S. M. Nystoriak's Writer's Block

A place for writer's and readers to meet!

Writerly Advice: Keeping Busy While In The Query Trenches

Hello Readers!

Thank you for stopping by my blog today :)

Today’s post finds me at a time where I am waiting to hear back on some important information.  So I thought I might share some of my diversions which are helping me deal with the wait.  Since you are most likely a writerly type, this will pertain to you, and you will most likely be able to relate.  But many of us wear multiple hats, and some of this might ring true to other areas of your lives as well.  I know it does for me.

Diversion #1:  New Manuscript.

once upon a time

As many of you are aware, I recently started a new manuscript.  I know, I know.  I broke my policy of finishing my fall NaNoWriMo project by the end of the summer (see my Summer Bucket List post for proof).  But this new manuscript couldn’t wait.  I swear.  So in the back of my head, I feel a little bit of guilt about shelving my 2015 NaNo, but it’s okay.  No Biggie.

I mention the new manuscript because working on it has kept me busy.  Really busy.  It’s not keeping me completely sidetracked while I wait, but seriously, it’s helping.  And I actually love the fact that I had to let my NaNo sit a little bit, because when my mind feels like the new manuscript has to gel some, I can switch gears back to it.  Which is good, but sometimes I feel a little bit like this:

stressed with post its

Except unlike this picture, my sticky notes have things written on them; things that occasionally help me keep ideas organized, but not always.

Diversion #2:  This Blog.

There is nothing more gratifying to me as a writer, than connecting with other writerly types.  This past couple of years, I have spent time with authors, poets, screenwriters, and industry professionals all right here on this blog.   Waiting to hear back as a writer can be tough.  When my mind starts to think the worst, I try to take the bull by the horns and learn something new or share something useful.

Blogs are great for that.  Through them, you can pose questions, share helpful information, interview other writers, etc.  All of these things aren’t going to make the time go any faster, but they might make the time more pleasurable, and divert your attention somewhat.

Diversion #3:  Read something new.  And review it.

This isn’t rocket science.  We like to read.  It’s what we do.  It’s what we hope to give our own readers.  By taking the time to read the works of others, we help to pay it forward.  By reviewing the books, perhaps on your blog, you can get a conversation started, thereby helping to pass the time as well.

Diversion #4:  Plan a trip.

journal coins, map

You don’t actually have to take the trip, mind you, but I sometimes got to a travel site and make plans, down to what excursions I’ll take once there.  On my “To-Visit” list is The Pacific Northwest, South Dakota, Iceland, Scandinavia, and Austria.  There are plenty of other places I’d love to see, but these are just what I have been thinking about as new stories and world’s swirl around in my head.

Hopefully this helps.   And as an added bonus, writing this post tonight has helped divert my attention from the waiting game for about an hour or so!  To that end, I’m going to get myself a couple of Oreo’s and get back to Diversion #1:  my new manuscript.

Happy writing and waiting, everyone!

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My Sleepy Little Town Woke Up

Hello Readers,

It’s been a little crazy around here! It’s also been kind of scary, and empowering. I am finally at a point where I think I can write about it, and I had a hard time deciding weather or not to post this.  In the end, I realized I HAD to write about it…just to get it out.   What follows is my reflection on the past three weeks in June, told from my perspective as a writer, neighbor, and citizen of the North Country.

Some of you may know that I live in a rural part of New York State, in the Adirondack Mountains. The Adirondacks are filled with little hamlets, small towns and villages, where almost everyone knows their neighbors, and we all look out for each other. These are sleepy little towns, situated amidst the wildlife, flora and fauna of nature.

On June 6, 2015, my sleepy little town woke to the news that two prisoners from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, NY had escaped. While I know that this escape made the state, national, and even some international news, it really hit close to home for me. The maximum security prison they escaped from is just a few miles from my home.

The news of the escape scared us. Our sleepy little town, with its picturesque mountains, old barns, dense forests and scenic byways, had become the perfect hiding place for two escaped killers who didn’t want to be found. And at the time, mere hours since they were reported missing, everyone living here was on high alert.

For the first week of the manhunt, hundreds of law enforcement flooded in and scoured our area, conducting grid searches and following up on hundreds of leads. I had never before seen such a presence. The night Homeland Security called our house to tell us how to lock ourselves in, I knew it was real. The road I live on formed a part of the perimeter of the search for that first week or so, and it was manned every hundred feet with armed guards, rifles pointed toward the woods.  Getting anywhere meant that we would be searched, and ID’d so that we could come home.

But I was okay with that. The officers wanted us to be safe.

Questions that ran through my head:  How much should I tell my eight-year-old?  Would any innocent lives be lost? How in the world would they find these escapees? Would we ever be able to sleep at night?  There were lots of other questions, too.

Fear had gripped us as our forests became the perfect hiding spot.

Yet even with everyone on high alert, not knowing if the escapees might hop out of the brush at any time, I never felt safer. My family and all of our neighbors felt an incredible sense of security amid the fear. The law enforcement officers provided peace to us even though our world was changing before our eyes. They manned our road 24/7. At the same time, community members were on alert with them, checking in on neighbors and friends.

Then one day, they packed up. Law enforcement had cleared our area, and they began to focus elsewhere, following up on tips and leads from other communities.   Escapees: still at large. We were happy that we had been deemed safe, but the security of our law enforcement presence was gone. Every little sound from the forests, which at one time was a comfort, made us wonder… We knew we would get through this together. We listened to scanners, followed reports on the news, Twitter, and Facebook, and gave each other encouragement.

Which brings up another point; I have never been more proud of the citizens of our sleepy little Adirondack towns. We had the courage to keep watch over our families and neighbors, and the strength to report any suspicious activity. That may seem like a no-brainer, but it was nerve-wracking. And that feeling wasn’t going to go away until the whole thing was over.

That day finally came this past week when both escapees were taken down two days apart, one dead, one wounded, in an area about forty miles from where they began their escape. Rallies were held in Dannemora in support of the law enforcement members who brought this chapter to a close, twenty-three days after it began.  And there is much more investigating to be done.

I don’t know if things can ever be the same here. The escape was like nothing we had ever been through, and the law enforcement members that joined together with our communities—unprecedented. We are strong. North Country Strong. And I am forever grateful to the law enforcement which showed up that day; the day my sleepy little town woke up.

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Time For My Favorite .gif Again!

excited doggie

Dear Readers,

As I have mentioned before, I use this picture a lot, simply because it sums up my happiness.  It is the picture of “overjoyed”, which is how I feel today.  I take it as a good sign that I have a lot to be happy about lately!

Today’s post is short and sweet, but I wanted to announce the book birthday of the anthology I have a short story in.  These little flash fiction gems run the gamut as far as genre and level of feels.  And take a look at this fabulous cover!

Summer-Nights-Cover

SUMMER NIGHTS can be ordered at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Kobo, and a slew of other places.  And if you prefer, you can download a free .pdf.

Here is the official post announcing SUMMER NIGHTS!

Here is the Goodreads page about it!

We hope you all enjoy reading SUMMER NIGHTS.  Thanks so much for your support!

I’m happy to respond to comments below :)

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Writerly Advice: When My Book-Baby Needed A Time-Out!

Welcome Readers!

One of my Twitter friends asked me a question today, and it kind of got me thinking.  She wanted to know if there was ever a point when you should just scrap a manuscript.

Hmmm.  Let me think about that for a moment.

The Big Question

Who among us has never felt the frustration of conceptualizing a manuscript, plotting, planning, and writing it to the point that we are absolutely certain it will CHANGE THE WORLD, only to discover that it just doesn’t work?

No doubt, many of us have.

My Reality

Case in point:  My 2013 NaNoWriMo project.  As a writer, I was in a phase where I wanted really complicated plot twists and character relationships, and on top of that, a few of the plotlines and characters would span the time/space continuum.  I am befuddled just thinking about that beast.

I got about a third of the way through writing it (from an outline, no less) and found that I couldn’t make it work out the way that I was sure it would when I plotted it months earlier.  That manuscript was taking on a life of its own, and as its “parent”, I just couldn’t keep up with it!  If there was ever a time for me to consider scrapping a manuscript, it was then.

But I didn’t.

Because…

I have mentioned this in other posts on this blog, but writing, as are all of the arts, is a living thing to me.  The process of writing is fluid and morphing, and the books we read become part of us, as we live and breathe, taking on a life of their own.  Instead of scrapping that beast of a manuscript, I trunked it; I gave it, and me, a Time-Out for a while.  That manuscript needed to think about was wrong with it.  I needed time away from it as well, to perhaps come up with a plan to better usher that particular Book-Baby into the world with a little more finesse.

Just an FYI, that Book Baby is still in Time Out.  It’s been months.  Neither of us has figured out what is wrong yet but someday we will.  I can’t give up on it.  It is a story which has a wonderful heart and deep feeling, but in its current state it’s just too unruly.  With a little thought and hard work, I feel like my Book-Baby will become a beautiful thing. Perhaps giving it a name will help (wink, wink!)

I don’t know how long it’s Time-Out will last.  It could be years.  And who knows.  Maybe it’s supposed to be more than one book, or maybe something in the universe was telling me that I am not ready to write that story…yet.  It is definitely a “something”, because I still get chills of excitement when I think about it.

So, My Answer To The Big Question:

I wouldn’t scrap a manuscript altogether. Like the unnamed Book-Baby in my example above, I would give it a Time-Out, long enough for the two of us to iron out our differences.

A Few Questions For You:

How do you deal with unruly manuscripts?  When they don’t work out as planned, how long before you set it aside? Have you ever scrapped a manuscript completely?

Share your response in the comment section!

Thanks for stopping by my Writer’s Block!

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Big News!

excited doggie

Hello Readers!

I have used this picture in a previous post about my excitement as I finished a first draft of my latest novel.  BUt I do have reason to use it again!

As reported in my last post, “Best Birthday Month…Ever!”, I mentioned that one of my short stories was selected to be included in an anthology.  Here are the details as I know them!  Release date:  June 21, just in time for the start of Summer!  I cannot wait!  Follow this link for the official announcement!

Thank you, Readers, for your interest and support!

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Best Birthday Month…Ever!

Welcome, Readers!

May is my birthday month.  I usually enjoy my birthday with my family, whenever we can squeeze it in, and my mother always bakes me my favorite cake, Cinnamon Chiffon with Strawberries.  It’s delish, and I look forward to it every year!  The picture below is close, but my mom covers the outside with fresh berries, and it’s amazing:

strawberry chiffon cake

However due to the nature of my work, the days surrounding my birthday are some of the most busy of the school year.  I am a band director by profession, which means spring concerts hit during Birthday Month, as well as evaluation festivals for music students throughout the state of New York.

Don’t get me wrong.  The month of May is a very exciting time, but Birthday Month always holds a certain amount of pressure.  This year, though, even with all of the stuff going on, I have had the Best Birthday Month…Ever!

 fireworks

Here’s why:

May 1 and 2-  My students performed extremely well at their evaluation festival.  Hurrah!

May 6- My actual day of birth- Free wings and a pint at a local venue, one wing for each year.  That was an astonishing 44 wings to share with my family and friends (I’m not ashamed to admit it!).  This was followed by a jazz performance with the Adirondack Jazz Orchestra at said venue, which my husband is a part of.  Awesome night!

May 7- Somehow I drum up the courage to submit two short stories for consideration into an anthology.  Thank you @KathleenPalm and @ShawnTWrites for encouraging me!  The experience of short story writing prompted me to write a blog post, here.  In many ways, writing shorts has changed how I approach my novel writing.  If you haven’t tried it, I encourage you to do so.

May 8- It is announced that I won a full manuscript edit from @KisaWhipkey.  The woman is incredibly generous with her time, and talented with her skills.  It is an honor and a privilege to be able to work with her.  I am still floored by this.

May 14 through 21-  An absolute whirlwind of school concerts.  Our students performed beautifully, as did my own high school aged son at his school concerts.  So proud!  During this crazy week, I received a very flattering message from a writerly person regarding one of my manuscripts.  As a writer, that  meant the world!

May 30- I got to enjoy my daughter’s amazing ballet performance of Alice in Wonderland.  Same afternoon:  I found out that one of my short stories, which I entered back on the 7th, was selected for inclusion in the anthology!  Unreal!

Which brings me to today, May 31, 2015; the end of one of the Best Birthday Months Ever!

Also, I should mention that this was a fantastic blogging month. Including this, I wrote a total of six posts this month!  I am in a wonderful place with this blog.  I have a weekly posting rhythm going, which is where I have wanted to get to for some time.

I would also like to thank all of my new blog followers and commenters as well.  I love connecting on here.

Thanks for reading!  June 1 is tomorrow.  Let’s see what next month will bring!

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Writerly Advice: Using #Hashtags!

Hello Writerly Friends!  Thanks for stopping by.

Today on my blog, we’ll be discussing … Hashtags!  I make no claims to know all of the ins and outs of this phenomenon, but perhaps there is some information here that can help you on your writing journey.

Hashtag1

The #hashtag.  We have seen them everywhere, from Twitter to Facebook, to street-side advertising and television commercials.

I am an avid Twitter user.  I use hashtags to follow certain groups of writers or contests, or topics of general interest to me.  Sometimes my hashtag use is fleeting.  For example, when #pitmad was over, I stopped following that tag…until the next one!  My “seasonal” hashtag follows generally coincide with writing contests.  They have a short lifespan, but come back at certain times of the year.  Here are a few of the “seasonal” hashtags that I use:

#Pitmad

#adpit

#NaNoWriMo

#sunvssnow

Some hashtags, though, I use throughout the year.  I use them to ask questions of industry professionals, or to post things of interest for like-minded people.  Here is a short list of the tags I use often:

#amwriting

#writing

#askagent

#writingtip

#askeditor

I found a great blog post from Author Media listing a ton of writerly hashtags.  The list they post is very thorough, and gives a brief description of what some of them are for.  Certain hashtags are used on certain days of the week or times of the year.  That post is definitely worth checking out.

Another thing to realize is that hashtags are searchable.  This can benefit the writer in several ways.  I try to use a blend of common and more unique hashtags when putting my blog posts together because anytime someone searches one of the tags in Google or any other search engine, my post will come up in their search.  This is helpful to writers because it’s a great way to get exposure.  Authors can and should have a title hashtag for their books when they release.  It can be a powerful tool.

I am in no way an expert about tagging and social media, but I can see the potential for their use.

How do you use hashtags?  What are your favorites?  Feel free to share your information below!  Until then:

hashtag-1

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Let’s Talk: Word Count!

Welcome to my Writer’s Block!

We are talking about word count today.  Whenever anyone asks me about books I have written or am working on, they inevitably ask me about how long it is. Truth is I know that they want to know how long it is, in pages.  Yet, I answer them in word count.

“Sixty-eight thousand words?  How many pages is that?” they ask.  And I know there is a formula for figuring it out in a general sense.  For the purposes of being able to answer those questions about page count, the following information is listed on fionaraven.com:

Using your current word count and the appropriate formula below, calculate the number of pages you can expect in your finished book:

Your word count divided by 390 = page count for a 5.5″ x 8.5″ book For example: 50,000 divided by 390 = 128.20 pages

Your word count divided by 475 = page count for a 6″ x 9″ book For example: 50,000 divided by 475 = 105.26 pages

In the examples above, use the 5.5” x 8.5” for fiction, and the 6” x 9” for non-fiction.

But Back To Word Count  :)

Word count is how writers determine what kind of baby we have:  is it a short story, novella, epic novel?  We can generally tell by the word count.  There are several sources for a description of word count “requirements”, but it is also important to realize there is also some grey area there as well.  I tend to lean toward the more flexible word count designations.

Writer’s Digest has a very good post about it here, where they show optimal, acceptable, and unacceptable ranges for just about any fiction book and level.  I like this article, because of that “grey area” I spoke about earlier.  Nothing I do is ever black and white.  I have said this other places on my blog, but the arts, to me, are living things.  They evolve, grow and develop in differing ways.

Does word count really matter?  I think it does.  If you pitch a book to an editor at a press or to a literary agent, it really should fall into the word count range for the genre that it is.  The agents and editors know the market.  They know what readers specific genres expect as far as word count.  So, I think it does matter.

What happens if your novel falls short of the desired word count?  All is not lost.  While I believe in word count ranges, if a story is well told and it’s only a novella length piece, maybe that’s what it was meant to be.  And if your story explodes into the hundreds of thousands for word count?  Perhaps you have a series on your hands!

Is  word count something you should focus on from the beginning of a project?  Maybe, maybe not.  For example, I believe in a free-flow writing process.  I do like outlines (a LOT!), but when actually doing the writing of a first draft, I get the ideas down, and fill in gaps later.  I tend to be a very lean writer, generally speaking.  I don’t think I could ever write a novel of epic length.  It doesn’t suit my style.

But if it is November 1, and I am embarking on another trip through NaNoWriMo, word count is everything to me!  I want to win, so my goal is 50K or more words by the end of the month.

How do you feel about word count?  Do you follow any hard and fast rules, or are you an embracer of the grey area, like me?  Comment below!  I love to connect with my readers J

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Writerly Advice: Get Happy! Finding The Courage to Celebrate Our Little Writing Victories

Thanks for stopping by today!  Today’s post stems from some very needed words of encouragement from a writerly friend of mine.  I had been so full of self-doubt that it took a lot of convincing that I had every right to be excited and happy about my work.  Because of that rather lengthy pep talk, see below:

Which brings me to the topic at hand.  Many of us are content to be holed away in our quiet spaces, receiving constant critique and criticism.  We thrive on it, because we know that is among all of the criticism that we find those gems; advice and ways to hone our craft, making it shine even brighter than before.

That’s what we all want.  We want our work to be as good as we can make it.

All artists live in a world where perfection is never achieved.  It cannot ever be attained, because there is always more to learn.  As a music educator, I view the study of music as an evolving, living thing.  It is the same with writing.  We learn from the masters.  We take what those who have come before us contributed to the craft, and somehow make it our own, leaving behind a legacy to be built upon by others.

But in pursuit of all this, and amid the constant critique and criticism, it can sometimes be hard for the writer to find the little victories to celebrate; our own little gems.  But between all of the edits and drafts of our work, we go through lots of little successes. A turn of phrase that somehow makes a page sparkle.  The use of a word that perfectly captures the moment in a character’s world.  The courage to remove a thousand words of unnecessary “stuff” from a chapter.  The courage to sit down and map out something new.  It feels so good!

I think it might be in my genes, but here is a trap I fall into:  self-doubt.  I can say that with time, I have grown enough as a writer that I can often push those nasty little feelings aside, but it isn’t easy.  Sometimes it takes my writer friends, who know exactly what I am going through, to encourage me to see past the doubt to the glimmer of victory in my work.  I try to do the same for them, whenever possible.  The writing life is hard, but also very fulfilling.  We cannot do it alone.

Today, I challenge you to have the courage to celebrate those little writing victories. Seek them out, if you have to!  You are allowed.  Here’s one: We are so in tune with the action of revision, that we don’t see revision as its own “hurrah”! Now that I think about it, writers have a ton of things we could celebrate every day.

How do you spot personal victories as a writer?  Please share your victories here in the comments.  Large or small, I want to hear about them!

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My Writing Bucket List-Summer Edition

Welcome, friends!

My life has been dictated by the school calendar since birth, due to the fact that my mother was a teacher.  School, college and teaching career followed, again, on the school calendar.  I guess you could say I am used to it by now.

Much like some people use January 1 to make resolutions for themselves, I use the summers to prepare for the upcoming school year as well as amp up my writing.  Don’t get me wrong, I write all year long.  My normal pacing is something like this:

  • October:  Plot and outline something new
  • November:  Take part in NaNoWriMo
  • December-May:  Continue November manuscript, work on smaller writing projects
  • June-September:  Take part in summertime conferences, writing contests, and querying.

For me, this schedule works, due to the school calendar that I follow.  As I type this, I realize now is the time for me to make plans for my summer writing endeavors.  I have a few “bucket list” goals I’d like to meet:

  1. Write more short stories (I LOVE to write them!  I blog about them here)
  2. Finish editing on my November 2015 manuscript (This story cracks me up!)
  3. Take part in the Savvy Authors Summer Symposium (An annual thing for me.  Great stuff at this online conference!)
  4. Attend a writer’s conference (I’m not sure if this will work out, but hopefully it will!)

I have gotten a lot better at organizing my time over the last couple of years, so I am pretty sure that I will finish editing my November 2015 manuscript by Labor Day.  And the short Stories?  Well, I will embrace those little story ideas that seem to come to mind suddenly, and write them as time allows.  The last two items on my summer bucket list may or may not happen, due to things out of my control, but I plan on completing both of them.

We shall see how it all goes!

How about you?  Do you have a writing bucket list?  Writing plans for the summer?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

Happy writing, everyone!

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Cait Spivey

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