S. M. Nystoriak's Writer's Block

A place for writer's and readers to meet!

Back To School And Beyond: How My Writing Life Fits In

Happy Autumn, Readers!

Fall has been with us for a few weeks now, and with that came the start of school.  I have never known anything different; the change of months and seasons brings with it different phases of a teachers life and planning.  My mother was a teacher, so even during infancy, my life revolved around this same cyclical pattern.

As a writer, I find that I have gotten used to this pattern as well.  It may seem strange, but even though my day job begins anew each Fall, I find that as a writer, I look forward to this time.  It’s a time for me to get creative…even more creative!  My time for writing seems to diminish, but it really doesn’t.  I just have to figure out how to use my time differently.  So, for today’s post, I am going to outline the little things I do during Back To School and beyond to include the writing/editing process.  I will use a month-by-month format, because that’s kind of the way my life rolls.

September–The Start Of a New School Year

  • Read blog posts!  Read blog posts of others to get ideas about time management/writing organization.
  • Get creative! As my work schedule and student load settle in, make a plan for how to fit in daily writing.
  • Work on my own blog posts and other shorter works.  September can be tough for me to focus on larger works.
  • Follow up with works in progress as I can.

October–New School Year Is Well Underway

  • Plan out my NaNoWriMo.  I try to plot something completely new each year.
  • Continue weekly blog posts.
  • This is a great month for me to do some beta work.  NaNo hasn’t started yet!
  • Follow up with works in progress as I can.

November–Hello, NaNoWriMo!

  • Maintain my writing goal of 2000 words daily.
  • Thanksgiving break is this month, so it is actually very do-able for me.
  • Maintain weekly blog posts.

December–The month of sparkles!

  • This is a heavy concert month for me, so I focus on editing small bits at a time.
  • Those small bits get shined and sparkled!
  • My NaNo for that year usually gets set aside until January.
  • Maintain weekly blog posts.

January–New Year, New Manuscript to Work Through!

  • Dig out my NaNo, and start filling in the holes.  This does take time…I am a lean first drafter!
  • Edit through other works in progress
  • Maintain weekly blog posts.

February–Short Month, With Some Extra Time!

  • President’s Week (vacation!) is a time for me to reevaluate my progress.
  • I work on final polishes, if I have any, and prepare to submit things.
  • Maintain weekly blog posts.

March–Long Month, But Not Much Extra Time!

  • While March is a longer month, here in the North Country, much time is spent digging ourselves out of the snow.
  • I tend to submit my polished things during this time, if there is anything ready.
  • Weekly blog posts continue.

April–Signs of Spring–And Short Stories!

  • Continue work on the year’s NaNo.
  • Continue work on other edits and polishes.
  • I usually get inspired to write short stories during this time.  Must be the change of season.
  • Weekly blog posts.

May–Concert and Music Festival Season Means Time For Some Planning!

  • Like September, my teaching life is very busy.  I use this month to keep up with what I can.
  • Make a plan for what I will be focusing on over the coming summer months.
  • I look to others for ideas.
  • Last May, I write a Summer Writing Bucket List
  • Weekly blog posts continue

June–End Of School Year, Summer Writing Plan In Place!

  • Finish out with finals at school, begin laying out my summer writing work
  • Weekly blog posts.

July and August–Write A Lot, Plan For Upcoming New School Year!

  • Self explanatory.
  • The yearly cycle is complete, until it starts again.

There you have it!  My bare bones writing year outline as it fits in with my day job.  I wonder what it’ll feel like when I retire, and this cycle that I have been living my whole life can change?  I guess that’ll be a new creative challenge for me!

Do you have a day job outside of your writing life?  How do you work writing into your schedule?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

Thanks for stopping by my Writer’s Block today!

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Let’s Talk: Is There Value In Diversifying Our Writerly Portfolio?

Welcome Readers!

I have been writing seriously for several years now.  I write mostly novel length fiction, with the occasional short story or novella thrown in.  This past summer, I began to dabble into writing poetry.  I’m not sure how that came about, but it did, and as I always do, I welcomed the inspiration to try it with open arms.  The jury is still out on whether or not I’ve got what it takes to be a poet, however, inspiration is inspiration, and a writer’s got to write.

As I was looking back on my output, I was a little bit shocked.  Last week, I wrote about Learning From The Master’s, and how a writer should seek out and study the works of others in order to perfect their craft and discover their own unique author’s voice.  I believe in that whole heartedly.  It’s great advice for any artist.  But what surprised me as I looked at my own writerly output? There is a lot of different stuff in there!  That “a-ha” moment leads me to ask:  Is there value in diversifying our writerly portfolio?

I would like to believe there is.  One of the great joys I get in life is learning.  Whenever I am tasked with teaching a new course at school, I love to seek out the information needed to become proficient in that area.  I think that with writing, I enjoy the challenge of stretching my wings to embrace a new form or genre.

Last week’s “Learning From The Master’s” post, however, points out the importance of taking the time to perfect one’s craft.  This might account for the amount time it actually takes an author to get from first draft to publication.  It takes a lot of time to create something, let alone keep it true to a style, and further, to develop you voice.

Earlier, I mentioned the variety of styles which my writerly output embodies.  I did notice there are a couple of commonalities, though.  One commonality, for me, is the age of the MC.  It turns out that most of them are in their twenties.  Not all, but most.  Another trend in my writing is Speculative Fiction.  Again, not all, but most.

So what is my take-away from this discovery?  Well, I think it’s that even if someone’s writing output seems very eclectic, there are probably common threads that tie their Writerly Portfolio together.  For me the common threads are age of MC and genre.

What do you think?  Is there value in diversifying a writerly portfolio?  Do you feel it’s better to focus on one style and stick with it?  When you look at your own writing output, what common threads do you find?  What differences?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Thanks for stopping by today!


Writerly Advice: Learning From The Masters

Welcome, Readers!

Today I had an “Oh, yeah!” moment.  This is not to say that I discovered anything new or earthshattering about writing, but it was a simple reminder of something I already knew.  A correlation.

As many of you know I am a music educator.  For twenty-two years, I have worked with student musicians at various points in their musical learning, from the very beginning instrumentalist, to the more advanced high school player.  Every Spring, I evaluate woodwind players from across the state of New York, and provide feedback to them, which will hopefully guide them in their future learning.

You may be asking yourself what knowing my backstory as a music educator might have to do with this blog.  If you are, great, because here’s the connection.  When I listen to student musicians as an evaluator, one of the biggest things I notice is that while the mechanics of playing their instrument are often very accurate, there are items of musicality which need developing. It’s the musicality that takes the most time to master in many cases.   My advice to those students is to listen; listen to the masters of their instrument.  That’s where the little nuances of style get learned.

It’s no mystery that the ideas of learning from the masters of our craft makes sense, or that the idea has a direct correlation to writing, or any other creative endeavor.  If the musician is learning a Mozart Flute concerto, I suggest not only listening to a lot of Mozart’s music to learn his compositional style, but I also suggest listening to the best flutists in the world perform it.  For the writer, the same holds true.  For example, if you want to write an adult thriller, read a lot of adult thrillers, and study “the best” writers of the genre.  “The best”, in this case, would mean any author of adult thrillers whose style you admire and aspire to emulate.

A writer might say that they want to have their own unique style.  I think we all want that, to be honest, but to develop that personal quality, your writer’s voice, you can only get there by learning the little nuances of the masters.  Think back for a bit.  What authors, alive or dead, have written the books that you come back to again and again.  What is it about those authors and their stories that captivates you so?  It’s important to try and put your finger on those things.  From there, you can develop your own style.

When you make a connection between your own writing style to an author’s whom you admire, it compliments both you and the other author.  There isn’t much more authenticity than that.  Go for it!

So there you have it, my “Oh, yeah” moment.  As I mentioned, this is something I already knew about both writing and performing an instrument, but I guess when the notion resurfaced, it was because I needed a little reminder.  What genre(‘s) do you write?  Which author’s styles influence you within that genre?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Thanks for stopping by my writer’s block!


I Saw My Former English Teacher Yesterday…

Welcome, Readers!

Today’s post finds me with feelings of gratitude and nostalgia.  You see, I bumped into my former English Teacher yesterday at the market.  This was something I was not expecting, and what a wonderful encounter it was!

It has only been in the last few years that I realized how much of an impression the books we read in 9th grade made on me.  In 9th grade English, we read, among others, Romeo and Juliet, The Spoon River Anthology, and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.  Each of those works was great in their own rite, but it was how my teacher presented them to us that made me think about them.

When I say “think about them”, I mean after class was over…long after class was over.  Like, YEARS after class was over,  Through the years, I have wondered why those works stood out to me in 9th grade.  I have since learned it was a variety of things.

  1.  They are each really old.  Romeo and Juliet was first published in 1597, Spoon River Anthology was first published in 1915, and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner was first published in 1798.
  2. All three of them have a rhythm and structure to the text.  Poetic.
  3. All three of them allow the reader to get to know the characters on a deep level.

The Rime, specifically, has kept me coming to reread it back through the years.  Its themes made such an impact on me.  It’s kind of sad though, because I find that not many people seem to be familiar with the work.  When I bumped into my former English teacher yesterday, all of the excitement and passion I had about The Rime came flooding back.  That is a really special thing.  When you read or hear something that stays with you for the rest of your life, that’s powerful.

So many students in my class would cringe at the thought of reading Shakespeare aloud in class, or any poetry for that matter.  I have no idea why.  Poets have an ability to not only convey a message to the reader; their work is structured, rhyming or not, in such a way that the poem’s meaning goes even deeper.  At least for me.  My 9th grade English teacher had a passion for it, and that passion for those works rubbed off.

So, it was a true gift to see my 9th grade English teacher at the market.  She is in her seventies now, and looks amazing!  Right there in the soap aisle, I got to thank her for all of the stuff we learned in her class.  I got to show may gratitude.

If there is someone from your past that had an impact on your writing life in a profound way, let me know.  Today I’m all about inspiration.

Thanks for stopping by today, and leave comments below.


Writerly Advice: Taking Time For Reflection

Hello Readers!

As the days of Summer drift away and the nights become longer, I find myself in a reflective mood.  As an introspective person by nature, I reflect a lot.  A LOT!  I suspect that many of us are like that.  It seems to come with the territory of life within the creative arts.  Stopping to think about the many aspects of my creative life is therapeutic at its most basic, but more importantly, it provides a basis for confidence and improvement in my craft.

Do you take the time to reflect on the good stuff that has happened in your writing life, or just the bad and the ugly?  It’s easy to dwell on the negative stuff.  We all know, as writers we get enough of that.  But I challenge you to think for a bit on the positive.  It’s allowed, and I dare say it can work wonders.

Last May, I arguably had my “Best Birthday Month Ever”.  It truly was amazing!  Now, three months later, I still feel excited when I remember it, even though not too much has changed in my professional writing status.  That’s okay, because as I reflect back to that thirty-one day period of time, I know that a lot has changed within me as a writer.  I might be in something of a holding pattern at the moment, but thinking back fills me with a renewed confidence.  I am published in Summer Nights, a book of short stories, which is so amazing.  Although I haven’t signed a publishing contract for my novels or landed an agent yet, I have had a few recent requests.  I know that I am capable of creating something of interest and value to people outside of my family and close friends.

It is important for writers to take the time for reflection.  Look back periodically and remember something that gave you validation along your road to publication.  And while much of the path to publishing has us waiting on information, taking the time to reflect on those positive and rewarding things which have brought you to where you are today can be a real source of inspiration. It is pulling me through.

As a special treat, here is a song to get you in the spirit as well :)

What awesome writerly things do you reflect upon?  Do you find inspiration from your critique partner?  A full request from an agent or editor?  How about a blogger, or even an interesting hashtag?  Perhaps you got some great feedback at a conference a while back.  Did you enter an online contest?  What can you reflect on to give you a boost to keep pushing forward?   Feel free to comment below!


In Touch With My Inner Zebra


Welcome Readers!

I often read the blog of Kisa Whipkey, a writer, and acquisitions director at REUTS publications. I follow her blog regularly, because within each post, I seem to pick up a few new gems of information, some insight or an angle on a topic that I hadn’t thought of before, or validation of something I believed in.

Her recent post, “A Zebra In a Herd Of Mustangs”, hits upon all three for me: Reading it gave me a gem of confidence, insight into current trends in paths to publication, and validation of some of my personal thoughts on the topic. Within the post, Kisa outlines her diverse, non-traditional path into the world of publishing. A highlight of that post is when she describes how each meandering segment of her life led her to where she is today; each part of her life gave her skills needed to be successful in the publishing world. That last bit was the little gem of confidence I mentioned. I was inspired after reading it to write this post today.

I can admit it. Like Kisa, I am a Zebra on this path toward publication. There is nothing “traditional” about how I got to this point, but every step on my life’s trajectory has led me here. Although I am a musician, educator, former Spanish major, and travel aficionado, I also have also always been a reader, and admirer of the written and spoken word. While I am still working at getting my novels into publication, one of my short stories has been published in the Summer Nights anthology!  I hope my novels will get there someday, too.

In Kisa’s post, she refers to herself as a zebra in a herd of mustangs. I like that analogy a lot, but I would even go one step further and say, we are all zebras in our own right. Even a mustang is like a zebra, with a different size and coloration. (Biology buffs: I know, genus, species, right? But visually they are similar). The stripes on any two “Zebras” are never the same, just as no two of us follow the same path.  The road to publication can be windy and filled with little detours.

Which leads me to this post. I’m not taking a scientific poll or anything, but I am curious: How many of you found your way to writing by taking the scenic route as I did, and how many of you followed a more traditional pathway toward publishing. I have often thought, in hindsight, how amazing it would have been to have the opportunity to take writing courses in college, but alas, my Music major’s schedule kept me in the practice and rehearsal rooms pretty steadily.

So, if you feel like sharing, write a comment below.  I’d love to hear about your path towards publication. Are you published? How did you get there? What was your path? Not published yet? What life experiences got you where you are today? I’d love to hear from you about this!

Thank you for stopping by today :)


I’ve Got a CoverTo Reveal…Who’s Curious???

No…The picture above isn’t the cover being revealed today, but I hope it got you all curious.  Today’s cover is for the 2014 Project REUTSway anthology, and it looks nothing like the question mark above.

The title of this years Project REUTSway anthology is Not-So-Local Legends of Triumph & Terror.  I am really excited about this particular anthology, because I have personally read works by a few of the contributing authors, and I can tell you that this anthology is sure to please!

Without further ado, cue the trumpets:

The Cover!



And, directly from REUTS themselves, a blurb:

“The second annual collection of short stories presented by REUTS
Publications. Authors competed weekly with their unique twists on world
myths. Congrats to this years winners:

Felicia Anderson
Shawn Thomas Anderson
CC Dowling
N.H. Fennecus
Drew Hayes
Michelle Hoehn
Scott Hughey
Shannara Johnson
Jennifer McCoy
Kathleen Palm
Alexandra Perchanidou
Debra Vega
Summer Wier
Melody Winter

Release Date: Fall 2015”

Fall is almost here, everyone; the wait is almost over!  In the meantime, check out the Goodreads link, here:

Well done, authors!

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Let’s Talk: The Writerly Word Count Sweet Spot

Hello Readers!

Summer is winding down.  It’s been a really long time since my last post, but the season has been so busy!  Lots of visits with family, son applying for jobs, driving practice, etc.; It’s been awesome, but my self imposed writing schedule kind of went out the window.

My Summer Writing Bucket List, here, details the plans I had, but a prison break which included a massive manhunt in my neighborhood forced me to switch gears in June as well.  I blog about that experience here (I won’t lie…It was intense).  Finally, I received the latest draft of an incredible screenplay one of my novels inspired, and gave my edits to the screenwriter, just last night.  My bucket list kind of fell by the wayside, but other incredible things took its place.

With the screenplay edits and prison break behind me, I am now free to focus once again on another work in progress.  And I cannot wait!  I have mentioned this here before, but I am a very “lean” writer.  I am envious of my colleagues who over-write and have to do massive cuts to bring their manuscripts down to size.

My writing process always finds me with the opposite problem.  My first draft is often a complete, albeit skeleton of a story, and I go back through editing to fill in gaps, embellish plot, and give more depth to my characters.  I will never be able to craft an epic saga.  I don’t think I have it in me.

This “lean” style of writing, I think, stems from years writing research papers in college.  Outline, get to the point, justify and prove your facts, cite your sources.  It doesn’t leave much room for embellishment.  This factual form of writing is something I did well, and enjoyed.  Writing fiction, however is a whole different ballgame.  Because of my affinity for writing research papers, I think my Writerly Word Count Sweet Spot will always be on the 50-60K range.  I have written longer and shorter fictional works than that range, but most often, that is where I end up.

The Writerly Word Count Sweet Spot.  This is different for everyone, I believe.  Somehow, though I have no scientific proof of this,  it must be connected to us as individual people.  The stories I want to tell are lighter, quicker reads.  Nothing really heavy, since I like to be entertained when I write.  Is that weird?

I posted about word counts on this blog before, too.  I think it’s really important to keep them in mind because agents and editors know what readers expect as far as word count goes, and what sells for each genre.  Works that stray too far from those norms may be problematic to sell to  the public.

Sometimes the storyline can sometimes outweigh the word count.  Think about all of the books we have read through the years.  There are always exceptions.  I try to keep that in mind, because, I believe in my stories.  I believe in my characters.  I don’t like to think that one of my book babies might not see the light of day because its count is a little out of the norm.

So, today, as I prepare to continue on with my edits, I remind myself not to fret about the length my story will end up.  I will move forward, making it the best story it can be, however many words that is.  If it’s a novella, it’s a novella.  If the plot takes off in a meaningful way and ends up longer than my usual Sweet Spot, awesome!  But I have to remain true to the story and characters.  And let me tell you, these characters really make me laugh!  I hope someday they will make you laugh too :)  That kind of enjoyment is worth a lot, no matter the word count.

Before I sign off, I ask you these questions:  Do you have a Writerly Word Count Sweet Spot?  Does it fit squarely within the norms?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

I hope you all enjoy the rest of your summer.  Take care, and as always, thank you for stopping by my Writer’s Block!  Enjoy the following video :)


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!


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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