Reven Archer Black: Author of Fantasy & Speculative Fiction

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7 Things 2014 Taught Me About Being A Writer

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While we’re ushering in the new year, 2014 is reminding me of that sock that gets stuck in the drier, left behind then forgotten entirely, stuck in the dark void that’s occasionally illuminated with blips of light. The one we will often mutter about: “Where’s that damn sock gone?”

To honour that lost sock of a year, I’ve compiled a list of things. (YAY LISTS!) Because to be honest, it wasn’t a year to forget. As a writer, there were many valuable lessons to be soaked up, not just about the act of writing but all facets of what it involves to be a writer at this time in history.

So here we go, 3 short of a Top 10: 7 Things 2014 Taught Me About Being A Writer

 

1) Online Book Launch Parties

It’s been a reminder that in some ways, I’m still old school, which is a kinder way of saying I’m terribly behind in the industry. Social media came around when I was in the early days of my degree, and I wasn’t having any of it. The only reason why I signed up for Facebook was because everyone else in the science club I helped run was doing it. In order to keep up with certain activities, I had to be there. It was still a time when only students/schools were involved and nothing like the Facebook we have now. Begrudgingly I signed up and didn’t do too much with it.

And then it exploded.

While it’s still not totally my thing, I’ve come around to embracing social media, seeing merit in what it provides to someone like an author. Not just to express ideas, but connect with readers, authors, industry professionals, getting a glimpse into the real lives behind the font. This includes being able to host virtual parties and saying, “Hey world! Come on in. Wipe the feet. Grab a drink. Let’s celebrate the birth of [enter book here].”

And that’s pretty cool.

No longer do we have to rely solely (read: solely, not never) on forking out a ton of $$$ to rent a space, fret over refreshments, or run circles around ourselves at an in-person launch event. We can open up a virtual room and invite the world in, hosting in our PJs from the safety of whatever room we decide is best.

WOW. And I mean that in the most genuine way.

As a classic (and shy) introvert, this makes celebrating work MUCH more bearable. Sure, it can be difficult to keep up with who’s posting what where and when, but the nervous giggles don’t come through. And it’s global, not localized. Not confined to a town/city or whoever can (and is willing) to make it, especially if it involves slugging through a snow blizzard on the backed-up highway. No, party big, author. Celebrate with folks on the other side of the world and get your work out there.

Of course, “online” does not necessarily mean “easier”. It still helps to have a plan like any event. And stuff. I’ve noticed giveaways are the big #1 item (either small prizes along the way and/or the one huge one), but so are games — little things like “caption this”, or answer a question, or something. Although my favourite bit is when the author shares things about the work and/or themselves. I checked out the launch party for Falling Star from Laura DeLuca and it was fantastic. She shared info about the inspiration for the novel, which involved a lot of personal connections and stories. That’s the bit that really breathes life into the work. She’s from Jersey writing about Jersey girls. It makes total sense to share those things that fall into the “write what you know” category. Both as a reader and author, I love that stuff. Or maybe I’m just nosy.

 

2) Tweetdeck makes me cry less and added bonus: I get to keep my hair.

Still on the social media theme… let’s talk Tweetdeck for a couple secs. Running multiple Twitter accounts is not simple. At least not around here. And I love the option of scheduling tweets. But I don’t have money to pay for the useful version of the shiny Hootsuite or other comparable application.

Enter that old acquaintance.

A couple years back, I encountered Tweetdeck. But I drifted away from using it, ignoring the updated versions. But now with three author accounts, I found myself crawling back and begging for its simplicity. My favourite features: I can tweet to any one of my accounts from a single screen without logging out of one to access the other. Just have to click which one (or more) I want and send the tweet. The other feature is the chance to schedule A LOT of tweets, across all the accounts, and walk away. Don’t have to have the application running, don’t have to pay to make it happen; just load it up and carry on.

This, this I can do. I tend to skip out on tweets, run out of time, or whatever, especially on my slow connection. But scheduling helps, especially if I have an avalanche of tweets come to mind — scheduling allows for a nicer pace.

On the other hand, it’s also a huge help in terms of timing. Although in EST, I (tend to) keep the schedule of a vampire. Roll into bed at dawn; get up late afternoon/early evening. Not so helpful when the most of our society functions on 8AM – 6PM schedule.

So thank you, Tweetdeck. You allow me to tweet in my sleep.

 

3) Blogging: you need to actually blog to really make it go anywhere.

Okay, so this one’s pretty “duh” but still valid. Having started my blogs in April 2014, I’m still a newb and getting the hang of things. And by “getting the hang”, I mean integrating it into my routine in a less neglectful manner. I’ve been lax here, too, and I know it. So a part of my marketing plans for this year include the blogging component because posting more = more exposure = increased audience = happier author. I’ve seen the results for myself. Must. Do.

Did I mention marketing isn’t my strong suit?

 

4) Twitter Poetry

OMG, it’s a thing. I didn’t know it until I came across someone’s Twitter account and saw the #HeartSoup tag used by @HeartSoupPoems. Then I found more about “micro poetry”.

Well, I’ll be.

This is fantastic. In fact, it’s one of my absolute favourite things about Twitter. Not only are they great little reads, but they’re challenging. Inspiring. They’re nuggets of images floating in the sea of “BUY MY BOOK!” tweets. More than once I’ve churned something out and it hasn’t taken too long, but it has rekindled my love for writing poetry and it’s challenged me to be succinct. It’s also been a great way to feel like I’ve done something creative and artistic while working with social media. It’s easy to be caught up in everyone else’s words, but sometimes you just need to write a few good, creative lines to break it up.

I heartily encourage everyone to give it a go. It challenges a writer to edit, edit, edit. Be specific. Cut out the crap. Grab that one image or emotion and get to the heart of it without adding fluff. Then put it out into the world and let people share it, or at least like it.

 

5) That amazeballs idea you had? Put up your hand, wave goodbye, and attack the next one like Monty Python’s rabbit.

During 2014, I wrote a few short stories and submitted to anthologies. One of the anthos I came across was for Dark Light 4, offered by Crushing Hearts and Black Butterfly Publishing. It sounded so awesome, and completely up my alley, I just had to write something for it. So I wrote Awake & Dreaming, a short about one of my assassin characters from Ascension. His story is dark, more than a little frightening, and deliciously him. I’ve been wanting to write it for a long while so I seized the chance.

By the time I finished, I looked at it, looked at CHBB’s brand, looked at the anthologies in the rest of the Dark Light series and thought: NOPE.

But what to do? Deadline was approaching. I had other projects on the go. For a few moments, I was floundering.

Then inspiration hit. And then again. Then again. Felt like my brain was going 10 rounds on itself, taking a note from Fight Club or something. I wrote things down on paper. Wrote on Post-its when I was supposed to be asleep. In a matter of days, almost the entire story of What Must Be Done was sketched out, mostly on miniature paper in teensy scribbles. Sat down at the computer and the story flowed, so smooth, so surprisingly. Wasn’t very long before it was finished. Edited it, sent it, waited, thought it was a bit of a risk.

Then it got picked up.

The moral of the story didn’t escape me. Maybe A&D loosened up the brain cells. Maybe it just needed to get out. In the end, there’s a good lesson: sometimes the first idea isn’t always the one. Sometimes you need to explore one idea before finding the one that works, and don’t get down about having to put the idea aside. Every story has its time and place … just not necessarily when you want it. It’s not personal. It’s not bad or horrible. That’s just art, baby.

 

6) 365 days worth of editing? “Don’t make me laugh,” says the manuscript.

Many of the writers I know are quite aware of this thing we go through, which is we can’t edit enough. I’m one of those, too. Perfectionist. Type A personality. All of that. So it’s no surprise that Ascension‘s gone through SO many edits. I estimate it’s at least 365 days worth of time spent on the manuscript, especially since I’m (re-)learning bits of grammar to better polish my work.

I felt really awesome about the manuscript in November and submitted it to my publisher. Polished it to within an inch of its existence. Since then, I’ve revisited the manuscript.

Oh, Gods, I’m mortified. I feel so sorry for the editor. I’m up to about 130 mistakes that need to be fixed, some of them really obvious, glaring ones. And while my father suggested I was suffering from “analysis paralysis“, I have to say that it’s not all in my head. I mean, it’s difficult to ignore that certain words are missing kind of crucial letters, or a whole word is missing in a sentence…

I suppose there are 3 lessons here.

One: no matter how much time you put in, it will (more than likely) never, ever be good enough and things will always slide in/out under the radar.

Two: we authors need more sets of eyes than just our own. Our brain fills in things it wants to see. No matter how perfect we think the manuscript is, things slip in/our under the radar.

Three: analysis paralysis is also a thing.

 

7) Never, ever, ever underestimate transferable skills and experiences.

I’m a big fan of transferable skills. Having learned about the concept during my degree when I was searching for jobs, I’ve always supported the idea that skills acquired from one experience can be applied to another. I also know that a lot of people have trouble seeing them, or rather seeing what they’ve done as transferable to other situations. It takes some out-of-the-box thinking.

In my case, a lot of it has been like any other student: how does what we learn in school apply to the “real world”? How can what we do in class, personal life, or elsewhere be of any use in our profession? And worse: how can what we’ve learned for one profession/direction be applied to a completely different profession/direction?

This is where I find myself more these days. Went to university for Zoology, taking classes in biology, ecology, and other sciences. Then I took classes for NGO work. Worked security, at a couple of summer camps, and in a large corporate office with their tech people. Volunteered for a women-in-science club and other causes. It was on a relatively specific trajectory.

So when you’re a fiction writer – especially fantasy and speculative fiction – where does all of that go? Do you trash it? Ignore it? Lament?

Forget that. Write what you know. Even more than that, use it in new, creative ways!

For myself, this has manifested in a few forms:

– All that time I’ve spent tinkering around with website design and graphics for personal use and school … applied directly to promotional material and marketing for published works.

– All that time I spent researching for papers and work, learning how to research better and communicate what I learned … incredibly useful for writing believable, real characters and situations.

– That marketing and public relations for NGOs class I took … totally useful in understanding marketing, planning, strategy, branding, and everything else a writer needs to know to promote their work.

– The science and psychology classes … great for better understanding the how and why of people. And it supports the bits that venture into science fiction territory. (Just don’t ask me about chemistry or high level physics!)

– Summer camp jobs … I spent a lot of time with kids and young adults, teaching and learning how they learn. And patience. And creativity. And flexibility. All useful when writing characters of younger ages.

– Volunteering … other than understanding the causes and feeling for them, it’s a great way to get into the head of characters, especially those who have altruistic tendencies. Why does character X helps others? What do they get out of it? Or, in the case of political causes: why does political figure A do this rather than that? Why aren’t parties M, N, and O listening to the individual’s demands? What can the individual do to best acquire (and keep) their attention?

There is loads more I could spout about transferable skill and seeing the potential and opportunity in everything, but maybe that’s a different post. I will say that as writers, we’re in a unique and interesting position. We can come from any background and make it work. Sometimes it’s not obvious. Sometimes it requires a little journey and some colouring outside the lines. So grab a 64 pack of colouring pencils and off you go.

 

That’s all for this list, some of which I kind of already knew … just needed the reminder!

But now, in true curious style, I’m throwing it out to you. Things you’ve learned in 2014. Annnnnnd go —

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