Blogging is tough.
Well, that's not entirely true. Successful blogging is tough. You need to come up with, write, and edit at least one blog post a week. You have to promote on social media. Put together and send out a newsletter. Keep the rest of your website updated. Connect with guest bloggers, or other blogs where you can be the guest blogger. And this is in addition to the rest of your life: family, friends, hobbies, a "real" job (or two), maybe even school.
So how do bloggers stay on top of it all? The key is organization.
And I can hear my entire family laughing even as I write this. At first glance, I am one of the least organized people out there. But as I keep telling them, I'm just messy, not unorganized. All my crap gets everywhere, I never do chores, and I have a bad habit of procrastination.
But I love making calendars and schedules, and I've found ways to cheat my procrastination. This is mostly done by creating little deadlines. For example, I usually make one YouTube video/podcast episode a month. I break that entire process down: one week for making the script, one week for recording it, two weeks for editing. I tell myself "I have to have this part done by Saturday the 9th," which means it gets done on Saturday. But hey, it works, because I'm not rushing the entire process at the last minute.
Now, organization is a little different for everybody, and it can evolve over time. I wrote a post back in June 2019 about staying organized for bloggers, and I'm amazed at the differences that've appeared in myself since then. What works for me now may not work for you; everyone needs to experiment to see what works best for them. So I'm going to list some of the most useful ways I've found to stay organized for you to try. And let me know what ways you've found to stay organized in the comments so I can give them a shot!
#1: Bullet Journal
I would be totally lost without my bullet journal. For those of you who don't know, a bullet journal (or bujo) is basically a calendar/to-do list/planner/diary hybrid that you create yourself. Some people turn them into sketchbooks with monthly spreads. Others are bare-bones lists and dates.
I do the whole monthly/weekly/daily spreads to keep all areas of my life pinned down. But there are some spread specific to writers and bloggers that I have found particularly helpful.
My "Books of 2020" spread is a list of all the books I've read this year so far. Not just the ones I've reviewed, but all of them. This is useful for when I do lists (favorite/least favorite books), and when I do a "year in review" style post in December about the best books of 2020.
I have a page of general Writing Deadlines, where I write the due dates for Diary of the Green Snake and my BitchShelf articles. I also keep my yearly writing goals, like getting an agent for my scifi novel Citadel and getting beta reader feedback for my fantasy manuscript.
A page that is quickly running out of room is my Idea Page, specific to blog and YouTube ideas. I saw a vlogger use post-it notes, so that whenever she ditched or did an idea on her page, she just had to remove the post-it note, and that would give her room to replace it with a new idea. But I'm always afraid of the post-it notes falling, so I just write it down traditionally and cross it off when I do it, trying to find little bits of space to cram more in the corner. There's also a section within this page for TV shows and movies I want to watch and review, which should probably be a spread all on its own.
And of course, there's my blog schedule. I tend to plan all of my blog posts out at least a month in advance, which saves me a lot of time and headache. As you can see in the picture above (which was taken in mid-April), I have columns for each month and the post date, with plenty of room to write. If I have to reschedule something, I black it out with marker and use a white gel pen to fix it. (Using a pencil and eraser poses the very real risk of creating a hole in the page, which is why I prefer the pen.)
#2: Story Journals
I am a journal hoarder. Every journal I have has a specific purpose. There's the obvious "dump journal," the ones full of random story ideas and shoved on my bookshelf for when I need inspiration.
But specific to organization, there's an even crazier method. Every book/series I'm working on has its own journal that includes character sheets, overly-detailed histories of the world, and notes on plot and narrative arcs. Diary of the Green Snake has one. Earth's Final Chapter has one. Citadel--my sci-fi work in progress--has a whole binder.
Wasteful? Probably. I've started digitizing this. (Thank you, Scrivener.) But few things beat old fashioned paper and pen.
Point being, everything that I need to know about any project--the religious practices of Citadel, historical notes of the Old West for Green Snake, character sheets for Earth's Final Chapter--are all in their own notebook. Other authors call this "the book bible" or "series bible," a single place for all the necessary notes of a story. I'm not flipping through a dozen dump journals trying to find a minor character's backstory or re-researching something I already looked up. I'm not skimming hundreds of pages of random story ideas to find the one note I need to confirm before I resume writing an important scene. Each story/series has its own book.
For the Citadel binder, I went further and added dividers for characters and cultures. It makes locating key facts much easier.
I don't know about you guys, but unless I have someone or something holding me accountable, the thing I want to do almost never gets done.
Accountability has many different forms. For most writers, it's a terrifying creature known as the editor. Editors give hard deadlines, and if writers don't meet them, it's a shit storm.
Bloggers, on the other hand, don't usually have editors. Most of us are solo. There is no one person, no authority figure, holding us accountable if we post a day late, or even skip the whole week.
Except your readers.
Once your readers get used to a certain pattern from you (in my case, a blog post every Sunday and podcast every month), they will wonder if you don't stick to it. One of the biggest "secrets" to a successful blog is consistency. If you're not consistent, you will lose readers.
This way, if I fail to post on time, my readers--especially the ones who financially support me on Patreon--will know. And that's an excellent kick in the pants.
What are some ways you stay organized? Let me know in the comments so I can give it a shot!
The damsel in distress is not a bad trope. It's just written badly. This month's podcast is how to do it right.
New Dragons, Zombies & Aliens Podcast
The Hero's Journey
This month's podcast is all about story structure. Specifically, the Hero's Journey.
Anna Stephens is the author of the fantasy grimdark Godblind trilogy from the UK. She's come onto the blog to write about what exactly goes into writing a trilogy without going insane.
Note: her post has been edited for clarification.
On Finishing a Trilogy - or Attempting To
I’ve recently completed my debut epic fantasy/grimdark series – the Godblind trilogy.
I say recently – it’s published in the UK and Commonwealth on 5 September, so in fact I finished it at the start of the year and then just had copy-edits and proofreading to complete. That said, it feels as if I’ve only just finished it, and I think that’s mostly because it’s still sitting there in my head, poking my brain with a stick and making unhelpful suggestions like “why don’t you rewrite chapter 7?” and “but what if he lived instead?”
Writing a book is tough – I think we all know that. Writing a trilogy is…well, the logical answer is three times as tough, but it doesn’t quite work out like that. Most days it felt 30 times as tough; others it felt only a third as tough. But one thing is certain: when it comes to that last book, you better get it right. You better find every last one of those dozens of plot threads and throw-away comments and surmises and write them to a satisfying conclusion. Because if you don’t, there will always, always be an eagle-eyed reader who gets in touch – probably publicly on social media – to tell you what you’ve missed.
Aside from the little details, there is, of course, the rather larger issues and challenges of the main and sub-plots, not just the story but all the stories woven through it. Not just the hero’s quest but their character development and inner journey. Not just who wins, but how and why – and what it means for the world and all your named and unnamed secondary characters.
The more I think about it, the more astonished I am that – according to my publishers, at least (review copies are yet to go out at the time of writing this) – I’ve managed to pull it off. But it was not easy.
Getting a publishing contract for my debut novel, Godblind, was a dream come true. Having spent a good 13 years perfecting that – or making it as good as I could; we still went through a few rounds of edits – it was a pretty terrifying proposition to discover I had only nine months to write Darksoul, the sequel. And, in the end, while I did draft it in time, it needed so much work that my publication date was pushed back a few months so that I could work with my editors to refine the plot and pacing issues – of which there were many. Second book syndrome is real and it is ugly.
It’s so ugly, in fact, that when I came to draft book 3, Bloodchild, I had a major crisis of confidence. I’d spent some time convinced I’d torpedoed my writing career before it even got off the ground, that Darksoul had been such a disaster from the publishers’ perspective – not the final product or the sales, but the amount of work they had to do with me – so all of a sudden I decided I had no idea how to end the trilogy. I knew what needed to happen, but I didn’t have a clue how to get there. I was paralyzed with doubt for weeks – and the countdown to my deadline was ticking ever louder in my ears, which didn’t help.
Eventually I started to write and there were days, even weeks, when I galloped along and everything was going brilliantly. Other times when every paragraph had to be dragged kicking and screaming from my brain. It was the difficulty of writing a novel plus the anxiety of finishing the trilogy off with the right impact, the right outcome for the characters, the story, the world.
And when the draft was done, I had exactly zero idea if it was any good. That’s not an exaggeration. It was 143,000 words and I couldn’t have told you if any of them were good. I simply didn’t know: that second book crisis of confidence had lingered into the third and didn’t seem to be inclined to leave. The only way I was going to know if it was good was if someone else told me it was – I didn’t trust my own judgment.
(Aside: do I sound as crazy to you as I do to myself? What a fruitcake.)
So, anyway, what did I do about this crisis?
The biggest thing is that I admitted it. I spoke to my family and a few clever and supportive friends. I ranted about my lack of ability and how I’d ruined my lifelong dream, about how I’d never get another publishing deal. I had a couple of tearful breakdowns.
I also sent it to my agent and got some brilliant feedback and suggestions for changes. It was just the right mix of praise and critique and it told me that I was, in fact, on the right path and it was, after all, a good book. And so I reread the draft and then rewrote it, incorporating a lot of my agent’s feedback and refining the rest of it so that it better fitted in with where I saw the story ending. And it was better. I could see straight away it was better. Knowing that gave me the impetus to send it off the publishers and my editors.
And then it was time to wait again. And while I was waiting, I continued working on a new book. That’s the thing with publishing: you’re constantly leap-frogging between projects. Here I am, doing promo work for Bloodchild (well, this is supposed to be promo, though I suspect I’m just making myself sound like a crazy person) while at the same time waiting to hear back on a new project AND writing the second installment of that new project.
Last year, I was building on the success of Godblind by promoting Darksoul while drafting Bloodchild. The book you’re promoting is always at least one book before the one you’re currently working on; it gets rather confusing at times.
When my first round of edits for Bloodchild came back I was terrified. The email sat in my inbox unopened for four hours while I paced up and down and chewed my nails and contemplated cracking open the gin. It was going to be another Darksoul; I knew it.
Sure, there was work to be done and stuff that needed to be changed, but the edits were extremely positive. Perhaps I had learnt all the lessons inherent in second book syndrome after all. Maybe I really could do this, be a trilogy author!
There were still a couple of small battles to be had over character arcs and the number of living and dead main protagonists (I had to sacrifice one to save another; it was like choosing which of your dogs to give away. Monstrous), but in all, I’d been on the right path and done a bloody good job. And yes, perhaps that sounds arrogant, but one thing I have learnt from all this is to have at least a little faith in myself. It wavers on occasion, but if I don’t think I’m any good, I’ll never get the draft into my agent’s hands, let alone anyone else’s.
Fast forward four months and the book is done: edited; copy-edited; proofread. The next time I see it will be in its final form, out of the chrysalis and spreading its red-soaked wings. And I couldn’t be prouder. It’s been a tough road, but one that I know I’m very privileged to be able to walk. Not everyone gets a publishing deal. Not everyone gets the levels of support I’ve had. Believe me, I know I’m lucky.
The Emotional Fallout
Not that it ends there, of course. Oh, no. That would be too easy.
I’ve spent at least 15 years with these characters. They’ve been, without hyperbole, both friends and family to me – yes, even the terrible, evil ones. And now I have to say goodbye, not just to the ones who didn’t survive to the end of the trilogy, but to all of them. I don’t think it’s too strong to say that once I handed back the proofread and knew that that was it that I went through a period of mourning. (Again, fruitcake. I know).
But to know that I don’t get to hang out with my buddies anymore, that I don’t get to hear Ash’s jokes or Tara’s terrible ideas, Rillirin’s earnest and burgeoning self-belief, Crys’s reluctant heroism, makes me genuinely sad.
I guess the only thing I can do now is wish them well and go on an adventure with some new friends and family. It feels a bit like a betrayal, but as much as I could write their shenanigans and romances and escapades forever, it’s time to move on. Time to challenge myself with something new, something broader and different and other.
Time to get stuck into my next series. I wonder how hard this one will be.
Anna Stephens is the author of the Godblind trilogy, the final book Bloodchild having been released in September of 2019. Translation deals for French, German, Dutch, Polish and Czechoslovakian versions have all been agreed.
A literature graduate from the Open University, Anna loves all things speculative, from books to film to TV, including classic Hammer and Universal horror films, as well as the chameleon genius of David Bowie.
As a beginner in Historical European Martial Arts, with a focus on Italian longsword, and a second Dan black belt in Shotokan Karate, she’s no stranger to the feeling of being punched (or stabbed) in the face, which is more help than you would expect when writing fight scenes.
Minor spoilers for every version of Fullmetal Alchemist.
So you want to write a fantasy story. As a fantasy and sci-fi author, I heartily endorse this.
Fantasy is a huge genre, encompassing a ton of tropes, subgenres, and rules. But a near-universal trait of fantasy is the use of magic. I mean, if a story doesn't have magic, can it even really be considered fantasy?
But writing magic is a bit daunting. So much has already been done, how do you stand out? What rules should you put in your magic system to make it interesting but not constricting? How do you make it fit with the rest of your world?
Those are all big questions, and each of them probably deserves its own blog post. But we're going to tackle all of them here, so buckle up.
Hard vs. Soft
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And before you ask: yes. Twenty plus books on the NYT Bestseller list and she still gets rejection letters.
And that's okay! Rejection is a part of life, after all. It's just a slightly bigger part of a writer's life. So get comfortable with it, because this relationship is going to stick around for a while.
The first thing you need to do: stay calm.
Think of finding a publisher as house-hunting. There's a lot of time spent online doing research, you're probably going to want to find an agent to act as your guide, and there's going to be a lot of rejection. Sometimes it's because you don't like the house. Sometimes someone else swoops in right before you can sign the paperwork. Sometimes you find out you can't afford it.
Feel free to grumble, complain, and vent. Then once you've got that off your chest, go back to the computer and find another publisher to submit your manuscript to.
Remember that it's nothing personal.
How do editors decide which 'scripts make the cut? Well, that's a little complicated. I'm no editor myself, but here's what I've heard second-hand:
1) They want what's going to sell.
Editors want to read a good book, for sure, but quality isn't that important. At least, not in the way it is to us artsy-brained writers. You could submit the most intense, insane, engaging novel, but if the editor doesn't think their publishing house is going to be able to sell a lot of copies, you're going to get rejected.
A lot of it has to do with the market. Remember when vampire stories were freaking everywhere? The audience for that was huge. But now? Not so much.
It's all about supply and demand. Editors look for types of stories that are in high demand, whether that's grimdark/realism or more light-hearted fantasy. So long as it fits in with the needs of their publishing house. Speaking of which...
2) They want manuscripts that are best for their publishing house.
This is why researching a publisher before you submit anything is so important. Let's say you have a post-apocalyptic YA novel. Would you submit that to a publishing house that specializes in historical dramas? Of course not. Genre is very important. Just as writers specialize in specific genres and stories to tell, publishers specialize in specific genres and stories to sell.
So the historical drama house rejected your 'script. Shocker. But that's okay! You've found another publishing house, this one specializing in YA novels that have a lot of action, adventure, and cute romantic subplots, all of which your book has in abundance. You submit it and think, They're going to love this!
Aaand you get rejected.
But why? You've matched the genre to the right house, and even the type of story they like.
Well, the thing is, this publishing house has been doing a lot of post-apocalyptic books. They don't want their readers to get bored, so right now they're looking for YA urban fantasy novels.
Does it suck? Yes, it does. And getting rejection after rejection does wear on you. This is why finding a literary agent is so important: they can help you side-step a lot of these issues. You'll still run into them, but not as much.
Do not give up.
One of the publishing houses I've worked with in the past, Less Than Three Press (I wrote a novella for them that got in one of their anthologies), recently came out with a call for submissions. They wanted stories about shifters--i.e. werewolves, werecats, etc.--with disabilities. Any disability. And since they specialize in queer fiction, several major characters had to be a part of the LGBTQ+ community.
I was all over this. I've spent the last two years working as a community support staff--that is, a job coach and PCA for people with disabilities. I'm always down to write about characters in marginalized communities. And I've worked with LT3 before and knew that not only do they pay well, they're also very competent.
Now unfortunately, these calls for submissions have deadlines. Although I heard about it relatively early, there was still only two months for me to write, and I work two other jobs, plus this blog and YouTube channel. Nevertheless, I managed to crank out a fun story about an ordinary, asexual human trying to survive college who finds out that the girl with social anxiety that he has a crush on is a werewolf, and she's playing cat and mouse with a hunter a god complex.
I sent it in the day of the deadline and went to take a long nap.
About a month later I got an email from the editor.
It was a rejection letter.
BUT. But, this rejection letter had something so few of its brothers have. It had constructive criticism. The editor found two glaring flaws that barred it from acceptance, suggested that I fix them now that I wasn't adhering to any type of deadline, and told me to re-submit as a general submission.
Now remember: editors don't have time to do this kind of thing. So when they do take the time to offer some feedback on your manuscript, you shut your mouth and listen.
I took a few more months to fix the story, going over not just the problems the editor pointed out, but others that I found and just didn't have time to address with that pesky deadline. Once I was satisfied, I re-submitted.
About a month later I got an email from the editor.
It was a contract!
So now the good people at LT3 are editing my 'script, and soon enough I'll be bugging you guys with promos about my new ebook tentatively titled Hunted.
Rejection letters suck. They can wear on your self-esteem like a river cutting a ravine. But they're also what separates the "aspiring authors" from the actual authors. Take criticism seriously and apply it to your story. Keep looking for agents. Keep submitting to publishing houses. Just keep going.
The first Dragons, Zombies and Aliens blog was started in 2015. Somewhere between college coursework, paying rent with door-to-door sales, and keeping up with my sorority sisters, I wrote reviews, rants and commentaries on books, TV shows, and movies. Now, this blog has moved, improved, and the sky's the limit!