I wrote this story as an entry for Writeblr Summerfest’s short-story competition! The prompt was “Sharing Stories around a Campfire”. This story is an entry into the Real World Sequence: a science-fiction/magical realism anthology I’m developing to release in the future. The other stories in the Sequence are available on my mailing list, if you’re interested in reading more. I hope you enjoy this adventure!
Tonight, Notos and Boreas enjoyed the luxury of making camp on an asteroid with an atmosphere. They were halfway through a routine supply run to the opposite side of the ring, and they had made most of their stops on hunks of rock barely large enough to fit the two dragons and their riders. Boreas settled down, shaking the shrub-pines on their back, and stretched out with a sigh that ruffled their rider’s cloudy puff of hair. The old spacer never used a helmet. Their bond was so intertwined that they shared even their breath. Two minds, two bodies, one name, one spirit.
Notos was still growing used to that experience. They’d only bonded a few months ago, and while it surprised them how easily they’d slipped into sharing a soul, there was still an awareness, on the periphery, that rider and dragon were two separate beings, and not truly extensions of each other. When they watched Boreas, and their smooth—effortless, even—coordination that came with centuries of experience living as one another, Notos couldn’t help but be acutely conscious of their own clumsiness. How could it still be so disorienting to see out of someone else’s eyes, to feel each shudder of a step in your own bones, for the rider’s back to ache after a day of heavy flying though their dragon worked the wings?
No time to complain about the hard journey. It was only their first of many promising adventures, and what a blessing to be chosen to accompany one of the most accomplished Travellers of their tribe. They would prove themselves to be the best pupil the ancient being had ever seen.
In a matter of minutes, their human helped unload the sleeping bags and food supplies for dinner, then harvested firewood from the branches growing out of the dragon’s back. Soon enough, a soup was bubbling over their small blaze. With satisfied stomachs and smoldering coals, they settled down under the open sky for the nightly story time as Boreas began to slowly speak.
On the planet Sainha, enormous rivers cut apart the continents, emptying into freshwater seas. To survive, the people fish. Like all things, they must maintain a careful symbiosis, for if they take too many creatures from the rivers, soon they will empty of all life, and the endless rush of water will erode the earth itself. They taught their children from a young age to only take what they need from certain schools, and to always leave an offering of land-grown plants for the remaining members, as a thanks for fair trade.
In turn, the fish would not attack the humans unprovoked. Remember, these rivers are as great and wide and deep as a canal. Their denizens grow to fit their surroundings, and it is rare to find a specimen any smaller than a child. Eels the length of a barge. Sturgeon the size of sea dragons. Catfish with barbs as thick as your arm. Schools of dozens of sharp-toothed things patrolling the currents. If they wished to feast on human flesh, it was a small matter to snap one from shore and drag them under the choppy waters.
Once, there was a fisherman who allowed his soul to be seized with pride. Thinking himself above the creatures, and above his fellow men, he set out to attain a prize to prove he was the greatest fisherman of them all. His friends asked, “what makes you the best?”
He answered, “I can catch the largest fish!”
They asked, “What good is a larger fish if it capsizes your boat and you cannot reach shore?”
He answered, “I can catch the rarest fish!”
They asked, “What good is a rare fish, when you can take food from a large school that will not miss a single member?”
He answered, “I can catch the most fish at once.”
They asked, “What good is a large catch, when the river is so full and you can find food so fresh?”
He answered, “I can catch the most dangerous fish.”
They asked, “Why risk your life when there are others that take easy bait?”
He could not answer their queries, and this infuriated him. He stomped away, simply shouting, “you’ll see,” before taking his tools and boat and set out into the most remote cove, where even elder fishers dared not venture. He furnished his net with hooks, not simply one sharp line, but a mesh of barbs, meant to maim and capture all that it encountered. He held it in a white knuckled grasp as he threw it over the side and waited.
In an instant, the force of a creature impaling itself nearly jerked it from his hands. Another hit, then another, as a school caught itself in his trap. Despite the wounds, they could still swim. With a mighty jerk, they dragged him from the boat and into the water, where he became the bait for more of the creatures, hungry for human meat as they hungered for his flesh. The vicious cycle of capture and consumption continued, until the man was only a skeleton, and the fish were only shreds.
When he did not return, the townsfolk worried, and set out on expeditions, but they could not find his body. They went to the temple and asked their god to find their foolish friend. The god asked the fish near shore, who told of the great battle that raged that day, and the god understood exactly what they meant. He traveled to the cove, and cast a net of woven moonlight to pull the skeletons from the water, murky with the spilled blood. The god placed the cycle in the sky as a warning and a memorial. To this day, the people of Sainha look at their constellations and describe it as a sea of savage stars.”
With that, Boreas extinguished the fire. Notos looked to the sky, letting their eyes adjust to the lack of light from the campfire. The dilation happened almost instantly, as if on command from their dragon’s physiology. Their rider felt their attention drawn by their dragon’s sense of direction and both looked into the depths of space. Delicate white lines formed in their vision, connecting distant solar systems into constellations, and outlining the skeletons of the doomed creatures.
“We must be careful flying through their battle tomorrow. It still rages in its new form,” Boreas said solemnly. “Now get some rest. You’ll need it.”
Thank you for reading! Next week I’ll be sharing my monthly goals update, so be sure to check back for that, or to leave a writing prompt in the comments. If you feel so generously inclined, you can support my writing by leaving me a tip on my Kofi or donating using the secure box below. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy writing!
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Trying to maintain a balance between real-life obligations and your creative pursuits is less like walking a beam and more like one of those platform games where you just have to time the jumps right and hope you don’t fall in the lava. Our days are a battlefield of shifting schedules and absent attention spans, so today, in the honor of my website-launch anniversary earlier this month, I’m sharing some of the wisdom I’ve learned over the last two years. If you’re looking to be more purposeful with your writing work, I hope this can share some helpful advice!
What are your long-term goals?
If you want to write as a hobby and post your work for free online, your first and only priority should be to write for yourself and have fun. If you want to publish, you’ll need to know whether you want to self-publish, query agents to go on submission to traditional publishers, or run a hybrid model, and do research on what it takes to make it into each side of the industry. What are your goals for publishing? Sales, royalties, marketing commitments, and professional skill sets are all important factors in deciding which type of publishing you want to pursue, and one route or the other might be better depending on the book and your mindset. If you want to write under a pen name, do you plan on having multiple pen names and running multiple platforms? What genres do you write and what’s your target audience? Do you want to make this your full-time career or pursue something else as a day-job and keep this as a passion project? The answers to these questions will determine how you approach your personal writing strategy – which shouldn’t be the same for everyone!
My example: I knew in high school, when I started thinking about career paths and college majors, that I wanted to have a financially stable life where I could work a 9-5 or eventually part-time role and still have mental energy to work on my hobbies when I came home. I’ve talked before about how I balance my storytelling and STEM studies, but this means I treat my writing like a part-time gig. My goal is to self-publish because I like the idea of maintaining creative control and a larger percentage of royalties from my sales. I write under the name Etta Grace to separate my fiction from my real-life career and maintain my privacy on both this platform and from my employers. At one point, I thought about launching a second pen name for my middle-grade fiction, but decided running two platforms and building a new one from the ground-up would be too much work. Therefore, my platform needs to have some crossover appeal to reach my wide audience audiences.
It’s not too late or too early to think about this and making a new plan. If your life situation changes, if might be a good time to reevaluate, if you’re going through a big career change, starting or finishing school, or going through a significant family event. Write these down before you continue reading.
Look ahead at the year
It’s impossible to plan for everything, but through a global pandemic and an impending economic recession, we still have to go to class, work, and see our families. It’s easier to account for ebbs and flows in productivity when you know what obstacles will keep you from the laptop and you can compensate for the lost time in the quieter weeks. Sometimes it’s possible to line up steps in the writing process with these seasons, such as releasing a suspense story around spooky season. Keeping tabs on upcoming events helps keep you from getting blindsided by the inexorable progress of time.
My Example: My semester starts in August, so I planned to finish editing Draft Three of Runaways around that time so that I could hand off the manuscript to beta readers while I tackle senior year. When I move out of my apartment, I’ll need to take down the sticky outline that’s still hanging on my wall, so the Laoche spreadsheet/document outline needs to be done by the time you’re reading this. I want to cosplay Vin Mistborn for Halloween so when burnout hit this summer; I switched to working on the first piece of the costume so it would be ready in advance and picked a shirt design I can use for multiple costumes (check out last week’s post if you missed it for a walkthrough of that thought process).
If you know there’s a transition coming up, do yourself the favor to pre-emptively work around it. With a plan in mind, that’s one less stress to be cluttering your mind during those turbulent periods of life. Unlike a writing career, getting a degree has a clear path to follow, so this lets me make progress towards my personal goals without feeling like I’m falling behind on my books.
Look ahead at your fiction
Planning a series is an enormous commitment. Publishing leaves you open to further exploration with those worlds, characters, and missing scenes if you have avid readers who will want to know more. Marketing requires having freebies on hand to encourage people to read your work, such as mailing list cookies and art giveaways. My best advice for not going insane is to multitask – if you can reuse short-stories for content, save yourself the pressure of producing extra words under time pressure. Use every project as an excuse to procrastinate on other projects, so you can always stay working on something that interests you at the moment. Whether you’re a plotter of panster, before going into any publishing, have an end in mind by outlining or fast-drafting.
My example: I’m terrified of publishing Storge – the prequel for the Laoche Chronicles – then starting on the series itself and realizing I didn’t set things up properly and I can no longer go back and retcon my old work because it’s already released. I’m outlining the entire series at once hoping there will be less risk to releasing the books one at a time as I write them without digging myself into a plot hole. I want to work a few books ahead of schedule, so that #1 is done and #2 started by the time Storge gets published. This way, there’s not a huge wait between them, and I know I’m up-to-date on my lore and foreshadowing. I also plan to have novellas between the books to fill the time and provide missing-scenes. Unfortunately, making a debut with something this massive is intimidating, and so I plan to self-publish Runaways first, as it’s a much simpler and self-contained story. I needed cookies for my mailing list, so instead of writing one-off short stories, I’ve been using this method to explore the fae world more, and want to collect those works waiting in reserve for an anthology.
Even if you have nothing published yet, it never hurts to start working on your author’s platform early, so that by the time you have all your ducks in a row, you also have readers at the ready. Think about how you want your book-backlog to look in 5, 10, 20 years, and set up a list of priorities so that you can switch out WIPs as needed.
Writing should not be a solitary endeavor, and I don’t know what I would do without my friends to enable this insanity. For more practical purposes, your friends are the people who are going to tell others about your writing, especially if they’re also creatives. You become mutual promotion machines and meet new people through the networks you create simply by putting yourself out there. This falls under the umbrella of “building a platform” but really that means building a community.
My example: In 2019 I joined Tumblr, whipped up a blog header and WIP intro, and started posting horrible Inktober illustrations of the Storge cast. Two incredible authors – @abalonetea and @siarven found my work by checking out my blog after I left comments on their work, and we hit it off. Their introduction to the writeblr space let me meet dozens of other talented people and we still chat ideas to this day. You might recognize their names from my interviews here: where we talk about character development and worldbuilding, respectively.
Be friendly, leave comments, find your social media platform of choice, and join groups. Try to get to know the extroverts because they’ll introduce you to the rest of their friend group by proxy. I always prioritize the relationships in my life first because I’m not super social at work, but I have a close knit friend group in real life as well and those people are really important to me and supportive of my creative endeavors.
Money is deeply annoying, and adulting is hard, but fortunately it is also extremely important and so we should still talk about it. If you self-publish, you will need to pay for everything out of pocket, but you will keep more of your royalties and start earning money immediately after the book sells. If you traditionally publish, you will get an advance payment and should not pay for anything throughout the process, but you will not start making royalties until after the sales have paid back the advance, and then you will earn a smaller percentage of your royalties. This is a major factor for many writers in choosing career options. If you know you will be self-publishing, it’s best to start saving up now. It’s also worth considering if you want to monetize your author’s platform, and if so, how? Patreon, Ko-Fi, donations, ads, commissions, and ghostwriting are all additional options to help your writing fund itself.
My Example: In May, I will graduate and start my new adult career in some engineering role. I want to have an editor, illustrator, and cover artist picked out for Runaways by June, so when I have Salaried Money and no more student loans to pay off, I can hit the ground running with production for publication. This blog doesn’t cost me a lot of money to maintain, but it is an enormous time investment, and it would be worth it to set up some kind of monetization, however small, sooner rather than later. I run unobtrusive ads at the bottom of my posts. Though I don’t have the traffic yet to see any payout, I hope it’ll accumulate, eventually. I set up a way to tip me directly if people feel like being a ~patron of the arts~ but I will never lock things behind a paywall or subscription because I don’t believe in running a creative hobby like that.
This is an extremely personal decision, so choose what works the best for your personal situation. A lot of creatives break out in hives at the idea of setting up a budget and marketing their work, but it’s worth thinking about if you want to have peace of mind about making ends meet.
Bide your Time
As far as I’ve read and experienced, it takes roughly two years to establish any kind of online “presence” that gives you consistent feedback. Growth follows generally follows an upward curve, and at a certain point, if you’re lucky, that turns exponential. Consistency helps to please the fickle attention span of the internet, but make sure it’s at a pace that works for you. Though a lot of success in creative industries comes down to luck, don’t let that discourage you from putting yourself out there. Luck is just where preparedness meets opportunity, and you’ll have more opportunities the longer you’re in the game and know where to look, and if you have a strategy in place, you’ll be prepared to jump on opportunities when they come up. Don’t follow the trends, be yourself, and know that eventually algortighms and reblogs and word of mouth can work in your favor to bring people to you.
My example: On a daily and weekly basis, my views for this site are all over the place, but if you look at my history, you’ll see how my audience has grown. These screenshots are from 8/7/2022, as I’m queuing this in advance, so they’re slightly outdated, but still an accurate representation of the point I’m trying to make.
These are the statistics for my top 5 posts in the past year. I wrote the post on Addie La Rue without realizing its popularity, because I just thought it was a good story and worth analyzing. This accidental trend-hopping has contributed far more to those views than any of my original work, and it brought a few readers to the site who ended up sticking around.
Follow your interests, and you’ll be surprised where it leads you. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get the results you want right away. Remember, strategy is playing the long game, and it’s not a race.
Habits aren’t for everyone
The advice to write every day is EVERYWHERE in the writing community – from NaNoWriMo to that one post about Terry Pratchett’s 200 words before breakfast. It’s easy to fall into this mental trap that if you aren’t building consistent habits, you’re horrible and a failure and you’re Never Going to Make It. My dear friends, that is but mere bullshit. I know I said earlier that consistency helps build a following to appease the internet attention spans, but that’s the miracle of the queue button.
My example: I sprint through writing in hyper-focus mode and switch projects rapidly to keep things interesting. It’s possible to *post* every week without *writing* every week. The fiction writing matches roughly the same pace. This graph is from last year’s sprint:
Take it at your own pace – even if that pace is oscillating between manic progress and forgetting about it for weeks on end – then schedule things in advance if you need.
Build Backup Plans
Burnout aint pretty and no strategy is complete without prepping contingencies for crises. Leave enough room for inspiration to take the wheel, and to move to more relaxing projects when you’re sick of the big ones. You can always make them work into the big scheme later, and passion is never wasted. I’m definitely not the fastest writer, but I think being well rounded and protecting your mental health is more important than word count.
Thank you for reading and let me know if this has helped you at all! Next week I’ll be sharing a short-story I wrote for the Writeblr Summerfest event hosted by @abalonetea, so make sure to stop back for that. If you feel so generously inclined, you can support my writing by leaving me a tip on my Kofi or donating using the secure box below. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy writing!
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Ok, I know y’all are here for writing and bookish content and not Etta’s hyper-fixation of the week, but hear me out on this one. Usually, in my how-to posts of the month, I walk through my personal process for some element of the writing process. I’ll never say that my way is the Proper Perfect Official and Only way to outline, but sharing methods provides another tool for writers to pull out of their set when they need a new angle to solve a problem.
This month’s writing problem was the dreaded ~burnout~
I hadn’t realized how badly the accumulated stress and exhaustion of this year had worn on me until suddenly I had the free time to throw myself into the next project and just…. couldn’t. My major goal for this summer was to finish editing Runaways, but I’m struggling to even process the story, much less find the energy to comb through each line and hyper-analyze my word choice. Furthermore, I got sick with bronchitis, which had me wiped out for several weeks, and the fatigue hasn’t really left since recovering from the cough. At first I beat myself up for being lazy, but I’ve realized since finishing this project that my inability to sit down and grind through words came from a much deeper-seated issue. I needed something new and refreshing to refill my creative well, that wouldn’t require a lot of mental effort, and preferably wouldn’t put me in front of a computer. After rifling through my long list of hobbies and coping mechanisms accumulated from many years of doing this to myself in cycles, I landed on sewing.
If you’re facing burnout or a packed schedule, I recommend checking out my alternate post on How To Stay Creative When You Literally Can’t Write for some more suggestions on the topic. The rest of this post will walk through my process of tackling a not-writing creative project to serve as an example (a good one or a bad one is up for you to decide).
Hellooooooo everyone, I hope your summers are going well! This month went by much too quickly, and somehow the evenings and weekends I have off from work seemed like both a luxurious amount of freetime and nowhere near enough to accomplish all the things I wanted to do this summer. August will be hectic with moving home from KY, then back to school to start fall semester of my senior year, so I hoped to get everything done this past month. And I did a lot, but it still never feels like enough haha. Anyhow, let’s get into it, shall we?
Today I’m pleased to introduce you to R.K. Ashwick, one of my long-time friends on writeblr and the author of The Stray Spirit which I reviewed last week, thanks to an advanced reader copy. RK writes character-focused fantasy books with a cozy feel. I’m thrilled to have her on my blog today to talk about her upcoming release and publishing journey! This was such a fun interview and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed conducting it!
Welcome! Let’s start off at the beginning: How did you come up with the concept for The Stray Spirit?
There are very few things in this world as satisfying as reading a book – A REAL ACTUAL PUBLISHED BOOK – by one of my writer friends. I am unbelievably proud of our very own, one and only, R.K. Ashwick for reaching this amazing milestone! I’ve been following its development through the taglist on tumblr for… I don’t know, maybe over a year now? It’s been truly gratifying to watch the characters and story grow (hah), and I am absolutely overjoyed that come August, I’ll be able to hold it in my hands. The following review is my honest opinion, which I promised to share after receiving an advanced reader copy of the book. I’m going to keep this mostly spoiler free because it hasn’t come out yet, though in the future I may write a spoilers-filled review as well, so I can freely dig into all the interesting bits of this book. So without further ado…
Well, we’re halfway through the year and it’s been a great six months of beating writers block and burnout back into the hell from whence they came with a very big stick. I tried to take some time off this month to rest, work on low-stakes side projects, and enjoy long chill chats with friends instead of constantly working, and I think it’s helped a lot. I’m still exhausted, but in a satisfied, “I’ve spent my time well” sort of way, and not the frantic “I’m running out of time” that I’m used to. I’m settled down at my internship, living alone for the first time in my life, and learning how to manage my free time like an actual adult. Weird stuff. Let’s see what I did with my first month of summer “break”!
Is the expansion of our universe not a lofty enough calling for you? I stitch together spacetime at the edge of infinity and pry open the rifts in reality with the bloody edge of imagination itself. I pair particles into atoms and expand existence through eons of exhausting, exacting labor.
In honor of SEVERAL milestones that I’m hitting in and around this summer, I am combining all the excitement into a multi-part writing community event! I never ever ever would have imagined making it this far when I first joined this site and I cannot currently imagine my life without this wonderful community. You all have made my life so joyous and provided such a source of encouragement and I truly cannot express how deep my appreciation is for that ❤
Hi, survived this month haha. For those of you who don’t follow my tumblr blog-turned-diary, May was absolutely insane. None of you want to hear about the comedy of errors that were my personal life, so suffice to say, I barely touched a document for the past several weeks. I’m still dealing with some burnout while I play catchup – a writer’s block of the “just thinking about tackling these projects sounds so exhausting I don’t even want to acknowledge them” variety. Also, many apologizes for this post coming late; I didn’t have time to finish it before leaving for work. Hopefully, a few days of serious rest and refilling my creative well through other means will help get me back on track, but until I can kick my catatonic brain back into action, let’s review what I salvaged of this month!