at least one guest for every new episode.

And getting those guests the first few weeks was easy. I asked any friend willing to come onboard, and I also reached out online to other podcasters who might want to chat about an old movie with me.

At the beginning, any person who said yes to me was a mini miracle. It’s not nothing what I’m asking these people to do — take time to watch a film, do some research, collect their thoughts, and spend an hour or longer with me talking about it on a Zoom call. Any person who guests on your podcast you should thank more than once, that’s for sure!

About three months into my podcast in November 2020 I decided to take a leap and start contacting people in the film community I admired who I didn’t know at all to see if they would guest on my podcast. I was prepared for a lot of rejections. A lot of silence.

And yet I saw that beautiful word “yes” way more than I ever expected to!

So what have I done to get some truly amazing guests on my podcast the last few months?

Honestly, something that I thought would be too simple to work, but, hey, as my dad liked to tell me all the time growing up, if you don’t ask you don’t get.

For the first few weeks of my podcast last fall most of the guests were my friends.

Now cut to the summer of 2021, the most extraordinary month yet for my podcast with a handful of incredible guests, none of whom I knew until very recently!

Here was the line-up just last month…


McCabe & Mrs. Miller — Michael Phillips, film critic of the Chicago Tribune

The Million Dollar Duck — Jason Sheridan, co-host of Podcast: The Ride

Klute — Izzy, creator of Be Kind Rewind on YouTube

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory — Alonso Duralde, film critic at The Wrap


Moulin Rouge — Whitney Anne Adams, costume designer of Freaky

Interview with Julie Dawn Cole, Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Just a fantastic group of people I never thought in a million years would be on my podcast, including film critics, popular podcasters, filmmakers, actors. And every single one of these guests I reached out to and communicated with in the exact same way.

I e-mailed them or messaged them through a social media channel with a sincere (and brief!) message about what I love about their work and if they’d be interested in appearing on my podcast.

That’s it. That’s all. It’s not rocket science.

I read so many articles last fall that said you have to always go through an agent or manager or publicity person to get hold of some of these people, particularly the ones in the film industry.

But you know what I have found the past few months? Every time I did try to reach a guest of larger stature through an agent, manager, or publicist, I was met with total silence. I’ve probably tried that route ten times since November, and I’ve never even gotten a rejection that way. Just that depressing silence we writers hear so often when we’re in the querying stage on a novel.

Where do you find the e-mail or best way to reach a potential guest?

Sometimes this takes all of ten seconds, and sometimes you’ll be on the hunt for ten minutes or more.

First I Google the person to see if they have a website. It can be a personal website, or a website they might share with others if they have a podcast or are a film critic. Usually if you can find a website that features profiles of that potential guest or an About section, there will be an e-mail somewhere.

I do feel the best way to contact someone to be on your podcast is through an e-mail. You pretty much know they’ll read it that way.

But obtaining the person’s e-mail isn’t always feasible. Of the four names I listed above, four of the six people I could not find e-mails for no matter how hard I tried.

So the next thing to try is looking up their social media accounts and contacting them through one where they are active. Key word: active!

This is an important component of the equation because before you do a little dance after finding that person on Instagram, you might want to check to see if that person has actually posted on their Instagram at all the last six months. If the last post is from February 2019, odds are they won’t see the message you write them.

Two of the six names above I found on Instagram and messaged them that way. Sometimes an Instagram message goes straight into the void, there’s no way around it (especially if that person is famous and/or has a ridiculous amount of subscribers), but sometimes luckily that potential guest writes back through Instagram and shares interest in participating on your podcast, woo hoo!

One of the names above I found on Twitter and messaged them that way, and then there was a name above I tried every which way to find. I looked for a personal website, searched on Twitter and Instagram, even looked up their contact information on IMDBPro, and nothing.

So I tried one last thing — I looked them up on Facebook. And you know what, not only did I find this person on an active Facebook page and message them with bated, hopeful breath, but that person messaged me back within the hour and gave me a heartfelt YES! Hooray!

My advice to you is to message that person you want on your podcast with a brief, sincere message, and be sure to message them directly instead of trying to reach them through a third party.

And lastly, what exactly do you put in your email to a potential guest?

The most important thing is to keep it short. Don’t go on and on. My message is usually four very brief paragraphs.

The first paragraph states what my podcast is all about, and gives the topic of the upcoming episode I’m interested in the person participating in.

The second paragraph details what I love about their work and why I think they would be a good fit for my podcast and this particular episode.

The third paragraph tells them what major guests I have had on the podcast before, just so they have a sense of the kind of people I’ve talked to.

And the fourth paragraph thanks them for their time and that I hope to hear from them.

I also always put the following language in the fourth paragraph: “I’ll work with your busy schedule to find a day and time that works best for you.” Do not in your initial message give them a precise day and time you’d like them to appear on your podcast. You can figure that out later after you’ve heard the initial “yes.”

Right now the main objective is to hear back from the person. And then you can go from there.

This is why I reach out to my potential guests two whole months before the episode I’d like them to be on will actually air. Yep, this might be uncommon in the podcasting world, but I’m all about buying myself time just in case I don’t hear a “yes” on the first go-around and need to try a second, third, sometimes even a fourth person to be on an upcoming episode.

You never want to be in a position where you’re mere days away from the episode airing and you still haven’t found a guest for it and have yet to record it. That puts you in a place of panic and anxiety I went through exactly once, and trust me — you never want that to happen.

So think early on about what guests you want to be on what episodes, find their contact info, and then message away!

Don’t be shy during this process. The worst that can happen is they say “no” or you don’t hear a word. That still happens to me all the time, and like with rejection as a writer, you have to let it slide off your back and move on.

Just keep going, and keep trying. Make every e-mail or message personal. Reach out to your potential guests for the right reasons, always.

And then start planning your next episode!

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Posted in Writing

Why You Need to Ignore Your Inner Editor to Do Your Best Writing

In her book Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, Natalie Goldberg says,

“First thoughts have tremendous energy. It is the way the mind first flashes on something. The internal censor usually squelches them, so we live in the realm of second and third thoughts, thoughts on thought, twice and three times removed from the direct connection of the first fresh flash.”

The first draft of any kind of writing is hard.

Staring at that intimidating blank page leaves lots of writers wanting to do literally anything else — including this guy right here.

There are a thousand ways to screw up the first draft of something, which has certainly happened to over the last eleven years writing twenty-one novel manuscripts. Some of them have worked out better than others, like my newest middle grade novel that came out really well in its first draft. But some have not worked out so well, like my newest young adult novel that’s such a mess I’m not even sure where to begin in fixing it.

But what I tell other writers all the time is that when it comes to the first draft of a manuscript, ultimately the way to easily guarantee instant failure is to overthink and analyze every paragraph, every sentence, every word, you put on the page.

I once had a friend who told me she couldn’t write another scene of her first draft until she went back and re-read and revised every single word she’d already written in the manuscript. This is why she always took a long time to write the first draft of anything, and it’s frankly why she rarely ever finished anything.

She expected perfection. And there’s just no such thing as perfection when it comes to a first draft.

The best thing you can do is turn off your inner editor.

In her magnificent craft book Writing Down the Bones, something a friend of mine gave me a copy of recently and that I’ve been slowly dipping into the last few weeks, author Natalie Goldberg talks in an early chapter about why it’s so important go with your first thoughts in a new piece of writing, never a second or third thought. Its those latter kinds of thoughts that can actually ruin a piece of writing that had a chance to be something great.

She suggests that authors give themselves timed exercises in which you never really think at all and just write instead. Just write whatever is in your heart. Write something. Anything. Even nonsense can lead to something of merit.

These are her rules…

Keep your hand moving.

Don’t cross out.

Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar.

Lose control.

Don’t think. Don’t get logical.

Go for the jugular.

That last one is super interesting in that she suggests if you ever get uncomfortable with something you’re writing about, you should lean into it right away and never against it. Some of the best writing comes when we dig into something that’s buried deep within ourselves we’ve tried to ignore.

But notice how almost every rule above is about stifling that awful inner editor. That voice that says your writing sucks, your writing is stiff, your writing makes no sense, your writing could be so much better.

I hear that voice all the time when I’m writing the first draft of a new story or novel. I’ll hear it ten times, re-read the last paragraph I wrote, and hate it so much I struggle to get another sentence on the page.

This is death for a writer. And you’ll never finish your newest project.

The important thing is finishing your first draft. Your inner editor won’t help with that.

Your inner editor prevents you from finishing your manuscript because you don’t think it’s good enough. But you know what? I’ve said it dozens of times before, and I’ll say it again.

You can’t improve a manuscript you never finish.

What’s more useful? A brilliant novel that’s sixty percent finished? Or a messy novel that’s fully complete?

Yes, you might have more work ahead of you on that messy first draft you know is going to take months and months to make better. But at least you have a beginning, middle, and end you can actually work with.

That’s what Goldberg is getting at. And it’s what I tell writers all the time.

Your inner editor can come out when you revise. It needs to be there when you’re working on the second, third, fourth draft.

But on the first draft? Put it aside. Bury it under the ground for a while.

Instead, you need to focus only on the writing itself. Just write, write, write.

Definitely keep your hand moving. Definitely don’t think. Definitely go for the jugular.

And tell us your story!

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Posted in Publishing, Writing

Think Outside the Box When Publishing Your Books

The truth is simple: you have to think outside the box as a writer.

You can’t just write one kind of thing for one kind of publication. You can’t work on one particular manuscript year after year with no interest in starting something new. You can’t put all of your eggs in one basket, as they say.

It’s 2021, and there are so many ways to get your writing out there. Medium here is one way to write lots of inspiring posts that get people interested in your writing. You can blog on your own website. You can upload YouTube videos, or start a podcast, or create an audiobook.

There are so many ways to tell stories these days, and sometimes it’s important to take risks from time to time with our work and not just head straight for the traditional route that writers have been going after for centuries.

Since 2010 I’ve wanted to become a traditionally published author, with a literary agent and an editor I adore and a book on the shelf. Lord knows I’ve tried. Twenty-one books later, I’m still trying. I’m querying my latest novel as we speak!

But at the same time we all have to recognize that’s not the only avenue to get your manuscripts out there, especially older ones that have gone through the querying process and pitching process and might have come up short.

One way is self-publishing, of course. I self-published a novel to Amazon this month called Magic Hour I’m super excited about.

And I’m also really excited to try something brand new called Kindle Vella for another of my older manuscripts!

What is Kindle Vella?

The site is in beta mode right now and isn’t officially launching until July, but it’s a way to tell a long story in multiple episodes, like Wattpad and Radish. I first came across it earlier in June and became intrigued by it. I wondered if I had an older unpublished novel I could introduce to the world on this platform, and I picked out the perfect title!

The Luckiest Bookworm, a book I wrote back in 2014 that I have loved for seven years and have often wondered just how to put in front of readers, is going to be my guinea pig for Kindle Vella. It’s the perfect book for the platform before it’s forty fast-paced chapters that all end in cliff-hangers, and Kindle Vella looks to be best suited for books you write that have lots of chapters, not just a few.

Readers get the first three chapters of the book for free (which is why you want those first three chapters to be fantastic, and you’ll want that third chapter to end on a massive cliffhanger!), and then they have to purchase tokens to purchase access to additional chapters of your story.

What I like about this platform is that it will be a fun way to see how many readers bow out of my novel early on and how many stay engaged with it enough to make it all the way to end. Because, boy, The Luckiest Bookworm has quite the insane, memorable ending, and I’m hoping most readers pay for enough tokens and stick with this story all the way to the surprising finale.

I could just self-publish The Luckiest Bookworm. I’ve thought about doing so for a year or two now. But when I came across Kindle Vella, I decided to think outside the box and publish my book in an entirely different way I’ve never experienced before. And that’s super thrilling as a novel writer!

So, again, don’t think there’s any one way to publish your books.

I have writer friends who refuse to release their books in any format except traditional publishing. They’ve told me that if they can’t see their novel that way, then it goes into the drawer, never to be seen again.

I get that. Still the most promising way to get your work out there might very well be the traditional publishing model. And I’m certainly still going for it, too.

But I also think it’s important to think outside the box, especially with older manuscripts just lingering in a drawer. Try something new and different. Give self-publishing a try. Post one of your books one chapter at a time on your blog. At least once in awhile, do something that scares you!

Something I’ve always admired about Stephen King was how he would take chances on new publishing models, like the Internet with The Plant and like audiobooks with Riding the Bullet. He’s a superstar author who didn’t always publish the same way every time, and he’s also one who has stepped outside the box with the publishing of his short stories, too.

So give it a shot! Read about Kindle Vella and see if it might be something for you. Do your research on self-publishing and think about putting something online yourself. Keep trying to get a literary agent and publishing deal traditionally, too, but don’t have it be one-hundred-percent of your focus every second of every day.

We’re writers. We have so many stories to tell.

And we can tell them in any way we’d like.

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Posted in Books, Fiction, Publishing, Writing

My LGBTQ YA Novel MAGIC HOUR is LIVE on Amazon!

Hi friends,

I’m so excited to unveil my first self-published novel in eight years — MAGIC HOUR, which tells of a wedding videographer who suddenly discovers he can make anyone he want disappear by snapping his fingers… which results in pandemonium when he accidentally makes the bride and groom vanish in front of 200 wedding guests.

It’s an entertaining read priced at $2.99, just in time for Pride Month. I’d love your support!

MAGIC HOUR by Brian Rowe

Thanks, and enjoy!



Posted in Publishing, Writing

Sometimes You Need to Let Your Book Go

Yes, it can be hard to say good-bye.

When you work on a new writing project, it can be fun to get entirely swept up in it and never want to reach the end. Writing a first draft of a long project is challenging and exhausting, but it’s also pure bliss, especially on those amazing days where the writing comes together and you’re firing on all cylinders.

I’ve written twenty-one novels in the last eleven years, and every single one had its moments where I didn’t want to be doing anything else. You’re creating characters from scratch and spending time in a world entirely of your own making.

And when the novel is working, it can be fun to work on one revision after another for months on end, doing big and little things to make the work better, fine-tuning each scene, cutting things here, adding things there.

At some point you want to get some beta readers to look at your work and give you feedback. Then, yes, revise it again. But once you feel there’s nothing really left to improve, that it’s the very best you can do, it’s time to step back and say good-bye.

It doesn’t matter what you end up doing next with the manuscript…

1. Querying it to literary agents.

2. Sending it out to publishers.

3. Self-publishing it yourself.

Once that project is on submission, or you’re getting it ready for publication, the best thing you can do to not go completely insane is work on something else. Start a short story, or a novella. You don’t need to go straight into another novel right away.

Whatever you do, don’t go back and revise the same novel again because you’re too afraid to part ways with it.

Tomorrow I’m self-publishing a novel I’ve been tinkering with since 2013.

It’s June 2021, and I’m finally releasing one of my novels into the the world that I started writing the first draft of in January 2013.

You read that right. January 2013!

That is a long time to be working on and thinking about a manuscript. Too long. The truth is I was too afraid to say good-bye.

I spent most of 2013 and the first half of 2014 working tirelessly on this novel, an LGBTQ young adult book called Magic Hour, which tells the story of a wedding videographer who realizes he can make anyone he want disappear by snapping his fingers. Over the course of eighteen months I did about five drafts (and received feedback from some beta readers in the process), and then I started querying it to literary agents.

The response was tremendous. During the summer and fall of 2014 I got about twelve full requests and five partial requests, and I did a PitMad in 2015 that got me at least ten more full requests. I was working on other novels at the time, was immersed in other worlds, but I kept believing in Magic Hour. I thought an agent might take it on.

But I never could get a yes from an agent. Some gave me positive feedback, but no agent fell in love with it, even those that liked my pitch on PitMad. 2015 came and went still with no offer of representation, and so by 2016 I was sending Magic Hour into novel contests (most of them an expensive $30 to $50 a pop) and querying publishers that would accept pitches from unagented writers. Again, I got some more positive feedback, but no offers.

In 2017, the craziest thing happened. I got an offer of representation from a literary agent!

But it wasn’t for Magic Hour.

It was for another book I’d written — a middle grade horror adventure called Monster Movie.

I put Magic Hour aside and got to work on my middle grade, and then three years passed. I would bring up Magic Hour to my agent here and there, but she never gravitated toward working on it or even wanting to read it. Magic Hour stayed in the drawer all the way until the summer of 2020, after my agent and I had parted ways, after I had moved onto half a dozen other novel projects.

On a quiet weekend in July of 2020 I pulled Magic Hour out of the drawer and read it again. I loved returning to those characters and that world, recognizing a style of writing and a specific place in my own life that was long gone. So much had changed in the past seven years. I could barely recognize the person who wrote that novel way back in 2013.

But I still enjoyed the hell out of the story, and so I did one more revision, shortening some of the chapters and doing some necessary line editing.

I could have put the book right back into the drawer. Let it linger there until the end of time.

Instead, I kept it out, polished the book one last time in May 2021, and then hired a graphic designer friend to make me a cover!

© Katie Bode

Yes, more than 3000 days since I started writing the first chapter of Magic Hour back in 2013, I’m finally self-publishing the LGBTQ young adult novel on Amazon, and there’s one thing I keep thinking over and over.

It’s about time.

Yes, sometimes, especially after many years, it’s time to let that book go.

This is not to say you have to self-publish your book if every other avenue had led to a brick wall. If you deep down think the book is a rotten mess and shouldn’t see the light of day, letting your book go might mean letting it linger in a drawer or on your hard drive forever, and that’s okay.

But in some ways it’s more painful to not publish it in any way, shape, or form, especially if you dedicated a year or longer of your life to it, than it is to just release it to the world and see what happens.

Maybe nobody will read it. Maybe it won’t get the best reviews.

But if you think it’s really good, and it’s polished and professional, and other people have reacted even a little bit positively to it, you might be ready to hit the PUBLISH button so at the very least you can move on and say good-bye.

Because when you don’t release it, there might be that temptation to go back yet again and tinker with it some more when your time would be more wisely used to start something brand spanking new.

I’m excited to be releasing a new book tomorrow, and I’m thrilled to see what kinds of writing projects, both short and long, you might be ready to put out there, too.

Whatever it may be, I wish you only the best.

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Posted in Publishing, Writing

Sometimes You Need to Throw Out Your Revisions

There’s a lot that can break your heart when working on a novel.

Trust me, I know. Since 2010 I’ve written twenty-one novels (three middle grade, four adult, fifteen young adult), and I’ve had my fair share of heartache as a novel writer that I wouldn’t be able to fit inside of one Medium story, that’s for sure.

Writing the first draft can break your heart because oftentimes you realize during the drafting process that the book you held for so long in your head just isn’t quite coming to life on the page, and you’re not sure if you’ll be able to fix it.

You can revise your novel two, three, four times, and still not feel like it’s ready to go out on submission to agents or publishers.

You might feel really positive about your novel, but you send it out to a few beta readers, and they all bring you loads of feedback that make you understand it’s nowhere close to being ready.

Oh, and there’s the querying of a novel to multiple literary agents after working on the book for many months or even years, only to come up empty.

There’s so much that can go wrong, and that’s sadly the name of the game.

You write a novel with the best of intentions, but there’s no guarantee that people will like it, that it will find you a literary agent who believes in you, that the manuscript will ever be published.

You have to be ready to put in the time. You have to be ready for that book you’re working on right now to potentially go nowhere.

Another thing you have to be ready for that I feel isn’t talked about very much?

Sometimes you need to throw out your revisions if your story is getting worse or headed in the wrong direction.

It’s so hard to throw out a revision you’ve put dozens, more likely hundreds of hours of work into. You’re not getting paid to write a novel at this stage. You’re working for free, keeping the faith that the book might work the more you revise it and copyedit it and tinker with it.

And yes, sometimes after you’ve worked on a novel for six months or longer it’s hard to take a step back and see what your novel is and where it’s come since you completed the first draft. There’s no such thing as a perfect first draft, and so you have to revise, revise, revise. You have to let your manuscript sit for awhile, then revise again.

Beta readers often help you find the major flaws with the novel, but not every piece of advice should be taken into account, especially when you feel deep down it’s actually making your novel worse. Sometimes you’re not sure. Sometimes an idea strikes you as interesting, and so why not try it out in the next draft. You can always delete it later.

This is why I always believe in saving every single draft you do just in case you want to go back.

Just in case there’s a scene or character or moment that somehow got lost from one draft to another, and you need to go retrieve it. Just in case that newest draft is a step down from what you had months before.

Just in case that latest revision is nothing close to what you originally set out to do when you wrote draft number one.

This is the state I’m in right now with one of my manuscripts. And I’m not just throwing out one of my revisions. I’m throwing out four of them.

Let me tell you a story…

Throughout 2018 I felt inspired to write a middle grade ghost story novel. An image entered my head of an elderly female ghost pointing at a trembling twelve-year-old boy in a cemetery, and I couldn’t shake it. I had a literary agent at the time, and she was excited about the idea and what the book could be.

So I wrote the first draft in early 2019. I felt it was the best first draft of a novel I had ever written. I did a second draft, and then a third draft (more of a polish, really). I sent it to my agent in April of 2019 super excited. I thought we had something great.

Her letter and line edits she sent back to me a few weeks later was depressing to say the least. There was so much wrong with the manuscript, she thought. Wrong point of view. Too many characters. Wrong choice to have one of the parents be dead. I agreed with some of her thoughts and not so much with some of the others, but I wanted to do right by her, wanted to get the novel to a place where she could be excited by it the way I was excited by it.

So over the next eight months I revised my middle grade novel four more times. I changed more than sixty percent of the story. Cut out thirty thousand words. Deleted two major characters. Changed the point of view. Had three outside beta readers give me feedback.

And the craziest thing happened during those eight months… I started to hate the novel.

Something I had loved in the beginning maybe more than anything I’d ever written, certainly for middle grade readers, had turned into a story I barely recognized anymore. It was no longer scary or spooky. So many of my favorite scenes had been cut along the way. The motivations of my main character were confused at best. And the last scene, so mysterious and satisfying in the first couple drafts, now was a talky, uninspired mess.

The day I decided to part ways with my agent, she sent me a long letter giving me more advice how to make the novel better, and most of what she said went against what I wanted to do with the story and certainly what I initially intended when I first started working on it. We went our separate ways. I started working on another book. I didn’t think about my ghost story for a year and a half.

At the beginning of June 2021, it was time. My teaching year was winding down, and I was having major withdrawals over this middle grade novel I hadn’t set eyes on since before the pandemic began. But here was the million dollar question: should I revise the seventh draft — the last one I worked on — or the third draft — the last time I actually liked the story?

During the weekend of June 4, I hunkered down and read both versions. It was an incredible few hours, let me tell you. When you read your own novel after not having looked at it for eighteen months, it’s like reading the work of someone else. But what made this experience so extraordinary is that the third draft and the seventh draft read like two different novels. The pacing is different, the point of view is different, dozens of scenes in the third draft aren’t in the seventh draft, and vice versa.

And you know what? It became clear to me early on: the better book is the earlier draft.

This is not to say the seventh draft is a disaster. There were a few scenes in the newer draft not in the earlier draft I loved and that I’ll be transferring over. Those eight months I spent revising that middle grade book four more times wasn’t a complete waste of time. I did some cool things that will have their places in the new draft — the 2021 draft, I like to call it.

But still, there’s a lot of blood, sweat, and tears that went into four revisions of a book that for the most part are being tossed in the trash. Time is so precious as a fiction writer and we want those hours we spend at the keyboard to be worthwhile. We want them to mean something.

Well, you know what? They do mean something.

They always mean something, even if the end result is only ever seen by you and no one else.

You’ve probably read this or heard this before, but it’s true: any time spent writing or revising teaches you something. Even if you have to throw out your work. Even if you have to throw out scenes and characters and entire drafts you spent weeks and months on.

I’m throwing out 95% of four drafts of my novel, and I am thrilled about it. I started the new draft this week, and I’m going back to the book I loved in those early weeks. Yes, it needs a lot of work. Yes, some scenes, potentially even a character or two, will have to reworked or cut from the manuscript. I have tons of revising and editing ahead of me before I started querying this one to literary agents in the fall.

But it’s all for the best.

I’m listening to my gut on this one, and my gut says to go with the third draft, not the seventh. When the book was still working in a way I knew it was working and had promise to become something scary and memorable for younger readers.

Revisions are essential in the process of writing a novel, but don’t continue with another revision if the last one didn’t feel right. If you’re changing things and doing things for what you deep down believe to be the wrong reasons. It’s going to be your name on that cover, after all.

So do your best always to improve your latest novel through revisions and help from beta readers, but always remember it’s okay if you have to throw out one or more of those revisions.

Tell the story you want to tell, and make it your own. However long it may take.

And if you mess up somewhere along the way? Don’t panic. Those early drafts are always right there waiting for you.

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Posted in Writing

4 Quotes by Markus Zusak to Make You a Better Writer

Markus Zusak (born in 1975) is the bestselling author of The Book Thief and Bridge of Clay.

Here are four of his wonderful quotes to inspire your writing!

1. I try hard and aim big. People can hate or love my books but they can never accuse me of not trying.

We come to the final entry of my author quotes series with some of the most inspirational quotes around! Marcus Zusak has given us one of the most magnificent novels of all time in The Book Thief, and whatever you may think about the book, whether you love it or hate it, the man is absolutely right: you can’t accuse him of not trying. His award-winning novel is told on an epic scale, with an unusual and creative narrator, with some of the most stunning prose around, and whether you’re taken with the book or find it overrated, his command of the craft of writing is undeniable.

If you want to have a successful career as an author, it’s pivotal that you try hard and aim big every time. Your stories themselves don’t necessarily need to have an epic feel to them, but your ideas should be creative, and you should be willing to take big, bold chances. Don’t just write the first thing that comes to mind. Don’t just write the same old thing you wrote last year and the year before. Be willing to aim big and fail hard. Be willing to do something that might crash and burn.

That’s how you learn as a writer. That’s how you get better. And that’s how you ultimately find success.

2. I find writing extremely difficult. I usually have to drag myself to my desk, mainly because I doubt myself. And it’s getting harder because I want to improve with every book.

As soon as the act of writing comes easily and naturally to you, watch out. I mean, sure, there will be days when you know exactly what you want to put down on the page, and the words will flow from minute one. Those are the best days. The ones where you get all the writing done in an hour or two, and you feel like you can conquer the world for the rest of the afternoon. Writing will feel easy like that sometimes. And it’s not necessarily the case that every day should be extremely difficult. If every time you sit down to write, you’re struggling to get a sentence written, you might eventually give up, and nobody wants that.

But the writing should be hard more of the time than it’s easy. When it’s hard, you’re actually doing good work. Because that means you’re pushing yourself to do better. You’re not allowing mediocrity to spill onto the page like you might have allowed a few years back. You do want to improve with every book you write, and the way to do that is grow as a writer, not just stay on the same path you were on before. And this is hard enough when you haven’t had anything published yet, when there are no expectations from readers for your work.

Imagine what Marcus Zusak has to go through as the author of The Book Thief to try to improve with every book that comes after that. To try to top The Book Thief over and over again is one difficult task! But at the end of the day, it’s a task that is essential. Because if you’re not at least trying to do better work, then you’ll stop growing for good./media/dfc8c929c0f78543b6fbebb8efdc298f

3. I like the idea that every page in every book can have a gem on it. It’s probably what I love most about writing — that words can be used in a way that’s like a child playing in a sandpit, rearranging things, swapping them around.

One of the most magical elements of writing is that every day you’ll able to create something on the page that has at least a single gem on it. No, not everything you write will be a gem, that much is certain. You will sit down at your desk every day to draft your new novel, and some days you will feel like every word on the page stinks with mediocrity. You’re not supposed to get it all exactly right in the first draft, so don’t panic about doing good work at this point. Just getting the story down is what you’re aiming for. Just reaching THE END is the number one goal.

But even on those days when the writing isn’t flowing the way you want it to, you’ll be surprised to learn that there’s always going to create some kind of gem during a writing session, sometimes two gems or more. Those gems can come from an exchange of dialogue between characters that works especially work, or an image depicted in a single sentence that pops off the page. Sometimes it’s just the rhythm of a paragraph or a perfect word you come up out of the blue. All it takes is a single gem amidst the carnage in a day’s writing session that will keep you coming back for more the next day.

And remember this, too — even if the last ten paragraphs have been terrible, even if everything you’ve been writing since you sat down is complete shit, the next paragraph, the next sentence, the next word, can work beautifully. Can be a gem. And when you revise, your goal is sift through your manuscript looking for as many gems as you can. I promise you, with enough work and effort, you’ll be finding plenty.

4. Failure has been my best friend as a writer. It tests you, to see if you have what it takes to see it through.

My writing life would be a whole lot different if I never failed at anything, and I’m sure your writing life would be different in this case, too. I’m so used to failure and rejection at this point that neither one ever fazes me. I have a short story that’s been rejected by about fifty literary magazine editors, and I’m still sending it out. I’ve written novels I spent years on that ultimately never went anywhere and that are now sitting in my drawer collecting dust. These failures and rejection don’t get me down. Instead they test me and they inspire me to see if I have what it takes to try again and keep going.

If you want to be a successful writer, you’ll need to keep going, too. Your patience will be tested. You’ll be frustrated at times. There’s nothing worse than putting your heart and soul into a writing project for months, sometimes years, and then see it flounder, see it rejected across the board until there’s no one left to send it to. What makes you a real writer is having the ability to put a manuscript aside and start another one. Yes, even if you’ve written ten of them already. Yes, even if you think your newest is your finest work yet. You have to put it away, not think about it for awhile, and start something else.

Don’t be afraid of failure, and don’t let it get you down when the failure inevitably comes. Use that failure as a learning experience and keep going always. You’ll be glad you did!

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Posted in Writing

4 Quotes by Carlos Ruiz Zafon to Make You a Better Writer

Carlos Ruiz Zafon (born in 1964) is the author of multiple beloved novels, including The Shadow of the Wind and The Labyrinth of Spirits.

Here are four of his wonderful quotes to inspire your writing!

1. I realized that I had always been writing things that other people wanted me to write and not what I really wanted to write, so I felt like I was losing my way.

Many of us need a few years to find our voice as a writer. Many of us need a few years to stop pretending to be like other authors we adore and instead write the stories we really want to write. And it can be especially disheartening when you’re writing things other people want you to be doing instead of what you want to be doing. There will be friends and family members and teachers who try to guide your writing, but as soon as they start pressuring you to write a certain kind of project you’re not interested in or passionate about, you have to resist that pressure as much as possible.

Writing is hard, and it’s made about twenty times harder when you’re hard at work at something you don’t want to do. It’s why millions of younger people struggle year after year with having to write that essay for class the next day they have zero interest in. When you’re faced with that scary blank page, and you’re being forced to write something when you’d rather do literally anything else, there’s pretty much nothing worse. So write what you want to write. Ignore those other people and stop the kind of work that’s been trying for you and lean into the stories that compel you and excite you, always.

2. My work as a screenwriter has influenced my fiction. Writing screenplays forces you to consider many elements regarding story structure and other narrative devices that can be used to enhance the infinitely more complex demands of a novel.

Novels and screenplays are vastly different beasts. In a novel you have more freedom to do what you want in terms of point-of-view and scene length and character interiority. You can write the novel super lean and have it almost look like a screenplay in a sense, and you can fill up your novel with giant block paragraphs and dozens of pages without any dialogue. You can pretty much do whatever you want in that form of writing, while screenwriting has a lot more rules you need to abide by. You can’t write scenes that go on for ten pages. You have to write some dialogue here and there. Everything you write will need to be seen in visual form, and you can never forget that.

But despite all those rules, I agree with Zafon that it’s in your best interest to at least learn about screenwriting, if not write a screenplay of your own. It’s a really great exercise to learn how to tell your stories actually, because you discover what needs to be there and what can go. You don’t have room to do everything you want. There are only so many pages you get to work with, and you have to make each one of them count. You want to think this way about your novels, too. You don’t want to write 600 pages just because you can. You don’t want chapter seventeen to have thirty block paragraphs and go on forever just because it can.

Study screenplays to learn how to tell your stories more visually and more concisely and try writing one at some point to see what happens. I promise you’ll learn a hell of a lot!

3. I am a curious creature and put my finger in as many cakes as I can: history, film, technology, etc. I’m also a freak for urban history, particularly Barcelona, Paris and New York. I know more weird stuff about 19th-century Manhattan than is probably healthy.

Here’s something to keep in mind as you grow your career as a fiction writer — the more curious you are about the world, and the weirder stuff you learn and pay attention to, the better your writing will be in the long run. You don’t want to just read novels in the genre you write in and watch movies of the genre you write in and then write in that genre. Your work will get stale after awhile. You’ll begin to repeat yourself.

To improve upon your skills, and to bring better ideas to the page year after year, it’s in your best interest to study new things that broaden your horizon. You want to be curious about history, film, technology. You want to read non-fiction books about subjects that you know little or nothing about. When you do so, you are not wasting your time, I promise. Even just one nugget from that non-fiction book you’re reading could inspire a new novel idea. It could bring you something that completely changes the trajectory of your writing career.

4. I’m a voracious reader, and I like to explore all sorts of writing without prejudice and without paying any attention to labels, conventions or silly critical fads.

So many successful authors have said it, so I hope you’ve learned by now one of the best things you can do as a writer. Yes, you want to read. And not just read the things you’re interested in, not just read the authors who you’ve adored for years. If you want to have a thriving career as a writer, it’s in your best interest to get your hands on all sorts of books and read voraciously.

Read stuff that fascinates you and read stuff that doesn’t necessarily fascinate you. Read that book that bores you and ask yourself why. Study the sentences. Study how the story is laid out. What doesn’t work about it? How could you improve upon it? Sometimes I find reading something I don’t like very much even more inspiring than reading a great work of art. I might enjoy the great work of art more, but by the time I reach the end, I might feel like my writing is inadequate. That if I lived another 1,000 years, I’d never be able to write something as good, and that can sometimes stifle my creativity.

What’s most important of all is to do what Zafon says: explore all sorts of writing without prejudice, without paying attention to things like labels and author names and book covers and fads. Don’t read the book everyone else is reading. Find that new book few people know about. Dip into an old classic that’s not really discussed anymore.

Read as many books as you can, and your writing will improve year after year, I guarantee it!

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